Friday, July 28, 2006

By John Gizzi, PFS Baseball Senior Writer

Now, more than ever, you must be quick with the hook, cutting loose any dead weight on your roster - to be more precise, cutting live weight like Esteban Loaiza and others before they ruin what could be a championship-winning season. A bad starting pitcher could literally cost you 12 points in the standings, and few teams have that kind of lead to work with. This provides with me with a segue into my next point. It's also the time of year where fantasy owners who are lagging somewhat in wins and strikeouts are tempted to use the spot-starter strategy. While this idea would work quite well if Johan Santana was on the waiver wire, in reality you'll be choosing between 1) raw rookies on bad teams; 2) bad veterans on bad teams; 3) bad veterans on any team, period. In other words, your options are "bad," "worse," and "Democrat or Republican." Here are this week's hot and cold players, where a big-name pitcher (think Mark Buehrle) is on the wrong end of the scale.

-- Rising --

SP Vicente Padilla, Texas
Starting pitchers in August in Texas do not usually merit attention, but Padilla could break that rule. Since his ERA reached a season-high 5.29 on June 3, Padilla has been quite solid in the nine starts after, as his ERA now sits at an even 4.00. How has he done this? By throwing strikes. In those nine starts, covering 62 innings, he's walked 14 while striking out 50. The Texas offense is struggling now, but Padilla's won 10 games, and if you need a starter in your mixed league, I'd take a look at Padilla.

2B Ray Durham, San Francisco
Yes, yes, yes, we mentioned him last week. If you didn't take my advice and pick up Durham in your mixed league, here's what you missed in the last week: a .346 average, four home runs, 11 RBI, and seven runs. That thud you heard was your window of opportunity to get Durham. Bummer.

RP Ambiorix Burgos, Kansas City
And so Burgos once again finds himself closing games for the Royals. It's not the cipherous job it appears to be, as Burgos does have 15 saves so far, with more than a half-dozen botched ones, so the opportunities have been there. He'll likely do the job, though he'll have his rough patches. Kudos if you kept Burgos around hoping (at minimum) he'd turn into an effective middle reliever. Keep an eye or two on Joe Nelson and Todd Wellemeyer, too; they could step in should Burgos fail.

1B Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
Not only does "Little" Cecil make an excellent player to target for 2007, but he could also push your team closer to a fantasy title this year. Fielder hit seven home runs in June, but hit only .208. In July he's hitting .316, but with only two homers and 10 RBI. The suspicion here is that he puts it all together in August and September, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 40 runs, and maintaining an average near .300. Get him now and reap the benefits; he won't cost you as much as, say, Mark Teixeira, but he'll out-hit him.

SP Carlos Zambrano, Chicago (NL)
Some time ago, Zambrano landed on the "Falling" list, mainly thanks to his control problems. Ever so slowly, though, Zambrano's control has improved. After issuing six free passes on June 6, in his last eight starts he's walked 22 in 54 innings, striking out 50 in the process. What's really helped Zambrano has been his stinginess with hits: opponents are hitting .197 against him. With 11 wins for a dreadful Cubs team, Zambrano is an anomaly. But he's a worthy anomaly, and if you need to trade for an ace down the stretch, consider Zambrano, who possibly won't cost as much as other aces.

-- Falling --

SP Mark Buehrle, Chicago (AL)
Buehrle and his teammates Javier Vazquez and Jon Garland appeared here last week, but this time Buehrle has the spotlight on his own. Including his start on Wednesday when he gave up 10 hits and seven runs in 5.1 innings, Buehrle in his last five starts, covering 26.2 innings, has given up 47 hits and 36 runs (34 earned), while walking five—his control has been good at least!—and striking out 15. For those of you keeping score at home, that's an 11.47 ERA and 1.95 WHIP. Ugh. It could be that Buehrle heavy workload over the last five years is catching up to him, but whatever the case, the time is now to drop him in your mixed league. You can't wait around for him to turn things around, because even in the best of times he's not a dominant starter.
SP Esteban Loaiza, Oakland
I'll throw away all pretense of objectivity and claim my dislike for Loaiza. Forget the alleged DUI he had earlier in the season. That speaks for itself. Come to think of it, so do Loaiza's putrid numbers this year: 6.75 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 12 home runs allowed, and 37 strikeouts in 69 innings. What's remarkable is how much worse his statistics would be had his one inning/nine run outing against the Royals not been cancelled because of a rainout. He needs to be dumped in all formats, and now. Good thing the A's signed him to a three-year deal, eh?

RP Mike MacDougal, Kansas City
Needless to say, MacDougal collecting holds for the White Sox doesn't help your fantasy team as much as him collecting saves in Kansas City. Since I already wrote 20 words after "needless to say," I'll stop here. Well, not quite here. MacDougal can still help your team as an effective middle reliever, and knowing Ozzie Guillen's caprices he may just give MacDougal the closer's job if Bobby Jenks doesn't hit a batter or 15 in belated retaliations—retaliations his wimpy teammates failed to carry out, the quislings.


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