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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Buy-Low Candidates for the Month of May

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Buy-Low Candidates for the Month of May

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’m glad to be back writing up fantasy baseball posts and informing you all on the fantasy landscape as it currently stands. For my first week back, I’ll be touching base on a specific grouping of players who I feel could be very influential to any fantasy team’s success, and giving you my two-cents. Considering that there is so much data available these days, I figured I’d back up my opinions with whatever I could find; hopefully providing readers with a more tangible outlook on whoever’s being discussed.

Today’s post is covering a number of players under a specific category pre-determined by the fantasy community. And since it is May right now, I felt that it’d be appropriate to start labeling these guys as such considering some people I know who are fantasy baseball-ing are freaking out already, from a player roster-ing standpoint. So, without further ado, let’s get started, shall we?

 

Buy-Lows 

Paul Goldschmidt

Chris Archer

David Price

Zack Greinke

J.D. Martinez

Corey Kluber

Miguel Cabrera

Carlos Rodon

 

A near-100-point difference between his current season BABIP and his career BABIP has thus far led to Paul Goldschmidt finding himself with an ugly .222 batting average, even despite his ever-increasing walk rate and still-present power and plate discipline skills. As far as hitters go in general, he’s probably been the unluckiest of them all in 2016, and no heatmap or ballpark speadsheet is required to prove that when the only stark difference in his numbers so far is his 10-percent increase in soft-hit rate. He’ll heat up in no time; just don’t tell his owner that when you negotiate terms.

 

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Chris Archer  and David Price are like the Paul Goldschmidts of starting pitchers, and I’m not just saying that because they’ve also fallen into an insanely huge heaping of bad luck. Archer’s fanning far more batters than he’s ever fanned, but seemingly every time he allows contact it’s finding seats; his 23.5% HR/FB rate is over twice as high as his career norm! One thing that is entirely his fault, however, happens to be his walk rate, and if his 52.6% F-Strike rate doesn’t go up we’re looking at a Yu Darvish-lite who’ll have stretches of unpredictability that could downright frustrate even the most patient of fantasy owners. Still, he’s too good at the swing-and-miss, and I doubt he’ll be a 4 BB/9 guy forever, so that 3.27 xFIP is most likely the gateway into a prosperous ROS for the 27-year old.

Ditto for Price, who’s been even better than Archer from a skills perspective, yet even more unlucky in the process. You already know about his track record and pitching in the AL East his whole career (the latter part one of the main reasons why he should’ve been one of the first SP’s to exit draft boards this season, especially with that Boston offense), but I’m desperately pleading folks to buy because his 6.00 ERA is almost THREE AND A HALF POINTS HIGHER THAN HIS xFIP!!!!

I’ve watched a lot of Corey Kluber, some of Zack Greinke, and highlights of Carlos Rodon, and I can honestly tell ya if I had the opportunity to own any one of the three at a discount price, I’m pouncing without a moment’s notice. Kluber continues to get BABIP’ed around like nobody’s business (although he also needs to cut down on the free passes), but his curveball/slider combo is still one of the nastiest in baseball, and his groundball rate is (almost) back to its 2014 level. Few starting pitchers in baseball are as criminally underrated.

Greinke’s still pitching like he’s in LA (3.22 xFIP last season, 3.51 xFIP this year) but is getting beat up like he’s hurling meatballs in Colorado (5.26 ERA in 2016). Greinke owners probably predicted a dropoff in numbers with the move to Arizona, but all of his peripheral stats, from K-BB ratio to batted ball calculations, line up with his three years of work with the Dodgers – so it’d be unwise to cast him off as a bust when this slow start is probably just the fantasy Gods reminding us that he’s outpitched his ERA estimators by a LOT over the last few seasons.

 

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Rodon still has control issues, but the main culprits for his 4.99 ERA (and 1.26 difference between that and his xFIP) are both his .336 BABIP and his 17.1% HR/FB rate; two factors that appeared to have been aided substantially by his home ballpark. Something I’ve noticed with Rodon that seems especially promising is his continued reliance on his two-seamer, which has not only boosted his groundball rate (currently at an impressive 50.9%), but has also generating enough strikeouts – along with that devastating slider – to justify his 9+ K/9. However, his 8.1 swinging strike percentage is concerning, and you have to wonder if maybe – just maybe – his new contact-oriented approach is going to plummet his strikeout totals in the long run. Still, the upside is too great, and whoever has Rodon in your league is probably considering dropping him right now.

 

The Tigers offense is better than this, and if last week is any indication Detroit’s big bats might finally be waking up. As a proud owner of Miguel Cabrera, I was expecting a helluva lot more than 6 homers and 20 runs batted in through May 15th. Like most of the guys on my buy-low list, though, I’ve been observing him closely, and he constantly looks like he’s one swing away from a ridiculously torrid stretch. For those in pursuit, it’s safe to assume that his .286 batting average is the result of fewer hard-hit balls and a slightly-decreasing plate discipline profile. However, that’s counting the season in full; since the calendar flipped to May, nearly all of Miggy’s counting and peripheral stats have trended upward. He’s batting over .300 this month, his walks have gone up, and his wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) has seen a 26-point jump between now and April. Miggy’s currently at his most affordable price in ages, so if you’re hurting for a solid corner infielder I say “why not?”.

 

 

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* September’s Drive to Survive – Hitters

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* September’s Drive to Survive – Hitters

*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.

POWER HITTERS

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Other players to considerTravis Shaw, 3B/1B, Boston Red Sox (24.2%,) Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees (17.6%,) Justin Bour, 1B, Miami Marlins (11.3%)

CONTACT SPECIALISTS

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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.

Other players to considerAngel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants (24.7%,) Chris Coghlan, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs (22%,) Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF, Minnesota Twins (12.6%) 

SPEEDSTERS

DeShields

Delino DeShields, Jr., 2B/OF, Texas Rangers (25.3%,) Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins (15.5%,) and Kelby Tomlinson, SS/2B, San Francisco Giants (12.3%)

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.

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – September’s Drive To Survive: Starting Pitchers

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – September’s Drive To Survive: Starting Pitchers

After spending a great portion of both the Spring and Summer without a functioning personal computer, I am finally back at school, and capable of writing up baseball posts again while I try and solve my laptop issue. I hope to keep you all informed on the comings and goings of the fantasy universe throughout the rest of the season, which hopefully includes a review of most, if not all, of the big names and sleepers of the 2015 campaign. 

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 covers pitchers, mostly starters, who are available in a wide variety of ESPN leagues (no more than 40% owned,) and carrying the upside necessary to make a positive difference in your roster. Be mindful of the fact that I will be referring to general peripherals more often than I usually feel comfortable with (like ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, instead of batted ball and plate discipline data,) considering that there are only two weeks left in the baseball season, and individual performance can swing greatly on a day-to-day basis.

Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays (39.9%)

Take a moment to imagine what getting six months and 200 innings out of Drew Smyly could do for your fantasy team. Acquired from the Tigers last season in the then-blockbuster David Price trade, the 26-year old left-hander has rode the Rays’ insistence to consistently pitch up in the strikezone to the tune of a 2.74 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and +9 K/9 in over 100 innings pitched for the Rays. If I so happened to extrapolate his 2015 numbers into a full, injury-free campaign, he’d rank just past the top-15 for qualified starting pitchers! To sum it all up – Smyly has absolutely dazzled since moving to Tampa, and the adjustments he’s made to his pitch sequencing and location has paid off across the board, resulting in the makings of a dark horse ace both in real life and fantasy baseball. Even with his complete inability to keep the ball on the ground (32.9% FB rate would rank 4th lowest among all starting pitchers if he qualified) and even more alarming inability to keep the ball in the yard (16.2% HR/FB and 1.82 HR/9 rates,) Smyly has put together a solid 3.64 ERA and 1.18 WHIP to go along with an elite 10.27 K/9 and 21.3% K-BB rate this season. It’s amazing how incredibly under owned he still is (though a lot of that has to do with his returning from a shoulder tear that almost cost him the entire campaign,) but such unfortunate mishaps have allowed him to quietly emerge as the perfect lighting-in-a-bottle waiver wire add while the getting’s still good. Just remember that his flyball tendencies leave the door wide open for a potential 4-inning, 7-earned run shellacking.

Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres (34.9%)

No other starting pitcher in baseball this season has been more polarizing in overall performance than Ian Kennedy. He ranks 20th in the Majors in K/9 with a 9.04 clip, but has matched that with the second-worst HR/9 rate among qualified starting pitchers (1.66.) The result of such remarkably different statistical outliers is an ugly 4.29 ERA, a decidedly average 1.27 WHIP, and a meager win total of 8, cementing his 2015 campaign as a near-massive disappointment to owners who paid too much to acquire him on draft day in the first place. However, if you ever take a moment to look deeper into Kennedy’s exploits you’ll notice that he’s turned a bit of a corner since the All-Star Break. His 3.58 second-half ERA (3.58 xFIP) and 1.21 WHIP has resembled that of a top-30 starting pitcher, especially when you consider his +10 K/9 in that span. However, the homers and walks have been a problem for him all season long, and his last three starts (coming right after a stretch where he racked up 60 K’s and allowed more than three earned runs just once in his previous eight starts) have been collectively putrid. These are all factors you must consider if you’re willing to take a leap of faith on Kennedy the rest of the year, as his batted ball profile and propensity to strikeout a whole lot of hitters suggest that, even with the improved second-half numbers, he’s a roll of the dice every time out. Can he continue to pitch like the 3.58 xFIP starting pitcher he’s been for the final two weeks of the season? Or will the home runs and walks eat him up and spit him alive? Those in NL-Only leagues have no excuse not to add him for his upside, but in deeper mixed leagues Kennedy could very well be the difference between a championship or a waste of a six-month investment.

Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles (37.7%)

The last thing Wei-Yin Chen will compel you to do is awe in astonishment when he’s on the mound. He’s as boring a fantasy starter as they come, but in many ways that’s a great thing. In 20 of his 29 starts this season, Chen has gone at least six innings, with 12 of those involving seven or more frames of work. An even more impressive stat than those follows: 23 of Chen’s 29 starts have seen him pitch at least five innings without allowing more than three earned runs, and in 18 of them he didn’t give up any more than two. Of course, this consistency has been the only net positive to his performance (hence the low ownership rate,) as his league-average 19.3 K percentage and sky-high 1.40 HR/9 rate have helped labeled him as no more than a streaming option in most leagues. If you’re pitching-desperate, however, you can’t afford to let those deficiencies scare you into taking a flier. With only two more weeks left in the season, Chen is a safe bet to continue being as steady as they come.

Kris Medlen, Kansas City Royals (29.9%)

Don’t pick up Kris Medlen expecting him to go all 2012 second-half on the American League, as the Royals are very much content on limiting his pitch count start-to-start, and Medlen doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters now as he did back then. I’m suggesting you do so for his steady, no-nonsense approach to a ballgame; the kind that harkens back to the good ol’ days where 6+ K/9 guys can have plenty success in the Majors just for trusting their defense and forbidding walks. A 53.4% groundball rate and a mid-2 BB/9 add coal to the fire, while helping accentuate Medlen’s appeal as a “reach for the stars” grab, especially in knee-deep mixed leagues. Again, I can’t stress enough how anemic his strikeout totals will be, and like practically every other starter I’ve mentioned so far, home runs appear to be a bugaboo you’ll have to live with, as his 0.92 HR/9 indicates. Still, I like Medlen’s approach a whole lot; he understands the importance of cutting his fastball inside and out to both righties and lefties and enforces that into his pitching style (which is, again, inviting a wealth of contact) as a means to work efficiently and to his pitch limit. Another thing I like about him is his rock solid 25.3% Hard-hit percentage, suggesting that his stuff plays everywhere when his two-seam fastball is REALLY sinking.

Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (26.3%)

One of the primary culprits for Rick Porcello‘s god-awful performance this season was his pitch sequencing, in which he convinced himself to throw more four-seam fastballs up in the zone while focusing less on his patented sinker. The results of such are all over his surface stats, and there’s absolutely nothing he can do at this point of the season to pull this campaign anything close to fantasy-relevant. But since returning from a triceps injury late last month, Rick Porcello has strung together four quality starts, all of which resulted in him throwing no fewer than seven innings and allowing no more than three earned runs. With a 34/8 K-BB ratio and 3.06 ERA in his five starts following his exodus from the Disabled List, you’d have no other choice but to believe he’s scrapped his newfound pitching habits. Ask any sabermetrician about such and they’ll confirm it, as Porcello’s sinker usage rate has skyrocketed to its highest clip in years. The groundballs are back in steady form, and the strikeouts have come for him without his ERA taking a hit. Porcello has recently looked like every bit the starting pitcher Boston pursued in the offseason, and although he can’t possibly carry your pitching staff on his own, he definitely deserves to be on it right now.

Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins (21.6%)

The last of the starting pitchers I’m going to discuss ad nauseam, Tyler Duffey has surprised with his emergence into fantasy radars. Since his callup last month, Duffey has gone at least six innings in five starts, racking up seven or more strikeouts in all of them. Despite walking a whole lot of guys already (18 free passes in only 45.2 innings,) he’s managed to only allow three homers while maintaining a mid-8 K/9. Those on the fence about gambling with Duffey should also be aware of the fact that he’s only gotten better over the last couple of weeks; the right-hander has allowed only three earned runs with a 22/4 K-BB ratio in that span. The Twins’ high-powered offense could definitely provide Duffey with a couple more wins as the season winds down, and so long as he keeps up this forward momentum he’ll also help win a championship in a vast majority of deep and AL-Only leagues.

Other starting pitchers worth considering:

Jake Peavy, San Francisco Giants (22.3%,) Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins (21.5%,) Cody Anderson, Cleveland Indians (17.2%,) Jerad Eickhoff, Philadelphia Phillies (8.9%,) Jhoulys Chacin, Arizona Diamondbacks (5.6%)  

 

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Playoff Edition (Week 22-23)

Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Playoff Edition (Week 22-23)

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)

 

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Week 11

Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Week 11

Another week, another list of free agents, prospects worth stashing, and losers worth dropping. A lot has happened in the baseball world since I’ve lasted posted a FBSE article, so let’s take these next few moments to acknowledge the best and the worst the season has brought forth thus far……..alright, I believe we’re all up to speed. As much as I’d love to admit that I’ve been in a bit of a time crunch over the last month, I’ve actually locked myself in my room studying Fangraphs peripherals for players like a mad scientist and applying their tendancies ever-so-vigorously through countless hours of playing MLB 14: The Show. But there I go again getting ahead of myself and thinking you guys really care about what I’ve been doing and why I’ve been so lackadaisical, and I understand the frustration. There have been millions of adds, drops and so on since my last post, and this week’s waiver wire activity is just as congested as most others. It always helps that the Super-Two deadline has passed, and teams here and there actually think that signing free agents in the middle of June is enough for them to contend in September. It’s a ridiculously busy time of the year for fantasy purposes because everyone and their mothers know what’s good and what’s bad about their teams. The trade market begins to flow more fluidly than it would a month ago, and anyone (and I mean ANYONE) who catches fire for a couple days usually gets scooped up immediately in Head-to-Head leagues. You literally cannot sleep without at least peeking into your league’s free agent pool and questioning the staying power of some of your struggling combatants. More importantly, some of us should consider taking risks with our lineups; whether it be by benching our “studs” in daily leagues if they’ve hit a wall or don’t have success against a particular pitcher, or dropping someone with a fruitful track record for another bat or arm with a wealth of potential. Basically, you put your foot down. Stop playing “He who led me to a championship in 2012” and understand that certain guys just aren’t fantasy relevant anymore. You’ll be surprised just how positive the results could be if you throw pedigree out the window and settle primarily on doing what you gotta do to win. That being said…

“Players on the rise”

!!! – Must Add

$ – Worth a Look

# – Position/Category need

? – Speculative/Stash

!!! All Minnesota Twins Hitters batting within the 1-5 range of the starting lineup !!!

More specifically: Kendrys Morales, Josh Willingham, and Danny Santana

-Starting with Morales, he finds his stock rising instantly, and that has nothing to do with him playing for the Twins; it’s because he’s finally been signed by a Major League ballclub! All those exciting rumors about him landing with the Yankees to provide some youthful exuberance (LOL) and the 30-year old switch-hitter found yet another graveyard for his power. But don’t let that rule him out of being a solid bat in deep leagues. If you for some reason are skeptical about his success going forward because of the team he plays for and the home ballpark he hits in: understand that over the course of his entire career, Morales has only played for teams in which their home ballpark’s dimensions have been in the top-10 for fewest home runs induced at least four times covering a span from 2009 to 2013. Here are some of his average numbers and peripherals in that period: (his injury-shortened 2010 season is not included, by the way)

Slash line (Runs/Homeruns/RBI:) 70/26/87

Slash line (BA/OBP/OPS:) .285/.337/.832

HR/FB rate: 17.8%

Contact rate: 78.6%

Isolated Power: .209

It’s also important to note that Morales returns to the Bigs with little rust, as he has spent the last couple of months training and taking live BP with former Major League pitchers. The chance for owners to watch him take off right from the jump is an enticing prospect, and the averages above tend to the notion that Morales is well worth owning in most leagues going forward. Big ballpark or not.

