*The article officially begins after the underlined, which is from yesterday’s post covering pitchers.
You’d be amazed how quickly perspectives could change in September. Division leads could evaporate into heated dogfights between rivals jostling for position, supposed “aces” of staffs could collapse and fall victim to the fatigue of the stretch run, and everyday players’ groin strains or hamstring ailments, usually requiring brief 5-15 day stints on the bench or in Minor League rehab, could shelve them for the rest of the year. These unfortunate occurrences have the potential to be death to a Major League squad, and surprisingly enough they’ve become a natural part of the game. Anything could happen, and anything does happen quite a lot in baseball during those final 30-35 days of the season.
The worst part is realizing that these circumstances play a substantial role in the complexion of your fantasy team. All the hard work you may have put in to your pitching staff in order to get your foot in the door of the postseason could be vanished by terms as haunting as “innings limit” or “skipped starts.” Teams who fall apart and lose their ways could damage the confidence of their star players, thus leading to individual cold stretches that just so happen to have spurred right when your matchups began to count more than ever. Moreover, these developments, as I’ve already hinted, usually never reach a solution at this point of the baseball season. Half of your entire roster can consist of players who carried your team all year long, and are having as difficult a time staying on the field as they are producing to their expected level of output. And I haven’t even mentioned the impact September call-ups could lay in the aftermath of all this.
If you’re not in the playoffs for your current fantasy baseball league, this probably isn’t the article for you. Quite a few no-names are expected to pop up throughout this post, with the focus falling squarely on helping competing owners get a competitive edge in any feasible way possible. Those who are out of it are either scoping out players they can’t wait to draft next season, or deciding who their flex is going to be this Sunday in fantasy football. If you believe that you fall into said categories, very little here will interest you. As for the rest, I am prepared to drop the insight you’ll need to bring the fantasy title home.
Today’s post will tackle a group of hitters I feel is capable of making the biggest two-week impact. Like with my assortment of pitchers in yesterday’s post, I will not be covering players who are currently owned in more than 40% of ESPN leagues. Most peripheral stats are still fair game in evaluating most of the following hitters, so if you wind up getting picky with your moves I’d suggest paying closer attention to those as a way of easing your decision-making.
Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (37.6%)
The only feasible explanation for Khris Davis‘s ownership rates being at their current state would be his .244 batting average, as his 23 homers and 59 RBI in only 349 at-bats points to a potential top-10 outfielder in any league format. Well, actually, now that I think about it – Khris Davis has also registered most of this production in spurts, which may also have something to do with that. He has three different months where he’s finished with a +.500 slugging percentage, +4 homers and +12 RBI, and the other two have seen rather diminishing returns: a mid-high .300 slugging percentage, and a combined 3 home runs and 19 runs+RBI. Picked as a big-time sleeper yet again in 2015 (surprise-surprise, he subverted expectations last season after trailblazing his way to a .279/.353/.596 slash line in 2013,) Davis has continued to frustrate owners on a game-to-game basis. But he’s not being mentioned here for sporadic play. Since the All-Star Break, the 27-year old has rediscovered his power stroke, mashing 17 homers with 41 RBI, a .295 ISO, and .537 slugging percentage. Among all qualified outfielders, he ranks 5th, 5th, 5th and 12th respectively in those categories, suggesting that maybe those peaks and valleys most owners have been discouraged by are beginning to finally clear the way for some consistency – and top-flight fantasy value. Another impressive statistic – this time of the full season variety – is his 10.4% walk rate; a near-five percent increase from a year ago (that slow transformation into the potential late-round sleeper of 2016 is unfolding right before our eyes, people!) Now, before you go rushing to the wire and picking him up just because, I have to note two important things here you must consider:
- His road OPS for the season is under .600, and including their three-game stint with the Cubs the Brewers have three more series away from Miller Park before coming home for the final three games of the season. You wanna know who the Brewers are playing in those other two series? The St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Diego Padres. Yup.
- Despite all the praise for his power and discipline, Davis still just doesn’t make enough contact at the plate to help owners in batting average. His .242 post-ASG batting average, 68.6 Contact%, and 26.1% K percentage on the year can attest to that.
If you believe his final act of the season will be hampered by these factors, then it’d be best to either play the matchups with him and wait until Milwaukee gets back home, or just leave him alone. Otherwise, go add him now and ride him to either glory or oblivion.
