Welcome to another edition of M-SABR’s fantasy baseball analysis! Each week, members of our staff will provide their take on notable players to help inform decisions in your own fantasy baseball leagues. In this week’s article, we look at some young up and coming stars who you should look to target in your fantasy leagues, an old fantasy star that looks like he is slowly re-establishing himself as a solid offensive contributor, and an ace starting pitcher that has struggled after a recent DL stint.
Max’s Players to Pick Up/Trade Targets
Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Houston Astros
Gurriel has scored a run in each of the past six games. He’s hitting in the middle of the most potent lineup in all of baseball (Yes, Yankees fans, the Astros have a better lineup) and should rack up counting stats with relative ease. Yes, the home run power is virtually nonexistent but his season average is now over .300 with a two-hit performance on Sunday and that, coupled with his spot in the Houston lineup, makes for an intriguing depth add.
Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Indians
Bieber was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to start for the big league club on Sunday due to the fact that Adam Plutko, who was the scheduled starter, was used in relief the day prior. Carlos Carrasco was pulled from his Saturday start with an elbow injury and promptly placed on the 10-day DL after being hit by a comebacker so Sunday’s 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 H, 7 K start may not be the end of Bieber. Bieber is getting unlucky in the sense that a lot of his balls in play are going for hits, but he’s also stranding a very high percentage of his runners. Overall, he should be able to be a solid #5 fantasy starter with good strikeout and walk numbers until he gets optioned back to the minors.
Jason Heyward, OF, Chicago Cubs
Buyer beware: you will not be getting the Jason Heyward of old if you choose to pick him up or target him in a trade. And the improvements he has made may not be showing up in the box score just yet, but they exist. Heyward has started to set up differently when he gets into the batter’s box and he has been using his wrists more in his swing, which has resulted in a .288/.315/.500 triple-slash over his last 12 games (not including Sunday night’s contest). Over that span, Heyward has hit two long balls, driven in nine, and come home six times, all while hitting towards the top of the Cubs lineup that leads all NL lineups in wRC+. Heyward is a great depth piece for any team looking to make a run down the stretch.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
It looks like the buy-low window on Devers may be closed for good after his homer Sunday. If not, take the opportunity to go get him because it looks like after two relatively poor months, he has finally figured things out. Last season, Devers triple-slashed .284/.338/.482 with 10 HR in 240 PA as a 20-year-old. This season, his .236/.285/.407 triple-slash leaves a lot to be desired. However, over the past twelve games, Devers is triple-slashing .313/.327/.532 with two HR and seven RBI. The walk rate is not good at all, but it looks like Devers has found his power stroke once again and is heating up.
Jonathan Loaisiga, SP, New York Yankees
“[Loaisiga] looks like a young Mariano Rivera,” said Kevin Cash, Rays manager, after his squad was shutout through five innings by the 23-year-old pitcher in his first ever big league start. Cash’s high praise is good and well, but Loaisiga has a ways to go before he gets to Mariano status. Even still, the young Nicaraguan can be a force for fantasy teams so long as he remains in the rotation. The walks will be there but the strikeouts will as well; Loaisiga struck out six and walked four in his major league debut. Even with the high walk rate, he got 17 swinging strikes in 91 pitches which is a stellar rate. Masahiro Tanaka is expected to be out for the foreseeable future, so add Loaisiga and reap the rewards while you still can.
Sahil’s Struggling Stars
In this week’s edition of struggling stars, I am going to highlight three players I own (or have recently cut or traded) in my two fantasy leagues, one seasonal league and one dynasty league, and give my thoughts on what you should do with these players in your own leagues.
Ken Giles, RP, Houston Astros
In a vacuum, the closer on a World Series champion team should hold significant fantasy value. Even if the player did not have an elite ERA or WHIP, you would think the number of saves would at least make them one of the top 10 closers in fantasy baseball the next season. Right?
Not if you’re Ken Giles and the Houston Astros.
After posting a very solid 2.30 ERA and 1.04 WHIP to go with 34 saves in the 2017 regular season, Giles collapsed in the playoffs, posting an unsightly 11.57 ERA and giving up at least one earned run in six of the seven games he pitched. As a result, Hinch did not use Giles at all during the last few games of the World Series. Despite the start of a fresh new season in 2018, Giles hasn’t seemingly regained the full confidence from his manager. While he has not given up a run in any of his save situations, he has struggled in non-save situations, leading to a mediocre 4.56 ERA on the season. Perhaps more concerning is Giles’ behavior. After punching himself in the face and throwing a bat following a bad outing against the Yankees in May, Hinch expressed frustration with Giles’s inability to control his emotions and very briefly removed him from the closer’s role. Although it seemed like he was getting back on track to end May, another bad stretch by Giles prompted Hinch to announce that Hector Rondon would begin to see more save opportunities. True to his word, Hinch has used Rondon in 4 of the Astros’ last 5 save opportunities, with Giles picking up his first hold of the season on Sunday.
What does this mean going forward in fantasy?
It depends on the format. In leagues that do not reward holds, I think he is an easy drop (I dropped him in one such league and haven’t looked back). He isn’t an asset for ERA and WHIP. And even if he manages to regain the closer’s role from Hector Rondon on a full-time basis, which seems unlikely, he would have such a short leash that it would be very difficult to rely on him. The Astros also are widely expected to add a reliever at the trade deadline, which would only muddy up the situation even more.
In leagues that do reward holds, however, I would be inclined to hold onto him for now. Although the Astros bullpen use as a whole can be a bit unpredictable, I find it hard to believe that AJ Hinch would refuse to let Giles pitch in any hold situation. Trusting Giles to get the hold in the 8thinning of Sunday’s game is a big indicator of that. There is also at least some chance that he will get more save opportunities going forward, which would help his value. However, if Giles struggles in his new role, I would not hesitate to drop him in a holds league.
