Greetings, fellow traveler in fantasy. Since we touched base, Blake Beavan got touched up in his one start (though he has one more opportunity this week to help that him justify my endorsement) and Chris Tillman dropped two decisions, though Scott Feldman pitched well in a tough assignment at Yankee Stadium and Grant Balfour quickly ascended to Oakland’s closer role, so I’ll say I’m shooting par for the week. Once again, we plunge down into the depths of AL leagues to see which players are worth taking a flier on as we head toward fantasy postseason.
Alex Cobb | Tampa Bay Rays | SP | 17 percent Yahoo ownership | 27.8 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 4.08 ERA / 1.262 WHIP / 6.7 K/9
Oliver ROS: 4.29 ERA / 1.36 WHIP / 6.8 K/9
I believed in Cobb.
Lured by the prospect of adding a talented young Rays starter to my squad, I picked him up in late May, and watched him promptly sink to a 2-5 record over his next seven starts, with an unsightly 5.32 ERA and just a 6.14 K/9 to show for his work over that span. With roster space a precious commodity, I cut Cobb in early July and chose to move forward.
You can probably guess where this story is going: No sooner did I cut Cobb than he started to turn things around, pitching to the tune of a 4-3 record with a 2.97 ERA, 1.195 WHIP and better than seven K/9 since July 2 (seven starts). Those are pretty solid numbers that more than justify higher ownership percentages in everything resembling an AL-only league—or a mixed league, for that matter—unless, of course, owners feel that Early Cobb is more genuine than Recent Cobb.
Well, I’m here to tell you that yes, Cobb is for real. Why? Because he was never that mediocre to begin with.
Let’s zoom out for a second and look at his season stats: 7-8, 4.08 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 6.7 K/9. Granted, those numbers won’t include him in Cy Young discussions at the end of the season, but then again, they’re really not so bad, are they? Especially when you take a deeper look, and realize that this 24-year-old has maintained a 58.5 ground ball rate with a 3.28 FIP, 3.60 xFIP and a meager 2.59 BB/9. If you want to be generous, take a look at his 65.9 percent strand rate and you’ll realize that, hey, this guy, if anything, is probably getting the shaft with regard to his overall numbers.
Put simply, the seasonal stats more than explain why he’s pitching so well lately: He does the little things correctly, and if he were a better strikeout pitcher, he’d be included among the breakout stars of 2012. Instead, he’s just a workmanlike starter in his first full season who’s receiving just 3.3 runs scored per game started, a figure that ranks him 126th among pitchers with more than 60 innings pitched.
Cobb is solid, and pitches for a team that should give him a legitimate chance to win every time he takes the ball. What more can you ask for from a free agent pickup in mid-August?
Recommendation: Get this guy on your squad in all AL-only leagues, and think about making him a part of your postseason push in deeper mixed leagues.
Manny Machado | Baltimore Orioles | 3B | 52 percent Yahoo ownership; 84.5 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: .304 / .304 / .826
Oliver ROS: .247 / .303 / .397
There’s not much to say about Machado that hasn’t been written by, well, pretty much everyone with an opinion/educated point of view, so I’m not going to pretend that I have anything new to say about the Orioles’ third baseman. You should also know that, when it comes to younger players, I like to be aggressive, since every year seems to present a Ryan Braun or Mike Trout who just seems to lock into major league pitching from Day One and bring his fantasy owners along for the glorious ride.
Machado, at least at the outset, looks like he could be one of those players. Although he’s only 20 years old, the former first-round pick slammed two home runs in just his second major league game, and through Wednesday was batting .304/.304/.826 with three home runs in 23 plate appearances. So yes, I think you should pick him up in every seasonal format, AL-only or otherwise, if he’s available and you have the roster space. But I figured I’d sniff around for some possible red flags that could hurt his value in 2012, perhaps a clue or two that might suggest how much we should buy into this guy.
