I’ve gotta say that the trading deadline has been disappointing so far. I’d love to see Price and Lester both change teams and end up in the National League to shake things up. At this point I guess all I can hope for is that my Cubs trade Bonifacio and can somehow fix Doubront to get something useful out of him. I’ll just bide my time until September, when the top prospects get to play.
Players on the Rise
Josh Harrison – Odds are that after a hot June, Harrison isn’t on most waiver wires. However, if he’s available, grab him with confidence. His .300+ BA isn’t likely sustainable because it was due to a high BABIP, but even so, a batter who hits .280 with good speed and a bit of power is worth investing in, especially because Harrison can be a great utility player in daily leagues. The recent power binge is nice, but he’s not the type of player to hit 20 HR just yet. Even so, a season of 15/25 is possible if he keeps running as often as he has in July.
Josh Donaldson – Okay, so he had a hot first half and still ranks as a top-5 3B for the season. I normally don’t include players ranked this highly in the Rise column, but after a very poor June, some owners were left wondering if his production was done for the year. Astute fantasy managers would have noticed the numerous stats that indicated it was an aberration. He stopped taking walks, but returned to a good BB% in July. His GB% went through the roof, and that along with a poor line drive rate led to a very unlucky BABIP, which deflated his BA. However, in July the BABIP is getting back to normal, and he’s back to hitting a lot of fly balls, which will keep the HR coming. Also, it was reported in early July that he was dealing with back stiffness, which further explained the June struggles if he was playing through it. He may not repeat his first-half stats going forward, but I’d bank on him finishing in the top-5 for 3B, or just barely missing.
Lucas Duda – He’s been hitting HR all season, but he may have found a new gear. His HR/FB has been on a three-month rise. Some owners may expect the bubble to burst, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintained a 18-20% rate for the rest of the year. He’s also making better and harder contact as the season goes on, which helps explain his increased line drive rate (and therefore his better BA in June and July). My only criticism of his game is that he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone compared to the last few years, but if he keeps making hard contact and hitting balls out of the park, I won’t complain.
Alex Cobb – I must confess and get if off my chest: I sat Cobb last week because he only had one start, and I had pitchers on the bench with two starts. Lesson learned — don’t ever take Cobb out of your lineup! A lot of fantasy owners didn’t think he could sustain his breakout success from 2013; they thought he’d be good, but unable to repeat. The doubters were wrong, and the stats prove it: K/9 was 8.4 in 2013 and is 8.6 in 2014; BB/9 was 2.8 in 2013 and is 2.6 in 2014. He’s maintained his extreme ground ball tilt, his BABIP has been pretty level for three seasons, and he’s posting a career high swinging strike rate. If anything, his ERA could improve in the second half. Cobb is a legit #2 SP, and in very deep leagues I’d be okay with him as my #1 SP if I wasn’t investing in the higher-priced arms.
Chris Young – Young is an odd duck. When you look at his first half, the luck factors glare back at you. He had a lucky BABIP and strand rate, as well as a HR/FB slightly below league average. It stands to reason that he should regress and have worse stats moving forward, right? Well, not yet at least. In July his BABIP is just as lucky, and his strand rate has actually increased, so buy beware regarding his ERA. However, note his extreme fly ball rate, and realize that it seems to work in spacious Seattle (2.21 ERA at home) but not everywhere else (4.09 on road). Of the players on the rise this week, he’s the one I’m least certain about moving forward. However, in July he’s managed to cut his BB/9 in half and raise his K/9 from 4.6 to 8.5. I’d consider stashing him on my bench and using him in home games for the rest of the season, but it’s a risk to start him every game.
Matt Shoemaker – He looked bad in June, and he’s been pretty good in July. What’s changed in his game? Very little, actually. He’s improved his K/9 and BB/9 from June to July, but they were already great. His swinging strike rate and HR/FB are the same, and he’s actually sporting a worse LD% in July. What caused the badness was an unlucky BABIP (.400) and strand rate (70%). His BABIP has normalized, and his strand rate may be a bit lucky right now, but the point is that he’s a high-strikeout, low-walk pitcher who’s playing on a competing team. Unless his K/BB mysteriously collapses, I expect continued success for Shoemaker.
Players on the Decline
Hunter Pence – He’s had a bad week, and he’s suffered a bit of a power outage in July, with a low HR/FB of 6%. There aren’t any major warning signs, so I’m sure the power can rebound some, but bear in mind that he’s hitting fewer line drives and more grounders than in recent years, and he’s not making as hard of contact, either. The BABIP is a bit high compared to the last two seasons, so there’s a chance his average dips into the .270s. That being said, he’s still a strong OF value due to his contribution in five categories.
Shin-soo Choo – I had hoped for excellent #2 OF production from Choo this year, and the first two months were good. However, in June and July he’s struggled, and the SB have dried up. He’s always had a line drive rate over 20%, but this year it’s down to 19%, which may help explain his low (for him) BABIP. His power metrics haven’t changed drastically from previous years, so it’s possible he’ll reach 20 HR again, but in July his contact rate has plummeted, and that worries me. He’s had a chronically sore ankle, so perhaps it can explain away a lot of his struggles — but that means if his ankle doesn’t get better, neither will his stats. He’s a bit risky for the second half, and in redraft leagues I’d move him for a hitter of comparable value with upside to the second half.
Mark Trumbo – He was a risky, empty-power option entering the season, and after the injury, his future is looking even more grim. It’s possible he’s still adjusting from his foot injury, but it can’t explain away all his struggles. Aside from no HR, his contact rate is anemic even for him, and he’s hitting fewer fly balls. His BABIP in July is pretty normal for his career, yet he’s still only hitting .167. That’s what happens when you rely on homers to keep your BA afloat. At best, for the second half I’d hope for a .230 average with double-digit homers, but I wouldn’t put money on that.
Dillon Gee – I kept hoping for more from Gee, and when he started delivering, he got hurt. Now that he’s back, he hasn’t been good. For starters, he has a very unlucky strand rate in July, but that’s due to his gopheritis (22% HR/FB). The WHIP is still good, but it’s on the rise because his BABIP is regressing toward league average, compared to being very lucky in the first half. I do like his improved ground ball rate and K/9, so if he can solve the home run issues, he may return solid value the rest of the way. However, I’m not holding my breath for further growth going forward.
Nathan Eovaldi – Owners of Eovaldi have been holding on and hoping for some of that early-season magic, but it doesn’t show any signs of returning, and July emphasized that fact. His walk rate is still reasonable, but a line drive rate of 25% for the last two months shows that hitters are lighting him up, and his K/9 has been dropping all year. He has a very unlucky strand rate given that his HR/FB isn’t high, so some of his struggles may get better, but I have absolutely no positive signs on any of the metrics I track. Fantasy managers should drop him without hesitation, and it’d take more than one or two good starts for me to even consider him as a streaming option.
Anibal Sanchez – All season long, he hasn’t been as good as he was in 2013, which was likely a career year. I keep getting trade offers with him involved, and I never want to pay the price at which the owners value him. The walk rate has been good for three months, but in June and July his K/9 has been 5.8 and 6.0, respectively. There’s been some bad luck for Anibal in July’s BABIP and strand rate, but even if he returns to respectable moving forward, it’s clear he’s not the ace that some teams paid for entering the season. If you can somehow get him cheap in a trade, do it, but don’t pay for a major rebound. If you own him, give him a mulligan for July, but remind yourself that he won’t be lights out, either.