Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. Living in a somewhat rural setting has its drawbacks. For a 16-year-old gamer, our WiFi, would be high on the list of life’s biggest kick to the groin. With the lackluster quality of our WiFi the service area in the house is limited. The living room offers prime real estate, but the service is essentially a dead spot in his bedroom. So nightly, as the family gathers around life’s fireplace (TV) we are serenaded with Tourette style outburst, as his online cohorts fail to meet his standards of game-play. Working on my weekly post side by side with him can prove to be a challenge. On weeks the subject matter has percolated the process remains rather seamless. On those “wing it” weeks the process can be brutal. So late Thursday night I sat struggling. Struggling to put fingers, to keypad, to monitor; all the while outburst of “WEINER”, “IDIOT”, and “WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOOB” played in the background.
What has been relevant in fantasy baseball for the last 6 months isn’t necessarily so as the calendar begins it’s descension into September. For most, the trade deadlines have passed, or at least will in the very near future. Identifying targets to acquire or to move is a dated subject matter. Aside from what’s available on your waiver wire your roster is what you’re stuck with for the stretch run. September brings with it roster expansion, as new players fill the aforementioned waiver wire. While the majority will see limited duty, some will not only warrant roster consideration themselves, but chip away at the playing time of others whom you’ve looked at for production. A vast majority of Major League teams simply become focused on doing what’s best for the 2017 team. Meanwhile, contenders prepare for the postseason, often times giving the everyday players additional time off and easing back on the starting pitchers workloads.
This week I wanted to look at potential storylines and/or individual players that could be of interest to fantasy players for the stretch run. So here we go with 30 Stories – 30 Teams – 1 dynamic post.
What is wrong with Stephen Strasburg? Over his last 7 starts The Stras is sporting a 6.28 ERA over 38.2 innings and offering up the opposition a wOBA of .330 (in comparison his first half mark was .257). In these starts Strasburg has managed only 3 quality efforts and has went beyond 6 innings only twice. Injuries would seem to be the most logical answer but could fatigue be playing a factor? Strasburg managed 143 innings last season with a couple of DL stints splitting up the workload. Strasburg eclipsed 145 IP mark with his last start and has remained healthy all season. Typically with 7 year veterans such as Strasburg workload increases are reserved for extreme cases. With Strasburg, however, he’s only managed a full seasons workload twice (2013 and 2014) and has logged over 200 IP once.
Will Jose Fernandez fade down the stretch? I wrote about Fernandez a couple of weeks ago and really questioned his ace status. While my hesitation is more dynasty related, it’s hard to ignore the IP increase over last season’s comeback campaign. Fernandez pitched 89.1 innings last season; he’s at 141.2 already this season. With Miami still in Wild Card contention and plagued by injuries, I don’t envision the Marlins issuing a stop and decease letter quite yet. Overall, Fernandez’s strikeout totals have been elite, but his control has been less than stellar. If you break it down, however, since the first part of May the walks issues have really leveled off. Fernandez’s most recent outing was forgettable, but once again, if you look at his game logs for 2016 you’ll see that about once a month Fernandez is good for one mulligan. As long as the Marlins are in pursuit of that wild card, I’ll feel pretty confident that Fernandez will still help me in my pursuit as well.
New York Mets
What to do with Steven Matz and Noad Syndergaard? The 2016 New York Mets have managed to avoid disaster thus far, but given all the smoke there’s a full-fledged fire waiting right around the corner. I’m not a wise man, but when words such as bone spurs, elbow soreness, and arm fatigue are used to describe the ailments of pitchers, that’s not a good thing. Oddly enough, neither Matz nor Syndergaard are staring down excessive innings increases, yet here we are one 3-7 stretch away from their 2016 season ending as Terry Collins exits stage left.
Just exactly what is Maikel Franco? Coming into 2016 I felt Maikel Franco was slightly overrated, being drafted as a Top-10 third baseman took away any profit potential in my opinion. His final stat line will look solid. With 22 home runs he has the opportunity to flirt with 30, and his 71 RBIs gives him a shot at 90. On the downside, his AVG is below .250 and his run total is at 52 despite hitting in the middle of the order. A .258 BABIP could be pointed at as a hope for better days, but his ground ball leaning profile combined with his pull tendency seems to make him one of those BABIP downside outliers. His 17.3 K% is excellent for a potential 30 HR hitter, but his 6.9 BB% could use a boost. I would like to see a change in approach over the final six weeks, perhaps a conscientious decision to hit the ball in the air more frequently or willingly taking more pitches and improving on that less than stellar walk rate. A change in either could lead to Franco producing to the level he was drafted this season at the cost of 2016’s results.