– Picking up Josh Willingham should not be viewed as the almighty waiver wide add of the year some owners are expecting, but this is a true power bat with a few nice-looking stats that actually show some improvement. Minnesota’s a very good offense in terms of plate discipline, and if Willingham’s 20-24 BB/K is any indication, this once semi-selective slugger could propel their overall production to new heights in 2014. Expect a lot of RBI from his bat from a wealth of RISP opportunities, and also consider that Josh is on pace to break his previous career high in that same category (0.79 BB/K in 2010) which should be more than enough reason for owners in all leagues to add him in leagues in which OBP and OPS are categories. I’m not a big fan of his extremely high .364 BABIP, but he’ll leave the yard plenty of times, and won’t hurt your batting average much in roto leagues, so long as he retains a keen eye of the plate.

-Of the three Twins worth picking up off the wire this week, Danny Santana is the least likely to produce long-term. Call me crazy or call me too respectful of the veterans he plays around, but Santana’s hot start comes off a bit more as smoke-and-mirrors than a legitimate breakout. One thing I preach about regarding rookies as invariantly than anything else is the disparity between K and BB rate, primarily because it gives fantasy purists a great idea of how consistent a hitter could and should be at the plate. Santana has only walked 5.6% of the time, while striking out at an alarming 21.5% clip. His minor league numbers do little to support the meagerness of these peripherals, and his .427 BABIP and 18.2% Infield Hit rate blare regression all over the place. However, in leagues that don’t consider “OBP and friends” (friends being SLG. and OPS,) Santana may benefit greatly from getting the everyday nod in the leadoff spot. Remember that the heart of the Twins lineup has gained a significant boost in production with the return of Willingham and Morales. All Santana really has to do in order to score a boat load of runs is get on base. His 30-40 stolen base potential should help him in that regard, even if the batting average falls down a precipitous hole never to be seen or heard from again. Dual-position eligibility is a major plus as well, and one that may become quite the advantage for most owners since he’s qualified at both SS and OF. Remember to temper your expectations with Santana, and if he goes through an extended slump with Ks galore, drop him and move on. But he’s red-hot right now, and I’d say get on and enjoy the ride.

!!! Andrew Heaney, SP, Miami Marlins !!!

Before we begin, let me take a minute to step away and do a quick, jubilant fist pump regarding the news today that the Marlins have bought the contract of top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney…okay, now I believe we’re ready. There is a never-ending list of superlatives I could throw around, but the one you need to hear the most is “radiantly composed.” What I mean by such a term is that Heaney has had a way of adjusting to adversity in the minors, and the high praise scouts have touted him with over his constantly improving control just might bring chills to the bones of sluggers across baseball once he makes his Major League debut. Need proof? When his Road to the Show began (yes, that’s an MLB: the Show reference,) Heaney got rocked at A-ball back in 2012, with a 4.95 ERA and 1.45 WHIP through 20 innings. But since 2013, a span that has covered 172.1 minor league innings across all three levels, Heaney has a 168/41 K/BB ratio with a cumulative 2.22 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. According to my calculations, his FIP over this period of dominance is a miniscule 2.58! To top it all off, Heaney has allowed a total of seven home runs throughout his entire minor league career, which could play beautifully for him with his home starts being in the spacious graveyard that is Marlins Park. A simple three-pitch arsenal – sinking fastball sitting at 90-95 MPH, plus slider with nasty movement, “supporting cast member” changeup – will be extremely exciting to watch, especially considering the high degree of confidence he was established with it over time. Unfortunately, he carries the fabled “innings limit” caveat that comes with every pitching prospect who’s logged at least 60-70 innings before callups, so his value won’t nearly be as great as it initially could. Heaney will be scratched from starts here and there on purpose as a way for the ballclub to save his arm for the playoffs (PLAYOFFS!?!? Yeah, look at their record.) Still, when the dust settles and his nerves are in check, Heaney has a chance to do damage at an elite level when he’s on. This is not to say that we’re staring at the next Jose Fernandez of last season, but he’s got upside for days. This young man is absolutely worth a flier in all leagues, a must-add in keepers, and if your pitching staff is too “stacked,” a must-stream at the very least this Thursday against the Mets.

$ Brock Holt, 3B, Boston Red Sox $

With Shane Victorino on the shelf (again,) Daniel Nava struggling to rekindle the spark he provided last season and Grady Sizemore proving to be a pointless experiment in the Red Sox outfield (as evidenced by his recent DFA,) the leadoff spot has dissolved into a glory hole where any brief or sustained success would be a complete and utter shock in the eyes of manager John Farrell. Enter Brock Holt, who has stepped up in an attempt to provide some consistency atop the Boston batting order. For the most part, the results have been real nice: a .340/.378/.465 slash line with 19 runs scored a 4 steals across 157 plate appearances. He’s worth a look for a little while, especially since you’ve got to assume there will be a storm coming and Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli start raking everywhere over an extended period. Can Holt be a starting third baseman in all leagues this year? Well, that’s a different story. While the 15-stolen base potential is nice, Holt won’t be hitting balls out of the park, and his 52.1% groundball rate means that he better be running circles around Billy Hamilton in order to keep his batting average up. With a relatively suck-y .120 ISO, Holt has relied on a .410 BABIP to pad his stats recently, so we are once again staring a red-hot hitter dead in our faces. I believe I’m going to have to classify such a player at some point, particularly because we all add them at some point in the season and they always show up on a weekly basis. You know what? For now let’s consider them “streakers.” Go ahead and pick up Holt, ride him for as long as you have to, and let him go once the smoke clears. Oh, and one more thing: with Sizemore out of the picture, the Red Sox outfield now has some wiggle room for Holt, who’s also been getting starts at center field lately. If he eventually becomes OF-eligible, he should be quite the find in 12-team mixed leagues and practically all AL-only’s.

$ Tanner Roark, SP, Washington Nationals $

These Nationals have quite the deep starting staff. Consider this: having already slotted Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Zimmerman into their 2014 starting rotation before last season’s World Series was over, Washington went out and spent what was a long-term deal to sign Doug Fister (now a $7 milling one-year deal.) Because of this, manager Matt Williams had to put both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan into a competition to see who was more deserving of the fifth and final rotation spot. Do you have any idea how great of a problem that must’ve been for him back in March?? Take a look at what both of these two young arms pulled off back in 2013:

Taylor Jordan: 9 GS, 1-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 1.92 BB/9

Tanner Roark: 14 G, 5 GS, 7-1, 1.51 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 3.84 K/BB ratio, 0.17 HR/9, 1.97 GB/FB ratio

Thanks to Fister’s lat strain shelving him throughout April and some of May, both pitchers got a chance to take their fight for “rotation spot supremacy” into the regular season (although, in retrospect, a healthy Fister would’ve left Roark to be the #5 starter regardless.) Anyway, the bottom line is that Fister’s back, Jordan has fallen off the table (and back into the minors,) and Roark has roark-ed onto the scene as a fantasy relevant starting pitcher in deep leagues. The best thing about his continued success from last year is that he has not strayed away from pitching like someone who perfectly realizes what he has. His K/9 is not appealing (7.02,) but everything else is gold, from his BB rate (5.4%) to his ability to limit the long ball (0.66 HR/9.) Being a moderate groundballer who doesn’t allow the big inning to occur very often pays dividends in that respect, so his current 75.3% strand rate should be a great indicator as to why his FIP only floats — not soars — above his actual ERA. Be mindful of the fact that most of Roark’s success so far creates some skepticism due to his otherworldy home/road splits:

Home: 40.2 innings pitched, 27/11 K/BB, 2 HR allowed, 1.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Road: 42.2 innings pitched, 38/7 K/BB, 5 HR allowed, 4.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

This is certainly subject to change, but maybe not in his favor on both halves. Roark should be a much better pitcher on the road, but is getting extremely lucky at home. We’ll see what happens down the stretch, but in the meantime his overall peripherals look as cool as the other side of the pillow. Pick him up if you need a consistent back-ender and be amazed over how few times you cringe over the box scores every fifth day.

# Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves #

With the up-and-coming Tommy Las Stella (finally!) taking everyday at-bats away from disappearing act Dan Uggla, manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon start feeling the tremors on his hands that will be the baseball gods forcing it to propel the youngster up the batting order. Those in shallow 8 or 10-team leagues may want to steer clear from La Stella entirely because of his complete lack of power and speed (21 HRs, 26 SB in over 1,000 minor league plate appearances,) but there’s a lot to like about his prospects in deeper leagues if the pieces fall in his favor. Now I know I’m going to sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I begin to impose on the importance of his on-base peripherals, but believe me when I state that you’re going to wanna hear this: Tommy La Stella is a walk maven. His BB/K ratio in the minors was over 1! In 198 plate appearances this season in the Majors, he’s been holding onto a 1.40 BB/K ratio and 7.8% K rate, both among the best in baseball among all qualifiers!! That may be all well and good if he can’t hit…but he sure can. Despite an ugly 52.9% groundball rate, he’s still hitting a ridiculous 31.4% of balls in play for line drives with a contact rate over 90 percent!!! His .411 batting average may be stemmed greatly by his egregious .451 BABIP, but keep in mind that he batted at least .300 or better in every minor league level besides AAA, where he was sitting at a .293 clip this year before his callup. I think I’m going to really enjoy watching him spray the field for average as he begins to rack up his MLB resume, and hopefully Fredi and friends eventually come to their senses and slot him in the Braves lineup as their leadoff hitter. Imagine a scenario where La Stella is allowed to strut his stuff and get on base nearly 40 percent of the time in front of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis, AND Jayson Heyward! He may not hold much fantasy value in some leagues right now, but we may be looking at a pot of gold if this lineup begins to properly cater to his skill set.

$ Chad Qualls, RP, Houston Astros $

Forget about the logo, or the record-setting number of strikeouts from their batters a year ago, or even the 51-111 mark that began a new, “darker” era for the organization in a whole new league: The Houston Astros are a decent Major League Baseball team in 2014. Calling up highly-touted prospects George Springer and Jon Singleton will help this depleted offense a whole lot more than it could possibly ever hurt them. Dexter Fowler has actually become a pretty solid free agent signing (.284/.389/.412 with 5 homers and 41 runs scored.) And believe it or not, Dallas Keuchel has become a legitimate ace while the rest of the starting pitching staff has improved vastly over their horrific performance last year. There WILL be wins in Minute Maid Park for the foreseeable future, if all else plays out as it has been. The one guy whose value will indirectly skyrocket from all of this is Chad Qualls, who I believe could provide a nice batch of saves down the stretch as Houston’s official closer, sans manager Bo Porter. One thing you may not know about Qualls is that he has a rather neat track record, spanning 11 seasons and 10 different ballclubs. he was also the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2009, where he nabbed 24 saves with an awesome 6.43 strikeout-to-walk rate and 56.9 groundball percentage. Whoever said that being a groundball pitcher was overrated?? You’d be barking up the wrong tree if you made such an assumption, because Qualls was a perfect 33-for-33 in save opportunities from 2008-2009, while only striking out about 21% of opposing hitters. I bring all of these old statistics up before you today only because his 2014 numbers look nearly identical. In fact, his K rate and BB rate so far exceed those of his career highs by an insane amount. His 8.75 K/9 and 7.67 K/BB ratio can easily place him in top-15 closer status if he can keep it up, and if he gets a lot of innings in a given week he can be a great boost to your ratios in head-to-head category leagues with his elite 3.2% BB rate. With a SIERA of 2.29 and an xFIP- of 70, Qualls is currently pitching like one of THE best closers in the game since getting the chance to wrap things up in the ninth inning. If you’ve been searching for a reliable reliever to solidify your pitching staff, or if you’ve been clinging to Grant Balfour like a dead fish on a hook, grab Chad Qualls right now and thank me later.

$ Jaime Garcia, SP, St. Louis Cardinals $

Keeping up with my ever-growing fandom of the St. Louis Cardinals and their fascinating baseball legacy, Jaime Garcia is going to be my lovestruck free agent of the week. A control freak with an impressive host of peripherals throughout his young career, Garcia seems to have taken his game to the next level, even if that next level isn’t that much higher up the ladder. This soft-tossing lefty has never walked fewer than 2.22 batters per nine innings in a season. But this year? In 38.2 innings, Garcia holds a 32/5 K/BB ratio, good for a 7.45 K/9 and 1.16 BB/9 clip. I’m a little concerned that he’s allowed as many homers as he has free passes, but at the same time that’s an amazing comparative statistic. If Garcia manages to pitch at this pace while his HR/FB rate falls back down to Earth, he will have finished the season walking fewer than 25 batters in over 25 starts! His FIP would look re-DONKulous, and his overall numbers would make a serious claim about him perhaps being this team’s number 2-3 starting pitcher by season’s end (Considering how Wacha’s innings are handled in September, of course.) I still need to be convinced that he could uphold this consistency for at least another month or so, and health seems to always be a serious concern with him as he’s missed well over 60 starts since his MLB debut. Yet, wouldn’t you like to at least own him while he’s fine? Garcia has always sported great control, and if that K rate could maintain the slight boost it’s received, he’ll be huge down the stretch for many, especially in deep leagues.

“Players on the decline”

Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

In 5 GS this year during the month of April, Justin Verlander was a fantasy ace with a 2.38 ERA and a 3-1 record. Ever since the calendar has turned to May, all hell has broken loose, and the former Cy Young/MVP has officially allowed the big question surrounding his true fantasy value coming in to the season to become a country-wide discussion. Keep in mind that his WHIP in that one good month about a good 45-something days ago was an average 1.32, so maybe his 4.36 xFIP at the time was a sign for regression. But this??…

May satistics (6 GS): 5.54 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, .309 BABIP, 4.06 FIP, 4.87 xFIP

June statistics (Currently 3 GS): 9.16 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 5.79 K/9, 4.82 BB/9, .381 BABIP, 6.52 FIP, 5.48 xFIP

What should scare Verlander owners right now are two things right off the bat: the GLARING increase in walk rate, and the underlying decline in fastball velocity which is aiding to the destruction.

So with that in mind, let’s be truly honest with ourselves here: how unlucky has Justin Verlander truly been in 2014?

The one pitch that hitters were afraid of years ago has withered to an average speed of 92.6 MPH, which is still great, but is now being hit around at a slash line of .293/.400/.456/.856, the highest peripherals against his fastball in any season of his career. Look deeper into his arsenal and you’ll find that the rest of his entire arsenal has paid for his loss in FB velo, and paid for it dearly. Hitters are batting over 100 batting average and nearly 200 OPS points higher off of his changeup since 2013, and while his curveball and slider are doing enough to remain effective secondary pitches, the strikeout rates for both have tapered off by around 9 percent since last season! If that’s not concerning enough for stat buffs, consider that his walk rates for every one of his pitches (besides the slider) have gone up this year by at least 1.8%. This last statistic may sound irrelevant because, honestly, how can a pitch have it’s own walk rate?? I doubt having an overall eroding strikeout rate with an even further declining fastball K/BB rate at the same time is an unfortunate coincidence, and that’s only a sneak peek into the list of reasons why Verlander hasn’t found consistent success…

His control has never been this bad since 2008, and that becomes another scary realization because his career-worst numbers practically run across the board in that one year alone. With his stuff beginning to lose some of his luster, an adjustment is slowly starting to become a requirement for Verlander to at least retain moderate success on the mound going forward. First of all, he can no longer rely on giving anyone free passes. His 3.78 BB/9 alludes to a plethora of baserunners reaching first without swinging a bat, and a 1.68 K/BB ratio looks a lot uglier when you see that his K/9 rate has dropped to below 7. You wanna nitpick and tell me a story about how Justin Verlander is Justin Verlander, so this is just going to correct itself in dear time? Go ahead. But before you get carried away by name recognition and past credentials, remember that he doesn’t attack the strikezone (46.8% zone rate,) has become very hittable (80.8 opposing contact rate on all pitches,) and has not a single underlying peripheral that’s screaming “bad luck.”: his FIP, SIERA, and xFIP for the year are 4.09, 4.69, and 4.79 respectively.

Who can ever forget the astonishing road that Justin Verlander has traveled in his big league career? Not me. We’re still looking at one of the best active right-handed arms in the game in retrospect (and especially in the postseason,) and at age 31 still has plenty of time to rewrite wrongs and craft swan songs. But frankly, he’s not a good pitcher to own at all in most fantasy leagues right now. At this point, there’s nothing mechanically wrong with him, yet neither is there a reason for owners to classify him giving up 6-7 runs as “just one of those nights.” He’s going to have to discover a brand-new approach to opposing hitters, and learn how to consistently control lineups without giving away at-bats. This is a tune you do not want to dance to come September, so if for some reason you believe in an instant turnaround hope and pray that he figures things really quickly out for his sake and yours.

