This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.
Well, we have made it to the All Star Break. First of all, I wanted to express my thanks to everyone who reads the column. I enjoy hearing from you in the comments or on Twitter, and it's always fun to engage with everyone regarding what you think about the content. So seriously, thank you and I hope you are enjoying so far.
Of course, the All Star Game isn't the true halfway point of the season as we are past that already, but I still think the break is a perfect time to evaluate where your teams are and figure out what positions/categories/trades you're going to attack coming out of the break. This is the time of year when I think about whether I'm so buried in a category that it makes sense to punt it, what categories of strength to trade away and whether my team needs to start to really attack two start starters, or needs to focus more on ratios and wins, and strikeouts. The last two months of any rotisserie league possess a lot of category strategy and management as the numbers really begin to separate as we get deeper into the season. Be realistic with your squad and use this break to take a long look at your league and either map out a strategy to cut into the lead or to extend your lead if you're winning. We usually talk about paths to get back into the race, but playing from the front can be difficult, too. You always have to be cognizant of how the categories look and be ready to add on, because some team is going to make a run at you in the second half.
The Week That Was
After a half-season of 71 games in 2016 where he swiped 21 bags and hit .326, Jose Peraza was a draft darling in 2017 and he didn't deliver, stealing only 23 bases while hitting .259 over a full season of 143 games. Peraza's draft stock crashed in 2018 amid playing-time worries (and Nick Senzel call-up rumors), and his 2017 performance was fresh in everyone's mind. his ADP in NFBC Main Events this year was only 216. Peraza has quietly put up a strong first half, hitting .275 with 17 stolen bases and matching his career high of five homers already through only 90 games. He has especially turned it on in the last three weeks, hitting .301 with eight of his stolen bases and three of his homers in the last 19 games.
Even during his great first stint with the Reds in 2016, Peraza was not hitting the ball hard with a hard hit rate of 21.3 percent and that continued into 2017. However, this year, he has taken a significant jump up to 29 percent, still not a high number, but it pushes him a bit out of the Punch and Judy world that we often see with pure speed guys. Also, his soft contact rate is down more than eight percent to 18.3 percent this year, while he's also striking out less. He has never had an issue with strikeouts, but he has improved his contact this season, posting a 11.4 percent strikeout rate. He has also increased his walk rate to 5.7 percent, as he clearly is becoming a better hitter overall. With his recent hot streak, he has an outside chance at a 10 homer/35 steal season with a .280 batting average, which would be extremely valuable in any league. Where I need steals, I'll try to trade for Peraza during the break, as I really like his improvements across the board.
With stolen bases tough to find in the draft this year, the news in early March that Delino DeShields would serve as the Rangers everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter sent his draft stock flying. His price rose by the day in March as fantasy players realized the obvious stolen base upside with Deshields with every day at bats. While his 101-steal season from the minors in 2012 was obviously way out of reach, he did swipe 29 bags in 2017 in 440 plate appearances and also managed to hit .269. His price peaked late in March with an ADP of 119 in 34 NFBC Main Event drafts.
While DeShields has stolen 16 bases this year, his bat has been a huge issue as he is hitting only .212 with 18 RBI and the lack of offense has caused him to move to ninth in the Rangers order, which obviously hurts his chances to steal bases. Unfortunately for DeShields, a few days into his stint as the everyday leadoff hitter he was hit by a pitch and went to the DL with a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. Wrist and hand injuries are notorious for being tough on hitters upon return and it is possible DeShields is still dealing with that, but he clearly is not delivering on the draft hype or price. DeShields was shakes up and left the game after a sliding catch attempt on Wednesday night, but all accounts had the exit as precautionary and he is scheduled to be ready to go this weekend.
In looking at his profile, I'm surprised by his low .276 BABIP as his career number is .320 and he has a ton of speed to beat out some infield singles. He will never be someone who hits the ball especially hard or leaves the yard regularly, but his hard hit rate does sit at a career high 27.6 percent, which makes me think the BABIP and batting average are going to rise here in union pretty soon. His price has crashed, and I think he can be purchased low, as his owner is probably ready to move on for anything decent in return. The risk with acquiring DeShields is that the leash on playing time is getting shorter by the day, and if he doesn't hit a hot streak soon at the plate, he could lose his playing time. I'm willing to shoulder that risk for his current price for the potential stolen base upside, which is very difficult to find at the moment for any sort of decent price.
Ian Desmond is really having a wacky season. From a fantasy angle, he has 18 homers, nine steals, 48 runs and 54 RBI, all numbers that help to make up for the .223 batting average. In real baseball, he has an OBP that is currently south of .300, and he's one of only 17 qualified players who has a negative WAR on Fangraphs. Now, to be fair to Desmond, he has improved as the season has progressed, as he was really scraping the bottom of the barrel in April with an absurdly low .229 OBP. So the question for fantasy owners is where do we go from here on Desmond?
