December 12, 2013
And here's the full roster.
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Monday, June 24, 2013
The Toronto Blue Jays climbed out of last place in the American League East over the weekend, which is a noteworthy sentence on two levels.
First, it's still fairly astounding that the Jays were in the cellar at all. Among our predictions prior to this season, just one Hardball Times staffer had the Jays anywhere other than first or second place —Chris Jaffe, who pegged Toronto for dead last. Of the other 20 picks, 11 writers had the team as the AL East preseason favorite, and the remaining nine labeled it for second place. We here at THT like to think we know a thing or two about baseball, so to see a complete, system-wide whiff is pretty wild.
It's striking, as well, because the Jays weren't in last by a small margin. Nick Fleder wrote an AL East division update last week, which included this graph, depicting just how improbable the Jays' current situation is. On June 7th, the team was eight games out of second-to-last place, let alone playoff position. The team was 10.5 games off the division pace and 8.5 games behind in the Wild Card race. Today, those numbers are six and four, respectively.
From a fantasy perspective, there's a lesson in this: it's never too late. Never, ever. No matter what place you're in now, no matter how bad things seem, you never really know. A few hot streaks, a few good pickups, and you're right back in it. So keep on keeping on, you guys.
Last week, I covered a number of my calls from the early parts of this season, and if my statistics are to be believed, you should disregard one out of every three recommendations I make. Good luck figuring out which ones ahead of time.
Today, let's look at three players in the beginning stages of their major league careers, each of whom is widely available in fantasy leagues.
Jordy Mercer | Pittsburgh Pirates | SS | ESPN: 2.4 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 2 percent; CBS: 6 percent
YTD: .297/.345/.495 in 122 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .263/.312/.420 in 357 PA
What a season for Pittsburgh thus far. The team has very famously not had a winning season since 1992, but with the second-best record in baseball, the club seems well on its way to put that streak to bed this year. Despite all of the good, one position that's lacking for the Bucs is shortstop.
As good as Clint Barmes is defensively, he's been mostly clueless at bat. His .201/.234/.268 triple slash is so putrid that he's actually a negative-WAR player right now at -0.1. So it is with this in mind that fantasy owners should regard Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer.
Mercer has been playing every day lately for Pittsburgh, moving around the lineup from second to eighth to ninth. When he's been in the lineup, he's performed well. His BABIP is a tad high at .354, and his home run rate of 14.3 percent probably will drop, as well. His major league ISO of .198 right now is well ahead of the rate he posted in the upper minors from 2010 to 2013. According to Minor League Central, his ISO averaged .163 from 2011-2013 at Double-A and Triple-A.
Still, his triple slash during that time of .273/.339/.436 is not bad, and that is particularly true for such a shallow position. There's value here in deep leagues. The Pirates have no incentive to keep dangling Barmes out at shortstop, since his bat is now less than passable, and Mercer's defense has been strong, as well. Given consistent playing time on a very good team and possibly hitting as high as second in the lineup, Mercer might be worth something.
Recommendation: Current levels of production are unlikely to continue, but this player is available everywhere and can provide modest power and walks from a very thin position.
Marc Krauss | Houston Astros | OF | ESPN: 0.0 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 0.0 percent; CBS: 1 percent
YTD: .000/.000/.000 in 2 PA
ZiPS projection: .209/.290/.351
Call-up season is well upon us, and although many prospects will come up with much fanfare (see: Puig, Yasiel; Myers, Wil), they aren't the only players embarking on this next, most difficult phase of their professional baseball career.
One such player who got the call this week is Marc Krauss, an outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter brought to the big leagues by the Astros over the weekend. Krauss was a second-round pick by the Diamondbacks back in 2009 and often has been compared to Adam Dunn, in both flattering and unflattering ways.
Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Krauss in its 2011 annual:
Krauss has a frame similar to that of Adam Dunn, though he doesn't possess as much raw power. Then again, who does possess Dunn's raw power? In further Big Donkey-like fashion, the lefty swinger is a poor fielder with a subpar arm, but he hits well enough to play an outfield corner. He should start the season at Double-A, and will be looking to build on a monster second half of last season.Krauss didn't exactly build on that monster-like season, however, and over this past offseason was dealt to the Astros along with Bobby Borchering for Chris Johnson (who then was dealt to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal as a part of the Diamondbacks' wild, wild offseason.)
So Krauss made his major league debut with very little fanfare and without a starting job, but there are things I like in his profile—namely, power and patience. It's not Adam Dunn power, nor is it Adam Dunn patience, but since 2011, Krauss has posted a .260/.374/.469 triple-slash line with a .209 ISO.
His defense never has drawn rave reviews, and many observiers are concerned about the way his body will go from here, but there's something else in his profile that draws me to Krauss on a more long-term basis.
