Oak's Corner: Three More Weeks to Grind

Oak's Corner: Three More Weeks to Grind

This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.

As of this weekend, we will only have three weeks to go in the 2017 baseball season. This is just your friendly reminder to keep grinding your baseball lineups, as these weeks are difficult with some teams out of the race playing young guys and some teams with divisions locked up may rest their veterans. At-bats and starts are key this time of year, and those stats can slip away from you without constant vigilance. Resist that urge to switch all of your focus to football on Sundays and dig into that FAAB list and find some gems. I won and lost leagues in the last two weeks last year, so I can promise you there will be late movement, and a few extra minutes studying some of the names on your waiver wire could make all the difference. These really feel like the dog days of the season and they can be frustrating, but I promise you that you will miss it soon enough!

The Week That Was


  • It appears that Second Half Brian Dozier might be a thing again this season. In 2016, Dozier had a huge close to the season, hitting 28 homers over his final 72 games while hitting .291. Prior to the All-Star break this season, Dozier was hitting only .242 with 13 homers and a middling .745 OPS. He has flipped the switch again, mashing 16 homers with a .294 average since the break, and a massive .980 OPS. He seemed like he was

As of this weekend, we will only have three weeks to go in the 2017 baseball season. This is just your friendly reminder to keep grinding your baseball lineups, as these weeks are difficult with some teams out of the race playing young guys and some teams with divisions locked up may rest their veterans. At-bats and starts are key this time of year, and those stats can slip away from you without constant vigilance. Resist that urge to switch all of your focus to football on Sundays and dig into that FAAB list and find some gems. I won and lost leagues in the last two weeks last year, so I can promise you there will be late movement, and a few extra minutes studying some of the names on your waiver wire could make all the difference. These really feel like the dog days of the season and they can be frustrating, but I promise you that you will miss it soon enough!

The Week That Was


  • It appears that Second Half Brian Dozier might be a thing again this season. In 2016, Dozier had a huge close to the season, hitting 28 homers over his final 72 games while hitting .291. Prior to the All-Star break this season, Dozier was hitting only .242 with 13 homers and a middling .745 OPS. He has flipped the switch again, mashing 16 homers with a .294 average since the break, and a massive .980 OPS. He seemed like he was going to be a huge disappointment for his draft spot but now has 29 homers on the season to go with 14 stolen bases and 80 RBI.

    Despite the volatility within each season, Dozier's 2016 and 2017 look amazingly similar with an identical 20 percent strikeout rate and a hard hit rate that has stayed very close at 34.1 percent. The hard hit rate was the biggest jump Dozier took in 2016, as he has never carried a number above 30 percent prior to last year, so it's an excellent sign that he has been able to maintain that step up. Dozier's fly ball rate has dropped nearly six percent to 42 percent, which helps explain why the homers are likely to come in a little bit lower than 2016, but on the positive side, he has bumped his walk rate up over two percent to 11 percent. Minnesota's Dozier has posted a nice follow-up to his breakout 2016, and while the power isn't going to quite touch the 2016 levels, his strong second half has made him a valuable asset once again.

  • Through 81 games, Boston's Xander Bogaerts was hitting .303, and while the homers were down to a paltry six, he had 50 runs scored, 41 RBI and nine stolen bases to boost his all around fantasy value. However, Bogaerts has fallen off a cliff in the second half. Since July 1st, Bogaerts is hitting .195 with only three homers and an incredibly low 17 RBI over 190 at-bats. As someone who was drafted at the 2/3 turn in 15-team leagues and thus in your lineups every period/week/day, he has just killed teams.

    My reservation on Bogaerts coming into this season was always that the 2016 power would never repeat with his fly ball and hard hit rates, but in no way did I see him becoming a complete batting average drain, also. His hard hit rate did take a nice bump up in May and June, but sits at an ugly 24.3 percent since July 1st. When looking to rank and evaluate Bogaerts for next year, it becomes difficult because he was hit on the hand with a pitch on July 6th and had issues with the hand for a few weeks after the plunking. The fact that his slump coincides almost exactly with the hit by pitch makes one wonder just how much it has affected him. If this slump causes his draft price to fall so far where he doesn't need 20 homers to earn his price, I may be willing to jump on board, but with the injury as an easy blame, I'm guessing the price will still be too rich for my blood.

  • I have pointed out the brutal season of Jonathan Lucroy a couple times, but after the trade to Colorado, it was thought he might finally get it going. Well, it didn't and he hasn't. Since the All Star break, Lucroy has 121 at-bats and has managed to hit .240 with a meager one home run. Most incredibly, of the 197 hitters with 140 or more plate appearances since the break, he ranks 196th in runs scored with nine and is tied for 193rd in RBI with nine. He is just bad; there is no way around it. I actually still have him in one 12-team league, and with catcher being a tough position and the move to Colorado I've kept him but I can't figure out why.

