Alex Gordon – After coming back from a wrist injury, Gordon was slow to get going in July. However, he’s rewarded patient owners with a hot August. It’s been mostly a lost year for him, but injuries can help explain away some of it, giving him at least a partial mulligan. He’s healthy now, and though his contact has been down all year, which makes him a bit more risky in average, his power is where it’s always been, if not a bit better. His hard contact is strong in the second half, and even if he punches out more due to the new approach, it’s mostly working with a strong LD% and a bundle of home runs. Yes, he’ll cool from his August performance, but you’re more likely to see his career norms going forward, rather than the first-half fiasco.
Chris Carter – A guy that frustrates the heck out of me. I tend to pick him up in drafts during his down years (2015, 2013). I recognize his risky skill set (with awful contact but the ability to walk), and potentially risky playing time; he’s the closest thing to Adam Dunn’s peak that we’ve seen in a while. August has seen one of his better averages, as well as his second highest monthly HR total (though he’s been pretty consistent across the board there). A normalized BABIP and his best contact and hard hit rate of the year explain it. He’s obviously going to have his ups and downs, and he’s far more valuable in OBP leagues, but you know that in today’s market, big power bats are hard to find. Now that he seems to have again established his playing time, projecting over 500 AB (versus the 426 from 2015), he’s worth a look. Managers in a tight playoff race had better make sure they can withstand the drop in batting average, but roster him with confidence that 2015 was mostly bad luck (via BABIP).
David Phelps – He put up four months of effective relief pitching, and he got the chance to start in August. It seems he hasn’t missed a beat, with a 1.31 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. The issue is endurance, because he has a hard time going six innings (for those needing quality starts), but you can’t argue with the overall results. There are some nitpicks here, as well as concerns about overall track record (three years over a 4.00 ERA). He throws pretty hard, but he’s not elite there, and his swinging strike rate and first pitch strike don’t seem to fully support his very high K/9. There’s a bit of luck in BABIP, and a lot of luck in strand rate, but when you’re striking out so many players and inducing quite a few ground balls (a career best GB% on the season), the results aren’t completely a mirage. Looking to next year, he’s an intriguing option, but you have to wonder whether his increased velocity and reliance on his fastball are going to hold up over a full season. He’s worth keeping in deep leagues, and he’ll be on my sleeper list for the middle rounds in redraft leagues. For the rest of 2016, simply enjoy the ride.
Jameson Taillon – Hey, he’s finally healthy! He’s also been a bright spot for the Pirates rotation, performing like the “top prospect” status hinted at. He hasn’t even been overly lucky in BABIP and strand rate; his ERA and WHIP are supported by an elite walk rate, a solid strikeout rate, and a high GB%. The grounders help mitigate his higher than average HR/FB%. His good velocity and first pitch strike rate hint at improvements in his K/9 over the long-term. The only thing I’m not sure about is the shiny walk rate, but it shouldn’t regress a lot given his approach. There’s a little luck in his August BABIP, but again, the skill set is solid for a prospect who’s finally healthy. For 2016 and beyond, you’ll want to invest in this arm.
Orlando Arcia – He could be a future star for the Brewers, but like many prospects before him, he’s had a rocky start in his first major league month. So what’s going on here? As it turns out, it could simply be some bad luck. He’s known as a speedster, and he hits the ball into the ground like many speedsters do. However, his BABIP is under .230, which begs for a correction moving forward. Given how fast he is, he should be able to beat out more plays for infield hits. Along with a decent contact rate and walk rate, there’s a good chance he has a hot September and helps out teams who need SB for the final push. The batting average should rise as well, so pick him up if he’s available and hope for .260, 15+ R, and 5+ SB.
Jake Smolinski – Smolinski has had a hot week, but it doesn’t cover up all the bad from the previous four weeks. He sports an elite contact rate, and he can take walks. His second half BABIP is rather low when you consider his line drive rate being 23% (and over 30% in August). He has at least league average power, so even if his FB% is down from last year, he should easily reach 10 HR per season with playing time. The issue? He’s extremely platoon dependent, and if you’re only facing lefties, playing time may be hard to come by. Those in deep leagues with daily lineups can greatly benefit from his game, despite a recent slump (which seems to be over). However, weekly lineups should avoid him because you can’t count on him to play often enough. He doesn’t have enough skill projection to be considered a keeper, either.
Mike Foltynewicz – Plenty of prospect starters have struggled early in their career, even through the first two seasons. Foltynewicz is no exception, but at least he’s made some small strides compared to 2015. That said, he hasn’t really been worth using except in April. Is there hope for the future? Sure. He has improved his walk rate over his three seasons, and he’s maintained his K/9. High velocity and a solid first pitch strike rate could mean there are more strikeouts coming in 2017. His biggest issue at the moment is gopheritis, with a 15% HR/FB ratio. That stat has been better in August, but then of course he has to suffer from bad luck in strand rate and BABIP, keeping his ERA and WHIP high. For long-term and deep keeper leagues, I’m willing to stash him and speculate on him learning more and taking the next step. For 2016 playoffs, you’re better off cutting him, given the Braves aren’t very good and he can’t often make it through six innings.
Taijuan Walker – Despite a high ERA in 2015 (due to a high HR/FB% and poor strand rate), I had a lot of optimism for Walker in 2016. At this point, it’s really just more of the same here. He sports a good K/9 and an above average BB/9, which bodes well for his future. A high velocity and a swinging strike rate slightly above average mean these are solid skills moving forward. However, he simply can’t rein in the gopheritis, which has been worse (18% HR/FB ratio). He’s managed to improve his strand rate, so it means more of the homers are solo shots, but it’s still not good for his ERA. He simply has to figure how to avoid giving up the long ball, or else this is as good as he gets. That said, he’s only 23 and has a lot of time left to learn. Hitters make contact against him above the league average. His fastball PITCHf/x value is above average but down from 2015, and his offspeed offerings are well below average. I still like his base skills, so take another flier on him and hope the pitching coaches help him out during spring training. A solid secondary pitch would see him easily outproduce his 2017 draft value.
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