Saturday, May 19, 2012

Slow Starts I'm Not Worried About (AL)

Today I take a look at five players in the Junior Circuit who have struggled in the early going, but are likely to turn it around.  I'm examining players who have hit rock bottom, not guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano, who still have solid numbers.  But these players either endured some terrible luck lately or have shown signs of breaking out.  So if you have them on your fantasy team, don't sell low since you've already weathered the worst and will miss out on their best.  Patience is a virtue, and you'll want to reap the rewards.

Jose Bautista (.207/.329/.443)
Many are worried that Bautista's sluggish start is a continuation of last year's second half, when his numbers slid to .257/.419/.477 after the All-Star Break.  But he was bound to regress after that MVP worthy first half.  He didn't have much lineup protection, either, and as the season wore on he didn't get many pitches to hit--his walk rate jumped and he paced the majors with 132 free passes.  In all likelihood the pitchers have figured him out to some degree, but I think he's still an elite hitter.  All of his batted ball data and plate discipline stats match those from last year,  but a .178 BABiP is killing him.  No, he's not going to bat .302 again, but with better luck he should wind up around the .260 mark he posted in 2010, his breakout campaign.  Joey Bats has powered up as of late, too, with five home runs in his past seven games.  I think he'll finish with typical Adam Dunn statistics, but with about half as many strikeouts.

Albert Pujols (.214/.248/.325)
After 11 excellent seasons in St. Louis,
Pujols has been frustrated in LA
Has endured what might be the most publicized and analyzed slump of all time.  Players typically go through an adjustment period after signing big free agent contracts and/or switching leagues, and in this regard the Machine is merely human.  For a while there he looked like David Ortiz circa spring, 2009, but with home runs in back-to-back games and a six game hitting streak he seems to be breaking out of his funk here.  I'm concerned that he's not taking any walks and chasing too many pitches out of the zone, so I guess he's been pressing and is just trying to swing his way out of it.  It's clear that he's no longer the best hitter in the game, but he's still a force with the bat in his hands.  Recall that he struggled up until Memorial Day last year before busting out and still managed a fifth place finish in the National League MVP race.  Nobody works harder than him, and it's only a matter of time before he figures it out.  Don't be surprised if he goes on a tear against his former NL opponents when interleague play starts this weekend. 

Mark Teixeira (.228/.283/.386)
Wait, is Mark Teixeira off to another slow start? Color me surprised. Every year people start worrying when he struggles early on, and every year (eight in a row now) he ends up with more than 30 home runs and 100 RBI.  For the record, his career OPS in April is a full 128 points below his next lowest mark which comes in--you guessed it--May.  In fact, his OPS keeps increasing through August, so at least wait until summer before pressing the panic button.  Sure, the days of hitting .300 are long gone, especially since he hits everything into the shift, which is compounded by the fact that he's been hitting too many grounders and not enough fly balls.  But he's striking out less frequently, his line drive rate looks good and his 10.2 HR/FB rate is well below his career 18 percent mark, so expect a few more fly balls to start clearing the fences once the weather heats up.  Before going 0-for-4 yesterday he'd been riding a six game hitting streak.  He's been dealing with a bronchial infection, so cut him some slack.  With that lineup and park, he's going to produce.

Eric Hosmer (.174/.237/.319)
Hosmer's been victimized by bad luck
The Royals are struggling, and Hosmer is no exception.  After finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, the 22 year-old superstar in the making seems to be mired in a brutal sophomore slump.  Manager Ned Yost has been moving the youngster around in the lineup to try to get him going by batting him third, fourth, moving him down to sixth, and recently moving him up to the two hole.  The same thing happened last year Hosmer finally settled in as the cleanup hitter during the second half, so don't read too much into it.  No matter where he hits in the order, he's going to turn it around. Hosmer's striking out less, walking more, and swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, all signs that he's maturing as a hitter.  So why is he struggling?  Could be growing pains, but the more likely explanation is that he's getting burned by a .165 BABiP.  Hosmer won't provide the Joey Votto numbers everybody was hoping for during the preseason, but he won't tank and pull a Jason Heyward, either.  I see a repeat of last year's numbers, with a lower average but better power figures.

Alexei Ramirez (.209/.229/.268)
Is he going to pull an Alex Rios this year?  I don't think so.  Much like Teixeira, Ramirez is a perennial slow starter, with an April OPS that's 160 points below his next worst month (September).  He'll be fine.  There are warning signs with career worsts in walk and strikeout rate, but his contact rates are excellent. All of his batted ball splits look fine except for his anemic 2.3 HR/FB rate, which explains why he has just one home run so far and is bound to go up, especially since the Cell is such a homer friendly venue.  After a much needed day off earlier in the week to clear his head he's gone 5 for his last 17 (.294), so he may be poised for a hot streak.

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