July is always an interesting month in the world of baseball. First, we have the All Star break which can be fun to watch with the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby, and finally concluding in the All Star game itself which will be played July 12th. Just a couple of short weeks after that comes the trade deadline, falling on August 1st this year as the usual July 31 date happens to be a Sunday.
The trade deadline is a time where contending teams bolster their rosters with players who will hopefully help them through the final stretch of the season and beyond. While most fantasy baseball sites’ standard trade deadline falls anywhere between a week or two after Major League Baseball’s, now is the time to start examining your roster as well as opposing teams’ in order to prepare for a deep playoff run.
Finding underperforming players with impatient owners is one of the best ways to get ahead on the trade market. Many owners get tired of waiting on guys to turn a corner, and that’s where you come in to relieve that owner of his or her stress. This article features four players, two pitchers and two hitters, who I think can leave their first half behind them and contribute big time for the rest of the season.
6-4 – 5.33 ERA – 1.42 WHIP – 71 K’s
Yes, it was too early to declare Stroman an ace coming into the season, but the dude can still pitch. While it may not seem that way for the time being, I believe the worst is behind the former first rounder. There really isn’t a clear reason for Stroman’s struggles, and the majority of the damage done to him has come in June. Over the last month, Stroman has been touched up to the tune of a 7.76 ERA with other teams hitting .357 off of him. Looking beyond June will also show that Stroman had a 3.54 ERA prior to his last eight starts.
Stroman has yet to show an elite strikeout rate in the majors, meaning he has to rely on getting the ball on the ground with his sinker and getting fly ball outs when he can. Prior to his current eight start stretch, Stroman was using his sinker 54.6% of the time while opposing teams hit .245 against it. Since then, Stroman has continued to rely on his sinker at a 55% rate while opposing hitters have a .372 AVG. against it. We have to remember that this is just Stroman’s second full season in the manors, and he’s even noted how new he is to pitching, starting in his junior year at Duke in 2012. With that in mind, this kid’s stuff (and personality for that matter) are simply too electric to keep his current pace. Plus, both his FIP (4.05) and xFIP (3.88) are below his ERA which should eventually lead to some regression. Take the chance on a problem that in all relative terms has been a short one; his upside alone is worth the gamble.
3-6 – 5.03 ERA – 1.46 WHIP – 63 K’s
In my opinion, Sonny Gray is the best available buy-low option right now. That is, if you are in need of pitching help. With that being said, his buy-low window is quickly closing, and that’s if it hasn’t already closed depending on the owner in your league. He’s been very consistent the previous two and a half seasons by inducing ground balls and striking batters out a pedestrian rate. Much like Stroman, Gray’s overall numbers have suffered from just about one month of bad production. In April, Gray made five starts and finished the month with a 3.81 ERA, which is higher than his career ERA of 3.18 but nothing close to the number he is sporting now. May is where things got ugly for Gray. He managed four starts with an unsettling 9.61 ERA before being place on the 15 day DL.
Unlike Stroman, however, Gray had something to explain his struggles. I don’t want to focus on his injury either, a strained right trapezius, as I thought it was more so to correct his breaking ball. Jeff Sullivan, of FanGraphs, published an article about Gray’s sudden nose dive in May explaining how he had lost the feel for his breaking ball. Gray’s breaking ball is a significant part of his overall make up, and when he began to lose control of his harder slider and softer curveball, he became extremely vulnerable. Since returning from the DL, Gray has posted a 3.23 ERA in five starts and seems to be getting back to his regular self. Also, much like Stroman, Gray’s FIP (4.52) and xFIP (4.21) show regression in the future for his ERA. On top of that, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all well beyond his career highs and should come down closer to his career average in the second half of the season. I had traded for Gray while he was still on the DL, and I’ve been happy with the results so far.
.239/.312/.412 – 12 HR – 32 RBI – 42 R – 2 SB
Who saw this coming? McCutchen has been a reliable first rounder in fantasy for the past five or six years. Now, all of a sudden, he has lost everything that has made him such a great fantasy option in the past. His average is way down compared to past years, and most notably his stolen base potential has just about gone out the window. While his stealing days may be behind him due to past leg injuries, there’s no reason McCutchen can’t still be a key fantasy contributor. I mean, the man is only 29. McCutchen is notorious for having slow starts to his season, however, we are quite a ways past the start of the season. Looking month to month he has hit .226 (April), .284 (May), and .202 (June). This just isn’t Cutch, right?
Like Gray above, McCutchen’s disappointing first half may be attributed to something he has done differently. Sullivan also touched on this in a recent post on FanGraphs, discussing how McCutchen has had discomfort around his right thumb and continues to play through it. McCutchen has noted he is trying to grip the bat differently which is something that can radically change a hitter. Gripping the bat is supposed to be natural, not something a hitter should have to think about or spend time changing. This changes just about everything at the plate for McCutchen as he may have a hard time handling and catching up to fastballs or making hard contact. The thought of having to watch how you grip the bat alone is enough for his numbers to begin to suffer.
While all of this is negative, now is your time to strike with McCutchen. I don’t really have any numbers here to offer on why you should, but hear me out. With the All Star break quickly approaching, McCutchen’s numbers and votes suggest he won’t be part of it. In this case, it’s great news. This should give the former MVP a little bit of time to let his thumb heal up, and also work on his swing, approach, etc. While I am not a doctor, maybe this will be more than enough to get a player the caliber of Cutch back on track.
.235/.341/.458 – 11 HR – 27 RBI – 25 R – 1 SB
Sano will likely come in as the cheapest buy-low of this group, and now is the time to make a move. He was activated off of the DL last night against the Texas Rangers after dealing with a hamstring issue. Sano’s season hasn’t been what fantasy owners were expecting, as he put together a below-average April and May before missing all of June due to his hamstring. While he does have 11 HR, a player with his power should, and can, be counted on for more power as the season continues.
Despite a disappointing first half, Sano’s ISO of .223 shows that a power surge could be in the future for the highly touted prospect. We could easily see post All-Star break numbers similar to what he put up last year (.252 AVG, 16 HR, 44 RBI). As an added bonus, Sano could see playing time at third base going forward which would only add value and versatility to the slugger going forward. While he may not be a superstar quite yet, Sano could easily be a top-100 player from here on out.
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