Don’t Sleep on These 12 Sleepers for 2017

In fantasy baseball, it is impossible to have all of your teams loaded with the top-tier talent necessary to win every season. Even keeper leagues have players at the top every year who struggle with injuries. You need depth, you need to find a diamond in the rough, and you need to take gambles in order to win. For that reason, you need to know some players who may fly under the radar. This is a list of 12 players who may be available a little later than you think in your baseball drafts who could ruin the lives of your fiercest competitors.

pollock
Pollock should return to All-Star status after missing most of 2016. Courtesy: CBS Sports

A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Pollock had all of 46 plate appearances in 2016 due to injuries. It isn’t so much that he is a legitimate sleeper as much as how low he may rank on several draft boards due to his extended absence. Remember, this is a guy who hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, and 39 steals in 2015. He was the Yang to Paul Goldschmidt‘s Ying, worthy of an early selection last season. Don’t let him fall too far and reap the benefits if he falls into your lap.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers

Gomez struggled so mightily last season that the Houston Astros released him on August 18th. Two days later, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and promptly put up the type of line that Houston was looking for during his time there, erupting to a .284/.362/.543 line with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 33 games – he had five home runs and 29 RBI in 85 games for Houston. He signed for one-year and $11.5 million to prove himself capable of All-Star production in his age-31 season. He is playing in the right place for another offensive outburst.

buxton
Buxton still has the tools that made you fall in love. Don’t run away now. Courtesy: ESPN

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

Buxton has really disappointed a lot of fans and prospect fanatics with a pretty abysmal start to his career. He has struck out 162 times (with just 29 walks) in 469 plate appearances, which has led to a putrid .220/.274/.398 triple-slash in his brief career. While others will look at those numbers and run, you shouldn’t let the prospect fatigue and struggles lead you astray. Look at Buxton’s September from 2016:

Months
G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
29 29 113 101 24 29 6 2 9 22 1 10 38 .287 .357 .653 1.011 66 .370
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2017.

While the strikeouts are still worrisome, this supposed clone of a young Eric Davis showed power and the abilities that made people drool. He was given the job for the month of September and ran with it, which is downright scary with his speed tool and the BABIP right where most speedsters have theirs. Look for a breakout in 2017.

tomas
Tomas can’t take a walk, but you don’t need to with power. A healthy lineup around him could lead to more power. Courtesy: Peter Gammons

Yasmany Tomas, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Tomas was just a part of my story about overpaid Cuban free agents, so why would I have him on a sleeper list, you ask? Because Tomas has some tools that you can’t find everywhere, namely his power. He tore things up in the second half of 2016, posting a .913 OPS, which is impressive for a guy who walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. It meant that the 18 bombs in the second half – and 31 overall – could be overlooked due to how ridiculously horrific the Diamondbacks have handled him. With Jake Lamb locked in at third, it appears that Tomas is officially a slugging outfielder, and his numbers could continue to climb with the return of the previously mentioned Pollock to the Arizona lineup.

Hernan Perez, 2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Over his first 351 career plate appearances (2012-2015), Perez was pretty useless, posting a .235/.251/.307 line with 15 doubles, three triples, one homer, and six stolen bases. Then, at age 25, Perez got an opportunity in Milwaukee, and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the second half of the 2016 season, this previously unknown, organizational depth player went on to post a .281/.313/.449 triple-slash with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, and 24, count ’em…24, stolen bases. He’d total 13 bombs and 34 steals on the season, playing third, second, and outfield. While no one knows whether he will put up similar numbers, Perez has some value, even if it is only in deep mixed leagues. That position flexibility is Zobrist-like, while the production isn’t too far off, either. He would be a nice addition in late rounds for depth purposes, though the addition of Travis Shaw at third could lead to Perez being a one-year wonder.

cotton
Did you know who he was before September? Be honest…Keep an eye on him, but don’t go crazy. Courtesy:sacbee.com

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Cotton was a 20th round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, acquired by the A’s in the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick deal last season. He had long had solid numbers in the minors, striking out 10 per 9 IP over the course of 490+ minor league innings. Upon reaching the majors for the first time in September, Cotton posted video game numbers over five starts with a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB, and 6 H/9. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the 5’11” right-hander will continue to miss bats at that rate, but you don’t want to be the one who watches someone else benefit from the gamble. He’s penciled in as Oakland’s No. 4 starter, so continue to monitor him this spring.

