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MLB Barometer: Heyward Aloft

Eric Nehs

Eric Nehs

Eric Nehs writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

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Franklin Morales P, BOS - Morales tossed five shutout innings against the Rays on Friday night to improve his record to 2-2 for the season. The 26 year-old left-hander now has a 3.16 ERA in 28 appearances with five starts for the Red Sox this season, and continues to make a case to stay in the Red Sox rotation even with Clay Buccholz returning. Morales has benefited from an 80.4 percent strand rate in 2012, but his 9.29 K/9 is impressive (career best 10.8 percent swinging strike rate), and his walk rate of 2.81 BB/9 is the best of his career. Furthermore, his career best 32.9 percent chase rate and 61.9 percent first pitch strike percentage indicate he can maintain these strong peripherals. There is no question that Morales deserves a shot to remain in the rotation where he remains a strong option, but will Daisuke Matsuzaka eventually throw a wrench in that plan?

Jason Heyward RF, ATL - Heyward went 2-for-4 including the game-winning hit against the Mets on Saturday to improve his slash line to .276/.348/.495 for the season. He has already set a new career high in stolen bases this year with 12, and looks certain to set a new career high in home runs this season. While he has been striking out more this season (22.8 percent), Heyward has been able to hit more balls in the air (career best 41.8 percent), which should lead him to produce 20 to 25 home runs this season barring any injury. Furthermore, a career best 20.7 percent line drive rate has helped him to produce a .327 BABIP. He has rewarded owners who ignored his injury riddled 2011 campaign and repositioned himself as one of the top 25 best fantasy outfielders.

Justin Masterson P, CLE - Masterson delivered a strong outing on Friday night against the Blue Jays. He threw seven shutout innings while allowing only five hits and striking out five. Masterson, who lowered his ERA to 4.14 in the process, has looked strong of late except for a lackluster performance against the Rays before the All-Star break. With an above average strikeout rate (7.25 K/9), owners should expect Masterson to keep improving upon his ERA as his 68.9 percent strand rate is likely to improve. He still possesses a strong ground ball rate (56 percent), and a higher first pitch strike percentage indicates he might be able to improve his walk rate. Look for him to finish with an ERA closer to his current FIP (3.77) and xFIP (3.87).

Alcides Escobar SS, KC - For what it's worth, I was going to include Escobar in this week's Barometer before his two-homer game Saturday. He now has four home runs on the season to go along with 13 stolen bases and a career best .311/.355/.433 slash line. While his current BABIP of .368 is unsustainable, there is no doubt that Escobar has looked a lot more competent at the plate this season. His line drive rate of 22.7 percent is a career best, and his BABIP has remained high despite a career high ground ball rate due in part to his career low 3.8 percent infield fly ball rate. He is available in 55 percent of Yahoo leagues at this point in the season, and has established himself as one of the 10 best fantasy shortstops this season before last night's performance. He won't provide much more power along the way, but he should nab another 12-15 bases by the end of the season if he remains healthy.

Caution/Check Status

Ryan Howard 1B, PHI - Howard has struggled in his recent return to the Phillies lineup, hitting just .133/.235/.200 in 17 plate appearances. I believe most expected Howard to struggle considering the amount of time he missed and the fact he had only 26 plate appearances in which would technically be his rehab assignment. However, Howard's numbers have declined in the previous two seasons with the Phillies, where he has seen his HR/FB ratio drop to 21 percent instead compared to the 31 percent seasons he was posting in recent past. Owners should be able to squeeze out 10 home runs from Howard in the second half of this season, but any more would be considered a stretch. He has been unable to get the ball in the air in his four games (22 percent fly ball rate), and he should produce a slash line close to his 2011 one.

Michael Morse OF/1B, WAS - Since coming back to the Nationals lineup in early June, Morse has not shown the same type of power numbers that he was producing in 2010-2011. In 150 plate appearances in 2012, Morse has only four home runs along with a .133 ISO (.195 for career) and a .273/.293/.406 slash line. His HR/FB ratio of 16.7 percent is in line with his career rate (16.9 percent), however Morse has unable to consistently get the ball in the air this season with a 22.2 percent fly ball rate. In his two previous seasons with the Nationals, Morse he finished with fly ball rate just around 37 percent. Furthermore, his increased strikeout rate 24.7 percent has led to a drop in his batting average this season as his 14.2 percent swinging strike rate is his highest in three seasons.

