FOXSports.com writer Joel Beall examines who to start and sit for the 2012 MLB fantasy baseball season.
By Joel Beall FoxSports
Note: All stats are prior to games on Wednesday.
Admission: occasionally, I’ve been prone to ramble. Shocking, I know. Despite this raconteur role, I’m at a loss for words in reference to our fantasy friend R.A. Dickey. After posting his second straight one-hitter, the 37-year-old journeyman boasts an 11-1 record, 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, with all three figures leading the league in their respective categories. In a sense, it’s not totally out of left field, as Dickey entered the season with a collective 3.08 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in his two previous years with the Metropolitans. Yet anyone who proclaims they envisioned Dickey’s strikeout ratio to nearly double while shrinking his walk rate in a ballpark revamped to appease hitters is blowing smoke up your backside.
Dickey’s sabermetrics confirm a small amount of providence originating from Flushing, and owners are delusional if they believe Dickey’s 83.8 left-on-base percentage will remain at its robust rate. I’ll even accept the conjecture that most of Dickey’s opponents would not be classified as formidable foes. Nevertheless, there’s more evidence corroborating, rather than contradicting, what we’ve seen with our eyes: Dickey’s been damn good.
How does this apply to our discussion? After Monday night’s exhibition of excellence, a few readers inquired about the value of Dickey on the fantasy market. With his newfound fondness of the whiff (71 Ks in his last seven starts), should the knuckleballer be elevated into the upper echelon of rotisserie arms? My retort: yes…and no.
No doubting Dickey is performing on an atmospheric stratum, and I believe he’ll be able to maintain a fair amount of achievement the rest of the campaign. However, just a month prior, Dickey held a 6-1 mark with a 3.45 ERA and .242 opponent batting average. Respectable numbers, yes, but emphatically not elite output. Factor in an unquestionable regression to the mean, the lack of historical success and the state of the pitching landscape around the league (over 25 pitchers currently own a sub-3.00 ERA), and Dickey’s shine slowly loses some of its luster.
My advice to Dickey owners: enjoy the ride. Unless you’re bowled over by a proposal, you won’t receive proper compensation usually justified by the stats of this magnitude. Granted, your asset will never sell as high, but even at his peak, Dickey falls just short of garnering top-shelf commodities. You’re better off hoping the virtuoso endures than selling him short.
C: Jesus Montero, Mariners You don’t fool with the Jesus, my man. After a minor slump in mid-May, Montero’s showcasing the skill set that earned exalted status as a prospect, raking at .310 in his last 17 games. Safeco Field’s voluminous measurements have done a number to Montero’s home production (.234 average, three homers, 12 RBI), yet when the M’s are away from the Emerald City, hard to keep Montero and his .289 average on the bench. A frozen-rope robot (23.8 line-drive percentage), expect that batting mark to continue to rise during the dog days of summer.
1B: Brandon Belt, Giants Now there’s the Brandon Belt the prophecies foretold. Granted, his belated fruition murdered many a fantasy team in 2011, but better late than never, right?
Of course, with an underwhelming .230 average entering June, Belt appeared destined for another destitute season in 2012. Yet a change in the calendar appeared to be just what the doctor ordered for the San Fran first sacker, as Belt is, um, “belting” to the tune of a .333 average on the month. The Texas Longhorns product has been especially blazing as of late, hitting .423 with three homers and seven ribbies in the past seven games. While his isolated power is slightly down, Belt has improved his pitch perception, evidenced in his uptick in walks (9.6 BB rate in 2011, 16.2 mark in 2012). Most relevant players at the position are gone, so for those needing assistance at first, Belt, owned in 28.1 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, is your man.
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks Hill made headlines by hitting for the cycle against the Mariners on Monday night, but his triumphs with the timber surpass his success against Seattle. Since June 4, the second baseman is batting .415 with four jacks, 12 RBI, nine runs and a .458 OBP. Hill’s average now sits at a strong .288 on the season, and his nine homers outmatch his output from a year ago. His home-and-away splits are disconcerting (.364/.414/.669 in the desert, .210/.299/.311 on the road), yet with a shortage of fantasy-pertinent players at the position, Hill is a must-own.
3B: Casey McGehee, Pirates To say the Pirates are struggling at the plate is akin to remarking Franklin & Bash occasionally may deviate from standard courtroom protocol. Despite this offensive atrociousness (the Buccos rank last in the majors in on-base percentage and runs), McGehee has been one of the team’s bright spots with the bat in June, going 16-for-45 with three homers, 10 RBI and nine runs, giving the Steel City hope that the former Brewer is regaining his 2010 form. Better yet, his walk rate sits at a career-high 11.4 percent, and McGehee has abridged his fence-swinging appetite, hence the improvement in average the past month. Though he’s making most of his appearances at first, implement McGehee at the hot corner on your fantasy roster to properly utilize his contributions.
