Closing the book on the late August/early September edition of 30 Teams, 30 Thoughts, the focus now shifts to the American League, where things are a bit more interesting than expected when you consider the gaps in the standings just a couple of weeks ago.
The Rays have gone 3-7 over their last 10 games, trimming their lead in the race for the second Wild Card to 2.5 games (Yankees) while three other clubs remain within striking distance (Orioles & Indians at 3.0, Royals at 4.5). Joe Sheehan made a good point during his guest spot on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today this week, noting that the Rays have nine regulars in their lineup with an OPS+ of 100 or better when Jose Lobaton replaces Jose Molina behind the plate. They also have Kelly Johnson and David DeJesus at their disposal on the bench offering a similar level of production when Joe Maddon mixes and matches for his platoons. The Red Sox have a 6.5-game lead over the Rays in the AL East entering play Friday - but is it a gap that the Rays will be able to close in the final three-plus weeks of the season?
Phil Hughes' removal from the rotation might be justified if the replacement is better than David Huff. Does he fit as a starter in the National League, particularly in a park that is more forgiving to flyball tendencies than Yankee Stadium? Hughes might fit as a starter on the vast majority of teams in the American League as well when you consider that his current home park is the second-worst fit for him in all of baseball. According to the Bill James Handbook, the three-year park index for Yankee Stadium has generated a 153 HR rating for left-handed hitters. For a right-handed flyball pitcher, only Coors Field (155 HR rating for LHB) would be worse. General managers for other clubs should be well aware of this, but Hughes is worth a look as a starter for any of the following teams this winter (LHB HR ratings): Kansas City (81), Minnesota (74), Oakland (69), Anaheim (78), Tampa Bay (86), Seattle (85), Chicago - NL (91), Miami (69), Pittsburgh (83), San Diego (57) and San Francisco (63).
Thanks to outstanding defense at third base, Manny Machado is only a half-win below Chris Davis (6.3 fWAR) this season. J.J. Hardy is still an above-average defensive option at shortstop, and he's under contract through 2014 so there is little need for the Orioles to go out of their way to move Hardy this winter. As a highly regarded prospect that has been successful at a very young age in the big leagues, Machado should command a high price at draft tables in the spring. Machado's plate discipline is still a work in progress, as his .323 OBP leaves plenty to be desired, and from a rotisserie standpoint, his 2013 numbers (.294, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 82 R, 6 SB) actually lag behind the less interesting Matt Carpenter (.315, 10 HR, 67 RBI, 106 R, 3 SB). While Carpenter could be producing at a clip he'll never replicate this season, the interest in Machado is understandably rooted in the fact that he's just 21 years old with 832 plate appearances at the big league level under his belt.
John Lackey is a shoe-in for Comeback Player of the Year in the American League. All of the following are career-best marks: xFIP 3.44, WHIP 1.17, GB% 47.1%, BB% 5.1% - and he's delivered the second-best ERA (3.22) and K% (20.9%) of his career as well. Lackey was a $1 purchase by Rob Leibowitz in AL Tout Wars, and passed over completely in the mixed auction. Even with a shortage of wins (8), Lackey will likely be on a number of rosters that finish in the money at season's end.
Is there a dead-cat bounce (© Jeff Erickson) coming from Melky Cabrera? The stock often falls further than it should when dealing with a known PED-user, but rock bottom seems like a reasonable ADP landing spot for Cabrera coming out of a year where he hit just .279/.322/.360 with three homers and two steals over 372 plate appearances. His legs never looked healthy even when he was playing earlier in the season, and perhaps the turf in Toronto will ultimately be his downfall, but the home park and supporting cast were driving factors in my interest in him this year and those will remain in his favor barring an unforeseen series of events with the Jays this offseason. If it's an endgame selection in mixers and just a few dollars in AL-only auctions, I will likely be tempted to take the chance on him one last time.
After spotting a mechanical flaw in his delivery in early August, Justin Verlander is back to doing Justin Verlander things. Over his last six starts, the Tigers' ace has gone seven or more innings five times, while striking out at least six batters in five of those outings. During that span, he's delivered a 3.43 ERA and 1.12 WHIP on the strength of a 37:11 K:BB in 42 innings. Count me among those curious to see how things play out for him in September and beyond.
Danny Salazar has opened plenty of eyes during his brief time in the big leagues, carrying a 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 37:9 K:BB over 33 innings in his first six starts. Entering play Friday, Salazar has logged 126 innings between three levels in 2013, by far the highest innings total of his professional career, which was previously set back in his age-19 season with Low-A Lake County in 2009. Workload restrictions will almost certainly be in place for 2014, which will put a damper on Salazar's rotisserie ceiling. Still, his success from Double-A through the big leagues to this point in 2013 is a huge boost to a Cleveland organization light on starting pitching in the upper levels even after the acquisition of Trevor Bauer last winter. Bauer's lack of an impact in 2013 and disappointing finish at Triple-A including a 39:37 K:BB over his final 10 starts (56 innings) have made it much easier to understand the D-Backs' willingness to part with him in the Didi Gregorius trade.
