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Hitting Report: The problem with investing in mid-tier outfielders

The author has learned the hard way that fantasy baseball owners should never invest in mid-tier outfielders.

I’m never again investing in mid-tier outfielders.

Everyone has one league they care about more than the others—even people who do this for a living. I’m in a longstanding 14-team auction league, and I’d rather win that one more than any other. However, I invested in mid-tier outfielders in this league, and for that, I am paying dearly.

I didn’t set out to invest in these players, mind you. The twists and turns of an auction can lead you in ways you didn’t plan, and after landing a few targets early (Nolan Arenado, Jake Arrieta, Edwin Encarnacion) and missing out on others (Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Dickerson), the outfield options began to wane. I ended up talking myself into both Kole Calhoun and Marcell Ozuna, players I liked enough, but wasn’t exactly targeting going into the auction. They’ve been two of my team's greater disappointments.

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Meanwhile, the top 20 players at the position are made up completely of stars and cheap, high-upside players; it wasn’t exactly hard to see this coming. Harper, Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Stanton, Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen were supposed to be a part of this group. Everyone knew that. Players like A.J. Pollock and Joc Pederson had easy-to-see upside, and generally didn’t cost too much at auction. I ended up with Calhoun and Ozuna. The only silver lining is that I received a lesson I can take forward into future fantasy leagues.

Outfield is simultaneously top-heavy and deep. The position features more than its fair share of superstars, as well as a number of breakout candidates every season, a handful of which inevitably hit on their potential. Those are the two pools from which you want to draw your outfielders. Leave those mid-tier players, who are more floor than upside, for the rest of your league. Believe me, you don’t want to roster the Calhouns and Ozunas of the world in the league you care about more than any other.

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Hitters of the Week

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: .391 BA (9-for-23), 4 HR, 9 R, 6 RBI, 2 SB, .500 OBP

Bautista actually got off to a slow start last week, going 2-for-8 in a doubleheader against the Nationals after Monday’s game was rained out. From that point forward he owned Washington and Houston pitching, getting seven hits—including four homers—in 15 at-bats. Bautista put an exclamation point on his week on Sunday, going 3-for-4 with a pair of solo bombs and a stolen base, leading the Blue Jays to a sweep of the first-place Astros. Bautista got off to a slow start this season, but everything looks like it’s right where it should be in the second week of June. He’s hitting .262/.395/.541 with 11 homers, 36 RBI and 39 runs scored. One week ago at this time, he was hitting .242/.380/.483. It’s amazing how one hot week can turn around a slash line.

Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies: .400 BA (10-for-25), 4 HR, 7 R, 8 RBI, .400 OBP

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Franco found his stroke in his third week with the big league club this season, and it’s safe to say that he’ll own third base for the Phillies for the foreseeable future. After getting off to a slow start after his promotion last month, Franco put it all together in a hot six-game stretch last week. He started it off by going 2-for-4 with a homer against the Reds in the first game of a three-game set last Tuesday. He homered again the following day, and then twice more in Philadelphia’s weekend series with San Francisco. He both drove in or scored at least one run in every game last week, and did both in four of the six games. At the start of the week, Franco was slashing .194/.242/.339. He’s now up to .253/.286/.529 with six homers and 16 RBI.

Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves: .391 BA (9-for-23), 3 HR, 7 R, 8 RBI, 1 SB, .444 OBP

Freeman did nearly all of his damage in the Braves’ three-game series with the Diamondbacks to start the week, and while he definitely brought his owners a net-positive result, they were probably left a little disappointed with the way he flamed out over the weekend. He lit up the scoreboard in Arizona, going 6-for-14 with three homers and seven RBI in three games. He managed just three hits in the weekend series with the Pirates and drove in just one run, however, turning what could have been a singular week and making it merely great. You don’t hear Freeman mentioned among the stars having a great season very often, but he’s slashing .300/.367/.521 with 10 homers, 34 RBI and 36 runs in 2015.


Hitters of the Weak

Lucas Duda, New York Mets: .091 BA (2-for-22), 0 HR, 0 R, 0 RBI, .259 OBP

Duda began the week by sitting out the Mets’ series-opening game with the Padres on Monday after getting hit by a pitch on the knee the day before. It’s entirely possible his owners now wish he just took the entire week off. Duda got one single in the three games he did play in San Diego, and one double in New York’s three-game set in Arizona over the weekend. Those were his only two hits and represented half of the times he reached base safely in six starts. Duda has been mostly good for the Mets and his fantasy owners this season, but last week was a trainwreck. He’s hitting .275/.379/.495 on the season, but started the week at .298/.394/.539.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals: .059 BA (1-for-17), 0 HR, 0 R, 0 RBI, .238 OBP

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Gordon’s late-May slide continued unabated into June, as it took him five games before getting his first hit in the month. He had just the lone double in six games last week, and his slash line is now all the way down to .251/.361/.427 this season. Since May 25, he has lost 20 points in batting average, 19 in OBP and 23 in slugging percentage. His elite defense has always made him more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy leagues, but his bat is really playing at no better than replacement level from the standpoint of a fantasy outfielder in standard leagues.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals: .056 BA (1-for-18), 0 HR, 0 R, 1 RBI, .100 OBP

The first three games of last week must have felt familiar for Zimmerman. He went 0-for-3 in all of them, striking out twice and only contributing with a sac fly in the first game of a doubleheader against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. That sac fly was, in fact, the only time Zimmerman did anything to contribute to the Nationals’ offense during a week in which they went 2-5 against the Blue Jays and Cubs. Zimmerman has been plagued by plantar fasciitis all season, and that’s starting to show up more as he continues to play through it. He’s hitting .213/.270/.353 with five homers on the year. Even though he occupies a spot in the middle of the order in a strong offense, Zimmerman could be on the scrap heap in many standard fantasy formats.



