Ball Street: The Roto Exchange

Ball Street The Roto Exchange LogoAs a Cubs fan, I can’t wait for Soler to get full playing time. I’m not drinking the “2015 World Series Champions” Kool-Aid, but I am at least optimistic that the Cubs will have a farm system and won’t trade away the future for an overpriced veteran. I know as well as anyone that prospects are risky in the first few years, but it’s hard not to believe that at least a few of the Chicago studs will have above-average careers. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the playoffs, both in the MLB and in fantasy baseball.

Players on the Rise

Marcell Ozuna – His last 7 days include 2 HR, though it was really in the last scoring week where he hit 3 HR. Even so, a look at his weekly and monthly stats for the year indicate a lot of hot and cold for him. His BABIP is often well above the league average, but he appears able to sustain that for the season, as given by three months over .340 and last year’s above-average rate as well. His decent speed helps maintain that, because he’s not hitting a ton of line drives. His lower average in August isn’t a huge concern, but again, he’s a bit streaky. For the season compared to last year, he’s traded some contact for the power, and it’s worked out okay because he’s about to break 20 HR for the season. He’s not the safest bet for a playoff run, but there are far worse options.

Zach Walters – It’s interesting that he’s rated well this week, but he’s a one-trick pony: It’s only because of his power, with 4 HR in the last 7 days. The average will continue to lag. And I wouldn’t rely on his power all that much, because although he rates well in that category, his 35% HR/FB is bound to fall. The saving grace is that he can provide the power from SS in some leagues, where HR are harder to find. I’d probably opt for him over someone like Aaron Hill at this point for my MI slot, but otherwise I’d stay away.

Erick Aybar – It’s always fun when a full-time player hits over .500 for a week. Aybar is doing just that, along with 2 of his 14 SB. However, he’s really just the same old guy he’s always been. The hits are BABIP driven, just like it’s been all month. The only two months where he’s hit above .285 are when his BABIP has been over .340. Personally, I’d like to see him running more with the extra hits he’s getting, but his chances are down in August compared to June and July. At this point in his career, he is what he is, and there’s nothing in his numbers to expect a change for the rest of the year. You’re looking at a likely .275 BA with decent runs and hopefully a handful of stolen bases. That being said, I like reliability when it comes time to the playoffs.

Rick Porcello – He’s been solid all year, but it’s nice to see him throw 17 IP in 2 starts. Especially with his strong ERA and WHIP, the more innings he can pitch, the better. The strikeouts aren’t as strong as elite pitchers, but in an era when Ks are on the rise, that’s less of a concern because you can get them elsewhere. His improved walk rate has been nice this season, but with the drop in K/9 from 2013, it looks like the hopes of him reaching 150+ punchouts are a long shot. For those in the playoff hunt, there’s good news: he’s been better in the second half (and particularly August), with the exception of a lower K/9. I’ve been happy to use him all season in a few leagues, and there’s no reason to stop now.

David Price – Let’s keep the Tigers trend going. After a no decision where he gave up 4 ER, Price has had two 8 IP starts, and despite his loss in his last start, it was a magnificent game. He hasn’t missed a beat since being traded in terms of skills, but do bear in mind that his BABIP has been exceptionally low this month. It’s really nitpicking, though: instead of superhuman, he’s just very, very good.

Jake Peavy – Well, it seems that the National League agrees with him. He’s been solid lately, particularly in his last three starts. So was it bad luck in Boston, good luck in San Francisco, or something else? It turns out to be a little of everything. In May and June he had very unlucky strand rates, though part of that was his own fault due to a touch of gopheritis. With the Giants, his strand rate and BABIP are very league average, and that’s certainly helped his ERA and WHIP. However, early in the year he was partly to blame because he struggled with his control at 3.4 BB/9, which is worse than any full season BB/9 he’s had since his first full season. When he got the walks down and his luck normalized, his game improved. His K/9 has dropped for the third straight year, but it’s still respectable, and I’m okay with a veteran finding other ways to get out players besides strikeouts. I’d use him for the home stretch without worries.