With 1,419 plate appearances in the big leagues, is it fair to tag Mike Moustakas a bust? There are no signs of a turnaround in his recent performance, while the only silver lining in his first two-and-a-half seasons comes with his 2011 and 2013 contact rates (84-85%). This season, Moustakas has split his ISO marks from the previous two campaigns, checking in at .134 (on par with shortstops Jean Segura and Andrelton Simmons). Moustakas just turned 25 on September 1, so perhaps he'll be a late bloomer and begin to figure things out in 2014, but time may be running out. Of course, it should be noted that Kaufman Stadium suppresses home runs for left-handed batters much more than most parks, which makes Moustakas a more intriguing target should the Royals opt to trade him over the winter. If Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are any indication, the Royals are willing to exercise patience. Moustakas delivered a walk-off home run Thursday in his latest effort to keep owners interested.
Marcus Semien delivered impressive numbers between Double-A and Triple-A for the White Sox this season to earn a September callup. In addition to showing a good eye at both stops, Semien offered a nice combination of power and speed with a combined 19 homers and 24-for-29 mark on stolen-base attempts. Defensively, it was believed that Semien had a big league future ahead at least as a utility player when the White Sox drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2011 first-year player draft, but adjustments that he's made at the plate seem to have paid off and he may be positioned for a chance to lock down a regular spot with Chicago in 2014. Playing on the left side of the infield, Semien logged 73 games at shortstop in the minors this season and 23 at third base, while the latter seems like his clearest path to the big leagues as long as Alexei Ramirez is around. The White Sox have received a .232/.284/.341 line with 13 homers and 44 RBI from their third basemen in 2013, making the position a major area of need going forward.
Despite persistence from Tim Schuler in the form of constantly pushing Brian Dozier on to our NFBC Main Event roster over parts of this season and last, I missed the boat here in a big way. Since June 1, Dozier is hitting .257/.335/.498 with 15 homers, 47 RBI, 27 doubles and two triples. Stretch that half-season sample over a full one and we're looking at a 30-homer, 90-RBI player in the middle infield. A very slow start makes the overall line (.243/.311/.433) less appealing on the surface, but this looks like a case where some of the doubles and triples at previous levels are beginning to clear the outfield wall in his age-26 campaign.
Another year, and yet I still ask: What are you, Ian Kinsler? Compared to Chase Utley (.274/.344/.476), Kinsler's line (.272/.339/.404) is one that was universally overpaid for back in February and March. The 30-30 seasons in 2009 and 2011 still had me interested, but I ended up with very few shares of Kinsler. While the strikeout rate (9.1%) is the lowest of his career, the quality of the contact that Kinsler is making is poor including a .133 ISO (only his 2010 mark was worse) and a supply of weakly hit flyballs. Averaging 262.71 feet on home runs and flyballs this season, Kinsler ranks alongside the likes of Eduardo Nunez, Joaquin Arias, Brendan Ryan and Darwin Barney in the bottom 20 percent of all qualified hitters in that category. On top of the lost power, Kinsler is just 13-for-22 as a basestealer this season.
The closest I will ever come to walking a tightrope is the continued use of Bartolo Colon in the NFBC Main Event while searching for wins and steady ratios in September.
Somehow, George Springer did not win Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2013, despite mashing at Double-A and Triple-A to the tune of a .303/.411/.600 line with 37 homers, 108 RBI and a 45-for-53 mark on the basepaths. The high strikeout rate is a concern (32.8%, 161 in 492 at-bats), but even if Springer is initially a batting average liability in the big leagues, his chance to secure a place in the heart of the Houston lineup and fill at least four of the five standard hitting categories should make him an immediate impact player upon arrival, whether it's Opening Day soon after in 2014.
Perhaps it's the greatest example of a general manager and manager being on different pages that we currently have. If the Dan Haren trade was any indication, the Angels made a strong hire with the decision to bring in Jerry DiPoto as their general manager prior to the 2012 season. Of course, it was DiPoto who plucked Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin from the Angels while serving as the interim general manager for the D-Backs, but the decision to hire Kevin Towers ultimately put DiPoto in limbo for the Angels came calling. No team has spent more in free agency over the past two offseasons than Anaheim, where the early returns have been a disaster as the team has missed the playoffs in back-to-back years. Lengthy contracts for aging players, and the manager who guided the team to its only World Series title in 2002 paired with a farm system depleted by a couple of trades made to significantly improve the present at the expense of the future have left the Halos at a crossroads. Just four players have reached the two-win mark in fWAR for the Angels this season (Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver). Put yourself in Arte Moreno's Crocodile Arlos (shoes) - do you make a change by firing DiPoto or Scioscia? Or just suck it up and see how things play out for another year? Amazingly enough, the Angels still owe $98 million to Josh Hamilton and $202 million to Albert Pujols through 2021.
Recall the sinking ship that was Carter Capps earlier this season - my pocket pick as the eventual closer in Seattle. An arm injury for Stephen Pryor and the collapse of Tom Wilhelmsen opened the door for a new closer to emerge in Seattle, so at least the fading of Wilhelmsen was right. Danny Farquhar has very interesting skills, including a 13.5 K/9 and ample control (3.2 BB/9). The gap between his xFIP (2.14) and ERA (4.37) has likely kept some owners from realizing just how skilled he is. Farquhar works with a three-pitch mix including a 95-96 mph fastball, curveball and cutter (91-92 mph). Since taking over the ninth-inning role to begin August, Farquhar is 12-for-13 in save chances with a 1.88 ERA and 21:3 K:BB over 14.1 innings.
Check out the latest (sixth) episode of Short Hops here and subscribe via iTunes.
Have a question you would like to hear answered on the podcast? Fire it my way @DerekVanRiper.