All stats current through at least Sept. 18.
If I told you a speedy outfield prospect was on pace for a .295/90 runs/35 stolen base season over the past two months, most people in need of speed would pounce on this “Juan Pierre Lite” — especially in AL-only formats where the player pool is shallower. Yet, for some reason, Michael Brantley remains available in 90 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Brantley was a supplementary piece who came to Cleveland in the CC Sabathia deal in 2008. He’s shown himself plenty capable of getting on base in the minors (11.8 percent walk rate, .388 OBP) with plenty of speed to threaten (46/51 in stolen base attempts in 2009). Though Brantley struggled early in the year as a quasi-utility outfielder for the Indians (36 PA), he hit plenty in Triple-A: .336/.411/.445.
Minor League Splits turns this performance into a .298/.368/.390 line—no pop, but plenty of average for 5×5 standard Roto leagues with plenty of on-base for runs and stolen base production. Though Brantley’s walk rate has somewhat evaporated at the major league level (6.8 percent), he’s still been getting on base at an average .335 clip in August and September, which has allowed him to accrued 20 runs and swipe eight bases in 155 PA.
After hitting .291 in August, Brantley is hitting .307 in September. Owners in need of runs, batting average and/or stolen bases should take note and immediately plug and play Brantley into their lineup—especially owners who relied on my fill-in’s advice to pick up Coco Crisp last week, only to find him injured days later…
Recommendation: Brantley is a solid outfielder for mixed league teams with five-outfield spots and a quality pick for deep mixed (14+ teams) and AL-only leagues.
David Murphy | Texas | OF | 24 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .272/.335/.441
There is an old adage that (insert deity name here) never closes a door without opening a window. The door here is Josh Hamilton, who has missed 15 days and counting with a bruised ribcage. With the Rangers so far ahead in the AL West standing, they have no incentive to rush the AL MVP front-runner back onto the field and risk a playoff-sidelining injury. Hamilton’s production this year has been nothing short of spectacular (.361 AVG, .449 wOBA, 31 homers, eight steals, 94 runs, 97 RBI over 130 games) and his presence is surely missed by owners pushing for a league title (especially in H2H leagues) down the stretch.
However, there is an open window here—David Murphy. Murphy, a quasi-full time player a la Marlon Byrd 2008-2009, picked up right where Hamilton left off. He’s hitting .285/.353/.442 with 11 home runs and 13 steals on the season (438 PA), but it’s his past 28 days that really shine: .326/.383/.500 with three HR, three SB, 11 runs and 15 RBI (94 PA). Those numbers are even better in Josh Hamilton’s recent absence: .333/.385/.563. .
Murphy’s always been a useful offensive player (career .280/.341/.459 with a .347 wOBA) with pop (.178 ISO) and average (but useful) wheels (22 stolen bases over past 258 games), so his valuable contributions as of late should come as no big surprise. Murphy’s fantasy value has mostly been limited over the past three seasons by a crowded outfield (Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Byrd plus other temporary pieces like Andruw Jones), which bred playing time issues.
Given the few games remaining on the season, the Rangers’ divisional lead, Murphy’s hot bat and Hamilton’s lingering injury, the Rangers are likely to give Murphy an everyday outfield job (which should likely be his over Julio Borbon anyway) for the remainder of the fantasy season.
Murphy has the pedigree (17th overall pick in 2003) and major league experience (.347 wOBA, 1,524 PA) to back up his current performance (.353 wOBA). The fact that he is available in just over 75 percent of leagues is absolutely insane. He will likely add at least a long ball or two and a stolen base to your bottom line over the final 10 games of the season while being handed plenty of RBI-producing opportunities while batting in the core of a very good offensive lineup.
Recommendation: Murphy should be owned in all mixed and AL-only leagues. He is a strong third outfielder and and decent-enough second outfielder option for mixed formats with 12-plus teams.
Jhonny Peralta | Detroit | SS, 3B | 41 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .260/.318/.415
My fill-in last week begrudgingly covered Peralta and made you aware of what he’s done recently, but I want to drive the point home (especially to owners with an ailing Hanley Ramirez). After a lackluster 2009 and first-half of 2010, most fantasy owners probably assumed Peralta was burned out and done. His shortstop days of 20 homers, RBI production and a .275 average days seem a distant memory of the past.
However, when the Tigers traded for Peralta in advance of the July trading deadline, he seemingly found his old spark and has provided plenty of shortstop-eligible value since. (Also, since the Tigers have played Peralta at short for some 35 games, he’ll retain both shortstop and third base eligibility in 2011.)
Since going to the Tigers, Peralta has posted a .260 average (not the worst, but definitely not beneficial), but that low batting average has come with seven homers, 19 runs and 31 RBI in 46 games. That is a full season pace of about 23 HR/70 R/100 RBI—very akin to his 2005, 2007-2008 glory day numbers. Given Peralta’s SS/3B eligibility, he is at worst a versatile and useful bench player for plug-and-play for the remaining off-days in the season. At best, he is a Band-Aid for Hanley owners who have no clue when/if he will return to day-to-day action with the Marlins out of contention.
Recommendation: Peralta is a must-own player in AL-only formats and a should-be-owned player in mixed leagues— especially deeper ones with middle infielder requirements.
Kyle Drabek | Toronto | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.50 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 7.50 K/9, 4.50 BB/9
ROS Forecasts N/A, 5.17 MLS MLE
With only a few games remaining in the season, a lot of out-of-contention teams have shut down their young and talented pitchers to keep arms fresh and healthy. Case in point: Brandon Morrow, who has been providing fantasy owners with a nutritional source of Vitamin K all season long (food metaphor!). This has closed some doors to fantasy owners making a playoff push, but it also opens up opportunities, largely due to the expanded rosters of September. With some pitchers shut down or with teams far out of contention, many teams are handing over starting duties to some young and talented arms. Case in point: Kyle Drabek.
