*Disclaimer: Due to a variety of setbacks and computer problems, I haven’t been able to post any fantasy baseball articles recently. It’s also important for me to note that some of the following stats behind certain players may not be up-to-date because I’ve been working on this post for the last couple of days. Last, I will be posting a new series of baseball posts pertaining to the trade market, as well as continuing my “notes and thoughts” series which I opened up around Opening Day.
Here’s another billing of stock-risers and stock-fallers for this week and beyond. Let’s not forget my pre-set system of urgency for each available free agent.
!!! – Must Add
$ – Worth a Look
# – Position/Category need
? – Speculative/Stash
“Hitters on the Rise”
!!! Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies !!!
Had it not been for my personal skepticism of his hot start and the home ballpark he plays in, Justin Morneau would’ve been in my last article pertaining to fill-in free agents on the waiver wire. But quite honestly, he should be spoken of just about everywhere right now because he’s continuing to supersede expectations in 2014. Morneau’s peripherals so far justify any arguments about his return to form, from a 21.3% line drive rate and career-high 19.2 HR/FB rate, to contact and K rates that hint that there may be flashes of his 2006 MVP season throughout spurts of his playing time with the Rockies. Morneau’s BABIP has always hovered around or well over .300, which is no different now with a .360 clip and I can’t even bring myself to calling that a fluke because it once sat at .385 in 2010 with the Twins. For someone who’s been battling the ill effects of a concussion for well over four years, it’s extremely encouraging to see him rise back up to performing at an elite level again with the stats to prove it. Not that I’m saying he’ll remain a .356 average or hit 40 homers, but the move to Colorado and the deep lineup this team represents point to a plethora of signs that suggests that Morneau could easily turn out to become an extraordinary fantasy sleeper and a potential comeback player of the year. He’s worth a look in all leagues, and at the very worst he’ll end up being an emergency fill-in who can provide meaningful power at home with close to 80 RBI.
$ Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians $
Brantley’s consistency and willingness to maintain a play style is both a strength and a weakness for him as a developing fantasy asset, but there are a couple stats I’ve researched that bring me to the conclusion that he may be changing things up a bit. If you look at the body of work this kid has laid out in the Majors already, you’re initial prognosis will be that he’s a line drive hitter who’ll put the ball on the ground as a means to find holes when there are runners in scoring position. That means that he is sacrificing power for average, as well as giving away potential RBIs in the air. Last year, Brantley’s career season, he only had 39 extra base-hits and slugged a hair under .400, but had 73 RBI and stole 17 bases. This year, his groundball rate has gone up by almost 10%, but his HR/FB rate has soared from 6.8% to 18.2%. This tells me that he’s stretching out his swing a bit for more power, which may be the case considering that he’s nearly halved his homerun total from last season in 102 April plate appearances. The initial results of Brantley’s relatively unusual start to the season may not ring true the rest of the way, but even with a little more focus on leaving the park Brantley could be shooting his fantasy value way up. He already has the legs to be a 20/20 guy. He just needs the mindset. If Brantley is indeed aiming for a longer swing and more gofer balls, his average won’t go any further than .265-.270. Nonetheless, he literally walks more than he strikes out and he’s batting fifth in a strong Indians lineup that hasn’t woke up yet, and when it does he’ll be an even more serviceable asset than he has been during his current hot stretch.
# Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins #
Let’s be honest. A year ago, you can scroll down the entire Marlins roster, compare it with the AAA affiliate of any other Major League ballclub, and fail to find any considerable difference between them. If only I was joking. A vast majority of Miami’s roster was littered with call ups and prospects their GM office traded for, so I guess you can already imagine what it must’ve been like to be a Marlins fan in 2013. The good thing about this is that some of these talented young bats and arms are making a serious case for fantasy relevance, and Marcell Ozuna himself appears to begging for a deep league flier. Batting 2nd for the Fish most nights, Ozuna has the opportunity to rack up run after run after run hitting in front of the all-powerful Giancarlo Stanton, and he’s already answering the call with a .304 batting average and 13 runs scored on the young season. It’s hard to extensively research him and discover the reasons for his early success, but it helps for anyone to have a 9-19 BB/K ratio and a 79% contact rate in the early going. Now I am beyond concerned that he’ll come down to earth a bit with his current 53.4% groundball and 13.6% infield flyball rate, but he gets the bat on the ball enough and is showing good enough plate discipline. Ozuna may not have a chance to be a .300 hitter all year, but in a 10-12 teamer where one’s outfield looks worse than others, I say go for it and enjoy the ride.
$ Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies $
Chooch will always carry baggage with him no matter what league you own him in, particularly because of his spectacular 2012 season being followed up by a 25-game suspension to begin his 2013 campaign. The steep drop off in fantasy value for Ruiz is due in large part to the steep drop off in production over the last two seasons, as he went from a .325/.394/.540/.934 slash with 16 homers and 68 RBI in 2012 to a .268/.320/.368/.688 slash with 5 dingers and 37 ribbies last year. There’s not a single doubt in my mind that he doesn’t even sniff at the numbers from his former season had he not taken any adderall to begin with, so his recent hot streak and NL Player of the Week honors is more of the exception than the rule. So in that regard, Ruiz’s fantasy value is up in the air. Or so I thought…
-His current 19% Infield fly ball and 12.5% infield hit rate leads me to the conclusion that most of his hits right now are bloops and frozen ropes into shallow left/center, which is as fluky a statistic as they come for a guy who’s not hitting for much power (only a 4.8% HR/FB rate.)
-One of his distinct advantages right now is his line drive rate, which is sitting at a career-best 26.2%. So, maybe Ruiz is trying his hardest to square the ball up and focus on peppering it to the outfield, since his fly ball and groundball rates show little disparity (34.4% and 39.3%, respectively.) For those at home who still don’t know where I’m getting at, Ruiz’s current .296 batting average and .333 BABIP is a result of him giving up power to hit for average, which has a great chance of sustaining itself if he maintains his approach.
-If there’s anything absolutely concrete about Chooch’s performance so far, it’s his plate discipline. Even for a guy who’s had a BB/K rate over one three times in his career, his 1.30 BB/K mark is downright amazing. I’ve always been impressed with how he can run a deep count and prevent an opposing pitcher from having too much of an upper hand with two strikes, and this season is no different, especially with an equally impressive 86% contact rate.
When you add it all up, Ruiz comes off as someone who’s had one great year, got caught cheating, and then discovered something later on. He’s slowly becoming a gap hitter who’s main focus is to go all doubles and take his homers when he can. If I were to show you the differences between his batted ball stats now and those from his career, you’d certainly agree. What this means for his fantasy value is contingent on where he’s placed in the lineup most nights, so for example if he finds his way into the 5 or 6 hole he could provide some extra RBI. Trust me, he won’t be nearly as valuable as Yadier Molina or Buster Posey, but he’ll provide a neat boost in average and runs in most leagues — he’s scored 18 times already this season.
? Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates ?
All you have to know about Polanco is the following:
2014 AAA Statistics (In 23 games, 100 at-bats:)
.400/.460/.644/1.104 slash, 4 HRs, 24 RBI, 12 XBHs, 4 SB, 9 BBs, 15 Ks
Now let’s look at what the Pirates have done as a team through 26 games and a combined 890 at-bats:
.221/.296/.351/.647 slash, 28 HRs, 94 RBI, 56 XBHs, 14 SB, 84 BBs, 214 Ks
Of course, the Pirates as a whole are out-producing Polanco. But by how much? If you take the time to divide the production numbers with the stolen bases by nine, the results you get will provide quite the telling tale:
Average production among individual Pittsburgh Pirates hitters:
3 HR, 10 RBI, 6 XBH, 1.5 SB
Let’s say Polanco was called up before the season started. If his current AAA production held up in the Majors this season, he’d already be outpacing his contemporaries by three times as much on average. That’s almost as if Jose Abreu’s scorching hot start to the season were to be currently followed up by all of his other teammates batting just over .180 with 3 homers and 10 ribbies a piece. The reason why Polanco is only a speculative add or a stash in all leagues is because his eventual call up is still in question. Manager Clint Hurdle is skeptical about his ballclub’s obscenely slow start to the year offensively, so in order for this talented young prospect to get a chance right now someone has to get hurt. This isn’t great news for fantasy owners or those who are interested, but if the Pirates continue to disappear at the plate through the month of May and June, Polanco will get his chance to prove himself. You don’t have to pick him up right now, but all hands are on deck so keep the keenest of keen eyes on him as he’s perhaps the best hitting prospect not on a Major League field.
