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MLB Barometer: Overdue Downgrade

Eric Nehs

Eric Nehs

Eric Nehs writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

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Bartolo Colon P, OAK - Colon threw eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday night to improve his record to 8-8 for the season and lowering his ERA to 3.55. With a 3.84 FIP and 4.15 xFIP, he has consistently pitched well for most of the season posting FIPs below 3.90 in three out of four full months. His control has been his greatest asset (1.44 BB/9 and 67.5 first pitch strike percentage), but he has also been able to produce the highest ground ball rate of his career (45.6 percent). Owners might see a slight regression in his 77 percent strand rate, but all indicators are pointing to an ERA between 3.60-3.75 by the end of the season. Colon is still available in over 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Lorenzo Cain OF, KC - Cain collected another two hits on Saturday night in four plate appearances against the Rangers, and has improved his slash line to .295/.330/.453. Since his return from the disabled list on July 11, Cain has produced three home runs and three stolen bases with an OPS over .870. His .333 BABIP is very good and not likely to regress much with a line drive rate of close to 26 percent, and his 13.3 percent HR/FB ratio is strong for a rookie season. He will continue to see the majority of the playing time in center field once Jeff Franceour returns to the lineup, and I would expect his stolen base totals to pick up. His 12.4 percent swinging strike rate indicates that Cain might see his strikeout rate increase, but there is no doubt he will be a fantasy impact for the rest of the season.

Chad Billingsley P, LAD - Billingsley improved his record to 7-9 after holding the Cubs to one run on four hits in his start Friday night, and it was his third straight win since being reinstated from the disabled list two weeks ago. His 3.22 FIP and 3.67 xFIP suggest he has pitched better than his numbers would indicate, and owners needing pitching help in any type of league might be able to find him on the waiver wire (only owned in 56 percent of Yahoo leagues and 62 percent of ESPN leagues). Billingsley will strikeout his fair share of hitters (career 8.03 K/9), and he has shown the ability to limit home runs throughout his career (7.6 percent HR/FB ratio). Additionally, the 28 year-old has posted a career best walk rate (2.60 BB/9) and his .322 BABIP is likely to regress to a figure closer to his .306 career rate.

Josh Rutledge SS, COL - Rutledge put together quite a week for the Rockies hitting five home runs with nine RBI and producing a .296/.296/.889 line. For the season the rookie shortstop has six home runs, three stolen bases and .346/.357/.691 slash line in just 84 plate appearances. Considering the premium of offense at the position, Rutledge is a must add if he is still available. He has produced a .346 ISO and a 27.3 percent HR/FB ratio, but this pace is unsustainable and one has to believe that his lack of playing time in the minors will eventually catch up to him. His plate discipline is a major issue, as his walk rate currently sits at 2.7 percent. Additionally, his chase rate of 40 percent and swinging strike rate of 11 percent should eventually produce a strikeout rate greater than 15.5 percent. Ride the wave as long as you can, but have a backup plan in case things head south over the last month.

Greg Holland P, KC - Holland has taken over as the Royals' closer with the departure of Jonathan Broxton. His 3.46 ERA is somewhat inflated due in large part to a .365 BABIP despite producing a 55 percent ground ball rate and a below average line drive rate (17 percent). Armed with a devastating slider, a fastball that averages 95.8 mph, a splitter and an occasional curveball, Holland has the repertoire to be a full-fledged closer and should more than adequately hold the role for the Royals. Walks will be a problem for the 26 year-old reliever (4.94 BB/9), but his ability to record strikeouts (11.52 K/9) and batted ball profiles should neutralize his spotty command for the next few seasons of his career. His 2.32 FIP and 3.00 xFIP are more representative of the type of numbers he will put up during the last two months of the season.

Caution/Check Status

Starling Marte OF, PIT - After getting off to a nice start for the Pirates, the 23 year-old Marte looks as if he has been exposed despite hitting two home runs 39 plate appearances. He has produced an underwhelming .211/.205/.368 during those 39 plate appearances along with a 46 wRC+. Some might point to his .231 BABIP as a sign of poor luck, but Marte has a minuscule 7.4 percent line drive rate and has a 55.6 percent ground ball rate to indicate he has not made a lot of solid contact. His plate discipline has always been lacking, but his 15.7 percent swinging strike rate and 48.8 percent chase rate prove he might not be ready for significant playing time in the majors at this point in the season.

