Baseball is a sport overflowing with freaks.
But of all the mutants in the game today one person in particular has attracted fantasy curiosity seekers from far and wide: Detroit's Brandon Inge.
The ultra-versatile third baseman is a genetic abnormality. Athletically blessed, his nimble feet and lightning-quick reaction time are extraordinary. He's the type of guy who could out-thrash Kirk Hammett at Guitar Hero, out-slam Ma Lin in ping pong and out-puck Scott Pianowski at pub shuffleboard (the Piano Man has sick "leaner" skills). Simply put: he excels at everything he tries. Only vindictive pillows have slowed him down.
On the field, scouts, coaches, reporters and fans have marveled at his defensive versatility. Over his seven-year career he's flashed terrific leather at five very different positions – catcher, outfield (all three spots) and third.
More than just a defensive stalwart, Detroit's Freak Show has suddenly morphed into a certified plate monster.
Inge's peripherals support his improved mechanics. His selectivity at the dish has dramatically improved, evident in his walks percentage spike (career: 8.2 BB%, '09: 15.9). Routinely jammed by inside fastballs in the past, he's resisted the urge to swing at handcuffing pitches, shown in his Z-swing percentage decline (career: 64.2, '09: 57.1).
But despite the glowing reports and profitable statistical dividends, many in the fantasy community can't refrain from asking the question: Has the ghost of Chris Shelton inhabited Inge's body?
The answer surprisingly might be yes.
Inge's power totals are real. Just three years ago he smacked 27 homers and drove in 83 runs in 542 at-bats. That year, according to Baseball Monster, he was the fourth-most valuable catcher and 18th-most valuable third baseman in mixed rotisserie leagues. But the torrid pace he exuded in April will eventually grind to a halt. It's possible he could reach 30 bombs, but he'll likely finish a few dingers short. That's still terrific production from a catcher, but formidable backstops Victor Martinez, Bengie Molina, Jorge Posada, Russell Martin and Pablo Sandoval may possess more value by year's end.
More anomalous is his batting average yield. Inge is a career .238 hitter. Only once has he finished with an average above .280. His fly-ball heavy ways (45.5 FB% in '09), unfavorable contact rates (76.6 CT%) and absurdly low current line-drive percentage (12.7) are ominous harbingers. Inevitably he'll endure a prolonged drought, sinking his average into the .255-.265 range.
Because Inge is starting to turn some skeptics into believers, now is the time to find a suitor who relishes buying on a bull market. This week in Yahoo! Plus league one-for-one deals, he was swapped straight up for Adam Lind, Magglio Ordonez, Francisco Liriano and, interestingly, Russell Martin.
Based on the overwhelming evidence, it's safe to assume the Freak has reached his peak.
Fearless Forecast: 525 at-bats, .263 BA, 25 HR, 79 RBI, 73 R, 6 SB
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: Notoriously known for prolonged swoons in April, LaRoche has shed the tortoise shell this season. This month, the first baseman has collected a .269 BA with five homers, 14 RBIs and 12 runs. Compared to '08, that's a monumental tide shift (.163 BA, HR, 5 RBI, 5 R in 80 at-bats). The 30-year-old lefty told MLB.com much of his early season success is due to keeping his gun in the holster with off-speed pitches out of the zone. With his outside swing percentage noticeably down (career 22.4, '09: 18.3) and his fly-ball percentage up (career 40.1, '09: 49.1), he's been able to undercut and drive balls with more vigor. If he can put together two quality halves, a season similar to '06 (.284-32-90-89) is on the horizon.
Fearless Forecast: 530 at-bats, .278 BA, 29 HR, 92 RBI, 81 R, 1 SB
|Kendry Morales||LAA||1B, OF||144||34|
|Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)|
|Lowdown: Morales is proof a stellar spring can be meaningless. Lacing liners routinely in March, the Angels one-bagger struggled mightily to begin the regular season. However, it appears he's turned the corner. LA skipper Mike Scioscia believes Morales, a quick study, has made the necessary adjustments needed to drive the ball from both sides of the plate. After logging a mere one RBI in his first nine contests, he's collected 13 since. With five multi-hit games and two homers in his past six, the switch-hitter has raised his average 38 points. The 25-year-old has always possessed 25-30 homer pop, and based on the sudden reversal, it appears he's on track to reach that benchmark. Batting primarily in the sixth spot, he should be a valuable three-category source (BA, HR, RBI) from this point forward.
Fearless Forecast: 515 at-bats, .286 BA, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 73 R, 2 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: For owners tormented by injury misfortune at catcher, Hay-Zeus possesses healing powers. The overlooked Nationals backstop, who was sidelined for most of March with a strained right elbow, has shaken off the rust, lining 11 hits in his past 38 at-bats (.289 BA). Over that span he's also cranked out two homers and driven in nine. A passive-aggressive hitter (11.8 BB%, 33.3 K%), Flores has pulled the ball with more authority this season, indicative in his sharp increase in fly-ball percentage ('08: 37.6, '09: 48.8). If he can maintain a reasonable contact rate and continue to generate big air, he'll be a more than adequate starter in deeper mixed formats.
