Fantasy Baseball

Davis heating up in the Big Apple

Justin Morneau (Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE)
Morneau continues to search for his All-Star stroke.
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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Note: All stats are prior to games on Wednesday.

After a hectic plane trip out of a tropical storm that rendered my system exposed to some sort of hybrid, mutant cold, I have a newfound respect for ballplayers. Sure, they fly first class, and I’m sure their drive to the airport doesn’t feature reenactments from the movie Twister, but to constantly travel in that fashion, especially for West Coast teams, make you wonder how these beasts can perform at such a high level every night. And yes, this intro paragraph is considerably shorter compared to my usual ramblings thanks to the sensation that someone is taking a hammer to my dome, yet you still have 3,000 words of fantasy baseball wisdom ahead of you, so hopefully my loyal readers aren’t too despondent. If you’re looking to take your anger out, blame Florida. I’ve visited that territory four times in my life, and on three of these occasions the heavens opened up and unleashed all their fury. I’m calling major shenanigans on this “Sunshine State” spiel.

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Start ‘Em

C: Michael McKenry, Pirates
Regular Rod Barajas is dealing with knee issues, giving McKenry extended time behind the plate. The backup backstop for the Buccos has made the most of this opportunity, going 8-for-14 in the last four games with two homers and six ribbies. With the Pirates contemplating a trip to the DL for Barajas, McKenry could be a sly pick-up in NL-only formats.

1B: Ike Davis, Mets
The beleaguered bat of Davis was given some breathing room after Wednesday’s 3-for-5 performance, featuring a bomb and four RBI, hurdled Davis across that ever-elusive Mendoza Line. Though yesterday’s feat was perceived by owners as Davis breaking the shackles from his season-long slump, the reality is the USC product has been wielding a hot handle the past two weeks, hitting .353 with five jacks, 20 RBI and a .441 OBP in his last 16 games. Considering he’s rocking a .240 BABIP at the moment (compared to last season’s .344 and 2010’s .321), look for Davis to continue to progress over the dog days of summer.

2B: Jeff Keppinger, Rays
Full disclosure: I have an irrational love for Keppinger. In this man’s mind, he would be a persistent threat to hit .300 if given everyday status (and nearly was in his only stint in this role, submitting a .288 average in just over 500 at bats with Houston). Given the successful reclamation projects of the Rays in the Joe Maddon/Andrew Friedman Era (Carlos Pena, Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival, Kyle Farnsworth to name a few), Keppinger is in the right environment to finally fulfill this destiny, evidenced by the infielder’s .327 average on the year. Keppinger has been especially hot as of late, with nine hits in five games since returning from the disabled list. As Matt Joyce is currently on the sidelines, Kepp has been working in the three-hole in the Tampa lineup, raising his already-skyrocketing fantasy worth. Owned in just 1.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, snag Keppinger while you can. Speaking of the Rays, is there any debate that Maddon is the coolest cat in the majors? Anytime he visits the mound, I always envision he’s dispensing sage-like advice, something along the lines of: “You know Alex, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Been around the bend a time or two, if you catch my drift. But I’ve learned that, if I always kept trying, something good would prosper out of the darkness. And Alex, these guys behind you, they’ll always keep trying when you’re on the rubber. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ll be damned if we don’t try and get this son-of-a-gun out. Go give ‘em hell, champ.” Good luck trying not to imagine such dialogue the next time you see Maddon on TV.

3B: Jordan Pacheco, Rockies
Seems like most owners are hesitant to hop aboard the Pacheco Express, with the third baseman’s .344 BABIP seemingly waving a red flag. Yet this elevated integer is spurred by a 25.8 line-drive percentage, and Pacheco flaunted a consistently high batting mark in the minors, with a .308 average in over 2,000 at bats down on the farm. And unlike most Colorado bats, Pacheco’s home-and-away splits are fairly similar, with a .318 average at Coors compared to .295 on the road. He won’t deliver much of a punch in power numbers, but for those needing average assistance, Pacheco is your guy.

