Sometimes non-closing relievers need a little love, too, and a pair get it in this week’s Free Agent Fixes. They’re joined by a young catcher that seems to be turning the corner, a veteran first baseman with an amended injury timetable, a rookie second baseman, and a pitcher that was dealt from the Senior Circuit to the Junior Circuit.
Brad Boxberger, RP, Tampa Bay Rays
Ownership: ESPN: 6.0%, Yahoo!: 6%, CBS: 13%
To call Boxberger a non-closer, as I did in the introduction, isn’t completely true. He does have a save as the result of Joe Maddon using a closer-by-committee approach, but it looks like Jake McGee should be considered the favorite to lead the club in saves in the second-half of the season. That said, Boxberger could sneak out a few saves down the stretch, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll still have value in larger leagues.
The flame throwing righty has blown hitters away this year striking out a whopping 38.1 percent of them he’s faced in 36.2 innings. His fourseam fastball has averaged 94.0 mph, and it’s been hell for hitters to make contact with. According to the PITCHf/x leaderboard at Baseball Prospectus, he has the second highest whiff/swing rate (36.25 percent) of any relief pitcher that’s thrown their fourseam fastball a minimum of 100 times, trailing only Aroldis Chapman. He’ll sneak in a slider every now and again, but the other pitch he’s thrown regularly this year is a changeup that does a solid job of missing bats, but more importantly, induces groundballs at a high rate. Now that Boxberger is doing a much better job of getting ahead of hitters and throwing strikes, his previously high walk rate is a thing of the past and he’s walking just 8.6 percent of the batters that step in against him. The 26-year old reliever should be owned as a helpful source of strikeouts and ratio boosting in all mixed leagues of 14-teams or larger and AL-only formats, too.
Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Ownership: ESPN: 5.0%, Yahoo!: 11%, CBS: 55%
Fickle fantasy gamers are often too quick to dismiss a blue chip prospect as a bust, but in fairness, prior to his demotion to Triple-A in June, d’Arnaud showed little signs of life figuring it out at the big league level. Since his recall he’s been excellent hitting .295/.338/.525 with three homers and five doubles in 65 plate appearances.
The Mets have rewarded his hot hitting by moving him up to fifth in the order. He doesn’t have nearly enough plate appearances since his return to the club to draw too many firm conclusions from since his rates won’t stabilize for a while, but it is encouraging to see his FanGraphs data that shows him hitting flyballs on 44.7 percent of his balls in play and line drives 23.4 percent of the time over the last 30 days. The Mets young catcher should already be owned in all two catcher formats and NL-only leagues, but he’s playing well enough to warrant being owned in single catcher mixed leagues as shallow as 12 teams and he has top 10 upside at the position for the rest of the season.
Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Ownership: ESPN: 41.8%, Yahoo!: 27%, CBS: 29%
The Blue Jays releasing an incorrect recovery timetable for Lind’s foot brought back memories for me of the B.J. Ryan fiasco in which J.P. Riciardi declared he had a sore back before revealing that he in fact had a torn UCL. It was reported early last week that Lind would be out 6-to-8 weeks with a fracture in his right foot, and owners rightfully jettisoned him to the waiver wire in many leagues. Since then, however, and amended timetable has him likely to miss just 2-to-3 weeks instead.
Since the beginning of last season Lind has totaled 719 plate appearances and ripped 42 doubles with a 27 homers and a triple slash line of .297/.366/.495. In other words, he’s been very good. The Blue Jays have frequently shielded him from lefties, and his numbers are all the more impressive when looking at what he’s done against right-handed pitchers since the start of last year. In that time frame he’s hit .326/.399/.548 with 24 homers in 587 plate appearances. Lind is a strong corner infield or utility option even in shallow mixed leagues if you have daily lineup changes.
With Edwin Encarnacion due back in a couple weeks as well, Lind will be rejoining an offense that provides hearty run production upside and plays home games at the hitter friendly Rogers Centre. If he was cast to the waiver wire in your league, he’s worth a high waiver priority to claim even if your league doesn’t use a disabled list or your DL spots are occupied. With the All-Star game this week, almost a full week of Lind’s recovery will be during a break in the action, and juggling a roster for two weeks is worth the payoff Lind is capable of.
