It’s getting to be that time in your fantasy baseball league where you may be deciding what kind of team you have. If you’re in a rotisserie league and you’re in ninth place, you might want to start studying for next year’s draft. If you’re in a dynasty league in the same position, maybe you can ship off some veterans and stock up on prospects. In the coming weeks, I’ll try and give you some guidance on which prospects to trade for, and which veterans might be near the end of the road.
For this week, I want to focus on four players who played in last night’s epic 16-inning Sunday Night affair. If you didn’t know the rosters of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox before last night, you certainly do now. Besides the other starting pitchers, only Elliot Johnson for the Rays and Dan Wheeler, Randy Williams, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Yamaico Navarro for the Red Sox did not make it into the game.
The four players from last night’s game I want to focus on are Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Matt Joyce, and Evan Longoria. Each of these players is very valuable fantasy commodities for one reason or another, and each of them are having outlier seasons in some capacity.
With a hot-shot young reliever like Daniel Bard breathing down his neck for the closer’s role, Papelbon has become somewhat of a target for hyperbolic Red Sox fans. Bard has had a fantastic year so far, but consider this: His FIP of 2.66, although great, is actually higher than Papelbon’s.
As Dan Shulman correctly pointed out during last night’s broadcast, Papelbon’s high ERA and low save total are not an indicator of the type of season he’s had. Despite a 3.96 ERA, his 6.63 K/BB ratio is third in baseball among qualifying relievers behind only Sergio Romo and Koji Uehara, and his BABIP (usually a strong indicator of luck for pitchers) is a very high .361.
As for the things a reliever does best, Papelbon has 17 shutdowns this season as compared to only 2 meltdowns making for the highest win-probability added among all AL relievers. There is a strong case to be made that he has in fact been the best reliever in the AL this year.
If you’re in need of some bullpen help in your league, Papelbon may be the way to go. You may be able to wrestle him his owner for relatively little.
Beckett has made himself a strong candidate for the AL Comeback Player of the Year in the first half of the season, posting an 8-3 record with a 2.12 ERA. Once again last night, he made the Rays look foolish giving up just an Evan Longoria infield single over eight dominant innings.
This comes after a season in 2010 where Beckett looked like a pitcher on a sharp decline and on his way to an early and undignified retirement. Some indicated that Beckett had the numbers last year to suggest that he was very unlucky and that he might rebound in 2011, but few expected this kind of turnaround.
Despite this, now may be the time to consider trading Beckett in your fantasy pool for some elite-level players. Three numbers indicate that he is due for some pretty serious regression in the second half. First, his .214 BABIP is well below league average and will probably start to climb soon, if not this year then certainly next season. Second, his 5.0% HR/FB rate is less than half his career norm of 10.5%. Eventually, he’s going to start giving up more homeruns, something he has had trouble with at times in his career. Third, his 82.4 LOB%, which, like BABIP, can indicate that a pitcher has been lucky as any large deviation from the 73% mark is probably unsustainable.
Becket certainly isn’t as bad as he was last season and his regression will not be that drastic, but he’s certainly not an elite pitcher or even the best pitcher on his team. If you can trade him for some truly elite talent, you’d do well to start working the wire.
Joyce had one of the best two-month stretches in baseball to start the year hitting .370/.430/.636 with nine home runs through the end of May. Anybody with knowledge of Joyce’s past knew this was unsustainable, but few could have projected his free fall since. Since the beginning of June, Joyce has compiled a dismal .180/.236/.351 slash line with only four home runs.
So who is the real Matt Joyce? The answer is obviously neither of these. His BABIP during his hot streak was an unsustainable .419, but it has been an equally unsustainable .190 during his slump.
The fact is Joyce is a good player with some serious fantasy value; he hits for decent power and has the ability to get on base often. He’s probably still a bit worse than his season’s overall numbers would indicate, but if you can grab him from his surely disenfranchised owner who has been banging his head against a wall for the last month-and-a-half, you might be able to swing a deal that tilts the overall talent in your direction.
There’s little question that Evan Longoria is an elite player, but after an oblique injury took away most of his first month of the season, Longoria has not looked like the same player that accumulated an average fWAR of 6.83 over his first three seasons. You may find it difficult to pry Longoria away from his current owner, but in one of my leagues, someone offered me him for none other than Josh Beckett and a B-level prospect. I jumped at the opportunity with great zeal (as the kids say).
Longoria’s current .233/.317/.441 slash line is bound to skyrocket in the second half of this year. His BABIP is just .237 despite a career .309 mark and there are strong indicators in some of his other numbers that say this is very much a product of bad luck.
First off, pitchers are not pitching him any differently; he’s facing roughly the same number of fastballs, breaking balls, changeups and cutters as he always has. Secondly, Longoria’s batted ball contact rates are also largely consistent with his career norms. His line-drive percentage, groundball-to-flyball ratio and HR/FB rate are all roughly the same as they have been throughout his career. Don’t be surprised if Longoria is one of the second half’s better players.
Needless to say, I accepted the trade that was offered to me very quickly and ran in the other direction before he realized what a mistake he made. If you’re able to get Evan Longoria for Josh Beckett, pull the trigger on that deal immediately.
Travis Reitsma is the fantasy baseball guru here at Getting Blanked, but you’ll find he sometimes writes on other subjects as well. You can find more of his work over at Baseball Canadiana, including bi-weekly power rankings which are fun to do even if they mean pretty much nothing. You can also follow him on the Twitter.