Fantasy Baseball: Seven Players Who Can Help Your Roto League Team

  • Kyle Soppe, RotoExperts

Earl Weaver once said that “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”, and while he wasn’t directly giving you Fantasy advice, he might as well have been. You see, what was done today means nothing going forward, in real baseball or in Fantasy. The idea is to improve your product for the journey ahead and put yourself in the best position when all is said and done. So for those of you in re-draft Roto leagues, listen to the late great Hall of Fame manager.

Whether you’re sitting atop your Fantasy league or attempting to make a late push, the stats you’ve already accumulated need to be in the rearview mirror. They’ve helped get you where you are, but they are no longer going to help you get to where you want to finish. In order to gain ground, you may need to make drastic moves that help your bottom line, moves that you may not have made a few months ago but are now reasonable given your unique circumstance. I could give you blanket advice about hitters and pitchers I like from this point forward, but what good does that do for you specifically? Sure, it may help in a head-to-head league, but for the Roto owner, you need personalized advice. So in addition to asking the staff here personalized questions, I’m going to provide you with players that may be available (and if not available, they likely own a cheap price tag) in your league that are on a statistically favorable path to help you out in certain categories for the rest of the season.

Roto help in runs: Jed Lowrie (OAK) -– The A’s shortstop has been bad, there are simply no two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help you when you need it most, especially in the runs category. He ranks among the Top 20 contact hitters in baseball this season, a rate that should result in Fantasy production sooner rather than later (the other Top 19 hitters in contact rate own a cumulative batting average of .295, 52 points higher than that of Lowrie). The high-contact rate hasn’t resulted in counting stats up to this point, in large part due to a BABIP that is 21 points below his career average, another figure that should rebound. Lowrie has shown signs of breaking out in July, and with him hitting second in a potent lineup, he should continue to see a high volume of strikes. Last, but not least, is the favorable nature of his schedule to end the season, as 20 of final 33 games are against pitching staffs that rank among bottom seven in OBP against.

He could score more runs the rest of the way than … Alcides Escobar. The Royals shortstop is having a nice Fantasy season, but batting at the bottom of the Royals lineup is going to continue to make scoring runs an issue. His fly ball rate is up for a second consecutive season and he has continued to chase far too many pitches outside of the strike zone. Escobar’s superior speed and batting average (this season) have him as the much more valuable commodity up to this point, but if you’re looking to make up ground in runs, Lowrie is the statistically favorable option.

Roto help in RBI: Dayan Viciedo (CWS) -– I tend to put more importance on batting average than the typical analyst, and yet this is a second consecutive recommendation from a sub-.240 hitter. The past? It. Does. Not. Matter. His low BABIP has contributed a bit to the low batting average, and the fact that he has maintained his high swing rate while swinging at fewer bad pitches is encouraging. But when it comes to the RBI category, we need timely hits more so than a consistent quantity of knocks. Viciedo ranks among the 15 batters with the most at-bats with runners in scoring position, and with Jose Abreu only getting better as the season wears on, it is difficult to imagine Viciedo not continuing to get run producing opportunities at a high level. His batting average in such situations doesn’t reflect a player worth gambling on, but his slash (.298/.336/.489) from 2011-2013 points to considerable upside. The 25-year-old outfielder bats second in a Top 10 offense and plays in most favorable park this side of Coors. I’m not asking you to commit to Viciedo as an elite level hitter, but these trends indicate that he could make a considerable impact on the way your Fantasy league is determined.

He could drive in more runs the rest of the way than … George Springer. The promise that the young outfielder has is hard to wrap your head around, but that doesn’t mean much of anything in redraft leagues. The rookie is currently on the shelf with a quad injury and the Astros have zero motivation to bring him back in a hurry, if at all. Even if he returns in the coming weeks, he is striking out far too often (33 percent of the time) and has struggled in high leverage situations (.214 batting average with runners in scoring position) for a team that doesn’t regularly put runners on base. Peaks and valleys are to be expected for a first year player, but his very low contact rate makes me think that the talented youngster is still a year away from true Fantasy greatness. Springer is the better baseball player, but if you’re trying to track down the RBI leader in your league, Viciedo is the better option.

