Second Half Scorchers

Nearly a month removed from the All-Star Game, there are several players who have seen drastic changes to their approaches and results over the last 30 days. While some players are in contention for a division title or wild card spot, others are helping their team to avoid the worst record in baseball. Take a look at these impressive results, as you get into the forgotten part of the baseball season – thanks in no small part to ESPN jamming NFL games that don’t even count down our throats.

Votto will continue to carry a putrid supporting cast...again.
Votto will continue to carry a putrid supporting cast…again.

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Last 30 days: .442/.550/.663, 221 wRC+, 1.7 WAR, 20.7% walk rate

Votto limped through the first two months of the season, hitting an ugly .213/.330/.404 through the end of May; however, there were signs that this would turn around, including his 13.2% walk rate and incredibly low .252 BABIP (.357 career). He has certainly had better luck since the beginning of June, hitting .366/.500/.574 with a 21.4% walk rate and a .430 BABIP. As the Reds continue to sit at the bottom of the wins column in the NL Central, Votto is doing his part to keep them somewhat entertaining in the midst of their horrifically run rebuild.

Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

Last 30 days: .313/.349/.696, .393 ISO, 1.5 WAR, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 R

Dozier has been a useful second baseman for a number of years, though, due to the Twins struggles, he may not be as well-known as he should be. After all, he has averaged 23 home runs, 35 doubles, 71 RBI, and 16 steals between 2013 and 2015. This season, however, Dozier seems certain to eclipse those averages and eclipse career-bests in several categories, including batting average, which currently sits at .264, which is probably why he isn’t as beloved by stat and fantasy nerds as he should be. Over the last month, Dozier has been on fire, and after another first half of solid production but a queasy .246/.335/.450 line, he has jumped all the way up to the total above (see last 30 days) and his robust 1.045 OPS. The Twins have a lot of talented middle infielders and Dozier is signed through 2018 for just $15MM, so it will be interesting to see what his potentially awesome second half – if he continues like this – could land them in an extremely weak free agent market this winter.

Jose Ramirez has been more valuable than Votto, Bryce Harper, and Addison Russell (based on WAR) in 2016 Courtesy: Cleveland.com
Jose Ramirez has been more valuable than Votto, Bryce Harper, and Addison Russell (based on WAR) in 2016
Courtesy: Cleveland.com

Jose Ramirez, INF/OF, Cleveland Indians

Last 30 days: .365/.415/.573, 19 R, 12 RBI, 7 SB,  4 HR

Ramirez has been a blessing to the Tribe, taking control of third base after watching veteran-signee Juan Uribe struggle, up to his release, at the hot corner, while he was taking the pain away from the seemingly year-long injury to Michael Brantley prior to taking on third base full-time. Ramirez, just 24 in September, has been an intriguing prospect for a number of years to anyone who closely follows the Indians, as his speed, versatility, and contact skills looked like a reason that he would end up playing elsewhere with Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor around up the middle. Ramirez, though, has proven that he can be productive and valuable anywhere on the diamond. While he may fill a super-utility role and be viewed as a Ben Zobrist-y kind of talent, he may create a future for others to be very Jose Ramirez-y, instead.

Danny Duffy, LHP, Kansas City Royals

Last 30 days: 5-0, 6 games (6 starts), 42.2 IP, 44:8 K:BB, .195 BAA, 2.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 1.3 WAR

Duffy has been Cy Young-contender good since the start of the 2nd half. Since moving into a full-time starter role on May 27th, Duffy is 9-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 109:18 K:BB over 99 IP and 15 starts. The Royals have dealt with some regression, inconsistencies, and ineffectiveness from their rotation throughout the year, and the defending world champions will have a rough time earning a wild card spot (they’re 6.5 games out as I write this), but Duffy, who is under team-control through next season, could be earning a lucrative extension with his recent efforts.

Verlander can be happy for many reasons this season Courtesy: CBS Sports
Verlander can be happy for many reasons this season
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Last 30 days: 4-0, 6 games (6 starts), 43 IP, 50:10 K:BB, .174 BAA, 1.67 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 1.5 WAR

When Justin Verlander led the league in earned runs allowed in 2014, many thought that he had lost it and wouldn’t ever be the same. It happens with pitchers, and we haven’t seen many power pitchers this side of Roger Clemens have long-term success. After battling through some injuries in 2015 and regaining some semblance of himself in the ERA column, the 2016-version of Verlander looks an awful lot like the annual Cy Young-contender that we were all used to seeing, as he is back to striking out more than a batter per inning this season. Maybe it is his engagement to Kate Upton, maybe it is an adaptation to pitching with what he has, but the Tigers, who are back in the hunt in the AL Central (they’re 1-11 against Cleveland but have 7 games remaining against them), are surely happy to have their ace back.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Last 30 days: 3-0, 5 games (5 starts), 32 IP, 27:6 K:BB, .231 BAA, 1.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 1.0 WAR

