What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Written by: Joseph Mangano

In terms of value awarded for fantasy purposes, a hit is worth just as much today as it was the week, month or whatever the unit of measure before. After all, that’s how it works in real baseball. You don’t get bonus points on your batting average for getting on base after, say, the trade deadline. As such, it stands to reason that a player’s value doesn’t change depending on when their hits occur, right?

Well, maybe yes and maybe no. It’s interesting that fantasy sites will often default to a player’s season totals, statistics that take into account all of his results on a year-to-date basis. I mean, it makes sense, and in fairness, viewing a player’s performance from the vantage point of an entire season can help put hot or cold streaks in a better perspective. That said, sometimes looking at the season at large might not tell the whole story, especially when it comes to league formats that work on the basis of week-to-week results. I’m reminded of the curious case of Jean Segura from last year. In the first half of 2013, “Mean Jean” was a breakout fantasy sensation, hitting .325 on the year with 11 HR (from the shortstop position, no less), 36 RBI and an impressive 27 stolen bases. In all, he recorded 121 hits before the All-Star break, and his performance at the dish ensured he would not be a mere spectator when it came to the “Midsummer Classic.”

The second half of Jean Segura’s season, on the other hand, was a much different tale indeed. In 216 official at-bats after the All-Star Game, the Brewers SS managed only a .241 batting average, with his OPS dropping from .850 before the break to .583 following it. During this span, Segura hit just one home run and had but 13 RBI, finishing with a line of 12 HR, 49 RBI and 44 SB, all on a .294 batting average. Still respectable, but not what we were hoping for if we were holding onto hope with him. And this downward trend has apparently continued into 2014, as this year (as of August 20), Jean Segura is only a paltry .230 on the season, with just 4 HR and 27 RBI, and he still has work to do just to make 20 stolen bases. For Segura’s sake, this pales in comparison to the kind of adversity he has faced off the field in dealing with the death of his infant son. Still, as far as we are concerned as fantasy baseball team owners and as much as we might feel for the guy, his struggles with the bat have made him a questionable fantasy play for the rest of the season and leading into 2015.

Through of all of this, then, we get the sense that while there might not be a literal change in worth in dealing with greater or lesser rates of fantasy production over time, there is a hidden component to player valuation: the time value of fantasy scoring. Just as a dollar today will be worth a different amount than in the future based on its earning potential, as we get into the final weeks of the fantasy baseball season, having a player producing in crunch time means more than it does in Week 1 of the season, especially in week-to-week formats. Owing to this notion, by focusing on a player’s more recent performance, we can get a much different sense of their viability for the stretch run. I used the All-Star break as a means of dividing the MLB season to explain the trials and tribulations of Jean Segura in 2013 as it is a popular marker for statistical comparison, but as we are not far removed from the 2014 iteration of this point in the year, it makes sense that we can look at post-break splits for batters and pitchers and still have a sense of this data reflecting a current state of affairs. Some notes on players who are suffering from a second-half swoon and where we might foresee their value headed as we enter the final throes of the fantasy season:

Note: All statistics as of August 21.

Batters

Brandon Moss

Before All-Star Game: 321 AB, .268 average, 21 HR, 66 RBI
After All-Star Game: 100 AB, .190 average, 2 HR, 10 RBI

As a lot, the Oakland A’s have seen their run production slide in recent weeks, as well as their record. While it would be perhaps unfair to pin it on one particular player, Brandon Moss certainly would seem like he’s not helping the cause to a large extent. The .190 average in 100 at-bats following the break is one thing, but that it has come at the expense of the long ball and adding to his RBI total is another.

Hitless in his last four games, Moss is at a bit of risk at the moment since he has been sat twice in the past 10 days against lefties. Nonetheless, at .249 on the season at this writing, Brandon Moss is around his career batting average (.252), and perhaps manager Bob Melvin is just trying to put his first baseman in the best position to succeed while he suffers through this prolonged slump. The concern level here is moderate to high, mostly because Moss doesn’t have quite the track record of success as others on this list. Still, his power and positional flexibility in most formats give him a fair bit of value, making him still a decent play, though one to watch into the first weeks of September.

