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July 27, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Hidden Recoveries

by Erik Siegrist

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With nearly four months of games in the books, a number of players who got off to poor starts have already been written off as disappointments. But just as a sizzling April didn't necessarily mean that Andy Sisco was the next Johan Santana, a slow April didn't mean that Todd Helton was washed up.

In the case of a fantasy superstar like Helton, the chance to pick him up cheaply has already come and gone. In the case of some lesser lights, however, their recoveries might still be hidden beneath the weak numbers they put up earlier in the year, making them prime targets for the stretch run. (In shallow leagues, in fact, you might be able to pick some of these players up for nothing, as they've already been dropped by their previous owners.) Even if you have to trade for them, though, their cost should be less than their value going forward, and they could be the difference between an end-of-season role as bride or bridesmaid.

Richard Hidalgo: The ever-unpredictable Hidalgo has alternated incredibly bad months (.173/.235/.280 in April, .139/.209/.304 in June) with incredibly good ones (.307/.398/.653 in May, .309/.333/.509 so far in July) this season, and probably driven his owners to madness in the process. There's no way of knowing which Hidalgo will show up for the rest of the year, but offering up a lesser but more "stable" player could land you a hitter with significant upside. Hidalgo's season line of .225/.292/.430 is just shy of his 10th percentile PECOTA (.238/.302/.436), and there's plenty of room for improvement over the last two months. If you need to take a risk or two to chase down that championship, Hidalgo should be on your short list of targets.

Aubrey Huff: Huff is arguably the poster boy for the "First Half/Second Half Player" theory, as he's recorded an average OPS over 100 points higher after the break over the last three seasons (944 post-All-Star break, 829 pre-ASB). He's doing it again this year too, with a .295/.329/.564 July, easily topping his previous 2005 best (a .271/.350/.412 April). Huff's owner may or may not be aware of his career pattern, and you may or may not trust it, but the fact remains that Huff has seriously underperformed his 50th percentile PECOTA projection of .298/.363/.508, and stands a good chance of putting up yet another big second half.

Mike Lieberthal: After failing to hit above .240 in any of the first three months of the year, and compiling a miserable .231/.316/.367 line prior to the All-Star break, Lieberthal has ripped off a .295/.418/.591 July in 44 at-bats. He's hitting over his head right now, but with a PECOTA 50th percentile line of .282/.345/.444, it's equally clear he's got plenty of room to improve on his first half. As an added bonus, his current owner, having suffered through the bad times, could be thinking Lieberthal's hot streak represents one last chance to unload him. If you need reinforcements at catcher, Lieberthal could be your best bet from a cost/production standpoint.

Greg Maddux: Once upon a time, picking up Maddux cheap at the deadline would have been unthinkable. The maestro is on pace to win fewer than 15 games for the first time since 1987, and his 4.55 ERA probably has his owner thinking the end is near for the future Hall of Famer. However Maddux may have found the Fountain of Youth, or at least the Faucet of Slight Rejuvenation, in July:


Month    OAV    K/9     BB/9    HR/9
April   .274    4.8     1.2     1.5
May     .270    5.9     1.6     0.9
June    .319    5.9     2.2     1.9
July    .252    6.3     0.7     1.0

Maddux's legendary control returned for an encore this month. Whether he can maintain it is an open question, certainly--PECOTA's 50th percentile had him at an EqBB/9 of 1.4, or right in line with his April-May numbers. If there's a sign of hope, it's that his bad June appears more out of line with his season to date than his July numbers. It may not cost you too much to see if he has one last playoff chase left in his arm.

Guillermo Mota: Mota's first stint as the unquestioned closer for a team didn't go so well, as his elbow came up lame before he could entrench himself in the role. While he was on the shelf, greybeard Marlins manager Jack McKeon found a kindred spirit in retread Todd Jones, and Mota's awful June upon returning from the DL (7.24 ERA, 9/6 K/BB in 13 2/3 IP) did nothing to encourage McKeon to switch back. Back in a set-up role, Mota has found his groove, posting an 18/6 K/BB ratio and 3.14 ERA in 14 1/3 July innings. Jones hasn't shown signs of faltering yet, but things can change in a hurry at the back of a bullpen (especially when the team in question is considered an underachieving bunch) and Mota hasn't yet been branded with twin scarlet Cs ("Can't Close") on his chest the way LaTroy Hawkins has. If you need saves, or just some strikeouts from your relievers, grab Mota now before his overall numbers (4.31 ERA, 1.487 WHIP) fall back to something closer to his PECOTA 50th percentile projection (3.44 ERA, 1.263 WHIP).

David Wells: Wells, probably more identified with the Yankees than any of the other 318 (or thereabouts) major-league teams he's played for, did nothing to wash away memories of pinstripes and game-worn Babe Ruth caps in his initial work for the Red Sox (5.96 ERA, and just three wins through May). His slow start can't be considered a surprise, given his age and unconditioning regimen, but over June and July he's put things together, posting a 3.60 ERA and 5-1 record. His ERA on the year (4.57 ERA) in now right in line with his 50th percentile PECOTA (4.60 ERA) but thanks to a 0.9 BB/9 rate, he's far ahead of the pace in WHIP (1.25 versus 1.42). Being stingy with free passes is nothing new for Wells, of course. Assuming he keeps it up, he could put up some surprisingly good numbers over the final two months of the year.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox.

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