Players on the Decline

Jason Castro – Okay, I realize that some power hitters have bad averages, but Castro’s last 7 days reads 0 for 20. Zero hits makes him the top goat of the week. Does anyone else worry about Houston’s ability to turn a catching prospect into a solid regular? (See JR Towles and his early hype for another example.) The saving grace is that we are more lenient on what to expect from catchers, and so if Castro can hit 15 HR for the season and maybe reach 55 RBI, we’ll call it a win. Still, I’d like to see a better average out of him as well. It appears that 2013’s decent BA may have been a mirage, given his career high BABIP.  His three-year decline in contact rate and walk rate don’t bode well for any future improvement in his average, so what you see is what you get. Take the power and be thankful you’re not starting Arencibia, who’s even worse in the BA category.

Nick Markakis – He may be a valuable player for the team regarding his intangibles and leadership, but in terms of fantasy value, he’s been a sunk cost for years. At least now fantasy managers are drafting him in more reasonable rounds, because his “breakout” years are well behind him. His final stat lines in the past few years have reminded me of David DeJesus minus any helpful SB. He’ll give you a solid average, he’ll hit 10 HR (but not 15), and he’ll contribute in R and RBI simply because he plays a lot. He had a good early August, though a lucky BABIP was the reason. Roto teams who really need help in BA and R could still benefit from him in the stretch run, but I’d be less excited to use him in H2H leagues.

James Loney – I harped on him when he was younger and fantasy managers were using him as a primary 1B despite the lack of power. Now that the hype is long gone, he’s a serviceable DH or even CI. Yes, he’s had a poor week, but for the end of the season there’s a bit of value here. He’s improved his BA and contact rate over the last three months, though the walks have taken a hit in August. His high line drive rate supports a good BA and keeps him useable. And although he’s sporting his best monthly HR/FB of the season, the problem is that it’s not that high, and he simply doesn’t hit a lot of fly balls anyway. Still, I do like him as a CI in deep leagues, or as an injury replacement.

Trevor Cahill – He was slammed for 8 ER in his last start, and his season numbers don’t look great, so obviously his stock isn’t very high right now. That being said, there’s hope for future value, just not a lot. His August numbers are okay, but his K/BB isn’t very safe. His K/9 is good enough for a fantasy starter, and it’s supported by a solid swinging strike rate. The ground ball tilt mitigates some of the ERA danger moving forward. If this wasn’t fantasy playoff time, I’d be more willing to gamble on him because he’s had solid seasons in the past as a starter. However, the uncertainty surrounding him, and the fact that Arizona is pretty awful as a whole, means I’d pass on him right now unless you’re in a very deep league.

Jose Quintana – It hasn’t been very pretty for Quintana in his last three starts, but his most recent was particularly bad. However, there’s hope for owners moving forward, and I’d still use him in the playoffs. His August strand rate and BABIP are the worst/unluckiest of any month this season. He isn’t giving up HR despite his home stadium being a hitter’s park, so if the strand rate and BABIP normalize, his stats could have a very quick turnaround. Although his strikeouts are down a little this month, he’s maintaining his walk rate from July. Keep running him out there.

Scott Kazmir – For a guy who isn’t known for being healthy all season or pitching 200 innings, you have to worry about Kazmir’s recent struggles. His last start was only 3 IP and 7 ER, though the start before that was good. However, he’s matched his IP from last year — which is his highest total since his only 200 IP season in 2007. It’s true that his BABIP and strand rate are very unlucky this month, but they don’t explain all of his struggles because his strikeout rate has dropped from 9.9 K/9 in June to 5.0 in August, and his swinging strike rate is his lowest of the season. If you’re in the playoffs, I would only play Kaz in strong matchups. For roto leagues, you might as well keep running him out there, but I wouldn’t blame you if you got picky with his starts. He’s had a good season, but he may be running on empty for the season.

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.