  • How to rank Buster Posey in 2018 drafts will be a very tough call. I don't usually take a catcher in the first three or four rounds, mostly because I worry about their likelihood of injury with so many risks behind the plate. But with so many catchers hitting under .230, especially in two-catchers leagues Posey's production and especially the batting average has been a huge boost in past years. This season, the .318 batting average is still there, but the rest of the numbers haven't come with it. Posey has only 12 homers and it looks like the mid-teen homers are his new level rather than the low-20 levels he had a few years ago. Most notably, he only has 55 runs and 59 RBI, although some of that clearly can be attributed to the rest of the poor Giants offense.

    Posey still possesses an incredible contact rate as he has only struck out in 11.6 percent of his plate appearances, but the contact hasn't been as good, as his hard hit rate sits at only 32.4 percent, his lowest number in the past five years. Between that and a fly ball rate that usually chills in the low 30s, it's hard to project Posey for more than 15 homers, a low number when you consider the explosion of homers around the league. He's obviously still a great hitter and the consistent game count at a very thin position carries much value, but without the pop and the fact his batting average has been carried a bit by an elevated .342 BABIP makes Posey someone I'm not likely to own next year where he comes off the board.

  • In the least surprising second half line of the season, Kansas City's Jason Vargas has a 7.85 ERA in 47 innings after the All Star Break. What a crazy season for him as he ranked in the top six in all of baseball in ERA in 106.1 first half innings and in the bottom three after the break. This really is a crazy game we love.

  • Dinelson Lamet's overall line doesn'tlook especially exciting with a 4.32 ERA in 98 innings, but he has been a fantasy beast in the second half. In 57 second half innings, Lamet has a 3.16 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. In that span, Lamet has a strong 10.7 K/9, but that number is surprisingly a bit lower than his first half rate. The one issue that hasn't gone away for Lamet is allowing too many free passes. Even during this great stretch, he has walked 4.7 batters per nine, a rate that has to go down if he truly wants to take the next step next season. His walks were an issue throughout the minors, but he always walked less than four batters per nine before this season, so one would hope he can drop it under 4.00 in 2018. Lamet has done plenty to lock up a rotation spot with the 2018 Padres, and pitching half your games in Petco is always a good thing. With his overall numbers not especially showy and on a bad team, Lamet could end up being a nice value in 2018 drafts with a chance for a breakout if he can find a way to cut the walks.

FAAB Feelings

    Jack Flaherty: Flaherty struggled in his first start after getting called up by the Cardinals, allowing five runs to the Giants over only four innings. He bounced back in his second outing, giving up only one run in five innings in San Diego, but he did walk four batters. The four walks are likely a blip on the radar, as one of the most appealing aspects of Flaherty's profile is the low walk rate he has maintained in the minors. Flaherty was exceptional in the minors this season, posting a 2.18 ERA in 148.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

    This week, Flaherty is scheduled to get two starts, one at home against Cincy and then a trip to Wrigley to face the Cubs. I like Flaherty a lot, but those are some tough matchups, with both teams in the top 10 in team OPS on the season. If I own Flaherty in a deeper league, I am definitely using him and if he is available, I am picking him up, but I think the matchups make him a situational play in 12-teamers. If I need wins and strikeouts, I'm adding him and hoping the Cardinals can score early, as Flaherty likely isn't going to go deep in either game (he came out after 86 pitches last start), but if I need ratios, I have to respect the two offenses he will face and pass, especially with the second game in Wrigley.

    Phillip Ervin: I have remarked many times this season in both this column and on the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast how difficult it has been to find steals on the waiver wire, and, interestingly enough, an injury to the top stolen base guy in baseball may have opened up an opportunity for us to bid on some steals. Billy Hamilton fractured his thumb this week and is out for the year and it appears that Phillip Ervin will get the first shot to replace Ervin in center field for the Reds.

    Last year in 123 Double-A games, Ervin struggled to hit for average at .239, but he did hit 13 homers while swiping 36 bags. Prior to his call-up, Ervin spent 99 games in Triple-A where he stole 23 bags. The batting average has been an issue in the minors, but with three weeks left in the season, I'm willing to take that risk for the chance at a handful of stolen bases down the stretch. Stolen bases are often a tight category in many leagues due to how few there are across the lead, and if you find yourself in a stolen base pack in your league as I do, I'd bid on Ervin this week and hope he swipes some bases in an attempt to show the Reds what he can do in this four-week audition.