James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

If only this guy could stay healthy…which is exactly why he is a sleeper. After making only 20 starts in 2016, Paxton is the type of guy that Brett Anderson would like to be and every other pitcher avoids becoming; however, his final 11 starts were pretty impressive, injury-free, and worthy of fantasy acknowledgment. He posted a 71:9 K:BB over 67.2 innings, a 3.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and a .235 BAA. Seattle made a lot of deals this winter to become contenders, and Paxton could be a “guy” who improves enough or continues to pitch like he did last season, to help make that happen.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers

Norris had an interesting year, spending a lot of time rebuilding stamina after beating cancer between the 2015 and 2016 season. Upon sticking in the Tigers rotation (from August 9th onward), the young left-hander posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 punchouts in 56.1 innings. While the 1.37 WHIP and 19 walks in the same 56.1 innings is worrisome, Norris has shown the ability to make it work. He will turn just 24 in April and he has to beat Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey to earn the No. 5 spot, but, if he wins it, he has the stuff and the teachers (Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann) to learn on the job.

Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Run in terror if you’d like, but don’t forget to look at the 11.3 K:9 that Ray posted in 2016. That led to a whopping 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings. Sure, the 4.90 ERA is gross. Sure, the 1.47 WHIP is disgusting. There is something here. You don’t miss that many bats without having great stuff. This will be Ray’s age-25 season and he will take another step forward because he won’t be posting a .355 BABIP in 2017 and he won’t be losing 15 games again if he throws it by so many opposing hitters in 2017. Keep in mind, Ray’s FIP was 3.76 in 2016. Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

peraza
There could be a lot of this happening in Cincinnati. Courtesy: Getty Images

Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

Everyone is going to be on the Peraza bandwagon, with valid reasons. When the Reds traded Brandon Phillips (and millions of dollars that “small-market” teams don’t have) to the Atlanta Braves, it made fantasy baseball fans celebrate. Peraza posted a .324/.352/.411 triple-slash and 21 stolen bases in just 72 games and 256 plate appearances. With Peraza and Billy Hamilton around, the Reds could look a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980’s, when Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ran wild on the league. They just have to get on base for that to happen, and Peraza has been more of a hit-tool and speed talent than an on-base machine.

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

After getting hit in the head on June 18, Panik battled some concussion symptoms, having played through them by passing concussion protocol through MLB. After the beaning, Panik hit just .215/.305/.346. Prior to that, he was hitting .263/.326/.411. Obviously, there could be something in the Justin Morneau area here that could scare you away from wanting Panik on your fantasy team, but he showed a couple of statistics that would warrant a rebound. Overall, including the times that he was apparently dazed, Panik walked more than he struck out in 2016, while posting career highs in homers (10) and RBI (67). In addition to that, Panik had a woeful .245 BABIP. While the league average is typically around .300, Panik’s was incredibly low. There are always outliers and it appears that Panik was one of them in 2016. Expect a rebound in 2017.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have a lot of interesting young pitchers. Finnegan was, prior to Anthony DeSclafani‘s return from injury, the only Reds’ pitcher worth owning in fantasy leagues. Like any young pitcher, there were growing pains…lots of them; however, it wasn’t all Finnegan’s fault. The Reds had Finnegan paired with Ramon Cabrera in 12 of his 31 starts and Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 catchers in pitch framing. Whether that is something you consider or not, you should know that he should have Devin Mesoraco back there again, barring another injury, in 2017. In addition to the potentially damning battery mate in 2016, Finnegan was able to change something in his approach down the stretch, throwing a changeup more often and posting some ridiculous numbers over his final seven starts: 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47:16 K:BB, 37.1 IP, .199 BAA. Sure, the Reds will be one of the worst teams in MLB in 2017…unless they have players like Finnegan continue to grow while on the job. Consider adding him in late rounds and be willing to bail on him if he goes through battles of inconsistency in the middle of the year.

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30 Shades of Hot: Take Notice of These Scorching Players

Over the last month, some players have inflated their production to incredible levels. With all of the excitement from the NBA and NHL Playoffs, the Supreme Court, and…the Women’s World Cup…perhaps you’ve missed it. Below are some players who are getting back on track or having career seasons.

