This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.
In most leagues, we are one of the 7-14 owners currently looking to gain standings points to close the gap on the current leader.
Most leagues don't penalize finishing ninth instead of fourth.
Go down swinging.
I've been at RotoWire since getting hired as an intern in the fall of 2005.
Most of the advice I've seen and heard over the last 13 years has suggested a patient approach to roster management.
Like most things, the people who choose to take that advice (which I have no doubt preached at some point), take it too far.
The fear of screwing up or looking stupid by making a bad drop, or "losing" a trade leads many owners to sit back and wait for the core they drafted to tear up the league for a few months to vault them up the standings.
Waiting too long for a player on the waiver wire to "prove it" simply steers them onto the roster of a competitor. (One great example from this season is covered below.)
The validation we seek is ambiguous.
At best, it's a sliding scale.
A player with a horrible track record needs to show us something for a longer period of time than a rookie with no experience at the big league level before we buy in.
Kyle Gibson has to find something and display a new skill for a longer period of time than Freddy Peralta before we can accept Gibson's improvement. Gibson will shuttle on and off rosters more frequently than Peralta throughout the second half of 2018 – assuming that both are healthy and the roles are stable – because he has a past that "scares" us into thinking it may fall apart quickly at any time.
The further away from the top you are, the more creative you should be in your bid to move up.
If nothing else, you can learn something along the way in a disappointing year.
Try to become a better negotiator in trade.
Try to become a better judge of waiver-wire talent.
Try to leverage team statistical trends to find a better way to stream pitchers.
We often criticize teams in all sports for failing to recognize their position when they don't play a young player enough, or attempt something outside the lines of "normal" within that sport.
Develop a hypothesis or two, and test away.
Zach Eflin, SP, PHI – Eflin first caught my eye when he was recalled by the Phillies in May thanks to an uptick in fastball velocity. For the season, he's averaged 94.6 mph with his four-seamer after finishing 2017 at 93.1 mph. The results have been significant, as opposing hitters slugged .638 (.574 xSLG) against that offering last season, compared to a .307 (.364 xSLG) mark in 2018. Regrettably, I didn't acquire him for next to nothing all over the place at that time, and he's become one of the best pitching pickups of the season, with a 3.02 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 57:14 K:BB over 10 starts (56.2 IP) while locking down his place in the Phillies' rotation. His last start against the Yankees included seven scoreless frames, six strikeouts, and his sixth win of the season, which might be the turning point for many of his skeptics. Eflin has a whiff rate above 30 percent with three of his five pitches – slider, changeup, and curveball – and good control, making him a viable "buy-high" arm in situations where the price still lags behind his true value as a top 30-40 SP.
Joe Jimenez, RP, DET – Jimenez looks like the Tigers' closer of the future, and the future isn't far off. The trade value of Shane Greene is reasonably low, but the Tigers would be wise to turn him into a long-term piece, even if that's only a rookie-level or A-ball arm several years away from making an impact in Detroit. After posting a 12.32 ERA and 2.11 WHIP in 19 innings as a rookie last season, Jimenez has found a level of success similar to the impressive results he delivered while making his ascent through the Tigers' system. Mixing a four-seamer, slider and an improving changeup, Jimenez might be able to push his strikeout rate even higher than his current 10.1 K/9, giving him the upside of a top-10 closer down the road.
