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MLB Barometer: Herculean Clouts

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.


He was already 1-for-2 with a three-run home run and a walk when he stepped into the batter's box in the sixth inning. After fouling off the first pitch, he dug his feet in again, set himself and then proceeded to launch the next pitch he saw into the stands in right field. Though it's never unexpected when he steps into the batter's box, the crowd erupted as if they had never seen something like this before. But in actuality, they haven't.
 
It's been a long time since the Orioles had themselves a hitter who was capable of competing for the American League home run title and the fans are absolutely beside themselves with excitement. In the team's 81st game, the exact mid-point of the season, Chris Davis belted his 30th home run of the year. Should this torrid pace continue, he would finish the season batting .333 with a Ruthian-like 60 home runs and 158 RBI.
 
But can this continue? Can he duplicate his outstanding first half? The skeptical fantasy owner is shaking his head right now while anxiously working the trade phones, trying to obtain a value at least equal to the Herculean effort Davis has put forth. But is it wise to remain skeptical? A look through some of the numbers should help.

Age: 27 - While the age-27 breakout campaign remains a myth disproven by many, it still marks a time when a player tends to reach his physical prime. He was 20-years old when he first joined the Rangers organization and has now spent seven years honing his craft and preparing his body for the rigors of a professional baseball career.

ISO: .391 - For those not familiar, it is the number of extra bases divided by at-bats and gives you a strong indication of where a player's true power lies. League average this year is right around .148. While Davis' is astronomically high, a simple look at his .238 career average will show you that, while his current mark is a bit outlandish, there is nothing suspect about his ability to hit for power like this.

BABIP: .380 - League average is currently .296 and when you factor in that home runs are ignored when calculating this stat, Davis' mark seems utterly ridiculous. The natural assumption is that a player's batting average on balls in play will eventually regress to the mean. But that mean is different for every player and Davis' career mark of .342 indicates a potential drop, but really, not by much.

Strikeout Rate: 26.3-percent - The strikeout has always been Davis' worst enemy and his 30.3-percent career average says it all. But before you say that he will start to whiff more in the future, you have to look even deeper here into another series of numbers. Davis' decreased swing percentage indicates that he is being more selective at the plate. He's also seen his swinging-strike rate decrease in each of his last three seasons. Swinging less, not swinging through as many pitches and similar contact rates are a collective indication that he's genuinely improving this aspect of his game.

Average True Distance: 407.8 feet - Obviously when he hits the ball, he's hitting it a ton and the average distance of his home runs, which includes eight no-doubt home runs, is impressive. But what's even more impressive is the fact that, while normally a pull hitter, less than half of his home runs have been pulled to right. He's got 10 homers to center and another six that went to the opposite field. Given the average distance and the fact that he's not yanking most of them only adds to legitimacy of his talents this year.
 
So while it's easy to be a skeptical fantasy owner, it just might not be the wise way to look at things when it comes to Davis this year. Will he actually reach 60? The odds are certainly stacked against him and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have my doubts. But with his matured strength and improved plate discipline, I believe that this is more indicative of true talent than fluke. Trade him if you will, but considering how much damage he is capable of doing over the remaining 81 games, any deal you accept better be one that locks you into a league championship.
 
Now let's have a look at some of the current risers and fallers in MLB.

Rising

Johnny Giavotella, 2B KC - Third time's a charm? That's what Giavotella and the Royals are hoping as they bring up their second baseman of the future once again. After multiple failed attempts to stick in the majors over the past two seasons, Giavotella has spent this season working on his defense and his plate discipline. He's only hitting .289 with seven home runs and seven stolen bases in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but a reduction in strikeouts and a major improvement in walk rate are giving the team hope. Manager Ned Yost says that he's the new everyday second baseman and while he'll likely hit at the bottom of the order, there's enough opportunity to keep deeper league owners interested.

Jacob Turner, SP MIA - It's almost a shame that Turner tossed his first career complete-game shutout Saturday as is assures him of being on everyone's radar for waiver wire Sunday. But the talent has always been there for the former first-round (2009 - ninth overall) draft pick whom the Marlins acquired in the Anibal Sanchez deal last year. Since being called up on May 31, Turner is 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 27:12 K:BB over 41 innings (six starts). He's handled some tough lineups, pitched in some hitter-friendly places and while he won't dazzle you with strikeouts or an impressive wins total, he's going to keep those ratios in check and help you that way.

