This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.
The Week That Was
- With all the attention (well-deserved of course) that Aaron Judge has received in the middle of the Yankees lineup, the resurgence of Matt Holliday has flown under the radar. After a season where Holiday hit only .236 with 20 homers in 110 games, he appears to have changed his approach and has already mashed 15 homers. Holliday's strikeout rate is way up this year at 25 percent, a career-high rate as Holliday has never even been over 20 percent in any season, but he has also bumped up his ISO to .261, a number that matches his seasons with the Rockies 10 years ago. Along with the increased strikeouts, Holliday has also increased his fly ball rate to 40.9 percent, the first time it has been over 40 percent since 2010, as he is making some tweaks to hit for more power. He also seems to be making an attempt to pull the ball more with his percentage of balls in play to the pull field sitting at 39 percent, the highest number of his entire career. I was surprised to see that Holliday has not had a 30 homer season since he left Coors but he's well on his way to surpassing that mark with ease this season. Injuries have been a concern over the last couple of seasons for Holliday, but the ability to DH in New York mitigates that risk significantly. I remain a buy on Holliday right now and would love to
The Week That Was
- With all the attention (well-deserved of course) that Aaron Judge has received in the middle of the Yankees lineup, the resurgence of Matt Holliday has flown under the radar. After a season where Holiday hit only .236 with 20 homers in 110 games, he appears to have changed his approach and has already mashed 15 homers. Holliday's strikeout rate is way up this year at 25 percent, a career-high rate as Holliday has never even been over 20 percent in any season, but he has also bumped up his ISO to .261, a number that matches his seasons with the Rockies 10 years ago. Along with the increased strikeouts, Holliday has also increased his fly ball rate to 40.9 percent, the first time it has been over 40 percent since 2010, as he is making some tweaks to hit for more power. He also seems to be making an attempt to pull the ball more with his percentage of balls in play to the pull field sitting at 39 percent, the highest number of his entire career. I was surprised to see that Holliday has not had a 30 homer season since he left Coors but he's well on his way to surpassing that mark with ease this season. Injuries have been a concern over the last couple of seasons for Holliday, but the ability to DH in New York mitigates that risk significantly. I remain a buy on Holliday right now and would love to acquire him the rest of the way, especially hitting cleanup in that Yankees lineup all summer.
- Hidden in Arizona among the MVP campaign of Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb's 61 RBI is the sneaky David Peralta. Peralta is a favorite of mine due to his cool story of being drafted as a pitcher, getting injured and released and then ending up moving to the outfield in an independent league before getting signed by the D'Backs in 2013. Peralta broke out in 2015 with 17 homers while hitting .312, but an injury marred 2016 dimmed his prospects heading into 2017. Now healthy again, Peralta has resumed raking, hitting .332 over his first 250 plate appearances of this season. Peralta has only hit seven homers but has pitched in five steals and most importantly, he's top 20 in the league with 46 runs scored, a stat that sometimes can get lost in the mix. Peralta hits too many balls on the ground (58.5 percent ground ball rate) to be a big home run contributor but he has upped his hard rate nicely to 37.3 percent. Batting order spot is key for Peralta, as he hits second most nights in front of Goldy and Lamb, and he gets to play half his games in Chase Field; it does not get much better than that. The lack of power might make Peralta obtainable in a trade and he makes a perfect target for anyone needing batting average and runs in the second half.
- Where to draft J.D. Martinez in March was a tough call with a lisfranc injury that came with an uncertain timetable, especially considering he plays on a team where he can't DH because that spot is filled on a daily basis by Victor Martinez. The injury lingered longer than originally projected, as Martinez didn't join the Tigers until May 12th, frustrating teams who used a pick on him. Well, that frustration is long gone, as Martinez has done very little but rake since his activation. In 37 games, he already has hit 12 homers, driven in 27 runs and is hitting .307. The most insane stat in Martinez's profile is his 53.1 percent hard hit rate, which would be the No. 1 mark in baseball if he had enough at-bats to qualify for the leaderboard. If we were drafting today for the rest of the way, I think Martinez is probably a second rounder, one of those few guys who end up very much worth drafting even though he was already hurt.
- Lorenzo Cain has had a really odd season so far. On May 31st, Cain found himself hitting .257 with only two homers and somehow only 10 RBI through 187 at-bats. In June, through only 18 games, Cain is hitting .347 and has mashed eight homers, scored 20 runs and driven in 17. He has a 32.1 percent hard hit rate, which looks a lot like his last two seasons, but a closer look at that number shows just how different Cain has been as the season has progressed. In April, Cain's hard hit rate was a paltry 22.2 percent. In May it was about normal for him at 32.6 percent, but in June, he has bumped it all the way up to 42.1 percent. Something clearly clicked with Cain after his brutal April. Further, after swiping 14 all of last season, Cain has already stolen 14 bases this year without being caught once. It would probably be difficult to get him from his owner for a decent price, but if someone were looking to sell him thinking the recent hot streak is just that, I would love to swoop in and snag him right now with everything trending the right direction.