Arizona 1B Paul Goldschmidt for MVP?  Courtesy: USA Today
Arizona 1B Paul Goldschmidt for MVP?
Courtesy: USA Today

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Last 30 days: .394/.525/.713, 6 2B, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 15:27 K:BB, 5 SB

You could argue that Goldschmidt has been the best player in MLB this season, even though he ranks 3rd in WAR (4.3) behind the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (5.1) and the Indians’ Jason Kipnis (4.6). Goldy has compiled a .354/.473/.654 line to go along with 15 doubles, 20 home runs, 60 RBI, and a league-leading 59 walks (17 intentional). While the Diamondbacks sit at 35-37, they are just 4.5 games out of the Wild Card hunt. Goldschmidt will continue to be pitched around as the primary source of fear within the Arizona lineup.

Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Last 30 days: .354/.381/.770, 14 2B, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB

Frazier is the Reds’ Ambassador for the upcoming All-Star Game in Cincinnati, utilizing his friendly personality and love of Frank Sinatra to become a beloved figure in Reds Country. He is becoming a beloved figure around baseball, especially fantasy circles, due to his incredible power outburst over the last month. Frazier has been the 4th most valuable position player in baseball (based on WAR, 4.1), as he has become an asset not only for his bat, but his slick glove at the hot corner.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

Last 30 days: .333/.416/.818, 3 2B, 15 HR, 30 RBI, 5:13 K:BB

“Prince Albert” has found the stroke that made him such a force in his Hall of Fame worthy time in St. Louis. After averaging “just” 25 home runs, 91 RBI, and an .810 OPS in his first three seasons for the Angels, many thought the days of 40 home runs, 121 RBI, and 1.037 OPS, his average year in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, were long gone. Pujols currently leads the AL in bombs (23), and will continue to be a part of the two-man wrecking crew that the Angels have with him and Mike Trout in the order.

Giants' 2B Joe Panik - career year or start of something special?  Courtesy: goldengatesports.com
Giants’ 2B Joe Panik – career year or start of something special?
Courtesy: goldengatesports.com

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

Last 30 days: .336/.405/.542, 10 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 12:12 K:BB, 2 SB

Panik likely wasn’t on your list of players who could post a .300/.400/.500 season, but he has been that player over the last month, and very good over the entire season. Panik’s .310/.380/.463 line, 19 doubles, six home runs, and 141 wRC+ (2nd among second basemen in MLB) aren’t all that different from his .296/.365/.403 line over his minor league career, yet, he has nearly reached each of his season-long projections that were set forth by Steamer and ZiPS. His 2.8 WAR has allowed him to show more value than the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Kolten Wong, Brian Dozier, and Jose Altuve. Panik was a first round pick out of St. John’s University in 2011. At just 24, he has shown himself to be quite productive, and, if all else fails, he has a slick glove at second.

Justin Turner, INF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last 30 days: .361/.418/.639, 6 2B, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 11:7 K:BB

Based on 190 plate appearances, Turner is the 15th most valuable position player in MLB (2.9 WAR). He is having an excellent month, while continuing to shine in the opportunities that he is provided, which are coming in bunches since the Dodgers traded Juan Uribe. While Corey Seager continues to mash in the minors, it is likely Jimmy Rollins at short who is more likely to be replaced than the do-it-all Turner. A career .260/.323/.361 hitter over his first five seasons (2009-2013, 926 plate appearances), the 30-year-old third baseman has hit .334/.400/.526 triple-slash over 512 plate appearances since the start of the 2014 season, with 33 doubles and 17 home runs.

Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Texas Rangers

Last 30 days: 2-0, five starts, 0.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 31 IP, 26:10 K:BB, .193 BAA

Gallardo looked like a lost cause early this season, posting a 4.05 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in his first five starts for the Rangers. With the way that the ball flies out of Arlington, it was only a matter of time before the Mexican hurler’s numbers would look even worse. However, that hasn’t been the case. Since May 1st, Gallardo has a 2.51 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 61 innings, including his impressive run of starts over the last 30 days. While the velocity and strikeout totals continue to dip, Gallardo is finding more success by cutting back on his curve and increasing the use of his slider and change. We’ll see if he can continue to stay hot as Texas heats up.

Braves' RHP Williams Perez - will the league catch up to him?  Courtesy: foxsports.com
Braves’ RHP Williams Perez – will the league catch up to him?
Courtesy: foxsports.com

Williams Perez, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Last 30 days: 4-0, six games (five starts), 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1 save, 32 IP, 20:15 K:BB, .219 BAA

Who? Unranked by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com prior to the season, the 24-year-old has moved quickly through the Atlanta system since reaching full season ball in 2013. He jumped to Triple-A to start the season and made five starts before joining the Braves bullpen. He made all of two appearances before he joined the rotation – minus a random save opportunity on June 13th. In his seven starts, Perez has a 2.14 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. While the walks would need to come down for him to become a more valuable option, Perez has youth and results on his side to this point.

