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Friday, June 28, 2013
Sell High - Torii Hunter
When last I looked, neither charisma nor charm were generally recognized as fantasy baseball categories, so it's somewhat puzzling to me that Torii Hunter is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues and 72 percent of Yahoo! leagues, respectively. Yes, the 37-year-old is scoring a boatload of runs hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but beyond that, it's simply a respectable batting average that's keeping him employed. It's a classic fantasy booby-trap, as managers will often fall victim to the veneer of a gaudy batting average—"He's hitting over .300, he must be a good player!" But don't be fooled: this is a player whose value is inextricably linked with a high batting average, and, consequently, he's worth shopping.
Much of Hunter's success in the first half of 2013 has been buoyed by a healthy .357 BABIP, the fifth-highest such figure among qualified outfielders. It's a perplexing number given his age and batted-ball profile, as we typically see speedsters and line-drive smashers atop the BABIP leaderboard — Hunter is neither of those things.
His 19.9 percent line-drive rate is, in fact, his worse mark since 2010, while he's stolen but a single base this season, a number that suggests diminishing speed. His increased ground-ball output this year—54.2 percent, a career high—could explain a bump in BABIP, but one that seems unsustainable over the course of an entire season. As his BABIP regresses to the mean, his average will wither accordingly, and Hunter will effectively lose one of his two redeeming qualities, with decreased run-scoring ability as a consolation prize.
Hunter's BABIP good fortune has also masked his outright refusal to take a walk this season, as his 5.1 percent free-pass rate represents his lowest figure since back in 2000. It's reasonable to presume this is a byproduct of hitting in front of Cabrera—he's seeing more strikes as pitchers try to avoid loading the basepaths for Miggy—a theory supported by his 67 percent strike rate, his highest since 2001. However, his strike-heavy diet has instilled some bad habits, as he's chasing balls outside the zone with unprecedented regularity. Hunter's 42.1 percent O-Swing rate represents the highest figure of his career by far, and nearly a 14-point spike over his lifetime mark.
(This chart, which illustrates Hunter's 2013 swing rate, is courtesy of the gracious lads over at Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball. Notice how he likes to swing at a lot of baseballs.)
Should his indiscriminate approach at the plate persist as his BABIP comes down to earth, his on-base ability is going to suffer, and the runs won't be nearly as plentiful.
Furthermore, his modest four home runs bespeak a career-low .118 isolated power, a reality of hitting in Comerica Park and playing major league baseball at 37 years of age. It should be axiomatic at this point that his power prospects for the remainder of the season aren't encouraging. He has as many long balls at Norichika Aoki, for goodness sake. Shop him if ya got him.
Buy Low - R.A. Dickey
It took R.A. Dickey a mere two hours and ten minutes to dispose of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday afternoon, as he retired all but three of the hitters he faced in his first complete-game shutout of 2013. It was easily his best performance of what's been a turbulent campaign for both the knuckleballer and his new club, which has now gone 16-6 in June—a stretch fueled by a recent 11-game win streak—to thrust the Blue Jays back into relevance.
Just as the Blue Jays of late have in no way resembled the club that was 10-21 at one point in the season, the R.A. Dickey that took the mound at Tropicana Field on Wednesday didn't at all look like the 38-year-old who had laboured to a 5.15 ERA through his first 16 starts as a Blue Jay. He routinely induced bad contact, getting 13 of his outs by way of the ground ball. He got ahead of hitters, surrendering just one walk while throwing 73 percent of his pitches for strikes (compared to the 63 percent mark for the season). Obviously, he was able to avoid the home run, a big step considering his unsightly 1.41 HR/9 rate this season. And he recorded six strikeouts, his third-highest single-game total this season.
One dominant start does not a salvation guarantee, but there are some signs that point to long-term improvement. First, the velocity of his knuckleball has improved over his past three starts, with the floater averaging 76.3 mph since June 15, helping to assuage concern that lingering discomfort in his neck and back has subsided.
He's also managed to cut down on his walks of late, yielding just 10 free passes over his last 40 innings, an encouraging departure from the 4.06 BB/9 he fashioned through his first 11 starts, and a nice development with respect to his WHIP. The strikeouts haven't quite come around yet, but he's flashed more swing-and-miss over his past couple outings. Small sample caveats apply, but he's induced a swing-and-miss on 14 percent of his pitches over his past two starts, a figure that stands in stark contrast with the nine percent mark he had through his first 15 outings. Bad contact has also factored into Dickey's recent turnaround—he has a 3.71 ERA and .645 opponents' OPS in the month of June—as he's limited the opposition to a .223 BABIP this month.
Curtailing the home runs is the next major hurdle for Dickey, who has made it his personal responsibility to ensure Rogers Centre maintains its reputation as a haven for the home run—he's surrendered 12 taters in 49.1 innings at the Concrete Convertible. But if he's able to mitigate the long ball at home, he could be a candidate for a strong second half of the season. Pursue him while his rate stats are still not that pretty.
Posted by Jonah Birenbaum at 2:29am
A quick look at the hottest pickups in CBS shows that my earlier pessimism about Raul Ibanez was a bit presumptuous, even if I still regard him as little more than a hot hand to ride as opposed to a regular fantasy outfielder. Meanwhile, my boy Rick Porcello has gotten knocked around recently, including a dreadful start against the Orioles that saw him cough up seven earned runs. Fortunately for my ego, Wednesday’s guest star Leonys Martin launched two home runs that night against the Yankees, as he continues to evolve from being a pure speed option to a more well-rounded option capable of being slotted in the outfield of many standard mixed leagues.
