Fantasy baseball second half thoughts
The Cubs kicked off the Hot Stove league this week with a pair of deals, sending Carlos Marmol to the Dodgers and Scott Feldman to Baltimore. Those should be a mere prelude for Theo Epstein and company, as players like Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, Kevin Gregg and others likely will be shipped out for prospects. In fantasy, keeper leagues have certainly already seen a flurry of activity. Heading up to your league's trade deadline, there likely will be quite a bit more activity as the contenders jockey for position and the hopeless plan for the future. In that vein, let's look at a handful of players I like, and some I don't like, heading into the season's second half.
Ricky Nolasco (MIA) - I'll get some flak for this, but bring it on. I was worried about Nolasco heading to the AL, but with Baltimore acquiring Scott Feldman, that at least takes one contender off the market for pitching. I think Nolasco winds up in the NL West, with any of the five clubs there certainly in need of another arm. Nolasco has managed to underperform his FIP in each of the last five seasons, as he's always in the 2.0 range with his BB/9 rate and he'll strike a few guys out (7.1 per nine in 2013). His HR/FB rate is a reasonable 9.0 percent, and his 9.4-percent swinging strike rate is his best since 2010. Nolasco could certainly continue to frustrate, but I think he winds up as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 on a contender, something that in theory should boost his value, particularly if his new park is pitcher-friendly, of course.
Jarrod Parker (OAK) - Parker is dealing with hamstring soreness, but we have to expect he'll be back in the near future. Parker will return to a 6-6 record and 4.11 ERA, and though those aren't awful marks, I had him as a breakout performer this year. That said, Parker is 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA over his last 10 starts, so if you can buy low off the 4.11 ERA and injury, by all means do so. One thing that has hurt Parker is the spike in his flyball rate from 30.1 percent last year to 41.4 percent in 2013. That's resulted in a career-high 1.3 HR/9. He's throwing more first-pitch strikes and his swinging-strike rate is up, so if he can make a conscious effort to keep the ball down in the zone, I can easily see a sub-3.00 ERA the rest of the way. I'm buying.
Matt Cain (SF) - This one is pretty easy, really. If there were ever a reason to not use WAR to evaluate starting pitchers, consider that Joe Blanton's 0.8 WAR is 0.1 higher than that of Mr. Cain. Cain's 3.73 xFIP should give us some confidence that his 4.29 ERA will continue to drop. Over his last five starts, Cain has a 1.81 ERA and sparkling 30:6 K:BB in 34.2 innings. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he becomes a top-10 pitcher.
Ian Kennedy (ARI) - Kennedy has gone from a Cy Young contender in 2011 to a 5.36 ERA and just three wins this season. The 10-run outing June 6 obviously hurt, but then after following that up with two quality starts, Kennedy allows four runs in 4.1 innings last time out. Perhaps he was just rusty after coming off the 10-game suspension, but either way, the consistency just hasn't been there. So why is he in this section of the article?
A few reasons:
Strikeouts: His 7.8 K/9 is still good and in line with career numbers.
Velocity: He's up 0.5 mph over last year and in line with his excellent 2011 season.
Swinging-strike rate: 10.1 percent is above 2011's 8.8 percent. This tells me that his stuff is still very good.
Home runs: 13.8 percent of Kennedy's flyballs have gone for home runs. We have to think that number will trend down given his 9.9-percent career mark.
The only thing I've noticed from Kennedy this year is that his location has wavered more than past years. The stuff still looks solid, so while the solution probably isn't as simple as watching some of his 2011 highlights, I like him to have a nice second half.
Starlin Castro (CHC) - Of all major-league hitters who qualify for the batting title, Castro's -1.3 WAR ranks dead last. That pretty much means the Cubs would have been better off going with their Triple-A shortstop than a guy (formerly?) viewed as a franchise cornerstone. Castro entered Tuesday's action batting an anemic .233/.366/.328. Why is a player who hit .300 in each of his first two seasons so bad now?
Castro has seen his already-low walk rate drop to 3.4 percent this year, and he's striking out in 18 percent of his at-bats versus the 14-percent range in recent years. His .276 BABIP is off about 70 points from his .300 average seasons, so expect some correction there, but it's really an accumulation of things (slightly less contact, a slight drop in his line drive rate, chasing a few more pitches outside the zone) that have added up to Castro's being a drag on a lot of fantasy teams. However, it's worth noting that he's a .300 career hitter in the second half versus .277 pre-break, and if his BABIP normalizes a bit, I think he could have a nice second half. I will buy where I can.
