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)
*Mark Teixeira (was on DL at time of drop)
*Doug Fister (was on DL at time of drop)
*Hisashi Iwakuma (was on DL at time of drop)
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.
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.
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.