Slow-Starting Targets: Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez, Hunter Pence

By Tommy Rancel

The regular season has started, and now it’s time to work your magic as a fantasy general manager. One of the angles to exploit in the early part of the season is slow starts. There is always someone in your league that is on edge beginning Opening Day, ready to ditch a player at the first signs of struggles. With that in mind, here is a look at some notorious slow starters you might be able to steal in a buy-low trade.

Adam LaRoche

LaRoche entered 2010 with a new team, yet got off to the same old slow start. He started his Arizona Diamondbacks career 0-for-13. He’s racked up a few hits since then, but is still hitting an ugly .231/.310/.308 (AVG/OBP/SLG), with no homers, no steals and just 3 RBI in 7 games. Long-time LaRoche owners (if there are any) are not surprised by this start, since the 30-year-old first baseman is your quintessential second-half hitter.

For his career, his slash line in the first half is .250/.324/.444. In the second half of the season, LaRoche blossoms into a .300/.363/.546 hitter. The .768 OPS in the first half represents a .141 point difference from his second-half total of .909.

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The bulk of LaRoche’s early-season struggles come in March and April. Over his career, he has combined for a slash line of .192/.283/.360 in the opening months of the season. However, from May going forward, there is a steady increase in OPS:

.781 (May)

.798 (June)

.908 (July)

He peaks in August with a .933 OPS, and then goes slightly back down to .908 in September.

When targeting LaRoche, in trades be sure to exploit his early struggles. If you’re lucky enough to land LaRoche, just be patient as he is likely to once again heat up with the weather. Also remember he should enjoy playing his home games in doubles-friendly Chase Field.

Alexei Ramirez

Since joining the major leagues in 2008, the Cuban Missile has struggled with his early-season stroke. 2010 has been no different for the White Sox shortstop: He’s hitting .138 with no walks and one extra-base hit through his first eight games. While he is not a second half player per se, Ramirez is definitely a slow starter.

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In the opening months of the season (March and April), Ramirez has hit just .175/.221/.237 in his career. The monthly OPS of .458 is 409 points less than his best month, June, in which his OPS jumps up to .867.

Overall, Ramirez is rated as the eighth-best shortstop according to B-Rank. On the other hand, he is ranked only behind Derek Jeter, Jason Bartlett and Elvis Andrus in the American League. If you do not have one of those three shortstops in an AL-only league, you should be contacting the Alexei Ramirez owner in your league immediately.

If the price is too high right now, you might be able to wait a little bit longer if Ramirez holds to form, as his career May OPS of .719 isn’t impressive either. However, don’t wait much longer than that. In the summer months of June, July and August, his OPS jumps to an average of .834 per month, with the usual double-digit home run and stolen base pace.

Hunter Pence

The 27-year-old Astros outfielder is also off to a rough start in 2010 (3-for-25 with no walks). He was even benched for Sunday’s game against the Phillies. The slow start isn’t that big of a surprise, though, given his early-career track record.

A career .286 hitter, Pence’s batting average in the first month of the season is just .254. In addition to the batting average struggles, Pence’s power is slow to develop. His .391 slugging percentage in March and April represents the only monthly slugging mark below .462.

While he struggles in the first month of the season, history tells us that Pence will blow up in the month of May. His slash line in the second month of the season is .358/.415/.561. His 49 RBI in the month of May are also the highest of any monthly total.

Even with the slow start, Pence is likely to cost you a fair amount, given his combined 50 homers and 25 steals in the past two seasons. However, his B-Rank of 87 shows he’s among the game’s top 100 talents, and his owner might not have him valued that high if his early struggles continue. If you can get Pence at a slight discount, do it.

For more on notorious slow starters like Hunter Pence, Adam LaRoche and Alexei Ramirez, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kits

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