Jeff Niemann| Tampa Bay| SP| 34 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.51 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.02 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, 44.2 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.07 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Many words have been spewed in this column discussing Niemann’s recent performance, yet in spite of his continued dominance his ownership level remains relatively low. Pitchers going on hot streaks for a handful of starts are nothing new in the world of fantasy baseball, but perhaps it is time to start re-evaluating Niemann.
Since the start of July, he has been nothing short of spectacular in 34 innings of work with a 9.00 K/9, a 2.38 BB/9 and 53.2 percent groundball rate. Most likely some of those numbers will regress, but even a small regression in all three rates would make for a promising pitcher going forward. Niemann has worked his way up from a pitch and ditch starter in favorable match-ups to a player who should get a little rope before being cut should he stumble in a start or two.
Recommendation: Should be near universally owned and his strong surface stats are supported by his most controllable rates.
Mike Adams| Texas| RP| 36 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 1.29 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.18 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 44.3 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.00 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Likely already owned in mixed leagues where relievers of his ilk have value, Adams finds himself highlighted this week for AL-only leaguers. Since 2008 Adams has been one of the best relievers in baseball, striking out oodles of hitters in addition to walking few. His debut with the Rangers couldn’t have gone much worse, but consider that a blip on the radar or simply an off night and consider him an elite reliever even with the change of home ballparks from spacious Petco to launching pad Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Those hoping to lower their ratios every bit they can, while also maximizing strikeouts per inning used toward yearly innings caps should add Adams. Neftali Feliz hasn’t been the dominant stopper he was last season, so the possibility of vulture saves exists, but be aware Koji Uehara was also brought into the mix at the trade deadline.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues where elite non-closer relievers are of value.
Erik Bedard| Boston| SP| 50 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.57 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 41.7 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.93 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
Bedard’s trade from the Mariners to the Red Sox is a mixed bag for his value the rest of the year. The positive is that he’s no longer backed by the putrid Mariners offense that ranks last in the league in runs scored, and instead backed by the run scoring juggernaut Red Sox who lead the league in scoring. The negative is that Safeco Field, a ballpark notorious for suppressing runs and home runs, is no longer his home. He’s now in Fenway home, a ballpark that enhances run scoring and suppresses home runs less.
Should he remain on schedule for each of his next three starts he’ll face Minnesota on the road, Tampa Bay on the road and Oakland at home. Those teams, in order, rank 20, 14 and 24 in runs scored, making it a fairly soft immediate future with only his home start coming at a ballpark that favors hitters.
Bedard is one of the few starting pitchers who averages almost a strikeout-per-inning and is able to put the ball in the strike zone with regularity and can be had for cheap or free in most leagues. Owners in need of pitching help where he’s already owned should look to deal for him as a “toss-in,” type player, understanding he’s more valuable than that. Expect to see his ownership rise as playing even moderately well on the Red Sox or Yankees typically has the strange effect of ballooning ownership percentages of fantasy players.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues, and added for favorable match-ups in those leagues as well.
Matt Harrison| Texas| SP| 52 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.08 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.69 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 46.4 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.43 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
Harrison is a league average-ish pitcher who is outperforming his underlying stats this year. With such a low strikeout rate, his reliance on the ball finding gloves makes him a risky start regardless of opponent. That said, his next three turns come against Seattle, Oakland and Chicago. All three offenses rank amongst the league’s worst, and he is backed by the third highest scoring offense. In short, owners looking to stream for some wins could do worse than gambling on Harrison in leagues where he’s available. Don’t expect much beyond that, and understand anytime you add a pitcher in the mold of Harrison the possibility exists of a messy start.
Recommendation: Should be owned by owners desperate for wins in medium-to-large mixed-leagues and AL-only league owners.
Hideki Matsui| Oakland| OF| 29 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .267/.357/.443
Few hitters have been hotter than Godzilla since the start of July. In his last 27 games, or 112 plate appearances, he has hit a blistering .385 with 17 runs scored, three home runs, and 23 RBI. His control of the strike zone has also been masterful during that stretch: He has 14 walks, none intentional, to just eight strikeouts. His home ballpark is likely to keep his home run total down as it is hell on left-handed power, but he should be a solid contributor in three of five standard scoring categories.
