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MLB Barometer: Home Run Derby Curse?

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.


Hopefully you enjoyed a nice, little breather from the rigors of the fantasy season over the All-Star break and got a chance to catch up with all that we fanatics tend to ignore at this time of year - friends, family, household chores and responsibilities, that sort of stuff. Feeling rested? Good - because the craziness is just about to begin.
 
Count it down, folks. There are 10 days remaining before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. All that you know and all that is right with the fantasy world is about to get upended in a very short amount of time. The rumor mill is buzzing and there are plenty of names being thrown about that will have a serious impact on the fantasy season over the next week and a half. Mixed-league owners need to prepare for change in their own way but they tend to have an easier time with this as the player universe is full and tasty. But for those in AL and NL-only leagues, it's about to get ugly.
 
If you haven't had your ear to the ground recently, you better get started. We're hearing about all sorts of player movement and the fantasy repercussions will be massive. Take the rumor that the Tigers are looking to acquire Francisco Rodriguez, for example. Single-league owners will have to deal with the crossover of players while everyone has to deal with the fact that either K-Rod becomes a set-up man or that Joaquin Benoit owners just lost a closer. Then there's the rubble left behind in Milwaukee as the debate between John Axford and Jim Henderson continues. If you own any of those players, you're going to have to prepare yourself. And when/if the move does happen, you're going to have to act fast.
 
And there's plenty more on top of that. I'm hearing Alex Rios and/or Justin Morneau to the Pirates, Matt Garza to the Rangers (see below),  Aramis Ramirez or Michael Young to the Red Sox, and Jake Peavy to either the Giants or the Nationals. They may not all happen, but you can bet on the fact that many of them will and when they do, it's going to be up to you to react. Get your waiver priority in order, make some trades to keep yourself covered, do whatever you need to do to ensure that your fantasy team takes as little negative impact as possible. It may take a little extra attention over the next several days, but it will be worth it in the end.
 
Or at least until you have to deal with the August 31st waiver trade deadline, that is.
 
Now let's see whose stock is rising and falling.

Rising

Rex Brothers, RP COL - With Rafael Betancourt landing on the disabled list with appendicitis, Brothers jumps back into the closer role for Colorado and this time, it's unlikely that he relinquishes the job. Dating back to last season, Betancourt's name has been thrown around the trade rumor mill quite often and unless this bout of appendicitis totally kills his market value, he should be moved at the deadline. And if this latest ailment does kill his trade value, it's likely because he is slow to recover and rendered ineffective. Either way, it's win-win for Brothers and those who pick him up. The lefty closer isn't the most ideal, but manager Walt Weiss is enamored with his 1.11 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 40.2 innings and insane 98.1-percent strand rate, and that's all that matters.

Matt Adams, 1B STL - The stars align for Adams once again as Matt Holliday lands on the disabled list with a hamstring problem and uber-prospect Oscar Taveras gets shut down to let his high-ankle sprain heal. That shifts Allen Craig into the outfield leaving Adams, along with his .901 OPS and .223 ISO, to man first base for at least the next two weeks. I say 'at least' because two weeks in the outfield puts Craig at a much greater risk to get hurt and we all know he isn't exactly the poster child for clean health. Adams should see plenty of at-bats from within the meat of the lineup and could end up an RBI machine.

Brad Miller, SS SEA - His two-homer night in front of mom and dad (their first time seeing him in the majors) Friday made everyone stand up and take notice and now he's probably got one of the highest ownership increases in the fantasy game this week. And rightfully so. The Mariners have been rolling with Brendan Ryan for so long that almost anyone with a decent glove and the ability to hit .250 with a .300-plus on-base percentage should be considered an upgrade. And that would be Miller. Don't get your hopes up that he's some fantasy savior, but he'll play every day and he won't kill your batting average. His contact rates are right around league average and there's a little bit of pop in his bat so half a dozen home runs between now and the end of the season isn't outside the realm of possibility.

Chad Gaudin, SP SF - Go ahead, get all jokes about Gaudin's offseason arrest out of the way, because we're here to focus on pitching stats to help you down the stretch. I'm talking about a 2.15 ERA with a 3.03 FIP to match. I'm talking about a 5.3-percent HR/FB for a fly-ball pitcher pitching in a cavernous pitcher's park. I'm talking about an increased strikeout rate and a decreased walk rate from his previous year of service. I know, I can't believe I'm talking about Gaudin either, but who here though Ryan Vogelsong would excel in his return with the Giants? I'm not trusting him on the road in Colorado or Arizona, but you can bet I'll be using him for all home starts (0.55 ERA at AT&T Park this season) and anywhere on the road like Chavez Ravine or Petco.

