Here we are, already in the middle of Week 12 of what was, not too long ago, a new fantasy baseball season. Where does the time go? Better yet, where did Tyler Skaggs go? I figured Arizona would give him some more time before sending down that phenom, but alas, I can’t win them all. Neither can Dillon Gee, who gave up a soul-crushing two-run blast to Freddie Freeman the other night in yet another outstanding start from him. Just goes to show that it’s hard to predict the future in this topsy-turvy world of fantasy bargain hunting.
But we indulge ourselves and recognize that the quest is its own reward, right? (Well, that and a name on the fantasy trophy.) In the spirit of adventure, let’s continue our trek to unearth some undervalued fantasy talent.
Lonnie Chisenhall | Cleveland Indians | 3B | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; .5 percent ESPN; 15 percent CBS
YTD: 99 PA / .231 / .253 / .351 with 3 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 336 PA / .238 / .285 / .380 with 9 HR and 1 SB
Oh Lonnie, you big tease, you. All these years we’ve been told about your first-round pedigree and career .282 /.351 /.470 minor league line, only to watch you struggle at the big league level to the tune of a .692 OPS in parts of three seasons. This year, however, you really had us going, as you went bananas in spring training, smacking the ball around at a .400 average and crushing four home runs in 60 at-bats. But when the season began, your fantasy productivity disappeared faster than people could say, “Hey, does anyone notice how much of a political anachronism Chief Wahoo has become?”
But here’s the thing: I believe you’re a talented baseball player, and know for a fact that we can always use a few good men at third base. That’s why I’m glad to hear that, down on the farm, you’ve been putting together a .390 average with six homers and 26 RBIs, which has accelerated into a .467 clip since May 29. In Triple-A, you didn’t work on mechanics, but confidence, relaxing while rediscovering the qualities that made you such an attractive prospect not that long ago. And whaddya know? Cleveland, needing offense after losing Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher to injuries, decided to call you up yesterday.
Perhaps none of this would really matter if the Indians had already given up on you, their Opening Day third baseman, but as it happens, manager Terry Francona has said he wants you to play every day, and the team is moving Mark Reynolds over to first base to make sure that happens. That sounds like a vote of confidence to me, Lonnie, and although you don’t have the ceiling of a, say, Nolan Arenado, you’re still someone who could reasonably finish the season with 15 to 18 home runs at a decent (think .270) batting average.
For my money, that’s a guy who has a place on a great deal of fantasy teams, and when I peek over at your ownership levels, I think to myself, here’s a guy who’s going to start being gobbled up very quickly. So Lonnie, on behalf of a watchful fantasy nation, good luck out there. Stay healthy. And don’t let us down.
Recommendation: His upside makes him a solid add in mixed leagues.
Jordan Lyles | Houston Astros | SP | 7 percent Yahoo ownership; 12.5 percent ESPN; 39 percent CBS
YTD: 51.2 IP / 3.48 ERA / 7.1 K/9 / 2.8 BB/9 with 3 wins
ZiPS updated: 137 IP / 4.40 ERA / 6.8 K/9 / 2.7 BB/9 with 6 wins
Let’s cut to the chase: Lyles is not going to win a whole lot of ballgames pitching for the 2013 Astros. You know who does win a lot of games? Max Scherzer. Adam Wainwright. Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, those guys aren’t around on the waiver wire. And if you read this column, chances are decent that even guys a few tiers below that group aren’t on the waiver wire, either.
