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May 19, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Upward Trends

by Craig Brown

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A handful of players are riding hot streaks and jumping off waiver wires across fantasy leagues.  Here are three players who have caught the attention of owners in recent weeks along with a long-term forecast for future success.

John Buck

Currently, Buck ranks second among all backstops in HR (8), second in RBI (23) and is tied for fourth in Runs (16 - with five other catchers.)

Buck can be a frustrating player to have in your lineup simply because he doesn’t make contact that often.  For his career, he’s put the ball in play 64% of the time and this year his rate has dropped to 58%.  Since he doesn’t walk all that much (just 5.1% of his plate appearances have ended with a base on balls this season) he’s striking out the majority of the time when he fails to put the ball in play.  A week and a half ago, Buck was carrying a .246 BABIP and his batting average was at .236.  Now, he owns a .319 BABIP and his average has jumped over 40 points to .278.

Like most hitters with power potential, Buck’s home runs come in bunches.  He launched three in one game against the A’s at the end of April and then followed that with four home runs in a week starting on May 3.   The round trippers started flying when Buck was dropped from sixth to eighth in the Blue Jays batting order.  Since April 21, he’s hit .324/.378/.735 with seven home runs and 17 RBI in 74 plate appearances.  

Blocked in Kansas City by Miguel Olivo, Buck is capitalizing on the opportunity to play more than twice a week and will have no problems reaching 20 HR and 70 RBI.  Both numbers, by the way, would be career highs.

If you’re looking for a catcher to fill a long-term hole at catcher in your lineup, you probably aren’t going to do much better than Buck.  The average will drop, but the power is real.  Buy in all leagues.

Troy Glaus

I used to love playing NBA Jam.  Especially when you’d hit three buckets in a row and the announcer would yell: “He’s on FIRE!”  Then the basketball and the nets would burst into flames.

That’s kind of what’s happening for Glaus right now.  Over his last 23 games, the Atlanta first baseman is hitting a robust .350/.448/.538 with 4 HR and 19 RBI.  

After missing most of 2009 while recovering from shoulder surgery, Glaus shook off a slow start where he whiffed in 21 of his first 71 plate appearances and now looks like he’s fully recovered.  

During this recent hot streak, Glaus has refined his approach and tightened his strikezone.  Early in the season, he was chasing far too many balls down (and out) of the zone.  He will still chase, but he’s doing so less frequently. (Usually on change-ups.)  Plus he’s been doing well with runners in scoring position, hitting .288 and is driving in 16% of all base runners - a solid rate.

He has definitely lost some power and is hitting more ground balls than at any point in his career, but he still has the potential to hit about 20 out of the yard, with the best case scenario probably around 25.    He’s a definite buy for NL-only leagues and is a good option for a corner infield spot in mixed leagues.

Cristian Guzman

Michael Jong has been tracking the Nationals shortstop for a few weeks in his value picks.  Ever since, Guzman has been on a tear, hitting .450/.477/.525 since May 2.  

Guzman doesn’t walk - he owns a career walk rate of 4.5% of all plate appearances, and has walked just 3.8% of the time in 2010.  With a career .114 ISO, he doesn't hit for power, either.  And since moving to Washington for the 2005 season, he doesn't steal bases - just 20 in 26 attempts since moving to the capital. His value comes almost exclusively from his batting average.

Since he missed 2006 while recovering from shoulder surgery, Guzman has posted three of the four highest batting average of his career, hitting a combined .305/.334/.423 over the previous three seasons.  As you would expect from his high rate of contact, he’s dependent upon his batting average on balls in play.  Here are his BABIPs from the three previous seasons:

2007 - .359
2008 - .337
2009 - .322

The decline is reflected in his final batting averages:

2007 - .328
2008 - .316
2009 - .284

Although Guzman has a .323 batting average though his first 34 games this season, evidence says his BA is flimsier than usual.  This year, Guzman possesses a .377 BABIP, a number that he didn’t approach even during his best seasons.  Plus, his strikeout rate is steadily inching upward.  He’s whiffing 14.5% of the time, which is his highest rate since 2005 when he struck out 15.5% of the time on his way to a .219 BA.

I’m not saying he’s going to crash to the Mendoza Line, but Guzman will be hard pressed to keep his average above last season’s .284.  With Adam Kennedy getting most of the starts at second and the Nationals committed to Ian Desmond at short, Guzman is getting squeezed on playing time as well.  If you buy now, you’ll be getting him at his peak value.  And his peak isn’t high enough to justify a spot on your roster.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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