Congratulations, reader! You’re in the playoffs! Now, pat yourself in the back, crack a nice, quirky smile, and put your damn pants back on for goodness sake.
With that out of the way, let’s assess exactly where we all are in the Fantasy world with the next 4 weeks (or two, depending on the league settings) determining who gets that custom WWE championship belt Ebay’ed to their front door step in October.
First things first: You can no longer hold onto, stash, bench, or even hope for players you own who are experiencing a precipitous drop in overall performance covering any longer than three weeks. That means you get rid of highly touted (yet remarkably underachieving) hitters like Brandon Phillips and Josh Hamilton, and reach a little bit in certain positions that are or have been lacking. For example, the middle infield spots have been going through a bit of an unusual revelation lately. Dustin Ackley (2B/OF, Seattle Mariners,) Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B, Washington Nationals,) Luis Valbuena (3B/2B, Chicago Cubs) and Justin Turner (3B/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) have all produced at a fantasy-relevant level since the All-Star Break, and yet only one of these guys are owned in more than 90% of all ESPN leagues (Ackley.) Their combined OPS is a neat .829, and most important is that not a single one of these fellows have netted less than 100 plate appearances in less than 30 games started. That last bit may sound irrelevant, but putting into consideration that expanded rosters still have a chance of cutting into their playing time(s) is less of a red flag than it may seem because of the positive performances. So, in other words, you’ve been granted the seeds to playoff success (or, at least some of them) in deep leagues if you’ve been struggling mightily up the middle.
Going back to my point earlier about dropping guys you’ve been holding onto for too long; yes, it’s a tough decision at first, but ultimately you’ll find yourself better off in the long run. Let’s not forget that there are only four whole weeks left of play, so doing a little research beforehand is acceptable; anyone could get hot if their peripherals suggests they should. But Let’s take a dive in the waiver wire, and discover some diamonds in the rough along our journey.
*SIDE NOTE: All players are owned in less than 90% of all ESPN fantasy leagues.*
Diamonds in the Rough
Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Minnesota Twins
Trevor Plouffe wins my award for “Strangest Streaker in Fantasy Baseball” for a long list of reasons, but mainly because he’s gotten hot and cold in every month since 2012. For the single fact alone that we’re talking about the playoffs here, and Plouffe is just coming off one of the best months of his Major League career (.317/.372/.558, 5 homers, 24 RBI in August,) this has the potential of being the ultimate power play for desperate owners who dropped Todd Frazier before Todd Frazier realized that Todd Frazier was Todd Frazier, and that Todd Frazier in particular was pretty darn good. During the month of this past April, girls from around the world were raiding the streets tossing their panties over fire hydrants and unsuspecting misogynists because the bastard had finally discovered some plate discipline (13.6% BB rate, 20% K rate,) and did so while demonstrating that 2012 June-July power we all secretly gushed over (.478 SLG, .887 OPS.) I think it’s fair to assume every other month besides last month never happened, especially since the 28-year old is playing the best baseball of his life right now. In that aforementioned month of August where he hit everything, he carried with it an impressive list of (advanced) counting stats: .402 Weighted On-base percentage, 160 wRC+ (which stands for “Weighted Runs Created” and to put that into perspective, the league average is 100 and applies to all ballpark factors,) and a .929 OPS. All of this going on with a ridiculously awesome 10.6% K rate! He has unarguably been the best third baseman in fantasy over the last 30 days, and the way he’s pulled it off makes it very easy to assume he could wrap up September with a Herculean vengeance. This last bit goes to all the ladies out there: his BABIP was a mere .322 in this period. Ladies, please, keep your panties on. Anyway, to simplify it all for you: Trevor Plouffe is outplaying this guy and that guy, and doing it with style. And I’m certainly respecting his skills right now.
