All statistics current through at least June 1.
Jordan Lyles | Astros | SP | 4 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.57 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 5.14 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 38.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 5.07 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
I had the pleasure of witnessing Lyles’ quality major league debut/Carlos Marmol‘s historic blown save this week at Wrigley. While Lyles performed well as a 20-year-old rookie who entered the season as the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, expectations must be tempered for this season.
First, Lyles’ performance (7 IP, 2 ER, 0 HR, 4:0 K/BB) came against the Cubs, who collectively own a team wOBA of .323 (95 wRC+). That’s five percent below average when Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd are in the lineup, let alone a healthy Geovany Soto (for information on what his last shoulder injury did to his performance, see 2009).
Second, Wandy Rodriguez is slated to come off the disabled list this weekend, so unless the Astros want to return Rule 5 pick Aneury Rodriguez to the Rays, Lyles is likely the odd man out irrespective of how he performs against San Diego this weekend.
Third, how many players who are under 21 make their major league debut, let alone hack it a full season, in the major leagues. Starlin Castro, Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton did it last season, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like Julio Teheran, Lyles may bounce back-and-forth between the majors and minors this year to make emergency spots starts for the team or replace an injured pitcher, but his sticking power is limited.
Fourth, the Astros are one of the worst teams in baseball. Why would the Astros wind up Lyles’ service clock unnecessarily (well, other than possible changes to the collective bargaining agreement this offseason).
Fifth, and finally, Lyles, for all his ceiling, is probably not entirely ready to pitch at the major league level. At Triple-A this year, Lyles posted a fine 2.56 K/BB ratio over 59 innings, but his strikeout rate (17.2 percent) is below average by any measure (6.25 K/9). Lyles has flashed better strikeout stuff before being promoted to Triple-A last season, so the upside is there, but his 2011 MLEs (4.45 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.6 K/9) indicate there is more seasoning to be done before he’s anything more than a middle/end-of-the-rotation innings eater with a fastball that barely touches 90.
That said, Lyles is probably a good spot start this weekend against the Padres at Petco. Lyles profiles as a (slight) flyball pitcher, and thus Petco can limit any longball damage. That, and the Padres are hardly an offensive threat (.285 team wOBA, 82 wRC+). Lyles profiles as a low-end No. 2, solid No. 3 starter according to the scouting reports I have read, so keeper leagues should not get too excited over him either, at least not until he does something worth getting excited about.
Recommendation: Lyles is a good spot start stream start this weekend, but is not worth a roster spot except in deeper NL-only leagues or NL-only leagues with deep benches.
Mark Melancon | Astros | RP | 40 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7.24 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 61.0% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.25 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
Unless you play in an AL-only league, or a league where saves are irrelevant, there is no reason that Melancon should not be universally owned. As a closer, he gets saves. Only 30 or so pitchers at any given time can claim that, and saves are a “scarce” commodity in most leagues. In 10-team leagues, that averages three closers per team, and in the numerous 12+ team leagues I play in, almost everyone aims to own at least three, often four, closers and at least one elite set-up man. You feel dirty paying for saves, but, especially if you don’t, and especially if you do and invested in a guy like Joakim Soria this year, you need to troll the waiver wire religiously to stay competitive.
No matter who you own, unless you lead the league in saves by a comfortable margin, you absolutely cannot pass a closer floating on the waiver wire. At the very least, he is trade bait. He might also act as insurance. No closer is ever truly safe. That is the truth about junk closers, of which Melancon is not.
Melancon is actually an average reliever. He throws hard (92.2 mph fastball), has two-plus pitches (in addition to his fastball/curveball combo, he periodically throws a cutter and change-up), induces a healthy diet of groundballs (61 percent this season, 56.5 percent career), and gets a good number of batters to strike out (19.8 percent career, 9.3 percent swinging strike rate). His seasonal walks per nine rate (2.63) is also improved over his career mark of 3.60, which is not much worse than league average (3.25) to begin with.
Melacon, 26 years old, is replacing Brandon Lyon, who is old (turning 32 in August), overpaid, on the last year of his contract, and not particularly good at pitching. Lyon’s career 4.11 ERA is in line with his career FIP/xFIP, but the league average ERA/FIP for relievers, as it was even before this and last season, is below the 4.00 mark. Lyon is what he is at this point in his career, while Melancon has upside and team control. The last place Astros can afford to give Melancon a leash this season to audition for the team’s future closer job, and I see no indication that they won’t.
