MLB Barometer - Minor Disappointment
You say neat-o, check your libido, then go to the church in your new tuxedo.
-Young MC, Bust A Move
Three. That's how many days are left in my era of bachelorhood as I step under the arch this weekend and officially tie the knot. Since my fiancée Nickie and I decided not to hire an official wedding coordinator, all of the stress and pressure of creating the perfect evening has fallen squarely on us. And between starting a new job, keeping up with fantasy columns and wedding planning that good friend and fellow RotoWire writer Scott Jenstad calls ‘the most time-consuming wedding planning in modern history', I have not been giving the full attention my nine little ones deserve. I'm talking about my fantasy baseball teams, of course ... I'm no deadbeat dad! It's been a difficult juggling act and I assume that I'll be participating in fewer leagues for a couple of years to actually concentrate on my human little ones, which I would truly be lucky to have.
Back to when we first met. Within our first couple of dates, I knew not only that Nickie was a keeper, but that she was The One. So, I made sure she got to know and like me a bit before I dropped the bomb on her:
"Honey, I have a secret. I'm a Rotoholic"
It's hard to describe to someone outside of ‘The Game' how much of a time commitment fantasy sports truly are. How do you explain to someone who hardly knows much beyond balls, strikes, Dodgers and Giants that my next 26 Sunday nights are booked for something called FAAB? Luckily, she understands how passionate I am about the hobby. Winning CDM's football Super Challenge last year surely didn't hurt building the case - I was able secure the engagement ring similar to how fantasy paid for Scott Jenstad's ring for his then fiancée / now wife (he thanks Nelson Cruz, I owe Dez Bryant's week 17 fourth-quarter TD). So as I make the week's final preparations, I thought it'd be a good idea to share with you the vows that will most definitely not be read by yours truly this weekend:
Your smile and glow takes away all my sadness,
Like a 9-inning shutout by the Mariners Hernandez,
It amazes how you make life easier, not harder,
As rare as a non-home run hit by Chris Carter,
On our path, we'll encounter many valleys and peaks,
Similar to the careers of the Brothers Upton and Weeks,
May our love stay strong and shall it never teeter,
And last forever like the career of the great Derek Jeter.
I'll be on hiatus from the Barometer for the next couple of weeks between the wedding and our Costa Rica honeymoon, but rest assured, I'll have my hotel WiFi ready for the occasional box score and to make sure that lineups are fresh and ready to go. Wish me luck and see ya'll on the other side!
Anthony Rizzo, 1B CHI - Rizzo is in the midst of a magical season, leading the National League with 25 home runs, eclipsing last year's career high in 222 less at-bats. Rizzo is also among the league leaders in runs scored (71), but with only 56 RBI - in part the effects of playing on a weak offense. It would be amazing to think about the type of numbers Rizzo would put up on a team like the Yankees or calling a park like Coors Field his home. The Cubs have some of the best minor league prospects in baseball waiting in the wings that would make a wonderful supporting cast. Rizzo's .244 ISO is tied for second in the NL with Paul Goldschmidt and Rizzo has been averaging a home run for every 15 at-bats. His average draft position in NFBC drafts this March was 100 (middle of the 9th round in 12-teamers) and Rizzo appears to be positioning himself to be a first or second rounder next season.
Carlos Santana, CI/DH CLE - Heading into June with a .163 batting average, fantasy owners were rightfully concerned about Santana, but with the expectation that there was nowhere to go but up. Santana then arose from the depths of the abyss to the tune of .308/.426/.590 last month and is one of baseball's hottest hitters since the All-Star break - .436, 6 HR, 13 RBI and 9 Runs. Santana leads the AL in walks (72), has improved his walk rate from last year (14.5% to 17.3%), has an outside shot at 30 home runs (20 homers through Sunday's action), and is a few BA points away from surpassing his career-worst .239 from 2011. With Jason Kipnis back in the mix and succeeding in his new leadoff role, Santana is in a prime position to finish 2014 with a bang and make up for the woeful first two months of the season. With 11 starts behind the plate, Santana should qualify at catcher in most leagues next year, further enhancing his fantasy value.
