By Eriq Gardner //
Even before Aaron Hill was placed on the injury list by the Toronto Blue Jays this week, the talented second baseman was a good bet to haunt fantasy owners this season. Flash back to April, 2009, and many fantasy competitors were hesitant to pick him up off the waiver wire. Hill ended that month with a .365 average and 5 home runs. Many smart folks seemed sure it was a fluke. Guess what? It wasn’t. Hill ended the season with 36 HR.
The lesson of Aaron Hill might linger in the subconscious of many fantasy players this spring. And if not Hill, then perhaps Marco Scutaro. Or Mark Reynolds. Or Ben Zobrist. Or Jason Bartlett.
Every year, a handful of players hardly get drafted, yet go on to have breakout years. Many fantasy players know if they don’t quickly scoop these players off the waiver wire, they’ll end up on a competitor’s team. Kicking yourself for lost opportunity hurts.
What many people forget is Brandon Inge, Orlando Hudson, Jorge Cantu, Kevin Millwood, and certainly last and least, Emilio Bonifacio. All these players rocketed out of the gate in 2009 only to end the season with drab numbers, or worse. Nothing dulls quicker from the mind than pain.
So which player is the next Aaron Hill and which is the next Emilio Bonifacio? General wisdom forthcoming, but first look at this heat map which shows the players who are red hot or ice blue cold. Players are boxed according to the size of their ownership in CBS Sports leagues and grouped and colored according to the change in ownership over the last week.
You’ll see above that fantasy owners are scooping up Dallas Braden and Edgar Renteria by the barrel and dropping Frank Francisco and Mike Napoli quicker than a five-ton weight. Is there any sense to these roster trends?
The season is only a small fraction of the way completed and already we’re all making decisions based on very tiny sample sets. Has Rod Barajas really done anything yet to deserve the love he’s been getting? Quite simply, no.
In evaluating potential roster decisions, it’s best to be mindful not to chase recent history. Any player in baseball can have a lucky week. Sure, it’s possible that the good start is indicative of a trend to come, but we must examine context. One or two weeks doesn’t negate years of mediocrity and shouldn’t change our perceptions significantly.
That’s especially the case when it comes to older players like Barajas or Renteria who shouldn’t be counted upon to have discovered the fountain of youth and grown their skill level well into their 30s. Every once in awhile, a Marco Scutaro will come along; more often, they’ll just tease at a great season near the twilight of their career, before showing true colors.
Exceptions can be made for newfound opportunity, or players who may have been slowed in previous seasons due to exigent circumstances. Hill and Zobrist are both good examples here. In 2007, Hill showed tremendous promise in his third season in the majors before being sidetracked due to a concussion. His breakout last year wasn’t a huge shocker. He was on a good path towards stardom before people forgot about him. Similarly, Zobrist always had promising numbers until he was given the opportunity to strut his abilities with full-time playing time (though the size of his breakout surprised even his biggest fans).
Looking at the chart above, we may have similar hope for C.J. Wilson, who has flashed skills in prior years and has now been giving a new opportunity in the Rangers’ starting rotation. The same is true for Kelly Johnson, who has long been projected for a breakout and now gets opportunity in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field in Arizona.
But please don’t count on a breakout from Juan Uribe. And don’t give up too quickly on Mike Napoli, despite the buzz that he’s losing playing time. In a few weeks, the law of averages will catch up for both those with talent and those who have proven time and time again that they aren’t worthy of our consideration. Hopefully, in the interim, owners aren’t hit with the double whammy of curses — seduced by the hot start, and reluctant to cut bait at what still appears to be a respectable stat line.