When I look for bad pitching performances each week, reversing the rankings, it’s always painful to see a page full of starts where no one averages more than 4.0 IP per game. And if that doesn’t make my cringe enough, it’s particularly painful when I see a pitcher on one of my rosters. I’m looking at you, Charlie Morton. At least he’s got an excuse of an injury!
Players on the Rise
Justin Upton – At the time of this writing, he was the best batter of the week by 5×5 standards, and that’s understandable with a .417 BA, 3 HR, and 11 RBI. After Upton worried owners in June, he’s been on the rise in August. There are a few warning signs here, though. A suddenly awful contact rate could mean he’s just swinging for the fences, and that may catch up to him. His fly ball rate is a bit low, which coincides with his higher GB%, but he’s maintaining a strong line drive percentage, so I’m not that worried. The high LB% means he can maintain a better than average BABIP, though it’s his highest in the last 4 years, so some regression may happen in the stretch run. His HR/FB is an astounding and unsustainable 42% in August — but that follows his trend of big bursts of power, because he’s been over 30% before, in April of this year and in two months last year. Ride the hot streak, which is coming in time for fantasy playoffs.
Kennys Vargas – He’s been putting up pretty decent numbers since his call-up, but is it sustainable? He doesn’t have an MLB track record to compare his last month to, but his very high BABIP screams regression moving forward. Also, I don’t like his poor contact rate and his bad walk rate, and a strikeout rate of 25% doesn’t reassure me, either. That being said, his power seems at least league average, so he may be able to maintain his strong HR rate. If you really need power, he’s not a bad stopgap, but don’t expect a solid all-around game for the rest of the season.
Jedd Gyorko – I’m happy with the fact that Gyorko’s having a great week. His BABIP in the last month is a bit high compared to 2013, but he’s hitting a lot of line drives, so if he keeps it up, the average could hold up. The important thing is that he’s getting back to hitting HR, with 2 this week. There’s room for improvement in his HR/FB, and his fly ball percentage needs to be higher to really capitalize on his power, but the silver lining is that the loss of FB% isn’t going to GB% anymore — it’s in his LD%. Like Vargas, he could be a solid power option for the playoff run, but the fact that he plays 2B gives him even more value. I’d love to have him in a keeper league because I do think he can repeat 20+ HR when healthy, and the BA will be better in 2015.
Mike Fiers – What does it take to be the top pitcher of the week? How about 20 K and a 0.69 ERA in two starts? Fiers has had three starts this month, and the results have been great. I like that he’s showing a good ground ball rate after being an extreme fly ball reliever in his 4 June appearances. There’s definitely some luck in his end results, with a tiny BABIP and a high strand rate. However his 9.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 are strong, and in case you don’t think he can keep that up, look at his 2012 season: 9.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 22 GS. Milwaukee had overrated SP in Gallardo in the previous years, but now the Brewers have an underrated arm who can rack up strikeouts. This is a nice long-term buy.
Jason Vargas – I might as well hit both players with the last name of Vargas in this article. He’s enjoyed a solid season, and I’m confident he can help you in the stretch run. First, after an anemic 3.8 K/9 in June, he’s rebounded to his career average of 6.0 in August. What’s more, he’s exhibiting pinpoint control with a 0.4 BB/9 in his last 4 starts, and his season walk rate is on the verge of being a career best. Aside from a case of gopheritis in May, he’s been above average at keeping the ball in the yard. He’s got sneaky value for the playoffs because managers (A) ignore him
Bud Norris – He’s given up 2-3 ER in his last 3 starts, but in his last start it was 2 ER in 7 IP. Looking at his August numbers there is hope for further improvement. His K/9 and BB/9 have been on a 4-month improvement. He has a poor strand rate in August, but he hasn’t been giving up a ton of HR, so odds are this is just a bit of bad luck. His ERA could sneak under 3.50 by the end of the year. In 2013 he also displayed a strikeout spike at the end of the season, so he may simply ramp it up to close out each year. And the final bit of good news is a nice 46% ground ball rate in the second half, which is helping him keep the ball in the park. The AL East isn’t a death sentence for SP anymore, so feel free to utilize Norris moving forward.