Josh Rutledge, MI COL - Rutledge has taken advantage of daily playing time with the recent DL stint of Troy Tulowitzki. Rutledge is hitting .371 with 9 RBI since the All-Star break and had a seven game hitting streak snapped with his 0-5 on Sunday. Rutledge was a popular mid-round upside pick for draft leagues heading into the 2013 season, but struggled with a .235 average in 314 plate appearances and losing playing time to DJ LeMahieu. Though LeMahieu lacks power, he's a better defender, a more consistent hitter and LeMahieu locked in the second base gig in spring training this year. Rutledge has been boom or bust at the plate this year, striking out in 25% of his at-bats and his .413 BABIP foretells of a near certain drop below his current .307 average. The Rutledge rise may just be a reflection of the past two weeks as Tulowitzki should be back soon, but anything can happen. Perhaps the Rockies take notice that Rutledge has as many extra base hits as LeMahieu in almost 200 less at-bats and give him the opportunity to play second base full-time down the stretch.
Francisco Liriano, SP PIT - Three weeks ago, I told you to pick up Liriano and Danny Salazar if they were available, and I hope you did. After a horrendous first half (1-6, 4.62 ERA, 1.56 WHIP in 72 IP), Liriano spent almost a month on the DL and was subsequently dropped in many a league across the country. We're hoping his two post-ASB starts are a sign of a turnaround - 12 IP, 2 W, 7 H, 1 ER, 12 K. Both starts were at home, and he's still walking guys per usual (5 BB in those two games, 3.5 BB/9 this season), though Liriano appears healthy and the Pirates could surely use some firepower on the mound with teammate Gerrit Cole recovering and not performing to expectations. Liriano will hit the mound for two roadies this week against the Giants and the Diamondbacks where the reward should hopefully outweigh the risk. Liriano has pitched much better away from PNC Park (4.78 home ERA, 3.28 on the road) and should hopefully help his fantasy owners forget about his first half struggles.
Steve Cishek, RP MIA - Despite the occasional hiccups, Cishek is in the midst of a fine season closing out ballgames for an improved Marlins squad. Cishek leads all major league closers with six saves since the All-Star break, striking out 10 in seven innings. Cishek's 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine ranks fourth in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel (15.3), Kenley Jansen (13.9) and Trevor Rosenthal (11.5) and Cishek has only allowed one home run in 44.1 innings this year. Cishek is enjoying most of his success off of his slider - opponents are hitting only .158 against it. Provided that he is not traded to a contender before the deadline, Cishek will be a solid option for fantasy leagues next year, and may fly under the radar again given the team he plays and simply because he's just not a very popular name. Cishek has one of the longest leashes among major league closers and appears to be solidifying a job for himself for years to come.
Hitters: Mark Reynolds, 1B MLW, Lucas Duda, 1B NYM, Adam Eaton, OF CHW, Carlos Beltran, OF NYY
Pitchers: Alex Cobb, SP TB, Danny Salazar, SP MIN, Odrisamer Despaigne, SP SD, Jake McGee, RP TB
Not Falling For It: Grady Sizemore, OF PHI, Vance Worley, SP PIT
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B CLE - We've witnessed Big Chiz's batting average drop over 70 points since his big three HR, nine RBI game on June 9. His home runs per fly ball have dropped off from 17% last month to 5% in July and slash line down considerably, specifically slugging percentage - June: .311/.364/.556, July: .212/.333/.257. Chisenhall is hitting a paltry .140 since the All-Star break and missed both games this weekend with an illness. Chisenhall's .359 BABIP and .317 BA will continue to slide, but the next few weeks should balance out between his recent struggles and early season success. A .382 OBP is nothing to sneeze at, and 2014 is Chisenhall's first real full season for the Indians. He's improved tremendously against LHP (.111 last year albeit a small sample size, to .333 this year), is only 25 years old and appears locked in as the 3B of the Indians present and future.