Odorizzi was one of the many Rays’ starters who were mentioned to be on the move at the trade deadline, however, only Matt Moore headed out of town and Tampa Bay has Odorizzi under control through 2019. If he continues his impressive run, Odorizzi could bring quite an impressive package of talent this winter, but the Rays could continue to build their offense around a rotation centered around Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, and the soon-to-return Alex Cobb. Just 6-5 in 24 starts, the 26-year-old right-hander is frustrating to own in fantasy, but his nice run over the last month may have flown under the radar due to the Rays last place standing in the AL East.

Advertisements

2015 Season Previews: Kansas City Royals

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Kansas City Royals

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 72-90 (4th in AL Central, 27th in MLB)

Manager: Ned Yost (373-402 in five seasons with the Royals, 830-904 overall in 11 seasons)

Top Three Players: OF Alex Gordon (4.4), C Salvador Perez (3.6), 3B Mike Moustakas (2.6)

Bounce-back Player: 3B Mike Moustakas

It is hard to say that a player will rebound, especially when they haven’t had a single season of league-average wRC+ in their entire MLB career, but Moustakas is certainly capable of better than he has shown in his career. After dropping to a career-worst .212/.271/.361 triple-slash and 76 wRC+ in 2014, there isn’t really much further down Moustakas can go offensively before he’ll be out of a job. He will get to respectable levels because he won’t have a .220 BABIP, which is heavily weighed down by defensive shifts. Add in the career-low strikeout rate (14.8 percent) and a career-high walk-rate (7.0 percent), and Moustakas, while regressing, is, at the same time, showing progress offensively. Who is Mike Moustakas? Is he the kid who hit 36 home runs in 2010 in the minors at the age of 22, or is he the guy with the .669 OPS over his 1,993 MLB plate appearances. He hasn’t ever really been in the middle, but there is still potential for that, even as he enters only his age-26 season (he seems like he should be older, right?).

"Royals

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Yordano Ventura

If you look at the numbers for the Royals pitching staff in 2014, you may wonder why Ventura is a player to watch. He tied for the team lead in wins (14) with James Shields, and was second to Danny Duffy in starter ERA (3.20). The petite right-hander logged 183 innings while averaging 97 mph on his dominating fastball. He will turn 24 in June, and he should improve his command to bring his walk-rate down a bit from the 3.39 that he had in 2014. With the stuff and a bit of control, the sky is the limit for this kid, even if he must continue to overcome the diminutive label. Look for more from the already impressive power-arm.

Offseason Overview: The Royals had an interesting offseason, losing their ace (James Shields), an outfielder (Nori Aoki), and their long-time DH (Billy Butler); however, they filled those holes by signing RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Kris Medlen, OF Alex Rios, and 1B/DH Kendrys Morales. The big question is: is that going to be enough? With Shields gone, the ace of the rotation (at least in label) will likely be RHP Jeremy Guthrie. Volquez isn’t going to replace the production that Shields had, at least (based on his track record) there isn’t enough consistency to warrant his elevation to being considered at top-tier pitcher, and Medlen, after two Tommy John surgeries, has been good, yet, he can’t be counted on. They will, instead, hope to get more production out of Ventura and LHP Danny Duffy to off-set the loss of Shields. A healthy Rios should be an upgrade over Aoki, even with the difference in on-base skills that Rios brings, and Morales was once capable of better production than the .702 OPS and 95 OPS+ that Butler provided from the DH slot in 2014, so they’ll hope for a return to that level with a full offseason to prepare.

The Verdict: PECOTA wasn’t kind to the Royals, just an offseason removed from appearing in the World Series. The AL Central seems quite competitive, especially with the White Sox buying in this winter. The Royals need to see improvements by Moustakas, OF Lorenzo Cain, and their young starting pitching. The additional unknown in year-to-year reliever success can go a long way in the Royals’ future, as well, as the dominance from RHP Greg Holland, RHP Wade Davis, and RHP Kelvin Herrera may not be the same in 2015. While PECOTA, once again, wasn’t very kind, the Royals seem more like, as they were last season, to exceed expectations. They have a lot of good, young talent still, and if things break right, even a little, they are capable of outperforming expectations, just as they did in 2014.