I've made no secret of my appreciation for Seth Smith in this column, as a guy who (against right-handed pitchers) can be as useful as many outfielders with much higher name value. Against righties over his career, Smith has a .370 wOBA, which is just a shade under 2013 Ryan Braun. It matters that you cannot use him at all against lefties, but he has value that most managers don't care to see.
I could see the same being the case with Krauss down the line. His minor league numbers are good, even considering that he's never been young for his league and played in some hitter-friendly environments, but his minor league numbers against right-handed pitcher are even better. His triple slash from 2011-2013 against righties is a robust .268/.386/.493.
Since his suspect defense probably will keep a team from committing a full-time job to him, and because he's going to be a low-average guy, I could see him falling into a career path similar to Smith. If fantasy owners can manage his playing time, there's meat on the bone.
Recommendation: Krauss is not worth adding yet but is worth watching. He's a player who could have value if he falls into the right situation. Down the line, he could make a fine fantasy platoon partner.
Zoilo Almonte | New York Yankees | OF | ESPN: 4.3 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 4 percent; CBS: 15 percent
YTD: .625/.700/1.000 in 10 PA
ZiPS projection: .253/.303.435 in 230 PA
Speaking of callups, Mr. Puig, and the hype machine ...
I'm including Almonte here mostly to caution against over-exuberance when it comes to players making the outrageously difficult jump from Triple-A to Major League Baseball.
Almonte made his major league debut last Friday, and it's gone well. I won't dispute that. An OPS of 1.700 is an OPS of 1.700, regardless of context, except ... context matters. And when I saw Jeff Lippman at CBS casually mention that some are referring to Almonte as "the Yasiel Puig of the East," I absolutely had to investigate. All I could find was this article on Bleacher Report.
And really, comparing the two is just plain silly. Puig is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound mountain of a man and a player for which very little data existed before last year. In his brief time stateside, Puig hit the stitches off the ball.
Almonte is nothing like that guy. He's a 6-foot, 165-pound switch hitter for whom we have a very extensive minor league track record that tells us he is not nearly the power hitting Puig is. Over his last three seasons, at Double-A and Triple-A, Almonte's ISO is .180.
His walk rate is pretty respectable, though. During that same time frame, Almonte walked in 8.2 percent of his plate appearances. He's also shown good contact and could be an average hitter at the game's highest level. But he's not going to have Puig-like power, and his playing time is far from a sure thing going forward, so expectations must be tempered.
Recommendation: This is not Yasiel Puig. I don't even think he's Marc Krauss. Don't lose yourself in call-up hype this year. Sometimes it's warranted, and sometimes you're reading about Zoilo Almonte.
Posted by Jack Weiland at 3:04am (4) Comments
Shortstop is an especially thin position in fantasy leagues this year, due to a combination of injuries and good old poor performance. Many of the top options at the position, such as Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Asdrubal Cabrera, are currently on the disabled list. Hanley Ramirez has only managed to play in 19 games this year, and Derek Jeter has yet to see the field at all.
Then there’s a slew of highly owned shortstops who have struggled mightily. Jimmy Rollins is the No. 14 shortstop on the year so far, but at least he’s not Starlin Castro, who finds himself all the way down at No. 24 on the list. The fact that Castro is still owned in over ninety percent of leagues blows my mind; I can’t even make a case for owning him in a twelve-team, mixed redraft league at this point.
To illustrate how truly putrid shortstop has been in fantasy this year, I’ll point out that Elvis Andrus is hitting a paltry .240 and is the ninth-best shortstop on the player rater for the season. Replacement options are scarce, but a position thief in Pittsburgh has swashbuckled his way into fantasy relevance.
Jordy Mercer (Ownership rates: 2% Yahoo, 2.4% ESPN, 6% CBS)
Mercer, a third-round draft pick in 2008 out of Oklahoma State, has completely taken over the starting shortstop job for the Bucs. Clint Barmes seems a mere afterthought after Mercer’s ten consecutive starts at the position over the last two weeks. I saw Mercer play several times in college, and I always wondered whether his hit tool would play at the higher levels.
In college, Mercer was right around a .300 hitter with 25 homers in three seasons. Keep in mind that this was before the NCAA switched to the offense-suppressing new bats; a .300 collegiate hitter wasn’t exactly impressive in that offensive environment. As he climbed through the minors, my concerns seemed valid, as he posted a batting average around .260 at most of his minor-league stops.
Then, last year, something seemed to change. Mercer developed an ability to get on base that he hadn’t shown before. He posted a much-improved .287/.357/.421 slash line in Triple-A, good enough to get him a call to the majors. He was used mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter with the Pirates in 2012, logging just 68 plate appearances in 42 games. He never got a chance to get into a rhythm, posting a modest .210/.265/.371 line in his limited chances at the plate.