The biggest concern I have with him from a fantasy angle is the super low fly ball rate, which is currently at 20.1 percent, pretty much exactly where it was last year when he did not get to double digit homers in 95 games with the Rockies. On the plus side, his hard hit rate is up more than eight percent from last year and sits at a career high 35.4 percent. That number is fine, but clearly doesn't put him at the elite level, which makes it even more wild to see him leading all of baseball with a 39.1 percent HR/FB rate, just ahead of J.D. Martinez and Aaron Judge, both guys with hard hit rates in the high 40s. In fact, Desmond has the lowest hard hit rate of any of the top 30 HR/FB rates in baseball. Granted, Coors Field helps, but not thatmuch and that 39.1 percent is going to come down, and with his paucity of fly balls, the homers are going to hit a dry spell soon enough. I'm not sure how easy it is to sell Desmond due to his low batting average, but if you can talk up the .266 average since June 1 and Coors Field in the summer, I would move Desmond in a freaking second as those home runs are just not repeating in the second half.
This is a bit of a tricky FAAB week, as most teams don't announce their rotations for the post-break games until the middle of next week. There are no two-start pitchers to pick up, but that doesn't mean we can't scheme and plan for this week. If you play in any sort of deeper league, make sure to note that with almost every team playing three games next week, a large number of starting pitchers won't pitch at all next week and we also won't know the rotations by the time many leagues have their free agency run on Sunday. Usually the top pitchers on a team will go that first weekend, but that's not always the case, as managers use this break to line up guys the way they want for the second half, and some managers will give guys who throw on Tuesday in the All Star an extra day or two out of the break.
If I have the spots, I like to grab a couple of solid middle relievers this weekend in anticipation of being a couple starters short next week, and the opportunity to steal a win and at least grab some strikeouts is a whole lot better than taking a zero. Further, as this is for both offense and pitching, take special note that while everyone else is scheduled for three games in the upcoming period, the Cardinals and Cubs actually play five games as they have two makeup games. Usually we love to get an extra game during a period, but two extra is a very significant boost.
Nick Williams– As I was looking for some outfielders to pick up, I was actually surprised that Williams was only owned in 14 percent of NFBC 12-team leagues. I picked up Williams in the NFBC Main Event last year so I watched a lot of his at bats, and while he struck out too much in 2017, I liked what I saw, as he hit 12 homers and drove in 55 runs over his first 83 MLB games. Williams came into 2018 in a timeshare in the outfield, but the absolutely brutal season of Aaron Altherr has slotted Williams into regular playing time. His strikeout rate is a bit high still, but he has dropped it to 25.2 percent and has also raised his walk rate to eight percent as he matures as a hitter.
Williams is only hitting .253, and his BABIP has dropped from last year's sky high .375, but I like the improvement I've seen, especially of late. His hard hit rate sits at only 31.5 percent, but lost in that number is a 19.4 percent hard hit rate in April that has kept his number on the season down a bit. He has turned it on in a big way this month hitting .371 with two homers in 10 July games while carrying a 41.4 percent hard hit rate. Williams is a great matchup play in periods or weeks where the Phillies face a lot of righties, as he has an .809 OPS against righties compared to only a .654 mark against lefties. This is a bit of a feel play (which I don't do very often) as I like what I have seen from watching Williams swing recently, and I have always liked his tools. He's hitting fifth for the Phillies almost every day which is a really nice production spot for a guy that is only owned in such a low percentage of 12-team leagues.
A Closer Look
As we get to the part of the season where you might be focusing on categories, I wanted to highlight a couple of relievers who aren't closing but could be great additions for ratios and strikeouts, and are available in a lot of 12-team leagues.
Dellin Betances was a dominant force out of the pen for the Yankees in 2014 and 2015, compiling an ERA under 1.50 over 174 innings, while striking out more than 13.5 batters per nine. While he was still really good in 2016 and 2017 (ERAs of 3.08 and 2.87), some of the shimmer wore off as he struggled mightily with his control in 2017, with a walk rate of 6.64 BB/9 in 59.2 innings. He's still walking guys this year (4.12 BB/9), but after a rough start to the year, Betances is on a serious roll right now.
