There are plenty of waiver wire columns out there that provide an exhaustive list of the most added players in fantasy leagues. This isn’t one of them. Here, we’ll run down a few of the most interesting players for fantasy owners, with perspective on who deserves a your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.
Any questions, thoughts, fantasy trade deadline stories? Hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Everth Cabrera | San Diego Padres | SS
If you’ve got a chance to make up ground in steals, Cabrera is one of the best options out there, if only because he’ll get more opportunities than just about anybody. Cabrera has led off in every game since his return, which is a huge advantage over other light-hitting base stealers who often hit near the bottom of the order. Jean Segura, by comparison, hasn’t hit higher than seventh in the Brewers lineup since July 11. Not coincidentally, Segura has logged more than four plate appearances in only one game since June 25; Cabrera did it three times in his first five games back. Being at the top of the order can easily amount to an extra 15-20 plate appearances over the rest of the season, which could just as easily lead to an extra three or four stolen bases.
A lingering hamstring injury could throw that math out the window, but Cabrera seems to be over his. He stole a bag at the tail end of his rehab assignment and has already swiped three in four tries in less than a week back in the big leagues. He hadn’t been quite as efficient in the early going this year, but I’m going to bet that his month of rest and relaxation will solve those issues. His bigger challenge has always been getting on base.
Cabrera hasn’t been back up long enough to make any judgements about his plate discipline, and his walk rate has always been well below average, but it’s very encouraging to see him keeping his strikeout rate down and even more encouraging to see him keeping the ball on the ground at a career high rate (it’s only gotten higher since his return from the DL). Cabrera proved last season that he can make enough contact to hit for a decent average, so long as he’s able to stave off Willie Mays Hayes Syndrome. With a BABIP that’ll settle in around .330, Cabrera could absolutely hit .260 the rest of the way with double-digit stolen bases.
Jake Marisnick | Houston Astros | OF
Sometimes a starting job and a pinch of talent is enough. Jake Marisnick isn’t the most refined hitter, but he has shown some improvement in contact skills in Triple-A, cutting his strikeout rate to 17% this season. Those gains didn’t hold long when he graduated to Miami, but 51 plate appearances is hardly enough to make any sweeping judgements. It’s probably enough to confirm that he won’t contend for any batting titles, but it didn’t (and shouldn’t) dissuade the Astros from keeping him up in the majors after last week’s trade.
All he has to do it is hit .230. If he can accomplish that much, he’ll be able to stick in the lineup long enough to unlock his power and speed. Marisnick stole five bases in just 15 games with Miami; ZiPS projects him for four more steals and three homers in 118 plate appearances the rest of the way. If he’s able to lock down regular playing time, he could easily tack 50 plate appearances (and a few homers and steals) on to that projected total.
And now that he’s moved on to Houston, there’s not much standing in the way of that. George Springer can’t yet run at full speed and Dexter Fowler seems to have fallen into the Springfield mystery spot. Even if/when those two come back, Marisnick only has to beat out Marc Krauss, Robbie Grossman, and L.J. Hoes, a trio that has combined for a sub-.200 batting average and -2.0 fWAR this season.
Jake Petricka | Chicago White Sox | RP
Since Zach Putnam went on the DL on July 24, Jake Petricka has three saves, four strikeouts, and no walks in 4.2 innings of work. He hasn’t been granted the “closer” title yet, but he’s done just about everything he could to earn it, aside from his stumble on Saturday night. Petricka had almost no major league experience prior to this year, but he posted good strikeout numbers in the minors and his walk rate, which has been an issue throughout his career, has steadily improved as he’s spent more and more time in the big leagues. His fastball isn’t overwhelming, but it generates tons of ground balls and he’s predictably excellent at suppressing home runs. It’s a critical skill for any pitcher who spends half his time in U.S. Cellular Field and one that will also help him avoid the types of meltdowns that banished Robin Ventura’s previous closer from the ninth inning.
Putnam is currently rehabbing his shoulder injury, but even when he returns, he doesn’t have the raw stuff or the track record to be a really credible threat to Petricka’s save chances. The bigger threat is probably Matt Lindstrom, who opened the season as a favorite to snag saves in Chicago, but has spent more time on the DL than he has in the bullpen.
