With just over a month left in the 2014 season, fantasy owners have a good idea of what to expect from most hitters and it is tough to find any surprises. Don't give up though. It's time to start finding those players who may have made a mid-season change, and are seeing increases in production as a result. The change may not be obvious because of inferior early-season stats. This week, I will attempt to unearth some of these gems.
Finding possible diamonds is getting tougher, so don't let a little work stop you from trying. We are looking for positive changes which can be verified by increased plate discipline, a different plate approach, or better health. The main item I want to stay away from is any BABIP driven surges. BABIP has too much noise involved with it to trust changes on small samples.
The poster child of the hidden late-season surge was Jose Bautista in 2009. He had three home runs on the season until the last month when he hit 10 more. When looking back at the data, he went from spreading the home runs around to pulling them into the left field corner. Most people considered the spike an anomaly and discarded it. In 2010, he show it was no blip and hit 54 home runs on the season.
The process is simple, look at a leaderboard for a recent set time frame and then see who seems out of place. Finally, find out why they seem out of place. I am going to keep it simple and just look at how hitters have performed in the season's second half. Owners will jump all over a hitter when he jumps out to a great start at the beginning of the season. Remember when Emilo Bonificio was all the rage? To help find these batters, I have created a custom leaderboard at FanGraphs which can be sorted by some of my favorite categories.
Sorting by home runs is a no brainer. With power getting more and more precious, a few home runs here or there can make a huge difference in the standings. Here are some names that stick out when I look at the leaderboard.
Chris Carter, 11 HR (T-1st): Chris Carter hits home runs and strikes out. He is doing both of those in the second half with a decent BABIP (.324) to help boost his batting average to a decent level. I would expect the average to drop, but the strikeouts and home runs to continue into the future.
Oswaldo Arcia, 8 HR (T-4th): His production has been totally hidden by an early-season wrist injury. Just four games into the season and he was lost until mid-May. In season's first half, he had a .150 ISO and an average home run and flyball distance of 287 ft. As his wrist healed and he headed into the season's second half, his ISO has gone up to .341 and his average home run and flyball distance is 299 ft. His ISO is third in the league in the second half (min 50 PA). Even with the breakout, he is only 7% owned in Yahoo! leagues and 6% in ESPN leagues. There really isn't a more freely available power source currently on the waiver wire.
Travis Snider, 6 HR (T-6th): Snider may be turning into a useful hitter. His 10 homers in only 258 plate appearances would project out nicely if he played a full season. His problem is playing time in a loaded Pirates outfield. He has taken advantage of time missed by Andrew McCutchen and a delayed call-up for Gregory Polanco to get some at-bats. For him to continue to break out, he will need to be in the lineup everyday.
The home-run outburst may be a little one sided with nine homers against right-handed pitching, and just one against lefties, but he has 205 plate appearances against righties and 27 against lefties, so the difference can be explained. The turnaround started with more selectivity at the plate. He has dropped his K% to 20% (career average of 26%). Looking deeper, here are some of his swinging and contact stats from 2013 to 2014.
Outside of Strike Zone Swing%: 31% to 26%
Inside the Strike Zone Swing%: 60% to 62%
Contact%: 84% to 89%
This change has helped raise his average and give him the opportunity for home runs.
This is generally an ugly list, with only one name sticking out – Josh Harrison.
Josh Harrison, 8 SB (T-5th): Josh Harrison seems to be this year's later blooming non-prospect. The 26-year-old is not all about steals, he can do just about everything – hitting for average, providing stolen bases, playing multiple positions, and even chipping in some power. He is the new Ben Zobrist. Few, if any, predicted that Harrison would improve on his .297/.333/.450 slash line from the first half, but he has actually been better by hitting .320/.358/.552 in the second half. He should not be the cornerstone of any team, but he should at least be rostered. With a track record well below his 2014 numbers, I could see Harrison fall on his face next season. Right now, he gives his owners the flexibility to add a five-category player at several positions (right now 13 games played at 2B, 39 at 3B, 7 at SS, and 52 in the OF). See if you can get him now. Also, watch where he is going in 2015 drafts/auctions. His value could be all over the place, but the aforementioned versatility helps his chances of seeing steady at-bats.
Anthony Gose, 9 SB (T-4th): There's not much to like here. He is not getting regular playing time, so an owner will need to see when he can work his way into Toronto's lineup before using him. He is a career .238 hitter, which is too low for a no-power (.057 ISO in 2014) speedster. Additionally, most of his struggles are against lefties where he has hit .214/.254/.277 against them for his career. This deficiency makes him only a platoon option.
Billy Hamilton, 8 SB (T-5th): He is having problems getting on base in the second half. A .228 AVG and 3% walk rate has led to a .250 OBP is not going to lead to many stolen-base opportunities.
Basically, who is hitting the ball hard enough for extra-base hits? With ISO being a rate stat, some names jump off with minimal plate appearances.
Caleb Joseph, .317 (6th): Mr. Caleb Joseph took the league by storm with his five straight games with a home run earlier this month. The only reason he is getting a chance to catch is because Matt Wieters is out for the season. The 28-year-old's power isn't completely out of left field. He put up near-.200 ISO values a few times in the minors and in 2013, hit 22 homers in Double-A. The problem with Joseph is that he fits into the mold of nearly every other catcher – .220 AVG with 15-20 homers. He is useful this season in deeper leagues while he has some playing time. Next year, when Wieters returns, he may just be a backup again, or serve as depth in the minors.
Travis d'Arnaud, .227 (48th): Another catcher with the high power, low average combination. After the highly touted prospect struggled in 2013 (.202 AVG and one homer), he is at least delivering power this season with 11 home runs. He was sent to the minors mid-season and looked like he turned his production around with a .272 AVG in July, but he has been able to maintain that production with a .222 average so far in August. At least the 25-year-old is hitting for power and playing regularly now, and he remains the Mets' catcher of the future.
With this list of possible breakouts, an owner can then dive in further to determine if the production is real, and can be carried on through the rest of the season and into 2015. Thanks again for your time and let me know if you have any questions or want any players analyzed.