Paul Maholm P, CHC- Maholm had one of his stronger starts of the season on Thursday against the Marlins. He allowed only one run in eight innings of work, and lowered his ERA to 4.09 for the season, while improving his record to 8-6 after a strong July. With a 4.22 FIP and 4.25 xFIP, I wouldnít expect to the veteran left-hander to vastly improve on his current numbers, but he could be a nice upgrade for owners in deeper formats, considering that he is available in over 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. His 5.87 K/9 mark is his best rate since 2008, and Maholmís 2.47 BB/9 is the second best rate of his career. There have been some rumblings that Maholm will be on the move, so it is worth noting that he could lose some value if he moves to the American League.
Mike Napoli C/1B, TEX- Napoli went 2-for-4 with two homers in the Rangersí 9-2 victory over the Angels on Saturday and it looks like he is finally breaking out of his month-long slump. He was able to improve his slash line to .236/.346/.436, and his home run total is now at 14 for the season. Napoli has not been able to reproduce the career year he posted with the Rangers in 2011 because his strikeout rate has jumped from 19.7 percent in 2011 to 29.7 percent this season, a career high. However, considering that his current 11.7 percent swinging strike rate and 24.6 percent chase rate are identical to his career rates, the increased strikeouts are somewhat of an aberration. I still expect Napoli to get his slash line back to a .255/.360/.485 type of line, and he should have around 25 home runs by seasonís end.
Lucas Harrell P, HOU- Harrell saw his record fall to 7-7 after taking the loss Thursday night against the Padres, but he pitched well, allowing just one run in seven innings of work. The 27 year-old rookie might be sporting an unimpressive overall ERA (4.24), but he has maintained an ERA below 3.80 over the last two months. In addition, his 3.85 FIP and 3.93 xFIP suggest that he has pitched better than his line would indicate. Harrellís skill set is somewhat undervalued. He has been hurt mostly by a strand rate that is considered below average (65.1 percent), and his 56 percent ground ball rate has helped him maintain a .284 BABIP. Harrell is available in 94 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and would help any owner in deeper formats.
Yasmani Grandal C, SD- Grandal is off to a nice start for the Padres since being called up on the last day of June. He has a .286/.297/.571 slash line in 64 plate appearances and he has collected five homers and eleven RBI in that same time span. The 23 year-old rookie has produced a 25 percent HR/FB ratio in this short time span. Itís a pace that seems to be unsustainable considering the home ballpark that he is playing in and the fact that he hit only six homers in 235 plate appearances in Triple-A this season. However, Grandal has also shown in the past that he has a better grasp of the strike zone that he has displayed so far (1.6 percent walk rate). He produced a 14.1 percent walk rate in his minor league career, so owners can expect to see improved plate discipline numbers over time. Any owners looking for catching help should consider him and he is available in 86 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Ben Sheets P, ATL- Sheets delivered two impressive performances this past week, as he threw six shutout innings against the Mets last Sunday and threw another six shutout innings against the Nationals on Saturday after missing the last two seasons. The veteran right-hander has eleven strikeouts in twelve innings of work (8.25 K/9) and he has displayed decent control in those performances with four walks (3.00 BB/9). It is a little troubling that he has a 27.9 percent ground ball rate in his twelve innings, but it is a small sample size. His 9.0 percent swinging strike rate is right below his career rate of 9.5 percent, and he has averaged just below 91 mph on his fastball (which was at 91.2 mph in 2010). Iím not expecting Sheets to deliver his 2004 season once again, but I believe he can produce peripherals similar to the 2007 season when he had a 3.88 ERA with a 6.75 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9. Of course, the Sheets needs to stay healthy, hardly a given, but he could be a factor down the stretch if he does.
Miguel Gonzalez P, BAL- Gonzalez has pitched well for the Orioles in six games, three of them starts, including a strong performance against the Indians on Friday night in which he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings pitched. The 28 year-old rookie has a 2.61 ERA in 31 innings pitched, but a 4.52 FIP and 4.82 xFIP are more indicative of Gonzalezís true talents. Of course these are small sample sizes, but Gonzalez has demonstrated that he is a fly ball pitcher (48 percent rate) and pitching in hitter-friendly Camden Yards should affect his home run rate. In terms of his recent performance, his low ERA has been helped by an unsustainable 90 percent strand rate. Owners should consider him nothing more than a spot starter at this point.
Torii Hunter RF, LAA- Hunter, who went 1-for-4 with a RBI in the Angelsí loss to the Rangers on Saturday, has been unable to get out of a slump that has plagued him since the beginning of the month. With no homers and a .214/.237/.321 slash line this month, Hunter has seen his overall numbers drop to .267/.328/.418, while remaining at ten home runs and three stolen bases. Owners should be concerned that age is finally catching up to the 37 year-old veteran, as his 24.1 percent strikeout rate is a career-worst and his .150 ISO is his lowest since 2000. Additionally, Hunterís ground ball rate has spiked from 45.7 percent to a career-high 53.6 percent, while his fly ball rate has dropped to a career-worst 25 percent. A career-best 20.4 percent HR/FB ratio has been able to keep his power numbers afloat, but that ratio should continue to drop closer to his career 15.1 percent rate.