Don't Like 'Em
Yovani Gallardo (MIL) - Like Ricky Nolasco, Gallardo is an arm that could be on the move considering the Brewers can't seem to field a decent pitching staff anymore. He's 27, under team control through 2015, and he's had success, so there could be plenty of suitors should the Brewers decide to field offers. That said, the Brewers would likely be selling low. Gallardo has allowed 11 runs in seven innings over his last two starts after recording 21 scoreless in his previous three. Still, the drop in velocity for a guy who is just 27 is a bit troublesome:
|YEAR||AVG FB VELOCITY|
The big drop this year has translated into a career-low 7.3 K/9, and after appearing to turn the corner on his control with a 2.6 BB/9 in 2011, Gallardo has regressed there as well the past two years, clocking in at 3.6 and 3.4. On the plus side, his groundball rate remains higher than 47 percent, and with an xFIP of 3.83 versus a 4.78 ERA, it would appear that good things lie ahead. That said, I just didn't see any sort of consistency in his location in his last two starts, and I watched all seven painful innings. If you can sell him for a decent return, do so.
Victor Martinez (DET) - A few things to like about Martinez's underlying numbers:
8.1 BB% - A slight improvement over 2011 in which he hit .330/.380/.470.
11.0 K% - Right in line with expectations.
.242 BABIP - That has to go up, right?
37.6 FB% - Higher than his career total.
There are also a few things not to like here:
He's 34 years old - Not may catchers turn things around at that age.
Injury - He missed all last year and the timing looks really off.
29.3 O-Swing% - He used to be in the 20-25-percent range.
Disappearing power - AB/HR rates his last three years, including 2013: 26.9, 49.6, 55.8.
Whereas V-Mart was once in that upper tier of backstops, he's now pushing Jason Castro/Carlos Ruiz territory, though I admit that may be an insult to Castro, who's had a nice year now that I don't own him in any leagues. I don't see much of a turnaround for Martinez unless the Tigers do something like hit him in front of Miguel Cabrera.
Tim Lincecum (SF) - Lincecum actually has a higher WAR (0.9) than Matt Cain, but I'm far less optimistic for a variety of reasons:
Velocity - It's down another tick to 90.3 mph.
Strikeouts - Lincecum's K/9 is still solid at 8.8, but that is a career low.
Line drives - Lincecum's 26.6-percent line drive rate would be by far the highest of his career. Hitters are simply getting very good wood on the ball.
I easily watch more NL ball than AL, as I find it more interesting and strategic, and yes, "my team" is an NL team. So with that, I've seen quite a bit of Lincecum this year, and it just seems like he's just an average guy at best, a No. 4 starter on a good but not great team. He can't blow guys away anymore, and with the degradation in the effectiveness in his slider, he doesn't have the secondary stuff to be effective with a 90-mph fastball. I think Lincecum can be an effective pitcher once he learns how to pitch rather than throw, but ultimately I can see Ryan Vogelsong returning, the Giants acquiring a starter this month, and Lincecum moving to the bullpen to set up Sergio Romo. I'm just not optimistic on his prospects as a starter the next three months.
Miguel Montero (ARI) - Given past seasons, Montero might be a buy low in some analysts' eyes, but I'm just not seeing it. Montero has posted back-to-back seasons of at least .282-15-86, but at .222-5-27 this year, a three-peat isn't happening. The drop in his walk rate from 12.7 to 10.8 percent isn't that alarming, and he's actually striking out slightly less than last year. So what's wrong? Well, with a .094 ISO, the power has completely disappeared. His BABIP has dropped from .364 to .276 over last year, so I guess we should have seen some of this coming. Montero also turns 30 next week, so he's approaching that age in which we can start to see steep declines in a catcher's offensive production. He's also posting by far the highest groundball rate of his career at 47.6 percent, so that helps explain the power decline. I've watched him on several occasions and I see more of a line-drive hitter than a power hitter. Line drives are a good thing, of course, and I expect more to start falling in, but if you see anything to suggest that his best years aren't behind him, let me know ... or am I overreaching to a three-month sample?
Rickie Weeks (MIL) - Sorry, but I'm just not buying it. After batting .173 through the end of May, Weeks began losing time to Scooter Gennett. That seemed to motivate him, as Weeks hit .355 with five homers in June. He's back to receiving regular at-bats, and sure, if you're desperate for a second baseman, Weeks could help, but a couple caveats:
He's swiped just four bases all year. It seems like he should be running more.
His BABIP in June: .395, making that average look flukish.
His walk rate has dropped in each of the last two months.
I guess I could see riding the hot streak, but if you're like me, you've been burned here at least once before.
Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.
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