As a fantasy manager who keeps tabs on top minors prospects and plays in deep keeper leagues with a minors system, it always irks me to read bland, basic fantasy advice like, “It’s time to buy on Javier Baez.” Okay, if you play a friends and family redraft league with 10 teams and a huge FA pool, he’s likely still out there. But in any league with a keeper system more than 5 players deep, there’s a high chance that at the least, some rebuild team has had him for a while and is playing for next year. It was time to buy on Baez two years ago, not two days ago. Ugh. Let’s move on to our weekly surges and struggles.
Players on the Rise
Will Venable – For those who need to play the waiver wire, or for those leagues that require 5 OF, it’s hard to ignore Venable. He’s often frustrating to own, but 20+ SB per season, plus a surge of 20 HR in 2013, make him rosterable. This year the average and power have been down, and June was pretty atrocious. However, he’s hitting over .500 in early August. Naysays will point to his high BABIP, but I point to a very low BABIP in June to explain his struggles. The fact is that he hits a few too many balls on the ground to be a 10+ HR hitter every year, and teams with weak BA won’t want him, but he’s a useful piece when he’s hot. Just don’t expect a repeat of 2013’s second half, when he hit over .300 with double-digit HR and SB.
Luis Valbuena – Man, this guy is frustrating. He clearly has some power, but the rest of his game can be frustrating, especially because he goes on short hot streaks, and by the time you react and pick him up, he may have an awful week. He’s been pretty good since the end of July, hitting 5 of his HR in the last two weeks or so. He also had a very unlucky BABIP in July, which partly explains the awful average. His K/BB and contact rate are down a bit compared to last season, but overall he’s improved in 2014. Deep leagues with CI can give him a Mulligan on the BA blip and expect something closer to his first half (.268) moving forward.
Jedd Gyorko –Finally, he’s back. I’ve had two teams who have sorely missed his power potential, and he had 2 HR last week while hitting .381. It’s likely his injury affected his early season stats, so don’t assume he was a one-season wonder in 2013. However, if someone has cast him away in frustration, or wants to sell low on him, I’d definitely buy into his stock, especially for keeper leagues. It is not unreasonable to hope for a .250 BA, double-digit HR, and decent RBI if he’s healthy for the next two months. He may not play every day to start with, so weekly leagues may want to have other options, but in daily leagues I’d use him whenever possible.
Ryan Vogelsong – I acquired him in a trade as a throw-in for a “win now” piece this year, and though I expected him to fade from his hot May, June was a luck swing in the opposite direction. A high BABIP in July kept his WHIP and ERA propped up, but moving forward I expect more outings like the one he had last Friday. Note the improving BB/9 as the months go on, and he’s shown he’s capable of a K/9 above 7.0, which isn’t elite but is strong. His season line smooths out his ups and downs this year, but I believe he can improve on his final stats by the end of the second half.
Greg Holland – I rarely include closers on my lists, unless they’re losing or gaining the role. However, Holland has had a great week, and as far as closer rankings go, he’s in the top three this season by most 5×5 standards, and he’s even ahead of Kimbrel. There’s not much to critique or predict here, other than continued dominance with a K/9 above 13.0 for the second straight year.
Dallas Keuchel – Raise your hand if you expected this much of a flip on his stats from 2013. I could point to a high BABIP and low strand rate last year to indicate he’d be better this season, but I certainly didn’t expect this. His BABIP has come back to near the MLB average, which explains the improved WHIP. His ERA is a bit lucky due to a slightly high strand rate, but he’s also allowing fewer homers (17% HR/FB in 2013, 9% in 2014). The K/9 has held mostly steady, but what’s more important to me is the improved BB/9 from a decent 3.0 to a strong 2.1. He’s also gone from a slight ground ball tendency to an extreme GB% tilt this season, and if he can maintain that, it will help him sustain his success. Houston is closer to turning it around than many people think, and Keuchel is one of the reasons why.