A Closer Look

As we enter the final three weeks of the season, a few teams are in flux at the closer position, and if you need a few saves to gain a couple points, every little switch in role can make the difference.

The Yankees appear to be going back to Aroldis Chapman after Dellin Betances allowed at least one run in four of his last seven appearances, including a blown save on Tuesday in which Manny Machado crushed a hanging breaking ball for a walk-off homer. After a run of poor outings took Chapman out of the job, he has righted the ship a bit, allowing one run over his past five outings with six strikeouts and only one walk in 4.2 innings. With the Yankees still 2.5 games up on the second wild card, they need to figure out the back end of their bullpen as they consider a run in the playoffs, and while Betances can strike out the world, I just can't stomach a guy who walks 6.5 batters per nine, starting the ninth inning of a playoff game with a one-run lead and think Chapman should be the guy.

Greg Holland had a brutal stretch of games throughout August, but now has made four straight appearances where he didn't allow a walk or hit, the last of which was a save opportunity. I'm not totally convinced Holland is out of the woods, as he only has two strikeouts in those four innings, but the Rockies seem quite committed to him closing games for them down the stretch as they try and hang on to the second wild card. If someone dropped Holland when he was temporarily out of the role, you have to add him if you need saves, but hold your breath when he enters.

Tyler Lyons is still my favorite arm in the back end of the Cardinals bullpen, and he has been red hot lately, allowing only one run since the All Star break in 20.1 innings. He has struck out 26 batters in that span, while only allowing 13 base runners, good for a nasty 0.64 WHIP. He hasn't registered a save since the break until he was used in the ninth inning on Wednesday night and he responded with a scoreless inning. Even without the saves, Lyons has been a sneaky value in fantasy leagues as he has managed to vulture three wins in the last four weeks. In deeper leagues, Lyons is a play for ratios and strikeouts as it is, and I have to think a few saves will be coming down the stretch with the Cardinals only 2.5 out of the second wild card.

Series of the Weekend

Brewers at Cubs. For all the talk about the Brewers trying to catch the Rockies for the second wild card, they still aren't totally dead in the NL Central, although the Cubs lead went from three games to five games recently as the Brewers managed to get swept by the Reds in Cincinnati. The Brewers are still alive in the division if they can win two of three games at Wrigley this weekend, but to have a realistic chance, they probably need to find a way to sweep the Cubs. On the flip side, the Cubs can put a stranglehold on the division with a strong weekend against the Brewers, although the Cardinals are still lingering, too.

The Brewers do have their pitching set up well this weekend as they send their top three starters, Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies to the mound. Davies has been especially good lately, posting a 2.25 ERA in 72 innings. His strikeouts still aren't strong with only 6.25 K/9 in that run, but there's no way to deny how huge he has been for the Brewers by only allowing a total of four runs in his last five starts. Corey Knebel continues to anchor the bullpen for the Brew Crew as even though he has walked 10 batters in 22.2 post-break innings, he has managed to only allow two runs in that period; apparently striking out over 15 guys per nine over the season can cover up a few warts! If the Brewers are going to make a late run, they really need early season phenom Eric Thames to find his mojo again. Since the All Star break, Thames is hitting only .210 over 143 at-bats with an abysmal 11 RBI. Ouch.

2016 breakout Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the Cubs on Sunday and he seems to finally have found his form recently. After posting a 4.09 ERA in 61.2 first half innings which included a stint on the DL, Hendricks has been great in the second half with a 2.36 ERA in 53.1 innings. While his 88 percent strand rate in the second has really assisted his ERA, the most important aspect of Hendricks surge in the second half has been a return to his suppression of hard contact. He consistently produced around a 25 percent hard hit rate each season from 2014 to 2016, but saw that number elevate to 36.3 percent in the first half of this year. In the second half, that rate has returned to 25.6 percent, the norm for Hendricks in his career and without being a huge strikeout pitcher, his hard hit rate is a significant number for him. Entering the playoffs, the Cubs need a solid third arm behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta and their playoff chances jump if Hendricks can fill that role well.

This series will impact the NL Central and NL wild card at the same time and if either team can find a way to get a sweep, that impact will be a significant one. Weekends in Wrigley are the best as it is, but when you toss a pennant race in the mix, it gets even better.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Jenstad
Scott Jenstad is a veteran of both NFBC and CDM fantasy games. He has won five NFBC Main Event league titles and finished twice in the Top 10 Overall. Scott is a hardcore fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenstad.
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