Justin Turner, 3B/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yes, I know, I already mentioned Justin Turner and how you should go pick him up if you need help at short or second base. But his case goes much deeper than name-calling (and by that I mean bringing him to your attention.) One can assume it’s his teammates, others will point to the change of scenery, but all of a sudden this guy’s been hitting .322 for Los Angeles the entire year. The ENTIRE year! The dude’s getting on base 39% of the time and slugging .445. You know what Turner’s best year was in the Majors before 2014 ever even happened!?!? Last season. I know; anti-climactic, isn’t it? He hit a modest .280.319.385 in 86 games with the Mets in 2013. You can blame the lack of spectacular eye-popping statistics on the Mets just being the Mets, but you can also kinda blame that on Turner as well. Citi Field didn’t grant him the .397 BABIP that he’s clinging to for dear life down in Chavez Ravine, so something’s definitely changed about him…or maybe not. But would do you seriously wanna bet against that sort of thing in September? I wouldn’t. His peripherals are good (9.1% BB rate, 23.8% line drive rate, 141 wRC+,) and despite a groundball rate nearing 50%, he’s making decent contact with a 78% clip. Long story’s short, this is definitely a season the regression fairies ignored completely, but the guy is really not that bad either. Couple that with the increase in playing time (he has played in 34 of 45 games for LA since the All-Star Break) and we may have a true winner here at a variety of different positions as the season winds down (at least in NL-only or deep 10-12 team mixers.)
Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox
I’ve got a question for all the die-hards out in the Southside of Chicago: Don’t you ever get tired of hearing about Adam Eaton? I know I have, and I haven’t even rooted for the Pale Holes since underdogs like Freddy Garcia and John Garland were taking the world by storm back in ’05 and riding off into the fantasy-relevant sunset with World Series rings shortly after. In regards to this season alone, he has been on the DL more times than Dee Gordon, Denard Span, and Ben Revere have homered. Now bear with me here and don’t let that sink in too much ’cause that may not exactly be true, but Eaton has been an annoying player to own in fantasy all year long. Just advising you guys out there to go add him again because he’s healthy is a risk in and of itself, but with only 30 games left he may be worth gambling on. He’s still having a productive all-around season, even if the power is still totally nonexistent. Because of his gorgeous .310 batting average, Eaton’s managed to somehow still slug over .400 (with one homer!) all the while maintaining a run-scoring pace that would soar just above 100 in a span of 162 full games played. That would also have him predicted to hit 35 doubles and about 14-15 triples if he never missed a game, which would play beautifully in leagues that count extra base-hits. Before I get carried away, the point is that he’s proven to be a solid leadoff hitter when he’s healthy, and the only thing that could stop him from performing is himself (which, in a sense, is a bit literal since half of his injuries were inflicted by him running into walls and diving into bases.) Desperate shallow league owners are spending a weekend in Vegas with poker chips and a dangerous case of amnesia, but everyone else should take a flier if their outfield needs a serious boost.
Phil Hughes, SP, Minnesota Twins
Shut up. Phil Hughes is not a reach. If you really think that, then you’re most likely one of the 97% of league owners who are too busy looking at Kate Upton’s tits on Dropbox than acknowledging Justin Verlander’s counting stats. Something told me going into the season that eventually Phil Hughes would figure it out with Minnesota, but I still can’t figure out whether or not that’s because of the big ballpark in Target Field and the offseason adjustments or because I’m a Yankee fan. Whatever it is; it’s working. And on top of all that this young fellow right here has made it his life’s mission to become the next Bret Saberhagen. In fact…look out Bret Saberhagen! This is a little diddy I stumbled upon recently in regards to control pitchers, and it just so happens to be a compiled list of the greatest K/BB seasons in Major League history.