Diego Castillo, RP, TAM – Sergio Romo's meandering 2018 season might include a stretch of two-plus months wearing a different uniform. If that occurs, Castillo is an intriguing player to have stashed away, as he's been dominant at Triple-A Durham and through 12.1 innings with the Rays to begin his big-league career. Working with a two-seamer (see GIF below from @PitchingNinja) and a cutter, Castillo gets considerable movement on his offerings. Plus, he's maintained walk rates below 3.0 BB/9 at nearly every stop. Like Jimenez, Castillo's strikeouts and ratios are useful enough to plug him in as a non-closer reliever until the opportunity for saves arises.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 26, 2018
Stephen Piscotty, OF, OAK – Much like Kyle Schwarber, I had a self-imposed six-month ban on writing or commenting about Piscotty because I was completely wrong about him in 2017. Justice was served, however, as I had him on nearly every roster a year ago. He's inched his way up the batting order recently, hitting sixth in five straight games on the strength of a much improved performance at the plate over the last 30 days, during which he's put together a .291/.386/.523 line with four homers, 16 RBI and 17 runs scored (11.9% BB%, 18.8% K%). After pounding the ball into the ground frequently during the first month of the season (51.9% GB%), Piscotty has traded grounders for flyballs and line drives since the start of May. Playing time is not a concern, as he's started 36 of the A's last 40 games entering Thursday's matinee against the Tigers, and Piscotty's combination of plate discipline and useful pop are enough to speculate in mixed leagues where a streaming outfield spot is currently being utilized.
Kendrys Morales, UT, TOR – In some leagues, Morales has played enough at first base this season (eight games) to get away from the UT-only designation. In the Statcast Era (since the start of 2015), Morales has frequently ranked among the league leaders in exit velocity, and 2018 has brought career-bests in average exit velocity (93.9 mph), barrel rate (12.3%) and hard-hit rate 57.4% – the latter of which ranks second only to J.D. Martinez among qualified hitters this season. The results are nowhere near the quality of the contact that Morales has made to this point, as his actual slugging percentage (.409) is 150 points behind his expected SLG ("xSLG" .559). Morales has plenty of limitations, but he's still a very good hitter, as the hard contact has been backed by a typical plate discipline profile (20.8% K%, 9.0% BB%). Additionally, the concerns about the Jays parting ways with him to make room for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have subsided with Guerrero's injury at Double-A, and the setbacks of Josh Donaldson as he attempts to rehab back from another calf issue. Morales is an old, boring player, but one who appears primed for a big second half.
Jose Iglesias, SS, DET – Iglesias is a great example of a player whose excellent defensive work affords him a heavy volume of playing time, and a much longer window to develop as a big-league hitter. A .273/.316/.390 line over 77 games is nothing to write home about, but as the second half draws closer, the categorical needs of every roster become more apparent. Iglesias is 12-for-16 on the basepaths in 2018, giving him a shot of finishing the season on a short list of players with 25-plus steals. He offers minimal power, and he remains in the bottom-third of the Tigers' batting order for now, although that could change as the trade deadline approaches if Leonys Martin is flipped to a contender. Moreover, Iglesias' best skill other than glovework and speed is his ability to limit whiffs (10.5% K%). If the 2011-2014 version of Alcides Escobar was useful in your league, the current version of Iglesias should offer similar production.
Jake Arrieta, SP, PHI – The blind resume game with Arrieta might help to reveal a pitcher whose skills have fallen off to the point where he would be an easy drop in many leagues where he's owned and active.
Player A: 6.32 K/9 | 2.89 BB/9 | 16.8% K% | 7.7% BB% | 7.2% SwSt% | 0.96 HR/9
Player B: 7.18 K/9 | 2.01 BB/9 | 19.4% K% | 5.4% BB% | 8.9% SwSt% | 0.86 HR/9
Player C: 7.88 K/9 | 1.97 BB/9 | 21.1% K% | 5.3% BB% | 8.8% SwSt% | 0.99 HR/9
Player D: 7.44 K/9 | 1.83 BB/9 | 20.0% K% | 4.9% BB% | 9.6% SwSt% | 1.43 HR/9
The answer key:
If you're looking for good news, Arrieta's velocity is actually up from last season. Unfortunately, his pitches have been more hittable both inside and outside of the strike zone. His home/road splits are puzzling, particularly the extreme drop-off in strikeouts away from Philadelphia (16:12 K:BB in 35.2 IP). It would hardly be surprising to see Eflin and Nick Pivetta return more rotisserie value the rest of the way.
