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Lames: Inflated expectations distort Heyward’s true 2011 value

It's an unforgiving label no player wants, and every fantasy manager expresses trepidation over: Fragile, please handle with care.

Over the years, some of the game's most skilled hitters have had their offensive contributions sullied by repetitive 15-day vacations. Every year, it seems, these high-risk commodities find creative new ways to decorate their names with a red "DL." Eric Chavez(notes), Chipper Jones(notes), J.D. Drew(notes), Nick Johnson(notes), Grady Sizemore(notes), Josh Hamilton(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes), presumably constructed from tissue paper and held together by a wad of Juicy Fruit, are just a few brittle bats that would emerge from an arm-wrestling match with Dilbert wearing a sling.

Sadly, uber-talented Bravo Jason Heyward(notes) may be earning a similar reputation.

Last season, the tender-aged outfielder was the unquestioned leader of baseball's new class of vibrant future superstars. At a point in life when most early adult males are attempting to live an "Animal House" existence, the 20-year-old tallied on-base (.393) and slugging (.456) totals equivalent to what iconic demigods Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Orlando Cepeda and Frank Robinson achieved at a similar juncture. Finishing with a .277-18-72-83-11 line — the 66th-best among qualifying hitters — he could have accomplished significantly more if not for a bum thumb, a setback that derailed him for 18 days and lingered for several more.

As seen with players of a similar ilk (e.g. Justin Upton(notes)), fantasy expectations bestowed upon wunderkinds are usually overly optimistic. The assumption: If a player can adjust that quickly to big league pitching, his production is destined to rise steadily. Though there's no questioning Heyward's talent, owners need to realize he's still in the feel-out phase, a developmental period that typically breeds inconsistency. The self-aware slugger, coming off a lukewarm April (.258-6-13-14-1), recently acknowledged he indeed has a ways to go. From FS South:

Lames: Inflated expectations distort Heyward’s true 2011 valueHeyward believes this April skid was completely different from the eight-game one he went through last season.

"When I struggled this April I was putting the ball in play more versus a lot of striking out. I did strike out last April quite a bit," he said — 26 times versus 19 this April. "I just felt like this April I was putting the ball in play more, rolling over more pitches and trying to feel it out versus striking out."

While he doesn't keep close track of his numbers, he knows that he is better this season than last.

"I had six home runs last April, seven this April. I think I finished last April .247, this April it was .260, so there's an improvement there," he said. "You want to graduate your way up and keep getting better, and I think I'm in a good position to do so."

Unfortunately, Heyward has kept repeating the first grade. Hampered by an inflamed shoulder, which has bothered him on and off since spring training, he has collected just four hits over his past 37 at-bats, striking out a whopping 40.5 percent of the time. Though the youngster claims his rotator cuff "feels the way it should" supporters should be nervous. As former Travis Hafner(notes) backers can attest, a weakened wing is nothing to shrug off. Even when "healthy" and in the lineup everyday a 40-homer giant can transform into a ground-pounding munchkin seemingly overnight.

Heyward's underlying profile also paints a belittling picture.

Though he's made some advancements in key categories, the immature hitter has more in common with Jayson Werth(notes) than Matt Kemp(notes). For starters, his groundball rate stands at an unattractive 54.5, a mark on par with perennial groundhog hunters Brett Gardner(notes) and Bobby Abreu(notes). Equally unsettling, due to a decline in K/BB and hike in swinging strike percentage ('10: 8.0, '11: 10.8), his contact rate has dropped to a level (76.5) typical of a sub-.270 hitter. Finally, he's been horrifically average against fastballs, pitches he routinely destroyed as a rookie.

Yes, his HR/FB percentage has ballooned to a pace comparable to some of the game's biggest muscle men, but his overall saber appearance through 136 at-bats is disturbing nonetheless. If the current trends persist, underperformance is a certainty. The major value leap many anticipated preseason will have to wait another year. At this point, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Drew Stubbs(notes), Carlos Beltran(notes) or Jay Bruce(notes), all of whom were picked some 50-150 picks after Heyward in March, outdistance the puffery outfielder moving forward, especially with Fredi Gonzalez slotting him in the RBI-sapping two-hole.

Of course, given Heyward's youth and unparalleled pedigree, it's only a matter of time before Jewel of the South shines. But due to the hype machine's powerful influence, he will continue to be overvalued in non-keeper formats. This week alone in yearly leagues he attracted marquee names Matt Holliday(notes), Carl Crawford(notes), Shin-Soo Choo(notes), Matt Cain(notes) and Tommy Hanson(notes) in one-for-one deals. After his next homer, shopping him around might be a brainy idea.

