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.
Players are dropping like flies this week. One of my teams lost Alex Avila, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Beachy and Brandon Morrow to injury. I’m going to stash all four of those players, but some won’t have the luxury to do so – here are some players worth an add if you need to fill in for an injury.
1. Clay Buchholz, SP, BOS: Buchholz’s early struggles are still putting a damper on his overall numbers, as he’ll roll into his next start with a brutal 5.38 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. He’ll also roll in with a four-start quality start streak. Over those four starts, Buchholz has 28 strikeouts against just six walks in 31 innings. The stretch has lowered his ERA by nearly two full runs and he’s finally looking like the key contributor the Red Sox expected coming into the season.
2. Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL: Reynolds is hitting over .300 with power since May, mashing five home runs and 18 RBI in just 84 at-bats over that time period. Reynolds still strikes out way too much to hit over .300 for anything resembling a large sample, but things are on a better track than his abysmal start – he has 25 in his last 26 games after striking out 30 times in his first 19. He’s always had mammoth power and is a good bet to tack on another 15-20 home runs before the year is over.
3. Justin Masterson, SP, CLE: Masterson has been much improved since a terrible first four starts (6.65 ERA), recording a 3.65 ERA in his last 10 starts. He remains inconsistent and particularly walk prone (28 in 66.2 innings), but he’s gone at least six innings in all 10 of these starts. Eight of them have been quality starts, but the problem is Masterson has blown up in the other two (six and seven earned runs respectively). Masterson has had a bunch of excellent starts in recent times and looks like he’s well worth owning again; if he can rein in the disasters he can get closer to the staff ace status he had last season with the Indians.
4. Seth Smith, OF, OAK: My obsession with left-handed outfielders in fantasy baseball probably borders on unhealthy, but it can be so easy to get a leg up with freely available players who just mash right-handers. Smith, however, has just been straight up on fire against anybody over the last 28 days, hitting .308/.392/.600 over those 20 games. This year, he’s actually hitting lefties (.836 OPS) as well as righties (.828) to boot. His career numbers suggest we can at least expect those numbers to hold up against righties, and that makes him, at worst, a useful platoon player and possibly a good third or fourth outfielder.
5. Alex Cobb, SP, TB: Tampa Bay starting pitchers should always get a little bit more consideration than they would on name alone thanks to the tremendous defense the Rays always seem to play. Cobb may be starting to see those benefits, but Sunday’s fantastic performance against Miami – seven shutout innings, two hits, 10 strikeouts, one walk – has plenty great to say about Cobb himself as well. He has a solid 2.67 K/BB and can be a solid contributor in all four main pitching categories – nothing special, but great deep league fare and worthwhile even for standard leagues.
And, of course, injuries aren’t the only things that can torpedo an otherwise solid team. These players have been dragging owners down with them over recent weeks.
1. Chris Young, OF, ARI: When Young came off the disabled list back on May 18th, he owned a 1.340 OPS. Obviously some of that is a hot streak beyond repeatable means, but Young was showing tremendous power (.860 SLG) and looked primed for a breakout year. Since returning, Young has no home runs and just three doubles in 91 plate appearances, and the rest of his numbers are no better. He owns a triple-slash of .152/.264/.190 in 22 games and looks like the injury is still lingering. It might be too early to drop – maybe just a benching is needed – but it’s time to explore other options.
2. Anthony Bass, SP, SD: Bass was the PETCO Flavor of the Month earlier this year, sporting a 2.87 ERA in mid-May. Then we found out just how dangerous it can be outside of San Diego. In his next five starts, four of which were on the road, Bass allowed 26 earned runs in 26.1 innings (8.89 ERA), striking out 19 against 14 walks and allowing three home runs. Bass still owns a 3.62 ERA at home and can be useful in home starts, but just remember with these guys: they look good for a reason, and it usually doesn’t translate away from PETCO.
3. Barry Zito, SP, SF: Zito still has an amazing curveball. Every time I watch him, the conversation is always centered around how this guy was never worth that crazy contract; how it was absurd that the Giants could think he was that good in the first place. And then I see him throw that curveball. But then, almost without fail, you remember he has to throw other pitches to succeed, and Zito just can’t live off the curveball any more. He did it for a bit earlier this season, but he has a 4.93 ERA in his last six starts and is only worth starting at home in a great matchup (for example, against the Cubs, who he shut out over 8.1 innings on June 3rd).
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B, WAS: There’s a reason LaRoche’s scorching, 1.000+ OPS start to the season was so surprising. The last time he had even managed a .900 OPS in a full season was 2006 – also the only time he’s done it. Last season he hit just .172/.288/.258 in 177 plate appearances. He looked washed up. That’s the Adam LaRoche we’ve seen since the first interleague series began May 18th – in 107 plate appearances, LaRoche has managed five home runs but little else, hitting .165/.252/.396. The culprit has been an absurd .159 BABIP on the season – don’t expect that to continue – but dreams of a 30 homer, .290 average season are surely dead.
5. Rafael Furcal, SS, STL: Furcal is in the midst of a brutal cold streak, mustering just two hits in his last 32 at-bats, and the result has seen his slugging percentage drop below .400. Still, he’s been a very useful shortstop all things considered – nine steals, 29 RBI, 42 runs and a .287 average are excellent. He should remain a force in runs scored and grab a few more steals, but expecting him to rake to the tune of .300 with power was a bit much.
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.