All stats current through at least Monday, May 23.
With the calendar about to flip to June, and the 50-game mark in the rear view mirror, it’s just about trading season in world of fantasy baseball. Starting this week, I will make sure to cover at least one prime trade target weekly, and periodically give “sell-sell-sell” names as well. Here’s the skinny on the senior circuit.
Mike Minor | Braves | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (Triple-A): 52.2 IP, 2.73 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 54:14 K/BB (3.86)
Oliver ROS: 5.48 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 1.97 K/BB
As noted last week, 20-year-old Julio Teheran is not ready for the major leagues, and after his two poor spot starts, the Braves are giving Minor, Brandon Beachy‘s preseason rival for the fifth starter position, the call up to take Beachy’s spot while he is on the disabled list.
Like Beachy, Minor has destroyed upper minor hitting. In 14 Triple-A starts, Minor owns a strong 2.30 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, a disgusting 26.9 percent strikeout rate (on par with what Bud Norris has been doing at the major league level), and robust 3.50 K/BB ratio. Though his ERA (4.03) and WHIP (1.24) were a bit higher than that at Double-A last season, he was just as dominant with a 30.4 percent K r rate and 3.21 K/BB ratio. His minor league FIP is a reliable 3.37, and Baseball America likes Minor as having a higher ceiling than Beachy, who has already shown he can hold his own in the majors despite a similarly low groundball rate.
Minor has been almost as dominant as Teheran in Triple-A this season, sporting the International League’s seventh lowest ERA with a 2.73 mark and a sexy 1.16 WHIP, but he has done it with a better strikeout per nine rate (9.23) while offering better control (2.72 BB/9). Minor’s MLE ERA/FIP for the season seem a bit bleak (4.31 ERA, 1.43 WHIP), but may be the result of a career-high home run rate in the minor leagues.
Minor has struggled through his first few sips of coffee at the big league level (45.0 innings pitched, 6.40 ERA, 1.67 WHIP), but his peripherals (45:15 K/BB ratio, 3.86 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 4.01 tERA) show that he is capable of things just as bright as Beachy. The Braves have called up Minor to spot start Wednesday and make at least one more start at the end of the month, but if he does well enough in these outings, it is conceivable that he might stick in the Braves’ stacked rotation (particularly with Tim Hudson‘s back aching), even upon Beachy’s return. The Braves have a bright future in their minor league pitchers (Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, Carlos Perez and Brett Oberholtzer), and with Kris Medlen on the mend, the Braves could possess a rotation that would make the ’90s Braves blush within the next two years. Keep an eye on these guys as they develop, and nab Minor for most of the spot starts he gets to make this year.
Recommendation: Minor is a must-stream option while in the majors for all but the shallowest (10-team, 1,200-inning cap) leagues.
Anthony Rizzo | Padres | 1B | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (Triple-A): .377/.451.742
Oliver MLE: .301/.373/.551
One of the Padres’ consensus top three prospects heading into the season, Rizzo has done nothing but hit since coming over to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez trade in the offseason. Through just 40 games, Rizzo has blasted 14 home runs and 14 doubles for an other-worldly .365 ISO. He even has 56 RBI and 37 runs scored, and, to tantalize us further, stolen five bases. His sizzling .377/.451/742 triple-slash line is likely the byproduct of some combination of his league (PCL) and a .426 BABIP, but even if you ratchet down Rizzo’s current production to reflect his minor league career BABIP of .344 while maintaining his current power production, his slash line is a strong .347/.413/.712. Rizzo’s high walk rate (10.1 percent since 2009 began) and high power output (.201 ISO since the beginning of 2009) should offset some of the worry of his high, but improving strikeout rate (20.1 percent), but he should not be expected to be the “high average” hitter he’s shown himself to be at various points in the minor leagues.