Fearless Forecast: 410 at-bats, .270 BA, 13 HR, 64 RBI, 55 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Strong Speed Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)|
|Lowdown: Owners with a need for speed should pluck Anderson off waivers immediately. Acquired from the Braves in late March, the fleet-footed outfielder has seen increased playing time in left with Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames crippled. The 26-year-old, whose wheels remind teammate Brandon Inge of Curtis Granderson, has swiped six bags, scored eight runs and compiled a .413 BA since April 15. Because he frightens ground vermin with every crack of the bat (2.83 GB/FB) he should be able to maintain a respectable BA while contributing average production in runs. But with a storied steals history in the minors (43.3 SB/year from 2005-2008), his value is solely rooted in speed.
Fearless Forecast: 475 at-bats, .284 BA, 3 HR, 41 RBI, 60 R, 31 SB
|Jake Fox||CHC||OF, C?||913||0|
|Market Value: Prospect Watch (NL-only, deep mixed)|
|Lowdown: Last year perceived Quad-A sensation Nelson Cruz was deemed the Babe Ruth of the PCL. This year, that designation belongs to Fox. The converted catcher, who last recorded action at the big league level in '07, has accumulated numbers reminiscent of a baseball video game on "rookie" mode. In 74 at-bats, he's notched an absurd .446/1.068/1.579 line with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. His .512 BABIP is not human. Although he hit .287 with 31 homers and 105 RBIs between two levels a year ago, most scouts contend he's a real-life Pedro Cerrano. In other words: fastballs good, off-speed pitches very bad. Given the sorrowful present state of the Cubs offense, it's possible he could receive a promotion if Aramis Ramirez was DL'ed. But given his terribly inefficient glove, it's likely he'll continue to massacre balls on the farm. Still, based on his instant offense and potential catcher eligibility, he's someone to keep tabs on as the season progresses.
Fearless Forecast: 63 at-bats, .253 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Strong Sell (all formats)|
|Lowdown: Braden, who apparently idolized House of Pain as a youth (see mugshot), has encouraged his backers to "Jump Around" in recent weeks. In 25 innings, he's allowed just seven earned runs (2.52 ERA) and notched a very reasonable 2.88 BB/9. Although he's off to a sparkling start, the A's opening day hurler has posted an unsavory 50.0 fly-ball percentage. Similar to Glenn Perkins, the homers will catch up to the southpaw, especially on the road. He'll be stream useful when topping the mound at McAfee Coliseum, but his pedestrian stuff (high-80s fastball) and long-ball susceptibility limit his overall value. A correction is coming soon.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 11 W, 4.34 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 88 K
|Derek Holland||TEX||SP, RP||494||8|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-teams-plus, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: Being the youngest player on roster, Holland may be the Rangers' princess bag carrier, but the stuff he's shown is far from effeminate. First discussed almost two months ago in "Farm Aid," the southpaw's effortless delivery streaks flames off his 94-97 mph fastball. Also equipped with a plus slider and effective change, Holland has pitched extraordinarily well in his first 5.1 innings, yielding one run while striking out four. For now, he'll be a profitable ERA, WHIP and K source in long relief, but, as Nolan Ryan alluded to earlier this month, he'll eventually join the rotation. When he does, he could be reasonably profitable for owners in deep mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 110 IP, 7 W, 4.33 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 89 K
|Market Value: Moderate Short-term Buy (12-team mixed), Strong Sell (AL-only)|
|Lowdown: Wakefield, who presumably is the illegitimate son of Charlie Hough, continues to mesmerize opponents with his dancing knuckler. In 29 innings, the 42-year-old has conceded just six earned runs (1.86 ERA), not surrendering a homer. Because of the hard-breaking movement on his corkscrew, he's even been able to effectively mix pitches, striking out players with his curve and 70 mph
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 11 W, 4.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 115 K
|Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: The popular early rounder's abhorrent start proves once and for all he's not steel-chested. Mired in a horrific 17-for-82 slide, J-Roll has totaled just five extra base-hits and swiped one bag this season. Despite the stumbling start, the shortstop is optimistic a turnaround is imminent. So confident is Rollins that a renaissance is near he proclaimed this week he's prepared to hit .400 in May. Given his successful track-record of accurate prognostications, owners should believe him. Because his GB/FB ratio is paralleling last year's line ('08: 1.48, '09: 1.40), thoughts of 20-plus homers are delusional, but his strong contact history and blazing wheels should eventually catapult him back into his position's top five.
