Targets for the stretch run in fantasy baseball
AUG 22, 2014 3:00p ET
Hopefully, you're still competing for a championship or five in some of your leagues. Like most, I'm in different stages in my many leagues: made the playoffs by the skin of my teeth in my mixed H2H league; am way, way out of it in my NL-only league; might win some money in the staff league; and am treading water in others. I'm still pounding the waiver wire in search of closers, hoping fervently that the Phillies trade Jonathan Papelbon and give Ken Giles a shot. I have Javy Guerra and Matt Lindstrom in other leagues, and no, I really wouldn't mind if the Padres traded Joaquin Benoit to the Dodgers and gave the closer job to Kevin Quackenbush. Closers aside, let's look at a few players who've been hot in August and might be available in standard 12-team mixed leagues who could help down the stretch.
Stats are from August 1-18.
Ender Inciarte (OF-ARI)
.329/.373/.429, 1 HR, 3 SB
It's been a lost season for Arizona, but it has received surprising production from players like David Peralta, and more recently, Inciarte. If you're looking for steals, Inciarte had 89 in 254 minor league games in 2012-2013 while hitting in the .300 range with little power. This year, Inciarte hit .312 with two homers and seven stolen bases in 120 PA for Triple-A Reno before getting the call. Overall, Inciarte has walked in just 4.9 percent of his PA, and with little power, he's going to have to hit .300-plus to have any sort of future as a starter. A great 11.9 K% helps, but he'll need to keep this up once A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross get healthy, which should happen in the next week or so. Pollock and Peralta should play most every day, so this is really a trial period for Inciarte. So far so good.
.338/.362/.738, 8 HR, 20 RBI
In 45 percent of his plate appearances so far this year, Carter has either walked (34), homered (29) or struck out (129). That's Adam Dunn territory, though to be fair, Carter has cut his strikeout rate from 36.2 to 30.4 percent year over year. The power isn't all that surprising, and he's starting to hit for average, which is scary for opposing pitchers. Since finishing at .181 on July 1, Carter has bumped his average up 52 points to its .233, and at this rate, finishing above .240 is possible. David Ortiz didn't become the monster DH that he is now until his age 27 season, and though Ortiz demonstrated far more plate discipline at that age, Carter may be in the process of elevating his status into that of an elite power hitter, if he hasn't already. I'm interested to see how the rest of his season goes, but I'm a believer in his talent.
Kole Calhoun (OF-LAA)
.339/.397/.516, 2 HR, 1 SB
There is no hotter team in the game than the Angels, and similarly, there are fewer hotter hitters than Calhoun. He's batting .464 in his last seven games and has his slash for the year up to .295/.351/.490. There are worse places in any lineup than to be hitting in front of No. 2 hitter Mike Trout, and as a leadoff man, Calhoun has a .369 OBP. Calhoun was a bit older than we liked to see at each of his minor league stops, but he always hit, including this line for Triple-A Salt Lake in 2013: .354/.431/.617. He has one 20/20 minor league season on his resume, and if Mike Scioscia were to let him run a bit more with Trout up there, he could easily steal 20 in the big leagues given his ability to get on base. I've liked Calhoun the last few years, and this surge is no real surprise. Batting .227/.292/.409 through May 31 was the surprise. Expect Calhoun to continue to put up elite leadoff numbers.
Travis Snider (OF-PIT)
A couple folks asked me about Snider recently, so I thought I'd expand on my thoughts here. With Andrew McCutchen back from the DL, Startling Marte red hot (.373 this month) and Gregory Polanco a great, though slumping, young player, what do we think about Snider's value the rest of the way? Snider has done a nice job this year cutting his strikeout rate from 26.3 to 20.5 percent year over year while bumping his walk rate up a point to 9.4 percent. Just as impressive his been the power surge, as Snider's ISO (.171) is a 53-point improvement over 2013 and would be his highest mark since 2010.
Snider took some ground balls at first base recently, so perhaps that could be an option, but are the Pirates really going to put a 6-foot-0 guy at first base, a position at which he has no experience, during a pennant race? More likely, Snider is going to cut into Polanco's playing time while spelling Marte on occasion and acting as the first bat off the bench. There will be plenty in the way of NL-only value, but in 12-team mixed leagues, monitor his playing time and adjust your lineups accordingly.
Joe Panik (2B-SF)
.383/.420/.468, 0 HR, 0 SB
Panik is dealing with a finger injury, but he's expected to be back in the lineup this week. He's fared well as the Giants' regular second baseman, though in 128 PA, Panik has yet to homer or steal a base, so his fantasy value is somewhat limited. Panik could eventually hit 10 home runs annually while stealing a handful of bases, and his 11.7 percent strikeout rate shows that he has excellent contact ability, giving Panik the chance to be a .300 hitter in his prime. He's a No. 29 overall pick, and at a solid 6-1, 190, it's possible Panik develops a bit more power the next few years. He'll never be a fantasy star, but he's a possible No. 2 hitter in time, so the runs at least should be there.
