It’s crunch time in fantasy, and with that comes three states of mind for fantasy owners: those who are cruising atop their league standings and already looking ahead to the playoffs; those hopelessly blown out of the race and now existing purely to play spoiler; and those clawing their way to the postseason in the season’s final few weeks.
But regardless of one’s situation, there’s a need for replacement bodies as the injuries mount, so even if the waiver wire continues to become increasingly barren ahead of the September call-ups, there are still a few intriguing names sitting around who could provide a late-season boost.
Brayan Pena | Detroit Tigers | C | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; 3 percent ESPN; 5 percent CBS
YTD: 196 PA / .306 / .330 / .415 with 4 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 253 PA / .299 / .325 / .408 with 5 HR and 0 SB
Who is Brayan Pena?
If you said he’s a 31-year-old journeyman playing in his ninth year in the majors, you’d be right.
If you said he’s the dude taking over Detroit’s catching responsibilities while Alex Avila recovers from concussion symptoms, you’d also be right.
And if you said he might have some fantasy value because spare catchers are hard to find at this point in the season and Pena has been swinging a hot bat, well, you’d be a fantasy baseball owner.
By hot bat, I should elaborate. The Cuban backstop was hitting .421/.436/.579 in August entering yesterday’s action and has a 1.087 OPS since last Sunday, when Avila was placed on the seven-day concussion list. For the season, Pena’s numbers look pretty snazzy, thanks to a solid .306 batting average that’s stabilized with a reasonable BABIP and contact rate, and the fact that he plays in the mash clinic known as the Tigers lineup.
Of course, there’s a reason Pena has been essentially anonymous during his MLB tenure. He has just 18 home runs over his 1,150 career plate appearances and owns a meager .258/.293/.361 career slash line. This year, the switch-hitter’s .343 average against right-handers is no fewer than 80 points above his career average, and there’s no arguing the fact that Pena is just a backup catcher whose opportunity derives solely from an injury to a better player.
But you know what? Who cares? We’re at the point in the season where stop-gap fill-ins are critical as injuries pile up, and for the fantasy owners who plugged in Avila a couple of weeks ago thanks to his hot hitting, getting a guy who’s having a good season with regular playing time can make a big difference. Pena is the man behind the dish for the Tigers so long as Avila is in the abyss known as concussion recovery, and as long as he’s collecting hits, he might as well be used in fantasy.
Recommendation: Pena doesn’t have the capacity to turn one’s fantasy season around, but he’s worth a flier in deeper mixed leagues thanks to position scarcity.
Brett Oberholtzer | Houston Astros | SP | 6 percent Yahoo ownership; 8 percent ESPN; 15 percent CBS
YTD: 28 IP / 2.57 ERA / 5.8 K/9 / 1.3 BB/9 with 2 wins
ZiPS updated: 54 IP / 4.11 ERA / 5.8 K/9 / 2.2 BB/9 with 3 wins
It’s easy to dismiss a starter’s fantasy value when he pitches for the Houston Astros because, well, the Astros kind of stink and don’t bring home a lot of wins. In the case of Oberholtzer, however, a shift to the starting rotation from the bullpen late last month has resulted in four strong starts, including Sunday’s winning effort against the Angels.
Oberholtzer, 24, came up through the Braves organization but was swapped in the Michael Bourn deal, making his major league debut earlier this season. He’s shown an excellent ability to command the strike zone, evidenced by a 2.2 BB/9 in the minors, which should keep his WHIP and ERA at reasonable levels even as his 80-percent strand rate comes back down to earth.
Unfortunately, the southpaw struggled with the home run ball down on the farm and doesn’t get enough grounders for my taste, which could lead to problems the more he pitches at Minute Maid Park. And although his minor league numbers suggest he’ll improve the K/9 slightly, a fastball that hovers in the low 90s means we shouldn’t expect 7.0-plus K/9 production from him.
All of which is to say that, although Oberholtzer has been a nice find for fantasy owners and shouldn’t be written off just because of his uniform, he’s probably not much more than a depth starting pitcher in AL-only leagues and a fringe option in deeper mixed leagues.
Recommendation: Deeper mixed league material only.