Vernon Wells| Los Angeles (AL)| OF|52 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .266/.318/.449
While Wells’ contract makes him an undesirable player to roster in the real world, it’s his ugly hitting line on the year that would make most fantasy gamers shy away. However, a look at the numbers he’s compiled since he returned from the disabled list in June paints a different picture of Wells, and suggests he is closer to last year’s version than the putrid early season one.
His batted ball data for the month are right in line with his 2010 season, and while his HR/FB rate is due to regress, he still should provide ample power to those in need. On the negative side, he has been an embarrassment when it comes to drawing walks, and he’s striking out significantly more than he has throughout his career. Never the owner of a standout walk rate, Wells has always been able to make up for it by making better than league-average contact and posting a respectable strikeout rate.
If he hopes to improve on his average and have sustainable success the remainder of the year, he’ll need to have a more discerning eye at the plate, swing at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, and take fewer empty swings. All those things are reasonable expectations of a healthy Wells when considering his record. Oliver’s rest of season slash looks like a spot-on projection, but Wells’ 2010 season is a reminder that there is some upside beyond it. In leagues that roster 60 or more outfielders, third-to-fourth outfielder production seems about right from Wells going forward.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most medium sized mixed-leagues, all large mixed-leagues and all AL-only formats.
Eric Hosmer| Kansas City| 1B|45 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .272/.332/.423
Hosmer serves as a cautionary tale of just how difficult it is to stand out as a first baseman in fantasy baseball. That said, he’s been far from overmatched at the major league level.
The first thing that stands out when combing over his numbers is his gigantic split difference between facing right-handed and left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitchers he’s hitting .292/.338/.479 with all five of his home runs. As you can guess looking at his combined line, he has been a wreck against southpaws, hitting just .204/.259/.204 with zero extra base hits. At this point, sitting Hosmer against lefties is the best way to optimize his fantasy contributions.
Promising for his long term success is that while he hasn’t hit left-handers well, he isn’t striking out at an alarming rate against them and he is able to draw walks as well. For him to make those improvements he’ll need to quit hitting worm burners at such a high clip (56.8 percent groundball rate against left handers) and curb his propensity to pop the ball up (23.1 percent infield flyball rate against left handers).
A blue-chip prospect making his major league debut at the age of 21 makes keeper league and dynasty league owners salivate. Those in redraft leagues need to assess things a bit more closely. If an owner is kicking down your door hoping to cash in on his potential, dealing him may prove to be of greatest value. Conversely, those in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats are probably better served holding out hope he can make some in-season adjustments against southpaws and tap into a bit of his upside while making the most of his current abilities (i.e., hitting right handers).
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest formats that use a corner infield and utility roster spot.
Lonnie Chisenhall| Cleveland| 3B| 10 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: No projection
After his strong spring, I was quite bullish on the Indians’ top prospect, Lonnie Chisenhall. Things have changed a bit since then; his numbers in Triple-A haven’t been the most inspiring and his MLE is an ugly .225/.308/.348.
Regardless, third base lacks talent, and Chisenhall has the tools required to make an impact should things click. Most scouting reports on him that I’ve read conjure up images of a Michael Young type player if things break right, meaning high teens-to-low 20s home run power with an average in the .300 range. Like Hosmer, Chisenhall has been a awful against left-handed pitching (.200/.282/.360). Unlike the Royals, the Indians look unwilling to allow their youngster opportunities in the early going to work through his biggest shortcoming: They sat him in his first opportunity to start against a southpaw in the majors when they faced Zach Duke on Wednesday.
Being a highly touted prospect with third base eligibility is a good way to get a look in fantasy leagues. Hitting in the bottom third of the order is likely to suppress his run and RBI totals, but should he succeed there’s potential for him to move up into a better spot in a struggling Indians lineup. As with most young players, warnings are in order that he may struggle out of the gate. Thankfully, the cost of owning him is minimal in 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and by minimal I mean the worst player on your roster. At that cost, he’s worth speculating on.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most leagues that use a corner infield and utility roster spot, and benched against left-handed pitching until he shows an aptitude for hitting them.
Desmond Jennings| Tampa Bay| OF| 11 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .279/.372/.457 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: .263/.333/.393
Playing the guessing game of when the Rays will promote a top prospect seems to be a yearly necessity for fantasy owners. This year the promotion-guessing game involves speedster Desmond Jennings. Speedster isn’t the only adjective that can be used to describe Jennings this year, as he’s seen a spike in his pop as well. He’s striking out more this season (14.6 percent K/PA in 2010, 19.1 percent K/PA) but in turn has seen his isolated power jump from .115 in 2010 to .179 and has 10 home runs in just 325 plate appearances. To put things into perspective, those 10 homers are just one short of his high mark for a single season, 11 in 577 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009.
The Rays are very much in the thick of the playoff chase, and could stand to improve upon the current left field situation, which involves starting Sam Fuld, Justin Ruggiano and Johnny Damon when he’s not designated hitter. Jennings, considered by most to be the long-term answer to replacing Carl Crawford, would be a logical choice to upgrade the position.
