We saw how violently Jermaine Dye (Chicago
White Sox) and Magglio Ordonez (Detroit
Tigers) collapsed last season. Their declines were evident in previous seasons.
We can also add free-agent "outfielder" Vladimir Guerrero to this list as the poster boy for American League droppers. His bat may still have some pop when healthy, but his inability to play the field is hurting his ability to find a job as well as contribute frequently in the fantasy world.
Who's the next crop? Which faders are going unnoticed?
Brian Roberts, second baseman, Baltimore Orioles
Many blindly lump him into the consistency column, and that's hard to argue. On the back of his extra-base prowess, B-Rob, 32, remains one of the top position options. Though he stole "only" 30 bases last year, his big power jump will prompt many to overpay. He made an effort to bunt more often last year, so maybe he'll try to compile steals and hit fewer homers.
Say it ain't so, Joe
Maybe. Either way, don't just glaze over his stats: The 32-year-old's whiff pace has soared in each of the last three years, while his discipline has plummeted in the last two. Not a promising combo. Those paying positional scarcity prices: Don't say we didn't warn you.
Ichiro Suzuki, outfielder, Seattle Mariners
Infield hit percentage? Fantastic, thanks to his extra step out of the box and textbook hand-eye coordination. It isn't all rosy: His line-drive rate declined for the fourth straight year. Ichiro summoned his Japan-era power in '09, but if you're banking on that for 2010, good luck.
It's hard to call his .384 BABIP from last season fluky-good; that's not out of his realm. Even if the 36-year-old maintains his streamlined physical shape, though, how much longer will speed help those infield rakes? Don't take lightly his ever-so-slight drop in contact and more noticeable batting eye collapse.
Bobby Abreu, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
His run production and selectivity – along with the Angels' basepath aggression - offset his pop drop. Don't ignore his career-low 19.4 line drive rate. If his HR/FB goes down again, that won't fly with his already low loft percentage. Abreu will be 36 on Opening Day; even his doubles are declining! We're not talking about Magglio-itis here, but don't be shocked if Abreu gets trapped in that quicksand.
Johnny Damon, outfielder, free agent
If the 36-year-old doesn't re-sign with the New York Yankees, you'll have more reason to be wary. Will his power show up outside of the Bronx bandbox? His liner ability is tanking, and he made hefty donations to the Pinstriped jet stream.
Will he cut down on his K's and attempt more thieveries if he can't nudge the ball over a short porch? His short swing offers hope of returning to his slap game, but you can see a hint of fading contact, too.
Torii Hunter, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
His persistent injury bug aside, his fly-swatting hasn't improved; he'll need more relaxed strolls toward first to negate that decay. When one of his best line-drive results was only 16.3 percent, you have a right to be skeptical of the 34-year-old's career-best .335 in-play clip. Another 20-20 year may come with fewer side dishes this year. Play him carefully.
Chone Figgins, third baseman, Seattle Mariners
Symptoms and side effects: Ichiro
His flyball percentage spiked again: 26.2 percent ('07), 29.8 percent ('08) and 35.5 percent ('09). In the more pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, this will more than likely become an issue for the nearly 32-year-old whose aerial shots are rarely effective.
Keeping him in this section: His high line-drive percentages (23.9 last year) and escalating walk percentage (a robust 14.1). His skills protect his 2010 stock, but the extended future will depend on how much he can avoid heavy lifting.
John Lackey, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Injuries and heavy workloads are contributing to his stuff becoming more hittable; his walk rate has climbed in the last two years, and his dominance has gradually gone down in each of the last three. The Green Monster may increase righties' effectiveness against him. He regained some heat in '09, though, which may stave off any sign of a precipitous fall in the coming season.
Joe Nathan, relief pitcher, Minnesota Twins
That 47.1 flyball percentage hid behind his typically low fantasy ratios. Nathan's walk rate increased by nearly half a batter per nine, too. His average fastball velocity hovered around his low 2008 level, which dropped off more than 1 mph from '07. His use remains a red flag.
Heading into his 10th season, Nathan, 35, has experienced second-half slip-ups
in the last two seasons. We're not denying his otherwise elite peripherals;
just know that an extended faltering in control could open up the flood gates.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.