If anyone has player requests this year, leave a comment. I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.
Adam Jones – He had a great career peak from 2011-14. Then the batting average, runs, and RBI came down. To be fair, you can’t fully blame him for runs and RBI. Still, it seems as he enters his thirties, he’s not a second-round pick anymore. If we alter our preconceived expectations and remove his historical value from the equation, how does he look for 2017 and beyond?
The good news is that he’s still a capable power bat. A home run total of 25-30 is still in play for a few more years, as he maintains a good HR/FB and hasn’t lost any FB% from his career level. He’s never walked, so that’s not an aging issue. He still makes solid contact. His K% isn’t jumping. The drop in hard hit rate relative to league average, and a slow down in his running, is the likely culprit of his declined batting average. His BABIP used to stay above .310, but the last three seasons it’s been below .300.
Another potential explanation for the dropped average may also be due to his recent struggles against lefties. A reverse platoon at his age seems a bit odd, but it’s been for two seasons now. Maybe he can correct it and get back to .280, but you simply can’t bank on it. However, if you accept his new baseline as .265 and 28 HR, he’s still worth rostering.
Bradley Zimmer – A touted prospect who’s made the transition pretty well in his first season. He’s a certainty for speed, has at least average power, and has decent potential for batting average. Playing for Cleveland should help his counting stats. We know he’s a great keeper, but can you count on his bat for the rest of 2017?
I’m always going to be a big pessimistic on rookies, but overall you’re going to be happy with the results. He started his season with an unsustainable BABIP, but given his speed, he can keep above the league average. The power seems sustainable, but bear in mind his FB% is low, so the great-looking HR/FB doesn’t mean he’ll reach 25+ home runs in the near future. He takes enough walks, and when you combine that with a decent batting average floor, it means 30+ stolen bases in a full season is achievable. He’s not going to have a Mike Trout breakout, but I’ll be happy with him in any format.
Zach Davies – On the surface, his 2017 campaign is worse than his 2016 season. Under the surface, his 2017 campaign is still worse than his 2016 season. However, he did find his groove in July, with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Is he turning the corner, or is this just one good month to help balance out the season totals?
Most of the early season damage was Davies’s fault. In April he did have an unlucky BABIP, but he also had a 4.0 BB/9. In May he improved his walk rate some, but his strikeouts fell off sharply (5.0 K/9), and he suffered from gopheritis. In June he further improved his BB/9, but his K/9 dropped even more, and his subpar swinging strike rate supported it. His ground ball rate spiked in a good way, but he still had a high HR/FB.
That brings us to July. His K/9 jumped to 7.2, and his BB/9 is still respectable at 2.5. His HR/FB is under control, with a small bit of ground ball tilt. His strand rate and BABIP are normalized. I have some hope he can maintain maybe a 3.60 ERA the rest of the way if his strikeouts and walks stay where they are. I’ve picked him up in one league as the last SP on my roster, so he may provide useable innings if you’re fighting injuries.
Charlie Morton – Morton was a replacement-level player in 2014 before an awful 2015, and then he missed most of 2016. This year his ERA and WHIP are back to his “glory days” of 2015, so it’s safe to say he has recovered from the injury. But can he be trusted for the rest of the year?
Despite his age, he found a new gear in velocity for 2016-17, and it’s translated to career bests in swinging strikes and K/9. He’s flirting with a 10.0 ratio, but even a 11% SwStr% doesn’t fully back that up. Add in his mediocre BB/9 of 3.5, and I’m wary to assume he can keep the ERA and WHIP up all season. Early in the year, his very high HR/FB was somewhat offset by a low FB%, but in July his FB% jumped to 40%. If his fly ball rate remains that high and the HR/FB goes back up, he’ll be in trouble. He’s also benefiting from an unsustainably lucky BABIP in July.
The strikeouts are nice and provide fantasy value, but the rest of his game is still worrisome, and it’s not a newfound level. How many mid-thirties pitchers find career high velocity and become leaps and bounds better than the rest of their career numbers? I’d sell if you can. If the trade deadline has passed and you’re stuck with him, don’t hesitate to release him if he starts trending in the wrong direction.
