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, trade deadline quandries? Hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
Oh, and here’s The Fantasy Fix Football Draft Guide.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Jordan Schafer | Minnesota Twins | OF
Jordan Schafer has mostly flopped since debuting with a bang, but in his aimless bouncing around the league, he has found one elite skill. Despite logging barely two full seasons worth of plate appearances over his five-year career, Schafer has swiped a total of 98 bases with a success rate better than 80%. His SB/PA rate looks a bit inflated after plenty of pinch running opportunities, but his success in those chances proves that he can run even when the defense knows it’s coming. His problem has always been getting on base, but that’s been much less of an issue since Schafer was traded to Minnesota.
Since joining the Twins, his swinging strike rate has dropped by more than four percentage points from the 14.4% he maintained as a Brave this season. His strikeout rate has dropped to a career low 13.1%. He’s kept his walk rate over 10% and his fly ball rate under 30%; the fact that he’s traded some grounders for extra base line drives is just gravy. His .383 BABIP is high, but something around .350 isn’t unsustainable for a guy with his speed.
As long as he hits, Schafer is going to keep playing, Ron Gardenhire has said as much. Eventually, his BABIP will fade a bit, but he’ll stick in the lineup long enough to swipe at least six or seven bags in the next month.
Carlos Carrasco | Cleveland Indians | SP
In a world where “non save situation” is an acceptable explanation for underperformance, Carlos Carrasco has been an outstanding pitcher, regardless of the situation. He has a 2.85 FIP as a starter and a 2.92 FIP as a reliever. He whiffs 25% of batters as a starter and 23% as a reliever. His BABIP and WHIP are nearly identical in both roles. His velocity was a bit lower in his first four starts, but he’s maintained the gains he made as a reliever while averaging more than six innings each in his last four outings.
Carrasco doesn’t have the typical reliever’s repertoire; his slider, curve, and change are all above average in both whiff rate and ground ball rate. With two strikes, all three get whiffs on over 37% of swings.
I can’t explain why the Indians thought that guys like Zach McAllister and T.J. House were better fits for the rotation earlier in the season, but now that Carrasco has finally been given a chance to start, he’s not going to give it back.
Brad Boxberger | Tampa Bay Rays | RP
In the same spirit as last week’s Pat Neshek recommendation, Brad Boxberger is a widely available source of strikeouts who won’t count against your start limit. As Landon Jones wrote last week, he’s quietly been one of the most effective relievers in baseball. His fastball-changeup is devastating against both-handed hitters and gives Joe Maddon license to use him in any situation.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Joe Kelly | Boston Red Sox | SP
Despite what his 3.86 ERA might indicate, Joe Kelly has been awful in his first five starts as a Bostonian. He’s barely managed to strike out 15% of the batters he faced and has walked just as many. His ground ball rate remains just a hair over 50%, but he’s allowing more fly balls, a dangerous trend for a pitcher tossing half his games in the shadow of Fenway’s green monster.
That said, I don’t think that all of the blame for this can fall on Kelly’s shoulders. Some of the responsibility has to go to Yadier Molina. Kelly was bound to regress after leaving one of the best recievers in the game.
The Cardinals have worked hard to hold on to their homegrown arms; there’s really only one recent case of a fantasy-relevant post-Yadi starter. Unfortunately for us, that starter moved to one of the only catchers in baseball whose defensive skills wouldn’t be viewed as a massive downgrade from Molina. Kyle Lohse has regressed only minimally since leaving St. Louis for Milwaukee after the 2012 season, but with the excellent Jonathan Lucroy receiving for the Brewers, it’s near-impossible to tease out any Yadi-related decline. In fact, as Jeff Sullivan wrote last season, it’s near impossible to tease out any Yadi-related anything.
Still, baseball players are not robots. For a guy like Kelly, who succeeds not by blowing hitters away, but by trusting that his sinker will generate the right kind of contact, it would seem that the bond with his catcher is absolutely critical. Trust is not something that we can objectively measure, but we can say that both his Zone% and F-Strike% are down significantly since his move to the Red Sox. Whether it’s a result of poor game calling, shaky pitch framing, or some immeasurable lack of faith, that smells like a post-Molina hangover to me. It’s no insult to Christian Vazquez to say that he’s a significant step down from one of the all-time greats at his position, but he is.
