Why Clay Buchholz Is A Second Half Fantasy Sleeper
Clay Buchholz fired a complete game shutout against the Astros on Sunday, giving up just three hits and nary a walk while striking out 12. The game marked the first time since July 7, 2012 that he tossed a complete game shutout and the first time since April 25, 2013 he racked up double-digit strikeouts.
Anyone who drafted Buchholz this year can tell you he was probably the worst pitcher in baseball prior to hitting the DL because of a knee injury (wink wink). Needless to say, I don’t buy an injury; I think he needed a mental break. A month off from getting shelled every fifth turn can do wonders for a guy’s psyche.
Over his first 10 starts he posted a 7.02 ERA and a 1.98 WHIP over 50 innings pitched. Since his return from the DL, he has posted a 3.92 ERA, and a 0.87 WHIP over 20.2 innings. Not dominant by any means, but these are the kind of numbers that get Fantasy owners interested in either picking him up or getting him into their lineups.
The obvious question is, should they? I think the answer is yes. In his previous start against the White Sox, Buchholz adjusted the grip of his changeup mid-game and saw an increase in swings and misses. He followed that start with a dominant performance.
Buchholz was bad to start the season, but he was also unlucky. His strand rates were well below his career norm, while his BABIP was well above it. Some good luck, along with confidence and a mechanical tweak, and we could see a totally different pitcher in the second half. He is well worth picking up off waiver wires if available. If he strings together a second half like his first half from last season, he may very well help win a good number of championships.
For Garrett Richards, May 30 was a day to forget. Facing off against the A’s in Oakland, he was lit up for five earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning, far and away his worst start of the season. It also looks to have been a motivating factor for him because he has been stellar since that appearance. He has logged seven consecutive quality starts, six of which have resulted in wins, while posting a 1.27 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP and 63 strikeouts over 56.2 innings pitched. I challenge you to find a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw throwing better than he is at the moment. Richards dominates using just two pitches, a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a filthy slider. He can throw a curveball and changeup but really hasn’t had to; probably a good thing considering neither pitch is anything more than a show-me offering. Everything from a numbers standpoint shows me a guy that is going to sustain his success. The only real question now is whether he holds up as the season progresses. He has never tossed more than 157 innings in a season.
Stephen Drew’s first game back with the Red Sox was on June 2. His arrival hasn’t exactly gone as planned as he has posted a .151-7-2-5-1 line over his first 93 at-bats. While it wasn’t entirely unexpected for the 31-year old to struggle out of the gate after missing the first two-plus months of the season, his arrival seems to have had a domino effect.Xander Bogaerts, the man whose position he took, has seen his game fall off a cliff. Since Drew arrived Bogaerts has posted a .143-10-3-8-1 line over 126 at-bats. Prior to Drew we saw a .296-27-3-13-1 line over 199 at-bats from Bogaerts. Young kids tend to let things bother them more than they should. Fortunately, these things pass. Bogaerts will get over his gripes about playing third and will start hitting again. Right now he is batting .235 with six homers and 22 RBIs on the season. He is too talented to remain at that pace. He makes for a fantastic buy low for the second half of the season.
There is a pitcher currently available in 56 percent of leagues on CBSSports.com that has no business being so. Through 12 starts spanning 73.2 innings he has posted a 3-5 record with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and 8.64 K/9. He is the Mets’ Jacob deGromm, and this rookie has been fantastic this season. He has given up more than four earned runs just once. He hasn’t given up a homer in his last seven starts. He has posted eight quality starts. Yet he still receives far too little fanfare from the Fantasy community. His average fastball velocity is 93.4 MPH and it has great life. His changeup has great late drop, is 10 MPH slower than his fastball, and is his best off-speed offering. Don’t let him sit out on your waiver wire if he is still available. He has settled in nicely and I see more poise from him every time he is on the mound. He may not win a ton of games with the Mets this year, but he can win a few Fantasy championships with his ever improving peripheral numbers.
Relatively speaking, Albert Pujols has been healthy this season. He has played in 91 of the Angels first 94 games and has posted a .274-58-20-63-4 line, which easily puts him on line for his best season since coming over to the AL back in 2012. He is currently on pace to hit 34 homers and drive in 110 runs, numbers that will likely land him as a Top-5 Fantasy first baseman when the season comes to a close. The Angels recently overtook the A’s as the top scoring team in the league and Pujols has been a big part of that surge. They should continue scoring in bunches because of their strong team on-base percentage (.332). While it’s hard to bank on a 34-year-old with chronic lower body issues to remain healthy, it’s also hard to sell on a guy that has always posted monster numbers when healthy. The Angels have already used him a designated hitter 24 times this year. A trend we should see continue in the second half to keep him on the field, so don’t sell on him anticipating an injury.
There aren’t many players swinging a hotter bat than Robinson Cano heading into the break. Since the calendar turned to July he has logged 19 hits over 44 at-bats while hitting a homerun and driving in eight. His recent hot streak has his average up to .333, which ranks fourth in the league. While he is on pace to post his best batting average since ’06, his power has been nonexistent. He has just seven homers and 30 total extra base hits on the season. Those looking to blame Safeco shouldn’t. Four of his seven homers have come at home. He isn’t hitting them anywhere. Dating back to June 1 of last season, he has only 20 homers over his last 742 at-bats. I don’t think it’s the park, I think it’s the man. At 31, he isn’t old by baseball standards, but it’s fair to say his years of elite power are behind him. The sample size is large enough to say he has gone from a 28-to-32 homer bat to a 16-to-20 homer bat. Still very useful, but no longer worth a first round pick in Fantasy.
There is no denying the fact that George Springer is a dynamic talent. That doesn’t mean his game doesn’t have holes, though. His main issue is the strikeout, and main is saying it kindly. Currently, he ranks next to last in strikeout percentage at 32.9 percent. While that is bad, he actually ranks dead last in swinging strike percentage (18.0) and contact percentage (61.4). Springer batted .302 for his career in the minors while striking out 26.4 percent of the time. Through 338 major league plate appearances he is batting just .234. Here is the kicker. If you take away his scorching June, when he posted a .294-22-10-25-0 line over 102 at-bats with 36 strikeouts he has posted just a .202-22-9-25-5 line over 183 at-bats. While the power is there and the five stolen bases are nice, those numbers aren’t exactly better than what you can pull off the waiver wire. His overall line is nice, and that is what you should use to sell him to an owner looking for upside. His high strikeout totals are going to make him a very streaky hitter. We may have already seen the best of what he has to offer this season. I see no reason to hold here and let him suck my batting average into the abyss for the sake of a few homers and steals.