Francisco Cordero P, HOU- Cordero was named the Astrosí closer on Saturday, the day after he was acquired from the Blue Jays and after the subsequent departure of Brett Myers. He is obviously worth picking up at this point, but I canít imagine him staying in the role for very long. With a 5.60 ERA this year (5.44 FIP and 4.65 xFIP), Cordero has been absolutely brutal thus far. His 6.62 K/9 is below average for a closer, and his 39.6 percent ground ball rate is the worst of his career. He has been hurt by a .357 BABIP, but a 23.3 percent line drive rate is partially responsible. Wilton Lopez remains the Astrosí best reliever (2.23 ERA/2.96 FIP/2.69 xFIP) and I expect him to have the full time job by the end of the season.
Addison Reed P, CHW- Even with the trade for Brett Myers on Saturday, Reed is not set to lose his role as closer. His ERA of 4.24 is below average for a closer, even though he has pitched better than his ERA would indicate because of a below average strand rate (68 percent), and he has blown three saves in 18 chances. The organization will probably have a shorter leash with Reed, but he is the better reliever when compared with Myers. Myersí 3.52 ERA is not spectacular, and his 4.24 FIP and 3.83 xFIP indicate there could be some tough stretches ahead. Additionally, Reed has the ability to strike out a hitter per inning, while Myers has a strikeout rate of 5.78 K/9.
Eric Hosmer 1B, KC- I happened to be one of the analysts predicting a huge year from Hosmer, but the 22 year-old first baseman has not been able to get anything going this year and manager Ned Yost had him batting in the number eight spot in the lineup on Saturday night. Hosmer has a pathetic .226/.296/.359 slash line with nine homers and nine stolen bases in 375 plate appearances. His strikeout numbers are almost identical to last yearís, but he has been hurt by a .244 BABIP for most of the season. His line drive rate has also remained almost identical to last seasonís 18.7 percent rate (18.1 percent in 2012), but his ground ball rate has dropped by four percentage points. I have kept expecting Hosmerís luck to improve, but he has not been able to put together a month where he has hit better than .275. With the drop in his fly ball rate, he will probably be unable to surpass his home run total from his rookie season (19). I still think there is a chance he can get to .250 by the end of the season, but it is looking less likely with each passing day.
J.A. Happ P, TOR- Happ was traded to the Blue Jays on Friday in the deal that sent Ben Francisco and Francisco Cordero to the Astros. He is an immediate downgrade as the Blue Jays will not use him as a starter as of now, and will keep Aaron Laffey, Carlos Villianueva and Brett Cecil in the rotation. Happ, who had a 4.83 ERA in 104.1 innings with the Astros, has pitched better than his ERA would indicate (4.46 FIP and 3.95 xFIP). His 8.45 K/9 is a career-best (so is his 8.4 percent swinging strike rate), and his 3.36 BB/9 is his best since 2009. With an improved ground ball rate 46 percent, Happ should benefit from leaving Minute Maid Park where left-handers have a rough time pitching, but a move to AL East will probably negate that advantage. I expect Happ to make his way back to the rotation eventually, but for now his value takes a hit.
Ryan Roberts 3B, ARI- Roberts has seen his playing time decrease since the return of Stephen Drew last week, with Willie Bloomquist getting some playing time at the hot corner. Roberts did start on Saturday night against the Astros and went 1-for-3 with two walks and two stolen bases. He now has a .249/.304/.357 line with six homers and six stolen bases in 275 plate appearances this year and has actually played better of late. However, his career-best HR/FB ratio of 12 percent from last season has regressed to 7.1 percent in 2012 and I expect Bloomquist to finish with more plate appearances than Roberts by the end of the year. If he is still occupying space on any roster, it should be time to cut losses.
Dustin Ackley 2B, SEA- Like Hosmer, Ackley has endured a miserable sophomore season in which he has produced a middling .226/.304/.325 slash line to go along with his six homers and nine stolen bases in 395 plate appearances. Like Hosmer, the drop in his batting average has not come because of an increased strikeout rate -- as his 21 percent rate is identical to 2011 Ė rather it stems from a drop in his BABIP from .339 to .278. Looking at his batted ball data, this drop can somewhat be explained by a slight drop in his line drive rate and an increase in his ground ball rate from 39.8 percent in 2011 to 45.2 this season. His 6.2 percent HR/FB ratio is also identical to last year, so the increase in ground balls is the contributing factor to the drop in his power numbers (.099 ISO) as well. Ackely should be able to improve upon his 20.1 percent strikeout rate eventually, considering his 5.8 percent swinging strike rate is above average. His 23.3 percent chase rate is also above average, so it seems as if the 24 year-old just needs to be more aggressive with pitches in the strike zone.