Michael Cuddyer, OF, Colorado Rockies

Come on, dude. This isn’t even funny anymore. Seriously, though, how big of a tease has Michael Cuddyer been this year? When he’s on the field, he’s an excellent third outfielder in roto and H2H leagues who can provide solid production in nearly every catergory. However, when he’s not playing…you wind up having to add every 4th or 5th outfielder in Colorado’s depth chart to replace him. If my math is correct, Cuddyer has already missed 40 games this season due to a variety of maladies, and expect that to stretch out to at least another 6 weeks of matchups according to his current DL timetable. At age 35, this pill is awfully hard to swallow, especially since we won’t have any idea how much longer it will take for him to get back to speed once he’s healthy. I like him as a free agent add in August, but this is not someone you hoard a DL spot for. Deep leaguers (and I mean 12-16 teamers) may have no other choice, but the rest of us should all join hands and sing the “Back to the waiver wire, you go” chant in unison. I hear it’s becoming quite the ritual these days.

Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres

How ironic that one of my favorite fantasy shortstops coming into the 2014 season (and one of my initial “stock risers” in my first ever FBSE post) has seen his value nosedive into obscurity? The 2013 NL All-Star has returned to the same old deep league reserve infielder with 40-stolen base potential and little else, and a lot of it has to do with him more so than the putrid offense he bats in. I’m sorry, but you can’t be a solid leadoff hitter and score runs if your strikeout rate is 20% higher than your walk rate (24.7% K rate to 4.7% BB rate.) That’s disgusting. You also can’t just rely on speed to bail you out of a lack of power when you’ve only logged 13 swipes in 300 plate appearances. That’s insulting. And one more thing: you have some nerve if you honestly think you can live solely off infield singles (65% groundball rate) to help boost your feeble .223 batting average. Now that’s just hilarious.

Francisco Liriano, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Francisco Liriano has done absolutely nothing to justify his draft value or his supposed turnaround with Pittsburgh. While the 77 Ks are quite a few over his range of starts, his 4.60 ERA and 1.45 WHIP makes Jeff Locke’s second half last year look like David Price’s 2012 Cy Young campaign. The extensive injury history he has carried with him for what seems like ages now has also found its way back to haunt him again, as he’s been recently shelved with an oblique strain. Oh, the horror! At this point, his career has become the equivalent of binge-watching the entire Paranormal Activity series: nothing but the same unimaginative crap over, and over, and over. If you exclude last year, Liriano has had 3 consecutively catastrophic seasons with an average ERA and WHIP of 5.26 and 1.47. You couldn’t even do that in as a starter for the Colorado Rockies in the Steroid Era! He’ll be back sometime after the All-Star break I presume, but who really gives a shit? His BB rate looks like he’s trying to break some sort of really bad pitching record, and even though his 9.98 K/9 is very much elite, I highly doubt he’ll just stop walking everyone to make it seem relevant in standard leagues, even as a daily streamer. For now, let’s play a game called, “How long will his injury woes go?” and take turns calculating the over/under on his return. I did say All-Star break, but part of me has always been nicer than it ever should be.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds

Someone somewhere is going to hate my guts for saying this, but Devin Mesoraco being owned in over 80% of all ESPN leagues right now is downright absurd. Sure, he’s got the 20+ homer power in that small ballpark in Cincinnati, and the RBI opportunities with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce all batting ahead of him, and the upside from his impressive stint in the minors. But this is the real world! And that was me trying to impersonate Vin Diesel from that standoff scene in Brazil from Fast Five with my arms out and my hands facing the ceiling. Speaking of ceiling, we’ve already seen it from Mesoraco apparently. His .305/.348/.573 slash line is impressive, but it’s still a relatively small sample size (131 at-bats) and a LOT of his damage came in April. I’m sure that someone somwhere is going, “Oh, you’re such a hater, dude. You’re only calling him out ’cause someone beat you to him in the waiver wire so now you’re out here pulling a Scott White.”

Okay, let’s assume that: a) I never owned Mesoraco at any point in any one of my fantasy leagues. And: b) the season ended in April. If that were the case, I’d be kicking myself, Jonathan Lucroy and Miguel Montero would be the two most overlooked players in baseball real-life and fantasy-wise, and “regression” would be a term that would never exist to sabermetricians. And that’s why I refer to the world we live in as the real world, where none of these things are possible! You know what’s also impossible? Mesoraco being a better catcher than Lucroy, Molina, or Posey this year. Here’s why:
3
April Stats: .468/.509/.787/1.297 slash line, .543 BABIP, 7.5% BB rate, 18.9% K rate

May Stats: .239/.286/.609/.894 slash line, .207 BABIP, 6.1% BB rate, 24.5% K rate

June Stats: .184/.205/.263/.468 slash line, .250 BABIP, 2.6 BB rate, 33.3% K rate

Notice ANYTHING unusual about his performance lately? And no, I didn’t flip-flop the numbers to make him look bad, sheesh. Mesoraco has changed his approach at the plate…for the worse! Why would he do that? He displayed unreal plate discipline at the catcher position for the first 30-something games, but now he’s reverted back to the same level of performance he put up as a backup to Ryan Hannigan. His BABIP was never going to be anywhere near that .543 clip for much longer, but it’s hard to argue against his lack of success at the plate as of late. His current contact rate is sitting at 73%, which I find mind-blowing because his career average is around 80% yet his .356 BABIP is higher than it has ever been for him. He’s also bolstered his swinging strike rate to 13.3% (it’s never been higher than 9.8 before in his career,) so now all I can do is state that his overall numbers are simply a product of having one of the luckiest batted ball stretches for a position player this year. I honestly don’t know exactly why he’s chasing so much now and wasn’t before, so I guess it’s possible to consider this a cold spell give him the benefit of the doubt in deep leagues until late-June or mid-July, especially since he was sooooo good early on. Still, he’s a “player on the decline” for a reason, and this one is pretty huge. The spike in Ks and dip in walks will cater to Mesoraco literally pacing his 2013 season, where he finished batting .238/.287/.362 in 323 at-bats. That’s not fantasy relevant, guys. Well, perhaps the power is, but then again he has an unsustainable 23.7 HR/FB rate so I seriously haven’t a clue what kind of hitter he is right now. It’s safe to drop him in all shallow 8-teamers until he remembers what plate discipline is, I guess. For those who don’t believe in Fangraphs and wanna squeeze every ounce of fantasy value out of him until he kills your offense; I tried to warn you. If you’re smart, you’ll sell high and sell high immediately. For everyone else who’s wondering whether to pick him up because someone dropped him; ehhh, don’t do that.

 

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Fantasy Baseball: Trade Market, May 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Trade Market, May 2014

Here is a list of the following players I’ve seen dropped in all of my fantasy baseball leagues over the last month: (*= injured player)

*Brandon Belt (healthy at time of drop)

Aaron Hill

Homer Bailey

*Mark Teixeira (was on DL at time of drop)

*Michael Cuddyer

Yordano Ventura

*Mat Latos

*Doug Fister (was on DL at time of drop)

Lance Lynn

Everth Cabrera

Jose Altuve

Danny Salazar

*Hisashi Iwakuma (was on DL at time of drop)

Jason Castro

One thing all of these guys have in common is that they’re all owned in at least half of all ESPN leagues (if you exclude Castro, 90% of all ESPN leagues.) Another, more crucial attribute that all of these gentlemen share is a track record, which should create plenty of head-scratching for fantasy owners across the country when they see these folks on the waiver wire. If someone came up to me and said, “Hey, guess what?? I just nabbed a .280 hitter with 50-stolen base potential off waivers from some dude who didn’t want him anymore” I’d immediately grow some concern for the human race. When you’re in a league that runs on a waiver order like most of mine and you find yourself on the bottom third of said order, these kinds of transactions can be absolutely maddening. The fact that Homer Bailey can be taken on a flier in any league because his original owner gave up on him is kind of sad, which, mind you, is perhaps the greatest understatement of understatements. I’m not out here to throw any of my league mates under the bus, but I can’t begin to imagine what must be going on in their minds when they make these kinds of moves. This is sort of the norm in fantasy baseball throughout the month of April, so unsurprisingly the complexion of most leagues are already changing at a rapid fire rate in May and beyond. I’ll show you exactly what I mean.

List of players added for aforementioned dropped players:

Emilio Bonifacio (for Homer Bailey)

Tanner Roark (for Jason Castro)

Aaron Harang (for Lance Lynn)

Homer Bailey (for Mat Latos. Go figure)

Everth Cabrera (for Aaron Hill. Makes sense I guess)

Devin Mesoraco (for Brandon Belt)

Ben Revere (for Michael Cuddyer!?)