Will Freddie Freeman survive another fire sale? This will not be decided in September, but how Freeman plays could determine his market. Freeman is under contract thru 2021, but the Braves still have the selling feel to them. After two less than stellar seasons, Freeman has bounced back nicely this season despite what his pedestrian run and RBI totals would tell you. At 24 home runs, Freeman could eclipse the 30 HR mark for the first time in his career. His .288 AVG would tie a career high, and a .385 wOBA is just below his career high of .387. At age 26, Freeman would be one of those cases in which you could obtain a middle of the order type bat prior to what should be his peak seasons.
How will the Cubs handle the division cushion? All five Cubs starting pitchers rank among the Top-25 in Yahoo Standard Scoring. Prior to Lackey’s DL stint the Cubs had used a 6-Man type rotation for the last month. With the recent turn of events Trevor Cahill will likely take Lackey’s spot in the rotation with Mike Montgomery continuing his spot start role. With around 40 games remaining for most teams, pitchers figure to have around 8 starts left. Should the Cubs stick with this setup you’re likely looking at a lost start for most of the SP. In addition, look for the occasional designed short start simply keeping players on routine, but not running the risk of fatigue for the playoff run. Roto leaguers have likely benefited from the season worth of data so the loss is minimal, but for those H2H owners your playoff pursuit could be more challenging than expected.
St. Louis Cardinals
What will come of the 2017 Offensive Core of the Cardinals? Two years ago Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Randal Grichuk would have been penciled into three of the Top-5 spots in the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals lineup. Today not one of these players is an everyday fixture in the everyday lineup. Wong is the most intriguing player for me; not from anything he’s done on the field, but because of the financial obligation that comes with him. In a limited role he’s managed to both improve his walk rate and cut down his K%. His ISO has simply vanished this season posting a .085 mark compared to a .116 career mark. A solid finish to the 2016 campaign would at the least make him a nice cheap MI option heading into 2017.
When will the Pirates unleash Josh Bell? Bell’s first call-up came with plenty of fanfare; it just didn’t feature much playing time. It’s hard for me not to believe the Pirates simply don’t feel comfortable enough with Bell playing first base defensively. Clearly the Pirates do not hesitate to call up prospect; all three of their top SP prospects have been rotation options, Bell himself has been called upon to be a bench bat. Yet the Pirates, who are within an arm’s reach of a Wild Card spot, remain content to roll out a John Jaso/David Freese platoon day in and day out. Overall Bell’s 2016 has been rather ho-hum, aside from that memorable Cubs series: .295 AVG with 14 HR, an 11.9% BB% and a solid 15.4% K rate….yeah plate discipline! Perhaps the Pirates believe that over the course of an extended stretch that Bell’s bat would not make-up for the liability his defense would bring.
When will Lewis Brinson debut? The Brewers have turned the page to 2017 and that typically means the end of playing time for role players who likely won’t be a part of it. Brinson was the centerpiece in the Lucroy deal and is the furthest advanced among the solid Brewers OF prospects. He has only 12 games at the AAA level and is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury. Despite this I look for Brinson to make his debut at some point in September, if for nothing else than to sell a few tickets. Brinson’s one of those toolsy type prospects whose reputation is based more on what could be than anything he’s managed to do thus far. The AVG could be a risk, but the Power/Speed Combo provides plenty to like.
Are those Billy Hamilton/Vince Coleman comparisons really that far off? Billy Hamilton came out of the gate a new player. He managed a .300 OBP over the first 3 months of the season. Had you guaranteed a .300 OBP fantasy owners all around would have paid last season prices for Billy Hamilton’s services. With the .300 OBP Hamilton had managed 33 stolen bases, or around the same pace as last season when he stole 57 bags while carrying a .274 OBP. Hamilton batted lower in the lineup to begin the season so perhaps strategically the SB was out of play on a more frequent basis. Over the last two months he has managed to hold a .339 OBP, and all of a sudden those Vince Coleman comps seem within reach. Since July 1st Hamilton has swiped 41 bases – over a 162 games that SB total is 115. On the season Hamilton has batted 1st or 2nd 60 times, the overwhelming majority have come over the course of this hot streak. Votto’s 17.6 BB% and Cozart’s ability to avoid the K (15.8%) give Hamilton plenty of chances if he can simply just get on base. Regardless of how 2016 finishes for Hamilton, the realization of the potential has been established.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Will we see Clayton Kershaw again in 2016? As I alluded to earlier the Roto owners of Kershaw have gotten their money’s worth. If they had any respectable parts at all they’ve likely fared very well on the pitching front even with his absence approaching two months. H2H owners on the other hand are waiting on the edge of their seats to hear the feedback from his upcoming bullpen sessions. At best Kershaw is still nearly a month away, leaving H2H owners needing someone to simply just get them into the playoffs. Once they get there it could very well become Kershaw’s title to win. The Dodgers are the division leaders in the tightest race in baseball, and Kershaw would figure to be relied on heavily down the stretch. So while other owners are getting abbreviated outings from the Scherzer’s, you’re getting the most from the best.
