He may not be the sexiest of outfielders, but Michael Brantley has put together a solid season to back up his career-year in 2012, slashing .278/.329/.380 with five home runs, 32 runs, 37 RBI and seven steals. ZiPS projects him to hit .275 the rest of the way to go along with four home runs, 41 runs, 34 RBI and 10 steals, which would sum out to career bests across the board (minus the batting average). In the past, the downside to owning Brantley was an empty batting average, as the Indians outfielder was a one-category player that could easily be replaced with higher upside plays on the waiver wire. And the fact that he's always played at a loaded position like the outfield didn't exactly help his ownership rates. But this year, that's no longer the case, as Brantley is on pace to surpass 70 runs and 70 RBI for the first time ever. As of Tuesday, Brantley is still available in roughly 70% of ESPN leagues and nearly 80% of Yahoo! leagues. June hasn't been great for the 26-year old, but over the last seven days, he's batting .300 to go along with a 1.073 OPS, including three home runs, four runs, eight RBI and two steals. In leagues with five outfielders, Brantley should be a no-brainer as a low No. 4 or a high No. 5.
It's taken me a long time to get to the other side, but I've finally crossed over the Josh Donaldson bridge. In the Official Fake Teams Head-to-Head Points League, among third basemen, the Oakland third baseman trails only Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Evan Longoria, Manny Machado, David Wright, Matt Carpenter and Adrian Beltre. It's almost a shame Donaldson doesn't play in the National League, because the A's hot corner man could be left off the American League All-Star roster in favor of all of those veterans and the rook, Machado. Donaldson, 27, brings a .305/.373/.488 slash line with 10 home runs, 38 runs, 46 RBI and two steals into the final week of June. The former catcher's ISO has surged from .157 to .182, and he's on pace for about 20 home runs -- his previous high was nine in 2012. ESPN players have all but scooped up the breakout third baseman, but he's still available in 18% of Yahoo! leagues. What are you waiting for? I think he has a legit shot at 70 runs/80 RBI even with a little bit of regression.
With all of the love going to Homer Bailey, Mat Latos and even Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo has flown under the radar in Cincinnati, posting a 6-5 record with a 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a 56:18 K:BB ratio in 100.2 innings. Those 100-plus innings mean a lot in points leagues, and he's ridden a mediocre 5.01 K/9 rate to 175 points in the Official Fake Teams League, which are the 35th most points among starting pitchers -- for comparison, he's tied with Detroit's Doug Fister and ahead of Boston's Jon Lester and the Tampa Bay duo of Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Helping Arroyo's cause is a 1.61 BB/9 rate, making his K/BB rate a respectable 3.11. Strangely, Arroyo has been much better at Great American Ballpark, where he's posted a 2.50 ERA in 68 1/3 innings of work. He's also given up just six home runs at home, compared to six on the road in 32 1/3 innings, thanks to an improvement in his fly ball rate for the third straight year. Arroyo is most certainly a boring play, but even boring plays can be useful. He can win six more games the rest of the way while racking up the innings, making him a worthwhile pickup in deeper leagues.
The truth is, Andre Ethier has been falling for a long time -- even before he signed that ridiculous five-year, $85 million contact extension in June of last year. The Dodgers are sure to be looking to get out of that mess, and as a fantasy owner, you should be looking to get out, too. The once upon a time 31-home run outfielder is no longer a power threat, as his ISO has decreased drastically from 2009, when it was .237. Today, that number is .122, which is below the league average of .148. With five home runs in his first 72 games and no speed to speak of, Ethier's value as a bench player or fill-in outfielder in deep leagues isn't even that great. He's currently the No. 109 outfielder on the ESPN Player Rater, yet the guys he surrounds -- such as Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Reddick -- have legit injury excuses for their subpar performances. Ethier, on the other hand, has little to none. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Ethier is still owned in over 50% of ESPN leagues and in 46% of Yahoo! leagues, which I still think is too high. Most likely, Ethier's recognizable name is keeping his ownership rates up, when in reality, the Ethier name is no longer synonymous with fantasy baseball greatness, goodness or even usefulness.
I may regret this one once the second half gets going, but Ryan Zimmerman's performance has come no where close to his preseason draft value, when he was drafted as a top-five third baseman, according to FantasyPros.com. He's currently the No. 11 third baseman on the ESPN Player Rater, but in the Fake Teams Points League, he's No. 14 behind Marco Scutaro and Matt Dominguez. Admittedly, I have forever jumped off the Zimmerman bandwagon after his injury-plagued 2011 season "cost" me a championship. That came back to bite me in 2012, when after a slow start with nagging injuries, the Nationals' third baseman blasted 20 home runs from July 1 on. Through 61 games this year, Zimmerman is batting .269/.350/.463 with nine home runs, 34 runs, 36 RBI and three steals. ZiPs has him finishing with 21 home runs, 77 runs, 81 RBI and five steals, which, don't get me wrong, still has plenty of value. It's just not the 25-30 home runs many were expecting from Zimmerman after his monster second half in 2012. His end-of-the-season numbers look more likely to match those of Donaldson, who you could have easily scooped up off the wire at the start of the season -- and still can in Yahoo! leagues.
Back in Week 3, I wrote about the rise of Paul Maholm, citing his dominant spring, improving strikeout rate and the likelihood of a 200-inning season. Since then, spring training still means nothing, his strikeout rate has dipped below last year's rate and questions about his role as a starting pitcher in Atlanta's rotation has come into question with the looming return of Brandon Beachy. Well, crap. While it's possible the Braves go to a six-man rotation among a bunch of other options, Maholm hasn't helped his own cause of late, posting a 4.38 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and a 24:7 K:BB ratio in his last 37 innings of work. Whether it's Maholm who gets the boot or not, he's certainly not fooling as many hitters these days. After holding opposing batters to a .223 average in April, that number crept up to .265 in May and .273 in June. I'd look to sell Maholm, both because of his decrease in performance and the uncertainty of his role going forward.
Alex Kantecki is a fantasy baseball writer for Fake Teams. He also writes the "Closer Chronicle" for Vigilante Baseball every Thursday, ranking and tiering all 30 MLB closers. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @rotodealer.