- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I knew as well as anyone that the joyous campaigns of Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman wouldn't continue at quite the same rate. One of my fantasy baseball teams is in a dynasty format, with extra stats like on-base percentage and net stolen bases, and thanks to Jones and Berkman, I was in pretty good shape in June. Now I'm clinging to fourth place. I can't really blame Jones and Berkman, because really, consider how valuable they were for such a long time, and their overall numbers remain quite spiffy. But how much are they helping you now?
I wouldn't cut either of them -- hmmm, or would I? -- but owning players who dominated for months can skew perception. Sometimes the fantasy owner doesn't make the proper moves since he has a false sense of comfort with a team, or in certain stats. Maybe you dealt away the farm to get one of these guys, assuming similar production the rest of the way. Since June 1, for example, Berkman has been OK, but among those with more home runs in that span include Kevin Millar, Willie Harris, Russell Branyan and Jody Gerut. Still, I love Berkman, and he's capable of going off at any time.
Jones isn't hitting .400 anymore, but he's not even hitting .300 since the start of June. In a day he might not even be the leader for the NL batting title. Did you know Jones has actually never led the league in one of the well-known stats? Anyway, my reasonable expectation for him was that he would get hurt at some point, but he would hit when he was on the field. Now it looks like he's going through the motions at the plate. I would've preferred some monster months but more missed playing time, frankly. A .299 batting average since June 1 is hardly special, but among those with more home runs, RBIs and a higher batting average since then are Fernando Tatis, Ronnie Belliard, A.J. Pierzynski, Marlon Byrd and Adam Lind. I'm guessing a few of those players are still available in your leagues, no? Is Jones really capable of going off the final five weeks? He's compensating for any number of injuries right now, barely hitting with authority, running with caution, delivering atypical 1-for-3 nights with no power.
You would have looked silly dumping Jones for Belliard, so I wouldn't suggest in hindsight someone should have done that. However, now that we're in the last week of August, and Jones is clearly average, how long should you keep playing the guy? How much longer will the Braves keep him in the lineup? The Braves don't have a young third baseman in the minor league system yearning for playing time, no more Andy Marte types lurking. If Jones sits, Martin Prado would play more, and that really serves no long-term purpose. I would argue, however, that preserving Jones' future does serve this purpose. Once Albert Pujols breezes past him for the batting crown, Jones should sit. Get the jump in fantasy and see if the far-more productive Ian Stewart is still available. I don't care how others in my league view my decisions, make the final statement and win! Plus, if there's a feeding frenzy to pick up Jones when you drop him, good. Maybe the team ahead of you will fall victim to reputation and get a hollow batting average the next three weeks, and dump someone who can really help him.
Anyway, I'm sure this is not the popular view on Chipper Jones, so feel free to disagree. Here are others who have served their purpose in the fantasy world for this season, and I would also consider -- assuming you're not dropping them for, say, Willie Harris -- letting them become waiver wire fodder.
Nate McLouth, OF, Pirates: How can you not love the guy? Well, the numbers the past three months or so say you shouldn't. McLouth might or might not have hit the proverbial wall, but you don't hear his name associated with fantasy MVP honors anymore, not after he's hit .248 with nine home runs since June 1. He's helpful now, to some, hurting others. A recent virus cost him his (and yours) weekend, but it only masks strong decline this summer. I don't know what to make of him for 2009, but I take the under on a .260 average and 25/25 season, and wonder what the upside is if he doesn't learn how to hit southpaws.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: Stolen bases are a different beast in fantasy, but we don't enjoy owning the players who do absolutely nothing else, including hitting for average. Michael Bourn would be benched on a team with more options. Figgins, surprisingly, isn't doing much better. He's stealing enough bases to help you, but no homers and 18 RBIs for the season is Nick Punto-like. Figgins isn't close to worth taking in the top 50 stealing four or five bases per month. If I needed a power bat, I'd consider punting him and letting someone else fill a power position like third base with an overrated player.
Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros: He's going to end up with numbers well below what even the pessimistic folks expected, as he's on pace for 15 homers and 69 RBIs. Yuck. Here's a perfect example of someone who got off to a nice start (.339 with 22 RBIs in April) and has hit for a strong average since the All-Star break (.315), but he's owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues because his owners aren't really looking at what he's doing. Incredibly, he's likely to finish August with his third-consecutive month of fewer than 10 RBIs. He doesn't run. You and I both know the Willie Harris lovefest can't keep going like this, but Tejada has been so underwhelming, I actually would make that switch. It's not like dumping Tejada can hurt you.
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: If Lou Piniella feels like he can sack him, then so can you. Fukudome homered Sunday as a pinch-hitter for Rich Harden, doubling hit hit total for the week. I'm sure this guy will get better in 2009, and he remains a 20/20 threat to me, but for the rest of this season, I don't think Piniella or you should bother with him. Once the Cubs clinch everything I would think Fukudome would be more likely to get significant at-bats over say a Felix Pie, but if he doesn't do anything with them, why bother? The Japanese import is owned in far too many leagues for the numbers he's supplying.