San Francisco Giants
Johnny Cueto – a tale of two halves? Cueto’s 2015 second half was a disaster. After posting a 2.73 ERA over the first half, the Royals turned over several chips to get that top of the rotation arm they seemed to be missing. The Royals went on the win the World Series in spite of Johnny Cueto’s 4.34 ERA. Over his career Cueto’s 1st and 2nd half splits in ERA is 2.93 compared to 3.79. While that total is pushing a full run, the overwhelming majority of it was the result of last season as well as 2016’s repeat. Cueto posted a 2.47 ERA, earning an All-Star start. He’s followed that up with a 4.84 ERA in 7 starts post break. I’m beginning to wonder if poor conditioning is the source of these troubles. Listed at 5’11”-220, Cueto is essentially me throwing 100+ pitches from 60’6″ to Major League hitters, and that’s even believing the 220 – that seems like 15 pounds ago. Should these troubles continue this season, with no injury to speak of, Cueto’s status as a Top 20-25 option next year could come into question.
Can a Rockies starting pitchers be Fantasy relevant? I really liked Jon Gray coming into the season; he was a solid K source, displayed control, and leaned more toward the ground ball. Most of those still ring true today. His K/9 is greater than 1 per inning; his GB rate improved by 3% to 45.3%; even his BB% has improved, but I was hoping for an improvement into sub 3.00 territory. While the skills still remain the numbers haven’t followed. As should be expected Gray’s road numbers have been better than his Coors tilts. Gray has posted a 4.29 ERA on the road compared to a 5.11 mark at home. On the plus side he’s actually pitching better in some ways at home. His K rate is 9.78 per 9 at Coors and 9 flat on the road. His control is better at home posting a 2.04 BB/9, nearly half of his 4.02 road mark. Oddly enough the improvements Gray needs to make are on the road, a 4.02 BB/9 simply isn’t good enough. His approach at Coors is spot on; limit your own trouble, strikeout as many people as possible, and keep the ball on the ground. Let me see that same approach on the road.
San Diego Padres
What will the OF look like once September Callups are complete? Jankowski and Dickerson both fit the mold of players that could hold value for the Friars in 2017. This leaves one OF spot between Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe. Both are currently at AAA; Margot is the higher rated prospect between the two, but offers much the same skill-set at least to this point as Jankowski. Renfroe is the senior of the two, at 24, is nearly three years older, and offers some much-needed pop potential. Renfroe’s 3.8% BB rate is problematic thus leading the AVG to feel like more of the .240-.250 type than the shiny .315 he’s sporting thus far at AAA.
Just how good is Jake Lamb? Jake Lamb’s All Star caliber first half has really cooled off here in the second half. With a .206 AVG, 14 HR, and .653 OPS, many are wondering just how fluky Lamb’s first half was. Speaking from my own experiences, most Lamb owners I know really bought into the first half production. As a Lamb owner myself I was offered Donaldson as part of a package that included Lamb. In another shallow keeper league when discussing potential keepers, the Lamb owner had anointed him as a keeper in the midst of his hot June. His struggles against LHP continues; he’s currently hitting .160 with a wOBA of .274 compared to a .402 mark vs. RHP. The D’Backs themselves are still hesitant to start him vs. LHP; he’s only had 95 PA against them. Two months ago Lamb was a likely Top-40 overall pick. Should these struggles continue through the remainder of the season that ranking could be closer to 75.
Ok so maybe 30 was stretching it. I couldn’t handle another extended period of time being serenaded by screams of rage, as complaints of lag are constantly muttered to no one but himself. How about 15 Stories, 15 Players, in two less than stellar post. Check back next week for the American League Primer.
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