It must be hell on the ESPN types of the world to figure out when to highlight things. Like, do a feature on a team in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, and then what do you talk about if the streak grows to 15? On the other side, hold off until the team reaches that 15, and maybe they lose at 11 and the package becomes pointless.
Last year (I think I am remembering this story correctly; the general point works even if the details are a little off), ESPN prepped a package about the Blue Jays being on a big winning streak. The Blue Jays had been 23-30; they won 11 straight to get to 34-30. That warranted coverage, and ESPN ran a package.
After the winning streak had ended.
There's really no winning with winning streaks. The best answer to them is to ignore them, except for the fact that our 24-hour gotta-talk-about-something cycle demands we, well, talk about something.
The truth is, with most things, there isn't much to talk about. A team on a 12-game winning streak isn't as good as it is playing; a team on a 12-game losing streak isn't as bad. The same is true of players. Intuitively, we knew throughout April that Nelson Cruz wasn't some .800-slugging demigod, but that didn't stop us from leading every conversation with him. And we knew all season that Troy Tulowitzki was better than he had looked, but I still didn't trade Eric Hosmer for him when I had the chance.
The thing to remember about almost all of these situations is that the middle is the reality. We will never again be able to evaluate Josh Harrison without remembering his 2014; we will never again be able to evaluate Albert Pujols without his awful 2013 coming up.
In today's Ticker, I'm looking at a lot of middle-of-the-road guys; their truth lies somewhere in between the highs and lows. Don't get caught up in the cool storyline of the moment. The bads aren't that bad; the goods aren't that good. It's boring, but most of us are C students.
On to The Ticker. As always, stats are through Monday unless otherwise noted, and ownership percentages are as of Tuesday evening.
(The players' values are at or near their low points, and you might be able to get them for cheap)
Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD (97 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)
In a lot of ways, life is about managing expectations. It's a cold, clinical way to look at it, but two guys who offer the exact same returns are perceived wildly differently when one was supposed to be good and was good and the other was supposed to be bad and surprised you. Yasiel Puig has a 132 wRC+ so far this year, three points higher than "oh he's so great" Logan Forsythe. Yes, Puig was hurt for a while, and yes, over the last three weeks, Puig is hitting .194/.293/.319. Still, we see Puig's 2015 season as a disappointment, because it's his worst year as a big-leaguer. He's still a viable fantasy option, though, and one who should get better as the season goes on.
Rick Porcello, SP, BOS (34 percent)
Okay, perhaps the Red Sox extending Porcello in the preseason for all the money before he'd even thrown a pitch for them was silly. In fact, I know it was. But Porcello just isn't this bad. He isn't close to this bad. To start with, every indicator points to bad luck. His 6.08 ERA is complemented by a 4.62 FIP and a 4.00 xFIP. His BABIP is near a career-worst; his left-on-base percentage and HR/FB rate are at his career worst. All that, yet his velocity, his swing percentages, all that are more-or-less in line with his career numbers. Sure, Porcello has been a quasi-disappointment throughout his seven years, but he's still only 26, and he's got better-than-this in him. I'd invest.
(Just because a guy is at or near peak value doesn't mean he has to regress. These are guys who are exceeding expectations for them, but I can see it continuing)
Julio Teheran, SP, ATL (86 percent)
Teheran was one of the reasons I stayed in the running in my NL-only league last year, as he was the guy I had tabbed for a big breakout year. I was right, but only sort of. See, yeah, Teheran had a 2.89 ERA last year and struck out 186, and that was nice. But his peripherals didn't really align, as his 3.49 FIP and 3.72 xFIP indicate. This year, some of that downside has caught up with him, and he has a 4.60 ERA to go with his 6-4 record right now. It's gotten better of late, though; Teheran has thrown seven innings with no earned runs twice in his last three starts, lowering his ERA by half a run. It's still at 4.60, and I don't expect it to reach that 2.89 of 2014, but these decent days will continue.
Wilin Rosario, C/1B, DEN (40 percent)
I've kinda dogged Rosario in recent years. I ranked him low among catchers in each of the last two years, and my distaste for Rosario is a big part of the reason why I was so high on Nick Hundley entering the season. The thing is, it's not that Rosario didn't (doesn't) have value as an offensive player; he isn't much of an on-base contributor, but the power is certainly there. The thing that always hurt Rosario in my evaluations is his defensive skills — more notably, his lack thereof. He just isn't a full-time catcher. But now, with Justin Morneau shelved for an indeterminate amount of time (and this whole thing stinks), Rosario can play first base, and while he isn't exactly special there, either, you can mask it. Over the last few weeks, Rosario is hitting .364/.391/.500, and while the batting average (and by extension OBP) will fall, he'll offer a fair average and power. And while he can't field the position of catcher, he's still eligible there for fantasy, and that's valuable.
