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April 12, 2005

Fantasy Focus

NL East Busts

by Jeff Erickson

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We'll continue our "Busts" series today, with a reminder that I like to break down the "busts" in three different levels:

  • Level I: Useable players who will be overpriced/overvalued on Draft Day. I wouldn't be opposed to owning them, just not at their going rate in most leagues.

  • Level II: Players who have a major flaw that would dissuade me from owning them, barring special circumstances; or, players with an existing injury that lessens their value.

  • Level III: Players who I won't touch with a 10-foot pole come draft day.

Atlanta Braves

Level I

Tim Hudson: This selection is couched strictly in terms of perceived value vs. actual value. While a move to the NL, specifically under the watchful eye of pitching coach Leo Mazzone, bodes well, there are some negative trends as well. Hudson's strikeout rate has steadily declined from his first two seasons in the majors, and he's shouldered a heavy workload in his career at a young age. He's going to be valuable, but chances are that he won't meet the price that he'll fetch in most auctions or drafts.

Level II

Raul Mondesi: If you're going to take a chance on one of the Braves' oft-injured corner outfielders, Mondesi probably represents the better risk than Brian Jordan does. This still holds true even after Mondesi got off to a slow start and sat out a game. Still, when comparing Mondesi to the universe of outfielders, it's clear that he's a risk, both in terms of injury and in performance. He once was a 30/30 threat, but those days are long past.

Level III

Brian Jordan: We at Rotowire have Jordan projected for 238 at-bats this season, which is both a tad on the pessimistic side and more than he's been able to get in each of the last two seasons. Jordan's running game isn't really a factor any longer, and his batting average is a risk. Factor in that the Braves are contemplating using Andy Marte in the outfield, and it's not difficult to envision a change by the All-Star break.

Florida Marlins

Level I

Juan Pierre: Pierre's value is in his legs, and if he isn't running, his value as a roto player declines considerably. Pierre spent a considerable portion of spring training sidelined with a calf strain that was slow in healing. He also didn't start Saturday's game after playing every inning of every game last year; the Marlins said that they were trying to rest Pierre, and that it wasn't related to his calf strain. Still, he hasn't stolen a base yet this season, after getting caught at a higher rate than ever in 2004. He could steal 45 bases again this year, but he also could just as easily drop down to 25 thefts.

Paul Lo Duca: Rarely do first-half/second-half trends have predictive value, but the exception may be for a position that exacts such a toll on the body as catching does. Lo Duca has a pretty well-established trend of tailing off at the plate after 350-400 plate appearances. If you draft Lo Duca and he gets off to a good start, try to trade him by the All-Star break so as to skim the cream off the top.

Level II

Al Leiter: Somehow, Leiter has maintained a low ERA the last two seasons despite a rising walk rate and a plummeting strikeout rate. At this point in his career, his margin for error is perilously slim. While he's toiling in a great pitchers' park, it's not much change for his recent years in Shea Stadium. Leiter is going to hit a cliff soon in his career, and when he does, it won't be pretty.

Juan Encarnacion: Encarnacion is another member of the "outs are not a category" club. His hack-tastic ways have been matched by a decline in power and speed. At best, you can hope for Encarnacion to hit .270 with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases. At worst, you could get stuck with an outfielder that hits .240 with eight homers and five stolen bases. If he starts hitting that poorly, Jeff Conine or even Jeremy Hermida could take away his starting job over the second half of the season.

Level III

Antonio Alfonseca: Even while posting a career low 2.57 ERA with the Braves last year, Alfonseca had soft peripheral numbers. Now that he's out of the protective reach of Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox, look for his ERA to climb back up to its 2002 (4.00) or even 2003 (5.83) level. That he might be next in line to close behind Guillermo Mota makes him attractive, but he's not a good bet to succeed should he inherit the role.

Ismael Valdez: Valdez only looks like an attractive fifth starter option when the alternative is to use Scuffy Moehler. It only seems that Valdez is old; officially, he's just 31. Valdez isn't the man we knew 10 years ago, but " it's not the age, it's the mileage."

