Since we began our AL bargain-hunting relationship, we’ve had some ups, like (Greg Holland ascending to the closer’s role, Lorenzo Cain hitting a lot of things stitched in red) and downs (not a peep from Nick Castellanos, Zach Britton is down in the minors, and A.J. Griffin has landed on the DL). But hey, with each new week comes a new beginning, as well as—surprise!—new talent to survey in the silver mines of AL-only leagues the nation over. Here’s a look at a few players you might want to consider adding to your team as fantasy playoff time nears.
Scott Feldman | SP | Texas Rangers | 15 percent Yahoo ownership | 16 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 4.52 ERA / 1.300 WHIP / 6.1 K/9
Oliver ROS: 4.52 ERA / 1.360 WHIP / 5.4 K/9
There’s never going to be a huge grassroots movement to get Feldman elected to the Hall of Fame, but surely there are plenty of people who recall the right-hander’s 2009 campaign, when he pitched to a 17-8 record and was worth 3.5 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. But as the Rangers have soared to become one of baseball’s elite teams in the intervening years, Feldman hasn’t been as fortunate, compiling a 9-12 mark with a 5.19 ERA and 1.506 WHIP in 2010-11. After undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee in November 2010, he didn’t appear in a major league game last year until late July, made only two starts, and, for good measure, suffered a blown save in the infamous World Series game six.
Although he was healthy to begin 2012, Feldman was still lacking the magic of 2009, as he spent the first three months of the season shuttling between the bullpen and the rotation, compiling a 2-6 record with a 6.13 ERA and 1.531 WHIP. Beginning on July 23, however, Feldman has looked like a new man over his past three starts, going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, and pitching at least seven innings in each of the outings. With Roy Oswalt knocked to the bullpen, Neftali Feliz a goner for 2012 thanks to Tommy John surgery and Derek Holland having a down second half, Feldman has re-emerged not just as a rotation man for the AL west’s leading team, but as a viable fantasy arm.
What’s changed? Feldman has typically been effective at keeping walks under control in his career, but he’s been especially stingy this season, walking fewer than two batters per nine innings. During his past three starts, he’s practically stopped walking people altogether, allowing just one base on balls (against 14 strikeouts) in 22.2 innings. Data compiled by PITCHf/x show Feldman has seriously cut back on his changeup, instead relying more on his cutter and curveball, which might explain a four percent increase in his strike rate, as well as an improved line drive rate.
Feldman has never been especially adept at stranding runners, and the 72.8 mark he achieved in 2009, hardly an astounding rate, still marked a career high. But the 62.6 percent rate he’s achieved in 2012 sounds a bit low and suggests, along with a .296 BABIP and a FIP (3.29) and xFIP (4.15) that are below his ERA, that he’s pitched within his means.
He’ll never resemble a fantasy ace so long as he struggles to maintain a 6 K/9, but there’s evidence to suggest that Feldman can be counted on to provide some consistent, modest production, which, on a team like the Rangers, certainly isn’t a bad thing—or a commodity not worth owning as playoff time nears.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in all AL-only leagues, as well as some standard mixed leagues.
Chris Tillman | SP | Baltimore Orioles | 9 percent Yahoo ownership | 11.7 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 2.38 ERA / 1.206 WHIP / 6.6 K/9
Oliver ROS: 5.42 ERA / 1.530 WHIP / 6.3 K/9
I’m going to assume you’ve seen the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and understand the reference when I point to Indy’s pursuit of that gold Buddhist statue thing: it’s highly coveted, but ultimately a prize for which our hero must navigate a series of threats, hazards and a devious Alfred Molina for success.
Think of Tillman as that gold Buddhist idol: he’s a guy who’s part of the Orioles’ would-be wave of top-of-the-rotation power pitchers, but plays on an Orioles team that has a mediocre offense and, according to FanGraphs’ ultimate zone rating, the worst defense in the American League. In this analogy, Baltimore is an ancient Peruvian temple, a jungle of booby traps and arrows that can ensnare even the most talented major league prospect—or a daring fantasy owner who just wants his share of the gold.
But fear not, fellow fantasy owner: Tillman, 24, has started to turn a corner. And judging by his lack of respect from fantasy owners, he’s probably available in your league.
