It’s Week 13 fantasy baseball 3×3, where we’re scooping up Mitch Moreland, throwing in the towel on Justin Morneau, and staying patient with a couple of Rays.
3 TO CATCH
Mitch Moreland | Texas Rangers | 1B
Mitch Moreland ranks sixth among first basemen in wOBA behind only Chris Davis, Adam Lind (!!!), Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, and Edwin Encarnacion, yet there are 36 1B-eligible players owned in more Yahoo! leagues than Moreland. I know weighted on-base average is an imperfect proxy for 5×5 fantasy performance, but this is ridiculous.
Moreland isn’t quite the elite power source he’s been so far, but there has been some real improvement behind his 75-point jump in ISO. He’s been much more patient on pitches in the zone, something that our own Brett Talley picked up earlier in the season.
Brett surmised that this trend meant that Moreland was taking too many first pitches; my perspective is that he’s choosing to wait for the perfect pitch, rather than just jumping on the first offering he thinks he can handle. As a result, he’s elevating the ball and doing it with force. Moreland’s 40.5% flyball rate ties his career high, and his average distance on fly balls (293 feet) is six feet better than last year’s mark. Still not the marks of elite first base power, but enough to crack double digits in homers the rest of the way.
Moreland looked full healthy on his rehab assignment in Frisco and now that he’s returned, he can expect everyday at-bats right from the jump, especially with Lance Berkman struggling/hurt/elderly. He’ll maintain the strong batting average he’s had throughout his career and he’s a good bet to produce some runs hitting in a great Rangers offense. If you’re in the 57% of Yahoo! leagues in which Moreland has been overlooked, grab him immediately.
To pick him up, I’d drop: Lance Berkman, Eric Hosmer, Daniel Murphy
Eric Stults | San Diego Padres | SP
In the proud tradition of Tim Stauffer, Aaron Harang, Jon Garland, and Kevin Correia before him, Eric Stults is riding the cool sea air and distant fences of Petco Park to a surprisingly valuable fantasy season. Stults has adapted a pitching style perfectly suited to his surroundings: he doesn’t walk anybody, keeps the ball down and away, and lets his ballpark and his defense do the work. That approach has Stults ranked 32nd on ESPN’s Player Rater, immediately in front of much more heralded hurlers James Shields, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander.
Stults’ skills certainly aren’t anywhere near the caliber of those pitchers (his 4.66 FIP on the road proves that), but there’s nothing fluky about his start. His strand rate is right around league average and although his .267 BABIP seems primed for regression, I wouldn’t expect it to rise much past Stults’ career average of .278.
He’s a mediocre pitcher who’s very dependent on the wonderful situation he’s found in San Diego, but as long as the Padres don’t relocate to Colorado or Texas for the second half of the season, he’ll continue to produce above-average results.
To pick him up, I’d drop: Jeff Locke, Scott Feldman, Jeremy Guthrie
Felix Doubront | Boston Red Sox | SP
Stuff has never been a question with Felix Doubront. Whether he’s pitched out of the rotation or the bullpen, his career 22.6% strikeout rate shows he can miss major league bats. Unfortunately, his career 10.1% walk rate shows he’s even better at missing major league strike zones.
Doubront has begun to get that swing-and-miss stuff under control this season. He’s dialed back on his fastball, sacrificing velocity for command. That, along with a shift in his release point, has yielded much improved zone rates in May and June.
He had a largely unsuccessful start in Detroit on Sunday afternoon following his gem earlier in the week, but that’s nothing new for pitchers visiting Comerica Park; the Tigers’ .361 team wOBA at home is best far the best in the big leagues. Doubront isn’t suddenly going to become a superstar, but he will provide strikeouts on the cheap, without knee-cappping your WHIP like he has in the past.
To pick him up, I’d drop: Phil Hughes, Jeremy Guthrie, Tommy Hanson
3 TO CUT
Justin Morneau | Minnesota Twins | 1B
Justin Morneau is not a buy low candidate. He’s not a post-hype sleeper, a post-injury sleeper, or a post-anything sleeper (except maybe a post-brushes his teeth sleeper). He has a fantastic track record as a big leaguer, but he’s not that guy anymore.
His 3.7% HR/FB rate is almost ten percentage points below his career average, but that fact alone doesn’t mean that favorable regression is coming. When Morneau last hit 30 home runs (in 2009), his average fly ball travelled about 300 feet. So far this season, that distance has dropped to just over 262 feet.