New York Mets

Level I

Victor Zambrano: Zambrano has always had great stuff but has never been able to harness it over an extended period of time. It's possible that Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson will be able to find a way to make it work with Zambrano, but that will never justify their catastrophic decision to give away Scott Kazmir for him. Because of the cost involved, many still will invest in Zambrano thinking that he'll be a gem for them. If his first start is any indication (four walks in five innings), he hasn't turned that corner yet.

Tom Glavine: Now more than ever, Glavine is dependent upon getting those pitches two to three inches off the plate called as strikes. When he gets that call, as he did on Monday against the Astros, his repertoire is still remarkably effective. When he doesn't get that call, like he didn't in his first start against the Reds, he's forced to challenge hitters in the strike zone and is vulnerable to giving up a few rockets. I'll admit a personal bias here against Glavine--he represents the mindset among some umpires that, as a veteran, he's "earned that call." Meanwhile, a young hitter or pitcher trying to establish himself loses out on the corners of the plate, making an already difficult task that much more daunting. It's cases like Glavine's that justify the implementation of Questec, so long as it's done in every ballpark.

Level II

Kazuhisa Ishii: The Mets apparently wanted to add the left-handed version of Zambrano to the squad. Everything that I wrote about Ishii in my NL West Busts article still applies, but now his home park is slightly less favorable for him than Dodger Stadium was.

Level III

Miguel Cairo: There's precious little chance that Cairo recaptures the fantasy utility he had with the Yankees in 2004. Even if he approaches the playing time he got last year, he'll be hitting in a worse lineup, worse ballpark and will offer both fewer counting stats and a lower batting average than he did last year.

Philadelphia Phillies

Level I

Randy Wolf: Wolf had a nice 2004 debut, but his elbow has to be considered a ticking time bomb. You can consider riding him for 100 innings or so, but after that, you should be looking to get good value from him in a trade.

Level II

Cory Lidle: A solid stretch run against teams that were primarily dead in the water prompted the Phillies to give Lidle a two-year deal. Lidle is too homer-prone to keep in your starting lineup every week, and he tends to wear down quickly within games: batters hit .245 against him in his first three innings, .297 thereafter.

David Bell: Bell had a nice comeback season after missing much of his first year in Philadelphia with a bad back and not hitting when he played. The odds are against him repeating this success, as he will be 32 in 2005, is still battling the back problem, and was never a star with the bat. At what point will Charlie Manuel consider replacing Bell as the solution to his Placido Polanco/Chase Utley quandary?

Level III

Kenny Lofton: Lofton didn't fit in too well with the Yankees in 2004. Traded to Philly in the offseason, he may again share time in center field. His 51 runs in 276 at-bats were solid, but the days of Lofton as a big stolen-base threat are over. He's not much more than a slap hitter at this point. Further threatening Lofton's value is that the Phillies have at least one, if not two, viable alternatives behind him in Jason Michaels and Marlon Byrd.

Washington Nationals

Level I

Vinny Castilla: Our average reader understands all the nuances of park effects, but just as a reminder, last year with the Rockies Castilla hit .321/.379/.575 at home and .218/.281/.493 on the road. Factor in the natural likelihood of decline coming with age, and you have a player who will provide his fantasy owner with much less than he costs in 2005.

Level II

Tony Armas: While it's a groin strain that has him on the DL for now, it's Armas' shoulder that should keep you from relying at all on him to fill one of your rotation spots. Sure, every once in a while he's capable of pitching a gem, but he's equally capable of languishing in "day-to-day" purgatory, hampering your ability to properly set a full lineup. There are better upside players.

Cristian Guzman: Guzman's command of the strike zone has worsened over time, and consequently his stolen-base production has suffered. Off to a slow start with the Nationals, Guzman has already been dropped to eighth in the batting order. While the move is probably temporary, his lack of plate discipline is not.

Level III

Endy Chavez: Just as the Tigers did with Alex Sanchez, the Nationals pre-empted this selection. Chavez is capable of stealing 30 bases when he can get his batting average up to a quasi-respectable level, but he's just as likely to hack his way into a .235/.265/.330 line for you, netting you a less-impressive 15 bags in exchange for the damage he'll do to your other categories.

--

Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at 2 p.m. ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: R... (04/12)
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