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July 12, 2007

Fantasy Focus

The Ill-Stars

by Kenn Ruby

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Flash back to your 2007 draft day. You've consulted your cheat sheets, and you've bought your players. You've made a few gambles, both on old guys and on some rookies, but for the most part you're happy. Jermaine Dye and Richie Sexson are your big sluggers, and you have a host of other guys who could hit 20 homers. You projected Julio Lugo to get 30 stolen bases, so you're happy that you've got him. You like your young pitchers like Ervin Santana, Jeremy Sowers, and Fernando Rodney. You even snagged two closers--B.J. Ryan and Chris Ray--so you won't have to punt saves.

You probably know where we're going with this. If you drafted a team with all of the players described above, you're in last place in your AL-only league. We're coming to the end of the All-Star Break, and while everyone is talking about who was and who should have been on the All-Star Team, and complaining about some who shouldn't have been, we'd like to talk about a different group of people. These guys aren't just disappointments--most of their performances just flat-out stink. For one reason or another, you had high hopes for most of them, but they haven't even come close to delivering. They're the Anti-All Stars, or the "Ill Stars," if you will.

NL Ill-Star Team

Catchers: There were high hopes for Chris Iannetta and Ronny Paulino coming into the season. Iannetta hit well over .300 at two minor league stops in 2006, and showed a great eye both in the minors and in a September stint with the Rockies. He was expected to provide moderate power and a nice batting average. He's done neither, and he now backs up the great Yorvit Torrealba. Paulino showed he could hit .300 in the majors in 2006, but this year he's hitting just .234; at least he has five homers at the break.

Corner Infielders: Did you expect about 70 home runs from Mike Jacobs, Morgan Ensberg, and Scott Rolen? So did we. Jacobs can at least blame his poor performance on problems with his thumb, but what's Ensberg's excuse? Although he hasn't gotten regular playing time, he hasn't exactly shown that he deserves it either--seven home runs and a .210 batting average isn't going to cut it for a player who hit 59 homers in 2005-2006. Rolen's lack of power may be even more disappointing. He's been a little banged up, but he's still playing nearly every day. Considering Rolen has averaged about 25 home runs a season over his last 10 seasons, his four dingers at the break is alarming. It would not be a surprise to learn that his shoulder is still bothering him nearly two years after surgery.

Middle Infielders: Rafael Furcal has a lot of miles on his tires, and it's starting to show. From 2003-2006, Furcal was the model of consistency, averaging 14 home runs, 112 runs, and 34 stolen bases. He's well off that pace in every category, and despite a respectable .273 batting average, Furcal would have to be on the short list of most disappointing fantasy players of 2007. He's joined by Stephen Drew and Adam Kennedy. Kennedy was a big signing for St. Louis this offseason, but he's added absolutely nothing to the Cardinals offense; he now has a perfect view of Aaron Miles from his spot on the bench. Drew hasn't been as disappointing as Furcal or Kennedy, but he hasn't done much with the stick. His four home runs and .242 batting average are a far cry from the promise he showed in 59-game stint with Arizona in 2006.

Outfielders: Fantasy owners remembered Andruw Jones' last contract push--51 home runs in 2005--and bid accordingly. He's never been a high batting average player, but he only just pushed over the Mendoza Line, and he's on pace for his fewest home runs since 1999. Brian Giles is on this because he has one homer. One. Sure, he was hurt for awhile, and his power has been dwindling for years, but one homer? That's it? This is a guy who once hit at least 35 homers four years in a row. Pat Burrell is another power-hitting veteran who is giving the team nothing. He's been drawing walks, but that doesn't help you much, not unless you're in a league that includes on base percentage. We can add two youngsters to this outfield, Matt Murton and Carlos Quentin, both of whom were expected to make huge steps up this year, and both of whom are now in the minors.

Utilityman: As much as we wanted to include Nomar Garciaparra here (he's hitting .276 with very little power), it's rare to see him stay healthy for three consecutive months, so we had to go with Carlos Delgado. He's been heating up the last few weeks, but he's still hitting just .242, and his power is off a bit from his standards--he's hit at least 30 homers every year since 1997, but is on pace for only 26 this season.

Starting Pitchers: Although there were plenty of good candidates for this team, we're happy with our seven-man rotation. Chris Carpenter, perhaps the top pitcher in the NL going into the season, made one start before hitting the DL. Jason Schmidt, Freddy Garcia, and John Patterson lasted slightly longer, but they've only earned one win apiece. That's one more than Anthony Reyes, who is 0-10 with a 6.40 ERA, and now toiling in Memphis. Mike Pelfrey just returned to the Mets rotation after seven weeks in New Orleans, and isn't much better at 0-7 with a 6.10 ERA. Finally, there's Zach Duke, who has given up an astounding 141 hits in only 93.1 innings. Although he hasn't been as disappointing as some of the other starters, he's been the healthiest--his 5.79 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts may make him the worst starting pitcher in the National League.