Verdict: Drop in non-holds leagues, Keep (for now) in holds leagues
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Polanco is like the Ken Giles of hitters. Both players have a lot of talent but have just never put it all together on a consistent basis. After a red-hot start to April, many were convinced that Polanco was ready to finally take the next step and become an elite bat for the Pirates. However, he has crashed and burned in recent weeks. Before Sunday’s game, Polanco was batting a Chris Davis-like .129/.211/.226 in his previous 20 games. When you are getting compared to Chris Davis, you know something is terribly wrong. Polanco has been working to make some adjustments to his swing, and to his credit, we have seen some flashes of his hard work paying off (including a 3-run triple against the Diamondbacks and 3 hit games against the Reds and Cardinals all in June). Furthermore, the Pirates seem committed to working with Polanco to fix his mechanics and have expressed confidence in his skills as a player. However, he has lost playing time in recent weeks due to the emergence of rookie Austin Meadows and resurgent seasons from Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. And when he has been in the lineup, he has been batting in the lower third of the lineup, as opposed to the #2 spot that he occupied for much of April and May.
Based on this information, he is an easy cut in my opinion in most 10 and 12-team seasonal fantasy leagues. The playing time and performance are too inconsistent to justify holding him on a roster. Because of the upside, his relatively young age, and the lack of options on waivers in deeper seasonal leagues and dynasty leagues, I would be inclined to hold onto him for now and hope that his adjustments to his swing pay off. However, I would shop him around to see if you can find another team who is willing to strongly bet on Polanco improving in the second half of the season.
(For some reference in trade talks, I have been involved in a series of transactions involving Polanco in both of my leagues. In my 10-team seasonal league, I acquired Polanco earlier this week as a throw-in in a larger deal, with the idea that I would try to use him as trade bait for a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. I ended up cutting him a few days later after not receiving any offers I liked. In my 12-team dynasty league, I acquired Polanco and Jeremy Jeffress in May for pitcher Dylan Cease (MLB.com’s #52-ranked prospect) and Tony Watson. A month after acquiring him, I shipped Polanco off to another team for pitcher Michel Baez (MLB.com’s #35-ranked prospect) and Francisco Cervelli.)
Verdict: Drop in shallow seasonal leagues, Keep in deeper seasonal and dynasty leagues
Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
After watching Carlos Martinez dominate hitters in April and May, he was one of the last players I expected to write about as a struggling fantasy star. After a rough start against the Mets on opening day, Martinez only gave up 5 earned runs in 45.2 innings over his next 7 starts before landing on the DL with a lat strain. Since coming back from the DL in June, his command has disappeared. After walking only 16 batters in the 7 previously mentioned starts, he has walked 18 batters in his three starts after the DL stint. After making it through at least six innings in six of his seven starts in April and May, he has not made it to the sixth inning in any of his starts in June.
So… what happened? And how does this affect Martinez’s fantasy value?
In seasonal leagues, I would be concerned. The most logical explanation is that Martinez is still suffering from some lingering effects of the lat strain. Considering you probably drafted Martinez with the expectation that he would play a significant role on your pitching staff, this could have a major effect on your fantasy fortune for the rest of the season. I think how you should proceed is dependent on your standing in your fantasy league. If you are currently coasting to a playoff spot and have the pitching depth to overcome Martinez’s current struggles, I would just bench him hoping he gets it together. He was selected as one of the top starting pitchers in drafts for a reason and his career track record and strong performance to begin the season suggest that he is an elite pitcher when healthy. If you are currently sitting on the borderline of a playoff appearance and need a boost to separate your team from the pack, I wouldn’t necessarily pull the trigger on a deal right away but looking to deal Martinez for players that could contribute to your team right now would be a good idea. Even if Martinez comes on strong to end the season, it won’t help you if your team is sitting in the consolation bracket.
Verdict: Keep if you can afford to wait out Martinez’s struggles, start to explore trades if you need to improve your team in the short-term
Alex’s Deep League Adds
Willie Calhoun, 2B, Texas Rangers
Ownership: 3% ESPN, 10% Yahoo!
If you’re in need of a power hitter that can be a possible stash for late in the season, Willie Calhoun can be a great fit. Part of the Yu Darvish trade that sent him to the Dodgers, Calhoun is one of the top prospects in the Rangers farm system currently. It will only be a matter of time before he will be called up because he has played in AAA the whole season and he has been hitting well so far. He holds a .281 AVG to go along with six HRs and 28 RBIs while only striking out 11% on his plate appearances. One of the most impressive aspects of Calhoun recently is that he has .424 AVG over his last 33 plate appearances. Calhoun has been regarded as a top prospect for some time now, so he should get the call-up to the major leagues soon and can contribute right away. Hopefully, we see Calhoun get the call-up by the end of July and translate his stat line from AAA into the bigs.
Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies
Ownership: 2% ESPN, 3% Yahoo!
Power is the name of the game for Tom Murphy and that played a role in his recent call-up to the major leagues. In AAA this year, Murphy has been an absolute beast, racking up 16 HRs to go with 45 RBIs and a .289 AVG. Murphy will most likely compete for playing with Chris Iannetta, but he might already be the consistent starting catcher for the Rockies though. Since being called up on June 12th, he has been in the starting lineup for every game but one, so it’s looking like he can pull away as the go-to catcher in Colorado. It is a little worrisome that he is striking out 35% currently, but for fantasy purposes, it shouldn’t affect his value, especially if he continues to hit HRs near the same rate as he did in AAA this year. With the catcher position being such a quagmire situation right now, Murphy is worth a flyer if you are in need of one and should be a priority if you’re in a two-catcher league.