Because of his shoulder problems and questionable secondary profile, Heyward may lead owners down a wayward path — at least, in 2011.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 382 at-bats, .267 BA, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 61 R, 9 SB

Are you concerned about Heyward's shoulder potentially inhibiting his power? What about his ugly strikeout rate? Are you buying, selling, holding? What's your rest of the season forecast? Discuss below.

Other passengers riding southbound (or about to) on the Lames train …

Lames: Inflated expectations distort Heyward’s true 2011 valueJeremy Hellickson(notes), TB, SP — Readers who merely skim over the material and head straight to the comments section will surely post a response along the lines of, "Dude, how could a pitcher with five wins and a 3.18 ERA be listed as a Lame? You're about as valuable to the fantasy community as the Kardashians are to society. Dillweed." Though the latter may not be completely baseless, the former can be explained with one phrase: Smoke and mirrors. Evident in his very bland 1.71 K/BB, Hellboy hasn't exactly brought the Right Hand of Doom. In fact, his marginalized GB/FB rate, spike in free passes ('10: 1.98, '11: 3.71 BB/9), stark decline in strikeouts (8.17, 6.35) and general good fortune (.250 BABIP, 4.28 xFIP) suggest those who stand by his side could soon be damned in ERA. The reason for his peripheral drop-off stems from a downturn in velocity. Last year, his average fastball clocked in at 91.2 mph. This season it's barely eclipsed 90 mph, making him more vulnerable to harder contact. Hellickson has deployed his change — his best offering — more often, but with his heater cooled, he simply isn't enticing the swinging strikes he did a year ago. With upcoming matchups at Detroit, vs. Cleveland, at LAA and vs. Boston, a correction could be imminent.

Lames: Inflated expectations distort Heyward’s true 2011 valuePedro Alvarez(notes), Pit, 3B — In what was surely a sign of the impending apocalypse (Rapture party this Saturday at the Evans compound! Be there before you disappear into thin air!), the swordless Bucco connected on his first homer since April 21 and second of the season, depositing a Bronson Arroyo(notes) slider 418 feet away from home plate. Positive events have been few and far between for the former Vandy dandy. Without question, he's largely responsible for the Rolling Rock discounts at the Stroll Inn. Expected to break out in a major way this season, Alvarez has floundered, amassing a gut-wrenching .211-2-10-11-1 line, the 55th-best output among third basemen. Whispers about a possible demotion back to Indianapolis have floated around the Steel City for the past couple weeks, but, despite the sophomore's troubles, Clint Hurdle remains committed to him. The patient skipper, though, has encouraged Alvarez to be more aggressive earlier in counts. Over 30-percent of the time, he's been buried 0-2, inevitably whiffing (34.1 K%) or grounding out weakly (1.58 GB/FB). If he continues to pounce on favorable pitches, like he did Wednesday, a bounce-back is very likely. He is simply too talented a power hitter to wallow in despair over the entire season. Considering the carnage at third, owners with a hot corner need may want to buy Pedro on the cheap. A 20-25 HR, 90-RBI campaign is still attainable. In one-for-one industry deals consummated this week, the struggling infielder was shipped for Alex Gonzalez(notes), Kelly Johnson(notes), Juan Pierre(notes), Kyle McClellan(notes) and Sergio Santos(notes).

Lames: Inflated expectations distort Heyward’s true 2011 valueColby Rasmus(notes), StL, OF — In a city where bullpen headaches and star heartaches (e.g. Chris Carpenter(notes)) have dominated the headlines, the highly productive two-hitter has been the least of owner worries. On pace for a commendable .304-11-56-114-11 campaign, he's been the 25th-most valuable outfielder in Yahoo! leagues. Though the abdominal soreness Rasmus is currently dealing with is a "small" concern, he likely has bigger issues on the horizon. According to his peripheral profile, he has overachieved at the dish. A 70-point difference between his BABIP and current batting average indicates many of the balls he's cracked have sported a seeing eye. Throw in a hike in swinging strike percentage and mediocre contact rates (75.7 CT%), and a 30-40 point BA nosedive should eventually come to fruition. Due to an uncomfortable drop in HR/FB percentage and ISO (.155), he may regress in other categories too. By year's end, his power numbers may resemble 2009 (.251-16-58) more so than 2010 (.279-23-66). Once Rasmus returns to the starting lineup, shopping his services would be a sage move. Over the past week, he's attracted Paul Konerko(notes), Eric Hosmer(notes), Alex Gordon(notes), Shaun Marcum(notes) and, interestingly, Jake Peavy(notes) in one-for-one transactions.

Want to bean Brad in the head? Bring the heat on Twitter @YahooNoise.

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Images courtesy of US Presswire/AP

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