(Sure, these guys have been great, but this is the time to cash in your chips)
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY (89 percent)
As someone who came into the season already rooting for Rodriguez, it's been amazing watching as every single thing that has happened in 2015 has served to make him incrementally more likable. He started the season hitting seventh in a lineup that wasn't even sure he could contribute there, and now he's the No. 3 hitter for the AL East leaders, with a .902 OPS and a 148 OPS+. My worry, though, is where he could go from here. He turned 40 later this month, and while Alex Rodriguez is a superhuman megazord impaler of worlds, even superhuman megazord impalers of worlds age, and at 40, playing basically every day, you have to assume there's going to be a wearing-down factor. And as Rodriguez grows ever more likable, more and more people will be willing to invest in him. Cash out.
James McCann, C, DET (4 percent)
Normally, I'm quick to espouse playing time as one of the primary reasons to invest in players when you're in deeper leagues. The earlier-era guys like Matt Stairs and Jason Giambi might give you a home run once every couple weeks as a pinch-hitter, but there simply isn't enough quantity, even if the plate appearances are of quality. And yes, with Miguel Cabrera on the shelf and Victor Martinez not allowed to touch a glove lest it burn his hand off, McCann will get a lot of playing time as Alex Avila slides to first. The problem is, there just isn't anything to McCann. He's already outhit his expectations based on his minor-league stats; his numbers, impressive of late, will fall off. And then there's McCann's random, fluky claims to fame this year; his first three home runs were either inside-the-park (one) or walkoff (two). He's more famous than he is good, and that's the kind of guy you trade if you can get a return.
(Yeah, their current values might not be at peak, but frankly, I think lower is more likely than higher; don't get cute)
Carlos Santana, C/1B/3B, CLE (94 percent)
Santana's fantasy value in standard leagues was always less than it was in real baseball, as one of his greatest gifts as a ballplayer is his propensity for walks — he led the majors in bases on balls last year and has walked at least 90 times every year except his abbreviated rookie campaign. So a dude whose batting average struggled to reach .250 always put up monster OBPs, which was helpful only if you were in an OBP league (which you should have been, but never mind). This year, though, while Santana is still walking — 55 walks against 58 strikeouts — he's just not doing much of anything else. He's at a career-worst ISO, and his hard-hit rate is near a career-low as well, while his soft-hit rate is rising fast. It's hard to find a reason why, necessarily — age or something else (Joe Sheehan recently theorized that Santana and his great-zone-awareness cohort are struggling with modern strike-zone calling, but I can't prove that) — but a guy whose value was already more real than fantasy getting worse means he's a fantasy stay-away.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, SEA (61 percent)
When Trumbo got dealt from Arizona to Seattle, I put every last bit of FAAB I had in my AL-only league on Trumbo. It's not that I thought Trumbo was great, or even that good — I've been very critical in the past — but that he was at least a competent-enough big-leaguer to hit the home runs we were used to out of him. (Also, my AL-only roster was desperate for some offense, and I figured that was my best chance at any little thing.) Instead, Trumbo's move back to the American League has seen his value crater, as he's hit .157/.186/.205 with Seattle and has started seeing the bench increasingly often. He was already a poor second-half player and an overrated offensive contributor, and now he's lost in Seattle. If you're holding on, and you have a choice, drop it. (Unfortunately, in my league, I still have no choice. Runnin' him out there. C'mon, Mark.)
