Guys who wanted to win their fantasy league were acquiring Max Scherzer last year. They saw that the underlying skills were there and he was simply being knocked around by statistical variance. Scherzerâ€™s batted ball numbers regressed towards his career averages in the second half and he turned in a stretch of games that made a lot of people look very, very smart or very, very stupid.
The season is almost two months old and itâ€™s time to go hunting for guys who arenâ€™t having the seasons that were projected for them, but who have solid underlying skills. Basically, itâ€™s time to start making the move that will win fantasy leagues.
The shopping list should start with Tampa Bay ace David Price. Price is a beaten up asset, both literally and figuratively. Price is on the DL with a triceps strain. Injuries donâ€™t usually make for a pitcher that fantasy GMs should want to acquire, but itâ€™s only a triceps strain and there wonâ€™t be a visit to Dr. Andrews or Dr. Yocum. Price will likely be back in a Rays uniform in a couple weeks, if not sooner.
Heâ€™s also had one of the poorest statistical starts to a season in his six-year career as a professional. Price is currently posting an ugly 5.24 ERA, but it doesnâ€™t look so bad when compared to his 3.53 xFIP. Heâ€™s still striking guys out (8.02 K/9 this year) and not walking very many (2.29 BB/9) despite a drop in velocity (his average fastball velocity is under 94 MPH for the first time in his career). Heâ€™s still an effective pitcher and the drop in velocity is probably related to the triceps strain.
Balls in play have been an issue for Price. His .345 BABIP is 65 points higher than his .280 career average. Heâ€™s also posting a career high 15.1% HR:FB ratio (9.5% career average). The difference between Scherzer and Price is that the Rays are actually capable of catching the baseball. They donâ€™t have a pair of jolly, 250 lbs. traffic cones playing the corner spots and they certainly donâ€™t have Jhonny Peralta standing in the general area of shortstop. They also donâ€™t have the Ghost of Torii Hunter patrolling the outfield. They have actual baseball players who are actually capable of catching the ball more often than not.
It shouldnâ€™t be that hard to pry Price away from a Â frustrated league mate. An offer of a competent, currently healthy pitcher and a useful hitter in a position of need should be enough at this point.
Edwin Jackson is guy that is probably sitting on the waiver wire in most leagues and for good reason. His first two months in a Cubs uniform have been a disaster, but the underlying skills are still there. Heâ€™s also not in danger of losing his job as Cubs manager Dale Sveum announced that he has no intentions of removing Jackson from the rotation at any time this year.
EJax is similar to Price in that heâ€™s posting a fugly actual ERA (6.11), but has a useful xFIP (3.67). Jackson is striking out hitters at roughly the same rate as last year (21.2% currently, 21.3% last year) and walking slightly fewer hitters (7.3% BB last year, 9.0% this year).
His velocity is down slightly compared to previous seasons. Jacksonâ€™s average fastball is clocking in at 92.8 MPH this year compared to 93.5 MPH last year. Itâ€™s concerning, but itâ€™s not a drop of Jered Weaver-level proportions.
Whatâ€™s hurting EJax is the balls in play. Heâ€™s giving up line drives at a 22.4% clip and ground balls at a 50.3% clip. His .341 BABIP is 33 points above his .308 career average.
Jackson is obviously a deeper league play, but he should provide value if/when the statistical variance heâ€™s currently suffering through normalizes. The bonus is that Jackson should cost next to nothing to acquire if heâ€™s not available on the waiver wire. The only reason a fantasy GM would want to keep Jackson is if theyâ€™re related to him.
Corey Kluber is another no-name option that could provide value as we inch towards the second half. Kluber is posting an 8.57 K/9 with a 1.56 BB/9. His K:BB is a ridiculous 5.55. His 3.20 xFIP indicates that his 5.19 actual ERA is a mirage. Heâ€™s yet another guy who is getting murdered on balls in play. His BABIP currently sits at .359. Part of the problem is that he owns a 25.2% line drive rate. Heâ€™s making hitters swing and miss (10.8% swinging strike percentage), but heâ€™s also getting sprayed around the yard. Corey Kluber could be due for a bounce back, if heâ€™s able to keep his job past June.
Heâ€™s a streaming option at this point and nothing more. Donâ€™t get too far out over your skis with a guy like Kluber. Itâ€™s hard to know if the K-numbers are the mirage or the batted ball data is the mirage with a sample size as small as Kluberâ€™s.
Josh Beckett is the Los Angeles Dodgers answer to the Los Angeles Angels Joe Blanton. Is there a rule that says the LA teams have to have comparable awful pitchers? The only difference is that Blanton isn’t nice enough to get hurt and miss a few starts. Beckett went from bad to hurt in remarkable short order. He’s currently on the DL with a groin strain and should be back in a Dodgers uniform in a week or two, but the time to acquire him is now. The waiver wire is the next place for his value to go.
Beckettâ€™s velocity was actually better in the first six weeks of 2013 than it was last year. Beckett averaged only 91.4 MPH on his fastball last year, but heâ€™s throwing a 92 MPH fastball on average in 2013. Hooray?
His strikeout numbers have rebounded (8.52 K/9 this year compared to a meagher 6.97 last year), but his walks have risen slightly (2.75 BB/9 last year vs. a 3.12 BB/9 this year).
Walks havenâ€™t been Beckettâ€™s only problem. His .323 BABIP is 32 points higher than his .291 career average. His 16.3% HR:FB ratio is well above his 10.9% career average. Beckettâ€™s 3.89 xFIP indicates that his 5.19 actual ERA is driven by poor defense and poor luck rather than, well, being bad at baseball.
His BABIP is partially driven by his elevated line drive percentage. Beckett getting tagged for line drives 24.2% of the time one of his pitches is hit in play. Sadly, itâ€™s not a career high. That occurred when Beckett was in Boston in 2008 and gave up line drives 25.2% of the time. The good news is that he was able to pitch over it then and posted much better all around numbers than he is now.
Heâ€™s another guy who is stuck in a statistical variance and could post numbers in-line with expectations once his numbers regress towards the mean. Heâ€™s another guy that could be had for pennies on the dollar at this point. There isnâ€™t a fantasy GM alive who isnâ€™t frustrated with Beckett and would be happy to deal him.