Junior Lake, OF CHC - After posting a slash line of .295/.341/.462 with four home runs and 14 stolen bases for Triple-A Iowa, Lake earned himself a call-up when David DeJesus landed on the disabled list. That alone should have put him on your radar, without him having to go 4-for-7 with a double, a walk and a stolen base in his first two games. But let's also factor in the knowledge that the Cubs are definitely sellers here at the deadline and guys like DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano are always prime candidates to be dealt. Lake is a nice cheap-speed option for right now and could end up starting in the Cubs' outfield full-time after July 31.
 
Staying the Course

Matt Garza, SP CHC - Had the Cubs and the Rangers consummated a deal involving Garza, I would have had to list him in the 'Falling' section as his fly-ball rate is up to 38.8-percent right now and he's sporting a 10.3-percent HR/FB. That's not really passable in Wrigley during the summer, so put that into the Ballpark at Arlington and suddenly people are starting to look up the record for most home runs allowed. But the deal hasn't been made which gives other teams an opportunity to lure him away. For now, his value remains as is and will likely remain the same if he stays in the National League. But put him in the AL in anything but an extreme pitcher's park, your ratios could be in for some serious trouble.

Falling

Yasiel Puig, OF LAD - "What? Say it ain't so, Howard. Say it ain't so. Not Puig!" That's what I'm hearing in my head right now as I report to you that your "next big thing" seems to be fizzling out already. Sure, the four-game sample size might be a little small, but a 1-for-14 stretch split over the All Star break (momentum killer?) for a guy with such a high profile stands out like a turd in a punch bowl. Add to it the fact that he hasn't hit a home run in 13 games and hasn't rung up and RBI in 11 games and suddenly that's a bit worrisome. Go ahead and blame the hip issue, it doesn't really matter. Because it's all converging at just the wrong time as Matt Kemp comes off the disabled list and the Dodgers have to figure out how to make room for him, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and your Cuban dreamboat. Base-running blunders, silly bat-flips on fly balls that turn into routine fly-outs, none of it seems to be working in his favor right now. He's already out of the lineup Sunday and that could simply be the beginning of the end.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF OAK - Ah, the curse of the Home Run Derby rears its ugly head yet again. Did Bob Melvin think we all fell off the turnip truck or something when he said the wrist soreness that has kept Cespedes out of the lineup for the last three games (yes, he's out Sunday as well) had nothing to do with him crushing baseballs at the Derby? Come on, man. You're better than that. While Cespedes' power has been right on the money this year, the batting average, the strikeouts and the little dings and dents that keep him out of the lineup regularly are killing fantasy owners. He's got so much talent, yet he's just so frail. Owning him during a hot streak is pure joy, but those moments are becoming so infrequent that you may want to think about making him someone else's problem.

Josh Hamilton, OF LAA - To quote The Color of Money: "It's like a nightmare, isn't it? And it just keeps getting worse and worse." You didn't listen to those who said that, despite hitting in a lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo, Hamilton was going to struggle in Los Angeles and you bought into him anyway. Now you're saddled with a guy hitting .225 that you can't even trade. And what kind of power hitter finishes the first half with a 38.4-percent fly-ball rate? That's certainly not helping the situation. He may have knocked a pair of home runs in one game recently, but over his last eight games, he's batting .194 and has a 33.3-percent strikeout rate. The home crowd is starting to get restless and as the media continues to ride him, he's going to start pressing at the plate. Once that starts and he's swinging harder and harder, how long before he lands on the DL with an oblique injury?

Josh Donaldson, 3B OAK - Has the magic worn off or is it merely a slump? Over his last nine games, Donaldson is batting just .206 with one home run and four RBI and over his last five games, his strikeouts have gone up while he hasn't drawn a single walk. His batting average has dropped steadily over the last two and a half months as has his on-base and slugging percentages. We know that he's never performed at this level before and this year came somewhat out of left field, so now the question is, how badly does he regress in the second half? Or better yet, did you miss your window of opportunity to sell-high?

Nolan Arenado, 3B COL - He's 0-for-15 over his last five games and is batting just .097 over his last 10. He hasn't hit a home run since June 23 and he has two RBI over his last 13 games. He's got a 48.8-percent ground ball rate here in July and a swinging strike rate that is creeping up to double-digits. I look at all that and sadly think Jordan Pacheco looks pretty good too. The excuses that I'm hearing are found in his home/road splits and the fact that he's played against the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres too often over the past month; that they're seeing him for the third or fourth time and have better scouting reports on him. If those are the flimsy excuses we're hearing then I may be done with him as of right now. He's not hitting much better at home than he is on the road and -- NEWSFLASH - he's going to be seeing those teams a heck of a lot more in the future. The ball is officially in his court now and it's up to him to make the necessary adjustments. With the Rockies still contending in the NL West they might not be willing to tolerate this much longer.

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