Rizzo’s current MLE projects as a robust .301/.373/.551, though Oliver’s MLE forecasts do not consider park factors (they are context-neutral), the one true negative I can see about Rizzo’s future. Petco Park is the second worst park in the major leagues for left-handed hitters, depressing home run output by about 25 percent. (Fun fact: It suppresses right-handed homers by 10 percent, a more favorable number for Cameron Maybin than his old park.)
Rizzo’s MLE at bat per home run rate based on his current production at Triple-A projects as 17.1; when we factor in the park effect, it falls to a still solid 19.5. Given this sort of production Rizzo could produce 15 or so home runs for his big league club for the rest of the season if called up around June 1. Given that the Padres’ current production output by first basemen has been a paltry .218/.272/.325 on the year, Rizzo is only a super-two deadline or injury to Brad Hawpe away from a major league call-up. As I noted with Brandon Belt last week, the trick with minor league prospects is hopping on board before other owners in your league, while not wasting a bench spot too early. With June quickly approaching, now is the time to acquire; he’ll be hotter than Belt.
Recommendation Rizzo is a must-own prospect in NL-only and moderate (12-team, corner-infield requirements) or deeper mixed leagues. Shallow leagues (10 teams, especially those without CIs) should keep a close eye on Rizzo, but he is not a must-add in such formats).
Wilson Ramos | Nationals | C | 8 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .268/.307/.432
Catcher is rarely a productive position outside the top few names, and acquiring them, along with most “reliable” catchers, usually comes at a premium that overshadows their true production value. For example, the top five rated catchers— Victor Martinez (No. 42 overall preseason ranking), Buster Posey (44), Joe Mauer (52), Brian McCann (51) and Carlos Santana (275)—are currently ranked as the 163rd, 188th, 1027th, 261st and 275th overall fantasy players, respectively. They also have combined to hit 18 home runs, or as many as Jose Bautista. Only one catcher, Russell Martin, currently ranks within the current top 100 (at No. 95), and his production in May (.224/.348/.362, 2 HR, 8 R, 5 RBI) hardly matches what he did in April (.293/.376/.587, 6 HR, 13 R, 19 RBI). Of the top five catchers, only Vmart (No. 163) and Posey (No. 188) rank in the top 250, while $1 buys Alex Avila (No. 149) and Yadier Molina (No. 150), who join them (and Martin) as the only five fantasy catchers in the top 200.
What this means is that if you own a top tier, brand name catcher, you would be wise to sell him. His actual fantasy value likely far outweighs his actual value, and you could be seriously helping your team with a stronger overall player at a different position. At the same time, however, you could easily acquire a strong stopgap in Wilson Ramos, who is available in more than 90 percent of Yahoo leagues. Currently batting .272/.347/.447, Ramos has seemingly repented from his old “swing at anything” ways with a solid 12 walks in 33 games played (9.8 percent walk rate). Though Ramos tends to chop the ball into the ground more often than he hits it in the air, he has flashed slightly better than league average power numbers through his young career (.151 ISO, four home runs through 55 games played).
Ramos’ current output (.272 average, 17 R, 11 RBI, 3 HR, 0 SB) currently ranks as the 16th best production by a catcher, but if he maintains his current pace, which I doubt several of the catchers ahead of him will for the rest of the season, he could squeak by as a top 12 catcher with a .270 batting average and 10-15 home runs by season’s end. As long as his strikeout rate (currently 18.9 percent (K/PA)) stays in check, Ramos’ .301 BABIP and .312 xBABIP indicate that his production to date is sustainable. Ivan Rodriguez is no longer a real obstacle to future playing time, so if Ramos is available on your league’s Waiver Wire, and if you have a top name catcher on your roster, do the smart thing and upgrade your team.
Recommendation: Ramos is a must-own second catcher in two-catcher formats, a must-own catcher in NL-only formats, and ownable/borderline should be owned commodity in single-catcher mixed leagues with 12 or more teams.