Nelson Cruz – At the surface, Cruz’s year hasn’t been awful. And even though he was down in batting average in July, he still brought the power with 7 home runs. Even a few bad weeks aren’t enough to sink his stock, and I wouldn’t move him if you need any sort of power bat.
His BABIP has been up and down every month, but the season averages out. He was more steady in 2016, but given that his hard hit rate is better this year, I’m not worried. May’s BABIP dip was partly due to a freak 9% line drive rate. He’s really not a .300 hitter, because his best batting average seasons are when his BABIP is well above the MLB average. His .273 average makes more sense and is sustainable.
What’s more worrisome is that his HR/FB is down from his elite levels. His 18% is still above the league average by a lot, and it’s in line with his career level (19%), but it’s well below the recent peak of 2015 (30%) and 2016 (26%). Some of the decline there is mitigated by the better FB% this year, but bear this drop in mind come 2018. For the playoff runs this season, I’m still keeping him, but I’d sell or avoid paying full price for 2018 to be safe.
Jason Heyward – Cubs fans were happy with Heyward’s revamped swing in April, but he’s back to being a disappointment with his batting stats. The future doesn’t look bright for Heyward, so fantasy owners should also temper their expectations. Just because he won’t be as bad as 2016 doesn’t mean he’s worth rostering in most leagues.
He hits too many grounders to maintain a good average, because his BABIP is going to be under .300 more often than not. He doesn’t hit enough line drives, and he doesn’t have a good hard hit rate. His walk rate is down to a career low. He won’t run as often as he did when he was younger. An average HR/FB but a low FB% means he’ll never get back to 20 home runs. Defense doesn’t play in fantasy leagues, and neither do pep talks. Leave him on the waiver wire.
Marco Estrada – I’d expected some decline as he moved into his mid-thirties, but this was a huge step down from his 2016 results. Has the luck pendulum swung too far the other way, or is this also due to his skills declining? As it turns out, it could be a bit of both. I’ll get out the one good aspect of his 2017 campaign: an increased K/9, which is supported by an above-average swinging strike rate. The next best bit of information is that perhaps his BABIP is unlucky, but it’s not crazy high, so you can’t count on a major regression.
Now for the bad. His walk rate has increased every full season he’s had, and it now rests at 3.8 BB/9. The last two months have been particularly problematic, with a rate over 5.8. Also, though his HR/FB isn’t much above average, his extreme fly ball tendencies create a high HR/9, meaning his bad strand rate is more his fault than anything else. He may not be a 5.00 ERA pitcher, but moving forward, you can’t bet on him getting back under 4.00 either. I’d avoid at all costs, in any format except AL-only.
Jake Faria – A quality start surrounded by two clunkers make up this pitcher’s recent starts. After June’s shiny ERA and WHIP, he has seen a jump in July. Although the ERA still looks reasonable (3.72), the WHIP is up to 1.45. It’s primarily due to an out-of-control walk rate (5.3 in July). In that time, he’s also getting fewer strikeouts and is down to a 51% first pitch strike rate. The lack of control is the biggest issue he has, but can he turn it around for the rest of the season?
He’s a decent prospect, but he wasn’t elite entering the year. His best minors walk rate in the last three years was 3.1 BB/9, so there’s no reason to assume he could keep up his 1.4 rate in June. Hopefully he can rebound from his July performance, but temper your expectations. Another cause for concern is the fact that his BABIP is under .280 despite his lack of groundball tilt. I’m not optimistic that his WHIP will get any better, because even if he gets the walks back under control, a BABIP bump will cancel it out. The best sign for the future is that his swinging strike rate is still well above average, so the 7.1 K/9 of July is low.
The Rays are hanging in the playoff race, so Faria will get to play meaningful ball the rest of the way. He may be a bench option for you, but I’m not sold on him improving enough in 2017 to be a great roster piece. His season ratios are going to look worse, not better.
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