It’s nice to have a few-day breather for the All-Star Break. Daily fantasy baseball is an absolute grind with games just about every single day for a six-month period. Having time to stop and take a look at the big picture becomes difficult when the next set of games starts 18 hours from the time the previous set of games end. With a four-day lapse, it’s a perfect time to both reflect and look ahead at what might be in store for the second half of the season.
What have we learned so far? The main lesson this season, at least to me, is that the kids can play. Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Joey Gallo, Noah Syndergaard, Miguel Sano, Carlos Rodon and Andrew Heaney were all preseason top-25 prospects according to MLB.com and have already been called up. This is all after Joc Pederson, Steven Souza Jr. and Archie Bradley all made their respective teams’ opening day rosters and not even mentioning that 22-year old Bryce Harper may have been the best player in baseball in the first half. The list goes on and on…
At this moment in time, two separate rookies lead baseball in career wOBAs versus the handedness of pitchers (minimum of 30 AB): Miguel Sano is the active leader in wOBA versus RHP (.572) and Carlos Correa is the active leader against LHP (.450). Steven Souza even ranks top-eight among active players versus LHP. These are due to small sample sizes for one, but I think there is a greater lesson to be taken away here. Young stud players are worth more than their usual prices. Even on Sunday, the final day before the All-Star Break, Correa was priced at a ridiculous $7,600. At this point in time, is it crazy to say he’s in the same tier as Troy Tulowitzki of offensive shortstops? Which would you rather have for the rest of the season? Is it even really crazy to favor Correa? Through 32 games (134 ABs), Correa has produced a .276/.312/.507 slash line with seven HR, 19 RBI and five SB. Those statistics over a 162 game average translate to 35 HR, 96 RBI and 25 SB (although I realize it doesn’t work like that). Tulowtizki is slashing .313/.351/.480 through 79 games (294 ABs) with 10 HR, 49 RBI and zero SB. His pace is closer to 20 and 90 and he has yet to steal a base, so seriously, who is the better player? If it is difficult to decipher, then it should be the exact opposite to decipher who is the better value when Tulowitzki’s price is floating around $10,000 on FantasyDraft and Correa’s is sub-$8,000. Similar comparisons can be made for Miguel Sano, which shows just how valuable they are in the short-term until the pricing algorithm catches up with the production. These are elite talents in the middle of a season. Sure, they were brought up to the highest level, but they were already in rhythm and they had already shown they had what it takes to earn their way into the bigs. Treat them as the upper-echelon players they already are and attack the bargain pricing often, especially against their platoon advantage.
Aside from bargain hitters, there are young pitching bargains to be taken advantage of as well. Here are a few worth discussion and constant consideration during the second half (although on Taijuan Walker is technically a rookie of the two):
Kendall Graveman – It’s amazing how getting sent down and clearing one’s head can completely revamp their game. I’ll never forget a few years back when Ricky Nolasco was sent down while a member of the Marlins because he absolutely could not get an out. When he was finally called back up, he was lights out and apparently fixed just about every issue that had been plaguing him earlier in the season. This year’s Nolasco appears to be Kendall Graveman. After putting together a putrid April (8.27 ERA), the Athletics sent him down. Since being recalled on May 23, Graveman has lowered his ERA from 8.27 to 3.38. His monthly ERAs since his return: 2.31 in May (two starts), 1.93 in June (six starts) and 2.84 in July (two starts). Graveman’s final start of the first half, which came on Jul. 10, was his first non-quality start his May 28… and he only allowed four ER in 5.2 IP, so it was pretty darn close to a quality start. He may not be a fantasy ace, but he is getting the job done every time out and general manager Billy Beane is famous for finding diamond pitchers in the rough. His salary will likely continue to sit below $17,000, which is a pretty solid value for a guy who’s a great bet for 15+ FP every time he toes the mound.
Taijuan Walker – What a rough start the youngster had to the season. After coming off an impressive second half last season as the Mariners top pitching prospect (and fresh call up), Walker was rudely welcomed into 2015. He posted a 6.86 ERA in April and 5.74 ERA in May with his WHIP consistently hovering around 1.80 during that stretch. During that brutal stretch, he walked at least 11 batters in each of the two months. Once Walker started throwing his cutter more, the control just fell into place, and since then he’s been the ace many expected from the beginning. Since the beginning of June, Walker has walked just four hitters in 51.1 IP and struck out over a batter per inning (53 K). With the benefit of pitcher friendly Safeco Field as his home park, his mid-tier price will make him appealing more often than not in the second half.
Rookies aren’t the only players who impressed in the first three months of the season. Some veterans, once left for dead in terms of fantasy value, have rejuvenated their careers. Sometimes when players suffer poor full seasons, or even long stretches, it takes a while for DFS players to begin to trust them once again. These are some veterans who have turned around their rocky pasts and once again warrant consistent roster situation in daily fantasy baseball regardless of public perception:
Clay Buchholz – For the season, Clay Buchholz ranks sixth in baseball with a 2.62 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching). What FIP simply measures is what a player’s ERA would look like over a period of time if the pitcher experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing (Source: FanGraphs). The only players with lower FIPs: Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Jake Arrieta. This shows just how well he has thrown and suggests that his 3.26 ERA and 1.21 WHIP are legitimate and not due for regression. His price usually sits around tier two or three among SPs in a given slate, but clearly he has pitched better than some middle of the pack starter. Although his record is only 7-7, Buchholz has found the 2010/2013 version of himself once again, as opposed to the 2014 version that registered a 5.34 ERA in 170.1 IP. Unless he is facing a truly elite offense, he is worth DFS consideration, especially in tournaments.
