Who’s ready for another MVP battle between Trout and Miggy? I hope they both have stellar second halves and make it interesting for a third season.
Players on the Rise
Neftali Feliz – He had good stuff before his injuries. He did well enough in AAA, and if he can keep it up all season, he’s good enough to reach 30+ saves as a full-time closer in 2015. The only downside is that he’s never regained his strong K/9 from 2010, but if he maintains a 7.5-8.0, then he could still become a top-10 RP in the future. For teams looking for a title in 2014, he’s a worthy saves investment if you need them.
Jacob de Grom – His sabermetrics are a bit all over the place, so it’s hard to know what to expect going forward. However, there’s no denying he’s hot right now, and there’s a good chance he’s not in your FA pool anymore. His BABIP was poor in June, and he didn’t have a great BB/9, which explains that high June WHIP. However, the BABIP is just as high in July, and his WHIP is much better. Part of that is due to his improved BB/9 (1.7 in 4 July starts). He hasn’t given up any homers this month, so the ERA could rise when that starts to happen, but then again, he’s developing a strong ground ball tilt as the season goes on. What’s more exciting is the spike in K/9, which is at least partly supported by an impressive 16% swinging strike rate. In redraft leagues, I’d ride his hot streak for 2014. In keeper leaguers, he may be worth an investment to see if the strikeouts hold up, but he didn’t have a strong K/9 in his minors career, so I’m a little pessimistic about future ace value.
Neil Walker – He’s been on an “every other month” kick this season, but there’s reason to hope that his value will remain strong moving forward. First, his worst month, June, involved a DL stint, which may be part of the reason he posted his lowest BB% and hard contact rate of the season. His career BABIP is above the league average, so I don’t expect his average to drop to 2013 levels. He’s got a career high HR/FB this year, and his lowest month (8%) was when he was hurt, so there’s a good chance he’ll reach 20+ HR this year, especially if he can ever figure out how to get above a 40% fly ball rate. Sadly, he’s been riding my bench a lot in one league (Cano at 2B, Ortiz at DH), but I’m going to have to find more time for him to get in the lineup, or else trade him at a high value. It wouldn’t surprise me to see his totals reach .280/80/25/80/5 this season.
Melky Cabrera – After a hot April, he cooled to average in May and June, but he’s heating back up in July. His BA spikes occur only when his BABIP gets lucky, so bear in mind that 2013’s .279 could happen again. He’s currently matching a career high in HR/FB, which is mostly propped up by his hot (and unsustainable) April. If he hit more balls in the air, I’d buy into him reaching 20+ HR, but as it is, his FB% is only 29% (pretty normal for him), so I don’t see him passing his career high 18 HR. The PED history makes me worry about keeper value, but for redrafts it seems he’s again established himself as a solid #3, maybe #2 OF.
Pablo Sandoval – At the rate he’s going, the Panda could reach his best BA in the last three years. His horrendous start in April probably killed his chances of reaching .300 for the season, but he’s hit .300 in the last three months. He has a history of hitting HR in bunches, so I don’t see a 15% HR/FB for the rest of the season, but if healthy he could reach 20 HR this year. It’s probably a reach to expect his 2009 and 2011 production, but a final line of .285/70/20/75 is possible. The potential red flags are his often low AB totals from recent seasons and his three-year decline in BB%, but for standard 5×5 the OBP isn’t a factor. I’m less of a fan for long-term value, but in redraft leagues I’d be happy to have him as my 3B for the rest of the year.
Players on the Decline
Dustin Pedroia – Okay, so his whole season has been pretty awful, but at this point you have to know that he’s not returning to top 2B status. No, Bosox fans, let it go. Fans want to point at his thumb as the cause of his HR decline last year, but he now has a four-year HR/FB slide from his two peak seasons, so it’s clear that dreams of double-digit homers will never be fulfilled. He’s running less than he used to, and when he does this year, he’s caught more then he’s succeeded. His .300 BA seasons were propped up by BABIP spikes, and without the lucky BABIP and any semblance of oomph in his swing, the BA will be lucky to reach .275 this season. I never loved him, even when he was at the peak of his career, because he didn’t seem like he’d maintain the pace. It figures that when I finally decide to keep him in a league due to MI scarcity and a desire for veteran guys over unproven youngsters, he plummets to his career lows. (Of course, that youngster was Wil Myers, who’s also had a lost season, so either way I’d be hurting.)
Jay Bruce – He’s had a bad week, which further emphasizes his lost season. What’s the cause? A declining contact rate doesn’t help him, and his best years in BA were due to lucky BABIP. He’s got a three-year decline in HR/FB, but more important the FB% is down, with a career-high GB% to boot. His swinging strike is his second highest, but it’s not as bad as 2013. However, 2014 is also his second-highest rate of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. There’s a chance he rebounds in 2015; after all, any hitter can have an off year. I’d have dumped him in redraft leagues weeks ago. In keeper leagues, if you can get him at a low salary, or as a throw-in on a trade where you have deep keepers, I might give him a mulligan and hope for a rebound in 2015.
Chase Utley – His first two months were stellar, but he cooled in June and hasn’t changed in July. His BABIP is low, but on the other hand it’s not out of line with his 2011 and 2012 campaigns, where his BA was mediocre. That’s enough to make me worry about which Utley will show up for the remainder of the season. His HR/FB is tied for a career low right now at 7%, and it’s on a three-year decline though July has seen a 9% mark, which is tolerable. His BB% is also declining, perhaps due to the lack of offense and protection in the Phillies lineup this season. If you can trade Utley for a younger 2B who’s doing well, I’d do so before his season stats get dragged down any more.
Nathan Eovaldi – Did you think you found a breakout ace after his April performance? Don’t forget that a lot of players have great starts only to fade for the rest of the season. He’s given up 5 ER or more in 5 of his last 8 starts. His BABIP doesn’t explain his struggles; it’s the fact that hitters are teeing off on him with a LD% of 26% in June and 27% in July. His walk rates have been pretty good all year, but after April he stopped striking out hitters, with a K/9 of 5.0 in June and 4.1 in July. There’s some bad luck factor in his strand rate lately, but when nothing else is going right for him, that’s not much consolation. Ignore April, look at his season totals, and realize that this might be his ceiling for the rest of 2014. As a long-term investment in deep keeper leagues, there’s still hope, but redraft teams are better off scouring the FA pool for hot players.
Dan Haren – What happened here? For starters, he’s had some bad luck in BABIP and strand rate in July, but that bad strand rate is partly due to Haren’s gopheritis, with a rising HR/FB every month. Anyone who posts a 19% HR/FB is going to have a horrible ERA and strand rate. What’s odd is that his K/9 has spiked this month, but his BB/9, which is usually a strong point for him, is on a three-month rise as well. Also, even with the high strikeout rate in July, his season K/9 is his lowest in nine years. However, moving forward I’d be willing to gamble on him for the rest of the season. I’m hoping that a 4.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for the second half is more likely than a complete collapse. Watch his HR/FB moving forward; if he can get that under control, there’s hope.