Josh Hamilton

Before All-Star Game: 176 AB, .295 average, 5 HR, 26 RBI
After All-Star Game: 108 AB, .222 average, 3 HR, 12 RBI

Even with the admittedly smaller sample size before the break due to his thumb injury, Josh Hamilton has scuffled in the second half of 2014, hitting just over 70 points lower on his average in that time. The other stats might not seem so bad in light of the pace of the first half, but given his pedigree, we would expect at least 10 HR given this number of at-bats on the year. Most troubling of late with Hamilton has been the lack of confidence in him surrounding his slump, be it from his manager Mike Scoscia, intimating he hasn’t really lived up to the hype thus far coming over from Texas, or from the man himself, who caused a stir (then again, the slightest things do with the national sports media) by requesting a game or two off for the purposes of a mental break.

As a highly paid option in the Angels’ outfield, Josh Hamilton should continue to see regular playing time, and for what it’s worth, since the much-reported off-day(s) request, he has looked to be taking more purposeful cuts at the dish. I’m inclined to give him the benefit out of the doubt, though if I’m looking for a good power bat on the verge of the fantasy baseball playoffs, I understand Hamilton might not be the best option right now based on his season totals. Let your categorical needs come into play if need be.

Charlie Blackmon

Before All-Star Game: 350 AB, .306 average, 14 HR, 52 RBI, 18 SB
After All-Star Game: 114 AB, .219 average, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 4 SB

Chuck Nazty? What post-break misfortune hath fallen you, me lad? Indeed, there would seem to be a limit to the power bestowed upon Charlie Blackmon by his newer, more fearsome facial hair, as the Rockies OF, whose breakout first-half performance carried him to the 2014 All-Star Game, has suffered a significant power outage in recent weeks, not to mention his RBI and stolen bases are way down too. The commensurate hit to his batting average/on-base percentage has brought his numbers on the year eerily close to his career rates of .288/.327, and as such, we’d be inclined to think his second-half performance is a more accurate reflection of his skills, or at least his career averages are better than what he’s doing now and worse than what he did when the season began.

When he is going good, Blackmon’s combination of pop and speed make for a solid one-two combination. If his prolonged funk continues, though, we might expect him to continue to be used sparingly against lefties, as he has been real recently. Even then, he might be of certain use, but it is harder to get jazzed about a platoon player, no doubt.

Alex Rios

Before All-Star Game: 364 AB, .305 average, 4 HR, 42 RBI, 16 SB
After All-Star Game: 84 AB, .202 average, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Not that Alex Rios was really producing much in the ways of home runs and runs batted in before the All-Star break, but beset by injury woes in the second half of the season, Rios has not even been hitting when he has been in the lineup, engaged in a no-holds-barred bout with the Mendoza Line. And just to emphasize a point, no home runs and no stolen bases. Not one. With Alex Rios, that combo of strength and speed is what has made him so dynamic in 2013 and so attractive leading into 2014. The results just haven’t been there for Texas’s mid-season acquisition from a year ago, much as they’ve been notably absent from new teammate Shin-Soo Choo, and quite frankly, from the team as a whole. At this point, you’re going largely on reputation with Rios, and that may not be enough to sustain you, so it might behoove you to consider an alternative.

Marcell Ozuna

Before All-Star Game: 337 AB, .276 average, 15 HR, 53 RBI
After All-Star Game: 111 AB, .216 average, 3 HR, 12 RBI

As Marcell Ozuna is just 23, I tend to like him better as a work in progress than a present commodity anyhow, but when the young man goes for 15 HR and 53 RBI in the first half of the season, you can understand why he became such a hot fantasy commodity as the early months went on. In the 100+ AB since the All-Star Game, however, Ozuna hasn’t been nearly as useful to his fantasy owners, hitting 60 points lower in the batting average department and batting with roughly 60% of his previous home run/run scoring efficiency. In fact, both he and teammate Casey McGehee, another welcome first-half surprise, have gotten off to a markedly slow 2014 Part II. At the moment, I’m looking at Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich as the only two must-owns in the Miami Marlins batter universe in standard leagues, and as such, envision Marcell Ozuna mostly as a match-up play at this point. Again, though, keep him in mind for next year and beyond.

Lonnie Chisenhall

Before All-Star Game: 262 AB, .332 average, 9 HR, 41 RBI
After All-Star Game: 95 AB, .168 average, 2 HR, 5 RBI

When Lonnie Chisenhall broke out in a major way with a 9 RBI performance in a June 9 pasting of the Texas Rangers, and subsequently worked himself into early batting title and All-Star consideration, a number of experts were urging owners to sell high on the 25-year-old corner infielder, because his offensive streak wasn’t destined to last. Well, they were right. Since the break, Chisenhall has been abysmal offensively, getting just about half as many hits as he did in the first half of the season to the tune of a sub-.175 average. Not good. Not good at all.