(Any sale of the guys here just wouldn't be a fair exchange)
Brad Boxberger, RP, TAM (79 percent)
The Rays are the smoke-and-mirrors-iest team in existence, entering the season with half their rotation and their closer hurt and no relevant offensive players, and currently sitting over .500 and in contention in the AL East. The creativity of bullpen usage has been a big part of that success, with Boxberger 20-for-22 in save chances, pitching to a 2.48 ERA and relegating Jake McGee to largely a setup role (some places will argue they are switching off situationally, but McGee hasn't had a save chance since June 13). The problem is, though, the smoke and the mirrors: Boxberger's WHIP has climbed by more than 0.4 this year, up to 1.29. His FIP is a run higher than his ERA. His walk rate has nearly doubled from last year. Last year, he was crazy successful and his peripherals backed it up; this year, he's been crazy successful despite those peripherals. And all that makes it sound like I'm advocating a sell; I'm not, really, because despite everything, Boxberger is an All-Star, and he has found success. He's the Tampa Bay closer for the foreseeable future. If you trade him, you're giving up a sure closer. I don't know what return you ask for. (I wrote this bit Monday, because sometimes it's nice to work ahead, and then of course Boxberger went out and gave up four runs in a third of an inning early Tuesday. It doesn't really change my overall point, but the timing is frustrating.)
Carlos Rodon, SP/RP, CHW (30 percent)
In a season where Steven Matz and Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant and the like have come up and been strong since the start, seeing a young guy debut and struggle or perform inconsistently is a weird reality break. Rodon saw his ERA start high after his debut, brought it down below 3.00, struggled for a bit, brought it down again, and lately the struggles have returned, as he's allowed 16 earned runs in his last 19.2 innings. Someone with Rodon's pedigree isn't likely to keep up-and-downing like that forever, but still, the motto holds: Baseball is hard. In a dynasty league, Rodon is a definite Buy Low. But in redraft leagues, this is a guy who is likely to see his value continue to yo-yo. What do you ask for in return? What do you offer?
(Low-owned guys who have a starter in front of them or another reason to hold off, but there are things that could change)
Michael Morse, 1B, MIA (9 percent)
It's been a miserable Miami tenure for Morse, who has seen his OPS+ drop almost 80 points off of last year's success in San Francisco. Obviously, he's neither this bad nor as good as 2013, but as Morse got hurt and Justin Bour started hitting in Miami, he lost his line on playing time. Maybe in a desperate situation, the Marlins will toss Morse in left field, with Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna both currently out of the picture, but ultimately, there's just no reason to keep Morse and Bour both rostered. Maybe Morse gets shipped to Detroit to fill in for Miguel Cabrera. Maybe he gets added to Toronto. Heck, maybe he makes another go in Seattle. If he moves, his stats will improve.
Kris Medlen, SP, KAN (2 percent)
Now we're diving into the super-deep. But Medlen, due back within the next few weeks, has been a good-to-very-good pitcher every season he's pitched in the big leagues. The problem, of course, is that he's just shy of his 30th birthday and only has 512.2 innings under his belt, the product of a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Still, we saw how strongly he came back in 2012, and he followed it up with a strong 2013 before he got hurt again. At this point, he's a double-surgery veteran who can't be counted on for a whole lot. Still, if he shows much of anything, he's coming back to maybe the best team in the American League, except the Royals have the starting pitching of the late-‘90s Rangers. He'll get an opportunity to start again.
(Handcuffs; low-owned guys who have someone in front of them, but they are strong backups or replacements to stash)
Bruce Rondon, RP, DET (1 percent)
Joakim Soria appears to have rebounded nicely from a rough stretch in early June; after 5.1 innings and six earned runs June 5-22, he's pitched five scoreless innings since, with eight strikeouts against only one walk. In all probability, Soria will be the Tigers' closer the rest of the season. But imagine any number of scenarios. An injury — Soria's not exactly got a flawless health history. Maybe he struggles again. Maybe the Tigers tank, Miguel Cabrera's injury lingers, and they try to do a quick rebuild, dealing Soria away. Anything happens in that bullpen, and Rondon, finally healthy, is the next man up. He's an elite strikeout guy who has been groomed as a future closer for years now, and he's the most under-the-radar closer-in-waiting I can find.
Luis Sardinas, 2B/SS, MIL (0 percent)
My critique of Jean Segura entering last season was on point. Frankly, I'm calling my call for a rebound this year on point as well, as Segura is hitting .271 with 12 steals. There's no power, but there was never supposed to be power. Regardless, as a fantasy shortstop he's usable, if not exciting. As a real shortstop, though, he's definitely something the Brewers need to improve upon, and there are all sorts of rumors about Segura getting moved (the Mets perhaps?) and opening up the position. Meanwhile, the Brewers already gave up on Scooter Gennett once this season, and while his numbers have gotten much better since his return to the majors, he's hardly part of any long-term Milwaukee success. Sardinas might not get the callup, but he's one of the team's top prospects, and he's closer to ready than Orlando Arcia.