Nate Karns, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Last 30 days: 1-1, six games (six starts), 2.65 ERA 1.26 WHIP, 34 IP, 31:12 K:BB, .238 BAA

Karns has stepped up to take on a major role while the Rays battle health issues that have landed Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly on the disabled list for extended time this season and Matt Moore continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. The 27-year-old late bloomer, drafted in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, had shown some impressive strikeout skills in the minors (10.3 K:9 over 449.1 minor league innings), but, though he hasn’t reached those numbers to this point, he has certainly shown that he can get major league hitters out. Over 15 starts, Karns has a 3.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP to go along with his 8.2 K:9. The Rays continue to have a process to maintain success, even after losing Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers from their front office. Karns, acquired by Friedman and Company in February of 2014, looks like a solid, long-term option for the Rays.

 

 

 

 

2015 Season Previews: San Francisco Giants

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!

San Francisco Giants

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 84-78 (3rd in NL West, 9th in MLB)

Manager: Bruce Bochy (667-629 in eight seasons with San Francisco, 1,618-1,604 in 20 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: C Buster Posey (6.1), LHP Madison Bumgarner (3.5), 1B Brandon Belt (3.3)

Bounce-back Player: RHP Matt Cain

Since the start of the 2013 season, Cain has gone 10-17 with a 4.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 274.2 innings and 45 starts. Over the previous four seasons, Cain had gone 55-35 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 882 innings and 131 starts. The last two seasons, Cain has been on the disabled list four times and he has had two surgeries (bone chips removed from his right elbow and right ankle surgery to remove bone spurs). He was never on the disabled list prior to the 2013 season. Some people may think that the 30-year-old right-hander will be a bust after signing his mega-extension, but Cain has had some bad luck the last two seasons with his health, and he has still shown an ability to keep the opposition off the bases, despite the inflated ERA. Look for Cain to be a solid 1B to Bumgarner’s 1A as he returns to form in 2015.

Susac has the tools to be a big producer...if he gets a shot Courtesy: USA Today
Susac has the tools to be a big producer…if he gets a shot
Courtesy: USA Today

Fantasy Player to Watch: C Andrew Susac

Even with Brandon Belt at first base, it doesn’t seem like a smart investment to have your best player at such a vulnerable position in the midst of a nine-year, $164 million contract. For that reason, and that fact that Belt would be an offensive upgrade in a corner over Gregor Blanco, you should keep an eye on Susac, a second round pick in 2011 out of Oregon State. Susac is a slugger with solid on-base skills, while providing a strong arm and solid, but not elite, defense behind the dish. While he is unlikely to log 400 at-bats in San Francisco, possibly even 200 in 2015, there will come a time when Susac is catching and Posey will be manning first base or another position, and this 25-year-old will be worth rostering.

Offseason Overview: The defending world champions lost their star third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, to the Boston Red Sox via free agency, but they did sign OF Nori Aoki and 3B Casey McGehee…Is that enough? The Giants held tight across the board, and they hope to survive with their very good rotation until Hunter Pence returns from his broken forearm to help the offense score some runs. Why fix what has been working? Sandoval was good but not great, and they’ll benefit from the on-base skills from Aoki at the top of the order. That was a sneak-good signing, and the pitching is still there to be competitive.

The Verdict: Well, it isn’t an even year, so the Giants can be written off as champions, since they’ve won in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Maybe next year, they can continue on with their pattern. The 2015 season will be quite interesting. They’ll hope to get some value out of the two-year, $35 million deal they gave Tim Lincecum after his horrific 2012 and 2013 seasons, and they’ll look for continued dominance by Bumgarner, who had one of the most historical performances in baseball history down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. The Giants continue to coast with what they have, adding aging pieces in areas of need, continuing to watch Posey and Pence carry a very average (or worse) group of hitters. If they were able to add something more than what they did this winter, perhaps they could have been capable of repeating, but they’ll settle into the middle of the NL West with another above .500 record, preparing to pounce on some free agents after the 2015 season.