# Omar Infante, 2B, Kansas City Royals #
There was no way Infante was going to avoid mentioning after going bonkers last week with a homer and 8 RBI. There’s also no way Infante shouldn’t be owned in leagues as deep or any deeper than 10 teams. His 2013 season with Detroit was cut short due to injury, but he still managed to put up an awesome .318/.345/.450/.795 slash line with 54/10/51 production in only 118 games played and 476 at-bats. As much as I hate rooting for players who haven’t consistently found playing time throughout their careers because of health or opportunity, Infante has every chance to become lightning in a bottle for many owners and for this Kansas City offense as their everyday #2 hitter. Although Infante’s not multi-position eligibility, he could potentially end up becoming a poor man’s Martin Prado with 500+ at-bats under his belt. None of his hitting peripherals stand out (besides from an alarmingly high 25% Infield Fly Ball Percentage,) but as long as he’s hitting line drives at a rate higher than 20% and striking out less than 10% of the time, Infante will be more of a blessing than a curse for anyone willing to take a flier on him.
Other notable pickups for deeper leagues 10-teams and above:
-Michael Morse, OF, San Francisco Giants
-Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox
-Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
-Miguel Montero, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
-Eric Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels
-Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles
“Hitters on the Decline”
I know what I’m going to do next is extremely lazy, but the list of players both currently owned and on the waiver wire who are watching their stock fall is slim. So, I’m going to jot down a select few who most owners have trusted over the last week or so and why they have done everything but produce:
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
-.176 BAA due in large part to an alarmingly high 31.9% K Rate
-Currently batting cleanup, but scuffling with a meager .167 BAA with RISP
-Verdict: Keep him in deeper leagues (12-team mixed leagues and beyond,) but drop him in all others. He’s not worth the stash if your overall offense is scuffling.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
-Currently on the 15-day DL with a hamstring issue (will be out until at least May 11)
-Verdict: Keep him if you have no top-20 catcher to back him up AND your team isn’t littered with injuries up and down.
Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
-Batting .204 on the year and forcing Don Mattingly’s hand in regards to platooning him with Scott Van Slyke.
-Showing flashes of speed, but not enough to warrant a starting roster spot most nights ( 4 stolen bases this season.)
-A career-high 89% contact rate is encouraging, but finding himself unlucky with a .246 BABIP
-Verdict: Drop him in shallower formats. With a growing injury history and Mattingly splitting most of the playing time amongst his four outfielders, Crawford’s days as a power-speed threat with 100-run potential may be over (unless, of course, he or one of his constituents are traded.)
-Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox
-Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets
-Jedd Gyorko, 2B, San Diego Padres
-Russell Martin, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
-Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
“Pitchers on the rise”
!!! Josh Smith, RP, Los Angeles Angels & Hector Rondon, RP, Chicago Cubs !!!
