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MLB Barometer: Upgrading the Matts

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

We are at an interesting point of the fantasy season. It’s now the time in keeper leagues where you should either be making moves to bolster your roster or dumping studs in order to load up with prospects for next year. I made a minor trade this week, unloading Tyler Colvin for Nick Markakis. Going purely on stats, Colvin looks somewhat better in the power department, but I’m banking on Markakis to do better from here on out. It’s also the time of the season to become annoyed when an owner has a ton of points in hitting and won’t trade a bat to bolster his pitching. It becomes worse when you send a fair offer and don’t even get a counter in return. Enough of my rant – onto this week’s Barometer.

Upgrades:

Matt Joyce, OF, Rays - Prior to his Thursday call-up Joyce was raking at Triple-A Durham, posting a .913 OPS. He was especially hot as of late, batting .363 over his final nine games for the Bulls. Carl Crawford is battling a shoulder injury but manager Joe Maddon has stated that they’ll get Joyce’s bat in the lineup even when Crawford returns. Joyce stole a base on Saturday and should be running given the Rays penchant to steal bags. If you need outfield help take a flier on him; his 22:21 BB:K ratio suggests he’s ready for the big show.

Matt LaPorta, 1B, Indians - Did the Tribe finally figure out that Russell Branyan was not their first baseman of the future? His departure to the Mariners means LaPorta will take over as an everyday player. Like Joyce, he was killing in the minors, sporting a 1.094 OPS, which included five home runs, in only 69 at-bats. While LaPorta struggled earlier this year in Cleveland, he didn’t receive consistent playing time and no longer has to worry about being benched. Now if we can only get Michael Brantley and his .310 BA up…

Tom Gorzelanny, P, Cubs - Following Carlos Zambrano’s meltdown and subsequent suspension, Gorzelanny will return to the Chicago rotation. I’ve always labeled Gorzelanny as a quad-A player and now he’ll get another chance to prove otherwise. He was already pitching well, striking out over a batter per inning and posting a 1.35 GB/FB ratio (something you need to be successful at Wrigley). His next start will be against the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, so I’d roll the dice with him for this coming scoring period.

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds - This is an easy one since it’s not a difficult task to upgrade a guy who’s reached base in 35 straight games. I actually read on a site that his batting average “dipped to .301” and that he is a “must-start” in all leagues. Brilliant! An intriguing question is this – would you choose Votto next year ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Justin Morneau, Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard, where he would essentially be the third first baseman taken over all? Before you think that’s crazy talk, keep in mind that only Gonzalez has more home runs than Votto right now and Votto had the highest batting average among the group last year. He’s on pace for 15 plus stolen bases, which also has to be taken into consideration.

Cliff Pennington, SS, Atheltics - Keeping in mind that shortstop is not a deep fantasy position, Pennington is making his way onto fantasy radars in most formats. He’s batting .338 for the month of June and has now tallied 10 stolen bases on the season. I’d rather have him over someone like Ryan Theriot in my starting lineup.

Madison Bumgarner, P, Giants - His debut wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible, yielding four runs (two home runs) over seven innings to the Red Sox. Bumgarner gets the luxury of pitching in a good park and probably has about 60 innings left on his clock for this season. The lack of strikeouts (59 in 82.2 innings) at Triple-A is the only minor red flag for me. As far as starting pitchers go, it will be difficult to find a better one on your waiver wire, so grab him if he’s available.

Will Venable, OF, Padres - Since getting over a neck injury, Venable has rewarded fantasy owners who stuck it out while he was on the sidelines. Venable has gone 8-for-21 over his last six games and has socked two home runs and also stolen two bags. Petco is a horrible place for hitters but Venable has the upside to flirt with a 20/30 campaign. Think of him as a similar player to Drew Stubbs.

Jake Fox, 3B, Orioles - Next to Cleveland, Oakland made the second-worst signings/moves in the offseason (see Jack Cust, Fox, Kouzmanoff et al.). Fox has a second life in Baltimore and will get a chance to earn regular playing time. He was old a little old for Triple-A (he’s 26), but a 1.336 OPS last year is hard to ignore. Now he’s in a better hitter’s park than Oakland and with nine games behind the plate he probably has catcher eligibility.

Check Status:

Carl Crawford, OF, Rays - Crawford’s shoulder woes were enough to force him to leave Thursday’s game. Compounding matters, he aggravated the injury pinch running and says it’s bothering him when he swings or throws. I’m pretty sure both of those skills are important to play baseball. Teammate B.J. Upton’s shoulder injury seemed to sap his power last year and the same could happen to Crawford, although his power isn’t what he’s necessarily known for. Check the updates to make sure a DL stint isn’t on the way.

Clay Buchholz, P, Red Sox - Buchholz is dealing with a hyperextended knee which he injured while (of all things) running the bases in an interleague game. Initial reports out of Boston are good but don’t be surprised to see his next start pushed back or skipped altogether if the BoSox play it safe.

Billy Wagner, P, Braves - The sob story of my fantasy season to this point was trading for a $6 Wagner in my hometown keeper league and having him announce his retirement at season’s end the next day. Oh well. Wagner is currently dealing with a sore ankle which kept him from a save opportunity on Saturday night. There’s a chance he could be available as soon as Sunday so this may not be a big deal. I just tend to worry when I hear “cortisone shot” when mentioning any player.

Neil Walker, 2B, Pirates - Walker will miss the rest of the Pirates’ road trip after he suffered a concussion while colliding with Ryan Church. It’s too bad as Walker was putting together a solid season, batting .295 with three homers and two stolen bases in 112 at-bats. A trip the DL could be in his future.

Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Philip Hughes and anyone else who might be on a 150-inning limit - These young pitchers have been nothing short of spectacular but their respective clubs will likely limit them to around 150 innings this season. Leake already had a start skipped and a similar strategy could be used for Latos and Hughes with their teams fighting for a playoff spot. In redraft leagues I’d dangle them as trade bait, while their value is still very high, and see what offers are out there.

Downgrades:

Jason Heyward, OF, Braves - How dare I think of putting Heyward here; but the numbers don’t lie. After his torrid start he’s been cold at the plate during June, batting .181 with one home run and 32 strikeouts in 94 at-bats. The root of his slump is likely traced to the sore thumb that hasn’t improved over the last month. In my opinion this would be a good time to send an offer to his owner in keeper leagues if you’re playing for next year.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles - The timetable for Roberts’ return is up in the air and some reports suggest that it may not be until August, if at all this year. I wasn’t high on Roberts to begin with – I wrote about him in my preseason “Busts” article citing a steady decline in steals and an increase in his strikeout rate. If you could use the bench spot, I’d drop him immediately.

Russell Martin, C, Dodgers - Martin has been struggling at the dish, going 2-for-23 over his last seven games. It would be nice to see Joe Torre give him a day off more than once or twice a month, which would likely help his approach at the plate.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox - Pedroia landed on the 15-day DL with a non-displaced fracture of the foot. This is a huge blow to the Red Sox since he was hot, raising his batting average 38 points this month. No timetable has been set for Pedroia’s return but I’ll guess we are looking at about 6-8 weeks.

Carlos Zambrano, P, Cubs - Saying Zambrano has a temper is like saying Tiger Woods likes female homo sapiens. His latest blowup has him ticketed for the bullpen when he returns from his suspension. Water coolers in the bullpen: you’re on notice.