Michael Morse, OF SF - Morse has dropped off the face of the fantasy earth after a phenomenal April and May - .294, 11 HR, 38 RBI. Since June 1, Morse has hit 3 HR with only 9 RBI and a .253 average. Morse is struggling against LHP this season (.226) but does have six of his 14 homers against them. Morse surely is not helping himself by refusing to take a walk - a 6% walk percentage that was only 2% in June. Hopefully the All-Star break gave Morse a chance to rest and finish the year off strong. He's hitting .312 since teams returned to action but seven of his 10 hits were singles and Morse has hit only one homer in his last 43 games. Morse has spent the last few weeks on my NFBC bench, but I'm not ready to drop him. He's a very streaky hitter who is due to get back on track sooner than later.
Stephen Strasburg, SP WAS - Strasburg has surely disappointed in the ratios department after fantasy owners spent a high draft pick on him this year - NFBC ADP of 28.6, the third starting pitcher off the board. Mechanically, Strasburg is fine - his strikeouts-per-nine is a sky-high 10.7 and the walk rate is solid too (1.97 BB/9). He's mostly been unlucky - a .353 BABIP helps explain his uncharacteristic 3.67 ERA which should hopefully start to move in the direction of his 2.53 xFIP. Strasburg has also been the victim of poor run support as he enters week 18 with a 7-8 record for the NL East leading Washington Nationals. Strasburg has allowed four earned runs in each of his two starts since the All-Star break and lines up for two starts this week, at Miami and home against the Phillies. I'd bet on Strasburg to be one of baseball's top five starters from here on out. This little window of time might serve as the lowest fantasy value of his young career and is an opportunity for slick fantasy owners to strike while the iron's hot.
Nathan Eovaldi, SP MIA - What good is velocity without the control? One of the most talked-about power pitchers in the early part of the season, Eovaldi was electric in the month of April - 8.2 K/9, 55% GB-rate, stellar ratios (2.58 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). Since then, the wheels have been slowly falling off. Eovaldi's strikeouts-per-nine have been slowly decreasing every month since - 6.9 in May, 5.0 in June, 4.1 so far in July. Meanwhile, his ERA has been steadily increasing and lately Eovaldi has been damaging fantasy rotations - 13 earned runs over his last two games (11 innings), regularly unraveling in the early innings. Lefty bats are hitting .304 against him (along with a .835 OPS) and his home park has done him no favors (4.85 ERA, .290 OBA in 11 home starts). With all of that stated, something tells me Eovaldi is down but not out. He's a 24-year-old workhorse who is not as bad as his recent performances suggest. Eovaldi takes to the hill for two home starts this week (WAS, CIN), but should remain on the bench or dropped from your roster entirely until he strings a few consecutive solid starts in a row.
Mike Minor, SP ATL - Hey, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong. As I've mentioned before in this column, I'm a major Minor apologist. But the eyes don't lie, and what we've been seeing lately is truly abysmal. In a stretch of 10 starts (50 innings) since the beginning of June, Minor has allowed 41 earned runs and 81 hits - not only the worst run of his professional career, but one of the most inefficient starters in all of baseball, falling into Colby Lewis territory this year. The worst part is that many Minor owners - present company included - keep running him out there, pointing to his 3.21 ERA in 204 IP last year, assuming that THIS is the start that gets him back on track - but, the hits keep coming. If there is a bright side, it's an 8.34 K/9 and his 3.68 xFIP (ERA has ballooned to 5.32 now). Minor has always been a fly ball guy but the 1.46 HR/9 is a new floor. Look at the xFIP and the extreme .358 BABIP to assume that Minor is better than what we've seen lately and that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Smart fantasy owners may not give up Strasburg cheap in a trade based on his recent play, but Minor is a different story. If you own him, you probably can't stand him at this point, and as I've said before, one man's garbage is another man's treasure.
Hitters: Zack Cozart, SS CIN, Jay Bruce, OF CIN, Starling Marte, OF PIT, Alejandro De Aza, OF CHW
Pitchers: Drew Hutchison, SP TOR, Ryan Vogelsong, SP SF, Cliff Lee, SP PHI, Casey Janssen, RP TOR
Not Falling For It: Todd Frazier, 3B CIN, Jonathon Niese, SP NYM