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. Danny Espinosa, SS, WAS: With Ian Desmond dealing with an oblique injury, Espinosa picked up his fifth game at shortstop and with it, eligibility at the position in many leagues. He has a career high .244 batting average – nearly the league average this season – and adds decent power (eight homers) and great speed (14 steals). Desmond’s injury will keep him out nearly a month, and teams needing a replacement could easily turn to Espinosa in a pinch.
2. Ben Sheets, SP, ATL: Sheets has yet to give up a run in his return to baseball, spanning two starts and 12 innings. The former Brewer ace hasn’t shown his old velocity, sitting in the low-90s when he was once a mid-90s hurler, but the 12-6 curveball is breaking as sharply as ever. As long as he has that pitch, he’ll be a good bet to rack up some strikeouts and some wins on a decent Atlanta team – as long as he stays healthy, of course.
3. Tommy Milone, SP, OAK: Milone’s peripherals over the past two seasons in the minor leagues were things of beauty. The lefty walked just 39 batters in over 300 innings and struck out 298, compiling a K/BB of 9.69 in Triple-A in 2011. The strikeout rate hasn’t quite translated to the American League, but the walk rate has, and as a result Milone has been very effective, with a 3.34 ERA on the season. He has even found the strikeouts over his last five starts, with 34 strikeouts against just two walks in his last 32 innings. With those kinds of peripheral numbers, Milone could maintain his sparkling ERA over the rest of the season.
4. Chris Carter, 1B, OAK: Carter has always put up big numbers in the minors. He has 30 home runs in his last 668 minor league plate appearances, but had just three home runs in his first 39 major league games. This season, Carter has five homers through his first 13 games and a .297/.409/.730 slash line in 44 plate appearances. Obviously, it’s the tiniest of samples, but Carter is a guy who has a long track record of minor league success and could be making a step forward at 25 years old. At the very least, he’s worthy of a flier for teams needing cheap power.
5. Chris Young, OF, ARI: Young appears to be finding his way back to productivity. A home run Sunday raised his season line to .213/.314/.437; he’s now 7-for-22 with six extra-base hits (two home runs) in his last seven games. Young started out hot but appeared to still be feeling the effects of a shoulder injury even after he came back from the DL. If he’s back in his groove, Young can approach elite numbers at his peak. Keep an eye on him.
1. Brandon Belt, 1B, SFG: Belt keeps striking out (31.3% last 10 games, 25.6% on the season) and he still isn’t hitting for power (four home runs). At this point, particularly for non-keeper owners, it’s time to wonder what he provides of value at either first base or outfield. He’s losing more and more time in the lineup due to his recent struggles as well. The strikeouts don’t appear to be a problem that has any reason to go away, either. If Belt arrives, 2012 doesn’t look to be the year it’ll happen.
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, BOS: The problem with Middlebrooks is that he strikes often and almost never walks. This is less of a problem for most fantasy owners, who don’t care about on-base percentage, but Middlebrooks’s insistence on swinging is a batting average killer. Middlebrooks struck out 22.2% of the time over the past two weeks and didn’t draw a single walk, hitting just .222 over the stretch. With Middlebrooks’s discipline at such a low level at this point in his career, we can probably expect a few more stretches like that before the season ends.
3. Elliott Johnson, 2B, TBR: The other shoe is dropping for Johnson. Johnson was hitting .292 on May 20 but has hit just .250/.301/.350 over the two months since, with neither his run nor RBI totals over 60 per 162 games. Effectively the only value he provides is through steals, of which he has 16 on the season and nine over the past two months – on a pace for roughly 30. But in standard mixed leagues, Johnson needs to provide more than one category, and since an early outburst, he just hasn’t been that kind of producer.
4. Tommy Hanson, SP, ATL: After allowing eight runs in four innings Friday, Hanson now owns a streak of allowing at least three runs each start dating back to June 20. He has allowed nine home runs in this stretch. His K/9 and BB/9 are still solid at 8.80 and 2.73 respectively are solid – he owns a 4.31 FIP in the past month despite a 7.28 ERA, but he’s been on shaking footing seemingly all season after coming back from a major injury. He may be a hold-and-don’t-drop guy if at all possible, but it’s hard to believe in him going forward at this point.
5. Wade Miley, SP, ARI: The thing about Arizona is that sooner or later, the home runs usually get the pitchers. It happened with Dan Haren. It happened with Josh Collmenter, and Trevor Cahill, and Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson. And now it’s happening to Miley. The All-Star has allowed 1.74 HR/9 over his last five starts, with a 4.94 ERA and 4.36 FIP over that period. Miley has good ground ball numbers – in the 45-50% range both seasons of his young career – but not the special talent that it typically requires to avoid major home run issues at Chase Field.
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.