David Murphy and Ryan Ludwick were two players I targeted in the late rounds on draft day, as both players have been wildly underrated as middle-of-the-order types capable of putting up double-digit home runs and solid run production. As you know, Ludwick went down early with an injury, while Murphy has been a complete disappointment for the Rangers. Murphy hit .304/.380/.479 with 15 home runs, 65 runs, 61 RBI and 10 steals last season, solidifying himself as a key offensive contributor in a talented Texas lineup. And he did it in a career-high 521 at-bats. My basic thinking was that Murphy would exceed his at-bats from last season and as a result exceed his power numbers. So far he's batting just .228/.270/.397 in 196 at-bats, but he's still managed to put up seven home runs, 19 runs and 25 RBI. The power is there -- he's on pace to surpass last year's 15 long balls -- but his plate discipline has suffered. After drawing a walk 10.4% of the time last year, Murphy is doing so at a 5.6% clip in 2013. Other than that, his line drive and fly ball rates are nearly identical to last season, and his contact rates are actually better. Maybe he won't get on base as much as last season, but Murphy has been unlucky thus far with a .230 BABIP, and his batting average will adjust. Over the last 30 days, he's hitting .292 with a .836 OPS to go along with five home runs, 12 runs and 18 RBI. The time to buy is now.
With the Juan Francisco trade to the Brewers, third base in Atlanta now (exclusively) belongs to the "other guy" brought over in the Justin Upton trade. Johnson gets a huge boost in NL-only leagues, and he's someone to keep an eye on in standard mixed leagues -- he's still available in 69% of Yahoo! leagues. In 151 at-bats, Chipper Jones' replacement is hitting .343/.371/.497 with three home runs, 18 runs and 15 RBI. While his BABIP has always been on the high side, this year it's a ridiculous .438 (!). So, yeah, that batting average is sure to come down. He doesn't take a walk -- he has a career 4.7% walk rate -- but with the third-base landscape a little barren these days (see: Brett Lawrie, Pablo Sandoval), Johnson should still be owned in far more leagues. Johnson's home-run high is 15, which he set last year split between the Astros and Diamondbacks. In his brief stint with Arizona last year, Johnson hit .286/.321/.503 with seven homers and 35 RBI in just 160 at-bats, so it's safe to say that his 2012 second half has carried over to 2013. I'd recommend selling high on Johnson eventually if you're just using him as a stopgap for an injured third baseman, but he should provide solid at-bats and could provide 10-12 home runs the rest of the way. He won't kill you in any of the standard 5X5 categories, so he's not a risk.
Somehow Jose Fernandez is available in 55% of Yahoo! leagues, meaning 55% of the Yahoo! fantasy baseball population hasn't paid attention to what's going on in South Beach because they're all too busy booing and hissing LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Outside of a recent bad start against the Rays on May 27 -- 3.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K -- Fernandez has been worth the pickup for those owners courageous enough to take a shot on a kid with no experience past A-ball. After a letdown against the Rays, Fernandez dominated the New York Mets in his next turn, throwing seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and one walk. In 59 1/3 innings, the 20-year old looks like a seasoned vet with 60:22 K:BB ratio to go along with a 3.34 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Fernandez pitches in one of the friendliest home parks in the league, and he has taken full advantage with a 1.55 ERA in 29 1/3 innings at home. It's entirely possible that Fernandez gets shut down at some point, as his career-high in innings pitched is 134, but given how fantasy owners are undervaluing the rook, it shouldn't take much to acquire his services. If he's just sitting on the wire, go out and get him before it's too late.
I didn't end up with Yoenis Cespedes on any fantasy team this year, as his ADP was just way too high for me at the time. As a second-year player out of Cuba, I felt like the league might "learn the book" on the Oakland outfielder and he would suffer a letdown his sophomore season. Last year, the 27-year old hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs, 70 runs, 82 RBI and 16 steals in his major league debut. He's still hitting for power with nine home runs, but his batting average has suffered to the tune of .229. He's also just two-for-seven in stolen base attempts. While I think Cespedes can still hit 25 home runs and drive in 80, I don't see a huge batting average adjustment coming with a strikeout rate that has increased from 18.9% to 22.3%. I like Cespedes, but I stand by my preseason prediction of a sophomore letdown. Without the steals and a .290-average, he won't be anywhere near his top-20 finish on last year's ESPN Player Rater. He's closer to the value of a Jay Bruce -- big power with a .250-.260 batting average. I know I'll get slammed for dissing Cespedes, so go easy on me in the comments.
Remember the week Yuniesky Betancourt set the world on fire? That now seems like ages ago, as the journeyman infielder is regressing to the "meh" player we all knew was inevitably coming. Over the last 30 days, Betancourt is batting .167 with a .400 OPS to go along with one home run, six RBI and two runs. Betancourt last hit a home run on May 7, and at the time he was on pace for a career year. This was also around the same time that John Buck was leading the Mets with 10 dingers and Dexter Fowler was leading the Rockies with eight. Remember those guys? I hope you sold high. Ditto for Betancourt, who now has almost zero value in standard mixed leagues. Owned in less that 25% of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues, Betancourt's owners aren't waiting around for another hot streak that's probably not coming. With a 15.8% strikeout rate and 3.4% walk rate, the veteran's value is points leagues is even lower. Yuniesky is another friendly reminder to trust the track record more often than not.
I'm in the minority as I'm actually a big fan of Ryan Dempster, but this year the Boston right-hander has traded in high strikeout numbers for high walks, which has led to fewer effective innings -- he's gone five innings or less in three of his last four starts. Dempster is among the league leaders in strikeouts with a 10.20 K/9 rate (up from 7.96), but that has also come saddled with a 4.60 BB/9 walk rate (up from 2.71). Truthfully, Dempster hasn't been the same pitcher since leaving the Cubs for the Rangers at the trade deadline in 2012, as American League hitting has proven far more difficult for the 36-year old. The same appears to be true with the Red Sox in the AL East, as Dempster has to face better competition on an every-fifth day basis. Dempster has already given up 10 home runs in 62 2/3 innings after giving up 19 all of last year, and at times he appears to be overmatched. He currently sports a 4.45 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, but the best you can realistically expect is a low-4's ERA. With only two wins in 11 starts, his value in points leagues is plummeting. Thanks a lot, AL.
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.