Relievers: When Florida needed an experienced closer, they made the mistake of trading for Jorge Julio. Julio lasted about two weeks in the closer role, but most fantasy drafts were during those weeks. He hasn't saved a game all season, and is now pitching in garbage time for the Rockies. Tom Gordon only lasted a month before suffering an inflammation of his rotator cuff, but he his numbers were underwhelming: 4.82 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in just 9.1 innings.

AL Ill-Star Team

Catchers: Jason Kendall has two home runs this year; all that power has sapped his batting average, and he's hitting just .222 at the break. Ramon Hernandez hasn't come close to building on his strong 2006 (23-91-.275), and while he's had to battle a few injuries, he has just four home runs and a .236 batting average in 165 at-bats.

Corner Infielders: Richie Sexson's pace of 28 home runs and 91 RBI would make most people happy, but it's well off the pace of his prime years (2001-2003), when he averaged 40 home runs and 117 RBI. Even worse is his .204 batting average. The other two corners, Joe Crede and Ryan Shealy, were expected to hit 20-25 home runs this year--they won't. Crede might be done for the year after back surgery, and Shealy's hammy has landed him on the DL, perhaps a mercy after slugging only .308.

Middle Infielders: The first thing you might notice about Julio Lugo is the stolen bases. Then you see the batting average and you say "you can't steal first base" and "more valuable in fantasy than real life" over and over again. It seems unfair to include Robinson Cano on this team, but he set the bar way too high in 2006. With a good second half, he could come close to reaching his expectations. Erick Aybar, on the other hand, hasn't even been able to give his owner the couple of things he's good at--steals and batting average.

Outfielders: Thanks to monster 2006 season, Jermaine Dye was ranked near the top of most outfield lists. With just 12 homers and a .214 batting average at the break, Dye might be the most disappointing hitter on either Ill-Star team. Johnny Damon and Emil Brown are actually a little better than expected in stolen bases, but unfortunately they're doing it with low batting averages and no power. Damon has scored at least 100 runs nine straight seasons, but he's on pace for just 84 despite sitting at the top of the Yankees lineup. J.D. Drew seems to be a perennial disappointment, but that's usually because of injuries. This year he's been relatively healthy but hasn't shown any power. If you tried to sneak Jay Gibbons onto your team late in your draft with visions of 20 dingers for a couple of bucks, our condolences--he's hitting .212 at the break with just five home runs.

Utilityman: What's a list of disappointing players without Alex Gordon? The hype was at a fever pitch going into 2007, and he was so bad the first couple of months that some were writing him off for good. He's slowly inching up the list of respectability thanks to a fine June, but anyone expecting a .300 batting average and 100 RBI is going to have to wait at least another year.

Starting Pitchers: Ervin Santana is on pace for nine wins and 152 strikeouts, so he hasn't been a total bust, but he's piling up a lot of innings at a young age, and the cracks are starting to show. In 104 innings, he has a 5.97 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Kei Igawa, Kevin Millwood, and Vicente Padilla have been even worse. No one expected Padilla to repeat his 15-win season of a year ago, but they probably expected better than a 6.69 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. Igawa was so bad in April that he spent seven weeks in the minors. Millwood is still just 32, a former ERA champion, and won 16 games a year ago, but he has a 6.16 ERA; at least he's pitched well the last few times out. Jeremy Sowers was phenomenal for Cleveland and Triple-A Buffalo last season, but a poor strikeout rate should have been a warning sign. Before getting sent back down to Buffalo a month ago, Sowers was 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA and just 19 strikeouts in 12 starts. After winning at least 15 games for the second year in a row last year, Jake Westbrook is just 1-4 with a 6.27 ERA right now. Although he's back after a long stint on the DL, it's safe to say he isn't going to win 15 games again in 2007.

Relievers: If you had B.J. Ryan, Chris Ray, and Fernando Rodney after your draft day, you probably licked your chops at the possibility of 80 saves. At the break they have 18 saves, and Ryan is already done for the year. Rodney is probably next in line should the mediocre Todd Jones lose his job, but he's had shoulder problems, and may not get the chance. Ray hasn't been bad, but his hold on the Baltimore job is a bit shaky right now.

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Lies, Damned Lies: All... (07/11)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Nationa... (07/02)
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