It’s amazing how the closer’s role could change for a reliever faster than the sun setting and the moon rising, but luckily for all the scavengers who don’t believe in paying for a valuable ninth inning arm like Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen, this season has seen many a scenario. I remember looking at Ernesto Frieri and his draft price in all of my fantasy drafts and constantly asking myself, “What does it take for him to finally not be fantasy relevant anymore???” No one was bounced around more than he was in my fantasy league last year, yet he blew more save opportunites than all the crappy closers I was forced to live with at the time. I could imagine Mike Scioscia having secret engagements with Joe Smith during pre-games this year telling him, “I just need an excuse. All I need is an excuse.” Frieri’s numbers as the–ahem–closer are so bad that I refuse to post them. All you need to know is that you’ll probably never see his face on your draft boards for a very, very long time. Thank Heavens. If you don’t deal with relief scavangers like I do in my main league and Smith is still available, go ahead and pick him up. His initial numbers over the last 4-5 years are great, and his peripherals agree.
Ditto for Rondon in regards to number crunching, and ditto to Chicago’s ninth-inning troubles, because lord knows if even Billy Crystal would’ve made more comedic relief on the mound than Pedro Strop and Jose Veras. Rondon’s fastball isn’t that much faster or better than that of the two aforementioned cornballs, but compared to both them and his big league arrival last season he’s not playing any games. He’s currently the owner of an outstanding 16-to-4 K/BB ratio, sports a 93.3% strand and 1.91 GB/FB rate, and has yet to allow a homer in 15.1 innings. He’s getting after it, and “it” is indeed the “save,” of which he’s already garnered 3 within the past week. If he could keep this up long enough, Rick Renteria will have no other choice but to render him the Cubs’ official closer, instead of saying some dumb shit like “the situation’s pretty fluid.” I’m adding him immediately, no questions asked.
!!! Nate Eovaldi, SP, Miami Marlins !!!
Nate Eovaldi is the type of pitcher no one drafts because of a lack of track record and initial skepticism of that pitcher’s upside. This happens all the time, yet rightfully so. Eovaldi seemed to at best be just another mid-level streamer coming into 2014, with a mediocre 6.6 K/9 clip to go along with a nice 3.39 ERA. Because of his ballpark and the division he pitches in, I’m sure a ton of people across many fantasy leagues have streamed him at home this year. Those same people have got to be wondering, “Great Scott! He’s giving me Ks! And he’s not even walking anyone!! This is the best streaming option I’ve ever had! Now let’s drop him for Bronson Arroyo at San Diego.”
Please, don’t drop Nate Eovaldi for Bronson Arroyo.
Now, I’m gonna throw some numbers at you here, and hopefully you do a better job understanding them than you do reading them…
K Rate: up from 17.3% last season to 23% this season
BB Rate: down from 8.9% a year ago to 3.3% in 2014
Groundball %: up by almost 12%
Line drive rate: down by 12%
The main culprit(s):
-Use of slider has gone up to 25%
-First-pitch strike rate up to an impressive 68.4%
-Swinging Strike percentage up to a career-high 9.6%
Go. Pick. Him. Up. Now. Eovaldi seems to be the real deal, and with a current 2.20 FIP and 3.15 xFIP under his ledger, regression will him as hard as a soft pillow to the face. It probably won’t hurt at all to be there when that happens.
$ Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres $
Kennedy’s case for being on this week’s installment of FBSE is very similar to Eovaldi’s, but his appeal isn’t quite as significant. No matter, anyone who’s almost won a Cy Young, pitched 2 relatively sub-par follow-up campaigns, and rises back up in a new ballclub another year later with familiarly awesome numbers deserves my attention. With a 3.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, most former fans of the bearded righty are probably crying foul over his hot start. But how “hot” has Kennedy really been thus far? His FIP is in another area code, and his xFIP is actually telling us that he hasn’t been as good as he should. His fastball velocity has seen a small uptick, but he has found a way to mix it beautifully with his curveball. A balanced attack to say the least, Kennedy has been dropping the hammer to an all-time high rate of 13.1%, while combining it with his returning slider at a 3.9% clip. This suggests that the little extra speed Kennedy is garnering from his fastball is making all the difference now that he’s putting opposing hitters off balance more often. The game-changer for Kennedy though hasn’t only been his breaking stuff (which includes his newfound knuckle-curve, according to sources,) but his Zone%, which, for those of you who don’t pay attention to advanced sabermetrics, is the percentage of pitches a batter sees that are called strikes. His Zone% currently sits at 52%, by far the highest rate of his career, and a great way of proving how aggressively he’s been attacking the strikezone without constantly going off the plate for swings and misses. About a week ago, I looked at his 9.43 K/9, 1.93 BB/9 and 0.64 HR/9 and wondered how they are all managing to eclipse those of his career year in 2011. All of the advanced statistics do more than spell it out.