SS: Alcides Escobar, Royals
We alluded to Escobar in this space a short time ago, though his persisting proficiency with the pole warrants repeating. The Kansas City shortstop is blazing in June with a .341 average, highlighted by 16 hits in his last 31 at bats. The catalyst for this career year has been Escobar’s ability to avoid the fly ball (which holds a strong parallel to outs), with 2012’s 22.6 fly-ball percentage a dramatic decline from last season’s 28.7 rate. He does hit over 40 points higher at home, but with a .295 average at visiting ballparks, owners should rest assured that Escobar can be counted on.

OF: Quintin Berry, Tigers
In 32 games with the big-league ball club, the Motown rookie is hitting .318 with 23 runs scored, 12 RBI and 12 swipes. A baseball vagabond, Berry owned a respectable .270 average and .368 OBP in Triple-A Toledo this season, but the 27-year-old has finished with a .300 average just once in his career, and that was at the Single-A level in 2007. Still, while Berry’s ridiculous .453 BABIP indicates regression on the horizon, the outfielder’s ability to work a walk and tear-up the base paths makes him an intriguing short-term option in AL-only formats. Speaking of AL Central greenhorns…

P: Jose Quintana, White Sox
The Windy City heat is usually not kind to White Sox pitchers, but Quintana has been immune to this pitching plague. In his last four starts, the Colombian fireballer has a 0.99 ERA, racking up 15 strikeouts while conceding a lone home run. Quintana has relinquished his fair share of base knocks, but this potential problem has been negated by his pinpoint accuracy, as the South Side southpaw has allowed only one walk in this span. While his 2.97 FIP, 3.87 xFIP and 91.8 left-on-base percentage forecast stormy days ahead, Quintana’s control, along with the White Sox offense, will keep him fantasy relevant throughout the season.

Sit ‘Em

C: A.J. Ellis, Dodgers
Looks like this feel-good story may be nearing an end. True, hard to hate on a .290/.417/.430 line, but the L.A. catcher is batting a middling .220 in his last 17 ballgames. Worse, his .373 BABIP implies that further failure is a distinct possibility. The lack of viable catchers on the market earns Ellis a roster spot in many leagues, but with a 40-point differential in home-and-way average production (.310 at Chavez Ravine, .269 on the road), some of Ellis’ luster is quickly fading off.

1B: Justin Morneau, Twins
Remember that mid-May stretch where Morneau, fresh out of the infirmary from wrist complications, gave owners optimism on a return to his All-Star output with a .280 average, five homers and 16 RBI in his first 13 games back? Yeah, me neither. Since that juncture, Morneau is atop that infamous .200 batter barrier in 23 games, with a meager nine RBI in 100 plate appearances. Playing half his games in Minnesota isn’t helping the cause, as the former MVP maintains a .200/.276/.327 line at Target Field versus a .260/.328/.548 edge on the road. Throw in the fact that he’s striking out at a career-high 20.1 clip, and there’s little reason to believe Morneau is turning the corner anytime soon.

2B: Dan Uggla, Braves
Majority of the time, I am an advocator of increased fan participation in professional sports. One endeavor in this arena that I’m not a champion of is All-Star voting. I already ripped on Texas fans for stuffing the ballot two weeks ago, now it’s Atlanta’s turn to head out to the woodshed. I know Uggla’s your guy, but how can a fan base that delivered the tomahawk chop participate in such a fraudulent exertion as voting him ahead of Brandon Phillips and Jose Altuve? Proving that karma is a (rhymes with “witch”), Uggla enters Thursday play “raking” at .113 over his last 19 games with just one homer and five RBI. The blood is on your hands, Atlanta.

PENNY WISE

The Tampa Bay Rays top Businessweek's list of smart-spending franchises.

3B: Todd Frazier, Reds
Not that this is condemnation on the folk-hero Frazier, who, when he wasn’t busy saving lives or hitting no-handed homers, put together a commendable effort (.286 average, .364 OBP, three homers, 15 RBI) in his previous 25 games before this week. Alas, with Scott Rolen ready to retake the reins at corner, Frazier returns to a reserve role. He’ll see some time in the outfield; unfortunately, it won’t be enough PT to keep him pertinent in the rotisserie realm.