Time for a Change

It is time for the Cincinnati Reds to a make a change. Dusty Baker needs to go.

On the heels of another postseason defeat, one in which Baker’s decision-making was quite questionable, this is the time to make a change.

Baker2Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty said that “He’s signed for another year,” but he also said, “we’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and evaluate and try to see what we can do to improve things.” What seems like a vote of confidence is sort of a broad, vague, we’ll have to see type of statement.

Certainly, the Dusty Baker-era in Cincinnati hasn’t been terrible. The team has made the postseason three of the last four seasons, winning 90 or more games in those three seasons; however, in three of Baker’s six seasons, the Reds have had losing seasons. Does Baker have what it takes to get this club over the hump?

The issue with Baker is that he can’t separate himself from his players. He seems to enjoy being the cool dad figure in the clubhouse, focusing so much on the relationships that he overlooks the obvious. Like this:

The problem with this statement is that Baker can’t get into Johnny Cueto’s head. Does Cueto really thrive in playoff environments? I guess this is Baker’s proof: Cueto had started two games in the playoffs in his career prior to last night and he had a 1.69 ERA. The only problem is that he lasted all of 1/3 of an inning before he was removed from last season’s NLDS start against the San Francisco Giants with an injury, and his only other start was a five inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. Was Cueto the answer as the starter in the one-game playoff?  Nevermind the 130 days that Cueto spent on the DL this season. Nevermind that Mike Leake was available and he didn’t pitch on Tuesday, despite being 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA over four starts against the Pirates in 2013. Baker went with his horse, Cueto, who had pitched all of 12 inning since June 28.  It isn’t as if Dusty Baker is very aware of the use of statistics, instead flying by the seat of his pants to make decisions. “All I know is that my eyes see plays and see things that save games,” this was a quote from Baker when discussing Darwin Barney and Brandon Phillips as Gold Glove worthy second basemen from the Chicago Sun Times; however, his eyes didn’t seem to save him on Tuesday night.

 More importantly:

Bonds1Baker may be respected across the game for his leadership, but he has only led one team to a World Series, and that was in 2002, in his 20 years as a Major League manager. One could even question whether Baker actually makes any decisions that have led to success. After all:

Great players don’t always make great teams, but it certainly helps. Does anyone out there think that the Oakland A’s would have won the AL West this season with Baker at the helm?

Regardless of where Baker could or should have been, he doesn’t belong in Cincinnati going forward.

The Reds have a window with their current club, the 2015 season (after which Mat Latos, Cueto, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon are free agents) likely it, and after the club lost the final six games of the season, including the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, while showing very little effort in losing twice to the New York Mets before being swept in a three-game series at home against the Pirates to end the regular season, it is fair to wonder if Baker has the leadership skills necessary to motivate the Reds to play hard and get over the hump.

When Ryan Ludwick questioned the fans and their effort last week as a way to spin the Reds’ apparent lack of motivation, saying:

“I might be be calling (fans) out. But I’m calling them out in a positive way. We want loud and energetic. It’s like a natural Red Bull. We need every positive aspect we can to keep this thing going.’’

You’re telling me that in the middle of a playoff race, men playing a game and making millions of dollars can’t motivate themselves? There was no one stepping up and saying anything to fire the group of men up within the clubhouse?

This isn’t just a one-time call as a Cincinnati native, overreacting to the failure of another lost season. This is a continuation of failures that continue to go unnoticed by so many. All of the times that Ryan Hanigan started over Devin Mesoraco. All of the times that the No.2 spot and No.4 spots were juggled. All of the times that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto were split up in the lineup because they’re both left-handed, instead of utilizing their skills back-to-back in the middle of the order. All of the times that Aroldis Chapman would pitch three or four days in a row and then not pitch for a week. It has been apparent for some time that this wasn’t working.

BakerThe Cincinnati Reds lack leadership and it all starts with the manager. Look how far the Cleveland Indians have gone this season with Terry Francona taking the reigns. Ignoring numbers and flying by the seat of your pants in decision-making leads to tremendous failure, and that is the way that 95-percent of teams have finished their seasons when Dusty Baker has managed them. While intelligent managers like Joe Maddon adapt to the changing game, Dusty Baker allows his teams to fade, he loses leads, and he has no true way of defining how he can make a difference as a leader. If you throw enough crap at a wall, eventually some of it will stick.

It’s time for the crap to leave Cincinnati. It’s time for an intelligent leader. Fire Dusty Baker.