Matt Adams, 1B STL - There are several teams knocking on the Cardinals' door, inquiring about the availability of Adam, but the Cards' brass continues to say no. There's an obvious plan in motion for his future with the organization and we just might have an opportunity to see it come to fruition this season. With Oscar Taveras nursing an ankle injury he re-aggravated this past week and Jon Jay continuing to struggle at the plate, the Cards just might be inclined to push Jay to the bench, Carlos Beltran over to center, Allen Craig out to right and hand the first base gig over to Adams. This is all in the speculation stage and there's an obvious concern over Beltran's knees holding up in center, but there's no doubt that the move makes sense for the team. Keep your ear to the ground on this one and be ready to snag Adams from your waiver wire should things start to go into motion.

Kyle Gibson, SP MIN - Man that 2009 draft looks good when you see so many names from it littering major league rosters this season. And here's another. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Gibson. Your table is right over here. Gibson was the 22nd player taken in the draft and made his debut Saturday, pitching six solid innings of two-run ball. He struck out five and walked none. The Twins are hurting for starting pitching so it looks like Gibson will get a legitimate shot to stay up with the club. The strikeout totals may not be the most impressive, but he has shown, throughout his time in the minors, to have excellent command which has steadily improved each season.

Michael Young, 3B PHI - Do you hear those trade winds blowing? The Phillies haven't quite decided yet if they will be buyers of sellers at the deadline but with the Yankees and the Red Sox knocking on their door looking for Young, the Phillies just might be enticed into being sellers. Currently, Young is batting .287 with five home runs, 21 RBI and 33 runs scored and while those numbers may seem pedestrian right now, a move back to the American League and back into a strong run-producing lineup could benefit him and his fantasy owners. He'll never be the Young we remember from 2009, but in the right situation he could be dynamic in the runs scored and batting average departments.

Holding the Line

Rafael Betancourt/Rex Brothers, RP COL - While there might be an initial change in value as Betancourt returns from the DL to close and Brothers heads back to the eighth inning, each player's value remains unchanged. Betancourt will continue to work as the closer and is still a major candidate to be traded to a team looking for bullpen help but not necessarily closer help. There is a strong chance that once he gets moved, he could land in a seventh or eighth inning job. Meanwhile, Brothers, who did an admirable job closing for the Rockies in Betancourt's absence remains the team's closer-of-the-future. Once the ninth inning vacancy opens up again, Brothers will step right back in. This is where they started the year and this is where they still are today.

Falling

Matt Harvey, SP NYM - Whaaaaaat?? Harvey in the Falling section? No way! The guy's been a beast on the hill this year and has easily been the league's most valuable pitcher right now. However, a recent announcement that Harvey's innings will be capped at 215-220 has likely sent several of his owners in non-keeper leagues to the trade phones. The innings may still seem high, but when you figure that Harvey is currently on pace to throw roughly 245 innings, it means you're looking at a late-season cut of about four starts. That puts him out for most of September which is going to kill those in head to head leagues and do no favors to those who own him in roto formats.

Wade Davis, SP KC - After a nice run of three-straight quality starts, Davis, once again, revealed his true colors as a starter and lasted just one inning in his most recent start, giving up six runs on five hits and five walks. It's not so much that one outing can knock a guy out of the rotation, but Davis is now sitting on a 5.55 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP and has looked troubling more often than not. With pitchers like Will Smith, Chris Dwyer and Ryan Verdugo pitching well in Triple-A, the Royals could pull Davis from the rotation and go with some patchwork help until Danny Duffy is ready to return. They also have former starters Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar in the bullpen, so it's not like there aren't plenty of arms waiting in the wings. Davis should get another chance but if he fails to deliver, he could end up a bullpen arm once again.

Evan Longoria, 3B TB - This is more precautionary than anything else, especially if you are in a position to win your league and a potential trade of Longoria could help. He will sit out Sunday and possibly even another few games as the plantar fasciitis is making it difficult for him to even bat, let alone play the field. With 17 home runs, he's on his way to another 30-home reason should he remain healthy, but we've seen this injury knock out several players, including its effects this season on Albert Pujols. Longoria's name and numbers could certainly fetch a tremendous haul for you, so it might make sense to try shopping him around rather than spend the entire second half wondering whether or not this injury will cause him to miss more time.

Johnny Cueto, SP CIN - And while I don't like to add a guy to this section due to injury, come one. This is now the third trip to the disabled list for Cueto and all three trips have been due to this lat issue. There's talk that he may need to alter his mechanics to compensate for the problems he's been having, but there's also the question of whether or not enough damage has already been done to require surgery. Monitor his progress through this DL stint, but you might want to make sure you're prepared to move along in your season without him.

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