This year, Mercer showed the Pirates enough in Triple-A (.333/.404/.448) for them to bring him back up and eventually give him the starting job over Barmes. To put it simply, he has excelled. So far this year, his slash line is sitting at .297/.345/.495, good enough for a .360 wOBA through 122 plate appearances. The four homers and three steals he’s contributed aren’t exactly hurting his cause, either. He’s not likely to keep up this level of production all year, but the Pirates certainly seem to have found something here.
Since being handed the starting job in Pittsburgh, Mercer has been a top-eight fantasy shortstop. His ceiling is probably low double-digit homers and steals, but with the scarcity of shortstop production this year, he’s absolutely worth a look in deeper formats—or if you’re one of those people who decided that you needed a 74-game sample before you stop letting Castro flush your team down the toilet.
As a quick side note to wrap things up, if you didn’t follow my advice about picking up Kyle Gibson, do so now. He’s expected to make his first big-league start on Saturday. Coincidentally, as I predicted, Gibson is taking Pedro Hernandez’s roster spot (Hernandez had been recalled for an emergency spot start on Sunday). It just took considerably longer for Gibson to crack the majors than I had hoped.
Posted by Scott Strandberg at 5:08am (0) Comments
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
I always find the end of June to be a bittersweet time for baseball because the season is basically half over, All-Star balloting is taking hold, and so many fantasy breakout stars have already made their mark.
On the other hand, it’s a long season, and as guys go down with injuries—or plain ineptitude—opportunity knocks for so many others. This week, we’ll take a look at two American League options who recently have received considerable notice in fantasy circles.
Esmil Rogers | Toronto Blue Jays | SP | 7.0 percent Yahoo ownership; 11.6 percent ESPN; 49 percent CBS
YTD: 54.2 IP / 3.46 ERA / 5.3 K/9 / 2.8 BB/9 with 3 wins
ZiPS updated: 102 IP / 3.98 ERA / 6.5 K/9 / 3 BB/9 with 5 wins
What a difference a week makes.
I say that because since I last wrote, the Blue Jays exploded and just completed an 11-game winning streak, a stretch that saw the team pull above .500 and, perhaps, re-enter the 2013 playoff picture. Unfortunately, Monday’s loss came at the expense of Rogers, who, up until then, had put together a nice four-start stretch for the team, going 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA, 0.919 WHIP and a nearly 7 K/9.
With the Blue Jays pushing their way back into the throes of respectable baseball society, and with Rogers perhaps sticking in the team’s rotation for good following the injuries to Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ, is he worth adding?
Rogers, 27, certainly has a live arm, with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. Problem is, the strikeouts haven’t been there, as his career 8.4 percent swinging-strike rate actually has taken a bit of a tumble so far in 2013. Add in a declining first-strike rate, and you have a guy whose K/9 is, if anything, a detriment to fantasy owners adding him.
He’s also displayed something of a sharp home/away split, as Rogers has pitched significantly better at the Rogers Centre than on the road, as hitters’ OPS against him is nearly 300 points less north of the border.
I’m also concerned about his 78.6 percent strand rate, a mark that, by itself, is high but not crazy, except that it would represent a 12 percentage point jump over his career mark were he to maintain it throughout the season. Since I’m going to assume that’s unlikely, that means that ERA is going to head toward 4.00 once reality sets in.
It’s certainly possible that Rogers could pull a Hisashi Iwakuma and become more of a strikeout artist after moving to the starting rotation, but even a 7.0 K/9 is not going to offset a pedestrian ERA. The Blue Jays may have been built to win in 2013, but they’re still missing Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, so wins aren’t a guaranteed commodity up in Canada, either.
Rogers is a solid addition in AL-only leagues, but for the time being, I’m content to leave it at that.
Recommendation: Pass in mixed leagues.
Leonys Martin | Texas Rangers | OF | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 19 percent ESPN; 51 percent CBS
YTD: 188 PA / .282 / .335 / .418 with 3 HR and 12 SB
ZiPS update: 396 PA / .278 / .331 / .417 with 7 HR and 21 SB
I was a bit worried that I’d be writing this column too late to mention Martin, who took over the Rangers’ center field job a few days ago and, perhaps, was fast rising out of the waiver-wire realm and into the mainstream fantasy baseball community. His CBS ownership clearly has risen, but he’s still widely available in Yahoo and ESPN and, thus, still ripe for a look here.
That’s good for you and me, because Martin is a speed demon who also has shown flashes of power in his professional career. Let’s start with the speed: 12 stolen bases so far in just 65 games, and that’s a bit unfair when you consider he hasn’t been a full-time player for the bulk of 2013. With a steady diet of ballgames from here on out, it’s completely reasonable to believe that Martin, 25, could add 20 thefts to his season total.
