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FantasyMLB

Cliff Lee’s Return Wasn’t As Bad As You Think


Justin Morneau (1B, COL) was placed on the 15-day DL with a neck injury that has bothered him for some time now. The Rockies called up Triple-A 1B Ben Paulson, who’s been toiling in the minor leagues for six seasons.

Paulsen is currently the only natural first baseman on the roster so he will likely get the majority of the playing time until Morneau returns. Paulson was batting .291 with 15 HRs and 57 RBI prior to getting the call to the show. Whether he’ll hit in the majors is an open question. At Triple-A he had a strikeout rate of more than 23 percent this season and his batting average is propped up by a BABIP of .358, so buyer beware.

Brandon Belt (1B, SF) was placed on the 7-day DL with concussion-like symptoms as expected. Adam Duvall got the start on Monday and figures to play daily until Belt returns. Duvall was batting .303 at Triple-A Fresno with 26 HRs and 79 RBI in 78 games this season. He has two HRs in 23 plate appearances in the majors. The power looks real, as Duval has posted Isolated Power numbers well above .200 in the minors over the last three seasons.

Matt Cain (SP, SF) was placed on the 15-day DL with pain in his throwing elbow. Cain has been dealing with bone spurs in the elbow for well over a year now and the results have been evident in his pitching for most of that time. Since the Giants are considered contenders, look for them to make a move on a pitcher before the trade deadline. Jake Peavy could be on their radar and Cliff Lee is also a possibility, though GM Brian Sabean may not be willing to take on his contract; he still has a bad taste in his mouth after the Barry Zito fiasco.

Evan Gattis is back from the DL after recovering from back troubles. Given his production (.291 BA with 16 HRs), you’ll likely want to plug him back into your lineups. However, keep in mind that Gattis tends to be a streaky hitter prone to extended slumps. After two weeks of inaction and an unimpressive rehab stint.

Trends

Denard Span is enjoying the warm weather; he’s batting .344 in the month of July, hitting safely in 14 of 15 games so far with six multi-hit games during the span. Very quietly, he’s on pace to score 90 plus runs and with his 89 percent SB success rate he could easily top 25 steals this season. He’s driving the ball the ball into the gaps much better this season. He’s got 29 doubles already and with a career high 34 percent of his hits going for extra bases, he will likely exceed his single season high (2012) of 38 doubles this year.

The thing the Pirates feared most about bringing Gregory Polanco to the majors too quickly was that his platoon splits would be exposed and exploited by teams. It appears that has happened already, as Polanco is batting just .143 against left-handed pitching with a corresponding BABIP of just .185. More concerning is his 31 percent strikeout rate against southpaws. We all knew his power would take time to develop but an overall ISO of .077 is well below expectations, and he has just five extra base hits (3 HRs) 161 plate appearances. It’s time for Polanco to make adjustments, something he may not be ready to do yet, and another reason the Pirates were being patient. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be patient; they should bench him until he starts hitting lefties.

It looks like Troy Tulowitski is going to dodge the DL bullet this time. He was forced out of Saturday’s game with an upper thigh cramp and has sat out the last two games. He’s played 91 games this season without a DL stint, a fairly amazing feat for Tulowitski, who is enjoying an incredible offensive season. But is it time to trade him? The Rockies are rumored to be quietly listening to offers for their most valuable trade commodity, which makes sense for a team that really isn’t built to contend due to their lack of quality starting pitching. If Tulowitski is traded to an American League team we could see decreased production, something that is not unusual for hitters changing leagues mid-season. Tulowitski has already fallen off a bit, batting just .267 over his last 21 games, although, there was little chance he’d continue to bat .360, which is where he was 22 games ago, and 21 games is a miniscule sample. But a trend is a trend, right? With Tulowitski’s injury history, the possibility of a trade to the AL (Yankees?) and a somewhat negative trend in hitting, now is the time for Fantasy owners to sell high on him. Do it now before he ends up hurt or playing for the Yankees, or worse, regressing towards his mean production level!