Arismendy Alcantara, SS (ESPN)/2B (Yahoo!/CBS), Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 10.4%, Yahoo!: 11%, CBS: 52%
Alcantara’s stellar 2013 season already had him moving up prospect lists, but a great showing in Triple-A this year resulted in him ranking 33rd on the Baseball America Midseason Top-50 Prospects list and netted him the 18th spot on the Baseball Prospectus Midseason Top-50 Prospects list. He made his big league debut on July 9 playing second base for the Cubs and hitting second in the order. The youngster has since also hit leadoff in a couple games and played center field in one contest. At this point, there is little reason to think he’ll be returning to the minors.
His power and speed combination is tantalizing for a player with middle infield positional eligibility, and while in Triple-A this year he put those tools on display ripping 10 homers and swiping 21 bases in 24 stolen base attempts while accumulating 366 plate appearances. He’s already reached the seats once and stolen one base in the majors. His walk and strikeout rates of 6.8 percent and 22.7 percent at Triple-A hint that he’ll need to refine his approach some to have sustainable success at the highest level of the game, but they aren’t reason to avoid him in large mixed leagues using a middle infield position or NL-only leagues. What they do mean is that he’ll probably have some bumps in the road, and a move down in the order is a strong possibility when he stumbles. His power and speed both play exceptionally well at a position with a dearth of offensive talent, and the only leagues in which he should remain available are shallow mixed leagues, but he should be on watch lists even in those leagues.
Brandon McCarthy, SP, New York Yankees
Ownership: ESPN: 2.0%, Yahoo!: 6%, CBS: 28%
Expecting McCarthy to match his 2.95 xFIP going forward would be foolish, but the nearly two run gap between that and his 4.80 ERA does speak to the fact he has suffered from some bad luck. His HR/FB rate of 18.8 percent this year is well above his career rate of 10.1 percent. The 31-year old starter has a respectable 19.4 percent strikeout rate, but his most impressive numbers are his 4.2 percent walk rate and his 55.6 percent groundball rate that will help him navigate the pitfalls of pitching at homer friendly Yankee Stadium.
The biggest reason McCarthy only gets a tepid endorsement as an AL-only option as opposed to a mixed league grab is his struggles with left-handed batters in his career that stem from the lack of a changeup to keep them at bay. An ERA of just south of four is attainable with some BABIP and HR/FB normalization, and it should be tied to a WHIP under 1.30. He won’t carry an AL-only staff, but he’s a solid option to soak up innings and serve as a glue guy at the back end of it.
Neil Ramirez, SP(ESPN)/RP (ESPN/Yahoo!/CBS), Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 8.5%, Yahoo!: 12%, CBS: 12%
Yankees reliever Dellin Betances has, rightfully, received a ton of love for dominating hitters working exclusively in relief this year. Ramirez has been nearly his equal in the National League. Like Betances, Ramirez is a former starting pitching prospect that is flourishing working in high leverage bullpen situations.
Ramirez is mixing a fourseam fastball with an average velocity in excess of 95 mph with a slider and curveball according to Brooks Baseball. The mix has been lethal for opposing hitters and resulted in a 14.2 percent swinging strike rate according to FanGraphs. So many empty swings have allowed him to pile up strikeouts in bunches, and he has a 35.1 percent strikeout rate. Some good luck can be credited for his 1.08 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, but even as things like his 99.1 percent left on-base percentage and .220 BABIP normalize, he’ll still be a great source of strikeouts and rate stat help. Furthermore, an opportunity for saves in the second half could be in the offing if Hector Rondon doesn’t tighten things up. The current closer, Rondon, has allowed at least one earned run in five of 13 relief appearances since the start of June. Even without saves, Ramirez should be owned in NL-only leagues and larger mixed leagues where non-closing relievers have value.