Francisco Liriano P, MIN - Liriano was saddled with his eighth loss of the season on Friday against the A's allowing four runs (three earned) despite on giving up four hits and striking out 15. The left-hander now has a 4.93 ERA in 91.1 innings pitched, but his 3.89 FIP and 3.95 xFIP suggest that he can continue to pitch at this high level. Liriano has been hurt by a below average strand rate 64.9 percent, and his 9.56 K/9 is his best strikeout rate since 2006. His control continues to be a problem (5.03 BB/9), but a higher first pitch strike percentage and chase rate indicate that he should improve over time. Liriano has consistently underperformed considering his career DIPS, which still makes him a riskier target.

Stephen Drew SS, ARI - In 11 games since returning from the disabled list, Drew has gone homerless with a .229/.263/.314 slash line and has yet to steal any bases. It was expected to see Drew's stolen base numbers be affected by his horrific ankle injury last year, and I do not think there is anything about his recent performance that should have owners worried. His 23.7 percent strikeout rate is high, but his 6 percent swinging strike rate is the lowest of his career and his 23.3 percent chase rate is his lowest since 2009. Furthermore, he has been hitting the ball with authority (33.3 percent line drive rate). His 37.5 percent is a little below his career rate, but once his line drive rate regresses the fly ball rate should increase. He did hit two home runs in 40 plate appearances during his rehab assignment, and his power numbers should improve over time.

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Yu Darvish P, TEX - Darvish is part of this section of the Barometer because he has quickly become on of the more frustrating starting pitchers in baseball. Despite coming into Saturday with a 3.68 ERA, Darvish was knocked around by the Mariners to the tune of seven runs in 6.1 innings of work and now has a 3.96 ERA for the year. Despite a strong strikeout rate (9.99 K/9), Darvish has often had problems with his command (4.71 BB/9) and he is somewhat lucky to have a .299 BABIP despite allowing a line drive rate over 22 percent. Perhaps the most frustrating part is his performance against middling lineups. Four of his five starts in which he has allowed five or more runs have come against the Mariners, A's and Indians, and this has hurt players, like myself, in daily drafts. He will still finish the season with an ERA close to 3.75, but he should not be included in the elite class of fantasy starters.

Jeremy Guthrie P, COL - Guthrie had another dismal outing on Saturday night against the Phillies. He saw his record fall to 3-9 for the season after allowing four runs in 4.2 innings pitched, and he saw his ERA increase to 6.14 in the process. While he never had the best peripherals, Guthrie has seen them take a nosedive in 2012. His 4.50 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9 are his worst since becoming since becoming a full timer in 2007, and his HR/FB ratio has jumped to a career worst 17.1 percent. With a career fly ball percentage of 40.5 percent, Coors Field was never going to be a good fit for Guthrie and I cannot envision him starting many more games for the organization. His 6.10 FIP and 5.12 xFIP are too awful to ignore any further. He could have marginal value on another roster, but it is hard to see him joining any other organization unless he is released.

Drew Stubbs CF, CIN - Stubbs went 1-for-5 in Saturday's extra inning affair against the Cardinals, and has continued to underperform for the season with a paltry .212/.281/.358 line in 289 plate appearances. Stubbs has performed admirably in terms of home runs (nine) and stolen bases (17), but the 27 year-old outfielder has seen a drop in his BABIP (.269) because of a newfound propensity to hit the ball on the ground (even with his above average speed). His 53.6 percent ground ball rate is a career high, and that will probably limit his home run total to 16-18 for the season. The possibility of 40 stolen bases will keep him on a majority of fantasy rosters, but owners should not expect much of an increase in terms of batting average. With a 28 percent strikeout rate and his current ground ball rate, a .230/.310/.375 line would be a bonus.

Jose Quintana P, CHW - After posting impressive June numbers, Quintana is finally coming back down to earth in the month of July. He allowed five runs on eight hits and two home runs in five innings against the Royals on Friday night, and saw his ERA rise to 2.60 for the season. I happen to think he is a starter who is capable of posting an ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00's for an entire season, but he will continue to regress this season after his outstanding start. His current walk rate of 1.88 BB/9 will end up closer to his minor league walk rate of 2.50 BB/9 over the last two seasons, and his 82 percent strand rate and .269 BABIP will also see some regression. However, owners should expect a better strikeout rate considering his 9.7 percent swinging strike rate should translate higher than a 5.92 K/9.