With just two home runs and five runs batted in during this span, especially in leagues which divide play periods weekly, he hasn’t been much of an asset to your team in recent contests. As with Marcell Ozuna, based on the inexperience factor, I wouldn’t write off Lonnie Chisenhall long-term, but given his serious slump in the midsummer months, he is closer to a must-drop than a must-own in redraft leagues. How quickly these things can turn.

Starting Pitchers

Adam Wainwright

Before All-Star Game: 138 IP, 12-4, 1.83 ERA, .201 OBA
After All-Star Game: 38 IP, 3-3, 4.50 ERA, .275 OBA

“4.50 ERA” and “Adam Wainwright” aren’t two phrases that commonly concur, but in 2014, that’s exactly what Waino’s earned run average is following his poor showing in the All-Star Game itself as 1st inning starter for the National League. Already, Wainwright has suffered three losses in the second half of the season when he had all of four in the first half, and that opposing batters are hitting nearly 75 points against him in this period is pretty staggering news. For a pitcher of his caliber, especially after such a dominant start to his year, it’s worth wondering whether or not fatigue is a factor here, as the Cardinals right-hander has logged a sizable number of innings in recent years.

That Adam Wainwright still is managing to go seven innings or so in most of his starts would seem to be a good sign, but then again he also seems to be giving up more hits than usual, so take this for what it’s worth. As his numbers have overall been solid, and at peak performance, Adam has tremendous upside, it is too soon to be thinking about giving him up, if that’s even possible in your league with listed “undroppables.” Even so, you should be viewing each successive start with a watchful eye to see how Wainwright turns things around. This year has been a tumultuous one for pitchers health-wise, so nothing can be ruled out at this juncture.

Sonny Gray

Before All-Star Game: 125.2 IP, 10-3, 2.79 ERA, .227 OBA
After All-Star Game: 37 IP, 2-4, 3.65 ERA, .254 OBA

Things haven’t been as sunny on Sonny’s side of the street in recent starts, as after a string of five straight wins, the young right-hander has lost his last four times out, including a 10-hit, six-run, four-walk shellacking at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. Overall, his performance hasn’t dropped that severely that you would expect such a Wainwright-esque hit to his record across his last six starts, but within this streak of four losses, that Gray has twice pitched quality starts and still lost is telling.

Overall, Oakland hasn’t quite played up to snuff since the All-Star break and especially since the passing of the trade deadline. Batting-wise, the A’s run production has dropped significantly (see also “Brandon Moss”), while the team’s two deadline-deal-or-so acquisitions have met with shaky returns in the beginning of their careers as Athletics, as Jeff Samardzija owns a 4.00+ post-trade ERA and Jason Hammel has been patently awful, going 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA since first donning the green and gold. More than anything, besides Jon Lester, the pitching staff and many Oakland players have hit a bit of a rough patch, but Sonny Gray hasn’t been terrible, and so there’s room for optimism that he can turn it around. Come on, Sonny, I know you can still shine bright!

Gio Gonzalez

Before All-Star Game: 83.1 IP, 6-5, 3.56 ERA, .226 OBA
After All-Star Game: 29.2 IP, 0-4, 5.46 ERA, .292 OBA

Even before the break, it’s been rough sledding for Gio Gonzalez, who spent a spell on the DL in the first half of the season and wasn’t altogether sharp on top of it, or maybe because of it. These chicken-egg situations often are pretty nebulous, and I tend to think most teams like it that way. Suffice it to say, things have gotten worse for our main man Neo Gio. Since the All-Star layoff, Gonzalez has yet to win an outing, going 0-4 in essentially 30 innings pitched, and it’s not like his 5.46 ERA and .292 OBA are really that defensible.

Ultimately, Gio Gonzalez is still striking out opposing batters at a nice clip, but is also walking his fair share in the same breath, and either way, is a little hard to trust. At this stage in the game, it’s questionable whether or not you can afford to dispel him so easily, but either way, we’re hoping for the best and preparing for worse yet.

