MLB Barometer - Bargains at the V-Mart
As we head into the warm months of baseball, I'd like to take a break from the regularly-scheduled anecdotal, feel-good shtick to identify hitters who are about to heat up, introduce some sneaky potential free agent fantasy contributors as well as throw a few predictions out there. We know that "risers" makes our list based on recent performance, which is not necessarily indicative of future results. Meanwhile, our "fallers" can continue to slump their way into obscurity or find themselves on the list of risers next month after a hot streak. We're always talking about a set period of recent success or failure but purposely omitting guys like Chris Colabello whose rise felt temporary and artificial to so many of us. So, who are some players we can invest in that are due to heat up? Here's 10 of them:
- Allen Craig, OF STL (singles and doubles galore - BA uptick)
- Alex Rios, OF TEX (5-category contribution, but on a grander scale)
- Wilin Rosario, C COL (June home run binge)
- Adam Lind, 1B/DH TOR (June home run binge)
- Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH TEX (contributions to HR, RBI)
- Billy Butler, DH KC (starts to raise that BA towards career norms)
- Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHC (June home run binge, sitting at zero homers through Sunday)
- Jay Bruce, OF CIN (leads all hitters with home runs in June)
- Coco Crisp, OF OAK (SB streak and runs galore in June)
- Elvis Andrus, SS TEX (dozens of runs and double-digit SB in June)
Some of these names (Bruce, Rosario) are obvious candidates to rise while others like Craig and Butler have already displayed signs of waking up. Expect these guys to help your fantasy teams next month.
Sneaky Waiver Wire Contributors
- Eric Chavez, 3B ARI (finds a way to get AB via injuries, crushes RHP)
- Maikel Franco, 3B PHI (the Phillies give in and call him up, hot stretch out the gate)
- Ryan Flaherty, IF BAL (Schoop struggles/gets sent down, Flaherty mashes before cooling again)
- Michael Choice, OF TEX (takes advantage of opportunity for a few hot weeks)
- Daniel Nava, OF BOS (hits for average, re-entrenches himself hitting second in lineup)
Franco sticks out here as he's the rookie prospect who may soon rise into opportunity. It's crucial to always stay one week ahead of your competition. Gamble and throw a few FAAB dollars out there ahead of time before players' prices skyrocket and are on everyone's radar.
Five not-so-bold Predictions
- Nelson Cruz will hit 40+ home runs and be a second round pick in fantasy drafts next season.
- Corey Dickerson will take Charlie Blackmon's job and finish with better numbers on the year.
- Neil Walker, who has hit 10 HR through eight weeks, won't hit 10 more HR the rest of the way.
- Todd Frazier will not cool in the second half like he did 2013 and finish the year as a top 5 3B.
- Billy Hamilton goes on a stolen base rampage to compete with and surpass Dee Gordon.
Being able to firmly stand behind our strong opinions and projections are vital to breaking out of the standings doldrums. We may find ourselves on the wrong side of a few of them, but in the end, our fantasy squads excel or fall apart by the choices we make. It's not a pure guessing game either - some of it is simple regression to the mean. Is this finally the year that Matt Holliday hits .260? Does Jay Bruce struggles to hit double digit homers? Our experiences tell us that these scenarios are possible, but we'd like stay positive and certainly be mindful of career averages. Sure, it's important to listen to the Negative Nancies out there who heed caution with rookies and slumping players but what fun is fantasy baseball if we're not looking at the bright side of things? So put on those rose-colored glasses - summer is coming and there is still a whole lot of baseball to be played.
Victor Martinez, DH DET - Martinez has been quite the difference maker for fantasy owners who drafted him to fill their utility slot in the middle rounds this spring (NFBC ADP: 169). Hitting .364 with eight home runs in the month of May, Martinez has been one of baseball's most reliable hitters. This weekend, Martinez struck out for only the 13th time this season - surpassing his home run total (12) for the first time in weeks. A career .304 hitter, V-Mart has scorched lefties (.462 in 43 PA) and is experiencing a power renaissance (12 HR, .273 ISO), on pace to top his career high in home runs (25 in 2007). An added bonus - Martinez played his tenth game at first base on Saturday, qualifying as a 1B/CI in NFBC and other leagues - great timing for those who may have lost Prince Fielder or Nolan Arenado to injury last week.
