Just about every major league player has hot & cold streaks. When they're hot, hitters think about chasing Pete Rose or Joe DiMaggio...while pitchers have Nolan Ryan and Cy Young in their lofty sights. When they're cold, hitters worry the Mendoza Line will be renamed for them...and pitchers see visions of John Van Benschoten dancing in their heads.
If those hot & cold streaks happen at the start of a season, however, they're put under more microscopes than Lindsay Lohan's career. Fantasy baseball owners with itchy trigger fingers are watching live game casts ready to click the add/drop button with every 0-fer.
Before we dive into the Fantasy Tipster's first Hotties and Notties of 2009, remember that everything is uber-magnified at this time of the year. Remember, Dustin Pedroia started his career 6 for 38 (.158 BA)...and finished as the 2007 Rookie of the Year (not to mention the 2008 AL MVP). Is there a Pedroia lurking in our Notties? Let's find out...
Emilio Bonifacio (2B/3B) FL - There may be no more a polarizing player this season than Bonifacio. Some view his start and think he's the second coming of Luis Castillo, circa 1999. Others look at the peripherals and are simply waiting for the inevitable Tuffy Rhodes flameout. Unfortunately, a close look at his minor league track record suggests that fantasy baseball owners may want enjoy this while it lasts. Bonifacio's numbers suggests a career more in line with Britney Spears (hot start then crash and burn) than Christina Aguilera (hot start, steady production). The one thing Castillo (and others of his ilk...see: Lofton, Kenny and Pierre, Juan) had that Bonifacio does not is plate discipline. During Castillo's breakout season, and through his most productive seasons, he drew nearly as many walks as strikeouts and never whiffed more than 90 times in a season. Bonifacio has K'd over twice as often has he's walked in the minors and the 41 K/14 BB line he posted with the Nationals last year suggests his average is bound to fall back to earth. Hard. That doesn't mean he can't be productive, Willy Taveras stole 68 bases last season while hitting .251 and posting a 79/36 K-to-BB rate. Just don't expect miracles and if you're the "sell high" type, sell sell sell.
Nick Swisher (1B/OF) NYY - A former 1st round pick who'd played in at least 150 games for the past three straight seasons, Swisher found himself in an unfamiliar spot to open 2009: his butt planted squarely on the Yankee pine. But thanks to early injuries to Mark Teixeira, Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui, Swisher has quickly become a fixture in the starting lineup, even batting cleanup in yesterday's victory over Tampa Bay. Swisher is just 28 years old, has always exhibited solid plate discipline and hits lefties and righties with equal authority. Maybe all he needed was some motivation to finally deliver on all that potential. He'll never hit .300, but 25 HR and 90 RBI are very much in reach if he can continue to find regular playing time.
Jimmy Rollins (SS) PHI - How bad has Rollins been? In Yahoo's ranking system, he's ranked 1105th. Alex Rodriguez is ranked 959th and hasn't played a game yet. In other words, you'd have been better off leaving your SS spot empty than starting Rollins. Ouch. Still, it's hardly time to panic. While the power he flashed in 2006-07 is looking more and more like a Brady Anderson out-of-body experience, Rollins peripherals actually suggest he's only improving. In 2008 he walked more than he K'd for the first time in his career. He also swiped a career high 47 bases and was caught just three times. Now if you drafted Rollins looking for a 20-20 or 30-30 player, you'll probably be disappointed. But despite the slow start, there's no reason to think Rollins won't end up with 15 HR and 40+ SB when all is said and done. If you don't own him, see if you can pry him loose from a panicked owner.
Lasting Milledge (OF) WAS - Anybody else feeling a little deja vu all over again? For all Milledge's obvious talents, the Nationals, like the Mets before them, have grown weary of his poor defense, poor plate discipline (10/1 K-to-BB ratio) and poor attitude (missing meetings, late arrivals to the ballpark). Washington has more than enough options to fill out it's outfield in Milledge's absence (Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn & Josh Willingham) so don't expect Milledge back in the big leagues barring injury, Dukes implosion or a serious attitude adjustment. Of course, players of his talent always find jobs so if you have room to stash him on your bench do so, but until he figures out that being a big leaguer means more than just having talent, he'll never deliver you or the Nationals to a championship.