Fearless Forecast: 620 at-bats, .274 BA, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 103 R, 35 SB
|Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: Fully recovered from shoulder and quad setbacks that severely limited him for much of the spring, Upton has slowly recaptured his stroke. Whiffing in a prolific 33.3 percent of his at-bats, he has shown minimal signs of breaking out of his current 2-for-27 funk. Thankfully, when he's been able to touch first base, he has provided owners with ample speed. Joe Madden commented to the Tampa Tribune on Tuesday, he's been encouraged by the youngster's recent at-bats and swings. Eventually he'll awaken from the slumber, but, similar to Rollins, thoughts of 20-plus homers are overzealous. Try to acquire him on the cheap, but keep in mind his value will be driven in steals, not bombs.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .276 BA, 13 HR, 66 RBI, 83 R, 41 SB
|Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: In the midst of a soul-vaporizing 1-for-18 slump prior to April 29, Tulo once again has struggled in the season's opening month. Clint Hurdle gave his shortstop a much needed night off earlier this week to clear his head and work on tweaking his mechanics. Hurdle is convinced the primary culprit for Tulo's woes stem from an abundance of swings up in the zone. In his short career, the 23-year-old has showcased a hacker's persona at times. Once he learns to avoid chasing the high cheese, the numbers will come. Why? Despite the high volume of strikeouts, he's abstained from chasing outside pitches, maintained an excellent 86.9 contact percentage and coaxed more free passes (15.5 BB%) this season. Based on last year's letdown and rough start to '09, Tulo is one of the finest discounts around. A major rebound is just around the corner.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .281 BA, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 88 R, 5 SB
|Market Value: Hold (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: The ultra-athletic Young, who at times swings a toothpick, is a frustrating player to own. However, his 20-20 yield can be very rewarding for owners who can stomach the deplorable batting average. Currently wallowing in a 7-for-39 drought the outfielder's marginal contact rate (77.3 CT%), pull-happy demeanor (0.48 GB/FB) and propensity for strikeouts (28.6 K%) are, as usual, to blame. Because he's a very streaky hitter, happier days are on the horizon, but once he enters the inferno it would be wise to shop him. Until he becomes more disciplined, it's the same old Mike Cameron-like song and dance.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .250 BA, 23 HR, 79 RBI, 83 R, 19 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: Soto is suffering from a case of missing identity. Out of sorts after missing a few games with a minor shoulder injury earlier this month, last year's National League ROY is feeding the belief sophomore slumps aren't imaginative figments. Currently in a 5-for-45 fog, he's touched second base just one time. Lou Piniella gave Geo a mental break this week to "get the cobwebs out." Although he's smacked balls into the turf more frequently ('08 GB%: 37.7, '09: 44.1), his other peripherals are nearly equal to last year's. His numbers may take a step backwards, but come September, he'll once again be one of the most valuable backstops in fantasy. Soto, traded this week for Melvin Mora, Ricky Nolasco and Jayson Werth in Y! Plus league solo transactions, is someone to acquire on the bear market.
Fearless Forecast: 460 at-bats, .278 BA, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 65 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: The still relatively inexperienced Kershaw is the king of inconsistency. After mystifying the Giants two weeks ago, the new "Kid K" has fallen on hard times. In his past two starts, both on the road, he's conceded 15 earned in nine innings pitched. When his gravity-defying curve and fastball are working in perfect synergy, he's untouchable. But when loose with his command, he's vulnerable to catastrophe. True Blue LA analyzed his last two outings under a microscope only to conclude bad luck and better opponents were to blame. Frankly, until Kershaw reverses his disturbing GB/FB (0.65) and BB/9 trends (4.71), he'll continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde pitcher. If you're looking for a steadier yield, deal him.
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 11 W, 4.27 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 164 K
|Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: In WHIP terms, Joba has been fantasy's version of the Swine Flu. Extremely fortunate to have an ERA under 4.00, the much ballyhooed Chamberlain had walked 5.63 batters per nine innings pitched prior to last night's encouraging start (7 IP, ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 6 K). More disconcerting, a scout disclosed to the New York Daily News this week the 23-year-old's velocity is down 4-5 ticks from his days as a bullpen hand. The scout added Joba "doesn't have the swagger" he once showcased because he's scaling back due to injury concerns. With Phil Hughes off to a dazzling start, Joba-to-the-pen rumors have already resurfaced. Chien-Ming Wang will have to return to a fair level of respectability for that to occur, but it's an unavoidable possibility. Chamberlain, shipped this week for Brian McCann, David Ortiz and Mark DeRosa in one-for-one Plus league deals, is someone to advertise before the market price dips.
Fearless Forecast: 135 IP, 7 W, 4.12 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 119 K
|Market Value: Hold (deep mixed, AL-only), Moderate Sell (10-team mixed)|
|Lowdown: Owners who've exercised patience with Price may be forced to wait longer than originally anticipated. Last year's post-season phenom, who's been on a very strict innings count, has performed decently at Durham. In four starts, he's notched a 3.71 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 20:8 K:BB in 17 innings. As Rays GM Andrew Friedman told Y!'s Gordon Edes on Wednesday, only the Tampa front office knows concretely when Price will be promoted. Based on Jeff Niemman's recent string of admirable efforts and the padlock the organization has placed on the southpaw, it's a safe assumption he could return to bullpen duty, at least initially. But if Andy Sonnanstine's rocky days continue and the Rays fall deeper into the hole, Joe Maddon will be hard-pressed to keep Price's beastly stuff in hibernation. Still, owners hoarding the top prospect in shallow-mixed leagues should consider selling while the buzz is still powerful.
Fearless Forecast: 105 IP, 6 W, 3.84 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 96 K
To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they'll be contributing to the Noise's import beer fund, Nelson Cruz's long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.
Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 0
Season total: 6
Moonshots to the money: 20