Lindstrom is working his way back from injury and certainly seems like a real challenger, but barring a blow up from Petricka, what reason would the White Sox have to displace him and slot Lindstrom in as closer? Petricka has been effective in the role, and he’s much younger and cheaper than Lindstrom. The non-waiver trade deadline has passed and it’s highly unlikely that the Sox would be able to slip the relatively inexpensive Lindstrom through waivers, so there’s no reason to inflate his trade value by naming him the closer. And Lindstrom will be a free agent after the season; developing a bullpen hierarchy for the future doesn’t make much sense. The only possible reasons for Ventura to name Lindstrom his closer would be a lack of faith in Petricka or a devotion to “proven closers”, but Petricka has pitched well and Ventura has spent a whole season without a “proven closer” and it hasn’t seemed to bother him at all. We know that Ventura has made some shaky decisions before, but something tells me he’ll make the right call in this case and stick with Petricka for most of the White Sox’ save chances.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Shin-Soo Choo | Texas Rangers | OF
The Texas Rangers’ dream season has been derailed by a seemingly unending stream of injuries. It sucks for Rangers fans, but it’s legitimately horrible luck. You really can’t blame Jon Daniels too much, but I’m not sure what Shin-Soo Choo’s excuse is.
After an outstanding year in Cincinnati earned him the first megadeal of his career, he’s faceplanted to a .240/.350/.360 line as a Ranger. Choo is still talking walks like a champ, but the power and speed that made him a valuable fantasy commodity have all but disappeared. Prior to this year, he was a model of consistency. He might as well have changed his name to “20/20”; Choo had never hit fewer than 20 homers or stolen fewer than 20 bases in a full big league season. At the pace he’s set this year, he’ll be lucky to finish 15/10.
He’s been completely overmatched by offspeed stuff.
And he’s cratering breaking balls into the ground.
But more than anything, his numbers have cratered because of his startling inability to turn around a fastball. For his career, Choo has slugged .539 against hard stuff. He hammered heaters to the tune of a .600 slugging percentage last year. He’d slugged better than .500 against hard stuff in every full season of his career before dropping to .405 this season. Just to put that in perspective, Billy Hamilton is slugging .424 against hard stuff.
Choo has certainly lost some bat speed and in the end, I think his excuse might be the same as the rest of the Rangers’. He’s already said as much. I’d still hang on in keeper leagues, but in redraft formats, he’s fallen into a different class of players.
Kolten Wong | St. Louis Cardinals | 2B
Despite the fact that 190 players logged more July plate appearances than Kolten Wong, only 14 players hit more home runs and only eight stole more bases. That super-concentrated fantasy production (he hit all five of his July homers one week) has vaulted Wong’s ownership levels to nearly 70% ownership in ESPN leagues, and it’s given his current owners a glorious opportunity to sell.
Speed and power are always in high demand as we close in on fantasy trade deadlines; those quantities are exceptionally valuable when they come together in a middle infield-eligible package. If Wong could reliably repeat the numbers he produced in July, he’d be among the most valuable assets in the game. The fact that he did it once, but likely won’t do it again, makes him a trade chip that should be cashed in as soon as possible.
I shouldn’t overstate the degree of Wong’s overperformance; the speed is legit. But the power… I wouldn’t expect that to hang around much longer. Wong found the seats with nearly one out of every three fly balls he hit in July; his 29.8% HR/FB rate outpaced sluggers like Jose Abreu, Anthony Rizzo, and Chris Carter. And this isn’t a projectable power breakout. Wong hasn’t homered since July 12 and he’s never hit more than ten homers in a full season, regardless of level. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if he didn’t reach the seats again in 2014. For the full season, Wong has an average fly ball distance of 268 feet, which ranks him 219th in baseball; half of his homers have travelled less than 390 feet. Andrelton Simmons hits his average fly ball about 15 feet further and has hit more than twice as many fly balls as Wong, yet he has as many home runs all season (5) as Wong hit in July.
Without the power and speed, Wong’s foundation is shaky. He refuses to take a walk and though his .239 BABIP will likely bounce back a bit, he’ll be fortunate to hit better than .250 the rest of the way. He plays in a pretty good offense, but it’s tough to score runs with a sub-.300 OBP. Unless you’re desperate for speed, Wong should be dealt.
Yangervis Solarte | San Diego Padres | SS/3B
It’s not often that a trade to the Padres coincides with a leap in a hitter’s fantasy value, but Yangervis Solarte has flourished since his arrival from the Yankees, popping two homers, collecting multiple hits in four of his first eight games, and driving in eight runs in just a little over two weeks. Perhaps we need to rethink our assumptions about the way baseball is played in San Diego.
The Padres have scored the most runs in baseball since the All-Star Break.
— YCPB (@cantpredictball) August 2, 2014
Or maybe we don’t.