Players on the Decline
Arismendy Alcantara – A hot first week kept Cubs fans hoping, but like most hype in Chicago, the honeymoon period was short-lived. He’s had a particularly bad week, but he’s been awful all month. You can explain away part of the bad due to his suppressed BABIP, but what’s shocking to me is the fact that he has a 0% line drive rate over the last two weeks. That’s right — no line drives hit in his last 37 AB. He has nice speed, but you’re not going to get on base a lot when your walk rate has halved in the last month, you’re not making hard contact, and (I have to say it) you play for the Cubs. I have a bit of optimism for 2015, but realistically, at most he’s an okay MI option or a #5 OF. His value is small in keeper leagues, and redraft leagues should have abandoned ship weeks ago.
Carlos Beltran – The bad news is that he’s struggling mightily and not living up to expectations for 2014. The good news is that there’s likely a reason: his elbow issues are ongoing. The bad news is that it doesn’t matter to your fantasy team that there’s a reason, and now he’s sitting out to boot. I’ve been trying to use him when he’s healthy, hoping for some hot streaks, but redraft leagues should look elsewhere when it comes to the playoffs: you need healthy players right now, and he’s not.
Gregory Polanco – His week’s numbers are bad, but there’s been a bit of improvement in his game in August. After his contact rate dropped in July, he’s got back on track in August and is striking out less. The BABIP is near what it was last month, but that means that there’s room for improvement. He’s making hard contact, and his speed is obvious with 4 SB every month (though August isn’t over yet). The issue is his tiny fly ball rate; if he’s ever going to hit 15+ HR, he’s going to have to get the ball in the air more. Otherwise we’re looking at SB as his primary value. He’s still a great investment for keeper leagues, but in redraft formats he’s a coin flip. I’d probably look elsewhere because I want a known commodity for the playoffs.
Vance Worley – He wasn’t very good in his last start, giving up 5 ER. His ERA has been on the rise every month from 1.74 to 3.70, but so has his K/9. The increase in strikeouts is not likely sustainable because his swinging strike rate isn’t very good. He does have great control, with a BB/9 under 2.0 every month. His saving grace may be the high ground ball rate: if he can keep it over 50%, then he’ll have a chance for continued success this year. He’s been a bit unlucky in BABIP and strand rate this month, and his home park is huge, so he may be worth rostering and using in the right match-ups.
Drew Hutchison – He’s had two awful starts in a row, giving up 6 ER and 7 ER. His first half was respectable, but the second half tells a different story, with an ERA of 5.91 in August. He has an unusual (and negative) trend in his strand rate over the last three months: 69%, 59%, 44%. I’d say that 44% is unsustainable, but trends like that usually have some cause. I look at his increase in fly ball rate as a partial explanation: 41%, 47%, 54%. Even though his HR/FB isn’t awful, when you give up that many fly balls, some are going to leave the yard, and there are going to be a lot of runners who tag up. Aside from two months with a K/9 spike, his strikeout rate has been just okay, but at least his walks are reasonable. Moving forward, I wouldn’t put much faith in him for the fantasy playoffs. This is a risky investment when you most need consistency.
Mike Leake – Leake had a poor start last time (5 ER in 5 IP), but of the three SP in the decline column, he’s the one I’d roster for the playoffs. His August hasn’t been great, and the walk rate is a bit worrisome, but his K/9 for the season is a career best, and August’s 7.2 is his second best monthly rate in 2014. He still has a good ground ball tilt, and I’d be happy with him as a #4 or #5 SP in the playoffs. The only down side is that he doesn’t often blow teams away in a start; he’s usually just a nice reliable arm.