By: Jack Moore
Each week we’ll be providing you with insight into the best (and worst) baseball players to play in your fantasy baseball league.
1. Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN: Morneau’s season has not come with much fanfare. It’s understandable – he’s a former MVP first baseman and he’s hitting just .277/.337/.473. But with today’s offensive environment, his 122 OPS+ is equal to his 2007 All-Star campaign. His 73 RBI in 115 games is a 102-per-162 game pace despite the Twins’ general struggles. He’s crushed the ball in the second half to a tune of .314/.363/.484 as well. He probably won’t ever fully reclaim his old form, but with offense down across the league, he’s back to being a very worthy and valuable hitter.
2. Tommy Layne, RP, SDP: Layne was unceremoniously dumped on the Padres (traded for the infamous “cash considerations”) and for much of his career, the 27-year-old looked like a failed starting pitcher. Even this season, he struggled to make things work at either the Triple-A or Double-A level. But as a lefty, the solution for Layne was to convert to a reliever, drop the arm slot, and work his way into the Padres’ bullpen. Now in 10.1 innings he has two saves, a 1.69 ERA and 18 strikeout against two walks. And in some leagues, his starting pitcher eligibility could be key down the stretch.
3. Russell Martin, C, NYY: To me, one of the most important concepts in fantasy baseball is the idea that role can be just as important as talent in many situations. Martin is in one of those situations right now. With Mark Teixeira on the mend, Martin has been hitting fifth in the Yankees lineup, and that means plenty of chances to knock in Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Martin has been solid for the last couple weeks as well – .324/.410/.559, and .250/.313/.434 for the last month.
4. Jason Hammel, SP, BAL: Hammel was sharp in his return from the disabled list last week, and against the Yankees in a key division matchup no less: five innings, six hits, one run, two walks and six strikeouts. Hammel’s ERA sits at 3.46 and his new sinker-oriented style looks like one that can maintain success over the long haul. He took a line drive off the elbow last week but seems to have avoided any major injury – he’s cleared for pickups in all but the shallowest of formats.
5. Ben Revere, OF, MIN: Need speed down the stretch? Revere’s the best widely-available choice. He won’t get you much else – he actually has more stolen bases (36) than RBI (30) on the season. But he’s a slap hitter who has a way of finding his way on base, and as such he’s able to pick up four stolen bases in a good week (like last week). If you need to dig deeper, Blue Jays speedster Anthony Gose picked up multiple steals last week despite taking just 12 at-bats.
1. Zach Britton, SP, BAL: Britton has been a popular pickup on the back of a few strong starts lately, but don’t buy in. He’s 38 starts into his major league career and has just 145 strikeouts against 90 walks, and that won’t play in the American League East. The Yankees hammered him for five runs on five hits in just 3.1 innings Sunday, and his inability to miss bats leads to far too much hard contact to maintain anything much better than his current 4.72 ERA.
2. Carlos Beltran, OF, STL: Beltran’s explosive beginning to the season was probably enough to win regular season titles for more than a few fantasy owners, but now he’s costing them playoff games by himself. Beltran is hitting just .152/.230/.228 over the last 28 games (22 games) with just one home run. Extended slumps happen, but given his age (35) and injury history, it’s time to sit him until a light at the end of the tunnel reveals itself.
3. Jered Weaver, SP, LAA: Weaver may or may not be able to pitch Wednesday at this point; either way, you’ll want to pay great attention to the results of his next start. Specifically, watch for his velocity. It’s been dipping all season to the point where he didn’t even scrape 90 in his last start. The issue is supposedly bicep tendinitis, which could be treated with rest, but if he comes out flat again his next time out it’ll be time to find a replacement for the end of the season.
4. Domonic Brown, OF, PHI: I’m honestly not sure how much Brown’s play in Philadelphia this season should impact how we see him as a player going forward. But I do fear that it will greatly affect the Phillies future plans for their much-maligned outfield prospect, and Brown is hitting just .243/.320/.339 in his third stint with the club. There has been little power there, and although he may be a chic keeper due to his former top prospect status, Philadelphia has jerked him around too much to warrant such considerations.
5. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU: The problem with players whose value comes largely from batting average: it takes a long time to get a real idea of how well they can hit. There’s still reason for optimism with Altuve – he has an 11.8% strikeout rate, and consistent contact is the way to consistently high batting averages. But his BABIP has slipped back to .322, leaving him at .290/.341/.395 with just five homers and 33 RBI, well below the typical second base averages. He makes up for it with runs and steals, but for a bit his climb up the position ranks should slow down.
Jack Moore is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Mathematics and Economics. His work can also be found at FanGraphs.com, DisciplesOfUecker.com, RotoWire.com, AdvancedNFLStats.com and ESPN. Follow him on twitter at @jh_moore.