- I have talked a lot about how much I like Michael Conforto, but his current slump is bringing back some bad memories of his slumps in 2016. After an exceptional two months to start the season with a batting average over .300 and 13 homers, he has crashed in June, hitting .167 with only one homer in 18 games. His strikeout rate is a bit elevated in June at 26.8 percent, but that is a similar number to one he had in May. His hard hit rate, often a calling card for Conforto, has also slipped in June, but at 34.3 percent, it's not horrible and still stands at 44.3 percent on the season, good for 11th-best in baseball. His babip has crashed in June, checking in at only .235 so far this month, which has contributed to some of the batting average woes. After a closer look, I don't see a ton to be worried about with Conforto's tough month and would use these past three weeks as a way to try and trade for him wherever I can. The real Conforto will be back soon; strike now before it happens.
This section of the article can be tough. These players are on a decent percentage of waiver wires for a reason and they come with some risk, especially the pitchers in this current climate of homers leaving the yard at a record pace. Every fantasy owner needs some solid adds off the waiver wire during the season to compete in leagues, but we also will have some rough ones that blow up. We have had some really nice hits here so far this season, but last week was rough with Francisco Liriano pitching poorly in his first start, and Derek Fisher getting sent to Triple-A, although that was an acknowledged risk. These players carry some risk with them or they would be more universally owned, but hopefully we can find some guys on the rise worth the gamble or at least have some good matchups to exploit in the coming week.
Jhoulys Chacin: I was a little surprised to see that Chacin is only owned in 6.9 percent of NFBC 12-teamers and 60 percent of NFBC 15-teamers. At a first glance, Chacin's overall numbers look fairly pedestrian with a 4.95 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. However, he has been a completely different pitcher at Petco Park with a 1.72 ERA across 47 innings in seven starts. He does have less strikeouts per nine at home, but has managed to limit walks to 2.49 walks per nine at home as opposed to 3.93 walks per nine on the road. He has also managed to allow only a 26.6 percent hard hit rate at home. Granted, these splits are not likely to sustain at such an extreme all year, but I am looking to ride them for now and this week in particular as Chacin has a two-start week with both starts at home. The first start is against the Braves, but the second is a scary one with the mighty Dodgers coming to town. Two starts in Petco are always good for any pitcher, but these look particularly solid considering how well Chacin has thrown at home so far this season. I plan on bidding Chacin in 12 and 15-teamers this weekend for the Petco double.
Matt Strahm Strahm was picked up in leagues last week after being added to the rotation and throwing a gem against the Angels, but he is still available in over 80 percent of 12-teamers in the NFBC. After a successful first start in the rotation, Strahm struggled this week, allowing five earned runs and seven hits only over three innings against the Red Sox. Strahm was actually solid through three innings, but imploded in the fourth, allowing four straight hits before getting yanked from the game. The upside on Strahm comes from the strikeout potential and from the fact that he could turn into a pitcher that you keep beyond just a one-week streaming option. In 251 career minor league innings, Strahm has posted a strikeout rate of 10.9 K/9 with only a 2.9 BB/9 walk rate, but the walks have been a significant issue in the majors with 5.4 walks per nine. He has pitched both as a starter and a reliever in the minors, but the Royals are giving him a run as a starter right now. In the majors, along with the good strikeout rate, Strahm has managed to suppress hard contact with a hard hit rate of 29.9 percent over his first two seasons. Strikeouts and a lack of hard contact are a combination I want a part of, but he certainly comes with some risk, although the poor start against Boston will lower his price fairly significantly in free agency this weekend. Strahm is scheduled for two starts this week, one at Detroit that is scary based on how the Tigers hit lefties (.780 team OPS vs. lefties), but then gets a bit of a soft landing spot later in the week, home against the Twins. He's risky and the start this week was not pretty, but I'm bidding on the strikeout upside and a nice home park to pitch half his games in.
Mike Fiers: Fiers' ownership percentage has gone up over the past few weeks, but he is still available in more than 40 percent of NFBC 12-team leagues. After a tough start to the year where he surrendered a ton of homers, Fiers has allowed three runs or fewer in his last seven starts and also a total of only six earned runs combined over his last five outings. Most incredibly, after allowing 18 home runs through his first nine starts, Fiers has now gone five consecutive starts without allowing a home run. That stretch has lowered his HR/9 rate to 2.08 and dropped his ERA to 3.81. Fiers' strikeouts has gone up to nearly eight K's per nine and that increase is well supported by an increase in his swinging strike rate to 10 percent, the first time he has been in double digits in the majors. Fiers has also dropped his hard hit rate down to 27.9 percent, his lowest rate since 2012. Further, I really like that he has bumped his ground ball rate up to 50.4 percent, a career-high number. The homers are always an issue for Fiers and can make him scary to roster, but he is trending well in a lot of areas and gets two home starts this week. The first start is appealing against the A's, but the second is justifiably a scary one against the Yankees. I am willing to ride the hot streak on Fiers, especially with a home start against the A's and with the Astros offense, if Fiers can just be decent, he has a solid chance at a couple of wins too.
