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Time keeps marching on and the Fantasy Baseball season isn’t as young as it used to be. Yes, you still have time to revamp or just make minor changes to your team. I know it’s hard but there will come a time when you will need to admit that the sleeper that you hung your hopes on, or that veteran who was coming off his “only” bad season, is dragging your team down. Like the song says “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” Don’t overreact but don’t wait too long to enhance your Fantasy team. Those Fantasy points that you accumulate in April and May are just as important as the ones that you pick up in August or September. Be aware of what’s available on your league’s waiver wire. Know what your league mates’ strengths and weaknesses are, and most of all, know when it’s time to buy low and sell high.
Collin McHugh, SP, Astros
When most people think of the Houston Astros, home runs and strikeouts often come to mind. Sure, they have a power-hitting offense, but Astros fans have grown accustomed to the breeze that permeates through the dog days of summer created by the bats of their strikeout-happy, free-swinging hitters. Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh is a strikeout artist, who could be on his way to becoming 2015’s version of Corey Kluber. McHugh enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, with a 2.73 ERA and 157 Ks in 154.2 innings, but he still wasn’t satisfied and looked for ways to improve. He tweaked his pitch selection this season and those subtle changes have helped him compile a 4-0 won/loss record, 3.41 ERA and 1.17 WHIP thus far. McHugh realized that he didn’t have a dominant high velocity fastball and is using his slider more often this season, and so far the results have been phenomenal. Opposing batters are hitting fewer line drives and more groundballs against him. McHugh’s first strike percentage has increased from 58.3 last season to 63.6 this season and he has also been able to maintain an above average swinging strike rate. With a preseason ADP of just over 170, it’s obvious that too many Fantasy owners overlooked McHugh in their drafts. This may be your last chance to target him before he joins the ranks of baseball’s elite starting pitchers and his value skyrockets.
Francisco Liriano, SP, Pirates
Despite having a first name that is fun to say (Click here to see what I mean) Francisco Liriano is another quality pitcher who wasn’t drafted until after the 15th round in the average preseason 12-team Fantasy league. After winning 16 games in his debut season for the Pirates in 2013, Liriano’s won/loss record dropped to 7-10 in 2014, but he still struck out 175 batters in 162.1 innings pitched. This season, Liriano is picking up right where he left off, striking out 34 batters in 32.1 innings. He is a strikeout machine with a live fastball that approaches the mid-90s and he also throws a hard slider and a change that induces opposing batters to hit groundballs. With a .130 Batting Average Against, and a well above average 12.9% Swinging Strike Rate, Liriano is dominating the competition. You can expect a bit of regression when his 84.6% Strand Rate normalizes, and yes, his 1.95 ERA and .90 WHIP will likely rise but so will his strike out totals. By seasons end, I expect Liriano to have about 13 wins, close to 170 strikeouts and an ERA in the low three range. Not bad for one of your back of the rotation Fantasy starters.