Tyson Ross, SP, SD – The early returns on Ross as a late flyer/early-season pickup were excellent. With a 3.32 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 90 strikeouts through 95 innings, he's been one of the best cheap arms of 2018. It's a great story, as the list of pitchers that have come back to pitch effectively following surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome is short. The underlying skills are troubling, however, as the 8.5 K/9 is supported by a 9.4% swinging-strike rate, the control is still not great (3.3 BB/9), and he's no longer the groundball machine that he was pre-surgery (career-low 43.1% GB%). None of those issues in insolation would lead me to move away from a pitcher, but the combination of those problems paired with an arsenal that has just one above average pitch (his slider, which he throws more than 40 percent of the time) has Ross positioned for a sharp decline in the second half. A potentially thin market for starting pitchers at the trade deadline could improve his team context, but it may come with a more difficult home park. An ERA north of 4.00 and a below-average WHIP are coming barring further adjustments to his arsenal to keep hitters off balance.
Carlos Correa, SS, HOU – It's a little bit funny to consider a 23-year-old on pace for a career-high in homers, RBI and runs scored as a disappointment, but since Correa has flashed elite per-game production at such a young age, his bar is much higher than most. A back injury has limited Correa's playing time this week, after a side injury knocked him out for a four-game series against Texas earlier in June. With a slight drop in average exit velocity (89.4 mph) and the lowest hard-hit rate of his young career (37.7%; career 42.4%), it's easy to wonder if he's been battling these ailments (or other ones) throughout the season. Since May 15, Correa is hitting .236/.314/.431 with six homers, 20 runs and 20 RBI over 140 plate appearance (26.4% K%, 10.7% BB%; 105 wRC+). A short DL stint might actually be a good thing in order to let him get back to 100 percent for the second half.
Max Kepler, OF, MIN – Kepler looks like a pickup where available, or an easy piece to target in a trade where he's currently rostered. At a glance, he belongs in this group thanks to a .129 .237/.188 line over the last 30 days. As a team, the Twins have underperformed in 2018, with Kepler, Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier serving as the biggest disappointments. Although he's on track for a similar home-run total this season to his previous two (17-19), Kepler's slash line has bottomed out at a three-year low: .216/.304/.394. There are a few things about his approach that have gone in the right direction, however, including an increased flyball rate (46.5%, up from 39.5% in 2017), more walks (career-high 11.3% BB%) and fewer strikeouts (career-low 15.4% K%). Even with his struggles, he's spent a lot of time in the middle-third of the Minnesota lineup this season, and he's managed to stick in the lineup more often than expected against left-handed pitching this year thanks to improvement in the limited sample (.969 OPS, five of his eight homers) against them thus far.
Jonathan Villar, 2B, MIL – Although he's flashing occasional bursts of power (six homers) and speed (11 steals), this season's .260/.305/.381 line looks nearly identical to his disappointing 2017 (.241/.293/.372). To make matters worse, the arrival of Brad Miller could loosen Villar's hold on the bulk of the playing time at second base in Milwaukee. For the second straight season, he's striking out more than 30 percent of the time, and new for 2018, he's hitting the ball on the ground at 65.3% clip, after hovering around 55-58 percent over the past two campaigns. As the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the Brewers are among the teams positioned to make multiple deals, with upgrades in the middle infield among the potential moves. If the fallout leaves Villar with an opportunity to play regularly without having to look over his shoulder on a second-division club, he's still useful enough to offer speed, but if he remains with the Brewers, there is considerable playing time downside.
C.J. Cron, 1B, TAM – Skills wise, there is very little different about Cron as an everyday player compared to his work in a semi-regular role with the Angels from 2015-2017. Entering play Thursday, Cron is sitting with 16 homers – the same total he's finished with in each of the last three seasons – and a watery .235/.312/.442 line (career .257/.308/.448). He's striking out more than ever (27.7% K%), and he's never walked much. To make matters worse, Cron has a .725 OPS against righties over the last two seasons, which could make him vulnerable to losing plate appearances in the coming weeks with Jake Bauers and Willy Adames now in the fold for the Rays. If his recent 4-for-39 (.103) slump, which includes a 4:25 BB:K hasn't prompted you to jump bait yet in mid-range mixers, the time is now.