Fortunately, I won’t have to look far for my first exhibit, since THT’s Jeff Moore has already pointed out how Machado, given his first-round status and quick advancement through the minors (928 plate appearances), enters the big leagues as arguably one of the rawest talents in recent memory. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course, but even a great talent like Machado could still take time to adjust.
It’s also not like the AL East is interested in granting Machado a learning curve either, as he’ll have to navigate a web of Yankees and Rays pitchers over the season’s final six weeks, and, for good measure, play six games in Oakland and Seattle, not exactly the most homer-happy ballparks in the country.
Machado fans did receive some good news on Thursday when Wilson Betemit was placed on the DL with a wrist injury, which should clear away his biggest obstacle in securing playing time. And with the Orioles sticking around in the Wild Card race, Buck Showalter is going to have to play every card he’s got—including potential impact bats who entered the season ranked among baseball’s best prospects and didn’t arrive in Baltimore to sit on the bench.
Where does all this leave us? Basically right back where we started—Machado has all the promise in the world, and shouldn’t be left hanging out to dry in anything but the shallowest of mixed formats. But just keep in mind that nothing is certain, and we’re not yet at the point where Machado should be given the keys to a third base slot in fantasy without owners saving a spare player in case he’s not magical out of the gate.
Recommendation: Be happy to have him on your squad, but it never hurts to prepare for a rainy day scenario, right?
Geovany Soto | Texas Rangers | C | 25 percent Yahoo ownership; 10.6 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: .191 / .275 / .335
Oliver ROS: .236 / .323 / .412
Remember when Soto was good? I only have a vague recollection, though I was fortunate enough to own him in 2008 during his rookie of the year campaign, when he rewarded fantasy owners with a .285/.364/.504 line with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs. Problem is, he’s been mediocre since then, and batted just .199/.284/.347 in 197 plate appearances for the Cubs this year before being shipped over to the Rangers, a fortuitous turn of events for Soto, it would seem, since Mike Napoli just got hurt and now gives the 29-year-old a chance to redeem himself.
Obviously, we’re going to need to see a lot, lot more from Soto before we congratulate him on a return to form. But at least for the moment, take a look at his .214 BABIP, which he’s maintained despite a 22.4 percent line drive rate. If the season were to end today, that would be his best mark since 2010, when he belted 17 home runs and tallied a wRC+ of 135.
Soto isn’t finished yet, even if fantasy owners have every right to look elsewhere for a catcher. The Rangers are scheduled to play a full seven games next week at home, and although Soto will face Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, both of whom are pitching well, he’ll also have a chance to feast on the very hittable Minnesota pitching staff. That alone should make Soto worth consideration in fantasy again.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in AL-only leagues that use two catchers, and probably worth a flier in single-catcher AL-only leagues.
Miguel Gonzalez | Baltimore Orioles | SP | 8 percent Yahoo ownership; 11.6 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 3.38 ERA / 1.223 WHIP / 6.9 K/9
Oliver ROS: 4.91 ERA / 1.38 WHIP / 6.4 K/9
It’s been a journey for Gonzalez, 28, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 and has knocked around the minors until coming to Baltimore this year. Thing is, he’s been solid in 2012: The guy had a 1.61 ERA and 10.7 K/9 over six minor league starts, and then joined the Orioles’ rotation for good in July and has an overall big league mark of 5-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.223 WHIP and 6.9 K/9 in eight starts.
With two starts coming up in week 20 (at Texas against Scott Feldman, home against Toronto and Henderson Alvarez), Gonzalez definitely looks like the kind of guy who more than deserves a flier in AL-only leagues. But make sure you realize he has a 86.2 percent strand rate, and features a FIP (4.96) and xFIP (4.83) far above his ERA, and a helpful .253 BABIP to boot. Those stats don’t negate his under-the-radar value—at least not immediately—but they’re sobering reminders that diamonds in the rough are sorta hard to come by at this time of the year. Consider picking up Gonzalez, but be warned—a market correction is in the mail.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in some AL-only and deeper mixed leagues as long as he stays hot.