Without home run power, Morneau is just a decent batting average producer, hitting in a weak lineup, at a premium fantasy position. He has a role in AL-only, but in most mixed leagues, there are better options available.
I’d trade/drop him for: Mitch Moreland, Brandon Belt, Brandon Moss
Dan Haren | Washington Nationals | SP
Through 82 innings this season, he’s given up 19 home runs. Through 18 innings in June, he’s given up seven home runs.
His 2.09 HR/9 is the worst in MLB, only noted 3×3 punching bag Jeremy Guthrie even comes close.
Oh, and he’s probably headed to the DL.
If you needed an excuse to cut him loose, the Nationals just gave you one. Even when healthy, I want no part of Haren at this point in his career.
I’d trade/drop him for: Jeremy Hellickson, Corey Kluber, Edwin Jackson
Will Middlebrooks | Boston Red Sox | 3B
I’m almost positive that Will Middlebrooks will finish this season with 20 home runs, given full health the rest of the way. I’m also almost positive that under those same circumstances, Middlebrooks can’t hit .240. He won’t hit .192 forever, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s performance.
While riding a sky high BABIP to an excellent batting average last season, Middlebrooks developed some bad habits. He swung-and-missed a ton and struck out even more. So far this season, his habits have gotten worse, and he’s compounded the impact by hitting the ball in the air more often, but clearing the fence less often. If Middlebrooks would take a walk, he could be something like a younger Mark Reynolds, but he’s insisted on hacking his OBP down to .228 this season.
I’d trade/drop him for: Nolan Arenado, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Johnson
3 TO KEEP
Kelly Johnson | Tampa Bay Rays | 2B/OF
Kelly Johnson has found himself on the wrong side of regression; his BABIP has dropped to .162 in June after soaring to .359 in May. His ownership in ESPN leagues has followed suit, sinking by nearly 30% in the last week.
Batting average was never Johnson’s strong suit (like our buddy Will Middlebrooks, he hits a ton of fly balls), but there are clear signs that his BABIP will bounce back. He’s laying off pitches outside the zone at a rate seven percentage points better than last season’s mark, and he’s coming up empty on less than 10% of his swings for the first time since 2009.
That disciplined approach will help him maintain a batting average right around .240; he’ll take enough walks to maintain a solid OBP. Throw in double digits in homers and steals, and Johnson’s a solid, if slightly flawed, option at second base.
I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks, Michael Young
Jeremy Hellickson | Tampa Bay Rays | SP
Although the effectiveness of his curveball has waned this season, Jeremy Hellickson’s signature pitch, his changeup, has been better than ever before. He’s using it often (only Justin Verlander and Tommy Milone have thrown more changeups this season) and generating fantastic results, to the tune of a 40% whiff rate, the best of Hellickson’s career for any pitch.
He’s used the changeup to drive his strikeout rate to 18.5% but also displayed career-best control, dropping his walk rate to just 5.0%.
So how is it that he’s sitting on a 5.50 ERA in the middle of June?
Hellickson’s BABIP and strand rate are both career worsts. Although neither is way off the league average, Hellickson proved over the first 400 innings of his career that his luck doesn’t conform to league averages, posting a career strand rate above 80% and a BABIP around .250.
In the second half of the season, Hellickson will do what he’s done the past two years. He’ll ride the Rays’ excellent defense to an ERA that outperforms his FIP, only this time, he’ll do it with more strikeouts and fewer free passes.
I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Dan Haren, Jarrod Parker, Paul Maholm
Mark Reynolds | Cleveland Indians | 1B/3B
After a sizzling first month in which Mark Reynolds slugged eight home runs and batted 65 points above his career average, his numbers have slowly and consistently marched back down toward his career norms. He’s 11 for 67 in June, with only one home run and no other extra base hits.
But he’s Mark Reynolds. This kind of thing comes with the territory.
If you drafted or traded for Reynolds, you knew exactly what you were getting. Nothing that’s happened this season should change that. On aggregate, his numbers are right on pace. Over the rest of the season, he should just about double his 14 home runs, 35 runs, and 44 RBI, while maintaining an average around .230.
I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Martin Prado, Pedro Alvarez, Todd Frazier
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