Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Buzz Around The Bullpen: "Simply Zo-Brist, Better Than All The Rest"...Not Quite But He's On Fire Right Now

Welcome back to another edition of the "Buzz Around the Bullpen". This week I want to focus on something I saw at least twice this past week. That is, the umpire's inability to allow baseball to be played in accordance with its unwritten rules. Beginning at even the high school level, there is an unwritten rule that if you intentionally throw at one of our "better" players, one of your "better" players should expect to be wearing one as well. It's really not a difficult rule to follow and all players, especially those at the major league level are well aware of it.

This past week, John Lackey was thrown out of his first game back from the disabled list after he threw two pitches at Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Should Lackey be focusing on hitting his first batter after being on the DL for the first month and a half of the season? Probably not, but there was obviously something Kinsler did that Lackey didn't take a liking to. Now I didn't see what happened the night prior but I do know that Ian Kinsler hit two home runs. Chances are he did something while he was rounding the bases that didn't go over well with the Angels. The only thing I did not like about what Lackey did was that he elevated the ball around head level on the first pitch. While I'm all for making a statement, throwing at someone's head is not the way to do it. A statement pitch should only end up in the ribs/butt region.

For now, let's get back to some hits and misses for this upcoming week of fantasy baseball.

Big Hits

Ben Zobrist (TB, SS/OF): While most fantasy prognosticators will tell you to shy away from a guy that is not an "everyday player", I'm not going to let you be deterred by this label. Although it continues to be said that Zobrist is a utility player, he has now had at least three at-bats in the Rays' last nine games. Despite the fact he may not always be in the same position, Joe Maddon continues to find a spot in his lineup for this hot hitting shortstop/outfielder. While his average is not going to necessarily help your team, it certainly won't hurt you. However, over the last 35-40 games Zobrist has played in (including games from the end of the 2008 season), he has hit as many home runs as any of the perennial power hitters in the game. In fact, in his last 284 at-bats, he has 19 HRs. Also, he has also shown the ability to steal some bases. As with any player in fantasy, his value does increase even more because of his positional versatility. He's one of the most added players over the past several weeks so move quickly before the word gets out in your league.

Fernando Tatis (NYM, OF/1B): I've been writing this column for a little less than a year and yes, this is the second time I have highlighted Fernando Tatis. I have to be honest, I actually feel worse now than a did the first time. However, you cannot argue with what Tatis has done in limited at-bats over the past two years. And now with the injury to Carlos Delgado and Jeremy Reed's inability to throw a baseball 90 feet to home plate, Tatis may be the guy that steps in at first base. Tatis will find himself in a lineup where he'll see plenty of pitches to hit and will have an opportunity to drive in some runs. I don't expect as many HRs this year (11 HRs in 273 ABs in '07) with the move to the new pitcher friendly ballpark, but you never know when you may catch lightning in a bottle. It can't hurt to take a chance on Tatis if you need some help at your corner infield/1B spot. Depending on your league, you may first have to wait until he gets 1B eligibility.

Matt Palmer (LAA, SP): Palmer has found himself pitching in a rotation that has been riddled by tragedy, injuries and just about everything else that can go wrong. In turn, Palmer has taken advantage of this unexpected opportunity and has given the Angels some productive pitching performances. In fact, Palmer has now accumulated 4 wins and possesses an ERA of 3.38 along with 16 Ks and a .97 WHIP over 26 2/3 innings. Although Palmer does not have overpowering stuff, he has shown the ability to pitch and get himself out of jams when necessary. If you act fast, you can capitalize on his two starts this fantasy week including a start tonight against King Felix and the Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately things don't get much easier on Sunday when Palmer is slated to face off against Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers for some inter-league play.

Big Miss

David Ortiz (BOS, DH): Last season, I focused on David Ortiz in the "Big Miss" section and while he did finish with 23 HRs and 89 RBIs, it was not a typical Big Papi season. Now fast-forward to today and Big Papi is coming off of a weekend where he was sat down by manager Terry Francona for some time to "gather himself." At this point in the season, Ortiz has now gone 130 at-bats without hitting a home run. While I do think Big Papi will rebound and hit 15-20 HRs this year, the David Ortiz we all got to know during the Sox's World Series runs is gone for good.

Whether it is his inability to work off of his once injured (maybe still injured) right knee or just a decrease in bat speed, Papi can't drive the inside pitch anymore. Because of his inability to hit the inside fastball, he is developing quite a hole in his swing. The thing is that nobody knows the holes in a hitter's swing better than himself. As a result, Ortiz is overcompensating by "pulling-off" with his front shoulder in an attempt to catch up with the inside pitch. The problem is when he does this, one of two things happen depending on where the pitch is thrown. If it is in fact an inside pitch, he will pop it up because when he pulls his shoulder, his head tilts, his back shoulder/back side drops and he gets underneath the ball. If it is an outside pitch or even worse, a left handed breaking ball, Papi is working away from the pitch and chances of him centering the ball are slim to none. I've always thought of this scenario like trying to hit the cue ball in pool with your shoulders and feet moving. Most of the time, you're going to get a piece but it won't be solid. All of this is very bad news for his owners. The only way Big Papi can put up respectable numbers is if he can focus on driving the ball up to the middle/to the left side. This will keep his front shoulder on the ball for just a split-second longer and allow him to center the baseball. However, until he can shorten up his swing for inside pitches, I look for Ortiz to continue to struggle with any fastballs 93+ anywhere near the inner-third of home plate.

As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.

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