Chris Dickerson is making a name for himself in Cleveland. Since being called up by the Indians on July 7, Dickerson is slashing .407/.467/.667 in 31 plate appearances spread over 10 games. Dickerson is a quad-A journeyman hitter who’s played 324 major league games in parts of seven seasons with five different organizations. He struggles against left-handed pitching (career .247 BA), but he hits righties fairly well (.271) and all 17 of his major league HRs have come against them. Until Michael Bourn returns, Dickerson will continue to rotate in and out of the lineup with Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, and get at bats as a left-handed hitter off the bench. He isn’t mixed league worthy but deep AL-only managers might get some nice production from Dickerson, who could stick with the Tribe even after Bourn returns, especially if he continues to produce.

Drew Hutchison had his second consecutive dreadful outing yesterday, getting abused by the Red Sox for six earned runs on six hits in just 2.2 innings pitched. Overall, Hutchison’s pitching metrics look pretty good, so the cause of his recent issues isn’t immediately obvious; that is, until you dig into his splits. Left handed batters are pretty much having their way with Hutchison. He’s given up twice as many homers to lefties and his walk rate against lefties (9.7 percent) is well above his rate against righties (5.5 percent). This shows up most in his WHIP, which is 1.17 vs. righties and an awful 1.49 against lefties. While we’re trashing Hutchison, it’s worth noting that his problems go back much further than two starts. In fact, his last eight starts have been a disaster for Fantasy owners. Over that period, which dates to June 8, Hutchison is 2-6 with a 6.37 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and batters hitting him at a .305 clip. He’s allowed 29 earned runs in his last 41 innings pitched. The only positive is his strikeout rate, which remains solid at 7.9 K/9 IP. Fantasy owners should bench Hutchison until he rights the ship or consider offering him in a trade to someone looking for strikeouts. That’s about all he’s good for right now because he’ll kill your ratios until he figures out how to neutralize lefty hitters.

Commentary

The media is making it appear as though Cliff Lee’s return last night was a disaster for the Phillies, who are listening to offers for their lefty ace. Several articles I read pointed to the six earned runs and 12 hits allowed and proclaimed Lee “rusty” and “not sharp,” who “hurt his trade value.” While it’s true he was rusty, I wouldn’t say he wasn’t sharp and I doubt he hurt his trade value.

I saw a solid outing from a pitcher just off the DL with a sore elbow that should be viewed as a major step in the right direction. Lee’s two-seam fastball, his bread-and-butter pitch, hovered in the 89-90 mph range through the first five innings of the game and 59 of the 90 pitches he threw were for strikes. The movement on his curveball and changeup looked very good and he was locating all his pitches very well. Most of hits that Lee gave up through the first five innings were seeing-eye groundballs or bloopers that found gaps in the Philly defense. In fact, there were very few solid hard-hit balls until Adam Duvall’s HR in the sixth.

If anything, I think Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg left Lee in the game too long. Sandberg should have been happy with five innings in the first outing from Lee, especially after a two month layoff. Lee had only pitched a total of 10 innings in his three rehab outings prior to rejoining the team, and Sandberg had no business expecting more than five innings. Lee is going to be just fine and his trade value won’t be damaged because any talent evaluator worth his salt will see past last night, which at least proved that Lee is healthy.

Tonight

All eyes should be on Jordan Zimmermann (SP, WAS) tonight as he returns to the mound after experiencing tightness and cramping in his biceps muscle. Zimmermann didn’t go on the DL, so we’ll see if the Nationals made the right decision to allow him back on the mound tonight. I’ll also be watching Josh Beckett (SP, LAD) to see if his hip impingement is fully healed as he returns to action tonight. He threw 40 pitches in the bullpen Saturday without pain but we all know that everything changes in real gameplay.

Can Chase Whitley (P, NYY) pitch past the fourth inning? He hasn’t done so in his last three starts in July. His is up over 5.00 at this point, so he has much to prove to Fantasy owners eyeing him for potential innings. Jake Peavy (SP, BOS) takes the mound tonight in what could be his last start for the Red Sox, who are rumored to be actively shopping him. He’s pitched better than his 1-8 record, but not that much better. Mike Minor (SP, ATL) tries to get back on track against the Marlins tonight. Minor has just two quality starts in his last seven outings. Danny Salazar (SP, CLE) returns to the majors for the Tribe for his first start since May 15. He was brutal early this season and brutal in the minors throughout his stint there, so I doubt he’ll be anything more than brutal tonight. We’ll see.

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