Danny Valencia, 3B/1B/OF, Oakland Athletics (30.8%)
This could very well be the first and last time I ever mention, discuss or refer to Danny Valencia in a fantasy baseball post, as his career performance is as up-and-down as any other journeyman you can think of. But In 2015, things have come with a bit more smooth sailing for him, as he’s (supposedly) conquered the daunting undertaking of having sustained success against right-handed pitchers. Even more eye-opening is the extent to which he’s overcome such an insufficiency: His OPS, weighted on-base (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) are all much higher against righties than lefties. If learning that a guy famous of absolutely crushing opposite-handed pitching has spent the entire season dominating same-handed hurlers to an even more extreme extent doesn’t convince you he’s worth an add in all leagues, then I don’t have the slightest clue what will. I guess pointing out that he’s also slashing .290/.336/.521 with 18 homers and 60 RBI in only 328 at-bats could help spew some enthusiasm.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles (22.6%)
Blessed with a wealth of power at a position lacking any of the sort, no other middle infielder in the waiver wire is a better bet to blast off into the sunset of the 2015 season in style than Jonathan Schoop. Had he qualified, Baltimore’s starting helm at the keystone would’ve had the second-highest ISO (only falling behind Brian Dozier,) and the fourth-highest wOBA of all second basemen in the Majors. All of this in the heavenly confines of Camden Yards; a hitter’s paradise perfectly catering his swing. That short porch in left field could not be in a more convenient spot for him, as his 44.3% pull rate and 312 feet average distance on flyballs and home runs will allow him to take full advantage of those ballpark factors. That’s important to remember, as the Orioles will spent all of next week at home (while spending this week on the road against the struggling Nationals and Red Sox, which doesn’t hurt, either) I don’t believe in his .287 batting average (he’s walking 3% of the time with a .338 BABIP,) but this is perhaps the greatest power play (excuse the pun) you can make at second base, especially at this juncture. Don’t forget Jonathan Schoop in the offseason, etiher: folks across most fantasy circles are already considering his second-half push (9 home runs, 27 RBI, .789 OPS) as a harbinger for a breakout 2016 campaign.
Francisco Cervelli, C, Pittsburgh Pirates (28%)
If you happen to own one of those “five-foot pool” deep mixed or NL-Only leagues where got lucky in every position besides catcher, and you need a boost in batting average where it counts, Francisco Cervelli is your guy. Batting just a literal tick under .300 with 50 RBI, the Pittsburgh backstop has most definitely found a home for him to play above-average, everyday baseball. His 7% swinging strike rate and 0.54 K-BB ratio help label him more as a guy who keeps his batting average up from having an experienced approach at the plate than just a BABIP-induced fluke. Even though his power and run scoring numbers are mostly pedestrian, he absolutely makes up for it with his ability to get knocks – at least in batting average-dependent leagues. Pick him up and plug him in if the situation calls for it.
Alex Rios, OF, Kansas City Royals (25.8%)
The term “contact specialist” should very loosely describes what Alex Rios is at this point of his career, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that his last couple of months have proven him worthy of the claim right now. Hitting .293 in 181 at-bats since the All-Star Break, Rios has certainly found his way on base more often than others recently, which is even truer when you narrow his performance down to the last month. Since the calendar turned to September, Rios has owned a .366/.386/.610 slash line in 11 games, with counting stats across the board (including a stolen base.) Although he’s currently sitting somewhere around the bottom third of the Kansas City lineup, the Royals collectively score in bunches (fourth in the Majors in runs scored this season) which allows Rios ample opportunity to both drive home or score from his teammates. As long as he could stay hot, you won’t need the Mike Trouts or the Andrew McCutchens of the world to do everything in your outfield.
Thomas Pham, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (22%)
The Cardinals have experienced so many injuries this season, you would’ve figured guys like Stephen Piscotty and Thomas Pham were planned mid-season call-ups from the jump. And while the former player has seen his production wane over the final weeks of the season, the latter is just getting warmed up. An impressive mix of power and speed in the minors, Pham has finally started to apply his skill set in the game’s biggest stage, as he’s been a rock star in September (.333 BA, 4 home runs, and 22 runs+RBI in 42 at-bats.) His recent bump up into the top of the lineup has helped him maintain a steady dosage of counting stats, and the extra power on tap in recent weeks has been quite the boon, too. his 11% BB and 22.1% K rate for the year suggest that his patience has allowed him to finally breakout, and with no better time to heat up than the home stretch into October, those in most leagues should have no problem giving him a shot to make them winners.
Only 9 of his 23 stolen bases have come in the second-half, but Delino DeShields still makes for a worthwhile Hail Mary for swipes in practically any format. The Rangers’ lineup has been causing plenty of trouble recently, and no one is more equipped at this point of the season to create havoc on the base paths than DeShields. Look for Texas to enforce his speed with the season winding down.
Ditto for Aaron Hicks, who, in my mind, is the better free agent acquisition of the two for his power and improving batting average. He’s only swiped 5 bases since the All-Star Break, but 3 of them have come this month, so those in deep AL-Only leagues should expect him to get the wheels spinning at least a couple more times.
Kelby Tomlinson is mostly likely going to finish out the year at the keystone for San Francisco, with Joe Panik unable to escape his chronic back problems and getting shelved onto the 60-day Disabled List. With a combined 70 minor league stolen bases over the last two years, it seems that all he has to do to become a threat on the basepaths is get on base. If he can hold onto that 8.2% BB rate, and stay lucky with the balls in play for just a little while longer (current .358 BABIP,) Tomlinson should quietly give you an advantage in swipes for the rest of the season.