Players on the Decline
Chase Headley – He hasn’t hit well all season, and he’s not doing any better in New York. He’s had a particularly bad week, so is there any hope for the future? Not really. He had three straight months of low BABIP (April through June, and even again in August). Three months isn’t just luck, it’s a trend and an indicator. He even had a pretty good LD% and is making decent hard contact, but clearly his days of a .280 BA are over. He may manage 15 HR this season with up to 10 SB, but unless you’re really hurting for a 3B or CI due to injury, he’s not worth the investment.
Xander Bogaerts – His last seven days have been rough, though he had a nice BA after the All-Star break. Even so, this is an excuse to look at his season as a whole. Clearly he’s not pulling a Mike Trout and wowing us with his first full season. The walk rate is down from his cup of coffee in 2013, but he’s slightly improved his contact rate. His struggles at the MLB level have been worse in recent months, though in June he had a very unlucky BABIP. He’s still a great long-term investment for keeper leagues, but in redraft leagues, I wouldn’t hold on to him if you can trade him for some better 2014 pieces. Hope that a prospect lover is in your redraft league and convince the guy that Xander is due to break out. Otherwise, he’s just a utility fill-in guy when your 3B or SS has a day off.
Alex Rios – He’s struggled recently, which certainly didn’t help the Rangers in their attempts to trade him at the deadline. The obvious concern for the entire season has been the power outage. However, he’s had a three-year decline in FB% and HR/FB, so this isn’t entirely unexpected. The average is propped up by a lucky BABIP, like it was in 2012; it could hold out all season, but I wouldn’t be surprise if he finished closer to .280 this year. He’s still running, but he’s already been caught more this season (9 CS) than all of last year (7 CS), so there’s a chance the manager puts up the red light more often. For his season totals, I’d take the under on 10 HR and 25 SB. He’s serviceable this year, but there are better options, especially if you need power.
Jason Hammel – Talk about a tale of two halves. What’s happened here? Wasn’t Oakland supposed to be the better team with a more spacious stadium? Yes, but a home stadium can’t cover up the warts of a BB/9 jumping from 1.8 in the first half to 5.0, or a K/9 dropping from 8.5 to 6.6. His swinging strike rate has dropped, and his HR/FB has doubled. I’m willing to chalk up a bit of his struggles to bad luck, but there’s too much to ignore in his metrics, and an ERA under 4.00 for the season is no guarantee, especially moving forward. In his career, he’s only posted a sub-4.00 in 2012 and in the first half of 2014. Unless he shows major strides forward in his next two starts, I’d abandon ship for the rest of the year.
Jason Vargas – His last start was ugly, and it was the fourth time this season that he’s given up 6 ER or more. Are these hiccups indicators of skill loss, or can you rest easy? Surprisingly, I’m giving Vargas a Mulligan on this. For the season, his K/9 is down a little from last year, but he’s greatly improved his walk rate from 2.8 to 2.0. He’s sitting near league average in BABIP, strand rate, and HR/FB. His strikeouts seem to come unevenly and in bunches, but overall his profile shows a boring but steady #3 or #4 SP. The Royals may still make a run at the playoffs, and Vargas should continue to have a good shot at wins, so he’s a good value for 5×5 leagues despite the occasional bad start.
Gio Gonzalez – Two poor starts in a row, plus a worse ERA compared to 2013, may have some fantasy managers worried about Gio’s ability to help their playoff runs. However, give him a free pass and expect him to pitch like a #1 or #2 SP moving forward. Although his walk rate has slightly risen for three years, it’s just barely and isn’t a major concern. His K/9 is better than last year’s, and he’s even improved his swinging strike rate. The BABIP is a little high, but it may not improve much this season; I wouldn’t bank on his career-best 1.13 WHIP from 2012, but it’s possible he could have a WHIP of 1.20 in the last two months. The ERA should come down because despite he has a poor strand rate. If that returns to even league average, he could post an ERA under 3.50 in the last two months, especially considering he’s giving up fewer home runs this season than last year. If you can buy a little low on Gio, go for it and reap the rewards for the dog days of summer.