By: Jack Moore
Each week we’ll be providing you with insight into the best (and worst) baseball players to play in your fantasy baseball league.
1. Zack Greinke, SP, LAA: Typically, a move from the NL to the AL is a bad omen for pitchers. However, escaping homer-friendly Miller Park and the shoddy defense behind him in Milwaukee should be a boon for Greinke. Even though he took a loss in his first home start with Anaheim, he was excellent, striking out eight, allowing seven hits and just two earned runs in seven innings Sunday. Look for more of that in front of an Angels defense that is above average at nearly every position on the field and owns the league’s best defensive efficiency.
2. Carlos Santana, C, CLE: Santana entered the season considered by many fantasy experts – including this one – to be the top catcher on the board thanks to his rare power at the position. We were dead wrong in the first half, as Santana limped to a .221/.339/.336 line at the break. Those who persevered have been rewarded, as Santana has exploded out of the break, hitting .306/.469/.653 with four homers – one under his first-half total – in the 16 games since. Sometimes with good players all you need is a first sign that they’re breaking out of a slump, and for Santana, it’s past time to believe.
3. Lorenzo Cain, OF, KCR: Cain was a deep sleeper entering the season but missed much of the first half due to injury. He’s back, and in his first 21 games he’s hitting .279/.321/.485 with three homers, nine runs and 15 RBI. Don’t expect the power to quite keep up, but he has speed to steal bases in addition to a decent average, making him a sharp pickup for leagues deep in the outfield.
4. Alexi Ogando, SP, TEX: With Colby Lewis injured and the Rangers yet to make a major move on the trade market, it appears Ogando is destined for a return to the starting rotation. He suffered a leg injury during his last attempt at starting, but that was on a bunt attempt in a National League stadium, something he won’t deal with the rest of the season. Ogando has a 3.49 ERA and 1.118 WHIP career out of the rotation with an excellent 2.93 K/BB, making him a solid under-the-radar rotation option for the stretch run.
5. Paul Maholm, SP, CHC: Maholm became the first Cubs starter to record six straight starts of one run or fewer and at least six innings pitched with Sunday’s outing against the Cardinals. That might be a touch unrealistic, but Maholm has had a successful career and is more than capable of producing better-than-average ERAs and WHIPs. He won’t give you big strikeout numbers, but for a guy widely available on the waiver wire as August approaches, it’s tough to do better. His ERA of 3.74 is eight points higher than last year’s total of 3.66 – and his value only goes up if the Cubs deal him before Tuesday’s trade deadline, a distinct possibility.
1. Matt Harrison, SP, TEX: Harrison has given up three home runs in his last two starts, leading to nine runs in 13 innings. Somehow, despite pitching in a great hitters’ ballpark in Texas, Harrison was allowing just 0.59 home runs per nine innings leading into this two-start stretch. Especially with the hyper-warm Texas weather setting in, don’t be surprised if we see even more multi-homer starts from Harrison down the stretch, with his ERA approaching 4.00.
2. James McDonald, SP, PIT: McDonald has been awful in three starts since the break, allowing more walks than strikeouts to go with a 9.00 ERA. Much of his excellent first half was due to pristine control – just 31 walks in 110 innings. Even if that 2.5 BB/9 rate rises up to just 3.0 or 3.5, we could see an average McDonald in the second half instead of the one putting up ace-level numbers. McDonald has a
3.8 career BB, making such a rising tide more likely than not.
3. Bryce Harper, OF, WAS: The talent is undeniable. What Harper has done this year – 9 HR, 13 SB, a .261/.338/.430 line – is all fantastic for a 19-year-old, and he should be near the top of most keeper lists come the end of the season. However, for those playing in redraft leagues, Harper may be the kind of guy whose name is more attractive than the production. Particularly in standard three outfielder leagues, there have been so many productive outfielders that Harper’s production is replaceable off the waiver wire – see a guy like Michael Brantley, for example.
4. Alcides Escobar, SS, KCR: Here’s the question you have to ask about Escobar: is he a legitimate .300 hitter? If so, he’s well worth owning at shortstop. He gives you plus numbers in two categories – 15 steals to go with the average – which is more than most shortstops at this point. But if he isn’t – if he is instead a .280 hitter or a .264 hitter (his career mark), what then? He doesn’t score runs (40 in 98 games), nor does he provide power or RBI. He’s already slipping over the last two weeks (.250/.263/.321) and his 16.5% strikeout rate is not one befitting a .300 hitter. Expect a second-half slide.
5. Francisco Cordero, RP, HOU: Just like in Toronto, don’t expect Cordero’s reign as the Houston closer to last too long. He already has an 18.00 ERA in his three innings with the club and is up to 6.75 on the year as both an Astro and a Jay. As such, it’s better to speculate on his replacement than get hit by the runs he’ll most certainly allow this season – go grab Wilton Lopez instead.
Jack Moore is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Mathematics and Economics. His work can also be found at FanGraphs.com, DisciplesOfUecker.com, RotoWire.com, AdvancedNFLStats.com and ESPN. Follow him on twitter at @jh_moore.