The facts: Tillman has made six major league starts so far this year, and has compiled a 5-1 record with a 2.38 ERA, 1.206 WHIP and 2.5/1 K/BB ratio. This comes after a very impressive Triple-A season, in which he punched out hitters to the tune of a 9.3 K/9. With an average fastball velocity touching the mid-90s, Tillman’s heater seems re-energized, and he’s been mixing in his change-up and cutter more often, according to PITCHf/x data compiled by Texas Leaguers.
That’s made for a lethal potion so far as AL hitters are concerned, as his swing rates have jumped in comparison to years past. Granted, he’s made two starts against Seattle’s weaklings, and feasted on Cleveland and Minnesota matchups as well, but he’s also dealing with a subterranean 60.2 percent strand rate, which has to climb.
As for the Orioles … whatever. The team continues to play over its head (nine games over .500 with a -47 run differential entering Thursday night’s action), but I choose to believe that a good pitcher, even without much help, can still make a fantasy impact, particularly when he’s aided by a bullpen that features a 78.5 percent strand rate, still good for second in the American League. Tillman is hardly a slam dunk case—for one thing, his ridiculously low 4.8 percent HR/FB rate has nowhere to go but up—but he offers mucho upside and now has a real chance to shine.
Recommendation: Worth a pick up in all AL-only leagues, and some deeper mixed ones as well.
Grant Balfour | RP | Oakland A’s | 39 percent Yahoo ownership | 39 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 2.72 ERA / 1.019 WHIP / 7.6 K/9
Oliver ROS: 3.23 ERA / 1.160 WHIP / 7.9 K/9
When Balfour opened up the season as Oakland’s closer, he was mediocre, compiling a 4.24 ERA, blowing two saves and eventually losing the job on May 13.
Since he was moved to the eighth inning however, things had seemingly snapped into place for the A’s, as Balfour settled down, compiling a 2.00 ERA, .917 WHIP and 8 K/9, providing solid late-inning relief as Ryan Cook’s caddy. Cook, of course, made the All-Star team, the A’s have gone on to surprise baseball by making a run at a postseason spot and this is just another happy ending in the saga known as a Major League Baseball season, right?
Well, not really.
Cook has been bleeding runs since a shaky save on July 19, watching his ERA jump nearly a run and a half and coughing up nine earned runs and four home runs. In half of those eight trips to start the ninth, Cook has returned to the dugout with a blown save.
Meanwhile, Balfour, who gave up an earned run on Wednesday for the first time since June, continues to roll, and is now a candidate to replace his ninth-inning successor. I’m not ready to endorse Balfour as a must-add in all leagues so long as Cook is in command, and the taste of Balfour’s closing prowess might suggest he doesn’t have the mental makeup that’s par for the course. But in AL-only leagues, this bullpen’s dominoes might be the first to fall—and if so, you’ll want to reintroduce yourself to Balfour.
Recommendation: Not yet worth a pick up in AL-only leagues, but could be within a matter of days.
Blake Beavan | SP | Seattle Mariners | 5 percent Yahoo ownership | 6.6 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 5.12 ERA / 1.231 WHIP / 4.7 K/9
Oliver ROS: 4.47 ERA / 1.300 WHIP / 4.4 K/9
Starting Beavan is like swallowing whatever people had to swallow before Robitussin made that somewhat-potable grape flavor—it’s not something you do because you like it, but because you need to do it. So while I’m not here to trumpet the special skills of Beavan, he is getting two manageable matchups next week at Safeco’s comfy confines, pitching against the Rays, the team featuring the third-lowest AL batting average against right-handed pitching, and Minnesota, a team that, well, kind of sucks.
Over his last five starts, Beavan has been solid, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, .903 WHIP and a 10:1 K/BB rate, a period during which he lowered his ERA by nearly a full run. Regrettably, his strikeouts are still lacking, as he has just a 5.24 K/9 to show for his strong run, and the 16 home runs he’s allowed in 96.2 innings is way too much. But it’s important to remember that Beavan, 23, is a former first-round pick, and was highly touted enough to be a part of the Cliff Lee-Justin Smoak trade a couple of years ago.
There’s nothing glamorous about Beavan, but he’s got some longer-term upside, and with two decent starts this week, he’s probably worth a gamble.
Recommendation: Worth using in most AL-only leagues, though mixed league owners can probably do better elsewhere.