Tim Hudson

Before All-Star Game: 119 IP, 7-6, 2.87 ERA, .249 OBA
After All-Star Game: 35.1 IP, 1-3, 3.57 ERA, .301 OBA

In all, as with neighbor-of-sorts Sonny Gray, the significantly older (at least in baseball terms) Tim Hudson has not seen his post-break ERA rise that much more dramatically over his pre-break figure, but just the same and like his younger cohort, Hudson hasn’t been nearly as effective from a fantasy standpoint. In particular, the lack of length of the Giants right-hander’s starts have been of issue lately, including starts of 5 IP against the Mets, 6 IP against the Royals and 4 IP against the Phillies in just his last three times out.

Since July 5, Tim Hudson hasn’t given up fewer than six hits in any individual start, as the .301 OBA would lead you to believe, and without striking out many batters, his value is essentially null unless he allows fewer batters on base. Whether or not fatigue is playing a role, it is hard to guess, but for the rest of the season, we might just have to prepare ourselves for a lesser fantasy output. It’s your choice if you can live with that.

Kyle Lohse

Before All-Star Game: 127 IP, 9-4, 3.26 ERA, .239 OBA
After All-Star Game: 32.2 IP, 2-3, 4.41 ERA, .310 OBA

Kyle Lohse, after a more-than-serviceable first half of the season, is also among the list of starting pitchers here for whom it has not been all sunshine and rainbows after the turn. Lohse’s ERA has been more than a run higher in six starts since the break, and as is quickly becoming a running theme here, opponents’ batting average has gone up considerably for the afflicted pitcher. And it’s not like the veteran’s strikeout count is going to do nearly enough to do mitigate damage like that incurred against his former team in the St. Louis Cardinals, who touched him up not long ago to the tune of 7 ER in just 4 IP. Yikes!

Add to this a sore ankle which drove him (mercifully) out of a start against the Cubs, and Kyle Lohse is one big question mark at the moment. Assuming the ankle problem isn’t a major one, and given his overall solid work otherwise in 2014, it may very well be that he can recover from this lull in his fantasy productivity, so I’d be inclined to give him a little bit longer of a leash than others on this list. Especially with that potent Brewers offense working on his behalf.

Alfredo Simon

Before All-Star Game: 116.2 IP, 12-3, 2.70 ERA, .219 OBA
After All-Star Game: 36.2 IP, 0-5, 5.40 ERA, .322 OBA

The experts all said it was coming. They said his strand rate wouldn’t last, and that his FIP and xFIP and all kind of stats would regress toward the mean. As with Lonnie Chisenhall across the way in Ohio, they were right. Gosh darn it, those experts are good! (And I wish I could I call myself one!) Often, the notion of a “tale of two pitchers” is tossed about pretty liberally in point-to-point comparison between starts or series of starts, but in Alfredo Simon’s case, it has seldom seemed truer. The Big Pasta’s ERA has doubled in the starts following his trip to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement, almost as if a switch was flipped and his good fortune went with it.

Even when Simon isn’t giving up runs in bunches, he’s just barely making it over the five-inning minimum to secure a victory—and he hasn’t won since July 9. That Alfredo Simon is in uncharted waters as far as his workload on the season is concerned adds to our doubt’s about his viability rest of season. Not until he rebounds with another positive streak should you consider him for much beyond individual match-up plays going forward, and even then should expectations be tempered.

C.J. Wilson

Before All-Star Game: 116.1 IP, 8-6, 4.33 ERA, .249 OBA
After All-Star Game: 19 IP, 2-2, 6.16 ERA, .320 OBA

In recent years, there’s been an effort among fans of baseball who favor a more purely stats-based approach to player valuation to de-emphasize win-loss record in favor of ERA, WHIP and other specific metrics. Under this paradigm shift, C.J. Wilson becomes a compelling test case. In the first half of the season, Wilson managed a winning record despite an ERA upwards of 4.00, suggesting he was either fairly lucky or fairly inconsistent. I’d actually lobby more for the latter, but at any rate, after coming back from the disabled list, the Angels left-hander has been yet more disappointing.

First, there was the outright debacle against the Rays, in which he was pulled after getting only four outs and after ceding six earned runs. His subsequent efforts have seen him (thankfully) last longer, but overall his control has been lacking, as he’s allowed 11 bases on balls in three starts encompassing 17.2 IP. Even last year, C.J. Wilson walked a good amount of batters, but was able to dance in and out of trouble. This year, he’s not meeting quite the same fate, and is further limiting his value by failing to log innings. Much in the way I’ve abandoned hope for A.J. Burnett and Justin Masterson in 2014 based on their lack of command, I have low expectations for Wilson for the rest of this season. Let the C.J. buyer beware.