Kevin Pillar, OF, Blue Jays
After hearing that Kevin Pillar had suffered an oblique injury as the result of a preseason sneeze, I never would have imagined that I would include him in one of my articles as a buy option. Pillar may not be the best outfielder in the game and he may sneeze too hard, but he is a definite example of how hard work and intensity beats talent. Widely regarded as just a fourth outfielder at the beginning of the season, Pillar has outplayed his competition, forcing the Blue Jays to put him in the lineup everyday while sending the highly regarded Dalton Pompey down to the minors for some remedial training. After spending parts of the last two seasons in the majors, Pillar has increased his contact rate and he has also cut his strikeout rate by nearly half, and he looks like he is ready to stick it out with the big club for the long haul. At the time of this writing, Pillar had a .277 average with 17 runs scored, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. His minor league .322 career average shows that he should be able to continue to hit for average and that he could be a cheap source of steals and occasional power. Look to add Pillar as a fourth or fifth outfielder for your Fantasy team in deep mixed or AL-only leagues. I just hope that you won’t need to say “bless you” or “gesundheit” to him too often.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox
Although not widely considered a top echelon Fantasy shortstop, Alexei Ramirez has been one of the more consistent offensive forces at this weak Fantasy Baseball position. He has hit at least 15 home runs in five of his first seven full seasons, stolen at least 13 bases in six of the last seven seasons and he has a .275 career average. Fantasy managers who own shares in Ramirez have had to endure a long early season slump and probably would be open to moving him. The good news for someone looking to buy him low is that he is a notorious slow starter. Ramirez has a career batting average of .250 during March and April. His career average jumps to .279 from May to October. His underlying stats suggest that he will get back on track. His average fly ball distance is just about the same as it’s always been. Although he is striking out a bit more this season, his line drive percentage (LD %) has increased compared to last year. He is still hitting the ball with authority and his BABIP, which is almost 60 points below his career norm, suggests that he may have been hitting into a bit of bad luck, and once it normalizes we should see his batting average rise closer to his career levels. If you play your cards right you may be able to trade for him for a fraction of his preseason value. Jump at the opportunity.
Alex Rodriguez, DH/3B, Yankees
On April 19th Alex Rodriguez was batting .316 and many Fantasy analysts were eating crow. Since then A-Rod has batted .176 and those same analysts have gone back to eating their normal diet. Despite his .231 batting average at the time of this writing, Rodriguez has enjoyed a resurgence, clubbing six home runs and driving in 16 runs after his yearlong exile from the game of baseball. Some of his season stats, like his .264 ISO, .346 OBP and .364 wOBA are well above average. A-Rod is pounding the ball! His 2015 average fly ball distance is actually eight feet more than his 300.57 foot average from 2010. These are all selling points that you can use when you put him on the trading block. Why trade him? When you consider that he’s on your Fantasy team because you either paid a couple of bucks for him in an auction league, chose him with one of the final picks in your draft or simply picked him up off of your league’s waiver wire, the fact that he has any trade value at all should be treated as a bonus. Yes, there have been some encouraging signs from Rodriguez this season, but with his below average 23.3 strikeout percentage, career high 13.5 swinging strike percentage and career low 66.5 contact rate, it’s no surprise that his batting average has dropped so much in such a short period of time. Although his .241 BABIP should normalize and cause his batting average settle at the .240 to .250 mark, (which isn’t terrible) it’s unlikely that A-Rod’s steroid ravaged body and surgically rebuilt hips can withstand the rigors of a full season. Expect him to wear down in the second half and spend at least some time on the DL this season. Trade him now while he has some value and ensure that once he does break down he’ll eventually be occupying the DL slot of your competitor’s Fantasy team.
Shin Soo Choo, OF, Rangers
The usual goal of this column is to recommend players that you can try to buy low and sell high, but when it comes to Shin Soo Choo, if you’re able to sell him at all, I would commend you and consider that you did sell high…well as high as you could. If you can get a living, breathing baseball player (we’re talking someone with a pulse here) in return for Choo, then you’ve done your job. I actually looked at Choo as a sleeper in the preseason. He played hurt all last season and his numbers took a big dip, but he is a lifetime .280 hitter who averages close to 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every season. However, he’s now healthy and his overall numbers are still trending downward. He’s just not putting his bat on the ball like he used to. The last time he had a swinging strike rate higher than his current 11.8 percent was 2006. This is the third season in a row that it has increased. His strikeout rate of 27.5 percent is way above the major league average and his career norm. He’s not as disciplined hitter as he once was, and he’s obviously pressing since his walk rate is down to a career low 8.8 percent. His way below average 71.5 percent contact rate is the lowest it’s been since 2006 and when he does make contact he’s hitting line drives only 13 percent of the time, which is a very bad sign. At this point, your best option would be to try to package him as part of a larger deal and hope that the Shin Soo Choo name still has a bit of prestige associated with it within the Fantasy Baseball community, but I wouldn’t count on it.