Nobody can take this spectacular offensive month away from the Padres, but let’s pump the brakes a bit here. A shift in the fences prior to last season filed down Petco’s fangs a bit, but it remains the premier defensive fortress in MLB. Since it opened in 2004, the Padres have the fourth-worst team BABIP in baseball and only one Padre has ever maintained a BABIP better than .320 over a career 500 of plate appearances or more. That player, coincidentally, is Chase Headley. It’s not impossible that the man he was traded for will break his grip on the Pecto BABIP title belt, but after seeing Solarte’s .345 April BABIP dissolve down to .279 in May and .192 in June, I’m not optimistic that he’ll maintain even the .318 hit rate he’s posted in his early days as a Padre. Unless you’re absolutely desperate for playing time in the middle infield, there’s no reason to own him.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Zach Britton | Baltimore Orioles | RP
Zach Britton is starting to to get real cozy at the back end of the Baltimore bullpen. Very quietly, he’s becoming one of the elite closers in the game by unleashing one of baseball’s most devastating pitches. Even as a fledgling prospect, he had a great sinker, but check out the way his peak velocity has risen as the season’s gone on.
It should come as no surprise then that his strikeout has risen steadily every month, from below average (17.3%) in May to dominant (34.7%) in July. I should point out the corresponding decline in ground ball rate, but even after declining more than ten percentage points between May and July, Britton’s ground ball rate has never dropped below 66.7% in a single month and still sits above 75% for the season. And let’s not forget that he’s also working on a career best walk rate; Britton has issued just two walks in his last 18 appearances.
He’s done it by riding his sinker, which is equally outstanding against both lefties and righties and ranks as the best in baseball by both whiff rate and ground ball rate among relievers who’ve thrown at least 200 sinkers this season. It’s not quite Kenley Jansen’s cutter, but it’s damned close. There isn’t a closer in the game with an arsenal like Britton’s right now, and there might not be a closer whose skill set is better suited to his team and situation. Keeping the ball down and in the park is crucial in Camden Yards, and J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado vacuum up grounders better than just about any infield tandem in baseball.
Britton has found his niche. I can’t see any reason for him to slow down. I’d be targeting him aggressively in dynasty/keeper formats.
Jacob DeGrom | New York Mets | SP
His heater doesn’t have elite velocity, or elite movement, but DeGrom’s fourseamer has been among the most effective in baseball this season, ranking ninth in baseball in whiffs per swing. He doesn’t have one elite secondary pitch, but he complements his heater with a full quiver of average to above average offspeed and breaking stuff, along with a deft understanding of how to mix and sequence his pitches.
He opens the game with strikeouts on fastballs both down and up in the zone, then gets a whiff and a couple of grounders his changeup, working against both lefties and righties. A few good curveballs induce a whiff from Jake Peavy and bloopers from Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, then he closes things down with another punch out on a fastball. DeGrom pitches like Chip Kelly runs an offense; he forces the hitter to cover every inch of the strike zone and to guard against every pitch he’s got.
And while it may look like randomness for randomness’ sake, there’s clearly a plan in place here. As he gets deeper into games, DeGrom shows off more and more of his arsenal. He still pitches primarily off the fastball, but he mixes in more offspeed stuff to keep hitters off balance as the game moves into the late innings.
There’s not really anything in DeGrom’s statistical profile to suggest that he can’t keep this going; his BABIP and strand rate are both very reasonable and his 2.97 FIP slots in right alongside elite starters like David Price and Max Scherzer.
Allen Craig | Boston Red Sox | 1B/OF
There’s not much in Allen Craig’s 2014 stat line to suggest a turnaround, but there’s also a reason that most projection systems had him hitting .290 with 15-20 homers this season. Craig is a very good hitter who’s been both very bad and very unlucky this season. I know the Cardinals didn’t make this deal for his benefit, but I can’t imagine a much more favorable scenario for the rest of Craig’s season.
He bounced up and down the lineup and all around the field in St. Louis, I expect that he’ll consistently man left field and hit in the two hole as a member of the Red Sox. A little consistency never hurt anybody. Beyond the ability to hit the mental reset button and get fresh perspectives from a new coaching staff, physically playing in Boston might help him out as well. Craig’s all-fields approach should serve him well just about everywhere, but check out his spray charts from this year:
In Fenway, those balls to the cavernous gap in right-center are awful tough to track down, and those medium depth flies to left are ringing tin instead of smacking leather. I’d give Craig at least a couple of weeks of time in Boston before making any decisions on whether he can help your squad for the rest of this season.