No, we talk about the trash heap around these parts; in a different setting, perhaps, we’d be sitting around a gin mill out west around the time of the gold rush, swapping stories and putting down stiff drinks amid our days of hope and sifting. If the gold diggers couldn’t depend on sleeping in the finest linen every night, then surely we shouldn’t be so fussy about who we get to choose from, either.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to stomach whatever hardtack they send our way. In the case of the 22-year-old Lyles, however, we’re presented with another former first round pick, a guy who was named Baseball America’s 42nd best prospect heading into the 2011 campaign. Last week, the young right-hander pulverized the Mariners with 10 strikeouts en route to a crisp, seven-inning 6-1 victory. That was just the latest highlight in what’s been a decent year so far for the young lad, whose ERA is backed up by a 3.77 xFIP and .296 BABIP. Best of all is a heavy 51.3 percent ground ball rate, the only salvation for a young man who doesn’t earn a great deal of strikeouts pitching in Minute Maid Park.
As for the Astros, they’re not going to make wins easy for Lyles, as the team’s offense (its 87 wRC+ was good for 24th entering yesterday), defense (-8.3 UZR/150 third worst) and home ballpark (home plate is a virtual Grand Central Station for baserunners) conspire to put the hurt on a lot of guys (right, Lucas Harrell?). On that last point, not surprisingly, Lyles has a pretty stark home/away split, with his ERA and WHIP (1.82 and 1.01, respectively) being far better on the road than at home (5.00, 1.59), making him a bit of a fantasy platoon option for the moment to offset the effects of inexperience against a hitting-friendly ballpark.
Such is fantasy life on the Astros. On the other hand, perhaps a better team wouldn’t allow a young starter like Lyles to learn on the job like he’s doing right now, staying with him through the highs and the lows of a full baseball season. We’re not talking about high-end production here, only upside, but then again, whoever said there was anything wrong with that?
Recommendation: AL-only league material right now, but a guy whose upcoming starts should be of interest to deeper mixed-leaguers.
Edwin Jackson | Chicago Cubs | SP | 26 percent Yahoo ownership; 19.3 percent ESPN; 29 percent CBS
YTD: 71.2 IP / 5.40 ERA / 8.9 K/9 / 3.6 BB/9 with 3 wins
ZiPS updated: 179 IP / 4.49 ERA / 8.3 K/9 / 3.3 BB/9 with 9 wins
Jackson, seemingly, has done the impossible (Okay, the very, very not-impossible): He’s been so bad this year that he’s apparently made owners forget about the fact that he’s a strikeout machine. What’s bad, you say? Well, the 3-8 record, to start. Then there’s the 1.55 WHIP. The ERA? Shield your children’s eyes.
But let’s get back to those strikeouts for a second. The guy is punching out hitters at a nearly strikeout-per-inning rate in 2013, which would be his best career mark were it to continue through the end of the season. That comes after a 2012 in which his 7.97 K/9 established a new high for him. The walks, meanwhile, haven’t really been culpable for that ugly WHIP, since his walk rate is both tolerable and, despite an uptick over recent years, on pace with his career average. The swinging strike rate and first-strike rates are down, but I’ll choose to be optimistic and suggest that a few good starts could level out those numbers.
No, what’s killed Jackson this year has been a ridiculously unfortunate 59.8 percent strand rate and a .348 BABIP that, while suggesting that hitters are tattooing him, isn’t really manifested in his 21.3 percent line drive rate. These factors help explain why his FIP (3.32) and xFIP (3.63) are much, much better than what he’s been credited with.
I should also take this moment to say that Jackson has pitched well in his past two starts (2-0, 1.38 ERA, 15:4 K/BB), and while the Pirates and Mets are no one’s idea of quality offensive threats, for a guy whose peripherals are due for a sharp market correction, those two outings provide hope that perhaps we’re seeing the ship right its course before our eyes.
As someone who’s bounced around the majors for so long (and played for eight teams), it’s hard to believe Jackson is still just 29 years old, so presumably, he’s still in the prime of his career and can be counted upon to take the ball every fifth day. Jackson is hardly anyone’s idea of a fantasy ace, but the strikeouts are still there, and as his other numbers stabilize, he’s a guy who should be owned significantly more across the board.
Recommendation: Not the sexiest SP option out there, but he can be used in mixed leagues.