Roto help in HR: Seth Smith (SD) -– Wait, you want me to take a flier on a Padre hitting for power?

You bet. Believe it or not, Smith ranks in the Top 25 in ISO, as his .215 mark puts him in the same class of slugger as well known bombers like Josh Donaldson, Khris Davis, and two-time reigning HR Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes. Only nine of the players that rank ahead of him in isolated power are making as much contact as he does, another positive trend if you’re targeting power (for the record, some of those names are: Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, and Mike Trout). The home run total has been low to this point because of his low fly ball rate (down 16 percent from his career average), and if that rate can move towards the mean, you’re looking at a sneaky player who could hit double-digit homers from this point forward. The massive dimensions of Petco Park? They shouldn’t be much of an issue with Smith playing only 13 home games in a 37 game stretch from August 5 – September 14.

He could hit more homers the rest of the way than … Chris Carter. His namesake just caught touchdown passes and he has followed suit when it comes to being a one-trick pony: all he does is hit home runs. But is the league beginning to catch up with him a bit? The ugly batting average tells you all you need to know about Carter’s plate discipline and contact rates, but he has a major flaw that figures to force him out of the league sooner rather than later. He hits fastballs … and that’s it. We’ve entered an era where starting pitchers have a handful of pitches in their repertoire and relievers pitch with great control, two trends that could doom Carter. I’m also concerned by the lack of depth on the ‘Stros, as Carter could move down in the batting order and have limited protection. Should this occur, opponents will have no reason to ever throw him another heater, which means fewer bombs for an already limited hitter.

Roto help in AVG: Gerardo Parra (AZ) – Listen, making up ground is not easy. Do I love the thought of counting on a .255 hitter helping you catch up in batting average? Of course not, but you’ve got to make moves and Parra fits the profile of a hitter who could surprise. His ability to make contact on pitches inside the zone is nothing short of elite (ranks in the Top 20 with a similar rate to that of Robinson Cano), especially when you consider that he swings at more pitches inside the zone than 17 of those players. His top shelf plate discipline is difficult to find in Fantasy free agency, and with his O-Swing percentage/SwStr percentage dipping, he is a good bet to continue to offer up good at-bats. Combine that with the fact that his is hitting .375 when ahead in the count, and you’ve got yourself a player with batting average upside. How are teams going to consistently get him out? He swings and makes contact at strikes and kills you if you fall behind.

He could hit for a higher average the rest of the way than … Matt Kemp. The Dodgers outfield is a crowded one, but let’s ignore the playing time issue and evaluate Kemp when he is on the field. He is pounding the ball into the ground more than at any point in his career, a major concern would you consider his declining speed and ability to turn ground balls into hits. His BABIP is more than 80 points higher than his batting average and with his overall contact percentage down from his career norm (not to mention an increasing SwStr percentage), regression seems likely over the final six weeks of the regular season. Kemp had a nice June (.317 batting average), but without the help of that month he has been nothing more than a run-of-the-mill Fantasy option, something the advanced metrics hint will continue moving forward as long as he is a member of the Dodgers.

Roto help in K: Ervin Santana (ATL) – Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka, Tyson Ross, Chris Sale, and Felix Hernandez. Those are the only five pitchers in all of baseball that have a higher swing and miss percentage against than Santana. It’d take considerably more room to rank the 30 pitchers that are striking out more batters per nine innings than the Braves starter, a trend that is unlikely to continue (just ask the 11 Padres he K’d in his last outing). He also owns a low xFIP, a statistic that indicates his ERA should drop moving forward, thus allowing Santana to throw more innings and pile up more punch outs. Regression to the mean when it comes to opponent BABIP and LOB% also work in favor of ratio improvement for Santana, again giving him a chance to pitch deeper into games. The MLB schedule is division heavy in the final six weeks, so it should be noted that three of his top four strike out games have come against NL East opponents. He’s probably not a free agent, but he is a nice trade target if you want one starter who should see his K-rate spike.

