Some are like water, some are like the heat
Some are a melody and some are the beat
Sooner or later they all will be gone
Why don't they stay young?
- Alphaville, "Forever Young"
(In case you were wondering the name of the '80s song that was featured in the formal dance scene of "Napoleon Dynamite," now you know.)
At some point or another, whether we want to face it or not, there is an inevitable decline in a baseball player's skill level. The big question isn't "Why don't they stay young?", as Alphaville wistfully asked. Rather, it's "When are they too old?" I wish there was an easy answer, but it differs with every player. Before we get to the other highlights, let's take a hard look at players over the age of 30 who have tormented fantasy owners this season
It's been well over a year since Scott Rolen underwent surgery on his left shoulder. Therefore, many fantasy players expected he'd start his 2007 season on a stronger note. However, it was last October when Rolen received a cortisone injection in that same shoulder, so despite his great comeback season, it's not as if the surgery was definitive success. Fast-forward to this season, when Rolen is having trouble getting smooth swings off and he's not driving the ball deep with any kind of authority. He's always gone through patches in which the high and inside fastballs gave him fits, but now he can barely fight off some of the 90 mph fastballs over the middle. His plate discipline remains strong, but his coverage just doesn't look the same this season. I wouldn't be surprised if we see wear and tear later in the season; and it would be very optimistic at this point to expect anything over 18-20 home runs.
On Wednesday, Carlos Delgado was moved down to the sixth spot in the batting order; the lowest spot he has hit in since 1997. Delgado has looked off balance for most of the season; failing to get level cuts and getting under the ball. His bat speed has lost a tick, as he's having trouble catching up to high fastballs, but it appears to be more about slow timing than anything. I think the age factor, in addition to the left elbow and right wrist surgeries that he had in the offseason, has probably sapped some of his strength and there's a chance he could be a batting-average liability all season. He has taken some level swings since being moved to the sixth spot, so at least it's a move in the right direction in his recovery.
Happy Birthday, Miguel Tejada. You just turned 31 years old in time for the column. He did a better job of getting his hands back before his swing when he ripped just his third home run of the season on Thursday. Overall, he's had a tendency to drop his hands and get tied up during his swings and has lacked pull power on inside pitches -- he gets jammed for grounders or weak singles. Remember, he only hit 10 home runs combined between June and September of last season.
I think I lost count of how many times I've seen Paul Konerko either drop his head down or slam his bat to the ground in disgust after a weak pop or groundout. Konerko wears his emotions on his sleeve and puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform, and his early struggles appear to be due to in part to an anxious mental approach. It's eerily similar to his slow starts in 2003 and 2005. Now that Jim Thome has returned to the lineup and the team is hitting more as a whole, Konerko should be able to take it easier on himself and not try to swing for the fences so much.
Fausto Carmona, SP, CLE -- He's greatly improved in both confidence and command of his hard sinker, which he uses to pound the bottom half of the strike zone. Carmona also throws a good four-seam fastball around 95 mph that he can command at the corners, and he can mix in a slider and changeup as secondary offerings. The sinker is his bread and butter though and it's worked wonders so far. Most of the time, opposing hitters get very weak swings on it and can't catch up to its late downward break. Many just beat it down into the dirt or a few feet in front of the plate and I've seen a bunch of broken bats as well.
Garrett Atkins, 3B, COL -- Atkins has been prone to chasing the high fastball this season, but he's also run into a lot of bad luck. He's hit many line-drive outs this year or barely missed the gaps. I've also noticed he often squints when he's at the plate, but I can't say for sure if that's because he's having trouble seeing the ball.
Jeremy Guthrie, SP, BAL -- Guthrie has been overlooked in many leagues despite his success after being moved into the rotation this month. It's easy to forget that Guthrie was a first-round draft pick in 2002. He has a very good fastball, which he can get up to 96 mph, and he's locating it on both sides of the plate. He also has a good changeup, a tight slider and his curveball, which could be a quality pitch if he could locate it better. The Blue Jays locked in on his fastball on Thursday, but Guthrie continued to show poise and get the needed double-play grounders. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone has helped Guthrie focus on his fastball foremost -- commanding it low in the zone and at the corners. Fun fact: Guthrie did not pitch or even touch a baseball for two seasons (1999-2000) while on a Mormon mission in Spain. For more famous baseball players with Mormon ties, check out: http://famousmormons.net/baseball.html
Justin Germano, SP, SD -- Germano has thrown many hitters off balance with huge changes in velocity between his fastball and curveball. His fastball isn't that good and sits in the high 80s, though it has good sink. when he commands his curveball, which he throws anywhere between 68 to 75 MPH, it really disrupts hitters' timing. I'm not high on his long-term success this season because of his lack of strikeout stuff, but he should be good for spot starts if he sticks.
Jack Cust, OF, OAK -- I don't know if other pitchers will follow suit, but Jon Garland figured out Cust doesn't like the high fastball and lacks the agility to reach the outer half of the plate. It's much easier for Cust to pull the belt-high pitch with his short powerful stroke. Due to poor defensive range, he'll need to keep hitting if he wants to stay in the lineup when Mike Piazza returns.
Angel Guzman, SP, CHC -- Granted, we haven't seen enough of Guzman in a relief role, but he gets my vote for future Cubs closer. He uses his 92-93 mph fastball with good sink to get ahead in the count early and mixes in a 78 mph curveball that drops out of the zone. He still needs to refine his command of his slider.
Ramon Ortiz, SP, MIN -- That was a very short-lived renaissance wasn't it? Ortiz has strayed from the aggressive (and successful) April approach of working his two-seam fastball inside, early in the count. He's gone back to relying too much on his slider and leaving pitches down the middle and up in the zone.
Kevin Kouzmanoff has exhibited better plate discipline lately and is hitting to the opposite field more. Claudio Vargas has positive early results, but he's been nibbling at the corners too much and working from behind in the count, so beware of further fallout Heath Bell has shown improved command of his curveball this year and better location of his slider both in and out of the zone Jorge Sosa has improved his slider as well by locating it sharply both in and out of the zone, but he still leaves his fastballs too high, which will lead to recurring problems with the long ball J.J. Hardy has been more aggressive at the plate recently, as pitchers have picked up on his tendency to go after high fastballs, but it's too early to tell if it will become a big issue Chone Figgins has looked more comfortable with his swing over the past couple of games, his bat speed is there and he's taking some better cuts And finally, as my colleague Ben Duggan likes to say, Carlos Zambrano is still "alligator-arming it."
Tom Herrera is a sports video logger and a fantasy sports analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com. E-mail him with your questions and comments at THerrera@talentedmrroto.com.