Can he hit well enough to keep himself in the lineup? Martin loves hitting at Arlington (who doesn’t?) and flashes superior numbers against right-handed hurlers, which a) might make him a platoon option in fantasy in the immediate future and b) risks allowing Craig Gentry to go back to siphoning off at-bats if Martin struggles.
Otherwise, Martin—who bashed 12 home runs in Triple-A last year in just 260 plate appearances—has passable walk and strikeout rates and has yet to hit under .250 in any month thus far in 2013.
That doesn’t make him superstar material, but even a mediocre batting average should be enough to merit Martin’s use in far more mixed leagues that count steals as a category. If he can keep the average in the .270-.280 range and mix in some home runs, well, it’d be hard to not call him a must-start in mixed leagues.
Recommendation: With an everyday job, Martin can be used in 12-team mixed leagues.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 3:04am (4) Comments
Thursday, June 27, 2013
It can be difficult to evaluate rookie players in fantasy, if for no other reason than they rarely play the full season. For a player like Nolan Arenado who gets called up a month into the year, counting stats will always look worse than similar players because of their April head starts.
One of the benefits of basing Z-score calculations on a per-game basis is that you can compare two players with different amounts of playing time. Of course, even the rookies that started on Opening Day are just a half-season into their careers, so I definitely do not recommend using these results to set your expectations going forward. However, it is fun to compare everyone on the same scale.
Here are the 2013 qualified rookie hitters through the games on Saturday, June 22 and using the eight-point roto tiers without batting average scaled by at-bats:
One of these players is not like the others. It has only been 18 games for Yasiel Puig, but what he has accomplished is still rather remarkable. The 4.30 zAvg stands out because it is based on a .435 batting average compiled over 74 plate appearances—and with a .511 BABIP—but his power, speed and run production numbers are all positive contributors, as well. Even more remarkable than Puig is how small his 11.31 zTotal advantage is over Trout’s full-season 10.55 zTotal last season.
Jose Iglesias has a 4.38 zAvg similar to that of Puig. His is based on 117 plate appearances but is also propped up by a .500 BABIP. In contrast to Puig, none of his other categories are significant positive contributors. For a prospect noted for his glove and decidedly not his bat, his regression will revert Iglesias into a less-useful Andrelton Simmons.
Yan Gomes has six home runs in 108 plate appearances this season. Combined with his totals in Toronto last season, he now has 10 home runs in 129 plate appearances. If Gomes can be a 30-home run player—and his career 16.7 percent HR/FB rate does not look anomalous, so it seems possible—it will be hard to leave him on the bench. Carlos Santana is better suited as a DH, in any case. Over a full season, if Gomes could maintain his 1.46 zTotal pace, he would outproduce A.J. Pierzynski from last season. In fact, Joe Mauer, Jonathan Lucroy, Wilin Rosario, and Buster Posey were the only four catchers to exceed Gomes’ current total in 2012.
Scott Van Slyke will have a difficult time finding room in Yasiel Puig’s outfield, but as a 26-year-old non-prospect, I was surprised to find that Van Slyke had eight home runs in 131 career plate appearances. Interestingly, he never exceeded 23 home runs at any stop in the minors, but he did hit 18 or more in each stop where he received 400 or more plate appearances. His 19.5 percent HR/FB rate would be elite, so I am more skeptical of his ability to continue to hit them at a similar rate. Since he has a sub-.300 on-base with a 6.1 percent career walk rate, I am skeptical that he’ll have much of a career in the majors at all.
Leonys Martin is the one stand-out basestealer in the crowd. His 12 steals in 184 plate appearances makes me believe a 10-40 season could be in his future. Unfortunately, Martin does not take many walks. Currently, his .337 on-base is fine, but it is propped up by his .283 average. Again, that will have a chance to remain high because of his speed, but will have to improve his plate discipline to before I’m ready to call him Brett Gardner.
You’re never surprised when rookies fail to deliver in fantasy, but the one notable poor performer is Jurickson Profar. Profar has 106 plate appearances, so there’s not much to go on, but only two home runs and no steals makes it hard to be an impact player in fantasy. Profar may be the No. 1 prospect in baseball, but remember that plus defense at shortstop is incredibly valuable. Profar would be tremendously successful if he did that and mirrored Starlin Castro’s development at the plate. Obviously that is valuable at a scarce position, but without the steals, Profar will have a ceiling as a low-end top-10 shortstop.
Posted by Scott Spratt at 3:04am (5) Comments
Friday, June 28, 2013
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 (7) Comments
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.