A Closer Look
The only situation in a lot of flux right now is the Phillies, but with only 23 wins on the season, I am not sure it is one even worth speculating on. But, saves are saves and if they can settle on a guy, he would of course be worth having on your roster. After only allowing one run in all of May, it seemed like Hector Neris had settled into the role, but he has allowed five runs in seven June innings and has blown his last two save opportunities. Overall on the season, Neris has a 3.73 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP, not awful numbers, but not exactly what you want from your closer. He has managed a 9.77 K/9 strikeout rate, but that number is down from 2016, when it was 11.43 K/9. On the plus side, his swinging strike rate has actually jumped up a touch to a very nice 15.9 percent. The most concerning item in the profile for Neris is his fly ball rate jumping up 10 percent from 2016 to 45.8 percent, which has caused homers to be an issue for him this year with five allowed already.
The best option so far this season in the Phillies pen has been veteran Pat Neshek with a 0.63 ERA and 0.77 WHIP, the only member of the current Philadelphia pen with an ERA under 3.00. Neshek is striking out just over eight batters per 9 while only walking 1.29 guys per nine. He has also suppressed hard contact well with a 25 percent hard hit rate and he has been under 27 percent for the last eight years of his career. There was a point a couple of weeks ago where it looked like he might get the next save opportunity, but since then, he has thrown the seventh inning a couple of times while Joaquin Benoit has also ben throwing late in games. The 39-year-old Benoit has seen his strikeout rate drop from 9.75 K/9 to 8.13 K while his walk rate remains elevated at 4.33 BB/9. If they decide to go away from Neris, Benoit appears to be next in line based on recent usage, but he appears to be slipping, especially with his control the last two seasons. I think it will still be Neris' job for the long-term and if he has been dropped in your league, I would bid on him this week. It might burn me to not bid on Benoit, but I do not like what I see and if I wanted to speculate in Philly, I would probably go with Neshek, but I am likely staying away totally unless Neris is available.
Series of the Weekend
Rockies at Dodgers. I would like the find a sneaky series to pick over this one, but there is just no way to get away from this fantastic series at the Ravine this weekend. The Dodgers are absolutely on fire, winning seven in a row and 13 of their 14 after finishing off a four game sweep of the Mets on Thursday night. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Rockies after the Rockies dropped their game with the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon. These two teams have the two of only four teams in MLB playing .600 baseball, setting up a fantastic clash all weekend.
Both teams feature explosive offenses as they are both in the top five in MLB in runs scored and both in the top seven in team OPS. This is probably even more impressive for the Dodgers considering that their offense doesn't play half of its games in Coors Field. Cody Bellinger has exploded in June, hitting .301 with 11 homers and 20 RBI in only 19 games. In addition to Bellinger, Corey Seager is also on fire this month with an OPS over 1.000 and Yasiel Puig is also having a great month with four homers, three steals and a .300 batting average, even while upsetting half the Mets roster. Adding to the pop in the Dodgers lineup has been the return of Justin Turner off the DL who has merely chipped in with a .432 average and a 1.225 OPS in the ten games since his activation as he continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league. The Rockies will throw two rookie hurlers at the hot Dodgers offense in Kyle Freeland and German Marquez as well as the elder statesman of their rotation, Tyler Chatwood (a whole 27 years old!). The Rockies are second in team ERA on the road at 3.39, with Chatwood particularly effective with a ERA of 2.41 and a WHIP just under 1.00 in his eight road starts.
In the past, the Rockies have had difficulty winning away from Coors Field, but that is not the case this season with a 25-13 mark outside of Denver. A lot of that record has been their exceptional pitching away from Coors noted above, but the Rockies offense is top five in baseball in runs on the road, averaging 4.7 runs per game. Most of the Rockies still hit better at home (all of their regulars aside from Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez are hitting over .300 at home), but Nolan Arenado has been nearly as much a stud on the road this year. Nine of Arenado's 15 homers have come away from Coors and he has posted nearly a .900 OPS in 38 road games. The Rockies will get the pleasure of facing Clayton Kershaw on Saturday, but their matchup on Sunday is no cakewalk either facing the streaking Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy has allowed two runs or fewer in his last six starts, lowering his ERA to 2.87 on the season. He has been even better in home games, posting a 2.41 ERA in seven starts at Chavez Ravine.
This series is clearly the class of the weekend and one I plan on watching. No series this early can tell us too much, but this will be a fun barometer to see where these teams are against each other and a sweep by either team would be a big statement headed into July. I am jacked up for this series!