Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. The 2nd Act of the 2016 season is upon us. The results from Act 1 have been tallied, and what your team is should be evident to you. If you’re still reading baseball-related material it likely means you still have title aspirations.
With the mass exodus of league-mates to the bright shiny lights of fantasy football, one would expect the competition level to become watered down. As most of us seasoned veterans have come to realize, this is not to be the case. Those who remain have their finger firmly on the pulse of the league and are quick to correct discrepancies. Simply put, if you’re late to the party, it won’t be long until you’re relegated to second string running backs and monitoring Kicker cuts. I don’t want anyone to go through that misery until absolutely necessary. Therefore, please take my advice as an act of gratitude for your desire to bring home the best trophy in all of fantasy sports.
In order to one-up those remaining owners it is vital that you remain two steps ahead. This week I took those two-steps and added three more, identifying five players who will win you a league title. Sure, it’s a bold statement, but the reality is cheap impact players go a long way in differentiating one team from another.
Aaron Nola (47% Owned on Yahoo) – Nothing really positive stands out in the numbers: 5 Wins with a 1.28 WHIP to go with a suddenly fattened 4.69 ERA. The peripherals, however, paint a much different story. His 9.94 K/9 are 13th among ERA qualifiers; his 2.16 BB/9 is the 24th best rate, and a 55.1% GB rate is good for 7th best. All together they form my penchant for a pitching pyramid.
There are concerns; the most notable for me would be an innings limit. Last season Nola pitched a combined 186 Innings between AA, AAA, and MLB; of which 77.2 were pitched at the big league level. My guess is 170 IP or so would be a workable number. At 96 IP for the first half, it would appear as though Nola could reasonably be expected to pitch well into September. If that is the case then any innings limitations would be minimized to some degree.
While Nola has managed strong peripherals, the reality is his 1.28 WHIP hurts you in most fantasy leagues. While hitters have managed a .258 AVG against him this season, a .331 BABIP would seem to be a little inflated, especially considering his Hard hit rate of 26.6 is below the 30% threshold that is considered troublesome. Combine the aforementioned data with a lack of Left/Right splits and it becomes a reasonable expectation for me that Nola will be much closer to his below-ERA xFIP of 2.98 than the gruesome 10.42 ERA Nola sported in June – something that is fresh on the mind of his current owner.
Adam Ottavino (3% Owned on Yahoo) – The closer market is the fantasy equivalent of a “last call” at Any Tavern USA. Before that early morning hour you’re only interested in those that meet your selective criteria. Once those words are announced, everyone becomes an interested party. At this moment Ottavino is relegated to Hold leagues and those with deep benches. Once the “Closer” label is attached it will be a free-for all.
Ottavino has two years remaining on a rather team-friendly deal and is just returning from Tommy John surgery. A trade market doesn’t exist, thus his value to the Rockies Franchise is that of potential Closer for 2017. With electric stuff and a steady, albeit brief, history in the job, why not allow Ottavino to emerge as the closer this season and leave little in doubt for 2017 and beyond? Control will certainly be a concern having just returned from a yearlong hiatus. Once Ottavino proves himself in this area the job is his. No if’s – it’s simply a matter of when. Expect Ottavino to have the job before July ends; giving him the potential for double-digit saves down the stretch.
Kennys Vargas (4% Owned on Yahoo) – At 6’5”, 280 lbs., wearing a Twins uniform and seemingly not adored by your franchise, it becomes a convenient comparison to match Vargas with David Ortiz. Let’s be clear here, I’m not condoning this comparison from a real life standpoint or from a fake one. Vargas has had chances at the big league level and failed – Ortiz had chances and performed okay, but was given up on because the Twins didn’t view him as being special.
In fantasy terms, Vargas also pales in comparison to Ortiz, at least one should reasonably expect him to. At 4% owned, however, I see Vargas as a big earner during the stretch run. In 2014 Vargas hit 26 home runs between AAA and the majors over 639 PA, and in 2015 he hit 18 over 486 PA across three levels. Thus far in 2016 he has managed 17 in 366 PA between AAA and the majors. A player with Vargas’ size with any type of fundamental hitting has value – that value is power. Over 600 PA Vargas would run into 15 HR without a doubt. However Vargas the hitter is a little more than just big.
