Monday, July 8, 2013
Bits: Ruf gets chance; Hefner pitching well
By Eric Karabell
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard smacked a long home run off Atlanta Braves lefty Paul Maholm on Friday night, and it understandably sent some fantasy owners into a tizzy on Twitter. After all, Howard used to be one of baseball's preeminent sluggers, but he hasn't been so special since tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2011 playoffs. While we can all mock his worth in relation to his hefty contract, the threat of big-time power is enticing to Phillies fans and fantasy owners. Alas, we won't see Howard hit another blast for a while; he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with knee troubles just before Saturday's game, and a Monday MRI could spell a pending surgery.
Howard was owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues before the weekend -- that figure has quickly dropped -- mainly because even as bad as he has been, he has hit 25 home runs and knocked in 99 runs since the start of 2012, covering 151 games and 609 plate appearances. That's essentially one season. Even as a shell of his former MVP self, Howard has still hit for power. Should you hold on to him in 10- or 12-team formats? I'm skeptical Howard will be back in the Phillies' lineup this month, especially as the team's season further slips away, but sure, if his knee is healthy, there is modest power upside, all razzing aside. If you're taking a chance on the likes of Ike Davis and Chris Carter in fantasy, Howard is a similar option, at least in theory. In real life he is, of course, untradeable and signed for -- gulp! -- three more seasons, so the Phillies want him healthy. Howard has flaws in performance and health, but he can still hit home runs.
[+]Enlarge AP Photo/Ken BabbittDarin Ruf had a breakout season for Double-A Reading in 2012, but hasn't been as impressive this season at Triple-A.
Another guy who can hit home runs is Howard's replacement at first base, at least for now. Darin Ruf started at Howard's first base spot Sunday and doubled, walked and scored a pair of runs in a 7-3 win. Ruf's name should appear regularly in future lineups as well, though it's premature to call him a viable option in 10- or 12-team leagues. After all, after hitting 38 home runs for Double-A Reading last season, plus a few more in a brief late-season stint for the Phillies, this season hasn't gone nearly as well. I saw Ruf play for Triple-A Lehigh Valley recently, and he didn't impress. For the season, Ruf is hitting .266 with only seven home runs for the Iron Pigs, dropping more than 200 points of slugging percentage and striking out in a quarter of his at-bats along the way. At 26, he's certainly no prospect, and he also doesn't bring much defensive value, but power is power, and he has shown an ability to provide it. Just don't presume it's coming on a regular basis, and it's possible the Phillies are just shopping him in a trade anyway. Bottom line: Ruf isn't a good outfielder, and Howard isn't going anywhere.
Box score bits (NL):San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera came off the DL from a hamstring injury Friday night, then went 1-for-14 with nary a stolen base this weekend. Buy low. Cabrera still leads the NL in stolen bases, and he takes walks. He's a legit player. New York Mets right-hander Jeremy Hefner isn't getting much love in standard leagues -- he's available in more than 75 percent of them -- but he won Sunday with seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball. Hefner has allowed one earned run in six of seven starts. The Mets brought first baseman Ike Davis back this weekend, and while he had Sunday off, he had three hits and four walks combined between Friday and Saturday. If desperate for power, there are far worse gambles. The Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed right-hander A.J. Burnett back from the DL Sunday with five effective innings against the Chicago Cubs. Burnett threw only 66 pitches, but he should get a normal workload moving ahead. His legit season numbers warrant ownership in all leagues. Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata, who has burned many a fantasy owner in the past, hit two doubles and drew two walks Sunday, capping a nice week (7-for-17) since coming off the DL. Tabata, only 24, has proven bits of relevance in the past, so keep an eye on him.
[+]Enlarge Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMichael Brantley is owned in 51.3 percent of ESPN standard leagues.
Box score bits (AL):Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley blasted two home runs Sunday, knocking in five. Brantley is slugging less than .400, but with seven home runs and eight steals he's making a case to be owned in more leagues. Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister has been streaky in the past, but his current run is certainly not positive; Fister gave up six runs to the Indians on Sunday, matching his poor six-run outing from earlier in the week in Toronto. Fister had allowed five home runs all year, but the Indians smacked three. I'd still buy low here. Fister is pretty safe, unless he's hurt. Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit his ninth home run Sunday, a two-run blast off Toronto Blue Jays All-Star lefty Brett Cecil. (It's true, Cecil made the All-Star team.) Plouffe, who is readily available in standard leagues, smacked a legit 24 home runs last season, and 11 came in June. He's streaky, too. With three home runs in eight days, a good streak is pending. Manny Ramirez made his debut for Triple-A Round Rock Sunday, hitting a single and drawing a walk in four plate appearances. There's no timetable for promotion to the Texas Rangers, nor a guarantee he'll hit, but the path looks a bit cleaner now that Lance Berkman has been placed on the DL. Berkman can be dropped. Right-hander Joakim Soria made his Rangers and season debut Sunday, tossing a perfect sixth inning. It's feasible that Soria, the former Kansas City Royals closer now healthy after his second Tommy John surgery, assumes the eighth-inning role soon, becoming next in line for saves after Joe Nathan. But Nathan is pretty safe.