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MLB Barometer: Nationals Will Limit the Greatness

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

Here's my take on the fallout from the Cliff Lee trade and why it's past time to drop Rajai Davis for Andres Torres.

Forgive me for the short intro (which I always write after the column) - I'm off to the Trop for Rays/Indians.

Upgrades:

Carlos Santana, C, Indians: I realize Santana has only logged 88 ABs in the majors (as of the writing of this column), but at the rate heís going, I might have him as my highest-rated catcher heading into 2011. It's not just that he's hitting .284/.423/.580 through those 88 ABs - it's that he's hitting for power, average, and showing plate discipline (22 walks versus 17 strikeouts), just as he was doing in the minors. Before you disagree, who would you rank above him? Joe Mauer has the AVG but seems like a 15-HR guy. Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez have age and injury issues. Mike Napoli lacks Santana's plate discipline and AVG. Brian McCann and Miguel Montero are more established and arguably safer options for 2011, but when Santana starts posting seasons with a .300 AVG, 30 HRs, and 100 RBI, he'll be universally viewed as the top dog at catcher. (Side note: I get to see Santana play in person Sunday. If I see anything that changes my view, I'll post it in the comments, but somehow I doubt I will.)

Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers: The Rangers obviously like Cliff Lee, or they wouldn't have given up Justin Smoak for him. When you consider that they're only getting Lee for half a season, I can't help but think this trade had as much to do with the Rangersí confidence that Davis can fill the void at first base. Remember, this is what most people thought would happen after Davis posted 17 HRs in 295 ABs with Texas in 2008 at age 22. Yes, Davis disappointed the Rangers in 2009 and 2010, but in 263 ABs after his demotion, Davis posted a line of .354/.403/.555 with 56 RBI. Davis may be available in shallow mixed leagues; grab him if you need a power bat.

Andres Torres, OF, Giants: Can somebody explain to my why Torres is owned in just 17% of Yahoo! leagues but Rajai Davis (downgrade, below) is still owned in 40%? Torres has 17 steals in just 21 attempts (compare that to Dexter Fowler, below) and is a fixture in the Giants lineup because of his .281/.378/.483 line. He has seven homers (including four in the past week) and 24 doubles (just four off the MLB lead despite being a part-time player until mid-May) in just 263 ABs. Torres' BABIP is a little fortunate at .344, but that's not terribly surprising given his speed and LD% of 21%. Torres should be a fixture in fantasy lineups after the All Star Break.

No Change:

Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners: If you told me a young hitter had a BB/K of .67 and LD% of 24%, I'd guess his BABIP would be around .320 and his AVG around .300. In Smoak's case, he posted that BB/K and LD% through 235 ABs with the Rangers, yet his .234 BABIP dragged his average down to .207. In my view, he was exceptionally unlucky, especially since he posted these stats in Arlington. If things had remained the same, I'd have considered Smoak a good "buy low" candidate - his luck should have normalized as the summer progressed, and most unsuspecting owners wouldn't have realized it. Unfortunately, Smoak's trade to Seattle continues his string of bad luck, as he now goes from one of the best-hitting parks to one of the worst. Smoak's AVG is bound to improve - hitters with a LD% of 24% shouldn't be around the Mendoza line - but the move to Seattle kills any "buy low" opportunities.

Sean Rodriguez, 2B/OF, Rays and Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: Rodriguez and Barmes are first and third, respectively, on ESPN's Most Added List. I don't see either as anything special, so I've been trying to figure out why. At age 25, Rodriguez still has some potential and he does have 6 HRs and 7 SBs in just 214 ABs this season. But his BB/K is a putrid .10 and his LD% is just 16%. Barmes is much older, 31, but a similar player - a little power and speed from middle infield but isn't going to help in AVG. I think what these guys have most in common, though, is that they're now playing every day, which you canít say about stud middle infielders Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley, and Troy Tulowitzki.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: I should have upgraded Fowler last week, as a subscriber noted and I admitted in the comments. After all, he's back in the majors, playing every day, and has good speed. However, I'm not convinced that what Fowler has done since his June 29 promotion has been anything other than a temporary hot streak. After three more strikeouts on Satuday, Fowler has 17 strikeouts in 12 games since his promotion. A contact rate of .73 (the same as what he posted last year for Colorado - so he's not exactly improving in that area) is not acceptable for a player with no power. And while Fowler has speed, getting caught 6 times in 14 attempts isn't going to help his chances of getting the "green light" to run more. The playing time is there, but I need to see Fowler's contact rate closer to .80 (it was just .75 even in Triple-A) and his SB% closer to 70% before getting more excited about him.

Downgrades:

Rajai Davis, OF, A's: Davis can steal bases with the best of them - 27 steals in 32 attempts. His OPS is just .679, though, down from last year's .784, and it's begun costing him playing time in recent games, particularly with the A's glut of outfielders. Conor Jackson is on the DL right now, but he's due back soon, and Davis has been so bad lately (besides Saturday) that he's been sitting the bench in favor of Gabe Gross. Davis probably needs Jackson or Coco Crisp to suffer a significant injury or struggle if he aims to resume the everyday playing time he needs to be more fantasy relevant. At this point, I'd be more comfortable with Andres Torres (above) in my fantasy lineup.

Cliff Lee, SP, Rangers: I'm not doubting that Lee is terrific. But when you go from one of the best pitchers' parks to one of the worst, a downgrade is the only option. It's really that simple. If you disagree, check out this chart about MLB Park Factors. Don't just look at Seattle and Texas, either - some of the names at the top of the list (Reds, Orioles) and some at the bottom (Rays, Mets) may surprise you.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals: The Nationals just announced that Strasburg will pitch on regular rest from here forward, but will be shut down once he reaches 160 innings. That means he'll pitch only about 62 more innings this season, likely causing him to be shut down in late August or early September. This is brutal for anyone in head-to-head leagues, as they'll be without Strasburg for the fantasy playoffs.

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