He could strikeout more batters from this point forward than … Johnny Cueto. The Reds ace has been managing to strike out batters despite a low SwStr rate, a trend that is difficult to continue through the entire season and has resulted in inconsistencies (he has as many outings with five or fewer strikeouts as he does with nine or more). Cincinnati will face plenty of divisional opponents in the coming month-plus, not a favorable trend for those chasing punch outs as the NL Central is among the best contact divisions in baseball. Cueto figures to continue his productive pitching, but if you’re in a position where you need strikeouts, I’d lean toward Santana moving forward.

Roto help in Wins: Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) – The only healthy member of the Yanks opening has more upside moving forward than you may assume a nearly 40-year-old starter with a career worst ERA might have. Both he and his bullpen have ERA that is greater than their FIP and a FIP that is greater than their xFIP. That’s not a fool proof combination when it comes to pitching improvement, but it is about as good a indicator as you’ll get. The Yanks ‘pen ranks in the middle of the pack in strand rate and Kuroda is allowing base runners to score at a greater rate than his career track record would suggest, thus making the veteran a good bet to allow fewer runs and, consequently, win more games. The “Bombers” also haven’t helped by getting Kuroda less than five runs of support per nine innings, a trend that should turn around.

I’m in a giving mood, so how about another wins option? Yovanni Gallardo (MIL) pitches for seventh best offense, yet he ranks 89th of 93 qualified pitchers in run support per nine innings (3.29). That can’t possibly continue, can it? His xFIP mirrors his very reasonable 3.57 ERA, so regression is not imminent when it comes to his second best ERA of his career. Gallardo possesses a nice ground ball rate with declining line drive and fly ball rates, a pitching style that built to win games in a hitter-friendly park.

Both pitchers could win more games from this point forward than … Scott Kazmir. The A’s lefty sports an ERA that is 40.5 percent lower than his career average, a trend I’d be more inclined to believe if it wasn’t for a damning xFIP that is 1.04 runs above his ERA. His strong earned run average has been a combination of an unreasonable strand rate (he’s leaving 82.1 percent of men on base, a rate that trails only serious regression candidates Chris Young and Alfred Simon among pitchers that have made 20-plus starts) and a very low BABIP against (41 points below his career average). His ratios should regress sooner rather later, a trend that will hurt his projected win total just as much as the regression I expect from the Athletics offense (he ranks second in run support this season). His quality of pitching is due to come back to Earth as we wind down the regular season, but his quantity of innings is no guarantee either. In a loaded pitching staff, is it possible Oakland treats him with kid gloves over the final month as a result of him not having thrown more than 158 innings since 2007? It’s not out of the question and is yet another reason to like Kuroda and/or Gallardo over him if you’re chasing wins.

Quick Hitters:

For the season, the Orioles average 5.48 hits and runs per walk, yet they worked six walks while scoring only two runs and recording four hits in a 2-5 loss to the Padres.

The trade to New York certainly hasn’t hurt Chase Headley, but he was heating up even prior to the deal. He’s hitting .326 in July despite striking out 24 times before coaxing his first walk of the month last night.

Matt Holliday had five hits in this past week’s three game set with the Cubs, his most in a series not played in Coors Field in two months.

For just the second time in four seasons, Denard Span has reached based more than 40 times in a single month. His batting average thus far through July is greater than any monthly OBP since July 2012.

Wade Miley has struck out at least a batter an inning in eight of his last 11 starts. That’s the same number as MLB strikeout leader David Price and reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer over their last 11 outings.

Speaking of Price, he is throwing nearly 2.5 more pitches per outing than CC Sabathia did in his storied “workhorse” season of 2008, which featured him tossing 10 complete games (seven in 17 starts after being dealt to the Brewers).

Wily Peralta has won 43.1 percent of his career starts despite owning a 3.90 ERA. For reference, Felix Hernandez has won 41.6 percent of his career starts while holding an ERA of 3.10.

There is a pitcher in the major leagues with more wins/lower ERA than Clayton Kershaw and more innings pitched/better K:BB ratio than Adam Wainwright over his last four starts. Over that stretch, he has recorded a perfect 4-0 record with a 6.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.66 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched. He is … Jacob deGrom.

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