Carlos Gonzales | Colorado | OF | 99 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .296/.345/.520
CarGo, like many other top-name, first-round studs this season, has under-produced his draft day cost and hurt fantasy owners everywhere. Despite a career best 17.0 percent strikeout rate (K/PA), a career high 9.9 percent walk rate, and a much improved chase rate (3.14 percent compared to last season’s 37.0 percent) for pitches outside the zone, Gonzalez is posting a paltry .245/.324/.415 line on the season. His ISO, which sat at .241 in 2009 and .262 in 2010, is down to .170 this season. Those are hardly negatives, however, given that ISO requires 550 or so plate appearances before reliable conclusions can be made, and given that CarGo’s current BABIP (.264) is a career low mark that is far off his career rate of .343 and expected BABIP, based on his current season numbers, of .332.
If we normalize Gonzalez’s BABIP to reflect his xBABIP, even holding his power rate constant, his line boosts to a strong .301/.362/.471. There is nothing wrong with CarGo sans his luck and excessive regression in power, as his ISO should sit above .200 the rest of the way, but less savvy CarGo owners might be frustrated with his first 44 games of the season. With whispers of a lingering groin injury, the time to poach CarGo from an under-appreciative owner is now. CarGo’s true talent line is not on par with what he did last year, but he is .285+/25/25 capable batting in the middle of a 50 percent Coors-fueled lineup. As his six home runs and six steals through roughly a quarter of the season indicate, he is still productive when he is struggling.
Owners everywhere likely overpaid for his realistic production rate, and that buyer’s remorse may fuel a prime purchasing opportunity. He won’t come cheap, but you can likely get him at “market” or slightly better price, when most top 30 fantasy players placed on the trading block cost a pretty premium. He was recently traded, along with Zack Britton, for Curtis Granderson. As much as I love Granderson, his splits and substantially lower expected batting average and stolen base totals would make such a swap not only ideal, but a possible league-winning move.
Recommendation: CarGo is a buy-low commodity of the highest order, and with his present injury concerns and April-suppressed numbers on the season, now is the prime time to relieve some other owner of his services.
Jason Giambi | Rockies | 1B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .251/.370/.473
There is little to say about Jason Giambi other than he’ll likely get “full time” playing time during inter-league games away against American League teams as either the Rockies’ DH or first baseman. Given the depth of the Rockies’ lineup, Giambi could make a quality short-term power/RBI play for owners in June. Giambi launched three home runs (seven RBI) on May 19, adding another home run the next day against Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke. His bat has been quiet otherwise the rest of the season (28 AB, .143/.250/.250, 1 homer). Employ at your own risk—just know he’s out there and could make a splash.
Recommendation: Worth owning for interleague play, where he figures to hog time at DH.
Seth Smith | Rockies | OF | 22 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .274/.349/.485
Smith is a player with a severe platoon split (.269 career wOBA versus LHP, .381 career wOBA versus RHP) that makes him underrated Frankenstein fodder. While most fantasy owners invest in players who can man a position or two in as many of their team’s games as possible, there’s an art to using your bench to put two players with severe splits to create elite positional production. That requires micromanaging and is practiced by just a few savvy, intelligent owners.
Smith is displaying his usual splits (.222 average against left-handers, .321 average against RHP), but getting far more regular playing time. To maximize Smith’s value, however, he should be used in tandem with a lefty-crusher, and thus what is important is what he is doing against righties (who make up the majority of starting pitchers). Through 118 plate appearances versus RHP this season, Smith has four home runs and a robust .245 ISO, a few ticks up from his career ISO of .230. Smith is also batting sixth this season, behind OBP machine Todd Helton, as well as Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. This has led to plenty of RBI opportunities. Smith’s RBI pace versus RHP is currently at a solid 80 per 600 plate appearances.
Smith also also bats in front of Jose Lopez and Chris Iannetta, who have plenty of pop to float Smith’s runs scored total. All in all, paired with the “right” (get it?) platoon mate, such as Marlon Byrd‘s replacement Reed Johnson, you could construct top 75-type production out of a pair of widely available commodities.
Recommendation: Smith should be owned in all NL-only formats and 50+ outfielder mixed formats, and should be used in a platoon with a right-handed batter on your bench if possible.
