Fantasy Baseball: 4 Players With Intriguing Mid-Season Numbers
The middle of the MLB season -- at least to me -- is what sets apart the good fantasy owner from the great one. It’s equal parts hindsight and foresight, while not ignoring the present. How much stock can you put into 80 games? What can happen in the next 80?
What about if you borrow 40 from each?
For me it’s about monitoring trends. Guys get off to fast starts and can cool off quickly while their overall season stats look really good still. Aledmys Diaz of the Cardinals is hitting .312/.371/.514 still, but his last 30 games have been much quieter at .254/.351/.395. How much stock do you put in that stretch? 30 games isn’t an insignificant time frame, but even the numbers therein can feel a bit fraudulent.
Would you have any idea that Diaz has a .263/.417/.421 line over his last 15 games if you’d only looked at his numbers over the last 30? How do you balance that out when considering what to do for your stretch run? And worst yet, there’s no track record to fall back upon here; Diaz is just 25 years old but has spent just two years stateside playing in the minors after missing parts of two years after lying about his age.
Now, you’re not about to dump Diaz onto waivers expecting it all falls apart soon, but if someone offers you a more stable asset in a dynasty league, that can make it difficult to gauge. Do you take on a 30-year-old starting pitcher in a deal for Diaz, and value track record above all else, even knowing pitcher health can be volatile?
It’s all a part of what makes fantasy sports so fun -- and frustrating.
And if you’ve read to this point expecting answers, well, sorry. But what we have cobbled together is a list of guys whose midseason numbers have the wheels spinning a bit in our heads.
Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
A quick glance at Brian Dozier's numbers won’t tell even half the story. He’s hitting .252/.336/.436 entering Monday’s off-day for the Twins, and upon looking at that line one might think it’s been business as usual. That’s a .334 wOBA, which is actually better than what he did last year (.323) when he was selected to his first All-Star Game, and not a far cry from his incredible 2014 season (.340). In fact, he’s got a higher batting average this year (.252) than in 2014 (.242) and a 20-point advantage in slugging percentage that year, though the 10-point OBP advantage goes to the 2014 campaign.
But Dozier’s season hasn’t looked anything like his line indicates. Through May 31, Dozier had hit just .202/.294/.329. In fact, Dozier was out of the Twins' lineup on May 23 altogether and again the next day before coming in to pinch hit -- taking a walk. When Dozier was benched, his OPS had fallen all the way to .602, with a batting average hovering just beneath the Mendoza line. Baseball rarely has such cut-and-dried dividing points that correlate to an event, but this appears to be just that. Dozier has hit .322/.402/.591 since to settle in at a .772 OPS, again reaffirming that he hasn’t really hit like his numbers suggest. Rather, he went through a drought and then came on gangbusters, with regression figuring out the rest so that he’s basically at his expected line.
So what has gone into that? Funnily enough, when Dozier was going well the first time around, he was a dead-pull hitter who would hit just about everything to left field. Even center field was pretty much a dead zone to him, and one could forget about right field. There was nary a complaint when Dozier was going well, but when he wasn’t, it became the classic fan issue where they just wanted him to “learn to go the other way,” as if he should do something he’s never been good at to get out of a slump.
That’s right, doing something other than what you’re good at is going to get you out of the slump. In short, Twins fans -- and even the talking heads on the team’s TV broadcasts -- started railing against Dozier pulling the ball, turning him into some bizarro alternate reality David Ortiz, whose chief complaint about the fans all these years has been that they wanted him to use the whole field. In short, fans who had clung to Ortiz as a failure were trying to get Dozier to do just the opposite, which was use the whole field when that just isn’t his game.
So when Dozier started going well again, you’d better believe the refrain was “Gee, look he’s started to use the whole field again!” You know, as if results were all that mattered and no one would bother to check the process.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. In April, Dozier hit the ball to left 47.4 percent of the time and had a .617 OPS. In May, that went up to 53.1 percent and a .632 OPS. And now, for the coup de grace, Dozier has pulled the ball an incredible 64.6 percent of the time in June with a 1.048 OPS.
How does Pull Dozier sound for a nickname? Anyway, he has extra-base hits in eight straight games, and looks to be back to his old self, simply because he got back to doing what he’s good at. What a novel concept!
Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals
I’ve liked Danny Duffy's arm for a while simply because lefties who throw 94 to 95 miles per hour out of the rotation just don’t come around that often, or at least not as often as their right-handed counterparts. But for some reason, Duffy’s stuff and results just didn’t quite match. 80 of his first 92 MLB appearances came in starts, with a 3.80 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 1.36 WHIP, and 7.1 K/9 -- decent enough numbers, but not enough to lock down a full-time rotation spot for the Royals with any sort of confidence.
Duffy’s first 16 appearances came out of the bullpen for the Royals this year, and the numbers were good. He had a 3.00 ERA, .655 OPS against, and 21-5 K-BB ratio in 18 innings. And as you might expect, his fastball was poppin’ out of the bullpen -- routinely in the 96 to 97 mile-per-hour range on average.