$ Jason Hammel, SP, Chicago Cubs $
Sheesh. There really has been a lot of great starting pitching out there on the waiver wire recently. I’m always hesitant to say anything positive about anyone from the Cubs, and maybe that’s the reason why Starling Castro AND Anthony Rizzo are both batting over .300 with solid all-around production. Sometimes what you expect leads to something completely different, like drafting Johnny Cueto and getting Pedro Martinez. Or drafting Francisco Liriano and getting Eric Bedard. Baseball players are douchebags, man. Maybe not all of them — Justin Morneau just tied up my fantasy league matchup with a homer, preserving my undefeated season — but you get the idea. Jason Hammel is an annoying player to analyze, because his career numbers are more sporadic than Atlanta’s offense on a month-to-month basis. Sorry, I’m venting a little bit there. It just pisses me off that when I start Alex Wood, I have to see him lose after throwing 8 innings of one-run ball every five days. What kind of Major League team tortures their players like that? OH, MY, GOD!! What was I on about earlier!?!? Oh right. That Hammel dude. Yeah, he’s pretty good, and besides from pitching in perhaps the worst win-garnering environment in all of baseball, he carries the same peripherals that I mentioned before with Nate Eovaldi and Ian Kennedy. All you really need to know is that he’s not big on Ks, with a league-average 21.4% K rate, but he doesn’t walk a lot at all and keeps the ball on the ground (46.7% groundball rate.) He also did this same thing in 2012 with the Orioles, so a healthy Hammel is worth the investment in a vast majority of fantasy leagues.
“Pitchers on the Decline”
Again, I hate to be all half-assed, but I figured If you don’t even want the guys I’m going to mention why waste my time over-analyzing them?
Michael Pineda, SP, New York Yankees
-Suspended for using pine tar against the Red Sox a little while back. Don’t worry, the umpiring crew already gave him neck for that.
-Was later placed on the 15-day DL for a minor strain of the teres major muscle. Sounds serious.
-Verdict: Keep him in 12-teamers with multiple DL spots, drop him everywhere else. There are literally three pitchers in this article who are better than him.
Jason Grilli, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates
-Placed on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain
-Verdict: keep and stash in most leagues, and handcuff him to Mark Melancon for the rest of the season in deeper formats. Grilli’s building up a bit of an injury history, but he’s been super productive as the Pirates’ closer so at the very least he could be a sell-high option once he’s healthy again and proves so.
Sergio Santos, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
– 0-2, 20.25 ERA, 3 blown saves in six appearances since April 17th.
-Verdict: Drop. Do it now. Do it quickly. Also, hope and pray that Casey Janssen was dropped in your league, and pick him up.
Aaron Harang, SP, Atlanta Braves
– 4.2 innings, 10 hits, 9 ER allowed versus the Marlins on Tuesday.
-Verdict: Drop and think of him purely as a streaming option at home from here on out. Harang was dodging so many statistical and sabermetric bullets, you’d think he was the John McClain of fantasy baseball. Until he can blow up a helicopter or leap off 4-story buildings without so much as a scratch on his back, this joy ride is over.
-Jenry Mejia, SP, New York Mets
-Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
-Luke Gregerson, RP, Oakland Athletics
-Zach McAllister, SP, Cleveland Indians
-Ernesto Frieri, RP, Los Angeles Angels
I’ll be right back at it next week. Good luck out there and happy hunting!