Zach McAllister (for Yordano Ventura)

Jose Altuve (for Everth Cabrera)

*Mike Minor (for Doug Fister)

Chris Colabello (for Mark Teixeira)

Ok, let’s review. There are only three moves here that were even remotely smart. Dropping Tex for Colabello at the time was relatively considerable, and swapping Cabrera for Altuve is fine if it’s position-specific. One who chooses to stash Minor over Fister isn’t gaining much besides some extra Ks, but in that situation I’d drop anyone else to get him. Fister’s no slouch and will be pitching in the NL all season, so why not have both?

Now the rest of the batch.

-As much as I’d love to say that Emilio Bonifcacio should be owned in all leagues until he cools off, there’s no way in this green Earth that I’d ever consider dropping an ice-cold Homer Bailey for his services. That’s highway robbery. You might as well e-mail the guy who picked him up and relay all of your credit card information since you’re already inviting him to steal from you.

-The Tanner Roark-Jason Castro swap is justified since the former owner of Castro also owns Jonathan Lucroy. No argument there, and it’s tough keep even that much talent with the rough start he’s had.

-The guy who dropped Lance Lynn for Aaron Harang obviously doesn’t know who either pitcher is, and will most likely run his team to the ground for the sake of owning the hottest waiver wire players all year long. Still, Lynn really isn’t a very good fantasy starter either, besides from the fact that he wins practically everytime he’s on the mound.

-The Devin Mesoraco pickup is a toss up as far as eventual results go, even though I highly believe that he’s for real and will contribute plenty for fantasy owners. But won’t Brandon Belt do the same thing? And this guy also has Yadier Molina, so it’s not like he desperately needed to upgrade the position. Whatever.

-Anyway, dropping Cuddyer for Ben Revere is chuckle-worthy, especially since Cuddyer’s only expected to miss about a week and a half…or so I thought. Cuddyer has recently reported that his hamstring isn’t healing as quickly as he had hoped, and his 15-day timetable for return appears to be anything but certain. Still, Cuddyer’s become a god in Colorado and absolutely loves hitting there, so Revere would have to hit about .320 and outpace Billy Hamilton in stolen bases by A LOT in order to truly replace him.

-Zach McAllister for Yordano Ventura because Ventura had one bad April start to kick off his rookie season??? Bro…WTF!? McAllister’s career numbers are pedestrian at best, especially if you consider his home/road splits that actually reveal that he’s even worse on the mound at Progressive Field. The only notable statistic that McAllister wields right now is his 2.51 BB/9 rate and 0 HR/9. We must remember that he’s still a fly ball pitcher (1.17 GB/FB rate) with a 7.22 K/9 which is probably as high as it’ll get for him all year long. So, regression is bound to come a knockin’ any day now. I’ve already mentioned in detail all the underlying factors that make Ventura such a must-add in all formats, but seeing as how he’s already bounced back in Baltimore last Friday (8 innings, 9 baserunners, 0 Rs, 8 Ks) and is currently blowing nearly all of McAllister’s peripherals out of the water makes the move look simply retarded. No offense to the guy who did it, of course.

If you’re smart enough to realize that all of the guys I’ve mentioned who were dropped carry significant fantasy value regardless of their slow starts, you are most certainly on cloud nine because you made it a priority to pick them up. Some championship teams are made at the end of April, and most owners can thank their league mates for that. You’d be surprised how many solid players I’ve seen dropped over the last couple years I’ve been doing fantasy baseball. It’s no secret that most team owners are still evaluating their lineups and studying their strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve learned that no matter what happens it is in one’s best interests to stick with their mid-round draft picks for at least another month or two. Giving someone else the chance to cash in on a struggling player because your overall team has yet to figure it out could potentially become the greatest mistake you’ll ever make. Patience must be exercised in fantasy baseball more than in any other sport, because it’s by far the least consistent in terms of individual player production. So with the month of April in our rear view mirror, I’d like to take this opportunity to go over a list of sell-high and buy-low targets in the hopes that those who are still struggling to find success could turn things around.

“Sell-highs”

Dee Gordon, SS/2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

As you all well know, it’s far too late to scoop up Dee Gordon and his “100-stolen base” potential off the waiver wire, unless all of your league mates mentally left for the Hamptons
after the draft. For everyone else who grabbed him and hoped for lighting in a bottle: Kudos. What he brings to table is the stuff that dreams are made of, if dreams were fantasies in which a shortstop can do more for their owners than swipe bags. Gordon is the current owner of a .344 batting average, he’s scored 23 runs to go along with his 24 steals, and has proceeded to do most of this damage as LA’s everyday leadoff hitter (!) His hot start has raised eyebrows across the country, but it also raises a wee bit of concern for stat trackers. For all the blazing speed he possesses, Gordon could be facing a drop off in average with a current 3.11 GB/FB rate. Although a 14.3% Infield Hit and 55.6% Bunt hit rates are undoubtedly boosting his .404 BABIP, these aren’t exactly the two most justifiable indicators to a player’s true success at the plate. In other words, Gordon can only remain THIS creative with fair balls inside the diamond for so long. I don’t believe we’re looking at Emilio Bonifacio circa 2009, because if I did he wouldn’t be in this article now, would he? However, his .324 clip is bound for regression, and we are most likely witnessing Gordon at his absolute highest price value. If you keep him, you run the risk of not getting a helluva lot for him via trade. But if speed kills your opponents most weeks and your team’s overall batting average has seen an impactful uptick due to his services, you have all the permission in the world to ride him for as long as you have to.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds

According to FanGraphs, Johnny Cueto is outpitching his FIP and xFIP by a seemingly ridiculous amount. For all the shutouts and complete games, the sabermetrics surrounding his 1.43 ERA and 0.73 WHIP suggests that this run simply cannot last. Is this me stating that Cueto’s start to the season has been fluky? Is this slang for “It is within your best interests to sell as high as you can”? Am I just venting because I had to settle for Francisco Liriano after my friend drafted Cueto ahead of me? These are the questions that matter, folks! It’s amazing how perfect you have to be in order for your peripherals to finally agree with you as a baseball pitcher. Putting Cueto’s dominance into perspective; Corey Kluber — pride of Birmingham, Alabama — has actually pitched better than Cueto according to FanGraphs. When comparing the two, Cueto has a slight upperhand in xFIP by a few points, but Kluber holds a distinct advantage in FIP even with an opposing BABIP 200 points higher than Cueto’s. However, Kluber’s numbers are relatively ugly: 3.48 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 57 Ks, 58 Hits allowed. No way is that going to be the case come September if he continues to throw the ball like this, which now puts Cueto’s overall value into question for many. Trust me, you don’t wanna be there when that happens. However, in defense of Cueto none of his underlying numbers tell us that we should prepare for the worst. Let’s remember that his K rate has gotten a cortisone shot of a jolt; now up to 28.9% for the year (a career-high.) Although he’s not inducing a crazy amount of groundballs like he did in 2013, his GB/FB rate is still sitting at a neat 1.59 while being complemented by a lowered 16.5% line drive rate. I love, love, love his increased use of his two-seam fastball, and I hope he continues to rely on it more considering how many batters he’s struck out looking already. So, Johnny Cueto is essentially just another classic case of pitching so well your peripherals aim to find signs of regression. While that regression will come — no one has ever finished a season with a .151 opposing BABIP and 100% strand rate — it won’t hurt his fantasy value much; I still think he could finish as a top-15 fantasy starting pitcher by season’s end. But right now, there’s no telling just how much you can possibly get back for him in a trade.

Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees

The Asian Sensation of 2014, Masahiro Tanaka so far has pitched like someone who hasn’t lost a game in nearly two years. While I don’t personally believe this stretch of perfection will last much long, there’s a lot of pre-season skepticism from many critics (myself included) that has been nullified by his sparkling first six starts. His initial draft value looks like a joke now, especially when you consider his three double-digit strikeout performances and 51-6 K/BB ratio. His splitter has always been considered the “out” pitch to his repertoire, and that is most certainly the case with an overall 22.5% usage and 52.7% K rate. His deep array of varying pitches makes him a dangerous threat on the mound most nights (especially considering his slider and cutter,) and seeing how his xFIP (2.18) is actually .40 points lower than his actually ERA (2.57) screams “Sell high.” However, as much as I love watching him put away Major League lineups and pitch out of slow starts, the advantage of pitching in a league where no one has ever seen him before remains in the back of my mind. Not that he’ll fall off or hit an impenetrable wall, but there’s always that slight chance that his regression will be worse than we expected. But again, I could say the same thing for a lot of future fantasy aces who are off to hot starts (Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Yordano Ventura.) I firmly believe that owners could get a whole lot in return for just Tanaka’s numbers alone, which are still a bit skewed by some bad luck (like his 19.4% HR/FB rate, for example.) Lord knows what the future will hold for Tanaka, but in my opinion he’s only just started to really impress.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies

Undoubtedly the biggest waiver wire pickup of the year, Charlie Blackmon has taken what was a neat little opportunity to win the final everyday outfield spot in Colorado and has ran with it, turning heads from Denver to Maine with a .348/.385/.583 slash to go along with 30/7/25/8 production. Compare those numbers to, say, Mike Trout, and you’d honestly believe that you had gotten a #1 fantasy draft pick for free. What Blackmon has done atop the Rockies lineup is beyond incredible, and I have reason to believe the good times will continue to roll for at least a little bit longer. Last season, he had a great slash line and was also hitting for both average and power, but he was the owner of an atrocious .14 BB/K ratio. That alone (besides his Swinging Strike percentage, of course) is the only major difference between 2013 Charlie Blackmon and the 2014 hybrid we’ve come to know as Charlie Blackmon. He’s now walking at a 4.8% clip (up from 2.7% last year) and is only striking out 7.6% of the time thanks to a bolstered up 91.9% contact rate. All those numbers I’ve just mentioned are career-highs by an astoundingly egregious margin, in case you wondered if Blackmon was just hitting out of his mind. This is also the hottest Blackmon will possibly ever be this year, so enjoy it while it lasts. Or trade him for a top-20 starting pitcher or something. You choose. Anyway, don’t trade him and you get a potential 30/30 candidate with a .300 average, and I’m saying this based squarely on Blackmon’s peripherals. I’d be lying if I said that his serge onto the scene was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals

This is the classic case of “Sell High. Sell High Now. Sell High Quickly,” something I’d like to turn into a weekly fantasy baseball column in the future. Now, raise your hand if you thought Anthony Rendon was ever going to be a top-15 fantasy second baseman AND third baseman at any point of the 2014 season. Very good! It’s almost like I’m talking to myself here. Look ma, no hands! NO HANDS!! You know what Rendon accomplished in his first big league season last year? 40/7/35 with a .725 OPS. Look, I’m not here to hate on the kid or anything; I appreciate seeing the youngsters get out there when the season starts and getting the chance to watch them tear it up. However, in Rendon’s case, his .295/.331/.518/.849 slash line and 22/5/23 production is the equivalent of watching the Padres on Opening Day and saying to yourself, “Wow this is great!” before it all falls down and reality gives you a big smack across the face. Forgive me for being crass, but quite honestly the baseball gods will eventually get off their high horse and force regression to play its hand like it’s supposed to. Rendon’s Swinging Strike percentage has gone up, he’s chasing more pitches outside the strike zone, and he’s clinging on to a .330 BABIP due to a ludicrous 43.8% fly ball rate. If you’re putting that last statistic into perspective, note that Giancarlo Stanton currently owns a 29.7% HR/FB rate while only hitting 39.8% of balls in the air with a .316 BABIP. This isn’t me comparing him to one of the elite power hitters in the game more so than it is me stating that he’s maintaing his average and slugging peripherals due to a shamrock’s worth of luck instead of a truly potent bat. Let me explain. He’s sitting at a .295 clip while walking only 5.4% of the time. That’s first of all. This is second: Rendon can hit all the fly balls he wants, but a line drive rate of only 21.4% (last year’s being 25.5%) means they better be leaving the yard, or his 10.2% HR/FB rate looks plenty worrisome. Now, I haven’t been watching any Nats games, so I can’t tell you exactly if Rendon’s fly balls are gappers or just falling in front of outfielders playing deep, but anyone who is this productive with his peripherals and lack of plate discipline needs to be demonstrating true Isolated Power, which he currently is at .223. Yet, according to the aforementioned numbers this can only drop from here on out, so do yourself a favor and put a mean ole’ price tag on him while you still can. The way I see it, he’ll still produce enough to be owned in most leagues throughout the year, but this isn’t 2013 Josh Donaldson or 2014 Brian Dozier. Speaking of 2014 Brian Dozier…

Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

What is boggling my mind about this guy is how inconceivably elite he’s been (8 homers, 32 runs scored, 11 stolen bases) while being equally lacking at the dish (.227 BA, 19.9% K rate.) Still, Dozier has pretty much been a top-5 fantasy second baseman this season, regardless of how poorly he’s hitting so far. Just imagine how much more valuable he’d be hitting at a higher clip, but while you’re doing that think of the vast majority of owners out there who are picturing the same thing. There’s a solid chance the Twins continue to hit the rest of the year (and I’m not just saying that because Joe Mauer’s no longer in the three-hole, thank GOD,) so Dozier being the Major League leader in runs right now is legit. The steals? Not so much. Dozier hasn’t sniffed at any more than 14 steals in any season, Minors or Majors. Make sure to avoid telling your leaguemates that, by the way. Could lead to awkward conversation. What should continue to trend upwards, though, is his power. Dude had 18 dingers last year, despite hitting half the time in the graveyard that is Target Field. That doesn’t mean his current 19.2% HR/FB ratio is sustainable – he had it at 9.2% last season with the same overall peripherals – but his improved discipline at the plate is begging and pleading for brighter days at the plate. From here on out, I could see the average getting a bump, the steals slowing down, and the power to coast. Dozier’s definitely a 20/20 guy, and if you can make that claim and do it in the most convincing of fashions you should be able to squeeze out a ton of potential trade value out of him right now.

Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox

Owners must be feeling pretty smitten with the remarkable jump start Jon Lester has provided for them, and there’s a lot to be excited about for those who are planning to stick with the veteran lefty. First off is the glaring 10.7 K/9, helped greatly by Lester’s increased use of his cutter and near-complete negligence of his changeup. Look deeper into his rediscovered propensity to strike out everybody and you’ll find that he’s also darting more first-pitch strikes than ever before: a 62.2% clip. His 9.6 Swinging Strike rate is also the third-highest in his career, behind only his two best seasons in the Bigs (2009-2010) where he compiled a collective 450 strikeouts over a span of just 411.1 innings. Lester’s arm and durability has never been in question, but his lack of missed bats in recent years has. It’s good to see that no longer is the problem, and his improved control (1.85 BB/9, 5.80 K/BB ratio) currently places him back into the elite class of fantasy starters. It’ll be difficult to expect Lester to experience a rough stretch of any kind with a 2.12 FIP and 2.58 xFIP, and IF he keeps working at this pace he will easily rank as a top-10 fantasy pitcher in all leagues. All in all, this means two things: 1) You got Lester for an extremely low price and 2) You can sell him for an exponentially higher price if you act fast.

Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Some would say that he’s aiming to regain his stock value after his PED conspiracy last season. Others would assume that playing at Camden Yards is boosting his power numbers. Everyone else is under the impression that he’s juicing again. I personally believe in all of the above. The point is that Nelson Cruz is currently a top-50 player, hands down. I’m not saying that’s going to last, and I’m also not agreeing to the notion that his production down the line will be as empty as the outfield seats at Tropicana Field. This is a guy who, at this stage of his career, will always end up providing pretty good numbers, but is no longer capable of performing at an elite level. People forget that Cruz has struck out over 20% of the time in all but one full baseball season in his MLB career. his Swinging Strike percentage has constantly hovered over 10%. His groundball percentage has continued to climb year after year since 2012. The worst part is that the highest BB/K ratio Cruz has ever had was .61, and that was six years ago. For those who are smoking the funny stuff and believe that Cruz’s awesome start to the year is the result of him finding something; don’t kid yourself. The power is still there, but the peripherals are Allllllll the same. Yeah, he’s already got the 10 homers and the 30 RBI and it’s only May, but his production has always peaked in these first two months for nearly every season he’s had in the Bigs. For the simple reason alone that he has yet to change any faucet of his game, Cruz is a risk to own down the stretch when you know there are avid owners in your league who are willing to give up anything to have him. Not that he won’t finish the year with his usual 75/25/80 numbers and a .260-ish average, but consider that this rate of production can only slow down from here.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