SS: Jamey Carroll, Twins Not usually one to endorse light-hitting 38-year-olds slotted in the bottom of beleaguered ball clubs, but Carroll’s recent exploits (.400 average, 12 runs in his last 12 games) obtain the Twin nomination this week. While Carroll’s power is nonexistent, he came into this season with an average output of .290/.368/.344 from the previous two years. Factor in his position versatility (eligibility at second, third and short) and Carroll is a sneaky-solid add in deeper formats.
OF: Alex Gordon, Royals Count Gordon as a proponent of interleague play. Entering June 8 with just a .242 batting figure, Gordon has raised that number to a respectable .258 thanks to 15 hits in his last 45 at bats against NL Central opponents. Proprietors of the Royals outfielder awaiting dinger dividends may be disappointed, as he is unlikely to replicate last season’s harvest of 23 homers. However, Gordon has reduced his penchant for punch-outs (career-low 17.9 K rate) while raising his frequency of free passes (13.0 BB percentage). Though an amplified presence on the base paths would be appreciated (he has only three steals, compared to 17 swipes in 2011), Gordon’s no longer the fantasy bust he was envisioned as recently as three weeks ago.
P: Alex Cobb, Rays Lot to like about Cobb, whose Father’s Day gem (seven shutout innings, two hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts against the Marlins) vaulted the Tampa Bay greenhorn onto fantasy radars. His 3.82 ERA may not entice, but Cobb’s 1.17 WHIP and 3.24 FIP articulate the right-hander’s authority. And although he recorded an unexceptional 22 strikeouts in five starts before his dominant showing against Miami, Cobb averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his last three years in the minors. Owners seeking reinforcement in wake of reigning Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson’s injury have to look no further than the Rays rotation to find their substitute, as Cobb is owned in a paltry 1.7 percent of FOXSports.com leagues.
C: J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays A killer Tim Kurkjian impersonation will only get you so far. Despite collecting three hits against the Brewers Tuesday night, the Blue Jays backstop is under the Mendoza Line for the month with a .180 average. Worse, after submitting superb strength numbers in May (eight bombs, 19 RBI), Arencibia has yet to go yard in June. Highly-touted prospect Travis d'Arnaud is making a mockery of Triple-A pitching (.336 average, 15 homers, 48 RBI in 61 games), meaning Arencibia could lose his grip on his role as everyday catcher for Toronto.
1B: Michael Morse, Nationals It’s hard to hate a late-blooming ballplayer that looks like a Viking mixed with a rock-god and goes by the epithet of “The Beast.” Unfortunately, Morse has frustrated fantasy owners since returning from a lat injury, hitting just .230 with six RBI in 15 games. There is hope on the horizon, as Morse suffered a slow start in 2011 before annihilating his adversaries the rest of the summer, and he did log his first blast of the season on Tuesday night. Still, until he can string a sound series together, tread carefully with the Washington whammer.
2B: Omar Infante, Marlins To be fair, the entire Marlins infield is suffering with the stick, and there are only so many times Hanley Ramirez can take residence in these quarters without becoming repetitive. Infante undoubtedly deserves this dubious distinction, however, accruing three hits over his last seven games (.100 average) with 10 whiffs during this frame. The uber-utility man’s struggles extended outside of the past week, as Infante has seen his average drop from .317 to .280 during the month. Digging deeper, it seems this predicament derives from Infante’s increasing inclination of fly balls, troubling since a) no one would confuse Infante as a basher and b) new Marlins Park is not wont to concede the long ball. Until he returns to line drives and grounders, Infante is a risky play.
3B: Kyle Seager, Mariners Theoretically, the fact that Seager warrants our attention speaks volume to his commendable season, as little was expected of the second-year year corner. Although he remains a sturdy run producer, Seager’s average has taken a beating the past two weeks, hitting a buck-eighty-nine over his last 10 games. Like Montero, utilize Seager depending on destination, as the 24-year-old flaunts a fiery .321 average on the road but just a .180 mark at home.
SS: Jed Lowrie, Astros Big believer in Lowrie, but the man is mired in a funk, managing a mere two hits in his last nine games. To expand on this lumber lethargy, Lowrie owns a middling .235 average in his last 24 contests. The shortstop has five homers on the month, and remains slotted in the heart of the Houston lineup, upholding Lowrie’s status has one of the top run creators at the position. Unfortunately, as his line-drive percentage returns to its historical mean, Lowrie’s average should continue to see affliction.
OF: Cameron Maybin, Padres An encouraging performance in the second half of 2011 (.268/.324/.384, 44 runs, 28 steals) bestowed sanguinity that the San Diego speedster was close to fulfilling his promise as a top-rated talent. Alas, that consummation has not come to pass, as Maybin enters Wednesday’s game with a .212/.291/.314 slash with 32 runs and 14 steals. June has been particularly rough on the center fielder, grappling with a .163 average in his past 12 games. Maybin’s difficulties stem from a plethora of punch-outs and a tendency to ground out, two hindrances that harbor no easy solutions.