It’s a bit perplexing that with the calendar flipping to July Jennings is still left to beat up on minor league pitching when he could help the parent club. Having received a cup of coffee in September last season, he should be due up anytime now. His skills are ideal for the fantasy game as he’s capable of popping the occasional home run while stealing bases in bunches. Owned in more leagues than the already promoted, and previously highlighted Chisenhall, the cat is out of the bag on Jennings, so if you want to assure yourself of his services for the stretch run you’ll have to grab him now before his promotion or run the risk of being beaten to the wire after he’s called up.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in all leagues of all sizes with deep benches, by owners in need of stolen bases with bench flexibility, and in most deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats.
Edwin Jackson| Chicago (AL)| SP| 38 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.13 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 7.78 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 44.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.32 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Jackson is a great example of a pitcher who has been a bit unlucky, but not necessarily as much as his 0.84 run difference between his ERA and xFIP would suggest. E-Jax is once again posting a strong strikeout rate while keeping his walks in check. Unfortunately his biggest problem still plagues him, and that’s the lack of a quality third offering to neutralize left-handed batters.
Primarily a fastball/slider pitcher, Jackson is still rarely throwing his change-up, and unlike in his time with the White Sox last year, it is providing a negative run value when he does turn to it. Left handers have hammered him this season, hitting .298. Complicating matters for him is that right handers are also hitting him relatively hard, posting a .277 average. Some of both averages can be blamed on a .347 BABIP, which is already in the process of regressing, but only so much should be expected—his career mark is .310 and batters are ripping line drives at a 25.1 percent rate.
The question at this point is why hitters are teeing off on him. Is it random variance, poor luck, bad pitch sequencing, less effective pitches or something else? I don’t have an answer, but I’d guess some combination of all of the above. His pitch velocities are fine, and one of his best starts of the season came in his most recent turn, so health doesn’t appear to be an issue.
His finish to 2010 and his occasional gem performances this year make Jackson worth monitoring in medium-sized mixed leagues and rostering in most larger ones. A tilt back toward last year’s near 50 percent ground ball rate would go a long way in enhancing his effectiveness and fantasy appeal. For now, E-Jax is a decent option against right-handed heavy lineups, and weaker lineups in general.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed-leagues and AL-only formats, and added in shallower formats for match-ups against lineups lacking left-handed firepower.
Carlos Villanueva| Toronto| SP/RP| 14 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.15 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.03 K/9, 2.33 BB/9, 38.5 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.97 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Throughout his time with the Brewers, Villanueva was asked to serve as a swing man at times. This season, his first with the Blue Jays, opened with him in the bullpen but has since seen him shifted to the rotation. What’s notable about the change is that he’s been fairly effective as a starter this year, sporting a 4.01 xFIP, 5.01 K/9 and, most impressively, a 1.52 BB/9.
Villanueva is a four-pitch pitcher who may be able to see a slight uptick in his strikeout rate, though not likely to his career mark of 7.80 K/9, which is heavily influenced by his time in the bullpen. His strikeout rate as a starter is 5.75 K/9 and should serve as a barometer for expected future performance. However, if he’s able to creep that up over the 6.00 K/9 mark, he goes from intriguing match-up play to rosterable starter in a number of leagues. Those looking for reasons to believe he can take that step up in strikeout rate should look no further than his swinging strike rate and contact rate against, which are roughly league average, and the league average K/9, which sits at 6.98.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some large mixed-leagues and AL-only formats with a high innings limit, and monitored in those same formats with a lower innings cap.
Rich Harden| Oakland| SP/RP| 7 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.52 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 14.09 K/9, 3.52 BB/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
Featured here a couple weeks ago, Harden has since thrown two rehab starts and is slated to be activated from the disabled list and start against the Arizona Diamondbacks today. Most reports of his rehab starts say his fastball velocity is there. Keep an eye on the radar gun readings after his activation. Harden is a recognizable name, thus any signs of life will almost certainly trigger a frenzy of additions. Owners in need of pitching help who have bench flexibility would be wise to beat the masses and stash him while evaluating his early starts.
Recommendation: Should be added and stashed on the fantasy baseball disabled list prior to his activation in all leagues in which owners have the flexibility to drop a player.
Jake McGee| Tampa Bay| RP| 8 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 5.14 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 2.57 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 29.6 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.38 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 4.0 BB/9
Considered a threat to take the closer role in Tampa Bay, McGee hasn’t exactly done that. After he struggled in seven innings at the major league level this season, the Rays optioned McGee to Triple-A Durham, where he has since flourished. In 29 innings he has struck out 33 batters while walking just six and induced more ground outs than fly outs. Kyle Farnsworth has been fantastic closing games for the Rays, so it is unlikely McGee will do more than vulture a handful of saves in a best case scenario. Regardless, high-strikeout relievers capable of putting up useful ratios are a valuable commodity for propping up low strikeout starters like Jair Jurrjens. Not a great option for all league types and sizes, McGee should be monitored in leagues wheer non-closer relievers hold value.
Recommendation: Should be monitored and potentially scooped up upon promotion in leagues where non-closer high strikeout relievers with solid ratios are of value.