Before we get started here, I’d just like to point out that at his current pace, the 34-year old King Albert would finish this 2014 season with 45 homeruns, 117 RBI, and 103 runs scored. “But aren’t those Miguel Cabrera’s projections?” you might ask. Well, you’d be surprised when I say that Pujols, who had trudged through the entire 2013 season due to a bout with plantar fasciitis, is current outpacing Cabrera in almost every offensive category. This is great news for owners who expected him to bounce back with a clean slate of health and happy feet, as it should considering this is still one of the great hitters to have ever graced this game. But the bad news is right around the corner, and it’s not very welcoming. Remember how I was talking about Nelson Cruz showing signs of offensive regression because of negatives like an ever-increasing groundball rate? Pujols has the same problem, and it’s much, much worse. He’s killing worms at a 47.7% rate, by leaps and bounds the highest percentage of that category in his career. You would hope that he’s countering that with more solid contact, but he’s not even fulfilling in that respect, either. His line drive rate right now is a relatively putrid 14.6%, meaning that the only way Pujols has managed to hold on to his .276 average for the year is by hitting the most conveniently placed fly balls anyone has ever seen. “But wait. It says here that he’s only hit 37.7% of batted balls in the air…” Interesting fact, young Padawan. That statistic carries with it a monstrous asterisk, as Pujols is banking on a 18.8% Infield fly ball (4.8% being successful hits) and a 20.4% HR/FB rate to bail him out of his confusing .250 BABIP. In other words: when Pujols makes perfect contact the ball goes straight over the fence, but when he doesn’t he either rolls it over to short, bloops the ball, or pops it up. Forget about hard hit singles or outfield-splitting doubles, because these peripherals suggest that Albert won’t be doing much of those at all. If you know what’s best for your fantasy team, understand that this isn’t a good thing to let play out. Who knows where Pujols’s production will go from here, but the current top-5 first base production is more of a red herring than a telling tale of concrete stats. The silver lining to his great start is beginning to open up, and the sell-high window will soon start to close.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Milwaukee Brewers

“Gee, I wonder who the #1 relief pitcher in all of fantasy baseball is right now…” If you thought it was Craig Kimbrel you were close, but if you guessed Chad Qualls or Sergio Santos then you’ve got an awesome sense of humor. The urgency of owning reliable closers is a factor no fantasy owner should ignore, especially now since we live in an age where some bullpens are so bad Jon Hamm could get the call for a save opportunity. It’s truly amazing how quickly K-Rod has figured it out this season after blowing two-thirds of his save opps last year with the Brew-Crew, and he has the adjustments to thank for that. Rodriguez has gone back to hurling his two-seamer just as often as his fastball, with a 25% spike in pitch usage between today and his 2013 season. The overall effects have been great, to say the least: a 1.38 GB/FB rate, 36.1% K rate, 1.80 BB/9 (a career-high) and a neat .200 opposing BABIP. But it is his changeup that has really spearheaded his success. Batters have a combined .139/.139/.222/.383 slash line against it, with an astonishing 52.8% K rate. The best part? K-Rod has not thrown any one of his other pitches more. Milwaukee’s seemed to have found the winning formula in the difficult NL Central, and if they’re going to give the Cardinals and friends a run for their money they need Rodriguez to keep this up more than ever. Is there reason to believe that he can’t keep this up? Absolutely not. He’s utilizing his arsenal and attacking hitters like a top-5 closer would, and you should run and tell your friends how much you won if or when you trade him for a top-15 starter, infielder, outfielder or catcher.

“Buy-Lows”

Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

For a guy who’s played everyday and driven in 100+ RBI in nearly every season in the Majors, Prince Fielder has been teasing our projected draft value of him over the last couple of seasons. Last season’s final bout with Detroit raised huge red flags concerning his ability to hit fastballs harder than 94 mph, and that issue unfortunately remains. What’s worse is that Fielder’s hitting more groundballs than ever before: a ridiculously high 50.9% rate! With everyone and their mothers putting infield shifts on power-hitting lefties, this helps to explain why his batting average this year (and some of last year) has been crumbling. But a .246 BABIP? An 8.3 Infield Fly ball rate, but an even 8.3 HR/FB rate in Texas?? Hey baseball gods, can you give the guy some rope? I think he deserves a break. Prince’s fly ball rate is still in the 30s, and he’s still walking as much as he’s striking out (yes, they’ve both happened a lot already.) There’s not a doubt in my mind that Fielder’s trending downwards and he’s looking more like a 25/90 HR-RBI guy than the 35/110 nightmare he was in Milwaukee and Detroit, but Fielder hasn’t completely fallen off the table. His numbers just need a wake up call, and with the weather warming up you should aim to “take him off someone else’s hands” before he gets hot along with it.

Martin Prado, 3B/2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

I will forever be kicking myself for holding on to Martin Prado for this long in one of my leagues, while I’m forced to watch the Charlie Blackmons and Howie Kendricks of the world get scooped up by others. His inability to do anything even seemingly productive through the first month and a half of a baseball season is absurd, especially when you consider that he’s playing home games in the warm weather of Chase Field. It’s not something I can explain, let alone understand. You just need to know that this man occupies three different positions, winds up batting close to .300 every year, and carries an outstanding amount of run-scoring potential. At this point in his career, Prado’s simply a perennial slow-starter, as proven by his combined .651 OPS over the last two seasons. His K rate right now stands at a disgusting 16%, but last season it was hanging around 12% and he finished the year with it at 8%. Plate discipline is not his only growing pain, as Prado’s also putting the ball on the ground twice as much as he is putting it in the air. For someone who relies on hitting for a high average to make up for a lack of speed, this is the scariest statistic of them all. Even if Prado’s strikeouts go down, he’ll still be grounding out way more than half of the entire league. Still, his success is simply a matter of making contact, as his current BABIP stands at .297 and his line drive rate looks exactly like it has for centuries. His luck so far this season has been nonexistent, but so has the patience of many fantasy owners. You can most likely get him for a half-full bag of $2 potato chips right now, and the eventual return would definitely be worth the investment.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals

From hitting bombs, to hitting only when there are runners in scoring position, to not hitting at all, no one’s buy-low window is wider than Allen Craig’s. We continue to watch him evolve into a different hitter each year, and unfortunately 2014’s version of the everyday right fielder is a transformation we’d like to see reversed. I don’t know if Craig knows what to do when he makes contact anymore, with a career-low 17.9% line drive rate and a career-high 59.8% groundball rate. We can argue ’till the cows come home that Craig purposefully tries to find holes in the infield when he’s hitting those grounders, but I doubt he’s seen his .221 batting average and .250 BABIP. While I don’t believe that his philosophy in hitting will ever be as successful as it was last year, I like how his 16% HR/FB rate looks like that of his breakout campaign in 2012. If this keeps up as his average continues to rise, he should wind up becoming the 25/100 threat we all wished he would. If only his fly ball rate (22.3%) was on the rise, then I’d totally be all over Craig right now. Still, this guy bats in the middle of a very potent lineup, and no one finishes a full season without a big slump unless they’re Mike Trout or Troy Tulowitzki, so if someone’s on the verge of actually dropping him why not take a chance?

Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels has never had a FIP over 4 or one under 3 in any full season in his career, which means that he is one of the more consistent pitchers in the game, but not exactly a staff “ace.” Seeing as how he’s pitched 200 innings for four consecutive seasons, there’s no reason to be worried about trading for him even despite missing a few starts to begin the year over a biceps issue. But I’d be lying if I said his 5.32 ERA and 2.40 K/BB ratio weren’t concerning. His control seems to be a bit off, and while the rest of his strikezone-based peripherals are similar to those of his other seasons, his 51.9% first-pitch strike rate is relatively poor. That would explain the unusual walk rate and unfortunate .408 BABIP. However, Hamel’s stuff hasn’t lost its luster, he still has a 9.13 K/9 and his tERA (a fancy way of saying FIP, while also taking into account all batted balls) is a pretty good 3.77. You won’t fall “in love” with Hamels, but he’s certainly an asset and an ideal #3 starter in all leagues.

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

It might be difficult to claw Machado away from another owner considering he JUST came back from the DL, but it definitely won’t hurt to try. His 88/14/71 slash production helped propel him into the top of the second tier of third baseman in fantasy baseball last year, and despite only walking 4.1% of the time he hit for a cool .283 average. Despite having a relatively slim 20.3% line drive rate last season, his ability to hit a third of his batted balls in the air aided to his bountiful 51 doubles. There’s some hidden power in that bat, and Machado’s upside tells me that he could up his homerun total to 20 this year and maybe even 25 some time soon. One last thing: Although his first 10 games this year have left much to be desired overall, Machado’s walk rate has climbed way up to 9.3%, and his K rate has dropped a little bit to 11.3%. If that continues to hold, Machado would wind up being a huge steal from someone else once he finally gets his feet wet in 2014.

 

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