2014 Fantasy Baseball: Week Seven Free Agent Fixes
The last few weeks I have dug deep for free agent options, so this week I chose to highlight a few of players that are less widely available and are more helpful for shallower mixed league gamers. Don’t worry, though, if you’re in large mixed leagues and only formats, I have a few options for you folks as well.
Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 47.1%, Yahoo!: 68%, CBS: 82%
Kennedy has been a stud this year, honestly. Sure, he has just two wins to show for his work, but his 3.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 28.3% strikeout rate are outstanding. With such great numbers, I was shocked to see that he’s owned in under 75 percent of leagues hosted at both ESPN and Yahoo. That’s unacceptable; he should be universally owned.
Kennedy is highly unlikely to continue to strikeout 28.3% of the batters he faces as his underlying stats don’t support that rate, but north of 20 percent is a lock. The former Arizona hurler’s numbers have taken a huge step forward this year for a variety of reasons. He has done a better job of stranding baserunners this year than he did last, and FanGraphs has his left on-base percentage at 74.3 percent, just a tiny bit better than his career rate of 73.6 percent, so that can be considered sustainable. The right-handed pitcher is inducing groundballs at a career best rate of 46.9 percent, more than eight percent better than his career rate. That’s a great change for a pitcher that has allowed more than one home run-per-nine innings in his career (1.07 HR/9 in his career).
Another exciting change to Kennedy’s profile is an increase in strike throwing. FanGraphs has his zone rate at 51.4 percent, up from 42.8 percent last season and 47.2 percent in his career. Putting that number in further perspective, the league average zone percentage this year is 46.9 percent. Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that the 29-year old pitcher has been stingy with walks, and his 5.6 percent walk rate is well below the league average of 8.2 percent.
Pitching for San Diego for full year, and calling pitcher friendly PETCO Park home made Kennedy a sleeper pick for some this year, and he’s delivering thus far. Perhaps more exciting than his home ballpark, though, is that Kennedy is throwing the hardest he’s ever thrown in his career this year. Pitchers that are approaching 30-years of age aren’t supposed to find ticks on their heater, but lo and behold Kennedy’s pitcher page at Brooks Baseball. His fourseam fastball is being thrown on average 1.17 mph harder this year than last, and his sinker is up even more than that being thrown almost three full mph harder than in 2013. Go get Kennedy, he’s the real deal.
Cody Allen, RP, Cleveland Indians
Ownership: ESPN: 43.4%, Yahoo!: 39%, CBS: 36%
John Axford has been a mess, and manager Terry Francona has removed him from the closer role. He hasn’t named an official closer just yet, and instead plans on using the dreaded closer-by-committee approach. Bryan Shaw earned the club’s most recent save, but Allen is the logical choice to grab this job and run with it, and he picked up the first save after Axford’s demotion.
Allen is a relief ace. The hard throwing right-hander struck out a whopping 29.2 percent of the batters he faced last year, and that rate is up even higher this season at 35.9 percent. His walk rate has steadily decreased since he reached the majors in 2012, and he’s sitting at 7.8 percent this year. Allen has battled some poor BABIP luck (.353 this year) and has still managed to tally a sub-two ERA (1.76). The young reliever needs to be universally owned, and he has the realistic ceiling of a top-10 relief pitcher going forward this year.
Derek Norris, C, Oakland Athletics
Ownership: ESPN: 5.3%, Yahoo!: 25%, CBS: 38%
Don’t look now, but a new catcher is sneaking into single catcher mixed league relevance. Norris, who has mostly been used on the short side of a platoon in his major league career, is now starting to pick up some extra at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Amazingly, his walk and strikeout rates this year are identical against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Norris has walked in 13.3 percent of his plate appearances, and he’s struck out in a tiny 11.1 percent of his plate appearances.
The patient hitting Norris is spitting on offerings out of the strike zone, swinging at just 17.6 percent of pitches out of the strike zone (league average O-swing percentage is 29.0 percent). When pitchers venture into the strike zone, Norris is making contact at a very high rate (94.1 percent zone contact rate). It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways, his .406 BABIP is not sustainable. However, his increase in contact bodes well for him setting a new high in batting average. Norris has above average power and has hit 20 homers in 630 plate appearances in his career, and he’s a rare breed of catcher that’s actually able to contribute steals to the bottom line (11 steals in 12 attempts in his career). He should be owned universally in two catcher formats, and he’s a great fill in for owners dealing with injuries to starters such as Matt Wieters and Wilin Rosario.