Mike Morse | Nationals | 1B, OF | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .276/.331/.469
A popular preseason sleeper, Morse was a disaster for patient owners (and the Nationals) in April. Over 79 plate appearances, Morse hit .211, hitting only one long ball and successfully stealing as few bases (one) as he was caught trying. Morse lost his starting outfield job to Laynce Nix (brother of Jayson Nix), owners universally dropped Morse, and no one’s really been paying attention to his stock since. But that is a mistake. Over his past 19 games (48 plate appearances), Morse is batting over .350 (albeit with more sac flies (one) than walks (zero)), with three home runs, eight RBI and a .200 ISO that has raised his overall season numbers to more closely mirror preseason expectations. With Adam LaRoche on the disabled list with a shoulder injury that is worse than initially thought, the hot hitting Morse figures to fill in the majority of the playing time at first base for the Nationals, who have been batting Morse in the No. 4/5 hole behind Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, and ahead of Danny Espinosa. That sort of lineup slotting, particularly with Werth’s strong on-base skills, could lead to plenty of runs batted in and a respectable number of runs to go along with 20-25 home run power.
Recommendation: Because of his upside and lineup slotting, Morse is a must-own commodity in NL-Only and 50+ OF mixed leagues. Morse’s positional flexibility also makes him quality corner infield-utility play as well.
Jerry Sands | Dodgers | OF | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .245/.318/.462
Sands began his major league career hitting with a wiffle ball bat, hitting .189/.259/.302 through his first 15 games played, striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances without any home runs despite owning a .260 ISO in Double-A last season and blasting five home runs in only 45 Triple-A plate appearances this year. The Dodgers have been patient with Sands, however, and he has recently rewarded them, as well as patient fantasy owners, over the past two weeks with the kind of production I touted him having a month ago when I first recommended rostering Sands.
Since May 7, Sands has come to the plate 49 times, and in those 49 opportunities, Sands has gone yard twice with nine runs batted in to go along with 12 hits and 10 walks. Sands’ batting average over this period is well above .300. He is currently slotted in the No. 5 spot of the Dodgers’ lineup, behind Matt Kemp, and when Andre Ethier returns, it is possible that Sands will remain in the spot (with James Loney getting returned to the basement of the lineup, where he belongs) with even more RBI opportunities.
Sands is an impact player who is starting to heat up, and as the weather starts to get warmer, more of Sands’ doubles should begin leave the yard. I still stand behind <"a href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/nl-waiver-wire-week-3/">everything I wrote in Week 3, so consult that for further details on Jerry Sands and what I think he’ll do this year (quick summary: “A .260 batting average with 20-25 home runs and double digit steals is entirely in the cards for the rest of the season if Sands is given regular playing time”). You are officially on notice and advised to make an immediate add, before other owners get wise.
Recommendation: Jerry Sands is a top 60 outfielder who is a must-own player in NL-only and moderate sized mixed leagues. Sands, more so than Ryan Ludwick, should be owned as a quality source of a power off at least the bench in shallower leagues as well.
Travis Wood | Reds | SP | 21 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.17 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.44 K/9, 2.75 BB, 34.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.04 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.15 K/BB
I planned to use this space to write about how Travis Wood was an underrated pitcher whose FIP (3.39) and xFIP (3.67), coupled with a solid 46:17 (2.71) K/BB ratio over 55.2 innings pitched, made Wood a premium buy-low target in light of his bloated 5.17 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. I plugged his seasonal numbers into my latest version of the xWHIP calculator, however, and, well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the image stand on its own. (I do not have runs-created by event data for 2011, so the expected tERA cell is set to “0.00″):
Recommendation: Wood is a spot starter at best in mixed formats, while a borderline thrird starting pitcher in NL-only. Shallow leagues can ignore him, and owners might be best served trying to convince saber-savvy league mates that they are “buying low.”
As always, leave the love hate/in the comments below; I’m pretty quick to respond.