Since a rough outing against the Indians on May 6, Betances has allowed only three runs in 25.1 innings, a 1.07 ERA, while striking out an insane 42 batters, good for a 42.9 percent strikeout percentage. In that stretch, he has allowed only 20 percent hard hit balls and has a 48.7 percent ground ball rate, a combo that will lead to a lot of good decimals for your squads. The Yankees have some great arms in the pen, most notably Chad Green who has been awesome, but I think if Aroldis Chapman was to go down, Betances would get the first crack at the job. Even in his current role, though, Betances provides value in ratios and strikeouts, especially in leagues with any sort of innings cap. He's only owned in 48 percent of NFBC 12-team leagues, as he was dropped in many places after his 4.91 ERA in April. With the right team setup and needing the right categories, Betances is a gem of a pickup right now.
Similar to the strategy with Betances in which you're looking for excellent ratios and strikeouts, but at a much lower ownership number, the A's Lou Trivino can be an excellent addition. Trivino was a relative unknown before the season and didn't even make the club coming out of spring, starting the year in Triple-A Nashville. Since his call-up, he has pitched 41.1 innings and only allowed six runs, good for a 1.34 ERA. His strikeouts are nice at 10.23 K/9 and his swinging strike rate is excellent at 14.5 percent. His walks are a bit high at 3.57 batters per nine, but a lot of that came from walking 10 batters in May, which he followed up by only walking two batters in 14.2 innings in June.
Trivino has fully solidified himself as the A's eighth inning guy in front of Blake Treinen and would absolutely be next in line to close if Treinen was to get hurt or traded, although after the A's success in Houston this week, a trade is looking even less likely than it was before. I watch a lot of A's games, and Trivino fully passes the eye test, throwing 97 mph with his fastball and then mixing in a filthy cutter. If you need ratios and have been running into trouble finding a ninth pitcher to start every week, I love a Trivino add and he's readily available at only 13 percent ownership in NFBC 12-teamers and still only 53 percent in the 15 teamers.
Series of the Weekend
Yankees at Indians – This four-game set in Cleveland started on Thursday night with a fantastic game started by Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, but both guys were not quite as sharp as usual, and the Yankees won 7-4, scoring twice in the 8th off Kluber to take the lead. The Yankees have fallen 3.5 games behind the Red Sox, not due to their play but due the Red Sox win streak that grew to 10 on Thursday night. The Yankees have opened up a massive lead in team homers as their 154 homers easily leads all of baseball with the Red Sox next at 130. The Indians are third in baseball with 127, so this series should feature a good number of fireworks.
Coming into this season, the Yankees offense was never really in question, but it would surprise many people that they trail only the Astros in MLB in team ERA at 3.42, and that's even including Sonny Gray's well documented struggles. We discussed the recent streak of Betances earlier, but it's almost the entire Yankees pen that has been great this year, as they lead all of baseball with a 2.72 ERA. Even more impressively, their bullpen as a whole has a strikeout rate or 11.56 K/9, easily the top number among all bullpens in baseball. If the Yankees can get someone to step up in the rotation after Severino, whether that be Masahiro Tanaka, Gray or even C.C. Sabathia, they will be a wildly dangerous team in the playoffs and they'll be damn tough to beat with any kind of lead after six innings.
The Indians have only the sixth best winning percentage in the American League, but they are just fine chilling in the AL Central where a .549 winning percentage affords them a 7.5 game lead over the Twins. This could be very significant as we get close to the playoffs, as it looks the AL East and West are going to battles, and the Indians won't have to worry about dealing with a potential Wild Card game and are going to be able to line up their rotation and rest their key players as needed in the season's final month.
While the Yankees bullpen has been a huge strength, the Indians bullpen has been the complete and total opposite, as they have the league's worst bullpen ERA at 5.39. Their closer Cody Allen sports an ugly 4.66 ERA, although that became bloated earlier this week when he was trashed by the Reds for six earned runs in less than an inning. Their pen greatly misses Andrew Miller who is close to returning from the DL, but they need the old Miller to come back off the DL, not the version they saw earlier this season where he compiled a 4.16 ERA over 14.1 innings. I would have to think the Tribe will make multiple moves for bullpen arms at the deadline, and I do think Allen has enough capital built up that they will move for setup arms rather than a new closer, but they might want to toss together a few scoreless outings here the rest of the month.
I can't leave an Indians series without at least mentioning the most exciting player in baseball, Jose Ramirez. Ramirez hit his 28th homer on Thursday night, and he currently sits at 28 homers and 19 stolen bases, on freaking July 12! I'd think he'd probably slow down the running a bit late in the season as the Indians will cruise to the division title, but he has a legit chance at the AL MVP. On a quick side note, the AL MVP race is bonkers right now. I was talking to my friend and fellow NFBC player, Michael "Ichiban" Cohen, and he noted that Ramirez has an actual and real chance at a 50/40 season (if he wants to attack the stolen bases in the second half), something that has never been done in baseball history. I love watching this guy play and look forward to him and Francisco Lindor taking on the Bombers all weekend.