Jon Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2%, Yahoo!: 4%, CBS: 24%
Production at first base has been lacking for the Astros, and that’s putting it mildly. Really the only thing keeping Singleton in the minors is the Astros desire to avoid starting his service time clock. Once the calendar flips to June, though, a call-up could essentially come at any moment, and Singleton has earned it.
Last year Singleton served a 50 game suspension for failing a drug test for the use of a recreational drug (marijuana). When he did begin playing he was out of shape, and his numbers suffered as a result. He entered this year in much better shape, and he’s raking. The 22-year old prospect is hitting .293/.406/.624 with 11 homers in 160 plate appearances. His strikeout rate sits at a respectable 22.5 percent, and his walk rate is huge at 16.3 percent. Singleton holds more value in leagues that use OBP due to his patience at the dish, and in late April J.J. Cooper of Baseball America noted that the first baseman still projects to hit for a low average in the majors despite the hot start. The left-handed batter has above average power and his home ballpark when he joins the Astros will help amplify his pop, and that’s the category he’s most likely to help fantasy owners in upon his arrival in the Show.
Singleton is a great stash candidate in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues that use a corner infielder. He’s not a once in a life time type prospect that should be counted on to make a seamless transition from the minors to the majors, and organization mate George Springer serves as a cautionary example of how difficult the adjustment can be. As long as gamers aren’t expecting Singleton to be a team savior, he can be a useful piece to round out lineups in larger leagues.
Carlos Quentin, OF, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 0.5%, Yahoo!: 6%, CBS: 20%
The Padres are expected to activate Quentin from the disabled list on Tuesday. As Dayn Perry notes in the linked article, Quentin hasn’t played in a major league game since July 30, 2013. The oft injured outfielder has totaled 660 plate appearances the last two years combined. Suffice to say, he struggles to stay healthy.
When he is on the diamond, though, he’s really good. In his 660 plate appearances he tallied from 2012-2013 he slashed .268/.368/.498 with 29 homers and very helpful run production stats that include 86 runs and 90 RBIs. The 31-year old outfielder will need more days off than most regulars if the Padres hope to keep him somewhat healthy, and that hurts his fantasy value some, but now that he’s healthy he needs to be rostered in all but the shallowest of leagues.
The veteran outfielder is a near shoo-in to hit third or cleanup in the Padres order, and that will allow him to maximize his run production stats. His power is well above average, and while he’s not an asset in batting average, his .255 career average isn’t a lead weight on that category in roto leagues either. Quentin is also a must own in all leagues that include OBP.
Danny Valencia, 3B, Kansas City Royals
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0%, Yahoo!: 0%, CBS: 1%
There is substantive chatter that Mike Moustakas might be demoted to Triple-A Omaha. The obvious beneficiary in the move would be Valencia. The team dealt outfielder David Lough for Valencia this offseason, and the third baseman has been used at both his natural position and the keystone this year. He currently only has utility eligibility in ESPN leagues, but he’s just two games shy of gaining third base eligibility, and he already holds hot corner eligibility in Yahoo! leagues. As I noted, he’s also played second base (four games), and he may soon gain eligibility there in Yahoo!, and that would add to his AL-only league appeal.
The right-handed hitting Valencia has been a handful for southpaws in his career, owning a career triple slash line of .329/.366/.511 with 13 homers in 454 plate appearances. The bad news is that he hasn’t been that effective against his same handed adversaries hitting just .229/.269/.357 with 21 homers in 795 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers in the bigs. Increased exposure to right-handed pitching won’t help his slash line, but it increases his opportunities to contribute in the counting stat categories.
Tyler Moore, 1B/OF, Washington Nationals
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0%, Yahoo! 0%, CBS: 1%
A strained quad sent Adam LaRoche to the disabled list, and with Ryan Zimmerman already shelved, the door is now open to regular playing time for Moore. Strikeouts have undermined Moore’s above average power, and a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in the majors is a big contributing factor to his .236 average. However, he has belted 16 homers in the majors in 385 plate appearances. Power starved owners in NL-only leagues should scoop up Moore and plug him in while LaRoche and Zimmerman are out.