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Whether you do or do not drop a player is always dependent on what else is out there, what type of league it is, etc. In a keeper league, I keep Bruce. He's a monster in the making. For the final month, he's OK and should, along with Joey Votto, hit some home runs, but neither guy is tearing it up. Votto has hit .320 since the All-Star break, but with only two home runs. Other Reds with two home runs since the break include Corey Patterson, Javier Valentin and recent callup Chris Dickerson. Bruce has hit eight home runs since then, but the .240 batting average negates quite a bit of it. In OPS leagues you've got a fella with four walks and 35 K's in that span, and for the season he is 2-for-7 in steals. Yes, I did expect more from him.
Best stat I saw from the ESPN Sunday night telecast of Dodgers-Phillies: Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are the worst hitters in baseball in leading off an inning. Rollins has a .198 batting average and .238 on-base in such situations. Reputation dictates he leads off, but man, it's the wrong move as long as Shane Victorino keeps hitting well fifth and sixth. Rollins' untimely -- well, there would never have been a good time for him to say what he did -- about Philly fans coincided with this brutal 4-for-43 slump. Because he runs and scores so much Rollins does not belong in the above group, but it would be nice if he'd get going.
I wrote about McLouth above and how he's barely usable against lefties, and so it is with Andre Ethier, hitting nearly 100 points higher against right-handed pitching. Ethier might have developed to his peak already, but a 20-80 outfielder like him is worth owning in most leagues. I didn't include Juan Pierre in the above group, either, because I figure dumping him is obvious. He got on base as a pinch-hitter Sunday and promptly got picked off. Is Pierre the new Dave Roberts now, but a healthier version? And is Bourn in the same boat once the Astros figure out what we knew all along, that he wasn't an everyday player?
Drop John Maine. Here's how the line score doesn't match reality: When he allowed a total of three hits in 10 scoreless innings at Pittsburgh and Washington recently, it was obvious his velocity was down and he was on fumes. He walked eight in those games. Fantasy owners bought in, but the Mets knew. Now Maine comes off a pounding, and he's getting shut down for the season. It was bound to happen. This loss doesn't mean the Mets are out of the division race. Having your half-closer Pedro Feliciano allow home runs to brutal Brad Ausmus and Darin Erstad in extra innings doesn't mean that either. But man, don't the Phillies have a lot fewer pitching problems than the Mets right now?
I'll draft Hochevar over Carl Pavano in 2009. In fact, if I'm protecting ERA and WHIP these final five weeks, I'd do the same. Hochevar not pitching is more valuable than Pavano winning a few games.
Shaun Marcum got sent to the minors Saturday. He'll be back in a week, pitch well and be on ESPN's most added list. Just my two cents.
I normally leave my trusted pitchers in the lineup, no matter the ball park. However, I couldn't leave Aaron Harang active this week, knowing he had allowed 16 earned runs to the Cardinals and Astros, with six home runs in 7 1/3 innings, since coming off the DL, for a start at Coors Field. Of course, he tosses six shutout innings. Crazy game, but I don't feel bad for missing that outing on a number of teams. You can't look back, all the signs were there. I have, probably incorrectly, activated Harang for this week, as he faces the Astros again.
Armando Galarraga, who is 12-4 with a 3.17 ERA this season, faces the Indians Monday. Watch him pitch. Look at his minor league numbers. Hey, I'm enjoying the fantasy stylings of Galarraga this season, but even I know next season is not going to be this nice. He's a back-of-the-rotation guy.
I do not activate Victor Martinez or Travis Hafner for this week, even though both could be back mid-week. As a Kelly Shoppach supporter, I think it would really be a shame if he lost significant playing time. I don't think he will, actually. If choosing, I'd take Hafner over Martinez, but who wants to use a utility spot on him? Really, there are more than 10 catchers I'd take over Martinez the final month as well. Can he hit a home run? The world is watching.
Everyone loves Nelson Cruz today, now that he's been brought up from the minors. He hit .344 with 37 home runs in 99 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, and swiped 24 bases. Sure, I'd take a gamble in deep leagues, but I don't see him replicating these numbers in the bigs. Joaquin Arias, with the middle infield eligibility, is more valuable.
Lew (Miami): "Eric, I can keep one for next season and another for two more seasons and have a love-hate relationship with most of these guys. Can you help push me one way or another? The choices are Brandon Webb, Russell Martin, Jay Bruce, and/or Chris Davis. Sorry for the boring question but I think I have overanalyzed this enough."
I knew as well as anyone that the joyous campaigns of Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman wouldn't continue at quite the same rate. One of my fantasy baseball teams is in a dynasty format, with extra stats like on-base percentage and net stolen bases, and thanks to Jones and Berkman, I was in pretty good shape in June.