What If: ARod Ruined MLB’s 2013 Season?

This.

Alex  RodriguezSure, it’s a home run in a game that may appear meaningless, but every game that Alex Rodriguez plays in 2013 that helps the New York Yankees in any way could destroy the integrity of the entire 2013 Major League Baseball season.

After Rodriguez broke Gehrig’s grand slam record, the Yankees went on to beat the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum 5-1 on Friday night in New York. The Bronx Bombers are now 22-18 (.550) with Alex Rodriguez after going 59-55 (.518) without him, and depending on the results of the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers games tonight, the Yankees could be just 2.5 games out of the Wild Card after tonight.

Of course, the Yankees have had a little help late this season, getting solid production from Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano in the second half, but Rodriguez and his seven home runs, 18 RBI, and 126 wRC+ shouldn’t be ignored, it is certainly more productivity than they were getting from their other third basemen, who combined to post a gross .208/.251/.283 line over 453 at-bats while compiling just 128 total bases in 114 games. Rodriguez has 56 total bases in 40 games and 142 at-bats.

The Yankees have a lot of teams to catch and with two games against the Giants, three against the Rays, and three against the Houston Astros, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could make a last minute push to playoff pay dirt.

But should Alex Rodriguez have been responsible for any of those wins, which he clearly has been, then how can Major League Baseball and Bud Selig sleep at night?

The information that the league apparently has against Rodriguez and the BioGenesis investigation was enough to suspend him through the 2014 season, but after allowing an appeal, which was necessary with the league’s collective bargaining agreement, the league was forced to allow him to play until the appeal could be heard. Considering the resources that are available to the league, contacting and solidifying an arbitrator for a hearing was within reason well before today…hell, the league should have been on the phone and had a hearing set roughly ten minutes after the suspension was handed out on August 5.

After watching Matt Kemp lose out on the NL MVP in 2011 due to another BioGenesis product, Ryan Braun, and all of the hoopla surrounding Braun’s bastardizing of the entire process and system that goes along with testing and collection, MLB can’t afford another player impacting the validity of a 162-game marathon due to their impression on the outcome of 40 to 50 games that they shouldn’t have been a part of to begin with…not when it is a single player, who could have easily just been suspended.

SeligAlex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds have tarnished the record books with their use of performance-enhancing drugs, but the players who don’t have enough personal worth to be successful with their own god-given gifts don’t have to be capable of making it all about them forever. Selig should have manned up weeks ago for the integrity of the game. Alex Rodriguez shouldn’t play another game in 2013 and his suspension should be upheld immediately because you can’t go back in time to fix something that has already happened. Winning 22 games with Alex Rodriguez in the lineup or acknowledging any of the 21 runs that he has scored this season are already examples of opposing teams being wronged by a policy, a policy maker,  and a player that don’t have the testicular fortitude to do what is right for the game that they are there to serve, protect, and love.

Either be consistent by upholding a policy that was put in place to protect the integrity of the game or allow the league to be pushed over by the strongest players union in professional sports. You can’t really have it both ways. If Selig wants to change things, he needs to get Rodriguez off the field immediately.

Get to Know: Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts2The Boston Red Sox called up their top prospect, shortstop (or future third baseman, depending on who you ask) Xander Bogaerts. The slugging infielder is getting the call as Boston has limped through August, going 8-9 heading into Monday night’s game in San Francisco, the day after finishing off a four-hour marathon against the New York Yankees in Boston. There isn’t much that can help a team going across the country without much time for rest, but if anything can spark the Red Sox, it is one of the game’s premier prospects.

At the age of 20, Xander Bogaerts has established himself as one of the top sluggers in the minors, and the fact that he can handle shortstop is what makes him an even more intriguing item. The last two seasons have been outstanding for the Aruba-born, prospect:

Year Age Tm Lev Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 19 2 Teams A+-AA BOS 127 532 476 71 146 37 3 20 81 5 44 106 .307 .373 .523 .896 249
2013 20 2 Teams AAA-AA BOS 116 515 444 72 132 23 6 15 67 7 63 95 .297 .388 .477 .865 212
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/19/2013.

Bogaerts3The plan is for Bogaerts to play three to four times per week, sharing time at third base and shortstop, likely becoming a regular against left-handers at short, with Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew. Bogaerts’ improved approach at the plate this season, even through his advancement into Double and Triple-A, shows a lot of maturity, and while he is unlikely to become Miguel Cabrera, who was a shortstop in his earliest years within the Marlins’ system, he could make a very similar impact to what Manny Machado provided for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, only likely more offensive-minded improvements for the Saux than defensively.