Jose Altuve, 2B HOU - The diminutive second bagger leads the American League in hits (70), stolen bases (17) and is third behind only the Tigers' Martinez and Ian Kinsler in batting average (.326) through eight weeks of action. Despite only scoring 64 runs in 672 PA for the hapless Astros last year, Altuve was still the seventh 2B taken in NFBC drafts in March at an ADP of 93. Altuve has stolen 35 and 33 bases over the last two seasons and is well on pace to surpass that total and make a run at 50. With rookie phenom George Springer warming up (4 HR in his last four games), Altuve has the opportunity to score many more runs than last season and provide a nice fantasy season for his owners.
Indians lefty bats (Michael Brantley, OF, Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B CLE) - There's a lot of reason for hope in the city of Cleveland, and not all of it on the arm of Bo Callahan, er, Johnny Football. Kudos to those of you who foresaw Brantley's breakout - a contributor to all five standard roto categories (30 R - 9 HR - 38 RBI - 7 SB - .303) for owners selecting him after 50 other outfielders in drafts this year. The power is new and perhaps fluky (.114 ISO in three seasons before this year's outburst) but Brantley stole 46 bags at Triple-A Columbus in 2009 and can fly. Meanwhile, 3B Chisenhall is in the midst of an eight game hitting streak, hitting .381 in 127 PA due in part to an unsustainable .465 BABIP. Chiz will be a hot commodity among bidders this week, but don't get overly excited as things can head south for him just as quickly as they've gone well. Chisenhall is not a big power bat (14 HR over 498 career PA) and I'd rather have the Rangers' Mitch Moreland as my CI fill-in for the rest of the year.
Corey Kluber (SP, CLE) - Though my love for this Indians starter pales in comparison to that of RotoWire's pitching guru, Paul Sprorer, Kluber was a big target for me late in drafts this year, coming off NFBC draft boards as the 90th pitcher. Kluber ranks second in strikeouts behind only David Price, including 35 K in his last 27.2 IP, rattling off four consecutive wins. Kluber also has two double-digit strikeout games (11, 13) and is only allowing 0.5 HR/9 on the year. Though batters are hitting .386 off of his primary pitch, a sinker, Kluber mixes in a remarkable slider and an unhittable cutter. His 2.72 xFIP portends to an ERA that can maintain the current 3.10 range. Kluber is very likely to continue racking up the strikeouts and contend for the AL's best in that category.
Dellin Betances (RP, NYY) - There's something about Betances that reminds me of a young Mariano Rivera that I can't quite put my finger on. The former Yankees' top prospect struggled in Triple-A last year (3-5, 6.39 ERA in 16 starts) but has been putting on a strikeout clinic (15.6 K/9) bridging the gap successfully in the late innings for current closer, David Robertson. Robertson's job is safe for now as he's collected 10 saves, only blowing one (a 3-run bomb to Adam Dunn on Friday), but a few more rough outings can quickly put pressure on Girardi to replace him with the towering, 6'8" Betances. He tops out at almost 99 mph on his fastball, but it's his fascinating knuckle-curve that has blown away 40 batters in 58 PA. Keep a close eye on the situation here and don't be surprised to see Betances closing out games for the Yanks this summer should DRob falter.
