In the Week 20 edition of fantasy baseball 3×3, we’re… oh, who am I kidding, I know who you want to read about. Just go ahead and scroll down to the part about Javier Baez.
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.
Oh, and here’s that link.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
David Peralta | Arizona Diamondbacks | OF
On the surface, David Peralta seems very Yangervis Solarte-y. He’s closing in on his 27th birthday, this season is his first taste of major league action, and he’s riding an elevated BABIP to all around excellent production. It’s hard to deny the similarities, except that Peralta’s minor league track record, which is admittedly short, completely supports his early big league returns. Sure, it’s probably too much to ask for him to continue BABIPing .356, but he hit .368 on balls in play last year and .307 before his call-up this season. A .320 BABIP the rest of the way is certainly within reason.
Peralta is a very aggressive hitter, but his low strikeout and walk rates match the his minor league numbers almost exactly and his major league contact rates look good enough to support a solid batting average. He’ll fish down in the zone a little bit, but his zone profile shows pretty darned good plate coverage.
Steamer projects him to hit .290 the rest of the way; only 14 players are projected for a better batting average. And it’s not just empty average either. Steamer has Peralta pegged for four homers and a pair of stolen bases as well. He’s bounced around Kirk Gibson’s batting order quite a bit, but since the beginning on July, he’s taken most of his at bats as the first, second, or third hitter in the order, which sets him up in excellent run-scoring position. Basically, Steamer thinks Peralta is going to be about 90% of Melky Cabrera for the rest of the season. ESPN’s Player Rater has Cabrera as the 27th-most valuable player in the game; 90% of that certainly sounds like something should be owned in more than 6% of Yahoo! leagues.
Peralta’s not the type of player who’ll gain points for you in any particular category, but his ability to hold the fort is very useful, especially in deeper leagues. He can slightly lessen the impact of losing Andrew McCutchen to injury and just about replace the ailing Adam Eaton completely. Well-roundedness is a skill when it’s accompanied by an everyday job, and Peralta has both. The injury to Paul Goldschmidt has pushed Mark Trumbo back to first base and carved out a consistent slot in the lineup for Peralta. As terrible as the Diamondbacks are, there’s no reason for them not to see what they’ve got in Peralta.
Brandon McCarthy | New York Yankees | SP
I really don’t understand it. Brandon McCarthy is still unowned in over half of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues. I don’t mean to be too direct here, but what’s wrong with you people?! xFIP isn’t everything, but a 2.85 xFIP isn’t nothing. By that measure, McCarthy’s been better than Yu Darvish, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, and all but eight qualified starters this season.
Last week, new FanGrapher Drew Fairservice profiled McCarthy’s change in pitch mix since joining the Yankees; whether it’s more cutters or just good old fashioned regression, McCarthy has been spectacular in pinstripes. Since moving to New York, McCarthy’s strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and his ERA is finally below his xFIP; it’s plummeted down to 2.21. On the season, only 11 pitchers have a K%-BB% better than the 19.4% mark he’s posted as a Yankee.
Tommy Milone | Minnesota Twins | SP
The Minnesota Twins have smartly decided that Kevin Correia is no longer a viable option, even for one of the worst teams in the game. Why the Los Angeles Dodgers chose to trade for Correia, I can’t explain, but the deal has opened the door for Tommy Milone to enter the rotation in Minnesota after being cast aside in Oakland.
Milone certainly isn’t on the level of the pitchers that the Athletics brought in to replace him, but he can be very useful in the right situation. In 216 career innings at O.co Coliseum, Milone posted an ERA just a shade over 3.00. As one of the more severe fly ball pitchers in the game, he feasted on the wide open spaces of foul territory in Oakland. Milone won’t miss a ton of bats, but his excellent control helps to limit the impact of the unavoidable home runs that come attached to his batted ball profile. While Minnesota’s Target Field isn’t quite Oakland, it carries a reputation as one of the toughest parks in baseball in which to leave the yard, which bodes exceptionally well for Milone’s future as a Twin.
