I can’t wait for the All-Star game this year. I am mostly a Cubs fan, but I also enjoy the White Sox and the Royals, and I am very familiar with the NL Central as well. There’s going to be a lot of representation from the two Central Divisions this year. With that, let’s bring on the Central praise.
Players on the Rise
Jake Arrieta – How does a 0.51 ERA in the month of June sound? Add to it a 9.0 K/9, and that’s what Arrieta’s doing in his last three starts. I’ll grant the skeptics that his BABIP was a bit lucky and his strand rate was very lucky in that span, but he had unlucky BABIP in his first five starts and still managed a 3.20 ERA, and the strong strikeout rate has continued all season. In NL-only leagues he should already be owned, but he may be available in mixed leagues, and he’s worth the roster spot.
Jose Abreu – Okay, aside from his DL stint, he’s been a power machine all year, so the stock really can’t get any higher in his first year. However, I wanted to give a little Chicago love this week, and someone with 20 HR well before the All-Star break deserves our respect.
Billy Hamilton – Yes, he’s speedy. What’s particularly nice is that he isn’t getting caught stealing as much. In the first month he had 5 CS, and in the last two so far he’s had 3. What’s more, the walk rate has been going up every month. Hamilton owners are really getting excited that he’s maturing and can handle MLB pitching. The three HR in the last two weeks are a nice surprise, but let’s not assume he’ll reach double digits.
Gregory Polanco – What’s he done in his first week? How about hit .371 and hit his first MLB homer. I’ll grant the doubters that his BABIP is high, but that’s because he’s squaring up on the ball and hitting bullets, with a line drive rate of 27%. He’s got a bright future for keeper leagues, and even in redraft formats he was a great addition. Note that I say “was,” because odds are if he wasn’t stashed on the bench all year, he was picked up at the first whispers of a call-up.
Danny Duffy – He had two stinkers in his last seven games, back to back, and he gave up all his HR in just those two games. However, since then he’s posted a 1.45 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in three starts, along with 18 K in 19 IP. His injuries slowed his development, but maybe his potential ceiling is finally becoming a reality.
Players on the Decline
Mitch Moreland – I didn’t expect elite numbers, but he was a nice potential value pick late in the draft this year, and I believed he may be lucky enough to put up 20 HR. As it turns out, he’s done for the season, so it’s time to cut bait.
Matt Cain – He’s had some awful starts this year, including his last one. He’s not going deep into games and piling up the IP like he used to. And even though he was on the DL and battled an injury (so some might give him a partial mulligan), it doesn’t explain his overall decline: for three years his BB/9 and K/9, and his ERA and WHIP have been trending in the wrong direction. It seems his days as even a #2 SP are over, at least for 2014. I feel bad for him because I rode his elite years to the playoffs several times in one league, but I cut bait before 2013 and haven’t regretted it.
David Murphy – Y’know, he’s never been a sexy fantasy pick, but he often got the job done as a #4 or #5 OF. His overall stat line doesn’t look awful this year, but the last week he’s been very cold. He’s offered HR in three weeks this season, and he had a nice BA in April, but other than that he’s not going to give you a lot of value — or at least, not consistent value.
Nate Schierholtz – I really hope you didn’t draft him expecting a repeat of 2013. He hasn’t shown many signs of life this year, but the Cubs will keep playing him because (A) they don’t have any better options, and (B) they are hoping he’ll hit well enough to become trade bait. Just don’t make the mistake of playing him in your own fantasy lineup.
Mike Zunino – It’s hard to go deeper into a decline when you’re practically at the bottom, but I’m worried Zunino is going to be a full-on bust as a prospect. At the least, he should be sent back to the minors for a full year to work on his game and get his confidence back. He isn’t doing anyone any good, and he’s been getting worse since the start of the year. Only leagues that start two catchers would even consider rostering him at this point, because he has some power, but frankly I wouldn’t bother even then.