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MLB Barometer: LoMo Rising

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.


While you would think that a selection to the 2013 MLB All-Star Game would be an easy indicator of a player's overall value on the rise, we as fantasy owners probably look at the midsummer classic a bit differently. It's supposed to be a nice break in the middle of the season where the fans can sit and watch the best of the best play against each other, but as a hardcore fantasy player, my point of view has become a lot more jaded over the years. Few people today remember that 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose came charging home to score the winning run and leveled the Indians Ray Fosse to do it. The catcher suffered a separated shoulder and while he still went on to play 42 games in the second half, many point to that moment as the beginning of the end of Fosse's injury-plagued career.
 
Now thankfully, we haven't had any moments like that in recent history. However, that's not to say that players haven't dinged themselves up to the point where it may have a negative effect on their play in the second half. Conditioning injuries such as hamstring strains and groin pulls happen all the time during competitive play and while maybe not all of the players are all gung-ho about Bud Selig's "this time it counts" incentive, this is not like an NHL All-Star Game where players dance around each other and try to avoid contact and hard-nosed play. Players here are running hard on grounders and looking to break up the potential double play. We haven't seen any recent collisions at home plate during the midsummer classic, but trust me, it's coming at some point.
 
And let's not forget about the other All-Star weekend festivities. Raise your hand if you remember Bobby Abreu winning the Home Run Derby back in 2005. For the three of you who didn't, allow me to share the numbers. During the first half of the 2005 season, Abreu hit .305 with 18 home runs and was well on his way to reaching the 30-HR plateau for the third time in five years. But with this nice power surge came a first-time invite to the Derby which the outfielder proudly won. Unfortunately, Abreu was never the same after that. He never injured himself, but he did mess up his swing so much that he was never the same hitter afterwards. He hit just .260 with six home runs in the second half and fantasy owners that either held or traded for him were left with a dumbfounded look on their faces and a sixth-place finish. And the problem persisted for the duration of his career. Abreu spent so much time swinging for the fences in these bandboxes in Philadelphia and New York that his average began to decline each season and he never saw more than 20 home runs in a season after. Thank you Home Run Derby!
 
With pitchers, there tends to be a little more coddling. Rosters have grown so much that it's a rarity to see someone throw more than two innings during an All-Star Game. But that's not to say they aren't adversely affected either. Young hurlers such as Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez are likely on pitch counts this season, so an inning or two in the All-Star Game means an inning or two fewer during your fantasy season. And just to show my curmudgeonly extreme, I'll also cite that hard comebackers to the mound are a regular occurrence and not just a fluke. How many times have we seen that happen recently? You can bet Alex Cobb would have been in the All-Star Game had he not been victimized earlier this year.
 
So while some may sit there and belittle the All-Star voting process and curse the snubbing of their favorites, fantasy owners are likely relishing in the omission of their guys. Injuries and mishaps occur all the time throughout the long, grueling, 162-game season, so we don't need to see it happen during an exhibition that, for all intents and purposes, really doesn't mean a thing. Protect my guys. Keep them safe and warm. Forget the All-Star Game. Rest up, say your prayers, take your vitamins and get yourself ready. We've got a fantasy championship to win this year.

Risers

Nick Hundley, C SD - One man's pain is another man's pleasure or something like that, right? With Yasmani Grandal now likely done for the season with injuries to both his ACL and MCL in his knee, Hundley gets back his full-time job as the Padres primary backstop. He's not the be-all, end-all behind the dish, but he does have some decent value again in two catcher and NL-only play. He started the season white-hot, batting .329 with three home runs by the end of April but then slumped in May amidst regular trade speculation and the knowledge that Grandal was due back at the end of the month to reclaim the job. He hasn't done much in his reserve role, but with full-time at-bats coming his way, he could very easily turn things around.

Ivan Nova, SP NYY - Banished to the bullpen and the minors after a rough start to the season, Nova has certainly made the most of his recent opportunities. A successful spot start in June, a strong 5.2-inning relief appearance shortly after that and then his complete-game, 11-strikeout victory over the Orioles on Friday has breathed new life into the 26-year old right-hander and given manager Joe Girardi a lot more confidence in him. So much so that it was just announced that despite how well Michael Pineda's rehab has gone, he will be optioned to Triple-A when the rehab-clock ends rather than head to the Bronx. Nova has been awarded the fifth starter's spot. Obviously, Pineda's stay in Scranton could be short-lived, but when he forces his way back up, it could be Phil Hughes and not Nova as the odd man out.

Darin Ruf, 1B PHI - For all those prospect hounds who took an early-season flier on Ruf at the tail-end of your draft, this one's for you. You've probably been forced to drop him by now, so you'll have to do a little fighting if you want to get him back as now is the time for him to shine. With Ryan Howard landing on the disabled list, the Phillies are bringing up Ruf to handle the duties at first base. He only hit .266 with seven home runs over 82 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he did post a .344 on-base percentage and has actually seen his strikeout rate diminish over the last month or so. Howard is supposed to be on the DL for just the two weeks, but there are also rumblings that surgery may be in order which puts him on the shelf for a lot longer. Should Ruf handle himself well in the majors, he could be at first for a while and then possibly even enter the outfield mix afterwards.