Right now, Drabek is known as “the guy Toronto got for Roy Halladay.” However, given his Double-A performance over this (2.94 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 47.7 percent GB rate) and last (3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) season combined (258.1 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 208:99 K/BB ratio), he may eventually (2012?) become a solid No. 2 starter with upside for the young and talented Jays rotation.
Minor League Splits is a bit bearish on Drabek’s MLE FIP in both 2009 and 2010 (5.17 both seasons), but that is mostly due to control issues (3.4 BB/9 in Double-A), which plague most young pitchers. However, as a strong bright spot, Drabek has shown talent in inducing a good number of batters to ground out while getting a decent amount of others to whiff (20 percent K rate in his minor league career).
Drabek likely needs some time in Triple-A to refine his stuff, work on control and hone his overall abilities, but he was solid enough (though hardly spectacular in limiting baserunners) for a 22-year-old with no experience above Double-A in his major league debut against the Orioles last week (6 IP, 5 K, 9 H, 3 BB). Most encouraging about Drabek’s performance was his limited-sample batted ball profile: he induced 11 ground balls to a mere four flyballs and three line drives.
Drabek’s next turn is going to come against the anemic Mariners offense in spacious Safeco field, but he should still have a start or two left in him thereafter. If Drabek gets a turn against the Orioles in this weekend’s series, I would strongly consider a stream. Otherwise, I’d keep him tucked away as a prospect you know in the future, as the Jays’ series thereafter are against the Yankees and Twins. I would not want to start most pitchers (let alone such an undeveloped one) against either of those offenses (both are top three in the majors in team wOBA).
Recommendation: Drabek makes an interesting keeper option, but his prospective 2010 value is very limited. I would strongly consider deploying him against the Orioles and sitting him against the Yankees/Twins.
Justin Masterson | Cleveland | SP, RP | 8 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.64 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 6.94 K/9, 3.73 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.26 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
After a season of frustrating peripheral-outcome splits, Masterson has finally strung together an extended series of starts since the beginning of August which demonstrate why the Indians acquired him in the Victor Martinez deadline deal last season. After a perennial spot on the AL Waiver Wire series, it is finally time that I get to say “I told ya so” to all my friends who scoffed at my Masterson love all (pre)season.
Since the calendar flipped to August, Masterson has pitched 53 innings of 15 ER (2.55 ERA), 39:20 K/BB baseball. The low strikeout rate over this period (6.62 K/9, 7.38 career) would be normally be disconcerting, but given Masterson’s usually high propensity for walks (3.87 BB/9 in 2010 before August, 3.95 career), league average control is a very positive sign of improvement. That’s especially so since the ground balls keep on coming (elite 50 percent groundball rate over this period, though the worm burners have been even higher (55 percent) in his past four starts).
Masterson’s past four starts have been particularly dominant. Over the past 25 IP, Masterson has compiled a 1.08 ERA (three ER), a 0.88 WHIP and a sparkling 22:4 K/BB ratio. One of those starts even came against the mighty Twins (Sept. 12: seven IP, one ER, six K, no BB). Masterson is likely to get a shot at two among the Royals (this weekend), the White Sox and the Tigers as the regular season winds down. He’s even held his own quite nicely against lefties over the past two months, a problem that has plagued Masterson for his career.
Given Masterson’s enormous potential (elite groundball rate, above-average strikeouts and 4.00 xFIP/ERA) and hot hand, I would rate him as one of the best AL pitching options to stream from the waiver wire as the season closes. Few others are able to do what Masterson is capable of, let alone would any such talented AL pitchers be so widely available.
Recommendation: Masterson is deployable in all AL-only and mixed league formats in need of a few extra innings
Ryan Rayburn | Detroit | 1B, 2B, OF | 53 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .266/.332/.463
The calendar flipped to September a few weeks ago, but apparently nobody told hot bat Ryan Raburn. After hitting .308/.357/.606 with eight homers and 21 runs and RBI in 27 August games, Raburn has followed up with an even better September line: .386/.453/.667 with three homers, 11 runs and 12 RBI over 16 games.
Given Raburn’s premium lineup placement, super-utility standing (1B/2B/OF eligible), and continuous second-half production, I’d be willing to gamble on his bat over the final days of the season—especially if I have use for roster flexibility (or Jay Bruce). In fact, between Raburn and Peralta, you’d have all eligible fantasy positions, short of catcher, insured against last-minute injury or off day plug-and-play.
Raburn is the AL’s answer to Neil Walker, only with more power and less batting average. He’s useful and if you don’t need him, someone else likely does. There is no reason that half of Yahoo leagues are not paying attention to a man who is screaming “look at me” at the top of his lungs with a baseball bat.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only leagues, should be owned in all but the shallowest mixed-league formats.
And with that said, I bid everyone a fair adieu. Good luck in your final days of fantasy. I hope you have enjoyed reading my advice this fantasy season (and Jose Bautista watch, while it lasted) as much as I have enjoyed giving it to you. I hope you will return often in the offseason to read the plethora of quality material that THT churns out daily, Monday through Friday. xWHIP 2.0 should debut sometime in the offseason, so keep an eye out for that. Until then, keep using the latest version of the original xWHIP Calculator.
Let me also take this time to give a very special thank you to Derek Carty and the THT team for bringing me aboard this year. If you have not already, let me recommend that you order aTHT 2011 Annual: there will be tons of amazing material in it.