Vargas is a big swing and miss type. His K% over 184 major league plate appearances in 2015 was 29.3%; his 2016 AAA total in 343 PA was 21.9%. On a positive note, Vargas has shown a lengthy track record of plate discipline. His minor league walk percentage in 2015 was 17.2%, and thus far in 2016 it is 15.5%. So essentially we’ve painted a picture of Chris Carter trading a little AVG for some power. In a twist of fate, the very thing that derailed Vargas’ 2015 season is the very thing that makes me love him moving forward. Last season the Twins were competitive – this season, not so much. The Twins are already in 2017 mode and it’s clear they at least can entertain the idea of Vargas being a part of it.
The Twins seem adamant at playing Sano at 3B, thus the DH/1B spot will consist of Joe Mauer and _________. At this point Vargas’s main competition for playing time is Byung-ho Park who has struggled mightily. All this connecting of the dots leads me to suggest that Vargas will have the biggest fantasy factor of all on his side, playing time. His 6’5” 280-lb. frame will likely settle into the middle of the lineup card behind names such as Dozier, Nunez, Sano, and Mauer. All will have some fantasy value in their own right and should provide plenty of RBI opportunities down the stretch. Vargas is a .250 AVG, 14 HR, 45 RBI bat down the stretch and can be had at the cost of a free agent pickup at this point.
Billy Burns (29% owned on Yahoo) – Let me preface by saying the following was written at 11 PM Thursday Night….. Burns was a very popular stolen base target in the preseason. While Billy Hamilton was coming off the board among the top-100 players, Burns could be had at least 50 spots later. While Burns may not have had Hamilton’s SB upside, his 2015 production left you thinking he could actually hit. Burns hit .294 last season with an OPS of .726 to go with 26 stolen bases. Those 26 steals were good for 9th best in baseball – all of this while only having 555 PA.
Thus far 2016 has made 2015 a very distant memory. While Burns’ 14 steals are tied for 10th, his .234 batting average and .573 OPS both rank below Billy Hamilton. While Burns’ 5 home runs from last season were likely a mirage, his minor league track record would suggest he shouldn’t be a liability in the AVG department. While his walk rate of 3.4% is undesirable, his improved Swing% and overall Contact% improvement suggest his skill set hasn’t eroded. While more walks would be the preference, Burns does an excellent job of making contact. His K% of 10.3% is a 4% improvement from last season, and is on pace to be the 2nd-best rate of his career, both major and minor. Burns has simply been victimized by BABIP thus far.
Despite good contact numbers and an improvement on ground ball approach, this speedy outfielder has a .261 BABIP. While BABIP may take several years to stabilize, it seems reasonable to suggest that Burns’s career mark would be somewhere north of .300. Should this one presumed inequity correct itself during the 2nd half you could be looking at the potential for 15-20 steals down the stretch. In the first half of 2015 Burns managed 17 stolen bases in 271 PA with an OBP of .340. I feel a duplication of those numbers is certainly in the cards. While a .290+ AVG is fine, Burns owners only care about those 17 stolen bases which could mean an additional 5+ rotisserie points, and the potential for 2 steals per week could result in multiple H2H victories down the stretch.
At this point in the season the market for stolen bases has simply dried up. Unless a minor league prospect is called up, you’re relegated to hoping players such as Burns hit enough to make the struggle worth it. In the case of Billy Burns, the second half will produce the results most felt they would be getting of draft day…..while the demotion Friday certainly hurts his value from this point forward, I still am confident Billy Burns will be a player to own in the very near future. With Josh Reddick as a trade candidate and several questionable bats in their lineup this demotion could and should be very short lived.
Alex Bregman (23% owned on Yahoo) – When I began playing fantasy it became very evident that players who had yet to fail had a built-in value to them. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper’s Rookie seasons changed the landscape forever, and while Alex Bregman may hit the ground running, your path to a title should not be benefited by it. The sole purpose of owning Alex Bregman is to flip him for that one skill or one position that you may be a little short on. You are not to take the “I want to see what he does” approach; the objective is to make the best sale possible the very moment he is called up. While this approach may not get you a top-tier player, history would suggest it will still net you more production than the “Prospect Collector” in your league will get from owning Alex Bregman in 2016. This applies to almost all prospects in redraft leagues.
The underlying Ace, the unminted Closer, a 2nd Chance Slugger, Discount Wheels, and the Untapped Potential; Five players who could be the difference between runner-up and hoisting the trophy at season’s end.
The idea behind this exercise is to get in front of your competition. Research both the league data and the available player pool and find ways to take advantage of earning potential that is presented to you. Otherwise prepare for NFL Preseason Week 1 and memorizing those positional depth charts. I, for one, am not ready to go into that dark place in time.
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