Recommendation: If Melacon is, for some reason, trolling on your league’s waiver wire, then please, no matter what format you play as long as saves are counted, go pick him up.
Juan Miranda | Diamondbacks | 1B | 6 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .268/.345/.477
One of my favorite “fantasy legal” team names I created in the preseason was Miranda v. Arizona., named affectionately over the eponymous case and in anticipation of Miranda’s competition with Russell Branyan for playing time in the snake-bitten desert. Less than two months into the season, with the loss of Kendrys Morales for the season, the Angels have acquired Branyan, who is now Mark Trumbo owners’ problem. For Miranda, however, it means fantasy gold.
Despite a slow start and limited plate appearances in April (47 PA, .231/.348/.385 triple-slash line, one home run), Miranda posted a red-hot May (77 PA, four home runs, .262/.377/.538, .389 wOBA, .915 OPS) that has pushed his seasonal numbers into fantasy relevance. As a first basemen, Miranda is pretty run of the mill (.224 ISO, 12.5 percent walk percentage, 23.4 K/PA), but his performance on the season (.824 OPS, 25+ homer/80 RBI pace) outshines first basemen who have higher ownership rates, such as Carlos Lee, Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche, Freddie Freeman, and Matt LaPorta. Miranda won’t win you any games, but if you own any of the aforementioned players, I would strongly advise swapping them out for Miranda, who should have respectable corner infield numbers batting behind Miguel Montero for the rest of the season.
Recommendation: Miranda is a must-own NL-only commodity and should at least be plucked up as a bench player in moderately sized mixed leagues (12+ teams, corner infield requirements) with deep benches (five-plus spots).
Allen Craig | Cardinals | 2B, OF | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .281/.338/.465
A top five Cardinals prospect heading into 2010, Allen Craig did not disappoint in Triple-A last season. Walking 9.7 percent of the time with plenty of pop (.229 ISO), Craig slashed .320/.389/.549 (.405 ISO, 138 wRC+) with the 17th highest batting average of all players with 200-plus plate appearances in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Craig did not do much in his 44-game cup of coffee at The Show last season (.246/.298/.412), but still hit a combined 28 homers between Triple-A and the majors in only 474 plate appearances after hitting 26 at Triple-A in 2009, and a combined 25 over 135 games at Double-A between 2007 and 2008.
In light of this, perhaps Craig’s emergence this season (.337/.402/.537) should not come as too much of a surprise. Oliver’s MLEs on Craig’s performances in the minor leagues in 2009 and 2010 both eclipsed the .800 OPS mark, forecasting him as a 20-25 home run, .270+ hitting, and average-or-better on-base capable bat through his prime years.
He has played all over the diamond (though currently only second base/outfield eligible, Craig has also logged limited time at first and third base and has been touted in past scouting reports for his positional flexibility). While he profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder for the rest of the year, as a second basemen, he is very likely to continue to rate as a top 12 option for a position whose collective members around the league are batting a paltry .250/.313/.370 (.683 OPS). If Craig is around, particularly if you need middle infield help, get rid of Maicer Izturis and ride the Craig wave.
Recommendation: Craig should be owned in all formats, including 10-team mixed leagues.
Raul Ibanez | Phillies | OF | 50 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .274/.344/.484
Thanks to a quietly awesome May (.315/.339/.602, seven home runs, 18 runs, 19 RBI), Ibanez is back on pace for classic Ibanez numbers (25 home runs, 90 runs/RBI) after a dreadful April (.161/.247/.218) that had many convinced that he was done as a starting player. Domonic Brown‘s presence in the Phillies outfield may carve out some of Ibanez’s playing time in favor of John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Francisco, but if the past two weeks are any indication, Ibanez is not the odd man out yet. Available in half of the leagues, Ibanez could be a quiet source of of a .285 batting average, 15-plus home runs, 60 RBI and 50 or so runs for the rest of the year with Brown and Chase Utley in the lineup and Shane Victorino set to return soon.
Recommendation: Ibanez should be owned in mixed leagues employing 36 or more outfielders, and all but the shallowest of NL-only formats.
Michael Morse | Nationals | 1B, OF | 37 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .287/.339/.499
Last week, I strongly urged fantasy owners to pick up Mike Morse, who hit .409 for the week with a pair of home runs and five RBI over six games in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak that has finally raised his batting average north of the .300 mark.