Ubaldo Jimenez – Another surprise on the top-30 FIP list is none other than 2010 third-place Cy Young vote-getter Ubaldo Jimenez. Since that magical season, Jimenez has produced an ERA below 4.68 just once in four years (3.30 in 2013). Despite seeing an increase in his hit rate this season, he has become a much more reliable fantasy starting pitcher. How? He has cut his walk rate nearly in half from last season (5.5 BB/9 to 2.9 this year) and has seen an uptick in strikeout rate. If his strikeout rate were to hold, it would be the second highest of his career (8.9 K/9). Baltimore’s offense scores the seventh-most runs per game, so it’s no wonder he has constructed a winning record (7-4). If Jimenez keeps the walk rate down, he is far less scary from start-to-start than his career 1.35 WHIP suggests. 2015 Jimenez can even be considered a consistent cash option, which would have been crazy to think coming off of his miserable 2014.
Alejandro De Aza – Due to their plethora of outfielders, the Orioles simply let Alejando De Aza go and the Red Sox were happy to scoop him up. This is a player two years removed from a 17 HR, 20 SB campaign, and he very nearly stole 20 bases yet again in 2014 (17 SB), despite overall poor numbers. De Aza hit just .214 in 103 AB with the Orioles and didn’t even come close to a .300 OBP, so it’s no wonder they became fed up. Apparently the fresh start was exactly what he needed though, because in 96 AB with the Red Sox, De Aza is hitting .323 with 31 hits, compared to just 22 with the Orioles. Poor start to the season aside, De Aza has produced the second-highest wOBA against RHP of any player on the Red Sox this season behind David Ortiz. Even though he does not bat in the top six of the lineup very often, he plays in a great hitters’ park on an above-average offense (Boston is 13th in runs per game). This makes him an excellent tournament option on many nights and even worthy of cash consideration against some weaker righties. Many probably look at the overall numbers and scoff at him, while you should be the smart one playing the more recent trends.
… Okay and one more rookie worth mentioning who has had an up-and-down season:
Rougned Odor – This may sound like a familiar tale as Rougned Odor’s story is essentially the hitter version of Kendall Graveman’s. He was struggling until he was sent down to refine his skills and has been tearing it up since his return. In the 23 games since his return, Odor is hitting a cool .350 which leads the team during that stretch. Three HR and four SB in 90 PA since his return certainly are an improvement to his one HR and one SB in the 103 PAs beforehand. Although he hasn’t been leading off recently (Delino DeShields Jr. has been the leadoff man lately), he has still been hitting in the six hole, which is more than acceptable for cash games. He entered last season as the organization’s top prospect, ahead of even Joey Gallo, and is beginning to show why. As he has been lately, Odor should be leaned upon for a consistent source of production against RHP, at least early in the second half.
Not all has been gravy thus far this season, as there have been players who suffered through slow starts and have yet to recover. By now, most have noticed these trends and stopped rostering these players. If not, try to avoid inserting these players into your lineups until they prove their worthiness once again:
Robinson Cano – The days of 30 HR, 100 RBI Robinson Cano in Yankee Stadium are well behind us. At this point, he’s barely on pace to produce half of that pace (six HR, 30 RBI in 86 games). Cano’s power took a steep dive last season heading from the Bronx’s hitter heaven to Safeco Field. However, he still managed to hit a Cano-esque .314 and drove in 82 runs, which wasn’t too steep of a regression. This season, he’s hitting just .251 and has just been an overall disaster. His price has sunk recently, but who wants to roster a player that doesn’t hit homers, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t steal bases? It’s weird, because both his line drive and hard hit percentages sit higher than they registered last season, but his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) sits at a career low .290. This might suggest he’s been getting somewhat unlucky and could break out of this slump in the second half, but I’d still like to see results before I’m convinced.
Alexei Ramirez/Melky Cabrera – Really, this might as well be in regards to the whole White Sox offense. Aside from Jose Abreu, not a single White Sox hitter has had a consistent first half. Carlos Sanchez and Alexei Ramirez both rate as two of the worst-five hitters in the first half of the season according to wRC+ (minimum of 150 PA). Coming off a season where he hit .301 with 16 HR, Melky Cabrera is hitting just .261 with four bombs. The White Sox continue to be literally the offense to target opposing SP against because they’ve scored by far the least runs in the majors. I’d be hard-pressed to find a game I’d ever want to stack their bats in, because there is just no consistency whatsoever, accompanied by plenty of strikeout prone bats up and down the lineup. Continue to avoid the White Sox aside from maybe Abreu or Adam LaRoche in the right matchups until further notice.
My DFS First Half All-Star Team:
SP1 – Max Scherzer
SP2 – Chris Sale
SP3 – Zack Greinke
SP4 – Corey Kluber
SP5 – Sonny Gray/Clayton Kershaw (it’s a toss-up and I’d go Gray if I had to choose)
C – Buster Posey (although Yasmani Grandal was consistently an All-Star value)
1B – Paul Goldschmidt
2B – Brian Dozier (slightly edging out Jason Kipnis and Jose Altuve)
3B – Josh Donaldson (Todd Frazier and Nolan Arenado deserve honorable mentions)
SS – Carlos Correa
OF – Bryce Harper
OF – Mike Trout
OF – Charlie Blackmon
My DFS First Half All-Disappointment Team:
SP1 – Julio Teheran
SP2 – Chris Tillman
SP3 – Jered Weaver
SP4 – Ian Kennedy
SP5 – James Shields
C – Mike Zunino
1B – Carlos Santana
2B – Robinson Cano
3B – Adrian Beltre
SS – Alexei Ramirez
OF – Billy Hamilton
OF – Melky Cabrera
OF – Leonys Martin
Do you agree or disagree with my first half awards/thoughts? Feel free to chime in below in the comments section with your thoughts on my teams/analysis and share what your All-Star and All-Disappointment teams would look like!