Jeremy Hellickson, SP TB - After two and a half months of solid strikeouts, great peripherals but a disgustingly overblown 5.67 ERA, the waiting is finally over and Hellickson is now pitching like the guy that many of us thought he'd be at the onset of the season. He was pegged by many to have a breakout season after steadily improving his numbers over his first two seasons but when he failed to deliver with any sort of consistency, owners grew frustrated. But after a shellacking at the hands of the Royals (of all teams), Hellickson has turned things around and has tossed four consecutive quality starts with a 1.38 ERA and a 23:7 K:BB over 26 innings. Even better is that he's done this against some extremely talented lineups, including Detroit and Toronto. He'll close out the first half against the Twins and then after the All-Star break, he'll see either Toronto or Boston, both of whom he's handled easily during this four-game stretch.

Logan Morrison, 1B MIA - With all the ridicule coming the Marlins way this season and all the fanfare Giancarlo Stanton and the trade value of Ricky Nolasco have gotten, Morrison became the forgotten man in Miami for a while. But in the 19 games since his return from the disabled list, Morrison has stolen much of the spotlight with his .318 average and 1.021 OPS. He's got four home runs included with his 10 extra-base hits and has 10 RBI over 66 at-bats. He'll likely always be an injury risk given his history, but so long as he is batting in the middle of that lineup which includes Stanton and young sensation Marcell Ozuna, Morrison should provide fantasy owners with top-flight production.

Staying the Course

Ricky Nolasco, SP LAD - So much has been made of Nolasco over the years, that you'd think his exit from Miami would vault him to the upper tiers of the pitcher rankings. But, in truth, I don't see this move adding so much more to his value that you should be rushing out to grab him. Sure, his strikeout rate is up, his walks are down and both his FIP and SIERA indicate that he is pitching better than his current ERA dictates, but we've seen this all before over the years. His strikeout rate has dropped steadily since posting a 9.49 K/9 in 2009, but his current mark of 7.21 still isn't as good as it was back in 2012, the first year of the decline. His walk rate, pretty much, looks the same. It's better than last year but not better than the year before. And as for his ratios, he's always underperformed in comparison to his peripherals and every year people say the same thing - great buy-low guy because the numbers say he's going to get better. And does he? No. Not really. He stays right about the same. Sure, maybe he garners a few extra wins heading over to the Dodgers, but other than that, I see him staying the exact same Ricky Nolasco who has frustrated us for years.

Fallers

Tyler Flowers, C CHW - After a few months of waiting to see if Flowers would ever improve that atrocious batting average and woeful plate discipline, the White Sox have grown weary and have finally dipped into the farm system to promote Josh Phegley, a power-hitting backstop who posted a slash line of .316/.368/.597 with 15 home runs over 61 games for Triple-A Charlotte this year. The two of them will likely platoon over the next month or so or until one of them steps up far and away better than the other. The chances of that being Flowers are a bit slim right now, so if you've got him on your roster, you're going to need to find a replacement soon.

Jose Veras, RP HOU - A 'glass is half-empty' approach needs to be taken with Veras right about now, despite the fact that he has notched eight saves with an ERA of 1.35 over 13.1 innings since June 1. Not only has he been a nice boost for fantasy owners recently, but he's also probably pitched his way right out of Houston as the Astros are sure to be seeking value for the 32-year old right-hander come the trade deadline. Teams looking to bolster their relief corps and not willing to pay the Rockies asking price for Rafael Betancourt, will turn to Houston with the hopes of adding Veras as a set-up man and from there, his fantasy value takes a nose dive. If you're holding him right now, the suggestion is a handcuff of Hector Ambriz as it will likely be him and not Veras closing things out for the Astros in the waning months of the season.

Andrew Cashner, SP SD - Remember when this guy was a highly-touted prospect who was consistently clocked in the mid to high 90's with his fastball? Yeah, me too. That's why I drafted him this year in what was supposed to be a breakout inaugural season in the Padres rotation. Unfortunately though, that hasn't been the case. Cashner hasn't been terrible this year. In fact, his 3.82 ERA is actually pretty good for a guy who is technically in his rookie season. But with a 5.92 K/9 and a fastball topping out at 94 mph, Cashner just doesn't seem like the same pitcher with the same dominant stuff anymore. Perhaps he's holding back to go further into games, but whatever it is, it's just not working. And that six-run, two-inning outing from Friday seems more like the start of something awful than it does just a minor hiccup.

Matt Kemp, OF LAD - The handwriting was already on the wall, but few listened as this looked like the year where injuries would hinder Kemp all season long. Between the shoulder surgery, the hamstring problem and now this AC joint irritation in that same surgically-repaired shoulder, Kemp has been limited to just 61 games here in the first half and is in danger of missing more before the break. Manager Don Mattingly says that he expects Kemp to return after the weekend, but there are certainly no guarantees. If you watched him swing the bat and grab his shoulder in pain this past Friday, you'll see that there's a strong chance that this comes back to bite him again soon, and harder.