Rank Player (age that year) Strikeouts / Base On Balls Year
1. Bret Saberhagen (30) 11.0000 1994
2. Phil Hughes (28) 10.4667 2014
3. Cliff Lee (31) 10.2778 2010
4. Jim Whitney (26) 10.0000 1884
5. Jim Whitney (25) 9.8571 1883
6. Hisashi Iwakuma (33) 9.7692 2014
7. Curt Schilling (35) 9.5758 2002
8. George Bradley (27) 9.0000 1880
9. Pedro Martinez (28) 8.8750 2000
10. Greg Maddux+ (31) 8.8500 1997
11. Henry Boyle (23) 8.8000 1884
12. Pedro Martinez (27) 8.4595 1999
13. Ben Sheets (25) 8.2500 2004
14. James Burke 8.2258 1884
15. Clayton Kershaw (26) 8.0800 2014
16. Charlie Sweeney (21) 8.0238 1884
17. Tommy Bond (28) 7.9444 1884
18. Carlos Silva (26) 7.8889 2005
19. Greg Maddux+ (29) 7.8696 1995
20. Curt Schilling (34) 7.5128 2001
Ok, now tell me what you see. No, you idiot! I’m not talking about Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez peppering the list (although I’d really, really love to someday.) I can only imagine what kind of video game these guys were playing when they did this, because it definitely was not MLB 2K13. All of them do have one thing in common, though: They go camping together every Summer and drive through the woods of Vermont until they hit the Green Mountain National Forest. From there, Saberhagen sets up the fire at nightfall, Maddux supplies the refreshments (ox and deer with two kegs of Poland Spring,) and Martinez, Silva, Schilling and Hughes (Lee and Iwakuma were too pussy to do it this year) join hands and skip around the fire singing some old Native American ritual until the fire dies down and the ghosts of Jim Whitney, James Burke, and Tommy Bond appear. The three C’s (Confidence, Composure, and Control) are taught vehemently by these phantoms, and the minute they veer off into the wind the gentlemen involved in the ritual are granted the ability to throw a baseball within every quadrant of the strikezone with consistency (another C!), but must adhere to the amendment that they are forbidden to walk a batter. The consequences? I’d love to tell ya, but they are too raw and unspeakable for me to even be discreet. Back to reality! Phil Hughes has more wins than Felix Hernandez, fewer walks allowed than Clayton Kershaw, and has a 2.75 ERA in the second half of this season. Hate to be blunt, but he’s a must-own down the stretch in all leagues. Do I have to spell it out for you?
Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
After landing on the DL back on August 11th for Shoulder Tendinitis, fantasy owners far and wide dropped Jacob deGrom faster than a dubstep beat at an Avicii concert. Then he came back healthy and everything just a couple weeks ago, but his ownership continues to pale in comparison to his stats. I get that rookie starters don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt considering his first start back was pretty bad, but I’d definitely take him over, I don’t know, Tim Hudson? Believe it or not, but he’s still owned in more leagues than deGrom even though he’s only barely besting the youngster in wins and walks. What deGrom brings to the table is as clutch as it gets this time of year, as we’re talking about a 4+ K/BB ratio, balanced opposing BABIP (hurting the chances for a random period of absolute suckiness,) and impressive arsenal and skill set. I’ve got a funny feeling that he knows just how nasty his fastball is, with a glaring 43.6% usage rate coinciding with an even more glaring 29.4% K rate (remember that this does not take into account his two-seamer and cutter.) All of his off-speed pitches generate a swinging strike and K rate greater than 12 and 19 percent, respectively.
“I still don’t understand it, though. How good is that, really?”
Are you aware of the term “the proof is in the pudding?” You are? Okay. Well, it’s entirely irrelevant here, but at least I caught you off guard. Anyway, nearly all of deGrom’s advanced stats for each one of his pitches are identical to those of former Royals great Zack Greinke. And you don’t need a reality check to know how great that guy is. Dynasty league owners have stepped upon a pot of gold, while everyone else better start rushing to the waiver wire (available in over 41% of ESPN leagues) and cashing in before the bank’s closed and the word is out.
Jordan Schafer, OF, Minnesota Twins
The record third Twin to be mentioned in the same post is an unlikely source of a particular category that’s easy to draft for but hard to find at the end of the year. The funny thing about Jordan Schafer is that it wasn’t too long ago when he got a couple chances to leadoff for the Atlanta Braves before tapering off and getting released earlier this season. You’d think a team that was so desperate to add speed like the Braves would’ve reconsidered slotting him in there over Heyward and stretching out that lineup a bit, but that’s none of my business. What’s happened for him since is, though; as much mine as it is yours. In 27 games (87 at-bats) with the Twins, Schafer is batting .333 with 14 runs scored and a WHOPPING 14 stolen bases!! That there is the secret ingredient I was alluding to; the main reason why this guy has deserved an opportunity to display his skills on the big stage in the first place. I could continue to dig into his peripherals and such, but I would also like to be awake so I could finish this post. Schafer’s numbers powers-wise are as boring as an English class taught by Ben Stein, and he’s likely to hurt your batting average more than help it if you lock him in your lineup everyday in daily leagues. I like him as an AL-Only/12-team deep league 3rd or 4th outfielder, and I’m actually not even insulting him when I say that. If you pick him up, you’re doing it for the steals and steals alone. Play those cards right, and he’s sure to return the favor without any collateral damage.
Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians
I kinda have to talk about Salazar’s replenished performance now after last night’s a$$ whoopin of the Detroit Tigers (CG SHO, 8 H, 0 BBs, 9 Ks,) and with a now 2.30 ERA and 45:11 K/BB ratio through 47 second-half innings, I’m willing to bet the guy chin-strapped lads across Ohio couldn’t get enough of is finally back. Remember that BS story I invented for Phil Hughes and his historical companions? If Salazar continues to pitch at the more recent pace he’s been on (27:5 K/BB ratio over his last four starts,) we may very well see him setting records and shit just like everyone else. Now, of course seeing him pull off a full season with a BB/9 under 1.5 is still an extreme stretch, but he’s certainly harnessed his control since coming back from AAA Columbus (2.11 BB/9 since the ASB.) And to be totally honest, that was really the only roadblock in his path to success all season long. This is a scary revelation for fellow division rivals and AL opponents alike, because when Salazar’s on his stuff plays everywhere. With K rates north of 16% (highest is 45.1% on his changeup) and swinging strike percentages ranging from 5 to 25 percent on all his pitches, he definitely has all the tools necessary to absolutely obliterate the competition in September.
“But which leagues should I add him in?”
All of them, young Padawan. All of them.
Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
For as much as I was taught to hate and completely despise the Red Sox (of whom will never be forgiven for the July 24th, 2004 fight involving Don Zimmer being shoved to the ground by Pedro Martinez,) I was also taught to recognize greatness when it’s present. That is not to mistake me for one who’s placing rookie outfielder Mookie Betts on an towering pedestal high above the clouds hovering Yawkey Way. However, as the hilarious Larry David once said while intercepting a chat-and-cut, “That would work on about 99% of people, but I happened to be on line.” Clever, ain’t it? And I’m still not talking about Betts’s numbers yet; I’m referring to his maddeningly low ownership percentage (34.1%.) Here is a guy who’s been raking like the leaves of Autumn have already started falling, all the while claiming his rightful place in Beantown as the everyday starting center fielder. But you people wanna cling onto Mark Trumbo and Brandon Moss like they’re saving your fantasy life right now (again, none of my business.) Since being called back up in late July for being the wrong kind of bad boy in early June, Betts has carried a .279 batting average and .470-ish slugging percentage, with four homers and 10 RBI. Those numbers don’t stand out much, but also consider that he’s done his recent damage in under 100 at-bats. If we do the math and calculate projections for what kind of hitter Betts would turn out to be in a full season of plate appearances (don’t forget the 4 stolen bases!) we wind up with something like a 80/24/75 slash with 20+ swipes. Somewhere out there, 34-year old Ryan Braun from the future is smiling with his smug face. 2014 Hunter Pence, though, is kinda jealous. A wealth of solid minor league stats, as well as some tasty hitting peripherals (21.4% line drive rate, 41.7% FB rate) tell a very compelling story for his average going on the rise, and hint at some sneaky power towards season’s end. There’s a lot to like (and even some to love) about Mookie Betts, and just knowing that he is capable of adequately producing in every category makes him the Jesus Christ of AL-Only championship contenders. You should probably pick him up in all your other leagues, too. I mean, It’s not like anyone else in your league knows who he is.
Closers to Vulture
Jenry Mejia, SP/RP, New York Mets (Available in 27.3% of all ESPN leagues)
Eric O’ Flaherty, RP, Oakland Athletics (Available in 41.6% of all ESPN leagues)
Aaron Sanchez, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (Available in 97.9% of all ESPN leagues)
Very Deep League Power Plays
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (Available in 19.2% of all ESPN leagues)
Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants (Available in 36.3% of all ESPN leagues)
Jake Peavy, SP, San Francisco Giants (Available in 47.2% of all ESPN leagues)
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals (Available in 57.9% of all ESPN leagues)
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (Available in 64% of all ESPN leagues)
Miguel Gonzalez, SP, Baltimore Orioles (Available in 92.1% of all ESPN leagues)
Jarred Cosart, SP, Miami Marlins (Available in 92.4% of all ESPN leagues)
Vidal Nuno, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Available in 94.6% of all ESPN leagues)
Odrisamer Despaigne, SP, San Diego Padres (Available in 95.6% of all ESPN leagues)
Derek Holland, SP, Texas Rangers (Available in 98.6% of all ESPN leagues)