Mark Buehrle

Before All-Star Game: 126.1 IP, 10-6, 2.64 ERA, .267 OBA
After All-Star Game: 28.1 IP, 1-2, 6.67 ERA, .380 OBA

At a point in the year, Mark Buehrle was on top of the pitching world, his record standing at 10-1 after blanking the Kansas City Royals over eight innings. In the thirteen following starts, Buehrle has won but once, and as of this writing, he holds a 3.38 ERA and ever-escalating 1.41 WHIP. In no uncertain terms, the veteran left-hander has been getting tattooed by opposing batters in post-break 2014, giving up 49 hits across the aforementioned 28.1 IP. That almost hurts just to type it.

Still yet to hit the 100 K mark on the season, Mark Buehrle, much like Tim Hudson, a traveled, seasoned pitcher, is going to be effective when he racks up innings, nibbling at the corners of the strike zone and deceiving opposing batters. Right now, though, they’re not getting fooled, and as such, it seems like we’re fooling ourselves thinking the same guy who got to 10-1 on the season is coming back before its end. Until we see more, I would argue he’s best reserved for the AL-only scrap heap.

Relief Pitchers

Rafael Soriano

Before All-Star Game: 37 IP, 22-for-24 saves, 0.97 ERA, .153 OBA
After All-Star Game: 12.2 IP, 7-for-10 saves, 7.11 ERA, .321 OBA

OK, so we weren’t really expecting Rafael Soriano to own a sub-1.00 ERA by the end of the season. Especially with relievers, too much can go too wrong too fast to drive an earned average up, especially in one to two inning increments. Even so, that he would see his batting average against more than double after the All-Star Game is a little surprising, as is the notion that he has blown three saves in just 10 tries in this period, bringing his season total to five and raising questions about his fitness for the closer role in Washington.

As of now, manager Matt Williams has deflected criticism and has stated that Soriano will remain as the Nationals’ closer; after all, it’s not like they have a shutdown option waiting in the wings. Regardless, until any change has been made, Rafael Soriano is still the guy in D.C., and as the closer for a team that is in the thick of the playoff race—hence, they still have much to play for—he should still see plenty of action down the stretch. In other words, don’t untuck that shirt of yours—Soriano isn’t done yet.

Casey Janssen

Before All-Star Game: 22 IP, 14-for-16 saves, 1.23 ERA, .217 OBA
After All-Star Game: 12.1 IP, 5-for-6 saves, 6.57 ERA, .281 OBA

It took a while for Casey Janssen’s season to truly begin after beginning 2014 on the disabled list, but after Sergio Santos pitched his way out of future consideration for the closer role, Janssen was almost a shoo-in to regain his position prior to going down to injury. In the first half of the season, by the numbers, Casey was excellent, and although he blew two saves, he kept runs off the board. In the immediate aftermath of the All-Star Game, though, he might not have been blowing saves, but he was giving up runs all right—6 ER in six appearances coming out of the break. And when he did blow a save on August 8, he blew it in fine fashion: 0.2 IP, 4 H (2 HR), 3 ER, blown save, loss.

As with Rafael Soriano, though, Casey Janssen seems to enjoy the benefit of not having a great deal of credible competition for his vaunted place in the Blue Jays bullpen. His chances have been more sparse than other closers in the league, but when the call is made, the very idea Janssen will accept the charges is enough that he should continue to be owned across formats. He might not be the sexiest of picks for fantasy relief pitchers, but more often than not, Casey Janssen gets the job done. Now, let’s hope it stays that way.

*****

Bear in mind these opinions are mine own, but even if you just look at the stats, you can draw your own conclusions about each of these players’ value going forward. That you’re even thinking critically along these lines and considering more than just a season-long scoring average is, I feel, a positive, especially as it relates to the continuous forming and re-forming of a fantasy baseball roster in the hopes of improving it for the long-term.

Plus, though we focused more narrowly on players who have trended downward over the months, if we apply the same kind of analysis to seek players who have shown marked improvement in their post-All-Star splits, we can have that much more of an advantage over our competition, picking up a Jedd Gyorko or a Kennys Vargas (not so applicable since he just came up, but still) or even a Jon Jay. That’s right—we’re aiming to strike while the iron is hot, and then strike some more! For ultimately, while our first question might be of our players, “What have you done for me lately?”, perhaps a better question might be “What have you done for your team lately?”