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.
It’s a common truism in sports: you don’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose one. We’re right about at the first quarter line for the 2012 MLB season. Sitting in first place? Don’t get cocky. We’ve got a long way to go. Sitting in deep last place in a keeper league? Might be time to sell early and get the biggest value out of your trade chips. Regardless of where you fall, here are five players trending upward as we hit the second quarter of the baseball season:
1. Max Scherzer, SP, DET: Scherzer has been occasionally finding his way onto waiver wires thanks to his poor start to the season – he owned a brutal 6.26 ERA heading into Sunday’s start against the Pirates. Good things come to those who wait, though, and Scherzer delivered a 15-strikeout, two-run, four-hit performance with his fourth win of the season to patient owners Sunday. If Scherzer somehow sits on waiver wires or becomes available for cheap on a trading block, snap him up now. His 12.61 K/9 leads all major league starters – expect his ERA to trend towards his 3.74 FIP, if not lower.
2. Jon Lucroy, C, MIL: In Lucroy’s first two years as a major leaguer, he made a bigger impact with his defense than with his bat. His third season in the show has seen the power in his bat come alive – Lucroy owns a .185 ISO so far, his highest since 2008 in Double-A. He makes contact at an excellent rate, which would allow him to put this power to use, and even if his current .342 average is unrealistic, he provides pop at position which doesn’t usually offer it, and for that he deserves a longer look even in standard mixed leagues.
3. Matt Adams, 1B, STL: Lance Berkman was hardly off the disabled list before a new injury placed him right back there, and this one (a knee injury) could be career threatening. The beneficiary is Adams, last year’s St. Louis Minor League Player of the Year. The 23-year-old Adams hit .300/.357/.566 in Double-A last season and elevated to .338/.373/.597 in his first 36 games at Triple-A. He makes good contact and hits for power. His only statistical blemish as a minor leaguer was a lack of discipline – something that doesn’t matter as much for a fantasy player in a standard league. He’s a must-own in NL-only formats and should be watched in mixed leagues.
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, BOS: J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays has been the hot add among AL catching sluggers this weekend, but if you missed out, take a look at Salty. The 27-year-old is showing the power potential that made him the centerpiece the Rangers coveted in the ill-fated Mark Teixeira deal, mashing eight home runs in his first 112 plate appearances. He’s still striking out a ton (29.5% of plate appearances) and shouldn’t be expected to maintain a .280 average, but he can hit the ball out of the park, and should have a shot at a 20 home run season, with the help of the Green Monster in Boston.
5. Felipe Paulino, RP, KC: Paulino was ejected from the Astros organization two years ago despite showing a rare live arm that could throw starter innings – he averaged over 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings each year, but failed to live up to FIPs under 3.70 in both 2010 and 2011. So far, Paulino has managed to put it all together with the Royals, striking out 21 in three starts (18.2 innings) and owning a sparkling 1.93 ERA. A 2.41 BB/9 is his best ever and may not be realistic, but his strikeout potential and what it could lead to make him worth an add in deeper or AL-only leagues, and worth watching in shallower mixed leagues.
Meanwhile, these five players have seen significant hits to their value in recent times. Don’t let them be one of the players who derails a hot start, or turns a poor start into a slide into last place.
1. David Freese, 3B, STL: Freese opened the 2012 season as he closed the 2011 World Series, spraying line drives across the field and fly balls over the fences. On April 11th, he owned a .444/.464/.778 line, including three homers in six games. Since then, Freese has hit just .223/.296/.411 with five home runs in over five times as many games. This isn’t to say Freese is this bad – selective endpoints like these typically aren’t predictable. But it does help to show that such hot streaks, as the one Freese rode into the season, will inevitably cool off and occasionally turn into cold ones of their own. Expect Freese to settle somewhere around the midpoint of the two – his current .266/.327/.482 line sounds about right.
2. Rafael Dolis, RP, CHC: Dolis opened up hot, but he gave up his 13th run of the season in just 25 appearances Sunday to raise his ERA to 3.96 on the season. Predictably, this appearance included a walk – he now has 12 on the season, two more than his strikeout total. As such, with Kerry Wood out of the picture and James Russell largely used as a matchup lefty, the closer job could go back to Carlos Marmol as soon as he’s off the disabled list – if nothing else, it would give the Cubs another chance to inflate Marmol’s trade value come the deadline.
3. Derek Lowe, SP, CLE: Derek Lowe has done one thing absurdly well so far in 2012: get ground balls. Over two in every three balls in play off the 38-year-old has been a grounder, and as a result it’s actually conceivable Lowe could maintain an ERA in the 3.00s despite actually walking more batters than he has struck out at the moment. But the problem is, as a fantasy player, it still won’t be good enough to justify owning in standard mixed leagues. It’s easy to just look at ERA and wins, but Lowe is a black hole in two of the four categories a starting pitcher contributes to. His 2.37 K/9 would be the lowest since Nate Cornejo’s 2.13 mark for the 2003 Tigers (Cornejo took 17 of their 119 losses) and he hasn’t managed a WHIP below 1.35 since 2008 with the Dodgers.
4. Dee Gordon, SS, LAD: Owners drafted Gordon thinking he could single-handedly win him or her the steals category. Sure enough, Gordon has 12 stolen bases, but now he’s been benched for “a few games” by Don Mattingly and ostensibly could be sent down to the minors, should his incredibly cold season continue – he owns a .494 OPS in his first 155 plate appearances. Compounding the problem, there’s little reason to expect a significant rebound – Gordon’s .776 OPS in the PCL last year was actually significantly below average for a player in the hitter’s haven that is Triple-A Albuquerque.
5. Carlos Pena, 1B, TB: Pena opened the season on a hot streak but hasn’t homered since May 5th, dropping his average and slugging to .209 and .353 respectively. He still has been a disciplined hitter at the plate (15% walk rate), but he still strikes out too much to ever hit for a solid average. As such, unless the power is truly elite (like when he hit 46 home runs for Tampa in 2007), he isn’t worth playing every day. He still holds some value if owners can afford to platoon him and bench him against lefties, but otherwise the batting average hit is just too much to take with too little reward.
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.