Two of his next four starts will be a home, and the other two will be on the road in Houston and Kansas City. Neither city features a particularly unfriendly ballpark, nor a particularly fierce home team offense. Milone could be in for a nice little stretch here; he’s worth a flier in deeper leagues.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Mark Buehrle | Toronto Blue Jays | SP
We knew it was going to happen eventually, but after Sunday’s disastrous start, we can confirm that the shit is indeed hitting the fan for Mark Buehrle. He was charged with only two earned runs after three scored following a Jose Reyes error, but don’t let that fool you. The way Detroit hitters were throttling Buehrle, he may have actually been lucky to make it into the fourth inning. If Tigers catcher Alex Avila had hit ninth in the order instead of eighth, I’m not sure Buehrle would have made it through the first. He surrendered nine hits in the game, but Avila, who’s been helpless against lefties this season, struck out with runners on to end both the first and third innings. If that’d been a right-handed batter, things could have been much worse for Buehrle and the Jays.
And these struggles are nothing new. In his most recent ten starts prior to Sunday, Buehrle’s run up a 5.15 ERA and 5.02 FIP. Though he failed to finish the seventh inning in all but one of those outings, he gave up at least six hits in every start and eight or more in seven of ten. He walked two or fewer in eight of those ten starts, but never fanned more than five.
His full season numbers still look great and his renaissance has been enjoyable to watch, but Mark Buehrle just isn’t a viable fantasy asset anymore. His improved numbers at the beginning of this season were much more a result of good luck than of any gigantic improvement in stuff or change in approach. I can’t imagine you can get much for him in a trade right now; he’s droppable in 10-12 team leagues.
Danny Duffy | Kansas City Royals | SP
I wrote about him just a few weeks ago, but the stretch of spectacularly good fortune that Danny Duffy’s had since the All Star break has to be acknowledged. Since the Mid-Summer Classic, Duffy has sixth-biggest negative ERA-FIP differential, the fifth lowest BABIP, and the second-highest strand rate in baseball. During the same time span, his 12.5% walk rate ranks second-last in the league and he’s one of only 22 starting pitchers to rack up fewer than two strikeouts for every walk. Among pitchers with a groundball rate lower than 33%, only Hector Santiago (and his .195 BABIP) has surrendered homers less frequently.
Use this good fortune as an opportunity to move Duffy. He’s a decent pitcher, but his raw stuff isn’t nearly good enough to cover for his poor command over the long term.
He varies his velocity well, touching 95 with his fastball and dropping to 78 with his breaking stuff, but everything is pretty straight. His stuff is good enough to be slippery, but not quite good enough to miss bats. His fourseam fastball, changeup, slider, and curve all have above average foul rates, but below average whiff rates. With two strikes, it’s clear that he doesn’t have anything that can reliably put hitters away. Nothing he throws has a whiff rate better than 24% with two strikes. By comparison, Tommy Milone (he of the below average strikeout rate) has two pitches with whiff rates of 25% or better.
With a cadre of elite defenders patrolling a sprawling outfield behind him, Duffy’s in about as good a situation as a fly ball pitcher could hope for, but his favorable luck is bound to expire soon. When it does, I don’t want him on my roster.
Josh Harrison | Pittsburgh Pirates | 2B/3B/OF
Since the All-Star break, Josh Harrison has slashed an outrageous .373/.411/.687. Heading into Sunday’s action, only two players have stolen more bases, only three have hit for a better batting average, only ten have slugged more homers, and nobody has scored more runs in the second half. This from a player whose career slash line heading into the 2014 season was .250/.282/.367.
Though it’s almost certainly not this simple, it’s hard not to see those stats and quick make an assumption about whether Harrison is a breakout star or just another crappy hitter on a hot streak. It’s tough to be rational on when considering an outlier like this and with the added legitimacy of Harrison’s All Star Game appearance, I’d bet that there’s at least one guy in every fantasy league who believes in this break out. Use that to your advantage.