June is ending and July is right around the corner. As we rub our eyes in disbelief, let’s continue our journey of finding fantasy gold among the depths of waiver wire world.
Jose Iglesias | Boston Red Sox | SS / 3B | 18 percent Yahoo ownership; 69.4 percent ESPN; 45 percent CBS
YTD: 130 PA / .419 / .469 / .556 with 1 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 354 PA / .330 / .379 / .420 with 2 HR and 6 SB
The Red Sox were only going to tolerate Will Middlebrooks and his .192 average at third base for so long, even after a successful rookie season that caused the team to part with Kevin Youkilis. Into the spotlight of full-time play comes Iglesias, 23, who already features shortstop eligibility and has produced an eye-opening .419 average in 130 plate appearances.
That average, bolstered by an insane .475 BABIP entering Thursday’s play, would be ticketed to come back down to earth even if he was a better hitter, but for a guy with a .257 / .307 / .314 minor league line, we’re waiting for gravity to do its thing. Still, the 12.3 percent strikeout rate and 89.3 percent contact rates have both shown improvement in Iglesias’ third season, so perhaps even a sharp regression won’t completely nix his fantasy value. He certainly leaves much to be desired in the home run and steals departments, and a look at his minor league numbers doesn’t inspire confidence that he’ll suddenly turn it around there.
To an extent, all this is immaterial, because we’re talking about a hot player who can satisfy two of the thinnest positions on the fantasy diamond, and what was likely holding back owners in many leagues from pouncing on Iglesias a few weeks ago was the lack of playing time. Middlebrooks is not nearly as awful as his average suggests, but he’s also not coming back tomorrow, and besides, with Stephen Drew forever an injury risk, there’s no reason to think that at least three or four weeks of regular playing time isn’t in the cards for Iglesias. Let’s just hope he’s gentle in gliding his batting average back to sustainable levels.
Recommendation: He doesn’t have the upside of, say, Didi Gregorius, but Iglesias could provide more consistency than Zack Cozart, making him a deeper mixed league player.
Eric Young | New York Mets | OF | 5 percent Yahoo ownership; 4.4 percent ESPN; 16 percent CBS
YTD: 212 PA / .268 / .317 / .381 with 1 HR and 9 SB
ZiPS updated: 429 PA / .254 / .314 / .358 with 3 HR and 23 SB
No, Eric Young Jr. will likely never turn into the all-star player that his dad was, but hey, athleticism is athleticism, and anyone who’s been watching Mets telecasts lately can testify that Young’s 1.020 OPS in seven games has produced a breath of fresh air atop the team’s feeble lineup. With Collin Cowgill out of the picture, Jordany Valdespin out of favor with manager Terry Collins and the Mets out of what people call competitive baseball, Young is going to get his share of at-bats, which, as far as fantasy owners are concerned, means stolen bases.
Young, 28, is already in his fifth major league season, and has a not-awful .267 / .334 / .350 line to show for it. He finished 2012 with a .316 average for the Rockies, and was earning regular playing time when an oblique injury ended his season in mid-August.
This year, Young has improved his line drive rate to a solid 21.5 percent, and is hitting the ball on the ground more compared to last year, which is a good sign for such a speedy player. (On that last note, it was wonderful to watch Young score on a shallow fly ball Tuesday against the White Sox’ Alex Rios, a daring play that most baserunners would never have dreamed of attempting.)
So far in New York, the steals haven’t arrived yet for Young, but that should change, given the Mets’ lack of offense and the presence of number-two hitter Daniel Murphy, an excellent contact man who provides solid protection for baserunners. Young isn’t a .300 hitter, but a .250-.260 average for a player who can produce steals in bunches isn’t such a drag as to nullify his fantasy usefulness. Expect his ownership levels to start climbing soon once people realize he has an everyday gig.
Recommendation: Young is just a one-category player for the time being, but he could quickly become a deeper mixed league option soon enough.
Nathan Eovaldi | Miami Marlins | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; .6 percent ESPN; 11 percent CBS
YTD: 12 IP / 3.00 ERA / 7.5 K/9 / 2.6 BB/9 with 1 win
ZiPS updated: 68 IP / 4.47 ERA / 6.8 K/9 / 3.8 BB/9 with 4 wins
This might sound a bit strange, but for me, the thing that’s most encouraging about the 23-year-old Eovaldi is his build: at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he looks like a power pitcher, and that’s not the least bit odd, because with a fastball that screams in the mid- to upper 90s, power is the word with this guy. After missing the first two and a half months with shoulder inflammation, Eovaldi, the centerpiece of last year’s blockbuster between Miami and Los Angeles, should certainly be able to count on having a full-time gig in the Marlins’ rotation for the rest of the year.
Being on the Marlins, of course, won’t do much to help Eovaldi get wins, and his career 6.02 K/9 shows his live arm has yet to translate to big strikeout numbers. (His punchout rate is better in the minors, but not near the strikeout-per-inning level that makes fantasy owners salivate.) The walks could also be a problem, since his control wasn’t much better compared to what ZiPS has in mind for him going forward in 2013.
But he’s pitched well so far in his two starts (even if the Diamondbacks and Giants’ lineups are hardly world beaters), allowing just three walks against 10 strikeouts. Of course, that’s a tiny sample size, and judging by Eovaldi’s ownership levels, the fantasy community by and large wants to see more out of this guy before pulling the trigger. But a live arm is a live arm, and with nothing if not opportunity ahead in 2013, Eovaldi is someone who should be on the radar screens of deeper mixed league owners.
Recommendation: He’s an immediate add in all NL-only leagues, even if mixed-leaguers might want to wait for a larger sample size.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 2:18am
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