Ryan Dempster P, TEX - Dempster struggled in his first start for Texas on Thursday night allowing eight runs on nine hits, two home runs and three walks in 4.2 innings pitched. While he has a 2.82 ERA for the season, owners should not expect him to repeat his first half performance in the tougher league. His 3.62 FIP and 3.76 xFIP are more indicative of the numbers he will produce as his .254 BABIP and 80.5 percent strand rate are likely to regress. Furthermore, Dempster has seen his ground ball rate drop to a career low 41.9 percent, and he could use an improvement in that regard with the move to a hitter friendly park at Arlington.

Kelly Johnson 2B, TOR - Johnson went hitless in five plate appearances with three strikeouts in the Blue Jays' extra innings win over the A's on Saturday, and saw his slash line drop to .230/.317/.370 for the season. The 30-year-old second baseman has been a solid producer at the position over the last two seasons, and 12 home runs, 40 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 100 games this season. However, Johnson's power has disappeared over the last two months, hitting only three home runs since the start of June. His HR/FB ratio of 14.6 percent is actually higher than his career rate, but his fly ball rate of 32.3 percent is his lowest since his rookie season in 2005. At this rate it looks as if Johnson might have his lowest home run total in three seasons.

Felix Doubront P, BOS - Doubront struggled through his latest his start on Friday night against the Twins allowing five runs on eight hits and four walks in just five innings of work. While he has a 10-5 record for the year, Doubront has been marred by inconsistency with a 4.56 ERA despite posting a lower FIP (4.38) and xFIP (3.98). In terms of strand rates and BABIP, he has been about average considering he has allowed a 24.1 percent line drive rate that has surely influenced his BABIP. The walks remain an issue (3.80 BB/9) when looking that Doubront only has a 43.8 percent zone percentage with his pitches. However, he has shown enough promise to allow owners to consider him in certain matchups, as his 8.75 K/9 is impressive. One has to wonder as he is approaching a new career-high in innings pitched if there will be an impact down the stretch.
 
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Carlos Pena 1B, TB - This has been a long time coming, but Pena finally makes this list after a horrible three full months that has dropped his numbers to a paltry .195/.319/.358 line. In addition, his .163 ISO and 14.3 percent HR/FB ratio are his lowest rates he has produced since becoming a regular with the Rays in 2007. Pena has been striking out at a 30.3 percent rate, his highest since 2005 with the Tigers, and his career worst 17.1 percent infield fly ball rate has hurt his overall production and his aforementioned HR/FB ratio. The Rays are so desperate for offense that Pena has remained the starter for the entire season, but I would have a hard time imagining getting playing time if he was in any other organization. He still holds some value in OBP leagues, but I do not believe the 20-23 home runs and 80 RBI are worth the poor average in standard leagues.

Randy Wolf P, MIL - The Cardinals knocked around Wolf on Friday night, as he saw his record fall to 3-8 after allowing five runs on nine hits in 5.1 innings pitched. With a 5.57 ERA for the year, Wolf has actually pitched better than his line might indicate. His 4.70 FIP and 4.51 xFIP suggest that he might put up some better performances down the stretch, but luck and the Brewers defense has let him down this season. Wolf's peripherals are slightly better this year, but he has .333 BABIP with a similar line drive rate and a below average 67.7 percent strand rate. With only two quality starts since the middle of June, owners should look elsewhere for options in NL-only and daily leagues. Wolf has pitched poorly on the road and at home this season, and is not an option at this point in the season.

Gregor Blanco OF, SF - Blanco had gained fantasy relevance this season after seemingly falling into the right fielder job and getting a lot of playing time at the top of the Giants lineup. He has 19 stolen bases, five home runs, 47 runs scored and a .238/.334/.352 slash line in 338 plate appearances along with a career best 7.1 percent HR/FB ratio and a strong 22.5 percent line drive rate. However, the acquisition of Hunter Pence will most surely cut his playing time in half. I could still see him splitting time with Angel Pagan in center field against left-handed pitching because of his reverse-platoon splits making him a decent play in daily leagues, but his value in deeper and NL-only leagues has certainly dropped as well.

Nathan Eovaldi P, MIA - Eovaldi was the major piece in the Hanley Ramirez deal last month and has plenty of promise down the road, but it looks as if he will not be able to make much of an impact this season in terms of fantasy numbers. Eovaldi lost his seventh game of the year on Thursday against the Braves after allowing six runs on eight hits in just two innings of work. Despite averaging 94.8 mph with his fastball and featuring it with three other offspeed pitches, he has yet to induce the swinging strike necessary to produce a solid strikeout rate. He has allowed too many hits with a 23.5 percent line drive rate, and his control is still average (3.25 BB/9). He could be used in certain matchups, but there are starters in most leagues with more value.