I’m not saying that you must trade Harrison, I’m just saying that it would behoove you to fully investigate your options. Shop him around as a middle infielder to the teams who just lost Hanley Ramirez or Andrelton Simmons to injury.
Personally, I think Harrison falls somewhere in the middle of the breakout/bust spectrum. He always hit for average at the minor league level, but his .353 BABIP is completely unsustainable for a hitter with a fly ball rate approaching 40%. His speed is for real, but as his OBP drops, so will his opportunities for stolen bases. Harrison’s power is the biggest mirage of all; he hit five home runs in a week after hitting only three home runs in the three months prior. Half of his ten homers are categorized as “Just Enough” by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker He’s definitely a better player than we thought heading into this season, but he’s not this good.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Javier Baez | Chicago Cubs | 2B/SS
With the way that Javier Baez burst on to the scene last week, it’s clearly far too late for me to put him in the “3 To Catch” section of this post; he’s been up less than a week and he’s already been scooped 91% of ESPN leagues. When considering Baez, I’m thinking back to what I wrote about Yasiel Puig when he announced his presence with authority last season:
“Ride the wave. In the end, we all play fantasy sports because it’s fun, and I can’t think of any player who’s as much fun to own right now as Yasiel Puig.”
I think Baez falls into the same category. Jeff Sullivan chronicled just how uncommon his skills are at FanGraphs last week; it’s incredible to see such a ferocious swinger who can cover the strike zone as well as Baez does. He hasn’t faced enough big league pitching to accumulate much data for a zone profile, but this is fascinating.
Baez has smoked pitches away to the opposite field just as easily as he’s yanked pitches off the plate inside. He’s got a little bit of Vladimir Guerrero in him; there’s just no good place to pitch him.
Baez will probably slow down, but he might not. He’s probably not going to be a great player right away, but he might be. You might be better off going with a more proven, consistent commodity, but where’s the fun in that?
Jake Odorizzi | Tampa Bay Rays | SP
Jake Odorizzi was universally referred to as the second-best piece in the trade that sent James Shields to the Royals, but as Wil Myers has been held back by injuries and arbitration clocks, Odorizzi has rapidly matured into a really good major league pitcher.
His fourseamer doesn’t burn up the radar run, but it ranks 11th in baseball in both vertical movement and whiffs per swing among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 500 fourseam heaters, and it’s more than good enough to set up Odorizzi’s excellent splitter. I had to take the qualifier down to 200 pitches for this one, but Odorizzi is one of only four pitchers to feature a split with a swing rate of more than 55%, a whiff/swing rate of more than 25%, and a groundball rate of more than 50%. The other three are Masahiro Tanaka, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Alex Cobb.
The wonderful thing about the fourseam/splitter combination is that it does not discriminate. Odorizzi has been effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Lefties hit him for a little bit more power, but struggle to square him up. Righties put more balls in play, but Odorizzi’s held them to a whimpy .350 slugging percentage.
In his last 11 starts, he’s whiffed more than a batter per inning on his way to a sparkling 2.63 ERA. More importantly, he’s cut his walk rate to only 7.5% and pumped his F-Strike% to 61.7%. Limiting free passes is especially important for a fly ball pitcher, and throwing strike one is critical for setting up the splitter. He’s benefitted from a bit of good luck during that stretch, but the evolution in his game is real. He’s a hold in redraft leagues and a great trade target in keeper formats.
David Ortiz | Boston Red Sox | 1B
It’s more and more improbable every year, but even as he closes in on the end of his age 38 season, Big Papi is still Big Papi. Even amid a rough start to the second half, David Ortiz has cranked six homers in only 79 post-ASB plate appearances. Don’t be distracted by the fact that he’s hitting .197 in the second half or even by the fact that his walk and strikeout rates are both substantially worse than his first half numbers. Outside of an injury, I don’t know that there’s anything that could happen in the span of 79 plate appearances that could make me change my outlook on David Ortiz. If you need power, he’s still as good a trade target as anybody; Ortiz has hit at least ten homers in the second half of every full season of his career.