Back in Spring Training we suggested that Justin Duchscherer moving into the rotation might take some of the sting out of losing Dan Haren for the A’s. Um, apparently we underestimated just how much of an impact Duchscherer would have. After Wednesday’s two-hit shutout performance, JD is now 10-5 with a major-league beat 1.78 ERA. Now comes the big question: when exactly will this converted reliever with a history of health problems hit his apex? I’ve been advising people in recent weeks to sell high on Duchscherer for a number of reasons. For starters, his previous career high in innings pitched was 96 1/3, and that was back in 2004; this year, he’s already at 101 IP, and we’re barely in mid-July. Can you say injury risk? I mean, remember that this is the same man who’s hip injury knocked him out for the last four and a half months in 2007, which makes his inning count this year even more of a red flag. Then, there’s the mere fact that he’s simply not this good. That’s no slight on Duchscherer, who has been brilliant out of the rotation. But really, no one is this good. Well, maybe Roger Clemens, circa 2005, but come on – what JD is doing is unsustainable. Trade him while his value is at its highest and let someone else sweat it over when the other shoe will drop.
After a couple of beat downs he suffered in June, owners were beginning to wonder if James Shields was capable of building on or even matching his breakout 2007. Well, wonder no more, because Shields is getting on one of his grooves now, having won his last three starts in very impressive manner (20 1/3 IP, 13 hits, five runs, two homers, two walks, 18 Ks). His overall numbers are now right in line with what he did last year, so if he can stay healthy and continue his current hot streak, I’d say there’s no reason to think he can’t post a sub-3.50 ERA this year and perhaps top his dozen wins from 2007.
While the Rays have gone from worst to first, I wouldn’t give much credit to Cliff Floyd, other than being that ubiquitous ‘veteran presence.’ But at the age of 35, his role has been reduced to the point where there’s virtually no need to own him, even in a somewhat deep AL-only league. Me thinks the end of the line is near for Floyd. He got off to a fantastic start, but has been somewhat pedestrian since then.
Troy Percival has pitched very well when he’s been in the lineup – recording his highest K rate since 2002 – but with two DL stints because of his hammies now in the books, owners’ worries about the health risks associated with this vet have been proved correct. This current injury is bad enough to scare away some owners, as Percy has wound up on a few waiver wires. We’ve seen a closer-by-committee approach since Percival got hurt, with J.P. Howell saving the first, and then Dan Wheeler saving one sandwiched between a pair of saves by Grant Balfour. In order, ranked by value while Percy is out, I’d take Balfour, Howell and then Wheeler.
Still with the Rays, rookie Evan Longoria is heating up again, with hits in eight of his past nine games, raising his BA 14 points to .281 in the process. The kid cooled significantly in May, but he pounded eight dingers, drove in 19 and hit .300 in June, and appears to be building on that trend so far this month, batting a robust .394. How do you like his stats through 81 games (obviously an easy projection for what he’s capable of over a full season)? Let’s see, he’s got 16 homers, 22 doubles and 53 RBI. Um, that will do for a rookie season, I’d say.
Carl Crawford’s disappointing season does not seem to be turning around. Considering you likely spent a late first round pick on this dude, it’s reasonable for you to expect more production. While I’m happy to see the improvements he’s made in strike zone judgment, he’s actually been a more aggressive hitter this year, and that’s hurt him in the BA department. What has me worried even more is Crawford’s precipitous dip in pop. Sure, his triples have held steady and his homers are actually up, but just eight doubles to this point? He’s currently on pace for less than 40 extra-base hits this season after putting up no less than 54 and as many as 63 over the past four seasons. On the plus side, Crawford has hit for a significantly higher BA in the second half in recent years, so it’s reasonable to expect him to push his average closer to the .300 mark before season’s end.
Another Ray taken in the high rounds who is not delivering on expectations is B.J. Upton. He was pretty good over the first two months of the season, but has struggled since, batting just .245 with only six steals in June, and scuffling to a .200 mark so far in July. Too many of Upton’s 2007 homers seemed to have turned into doubles this year, and while the added swipes have offset that to an extent, a weaker BA has hurt his overall value. What concerns me even more is that he’s traditionally a far better first half player, especially in the power department, so it seems a likely bet that 2008 will wind up being a large step backward in Upton’s overall development.
As we discussed earlier this week, two of the bigger trade chips have already been dealt in C.C. Sabathia and Rich Harden, but there are other pitchers out there that can be had for the right price. The Royals played very well in June, but have gone back into the tank recently, and with them sitting 13 games out in the Central and even further out in the Wild Card picture, look for Gil Meche to be moved soon. Meche has been unable to consolidate his fine first year in KC, but has pitched much better lately, with a 3.65 ERA in May and 3.13 in June. He took a beating in Baltimore in his first July start, but bounced back this week with a better effort in Tampa Bay. Meche makes for a decent wire pickup, but fantasy owners and major league teams considering picking him up should beware that Meche has struggled in the second half in recent years.