P: Mat Latos, Reds We highlighted Latos as a cautionary tale in this week’s Double Starters piece, with the suggestion that pedestrian offensive opponents in Cleveland and Minnesota could provide a platform for the former Padre to get back on track. Latos responded by surrendering seven runs in four innings, making it the fourth time in five starts that the Queen City starter conceded at least four runs in an appearance. For those that believe Great American Ball Park’s negative influence is the catalyst for this collapse, Latos has been better at home (eight starts, 3.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .253 BA) than on the road (six starts, 7.45 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, .306 BA). Supported by his sabermetrics (.300 BABIP, 4.96 FIP), Latos simply doesn’t have it.
PEN-demic Update That was quick. A week after sanctifying Shawn Camp as closer, Camp gets rocked in two straight appearances, leading to the return of…wait for it…Carlos Marmol! Or, as he’s more affectionately known in Wrigleyville, “the much-maligned Carlos Marmol.” To his credit, Marmol has posted scoreless submissions in his last four outings. Meanwhile, Aroldis Chapman has our eye for the second straight week after blowing his third game in the last six appearances, with the latest train wreck coming in Cuyahoga County against the Tribe. During this span, the Cuban Missile has a 10.13 ERA and is getting smacked for a .304 batting average.
Waivers Watch: Coco Crisp, A’s Don’t let the .208 batting average deter you from Crisp, who is hitting .350 with a stellar .447 OBP over his last 11 games. More importantly, he’s swiped six bags in this stretch, with only Mike Trout and Dee Gordon compiling more bags during the period. Oakland’s overcrowded outfield may discourage owners from securing Crisp, but with Yoenis Cespedes continually battling injuries, Crisp’s spot should be secure.
Trade Talk Dealing pitchers is always a fickle matter, as figures could be skewed by an unlucky rash of arduous opponents, an abbreviated injury appearance or simply a bad outing (and vice versa). One way to comb through the clutter is viewing a pitcher’s FIP and xFIP, as these two metrics provide a reliable forecast on a pitcher’s worth for the rest of the season. For example, Adam Wainwright’s 4.46 ERA seems to indicate the St. Louis ace is scuffing in his return from Tommy John surgery, but his 3.39 FIP and 3.14 xFIP illustrate he’s been the victim of bad luck. On the other end of the pitching spectrum, Chris Capuano, who’s dazzled the Dodgers and baseball world alike with his 2.71 ERA, appears to be the benefactor of luck according to a 3.82 FIP and 3.91 xFIP. It should be noted that these integers are not law, and sometimes players finish a season with an abnormal discrepancy between their ERA and FIP/xFIP. However, these tools will help you extract the most value in your barters, uncovering hidden gems for a relatively low cost.
Rookie Review: Andrelton Simmons, Braves Atlanta was anticipated to rely on a rookie at short this season, but with Tyler Pastornicky failing with the leather and lumber, the 22-year-old from Curacao was called into action. Simmons has taken advantage of his promotion, going 19-for-55 with the big-league ball club with two homers, eight RBI and a .400 OBP. Considering Simmons amassed a whopping six round-trippers in 236 minor-league games, the deep-shot dexterity is likely an aberration. Nevertheless, in NL-only formats, if Simmons continues this proficiency at the plate the next week, he definitely warrants a roster spot.
The Real Debate Joel Peralta made headlines this week, earning ejection for possessing a foreign substance in his glove against the Nationals. Though much of the discussion on the incident surrounds possible bush-league tactics by the Nationals, the pitcher’s former team, for ratting out Peralta, the Real Debate should be this (courtesy of FOXSports.com’s own Ryan Fowler): how stupid does Peralta have to be to deceive a previous employer with the same tactics that he probably utilized in his time with the team? Pretty sure you could go without pine tar on your glove for one appearance. If not, probably shouldn’t be wearing the jersey in the first place. And can we stop referring to the tar as a “foreign substance,” thus assigning an underserved importance to the matter? It sounds like a term you’d hear in a Tom Clancy novel, not in a morning baseball notes column.
This Week in Sam LeCure LeCure hit a snag this week, relinquishing two earned runs in a 9-10 loss to the Indians on Monday night. The blemish was to be expected though, especially after LeCure’s weekend in New York. After the Reds took care of the Tribe last Thursday, Cincinnati arrived in the Big Apple, which just so happened to be the night of the infamous brawl between singers Drake and Chris Brown. Since details from the incident remain a mystery, isn’t it entirely possible the fracas was ignited after the two entertainers saw LeCure and jostled to get his Herbie Hancock? I mean, you see Yosemite Sam in the club, and you’re not not going to get his autograph, am I right?
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Ichiro, Mariners Hasn’t been the best of seasons for the 10-time All-Star, but Ichiro notched his 2,500th hit on Tuesday night, becoming the fourth-quickest player to reach that plateau in Major League history. The greatness of his career is lost on most of America, as the outfielder was confined to some subpar Seattle squads, but whenever he hangs ‘em up, he’ll go down as one of the best contact hitters of any era.
Spit Your Tobacco at: the trial of Roger Clemens Not sure if I’m more angered at the prosecution, the jury, the ridiculousness of the trial or Clemens himself. Pretty sure one glance at the Rocket’s baseball-reference.com page would have been enough evidence, no?