Well, it turns out Andrew Bailey isn’t as close to returning as I may have thought late last week, giving Junichi Tazawa a more lengthy look at the closer’s job in Boston. Problem is, he’s been somewhat terrible since inheriting the job, leading to speculation that a closer platoon with him and Koji Uehara might be possible. Meanwhile, Heath Bell has settled in as the D-Backs closer, though a blown save last week reminded us that he’s hardly a lock for 25-30 saves the rest of the way.
Going even further back in this column’s 2013 track record, Aaron Hicks belted two homers the other day against the White Sox, though that just soothes my ego after the collapse of Jake Westbrook’s fantasy value and Felix Doubront’s recent problems.
But if you wanted to talk about last week’s column, you’d be reading it, wouldn’t you? Let’s look at some new blood.
Will Venable | San Diego Padres | OF | 11 percent Yahoo ownership; 7.6 percent ESPN; 20 percent CBS
YTD: 106 PA / .247 / .327 / .452 with 5 HR and 7 SB
ZiPS updated: 479 PA / .246 / .319 / .421 with 15 HR and 25 SB
Twitter pal Lee Wilson on Friday asked me for my quick thoughts on Venable vs. Craig Gentry and Jordan Schafer. After a quick eyeballing of the three players’ stats, I favored Venable, based on his more consistent playing time and better speed. But the real reason I like Venable—well, at least to the extent one can like a guy with a career .742 OPS—is his 15.4 percent line drive rate entering Wednesday, which is more than three percentage points below his career average. When that climbs, we’ll see his BABIP creep up toward his career .315 level, which will raise his .247 average.
The good news is that Venable is starting to heat up after hitting just .206 last month. Since May began, he’s hit .360 with three home runs and four steals entering Wednesday’s action. Not coincidentally, that hot streak began just after the Padres regained their best offensive player in Chase Headley and Jedd Gyorko began hitting as well. It’s also been encouraging to see Venable hit .327 at Petco Park—yes, that average is inflated by a lofty BABIP, and we’re just talking about a friggin’ six-week stretch here, but for a guy who’s struggled in San Diego throughout his career, perhaps the moved-in fences are a sign that he’ll begin to play better at home.
The 30-year-old Venable, of course, is hardly a newcomer to fantasy circles, having been a full-time player for the past three years after debuting with the Padres in 2008. He’s a left-handed-hitter who remains an extreme platoon player, evidenced by a putrid .580 OPS against southpaws. But despite his familiarity as a not-great-but-not-awful fantasy option and someone who’s averaged 26 steals over the past three years, he’s still available in plenty of leagues. He’s never going to be a must-grab, but a hot hand is a hot hand, and the stolen bases alone give him should merit him consideration in five-outfield leagues.
Recommendation: Pass in standard mixed leagues, but pick him up while he’s hot everywhere else.
Jeff Locke | Pittsburgh Pirates | SP | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 8.5 percent ESPN; 44 percent CBS
YTD: 39.2 IP / 4.88 FIP / 4.99 K/9 / 4.31 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 154 IP / 4.61 FIP / 6.05 K/9 / 3.92 BB/9
When I saw the southpaw’s CBS ownership jump by more than 20 points in the past week, I figured he was ripe for a spin in the waiver wire. After all, Pittsburgh is about as good a place to stay anonymous as there is in baseball, and perhaps this guy is the real deal looking for just a little positive PR to get his ownership going.
Locke, 25, was drafted in the second round by the Braves in 2006, and was traded, along with two other players, in the 2009 deal between Atlanta and Pittsburgh for Nate McLouth. In the minors, Locke pitched well, compiling a better than 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a fine 1.26 WHIP and an ability to get strikeouts. Armed with a fastball that doesn’t zoom beyond the low-90s, the Princeton grad was never tabbed as a spectacular prospect, but is expected to hang around the majors as a back-of-the-rotation hurler on a good team.
So what explains the jump in his ownership? Well, a 2.95 ERA certainly doesn’t scare away prospective fantasy owners, and a 3-1 record in seven starts isn’t half bad. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Want proof? Take your pick: A 4.84 xFIP. A crazy 81.5 percent strand rate. A 21 percent balls in play average. A 7.1 swinging strike rate. Yeah, seven starts is not a gigantic sample size, but it’s not a trend that portends a happy ending, either.
I’m not here to discredit Locke as a big leaguer or wish a pox upon his house, and if he can continue to pound the strike zone and limit walks, I don’t think a 4 ERA with a 6 K/9 is impossible by the time 2013 is over. But a market correction is right around the corner, and when that happens, you’ll want to be someplace else, preferably wearing a helmet while nestled in a concrete bunker.
Recommendation: Stay away in mixed leagues.
Denard Span | Washington Nationals | OF | 19 percent Yahoo ownership; 23.9 percent ESPN; 56 percent CBS
YTD: 151 PA / .277 / .344 / .350 with 0 HR and 5 SB
ZiPS updated: 595 PA / .275 / .335 / .369 with 3 HR and 18 SB
Can I ask a dumb question? Why is the leadoff hitter on arguably the best team in the National League hanging around the waiver wire in so many leagues? What’s wrong with a guy who steals bases, scores runs and posts a decent batting average?
Well, past history, for starters: Fantasy owners went ga-ga over Span’s 97 runs, .311 average and 10.4 percent walk rate back in 2009. But they then watched with abject disappointment as his on-base percentage collapsed in subsequent years, a situation compounded by a nasty concussion he suffered in 2011 and a shoulder injury last year that limited him to 128 games. Even after a 3.6 WAR season last year, his wOBA was off by more than 30 points from his 2009 season, and his stock entering 2013 was nowhere near what it was back in his salad days.
Then there’s the dearth of power. We’re talking about just 23 home runs over more than 2,800 career plate appearances (none so far this year) and despite once leading the league in triples, his career ISO barely breaks .100. For Span to be considered a mixed-league outfielder, he needs to keep up his production in his three categories to offset the damage he’ll do to an owner’s batting average and home runs.
So far this year, I’d say the results are mixed. His on-base percentage is acceptable but not ideal, as is his stolen base total, the byproduct of just six attempts. Span’s also suffering from a nasty 19.2 percent infield flyball rate, which will come back down to earth soon enough, and a 14.6 percent strikeout rate that stands to regress back to his career average. As for his health, he had appeared in all but three of the Nationals’ games entering this season, so there’s little reason to believe he’s not 100 percent.
And therein lies the key to Span’s fantasy value: Staying on the field. Assuming a baseline batting average of .280, he could very well produce 90 runs hitting atop a lineup that will produce better as the season unfolds, and I don’t think a return to 20 stolen bases is out of the question. I realize Span, a solid defender, is much more valuable in real life than in fantasy, and in a perfect world, an owner would prefer a more well-rounded stolen base producer than him. But Span does enough things well to justify a hike in his ownership levels, and as the summer progresses, I think that will happen.
Recommendation: It’s time to think about Span in standard mixed leagues again.