Alex Wood, Upton Bros., Travis d'Arnaud: Fantasy Baseball Present and Future
It is no surprise that Atlanta Braves slugger Justin Upton has provided Fantasy owners with plenty of production. Upton has performed like a number one outfielder in both head-to-head and Roto formats this season, but he has especially heated up in the month of August.
This month, Upton is hitting .299/.404/.586 with six home runs, 25 RBIs and 15 runs, good for the third most Fantasy points of all hitters over the past three weeks. Upton does not point to one specific adjustment for his recent success, but says he is just feeling good and seeing the ball well.
“Baseball is just one of those sports where it is up and down,” Upton said. “We play so many games that you are not going too feel good all the time, so you have to manage your body and yourself mentally.”
While Upton has provided Fantasy owners with plenty of production for years, he is set to enter his prime, a scary thought for the league and opposing Fantasy owners.
“I hope I am just entering my prime,” he said. “I’m 27 and in my seventh year, I got a lot of baseball left to play, if I stay healthy, and hopefully I am getting better every year.”
Upton has cemented himself as an early round Fantasy pick, but may be worth grabbing in the early second round in 2015. Those that have him in keeper and dynasty leagues should keep him on your roster and enjoy the ride.
While Justin Upton is thriving, it has been a struggle for his older brother B.J. since he joined the Braves. B.J. is hitting .204/.281/.321 this season with nine home runs, 31 RBIs, 62 runs and 19 stolen bases. While this is an improvement from last season, it is a fall from grace from when he flirted with a 30/30 season in 2012.
However, B.J. says he has been hitting the ball well this season.
“I haven’t felt bad all year and have hit a lot of balls hard, I just don’t have much to show for it,” he said. “People often point to the strikeouts, but even in my best year I struck out 160 times. I can definitely get better, but I have hit the ball hard all year.”
While B.J. Upton is only owned in about 30 percent of polled leagues, he is a player worth scouting. He currently sports a 17.9 percent line drive rate, which is on par with his career norm, but his .286 BABIP is nearly 30 percentage points below his career average. A hot streak could be on the horizon if some of those hard hit balls fall for hits.
His brother Justin certainly emphasizes how important B.J. is to the lineup.
“He [B.J. Upton] is not playing his best baseball, but we are going to need him in these last 30 games and if he gets on track, he makes us better,” said Justin on his brother B.J. Upton.
Both the Upton brothers are confident in the Braves lineup as a whole down the stretch.
“These are the guys we want to ride with down the stretch and we are confident,” said Justin Upton.
“Guys are swinging the bat great,” said B.J. Upton.
While the lineup has been very dangerous, perhaps their biggest strength is in the arms of their young starting pitchers. Braves pitching coach, Roger McDowell, credits that to the ability to throw quality strikes and their off speed pitches while behind in the count.
Braves 23-year-old starter Alex Wood, has done a good job of that this season, McDowell says.
As a starter this year, Wood has pitched to a 2.88 ERA (3.47 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)) and a 1.13 WHIP while averaging 8.21 K/9 and holding opposing hitters to a .230 average.
Wood credits his numbers to his breaking ball.
“It’s the best it’s ever been,” he says. “I have been able to throw all three pitches whenever I want.”
McDowell thinks Wood and fellow youngster Julio Teheran can continue to get better as they familiarize themselves with the league.
“When you are out there for 30 starts, you learn things about yourself as a pitcher but also about opposing lineups and hitters,” he said. “I anticipate on them getting better with experience. If they stay healthy, they each have a very bright future.”
That is a scary thought, as Teheran has already provided Fantasy owners with SP 1 numbers, and Wood has been a SP 3 when in the rotation. Fantasy owners in keeper or dynasty leagues should hold onto the duo for the foreseeable future, as injury is the only thing that seems capable of holding them back.
Wood agrees with McDowell that experience will only help him develop.
“Every time you go out there it’s a learning experience and you feel more comfortable on the mound,” he said.
His focus down the stretch is to put up a quality start every time out and give the Braves an opportunity to win games.
Mets youngsters are thriving
Everyone has heard about the potential Mets catcher Travis d”Arnaud possesses. However, early on that potential did not translate into big league success, but he has performed as a starting caliber catcher in mixed leagues since being recalled on June 24th. Since then, d”Arnaud is batting .264, with nine home runs, 11 doubles, a triple, 23 RBIs and 28 runs. He is sporting a 20.9 percent line drive rate in that span, showing that when he makes contact with the ball, he hits it hard. His .269 BABIP shows no sign of regression; in fact there is room for improvement.
He credits his success to simply thinking less.
“I was over thinking everything in between the lines,” he said. “Now I keep it simple. I have a game plan, and I trust the process.”
There is no reason to think the 25-year-old cannot continue this success, and even improve on it, making him a viable starting catcher in all formats. Those in keeper and dynasty leagues should be open to the idea of rostering him for years to come.
Keeping with the youth movement that the Mets are currently undergoing, the young arms in the bullpen have been lights out. The Mets may have discovered the back end of their bullpen for years to come in Vic Black, Jeurys Familia, and Jenrry Mejia.
“These guys are getting more comfortable coming into tight situations,” said veteran reliever Dana Eveland. “All our young pitchers, starters and relievers, are getting a lot more comfortable pitching at the big league level.”
Mejia is currently a solid number two closer to Fantasy owners, and the one most worth owning. But the other two should be scouted, as Mejia could miss time due to nagging injuries. If so, Familia will likely receive the first chance to close, but Black will be in mix.
Eveland certainly thinks these young pitchers can maintain this success.
“The big three [Black, Familia, Mejia] have done a tremendous job, and Bobby [Parnell] is coming back into the mix,” he said. “You never know what moves will be made, but I think the Mets are in a good situation when it comes to the bullpen and the staff as a whole.”