Maybe a full offseason in one place will help Kelly get himself back in order for 2015, but for the rest of this season, I’m not interested.
Derek Norris | Oakland A’s | C
After a powerful start, Derek Norris has noodle-armed his way through a disappointing second half. His ISO has dropped by 80 points since the All Star break. After slugging nine bombs by mid-June, he’s only homered once since July 19. For the season, Norris ranks 248th in the league in average fly ball distance, pacing behind the likes of Sam Fuld, Rougned Odor, and Jackie Bradley.
He has battled through a 50 point drop in BABIP and a near-60% drop in HR/FB rate in the second half, but for a team that’s trying to claw its way back into the playoffs, even an analytically-inclined one, Norris’ surface stat faceplant can’t be ignored. Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s are a lot of great things, but loyal ain’t one of them. If Norris continues to struggle, he will be replaced.
Two of his last five starts were as a designated hitter; those at bats will likely evaporate now that Oakland has traded for Adam Dunn. And even if Dunn doesn’t directly take away playing time from Norris, his impact on the team’s use of Stephen Vogt and John Jaso will put a squeeze on the already cramped situation between Oakland’s three part time catchers.
George Springer | Houston Astros | OF
George Springer still hasn’t tried to run at 100 percent. With only a few weeks left in the season, we’re closing in on the point at which it just doesn’t make sense for the Astros to bring him back. Houston’s front office has made it quite clear that the team isn’t playing for this season; there’s absolutely no reason to push it.
Bo Porter has said that it’s premature to think that Springer won’t come back this season, but with an injury that can get worse if not given enough time to heal, I’d bet on Springer not playing another major league game this season. It’s frustrating for fantasy owners, because Springer is exactly the type of guy who can lift up a category or two on his own, but there’s just no reason to give him a roster spot right now.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Travis d’Arnaud | New York Mets | C
After flailing his way through his first stint in the big leagues, Travis d’Arnaud is starting to look very comfortable in a Mets uniform. He’s settled in defensively, becoming one of the better receivers in the National League. Aside from some disastrous BABIP luck, he’s settled in offensively, slugging 12 homers in just over 350 plate appearances. Eight of those 12 bombs would have left the yard in every park in the league.
He’s become a more aggressive hitter in recent weeks, and he’s done it without anything back in terms of discipline.
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He’s even more dialed in when it counts most. Against almost every pitch type, his whiff rate drops with two strikes on him.
All of this won’t likely lead to a big uptick in batting average, but he’ll maintain a solid OBP and continue to hit for power.
Chris Capuano | New York Yankees | SP
Like Brandon McCarthy before him, Chris Capuano has been paradoxically refreshed by a move to the Bronx. It seemed that he’d found the limits of his guile when he stumbled to a 4.55 ERA in 28 games with Boston, but since joining the Yankees, his chase rate and swinging strike rate have leapt near career best levels. He’s chainsawed his walk rate and pumped his ground ball rate by nearly ten percentage points. And it’s all come while his BABIP, stand rate, and HR/FB rate have barely moved.
He’s given back some velocity on all of his pitches, but that’s allowed him to spot the ball more accurately. Capuano keeps in down in the zone well and has consistently enticed hitters to chase… and miss.
Capuano’s only made seven starts as a Yankee, but there’s nothing flukish here. Until he shows any signs of cracking, he’s worth owning in AL-only and deeper formats.
Michael Pineda | New York Yankees | SP
Michael Pineda is a younger, better version of Brett Anderson. He spent just enough healthy time in the big leagues to prove his ability at a young age, but has been dogged by injuries ever since. Nothing about him has changed to alter this trajectory. In some ways, he’s actually worse off than Anderson. Pineda’s worst injury was to his shoulder, rather than his elbow. Tommy John surgery isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damned effective at fixing elbow ligaments; there’s no equivalent for shoulder injuries.
And yet, here I am, recommending Pineda again, because there just aren’t many pitchers with a proven ability to dominate the way he did back in 2011. As long as the opportunity cost isn’t too high, there’s no reason not to give him a shot.