If anyone has player requests this year, leave a comment. I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.
Chris Taylor – He’s one of the biggest surprises for fantasy owners this year, and most of us had no problem picking him up as a free agent. Maybe you’ve been waiting for him to slow down so you can sell high. That time was in June, when he hit .222. However, that month he had 9 stolen bases and 3 home runs, so there was production elsewhere. But in July he has been red-hot, with a .444 average in 72 AB. If you sold, you’ll regret it in the second half. He’s had some luck here and there, but his power and speed are legit.
On the surface, his BABIP seems too high to be sustainable. However, bear in mind that he has a very high LD%, and in July his hard hit rate is above average as well. A .300 average may be too much to hope for, but he should be able to stay above .280 for the rest of the season. Taylor was speedy in the minors, and he has been allowed to run this year. He should have no problem reaching 20 stolen bases in 2017. The power metrics are good, but he has faded a bit in HR/FB each month. He may slow down, but like the stolen bases, he has a good shot at reaching 20 HR.
It’s likely that his first half will be his best half, but it’s not all luck here, so for a waiver wire pickup, he is still gold for the rest of 2017.
Jonathan Schoop – Schoop proved his above average power for a middle infielder, but the rest of his game was a little suspect, and many fantasy managers wondered whether he would come near a full repeat. So far this year he is even better than 2016. For the second half I could see him slowing just a little, at least in batting average, but he is a solid investment in redraft and keeper leagues.
After a bumpy May, his HR/FB has been excellent, and with an major league average FB%, it means 30 home runs is in the bag this year. His hard hit rate was below average in the past despite his homer totals, but this year he has improved it, helping to justify the power boost. It has also helped his average, although the BABIP is likely still a bit lucky. The good news is that he still has a higher batting average floor than last year. He still doesn’t walk much, but as long as he can keep raking, you’re looking at a top-40 player the rest of the way.
James Paxton – He has been a high-ceiling guy for a few years, and though his ERA and WHIP didn’t show it in 2016, his K/9 and BB/9 were solid. This year his ERA and WHIP are reflecting his continued K/9 growth and ability to avoid home runs. I’ve had him as a draft target for years, and I’ve kept him in a few leagues. There’s a reason for my optimism, and Paxton has reached his potential.
He has had one bad month, but other than that he’s been stellar. Let’s look at the awful June. A bloated HR/FB and LD% led to poor BABIP and strand rate. He also lost his control, with a 5.0 BB/9, so it wasn’t all bad luck. It’s likely he was still finding his way back from the forearm strain that caused him to miss time in May. That would also help explain his poor walk rate in his two May starts.
In July he has been lights out, and he’s turning into a legitimate #2 or even #1 SP. His K/9 has been above 10.0 every month, and his BB/9 has been below 2.0 in April and July. Though his BABIP this month may be a little lucky, he is limiting line drives and inducing grounders, and he has a soft hit rate a bit above the MLB average. He showed a ground ball tilt early in his career, but he has lost it in 2017 when you look at the year’s total. In July he posted above 50% again, so if he can maintain that rate, it’ll keep his ratios solid.
Keeper leagues should seek him out in trades, and no owner should move him unless it’s a huge help to your lagging categories.
Jon Lester – For the sake of my fantasy teams and the Cubs, I hope he keeps it up. His metrics haven’t been awful this season, but his ERA and win total are poor for him. It’s primarily due to gopheritis for the season, particularly in July, but I’m still not selling low on him. Why? Let’s take a look.
Home runs are really his biggest issue, and that can correct with some luck and small tweaks. He hasn’t been great against righties, particularly in July, but I don’t think that’ll keep him down in the second half. His 2.8 BB/9 is his highest in the last four years, and it’s due to his struggles against righties, but that has been one of his better metrics in July (2.2). Right now his K/9 is the best it’s been in seven seasons. He is still keeping the ball on the ground, with one of his best season rates (50%). His BABIP and strand rate are in line with his career levels.
I’m confident that the home runs are an aberration and now a new norm for Lester. His xFIP is in line with 2016, so you’re seeing the tale of two extremes. Buy low on Lester if you can.
Hunter Pence – A third season marred by injuries for the aging slugger. He’s been pretty bad all year, but July is extra rough, with an average below the Mendoza line and no power. It’s hard to say it’s just the hamstring injury flaring up, because he hit .300 in June. Can we hope for any decent production moving forward, or is he another famous name that’s going to end up in the free agent pool?
I’m not optimistic. He’s always hit more balls into the ground than I’d like, but the last two years he has had hammy issues. If you can’t run out the grounders, and you have a career low LD%, your BABIP is going to be one of the lowest of your career. It has also resulted in his lowest batting average as well. What’s more, his HR/FB of 8% is a career low, about half of his normal level (15%). Add in the fact that he is unable to stay healthy and we’re looking at a very sharp decline for the mid-30s hitter.
Abandon all hope of him rebounding, in this year and in the next.
Jose Ramirez – Another strong season from Ramirez in 2017, but his two-week ranking is low. It’s a bit odd because he hit .300 last week, but this week, he’s hitless, and a lack of counting stats are also to blame. Most owners aren’t going to bat an eye, however, because even with a slow May, he’s on pace to be a top value for the year. Let’s look at all the reasons you shouldn’t worry.
He’s a high average guy, which is supported by a good LD% and a hard hit rate above the major league average — that’s why a BABIP near .330 is fully sustainable. Over three seasons he has learned to hit more fly balls, and he has raised his HR/FB every year as well. He could easily reach 25-30 home runs this year. And even though he is running a bit less in 2017 than in 2016, he’s still on pace to reach 18 steals with a chance at 20. Add in a very good contact rate and good BB% and he’ll continue to be a five-category player.
This was the last year he could be undervalued, because you’ll have to pay full price in 2018. I say pay up, because he’s worth it.
Jordan Montgomery – He was lights out in June, but he has been struggling in July with an ERA of 6.41. Not getting deep due to high pitch counts, or else giving up a lot or runs. He’s young, and his first half was pretty solid, so what about the rest of the season?
Expect more of the same, with more risk than a veteran starter. He has fewer than 50% quality starts, which is indicative of his growing pains and inability to get 6 innings per start. His BB/9 has been remarkably steady for three months at 2.3, which is good. But his K/9 has fallen in July to 6.4, as he has had a hard time finding the strike zone (10% drop in first pitch strikes). He has also turned into a fly ball pitcher in July (54%), and given his HR/FB has been above average the last two months, that’s not a good trend.
He’s not as bad as July indicates, with some potentially unlucky BABIP and strand rate, but his season levels are pretty normal. Maybe you can count on a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way, but don’t bet on a June repeat.
Carlos Carrasco – He has looked good going by the year-to-date stats, but he’s a known injury risk and has hit a small rough patch recently. So far, so good in terms of health, so how about his skills? He has had two clunkers in the last five starts (5 ER, 8 ER), which is what has him low in the recent rankings. But for the season, his metrics say he is getting the results he should.
The down side is that he’s dropping his GB% this year, especially in the last month. His HR/FB has been above the major league average the last two years, but it didn’t hurt him as much in 2016 due to a higher GB%. But aside from a slightly higher (for him) LD%, meaning his BABIP could go up for the rest of the season, there’s not much else to nitpick here.
The good news is plentiful as long as he’s healthy. His K/9 is 10.0 right now, and it has improved every month. His BB/9 is still good, at 2.4. His season BABIP and strand rate aren’t lucky, so he’s earning his good results. Invest with confidence, but have another ace if you’re injury risk averse.
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