Early Season AL Surprsises

Last week I looked at some NL players having particularly good or poor seasons relative to expectations. This week it’s time to do a similar scan at American League players.
Mark Reynolds has been off to a hot start splitting time between 1B and DH, with a .302 average, 19 runs, 25 RBI, and league-leading 9 HR. Reynolds has always shown excellent power (44 HR in Arizona in 2009), but he’s been weighted down by strikeouts, as he holds the single-season MLB record, as well as the 3rd and 5th highest totals, and so his batting average has been a major drag on fantasy teams, not to mention his RBI totals. This year, however, his strikeouts are way down – only 25 in 96 AB. If he can keep the strikeouts in check, he might well have his best fantasy year ever.
Nate McLouth has become quite a fantasy asset since moving into the leadoff spot in Baltimore, getting on base regularly (.407 OBP), stealing bases (8 SB, tied for 2nd in the AL; only 1 CS), and scoring runs (23, tied for 4th in the league). If he can maintain these rates, and his .315 average, he’d easily post career bests in all three categories. Not bad for a guy the projection systems on my site all expected to hit under .250.
Chris Davis trails only Miguel Cabrera among batters in RotoValue in my 5×5 AL-only format rankings, batting .330 with 9 HR, 19 R, and 29 RBI. In the Going 9 AL draft I did earlier this year, Davis went in the 5th round, #53 overall. Davis did have a big second half in 2012, which perhaps foreshadowed this breakout, but no doubt he’s been a big positive surprise for his owners.
Hisashi Iwakuma is currently the #4 overall pitcher in my 5×5 AL rankings after posting 7 excellent starts. He’s only managed 3 wins, or else he might rank even higher for posting a 1.61 ERA and a microscopic 0.761 WHIP over 44.67 innings. He’s also getting nearly a strikeout per inning, with a total of 44.  Iwakuma did pitch well in mixed use last season, his first in the U.S., but he’s been truly amazing this year. He’s much less heralded than Yu Darvish, but he’s been nearly as good in 5×5, and even better in 4×4 where Darvish’s strikeouts don’t directly matter.
Clay Buchholz has been the biggest positive surprise this year, and stands as the AL’s best 5×5 pitcher so far with 6 wins in 6 starts, accompanied by a league-leading 1.01 ERA and an excellent 0.963 ratio. His 47 Ks are tied for 5th in the AL, giving him excellent all-around value, especially compared to his projections. Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez may wind up the year with more value, but you’d need to spend a lot more money at auction, or use a 1st or 2nd round pick, to land them, while Buchholz was much cheaper.
Here’s five players not living up to preseason expectations:
Josh Johnson was expected to solidify the Blue Jays rotation and help lead it to the playoffs. Instead he wound up on the disabled list after just 4 winless starts, including ugly percentages, a 6.86 ERA and a 1.881 WHIP. The lowlight was his 2nd start, on April 11th, against Detroit, when he lasted just 1.33 IP after giving up 6 ER, 7 hits, and 2 BB. The combination of terrible performance and high expectations lands him on this list.
David Price has taken the ball all year for the Rays, but he’s been mostly ineffective. After 20 wins and a 2.56 ERA in 2012, he’s won just once while saddling his owners with a 6.25 ERA and 1.478 WHIP in 44.67 IP. He’s had two awful starts that have killed his overall value. The Indians torched him for 8 ER in 5 IP on April 7th, and the Rockies pounded him for 9 ER over 6.67 IP yesterday. If you own him, it’s probably best to sit tight and wait for a turnaround – he does still have 40 strikeouts compared to just 12 walks, and his 2013 BABIP is .351, well above his career .281 mark. Now he’s probably near the low end of his trade value. But if his owner is nervous about him, it might be a good time to see if he can be acquired rather cheaply.
Perhaps the only thing keeping Jarrod Parker from being the AL’s worst fantasy starter year to date is his lone win. But while expectations were tempered for Philip Humber and Vance Worley, Parker’s owners were counting on him to be a solid #1 or #2 level starter, and he’s so far failed to produce. A 7.36 ERA and 2.011 WHIP are ugly indeed, and so far Parker’s peripheral stats are not suggestive of an imminent turnaround. He’s walked nearly as many batters (16) as he’s struck out (18) in 29.33 IP. The .379 BABIP should come down, but unless his command impoves, he now seems more like a marginal starter at best, rather than a guy who makes  a big contribution to your rotation.
Jered Weaver has a long track record of durability and quite good performance, but this year a broken elbow (fortunately his left, non-pitching one) landed him on the DL after just 2 starts. One was good – 1 ER over 6 IP in a no-decision, while the other was poor – 5 ER in 5 IP, giving him a 4.50 ERA and 1.364 WHIP on the season. He’s already doing some throwing and is expected to return before the end of the month, but the missed time has been a drag for his owners. There were also some concerns about his velocity declining relative to past years, and how much that might limit his effectiveness.
The year’s biggest disappointment so far has been Josh Hamilton, the former Rangers’ MVP who signed a $125 million free agent contract with the Angels. So far that deal has not paid off at all for the team, as Hamilton has struggled mightily at the plate, batting just .207 with 2 HR, 9 RBI, 11 runs, and 1 SB. Last year, Hamilton slugged .577. This year, his OPS is lower, at .539. That’s how ugly this year as gone so far.

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