Surprisingly he is exhibiting a reverse platoon split this season hitting left handers harder than right handers, so don’t make the same mistake former A’s manager Bob Geren made early in the season sitting him against southpaws. Owners seeking some outfield help should add Matsui in leagues in which he’s available.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium-sized mixed leagues and all large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
Eric Hosmer| Kansas City| 1B| 49 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .280/.333/.436
First base is the home to some of the best hitters in the real game and fantasy game, and while Hosmer hasn’t performed at their level, he has made an impressive debut for the Royals. His home run power has been a bit lackluster for his position, but that is largely because he’s hitting 47.7 percent of his balls in play into the ground. What should be noted is that his groundball rate is inflated greatly by his struggles against left-handed pitchers, against whom he has a 58.4 percent groundball rate. All his home runs have come against right-handed pitchers, and his slash is much more befitting a first baseman against them: .308/.360/.534.
Owners able to bench him against southpaws will reap the full benefits of a hitter who clobbers righties and is still working to iron out the kinks against his same-handed counterparts. Outside of a tough June, Hosmer has been everything the Royals and fantasy owners could have hoped for. Not good enough to be a starting first baseman in most leagues yet, he is good enough to slot at corner infield or utility in most leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia| Boston| C| 24 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .242/.312/.418
Salty is almost certainly owned in all competitive two-catcher leagues, but is now starting to creep on the radar of some single-catcher leagues as well. A switch hitter, Salty has fared considerably better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching both this year and for his career, making him a candidate to bench by fantasy owners when southpaws toe the rubber. Unfortunately for Salty, he cedes playing time to Jason Varitek semi-frequently, since Josh Beckett works with Tek exclusively and most of Andrew Miller‘s starts have also featured Varitek as his battery mate. Those who don’t care to micro-manage would be wise to pass on Salty, but those willing to put in the extra effort can expect to get better than average production from the suck hole fantasy position that is catcher.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all two-catcher leagues, and most single-catcher formats as well.
Josh Willingham| Oakland| OF| 21 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .258/.362/.470
For most of the season, Willingham has struck out at a rate significantly greater than his career mark and recent season rates, and his average has suffered because of it. July was the first month that Willingham hit over .250, hitting .324, and as you’d expect, that was mostly because he cut his strikeouts back to just 15.4 percent of his at-bats.
A cheap source of power year-to-year, that hasn’t changed this season for The Hammer as his ISO sits north of .200 and he has 16 home runs in 354 plate appearances. If he’s able to keep his strikeouts in check, he has a chance to help power-starved owners while not being a total drag on average. August hasn’t started off well with five strikeouts in 13 plate appearances, but the sample size is way too small to get worked up about yet. Keep an eye on that rate as the month goes along, but proceed as if he made the necessary adjustments in July to help him get back to closer to his career mark.
Recommendation: Should be owned by those in need of power or outfield help in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
Chris Davis| Baltimore| 1B/3B| 2 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: No projection
Chris Davis has been freed! No longer shuttling between Triple-A and the majors for the Texas Rangers, Davis calls Baltimore home. Baltimore’s decision to trade Derrek Lee to the Pirates has freed up playing time at first base the remainder of the season for Davis.
Now he must get to work on shedding a Quad-A label he has picked up. Feasting on pitching in the Pacific Coast League, he has nothing left to prove in the minors, but much to prove in the majors. An all-or-nothing hitter, Davis strikes out often, but also offers light tower power. If that profile sounds familiar to those who follow the Orioles, that’s probably because they employ a similar player who mans third base, Mark Reynolds. Reynolds isn’t a perfect fit for what Davis could be if he is able to figure it out at the big league level because he doesn’t walk as frequently as his teammate, and he should hit for a higher average thanks to more solid line drive contact.
He may be just another failed prospect who mashes against minor league pitchers in the same vein as Brandon Wood, or he could be a late bloomer. That question probably won’t be answered this year, but there should be more support one way or the other after he plays daily down the stretch. If you’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, his 2008 debut should serve as a reminder he is capable of just that.
A benefit of being a part-time player and reserve early in the season for the Rangers is that he was able to pick up third base eligibility in Yahoo! leagues. Even though he won’t be playing there the rest of this year, that won’t prevent fantasy gamers from starting him there in their virtual lineups.
Recommendation: Should be owned by owners in need of home runs who have wiggle room in batting average, regardless of league size.