Oswaldo Arcia (OF-MIN)
.277/.333/.660, 5 HR, 0 SB
Arcia is a bit on the chunky side, so he's probably never going to be much of a stolen base threat. That's fine, as he's showing increasing power with 12 homers in 275 PA's overall thanks to a recent power surge. In fact, of Arcia's last 20 hits, 12 (7 HR) have gone for extra bases. Strikeouts continue to be an issue, however. Even though his walk rate has improved from 6.1 to 7.6 percent year over year, Arcia is still striking out in 30.5 percent of his PA, just a hair better than last year's 31.0 percent. Unless he can figure out that piece of his game, Arcia is probably going to be no more than a .250 hitter, but he has legitimate 30-homer power, so you take the good with the bad. He's batting just .177 against left-hand pitching, leading some to call for him to abandon switch-hitting, but such an extreme split was not there last season, so this could just be a sample-size issue. I don't see him as a platoon candidate, at least for the rest of this season.
Collin McHugh (SP-HOU)
25.1 IP, 7.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.42 ERA
After he struggled to a 10.04 ERA in 26 innings split between the Mets and Rockies last year, the Astros hit gold with the 27 year-old McHugh this season. With a 3.00 ERA and 124:39 K:BB in 114 innings, he's been the team's most consistent starter and looks to be getting even stronger this month. There must be some sort of magic going on in Houston given the surprising success of McHugh and Dallas Keuchel. Either that or Brent Strom is just a darn good pitching coach. McHugh, meanwhile, averages a so-so 91.5 mph with his fastball, but both his curve and slider grade well above average, and given he's throwing his fastball a career-low 43.2 percent of the time, he looks to be doing a great job keeping hitters off balance. McHugh was actually pretty good in his minor league stops last year, posting ratios of 8.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9, so perhaps he's finally growing into his talent. I don't see him as more than a solid No. 4 or 5 starter long-term, but then again, he's surprised me before.
19 IP, 9.5 K/9, 0.5 BB/9, 3.79 ERA
Brandon McCarthy and Shane Greene have also both pitched well for the Yankees this month, but Capuano's recent stretch is probably the most surprising. He has a 3.60 ERA and 24:5 K:BB in 25 innings over five starts with the Yankees after posting a 4.55 ERA in 28 games (all in relief) with the rival Red Sox before the July trade with his other team this year, the Rockies. Capuano is throwing a bit harder this year than in recent seasons, but that could very well be attributable to having spent a good portion of the year in relief. In Capuano's two road division starts for the Yankees, he's posted a 5.84 ERA while in the home starts (DET, TOR), he's at 1.42. It's too small a sample size from which to draw a conclusion, but using Capuano at home shouldn't hurt.
David Buchanan (SP-PHI)
19 IP, 6.6 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 3.79 ERA
Buchanan's minor league ratios in 518.1 innings include a 5.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, so there's little to get overly excited about as he is in his first taste of big-league ball at age 25. He's also allowed more hits than innings pitched the last two seasons, a trend that has continued with the Phillies. To be more positive, in each of Buchanan's last nine big-league starts, he's surrendered three or fewer runs and has walked four over his last five starts. Buchanan averages just 90.5 mph with his fastball, so he'll have to continue locating his pitches well, and the fact he generates 1.8 groundballs for every flyball should help, particularly at home. Speaking of Buchanan at home, using him there just isn't a good idea. His road ERA (4.12) isn't that much lower than his home mark (4.38), but that could change quickly given his WHIP splits - 1.14 road, 1.41 home. A decent streaming option, but little more.
Roberto Hernandez (SP-LAD)
20 IP, 5.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.35 ERA
Hernandez has now tossed four consecutive quality starts, including his first two in a Dodgers uniform, lowering his ERA for the year to 3.72. The change in ballparks and the increased level of run support can only help Hernandez's value the rest of the way. That said, in his last five starts covering 32.2 innings, Hernandez's K:BB sits at 15:8. He's doing a better job pounding the strike zone, but his stuff isn't exactly swing-and-miss stuff. With his 4.0 overall BB/9, Hernandez is playing with fire, and only a markedly-improved HR/9 rate (.74 vs. 1.4 last year) has allowed him to maintain a sub-4.00 ERA. His fantasy value is limited by the low strikeout rate, but in his new environment, Hernandez should do enough to have deep-league value, and he's a decent streaming option as well. The stats above don't include Tuesday's start, but though the four-run outing doesn't look good, three of the runs came on one mistake pitch to Jedd Gyroko.
Pat Neshek (RP-STL)
9 IP, 14.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 1.00 ERA
Even in 10-team mixed leagues, it's highly likely that all 30 closers are rostered, so we'll review my top closer-in-waiting. This month, Trevor Rosenthal has posed a 5.87 ERA and ugly 11:8 K:BB in 7.2 innings while being scored upon in each of his last three appearances. In those three outings, Rosenthal walked six in just 2.1 innings, so he could be on the verge of losing his job to Neshek. Rosenthal may have the big fastball, but Neshek has an incredible 0.57 WHIP on the year compared to Rosenthal's inflated 1.45 mark. If manager Mike Matheny is looking for some ninth inning stability, he would be wise to give the ball to Neshek and let Rosenthal work out his control issues in the middle innings. If you're hurting for saves and looking to speculate, Neshek could be your guy.
Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.
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