Nothing I wrote about him last week has changed. His whose ownership has increased drastically (from 5 percent to 37 percent), but not enough. Morse is easily a top 60 outfield eligible player, and a strong corner infield option, for the rest of the season. He is a rare, quality source of home runs (i.e., with a batting average that won’t hurt you), and should rack up plenty of RBI batting in the middle of the Nats lineup while stealing a handful of bases. If for some reason he’s available in your league, chances are he’s better than your worst roster player. Fantasy folk absolutely need to give this guy, who homered in four consecutive games, a flier.
Recommendation: Morse is a must-own outfielder in all but the most shallow of leagues (10-team, three outfielders per team) with no bench spaces.
Danny Espinosa | Nationals | 2B | 18 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .235/.303/.413
If Espinosa is not owned by more owners by next week, I’ll have to give him another serious and thorough write-up. For now, what I wrote in week two should suffice as sufficient analysis, with this being a hefty reminder that batting average is not everything.
Despite hitting .214/.315/.456 on the year, Espinosa is getting on base more than outfield stud Chris Young (93 percent Yahoo ownership), who plays a less premium position, has an equally atrocious batting average, and is almost universally owned. Espinosa is also hitting for more power (.242 ISO compared to Young’s .221 ISO) in a less-offense/homer friendly ballpark, and stealing bases about as often and more successfully (four steals in five tries versus Young’s six in 10).
Despite owning a .225 BABIP on the year that is substantially below his .296 expected BABIP and a posting an improved strikeout rate (21.4 K/PA) this year that is superior to most power hitters, Espinosa is still on pace to hit 30 home runs, steal more than 10 bases, and drive in 100 while being driven in 80 times himself. If that’s not elite production, you don’t know who Dan Uggla is.
Espinosa will not hit for average, but is likely to hit around .250 for the rest of the year with more combined home runs and stolen bases than Adam Dunn…even by season end. There is no reason to not own this kid; even my good friend Dan Bennett, who didn’t know who Espinosa was at the time, outbid me on draft day for him and refuses to trade him to me. (His logic: “if you like him this much, he must be good”). Take a cue from Dan.
Recommendation: Espinosa, a top 10 second basemen, is a must-own player in all mixed league and NL-only formats
Trade target of the week
Anibal Sanchez | Marlins | SP | 75 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.04 K/9, 3.22 K/BB, 46.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB
Anibal Sanchez is this year’s Cliff Lee. That’s what I said earlier this week on Fantasy Phenoms’ Monday radio program. Like Lee, Sanchez is a prospect who experienced some success early on (114.1 innings of 2.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP baseball, including a no-hitter, in his 2006 rookie year), establishing a brand name and some hype for himself despite not being great (4.93 xFIP, 1.57 K/BB ratio) upon his debut.
Like Lee also, he struggled in subsequent major league campaigns, and was sent down to the minors. Last year, Sanchez established some post-hype buzz with 195 frames of 157-strikeout, 70-walk (2.24 K/BB) baseball with an improved groundball rate (45.1 percent) and 4.04 xFIP. Entering the preseason, a lot of fantasy analysts liked him as a sleeper, but tempered their expectations and ranked him cautiously. I barely ranked him in the top 100 because, for all his promise, I saw lackluster strikeouts (despite an improved swinging strike percentage of 9.3 percent, after posting rates of 8.3, 7.2, and 8.5 in 2006, 2007, and 2009) and an average-at-best WHIP to go with an only average fantasy ERA.
This is my open apology letter to Sanchez, however. As good as Sanchez has been this year (2.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), his performance to date has been legit. Using version 3.0 of my xWHIP Calculator, calibrated to the 2011 pitching environment, Sanchez’s eFIP checks in at 3.19 (12th best among all 197 pitchers who have started at least one game this season), and his expected WHIP clocks in at a similarly strong 1.19 (24th best, a solid .15 standard deviations above the mean WHIP for all fantasy-relevant starters).
Other pitchers performing at this elite level (Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw) are likely to cost you an arm and a leg to acquire even if they are available. Sanchez, on the other hand, is someone that owners might be willing to part with to get the right piece. Though he will not come cheap, at least not if he has an intelligent owner, Sanchez likely won’t cost you as much as his true talent line. (I call this phenomenon “unestablished sample caution.”)
For owners in need of improved pitching stats, Sanchez is a relatively low-risk, high-upside arm that should persist with a mid-to-low threes ERA and top 25-30 starting pitcher WHIP for the rest of the season. Trade accordingly.
Recommendation: Sanchez is a must-own, must-acquire starting pitcher in all eligible formats.