Buy, sell or hold

Buy: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

Remember what we say here often about players to buy and sell: Said player’s owner needs to be a willing trade partner, and chances are strong that Gonzalez’s owner fits that bill. The once-dominant outfielder has earned every bit of his dreadful .240/.320/.377 line this season. However, there are many encouraging signs in his peripheral numbers. Gonzalez is both walking more (10.6% walk rate) and striking out less (18.4% strikeout rate) than he ever has in his career. His .271 BABIP does not jibe with a 22.6% line-drive rate. He’s hitting the ball in the air far less frequently this season, but when he does so the pop is still there. His 15.8% HR/FB ratio is down from the heights of a few seasons ago, but is still much better than league average. He has left the yard in each of his last two games, and is 13-for-34 in his last nine games. Now would be a good time to inquire as to his availability.

Sell: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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Like many of our sell recommendations of recent weeks (and, really, many trade recommendations in general), whether or not you shop Pujols will depend on your roster composition. If he’s the reason you’re competitive in the power categories, it will be hard to trade him without getting significant power in return, and that alone would make a deal a challenge to strike. If you can afford to lose his power numbers, however, now is a great time to bandy his name about in trades. Pujols has seven homers in his last 10 games, running his slugging percentage up to .507 and his isolated slugging to .249. At the same time, his batting average is still just .258, while his OBP is .307, so he’s really only contributing to the power categories. Pujols’ HR/FB ratio now sits at 19.4%, and while that’s the neighborhood he lived in when he was with the Cardinals, he hasn’t been at those heights since the end of last decade. In fact, his highest HR/FB ratio with the Angels is 14%, and his HR/FB ratio during last two years with St. Louis, when he hit 79 homers, was 18.3%. Pujols is bound to slow from this home-run pace, and when he does his fantasy value will come down, as well.

Hold: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

I nearly pulled off a Jordan Zimmermann and Kole Calhoun for Andrew McCutchen trade about six weeks ago with a smart owner who was then looking for pitching. He said he wanted to give Cutch a few more weeks before making a trade, however. He’s awfully happy he did, because the former MVP has been playing like one pretty much since we broke off trade talks. In the last month, McCutchen is the No. 9 overall player in standard 5x5 leagues, hitting .361 with six homers, 23 RBI, 18 runs, two steals and a .440 OBP. His terrible start to the season is a thing of the past, as he’s now slashing .287/.371/.495 with eight homers, 37 RBI and 33 runs. The fantasy community should expect him to play like a first-round pick for the remainder of the season.

Prospect Watch

Kyle Schwarber, C, Chicago Cubs

This week’s Pitching Report featured Mets’ starter Steven Matz in the prospect watch section, lamenting the fact that he has flown under the radar thanks to the presence of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. His stealthy rise up the ranks in the Mets’ system, however, may end up paling in comparison to Schwarber’s, whom the Cubs selected out of Indiana University with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell were consensus top-five prospects this season, and Javier Baez’s ceiling is nearly, if not equally, as high. Schwarber may be the last of the bunch to join professional baseball, but we may see him at Wrigley Field sooner rather than later.

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​Schwarber, 22, has hit everything in sight with Double-A Tennessee this year. In 52 games, he’s slashing .324/.445/.580 with 12 homers and 37 RBI. Just to give you a sense of how that measures up to someone who came before him, Bryant hit .355/.458/.702 with 22 homers in 68 games in the half-season he spent at Tennessee. Schwarber doesn’t quite measure up to those numbers, but few players ever did what Bryant did as he left minor league pitching in his wake. Unlike most youngsters, plate discipline is a strength for Schwarber. He has 39 walks and 45 strikeouts at Tennessee this season, a trend that has only gotten better as he has progressed through the Cubs’ farm system.

For now, Schwarber is a catcher. Given the Cubs’ long-term alignment, with first base and at least two of third and the corner outfield spots occupied, Schwarber does fit neatly behind the dish. At the same time, countless would-be catchers with prized bats have been moved to save their legs. It’s still far too early in Schwarber’s development to say how the Cubs will treat him, or if they’ll even be the franchise to make that decision. Now that they’re playoff contenders, they’ll be active in the trade market come July. You can bet that every team will ask them about Schwarber. It’s unlikely the Indiana product will make a fantasy impact this year, but if he keeps hitting the way he has since his days in Bloomington, he’s going to be in the majors for the balance of 2016.

GIF of the Week

The prevalence of the defensive shift in baseball has created so many interesting infield alignments that we barely bat an eye at them anymore. Such was the case when the Diamondbacks played third baseman Yasmany Tomas on the right side of second base against Lucas Duda in their series with the Mets last week. Of course, Duda gave Tomas an opportunity to show that he can handle the turn after a nifty backhanded pick by Cliff Pennington at short.