Hitters: Todd Frazier, 3B CIN, Carl Crawford, OF LAD, George Springer, OF HOU, Marcell Ozuna, OF MIA
Pitchers: Kyle Lohse, SP, MLW, Sonny Gray, SP OAK, David Phelps, SP NYY Sean Doolittle, RP OAK
Not Falling For It: Jimmy Rollins, SS PHI, Gavin Floyd, SP ATL
Ryan Howard, 1B PHI - It's hard to believe that Howard is turning 35 this year and appears to be in the twilight of his career. Howard's 58 HR, 149 RBI season may feel fresh in our minds, but that was eight seasons ago. A myriad of DL stints over the last few years have cost Howard significant playing time (80 games played last year, 71 in 2012). Sure, Howard has some pop left, and his K% continues to hover around his career 30% mark, but the Phillies offense feels stagnant this year and a sudden re-emergence for Howard seems unlikely. Howard is hitting .228 with seven homers through the first eight weeks and he'll be hard-pressed to hit above .250 on the year. We can get away with Howard as our starting CI, but those who rely on him as their starting 1B most likely already feel the pressure to upgrade.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B BOS - Outside of 29 runs scored on the season, Pedroia has been relatively unspectacular so far this season. Pedroia is far off-pace from our annual 15/15 expectations (2 HR, 2 SB in 220 PA) as the lineup adjustments constantly dance around him like a game of musical chairs. Not much has changed in Pedroia's underlying stats - his BB% (10.5%) is on par with recent years while the K% (12.3%) has seen an ever-so-slight uptick. We should expect him to improve on his .269 BA and continue to score runs, but Pedroia needs to pick up the pace in HR and SB to not get overtaken by the likes of Brian Dozier and Anthony Rendon much the way Jason Kipnis surpassed Ian Kinsler in value at 2B last season. Pedroia's awful Week 8 (.207, 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB) coincided with the cooling of teammate David Ortiz (1-23, no R, HR, RBI) but Pedroia is certainly not out for the count. He makes for a great buy-low candidate for those who realize there's still over 100 games to be played and that Pedroia is still one of the most consistent hitters in the game.
Nick Castellanos, 3B DET - Castellanos was in the AL ROY conversation a couple of months ago but has failed to live up to the hype through the season's first two months. Though Castellanos' starting gig is not in immediate jeopardy, his inability to take a walk (5 BB in 155 PA) helps explain his extraordinarily low OBP (.270). Castellanos hit .276 in Triple-A last year and .264 in Double-A the year before so his current .236 is no surprise - but with no speed and light power (.130 ISO), that leaves us with a very unexciting fantasy player. Castellanos does have upside, is only 22 years old and in only his first full big league season, so expect steady improvement towards middling BA/low 20 HR power in the mold of 90's fan-favorite Travis Fryman.
Justin Masterson, SP CLE - You're probably cursing yourself if you drew the Masterson bullet in the wacky game of Russian Roulette: Indians Rotation Edition (the Carlos Carrasco chamber malfunctioned). After a substantial K/9 boost last year (9.1 after three straight seasons of 7.0 or below), Masterson garnered a top 200 ADP this off-season, in the same range as consistent ratios guys like Doug Fister and C.J. Wilson. Through 11 starts, Masterson has been brutal - a 5.32 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and career-high 4.34 walks per nine innings. The Indians front office must be doing their due diligence or have strong intuition - they ignored Masterson's request to pursue a contract extension this offseason. Masterson is just one year removed from 4.93 ERA in over 200 innings and simply needs to be benched until he gives us a reason to start him. He's borderline droppable a la 2012 and 2013 Tim Lincecum - a headache you just don't want to deal with.
Grant Balfour, RP TB - Balfour has had a rough start in what was supposed to be a smooth situation as the Rays closer - but nothing ever seems to go smoothly for the fiery Aussie who recently spoke out about his own fans booing him. Their frustration is derived from two Balfour blown saves and a startling 8.25 BB/9 (18 walks in 19.2 innings). Balfour did maintain a 1.05 WHIP over his last two seasons for the A's, collecting 62 saves, but failed a physical with the Orioles over the off-season, a foreshadowing of the issues at present. Balfour is a tough fellow, but may have lingering issues with his knee or wrist that he prefers not sharing with the team. I'd love to be optimistic here and say that Balfour is fine, but we really don't know. Jake McGee would be able to step in should Balfour falter, as could Juan Carlos Oviedo or Joel Peralta.
Hitters: Daniel Murphy, 2B NYM, Chris Johnson, 3B ATL, Charlie Blackmon OF COL, Matt Kemp, OF LAD
Pitchers: Jake Peavy, SP BOS, Clay Buchholz, SP BOS, A.J. Burnett, SP PHI, Ervin Santana, SP ATL
Not Falling For It: Matt Holliday, OF STL, David Price, SP TB