SS: J.J. Hardy, Orioles
Count Hardy as one ready to see the calendar turn, as the shortstop is struggling to the tune of a .198 average in June. While he does have 11 long shots to his credit, Hardy’s isolated power stands at .165, miles away from 2011’s benchmark of .222. Hardy’s 18.6 line-drive percentage and .248 BABIP propose the Oriole has been a victim of bad luck. Though an upturn can be expected at some point, don’t picture the revival in the near future.

OF: B.J. Upton, Rays
We’re not sure what happened to the Bossman Junior that graced our presence in 2007 and 2008, but that ballplayer is long gone. After initial success this season, Upton has returned to the pedestrian hitter of the past three seasons, batting .208 in his last 24 games, stealing a meager two bags while getting caught twice. Just as confusing is the disappearance of the dinger, slamming five shots over the wall in 60 games this season versus 23 homers in 2011. Also unsettling is a deteriorating walk rate, as his frequency of free passes (8.1 percent) is its lowest mark since 2006. To put a central thesis on these points: Upton best serves your team from the bench at this moment.

P: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
You might think this is piling on after the Shark was torpedoed for nine runs against the Mets on Wednesday. In truth, it’s the third start out of his last four outings that Samardzija was smoked, getting pounded by the Twins on June 9 for eight runs, followed up by the Diamondbacks nailing him for five runs last Friday. Although he entered the month with a 3.09 ERA, Samardzija sure looks like a fish out of water in June. And yes, I’m required to make at least one aquatic reference when discussing the pitching styling of Samardzija.

PEN-demic Update
Injuries in the Big Apple (the Mets’ Frank Francisco) and Mini Apple (the Twins’ Matt Capps) vault a few new faces to stopper status, with Bobby Parnell taking over in Queens while Jared Burton and Glen Perkins tag-team duties in Minnesota. Francisco has been far from firm in the fireman role, indicated by his 4.97 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and .262 opponent batting average, meaning Parnell could take the reliever wheels with a steadfast showing. In regard to Capps, the one-time All-Star has been effective for the Twinkies (3.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), though lingering shoulder issues entice concern over his ability to stay healthy if/when he returns. Both will get their turns at the helm, but safe money is on Perkins to take over in the prospect of a prolonged absence from Capps.

POWER RANKINGS

See if your favorite team is pointed in the right direction this week.

Waivers Watch: Clayton Richard, Padres
Entering the month, it was a stretch to assert the San Diego starter as rotisserie relevant, owning a 2-6 record, 4.76 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Luckily for Friar fans and fantasy aficionados, June has been a different tale, with Richard holding adversaries to one run or less in three of five starts, flaunting a 2.41 ERA in this frame. Detractors will quickly point out the discrepancy between Richard’s home-and-away splits (2.91 ERA, 1.12 WHIP in San Diego; 4.88 ERA, 1.43 WHIP on the road), but the 28-year-old isn’t merely a PETCO Park pawn. Subtract a forgettable foray at Coors Field (and honestly, what pitcher hasn’t experienced a nightmarish outing in the Rocky Mountains?) and Richard’s road ERA takes a precipitous drop to a more manageable 3.88 figure. Owned in less than five percent of FOXSports.com leagues, Richard won’t be a major facilitator of strikeouts, and the susceptible nature of San Diego’s offense hurts his net win contribution. Still, for those seeking ERA and WHIP relief, Richard is worth the look.