Solid gap power, a lineup full of veterans, and very little pressure in becoming “THE GUY” right away could lead to a pretty impressive introduction to the majors for Bogaerts. He is definitely a player to watch over the rest of the season and if you weren’t familiar with his name already, you’ve probably been in a coma and we’re all glad that you’re doing better.

My Prediction:

Bogaerts is going to be a superstar, especially if he stays at shortstop. He has impressive power and a solid approach that will allow him to post All-Star caliber numbers from an up-the-middle position; however, he isn’t going to be a true masher like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. Think 20-25 home runs in his best seasons but with over 30 doubles and an OPS over .840. Even moving to third base, Bogaerts is a star.

This is a special talent and there is a reason why he wasn’t included in any deals at the deadline. The Red Sox new management will be hanging onto this type of talent going forward, creating a new group of “idiots” to compete in the AL East. With Mike Napoli and Jacoby Ellsbury headed towards free agency, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Bogaerts become a fixture in the heart of the order when spring training breaks next season.

For fantasy nerds, he needs to be snatch up immediately in all leagues and if you’re in a keeper league, he’s been long gone and the next several weeks will only make it harder to acquire him.

Bogaerts1Enjoy the future of the Boston Red Sox.

 

Lincecum-ing Around?

Lincecum2Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 and was an All-Star four consecutive seasons (2008-2011), but in 2012, it all fell apart. Two things happened in 2012:

1) Lincecum was getting big-time money in the first year of a two-year, $40.5 million contract (he did earn $14 million through arbitration in 2011), and…

2) Lincecum’s fastball dropped from 92.3 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.4 miles per hour in 2012 (FanGraphs)

We could add that a third thing happened, as well: Lincecum was absolutely lit up, as he posted a 5.18 ERA over 186 innings and 33 starts before being relegated to a relief role (where he pitched very well) in the postseason. He had just 13 quality starts in his 33 tries (39 percent) and his home run rate, which had never been higher than 9.9 percent, ballooned all the way up to 14.6 percent.

The first two months (11 starts) were about the same for “The Freak” in 2013, as he posted a 5.12 ERA over 65 innings, with just three quality starts. However, something changed in June.

Since June 1, Lincecum has started 12 games and posted a 3.35 ERA and eight quality starts, including a no-hitter on July 13 against San Diego. If you take away his start against Cincinnati the next time out, when he allowed eight runs in just 3.2 innings, due to Lincecum throwing 148 pitches in his no-hitter, his ERA would have been just 2.54.

Lincecum’s strikeout rate has improved, as he has an 82:22 K:BB in 78 innings over this time, a 9.46 K/9 rate, and after having just one double-digit strikeout game in 2012, he has three this season, all in the month of July. While his strikeout rate, even when he was struggling in 2012, never dropped below 9.00 over 9 innings, it is fair to wonder if Lincecum has learned how to pitch with the stuff that he has now as opposed to trying to overpower the opposition with a weaker fastball.

Lincecum1As recently as July 13, there were reports that Lincecum could have been traded to the Detroit Tigers and converted into a reliever, which may have obliterated his earning power as he hits free agency after the 2013 season. Luckily for him, and the Giants (who are reaping the benefits of his sudden effectiveness thanks to their patience), that trade didn’t happen. Considering Lincecum only has one regular season appearance out of the bullpen (4 IP, 4 BB, 4 K in 2008), that could have been a risky mid-season assumption for success. Clearly, his 2012 postseason (when he made five appearances over 13 innings with a 0.69 ERA and 17:2 K:BB) was a factor in the rumors, but the San Francisco Giants appear to be holding out hope that Lincecum will decline a qualifying offer so that they can get a draft pick for their former ace.

Whatever the background or reasons are for Lincecum’s success recently, it is definitely a positive for him as he heads towards being a free agent. He could very well earn a multi-year deal after looking like a lost cause just a couple of months ago. Stars doing what they do best is good for baseball, and Lincecum was a beloved figure in the Bay Area, with good reason, due to his success (and the team’s success) during his tenure there. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Giants re-sign Lincecum, especially with Matt Cain looking a lot like the 2012 and early-2013 version of Tim Lincecum, outside of a few solid recent starts.