On May 15, the Royals moved Duffy into the rotation, and he’s remained there. He threw just three innings that first time around and just 4.1 and 5.1 in the innings since, but he’s gradually picked up steam to where he’s now up to 40.2 innings through eight starts. That’s just an average of about 5.0 innings per start, but it’s a jump-off point for a guy who’s had to make that build up in season, which can’t be easy.
So what are we focusing on here? Well for one, he’s got a solid 3.54 ERA as a starter, but he’s found the missing strikeouts. In those 40.2 innings, he’s got a 50-11 K-BB ratio and has held opponents to just a .223 batting average and .290 on-base percentage. Of note and worry is that he’s allowed 9 home runs in that stretch, and as a result, he’s given up a .439 slugging percentage, largely contributing to the so-so .729 OPS he’s allowed as a starter. But he’s mostly maintained the velocity, with his average fastball checking in between 95.8 and 96.8 miles per hour in each of his starts so far.
One other thing of interest? According to Baseball Reference, he’s got a 15 percent swinging strike rate since moving back to the rotation. FanGraphs has hit at 15.9 percent for the season, well, well above his career mark of 8.9 percent. Just four qualified MLB starters have 15 percent or better whiff rates this season: Jose Fernandez (15), Noah Syndergaard (15), Max Scherzer (15.1) and Clayton Kershaw (16.1). This could be a sneaky buy in fantasy leagues.
Matt Shoemaker, SP, Los Angeles Angels
There’s been some Matt Shoemaker steam for a while now, but if someone was just tuning in and saw a 4.43 ERA, they’d probably wonder what the big deal really was. But, as has almost always been true with Shoemaker, it’s about trends and streakiness.
When Shoemaker ran off a ridiculous 16-4 season in 2014, it was on the strength of making just 20 starts that season (27 appearances total). He came on the scene at just the right time, picking up the slack when Garrett Richards had his catastrophic knee injury to help cushion that blow for the eventual AL West Champions. It’s a fun story really; Shoemaker had just a 6.31 ERA at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was summoned in mid-May, and he hadn’t really been all that great as a reliever for the Angels in the first couple weeks of the season either (.776 OPS against, 2 home runs in 6.2 innings).
Shoemaker returned on May 13 and made a start and kicked around as a swingman a while before jumping into the rotation to stay -- more or less, save a couple emergency relief outings -- in mid June. Shoemaker rolled up a 13-3 record from June 17 to the end of the season, with a 2.66 ERA, .627 OPS against, and 89-16 K-BB ratio in 101.2 innings. Shoemaker came back and had a rough 2015 season (4.46 ERA, 4.59 FIP) and was embattled to start 2016 as well, as he was even sent to Triple-A yet again -- albeit briefly -- early in the season.
Shoemaker came back to the big leagues and scuttled around a little bit in two starts before completely locking in on May 21. He entered that start with an 8.49 ERA and threw 7.1 shutout innings, scattering 3 hits against the Orioles with 12 strikeouts and no walks. He hasn’t slowed down since and is now on a seven-start streak where he’s got a 2.09 ERA, .617 OPS against, and perhaps most impressively, a 62-4 K-BB ratio in 51.2 innings.
We mentioned Duffy’s swinging strike rate as standing out, but Shoemaker’s has been even better at a stunning 18 percent. By comparison, there are just three relievers who have better rates this season (with at least 20 innings pitched), and they’re Seung Hwan Oh, Zach Britton and Luke Gregerson. But this is better than guys like Kenley Jansen, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel. No, it’s not likely to continue, but it’s incredible to see what he’s capable of when things are going right. He’s the kind of guy you’ll want to ride while he’s hot in fantasy.
It’s easy to see where this is all coming from, too. His splitter alone has induced 75 swinging strikes in this seven-start stretch. That’s a swinging strike rate in excess of 40 percent! Have mercy.
Ryan Pressly, RP, Minnesota Twins
What, another Twin? Well yes, because this might be the stealthy guy to pick up for saves in Minnesota eventually. And while nothing about his raw numbers really stands out, this is a team that is going nowhere with no incumbent closer -- and the injured one might not be ready to start next season -- and no runaway candidates.
Enter Ryan Pressly, whom the Twins took in the 2013 Rule 5 draft. They’re just now starting to see the fruits of their decision, as he’s now whiffing 8.7 batters per nine this season after coming into this season at just 5.8 through 132.2 innings. Perhaps most impressively is that he’s doing this after a severe lat strain that cost him the entire second half last year.
He’s come back throwing bullets. His four-seam fastball was at just 94.6 miles per hour in April, but he’s gone up in each month and, so far in June, is sitting at 96.6 miles per hour. On four occasions this year, he’s been at either 97 or 98 miles per hour on average with his fastball. And if that wasn’t enough, he also spins a good curveball and slider. The slider has a 15.1 percent whiff rate according to PITCHf/x, and the curve is at 19.8 percent. That’s a 10 percent increase from last year’s rate on his curve and still over 5 percent over his career rate. He’s on the upswing and could start stealing saves in Minneapolis rather quickly.