Trade Talk
Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to snag Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rizzo or, to a lesser extent, Martin Perez (more on him in a second). Undoubtedly, if these young guns experience a smidgen of success, your league will inundate you with (mostly) asinine offers. However, if a fellow manager hits you with a sound, laudable performer (say, Ryan Vogelsong or Billy Butler) it would behoove oneself to pull the trigger. Sure, Mike Trout is kicking butt and taking names, but more often than not, neophytes tend to fall on the fail side of the fence. Case in point: last season, Rizzo, then with San Diego, had posted preposterous power numbers in 52 games in the Pacific Coast League (.365 average, 16 homers, 63 RBI, 1.159 OPS) before earning promotion with the Padres in early June. To say he didn’t carry over this legerdemain with the lumber would be putting it nicely, as the first baseman failed to get off the interstate (.141 average) in 49 games with the big-league ball club, logging only one long shot before demoted to Triple-A Tuscon for the rest of the summer. Even Bryce Harper, who’s been playing at a relatively high level this year, ranks in the low-30s in outfielder rankings since his call-up. In short: don’t be “that guy” to overvalue protégés, especially if they can net you a valuable asset down the home stretch.

Rookie Review: Martin Perez, Rangers
Lost in the noise of the Bauer/Rizzo paroxysm was the Rangers advancement of Perez, the No. 31 prospect by Baseball America heading into 2012 (Perez reached as high as No. 17 in 2010). Just 21 years of age, Perez held his own in the offensively-regulated Pacific Coast League, owning a 4.59 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 15 games with Round Rock. Better yet, Perez was effective in his last two starts, conceding two earned runs in 16 innings. His declining strikeout rate is somewhat disconcerting, and his advancement was undoubtedly accelerated by a rash of injuries to the Rangers rotation. Still, with the bombardment of the Blue Crew behind him, Perez could be a steal in AL-only or deeper formats for owners needing victory assistance.

The Real Debate
Aroldis Chapman made news this week by executing two somersaults after closing the door on Milwaukee Tuesday night. But while the discussion has centered on the Cuban Missile breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules by allegedly showboating, the Real Debate should be this: how was Ozzie Smith not considered the biggest butthead in baseball history? Not saying that’s how his legacy should be recalled, but the man made the backflip a recurrent ritual. Considering a double roll from Chapman sets the baseball landscape on fire, one would deduce such habitual displays of attention in a league where hamming it up is frowned upon would go over as well as a proposed parade for LeBron James in downtown Cleveland. In a related note, should a sport that promotes hijinks like setting teammates’ shoes on fire or sticking bubble gum on others’ hats get offended at such antics? I would venture to say not.

This Week in Sam LeCure
Yosemite Sam registered two more appearances without surrendering a run, giving LeCure six scoreless outings in his last seven ballgames. LeCure’s ERA now sits at a career-best 3.45 mark, and also flaunts a personal-high 8.8 SO/9 ratio. Do these figures equate to an All-Star invitation? Most baseball enthusiasts would squelch this notion in two winks of a coal miner’s eye but hey, the aforementioned Uggla is, you know, not good, and he’s going to the Midsummer Classic, and Uggs doesn’t retain a tenth of the awesomeness of LeCure. Have I properly communicated my resentment to this development yet?

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Chase Utley, Phillies
Making his first at bat of the season, Utley sent a James McDonald heater into the outfield bleachers on Wednesday. Although the Pirates secured the W, Utley finished 3-for-5 in the losing effort, giving the City of Brotherly Love hope that their second baseman’s arrival, along with the eventual return of Ryan Howard, will get Charlie Manuel’s squad back on track.

Spit Your Tobacco at: Ballot stuffing
You bet I’m bringing this up again, as it continues to mystify me. Always been a proponent of the A-T-L, as they gave us 2004 Madden Michael Vick, Ludacris and Coca-Cola, but that affinity is waning with Uggla and his .238 average and atrocious defense about to, uh, “earn” a starting spot in the All-Star Game.

Tagged: Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Twins, Rangers, Braves, Cubs, Reds, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rays, Rod Barajas, Chase Utley, Justin Morneau, J.J. Hardy, B.J. Upton, Jeff Keppinger, Matt Capps, Dan Uggla, Jeff Samardzija, Clayton Richard, Ike Davis, Alcides Escobar, A.J. Ellis, Sam LeCure, Michael McKenry

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