The Astros have taken the cake as the most disappointing team of 2016 and there isn't too much of an argument. They're eight games under the .500 mark, have the third worst team average in the majors, and prior to last night's game versus Baltimore, lead the league in strikeouts.
Yet the more I look at the Astros top to bottom, the more I still think they have it in them to climb back to the middle of the pack, and even climb further into contention for one of the Wild Card slots in the AL. Heck, if the stars align correctly I'd even peg them for a shot to win the division crown in the perplexing AL West. It may seem insane, but the baseball community as a whole is often quick to dismiss underperforming teams. A lot needs to happen for the Astros to turn their season around, which brings me to two Houston arms who can contribute going forward.
Colin McHugh - McHugh's 2015 was heavily inflated by his 19 wins and as a common late round draft pick in many leagues, his leash was short through the first few weeks of the season. Allowing four or more earned runs in three of his first four starts, he hit the waivers and is likely still lingering as he is only owned in 31.5% of ESPN leagues and 63% of Yahoo leagues. Despite the lack of a 'wow factor' in his last two starts, I'm more intrigued by his 18/2 K to walk ratio over the 12.1 innings of work. That combined with his highly inflated .382 BABIP which will likely come down despite mediocre defensive play by an Astros infield, makes for a pitcher poised for a value boost in the coming weeks. While it is nearly impossible to prove that having Evan Gattis back behind the plate has helped more than just statistically, there is clear chemistry between the two after McHugh's praise for him following his return to part time catching duties. He is lined up for two starts next week, against the Diamondbacks and Athletics, which makes him appealing for weekly lock leagues as well as points leagues. He's a very addable player in 12 team leagues where pitching depth is needed, and 10 team leagues as a solid streaming option that could stick around with a few good starts strung together.
Lance McCullers - The other Astros pitcher that paved the way to this article, has now made three starts since his Spring Training bout with shoulder issues that caused him to miss the first month and a half of the season. In each of those starts he has shown just how good of a pitcher he can be, especially last night as he struck out 10 batters through five innings. The previous game saw him go six innings and strike out seven batters, and along with this steady progression of strikeouts, there have been questions of his control as he has already walked 11 batters through just over 15 innings. While 5 walks last night was a career high in one game, the 10 strikeouts was the third time in his career he has hit double digits. The reason last night stood out to me was that with his lack of control, he didn't simply try to throw 'get-me-over' strikes, instead he used the pitches he knew were working to generate weak contact and ample swinging strikes. The upside is there for McCullers and that is why I am so excited about him going forward. Any harnessing of his control going forward and I believe we are looking at one of the premier strikeout pitchers in baseball. I don't see a reason to not have him on your team in 12 team leagues, and I own him in a pair of 10 team leagues where I enjoy the strikeout boost with a bit of a shot to my WHIP. Please stay healthy Lance! McCullers is 46% owned in ESPN leagues and 43% owned in Yahoo leagues.
Matt Cain - Cain is often buried behind the other three big arms in San Francisco, Bumgarner, Samardzija, and Cueto. Well its time to dig him up! After some great years early in his career, Cain hasn't eclipsed 100 IP since 2013, which does create a bit of concern for the long term value of the 31 year old arm, but for the time being he's worth a look in deeper leagues. In his last three starts he has eclipsed 100 pitches, 6 IP, has limited himself to about a baserunner per inning. A nice add in NL only leagues with limited upside elsewhere, Cain has to maintain some consistency to provide value elsewhere, but is on the right track.
Nathan Eovaldi - The blight of the Yankees during their slow start to season, aside from their offense, was the lack of quality pitching. Recently they've seen a change in their fortune, and the most intriguing option is Nathan Eovaldi. After retiring 18 in a row in Arizona, he followed up with six clean innings of work at home against the struggling Toronto Blue Jays. He currently holds a 16.7% K-BB%, which is nice for a mid tier starter, but one of the worries that surfaces is the inconsistency in his control (Why can't everybody be Julio Urias?!). While he has walked eight over his last five starts, in two of those five he did not walk a single batter, including his retiring of 18 in a row out west. His FIP and xFIP suggest he is more of a 3.50 ERA pitcher than the 3.95 he currently sports and on top of that you have to love an increasing swinging strike percentage in each of his last four seasons. Nothing more than a streamer in 10 teamers due to the tough offensive division he has to deal with, but Eovaldi is somebody I will have my eye on over the next few weeks as I wouldn't be shocked to see his ownership spike from the 27% it currently sits at in ESPN leagues.
Colby Lewis - With all the positives apparent over my last 5 pitchers, I find less to be confident about in the hot start of the 14 year veteran Ranger starter. With an ownership percentage near 50% in ESPN leagues and 40% in Yahoo leagues, I expect those numbers to fall a lot lower in the coming months. There are numerous things that stand out as unsustainable for Lewis but one of the main is his 84% strand rate, nearly 14 points higher than his career average. That coupled with his slowing ability to get hitters to miss, makes me very cautious moving forward with the Rangers starter. Like my Wade Miley blurb from last week, I would avoid Lewis anywhere and everywhere as regression is inevitable.
Matt Andriese - A filler for the return of Blake Snell to the majors, Andriese and his peripherals are not fun to look at. His 31% K rate at AAA this year has not manifested at all as he currently sits with a 16% K rate at the major league level. His BABIP leveled out on Wednesday night against the Marlins, but I don't see him as less than a 4 ERA pitcher for the time being.
Jon Gray - I talked about him a lot last week. Love him heading into a 2-start week after a great start last night in Boston, a place only Corey Kluber has succeeded in recently. It was only a matter of time for the big righty.
Catcher Wasteland - In the latest edition of everybody's favorite section, Russell Martin and Travis d'Arnaud are creeping their way back to relevancy. While 2 HR the other night from Martin isn't enough to make him a definite must add at the catcher position, he is worth a shot if you are really struggling at the position. The one reserve I have with him is the speculation around his ailing neck, which makes me skeptical that all of a sudden his health is back to 100%. I oddly enough would be much more excited if in fact he was coming back from a DL stint and said he's feeling 100% again, but beggars can't be choosers. Travis d'Arnaud on the other hand won't need to do much in order to jump into the top catchers for fantasy purposes. He has legitimate power but also a legitimate ability to get injured every year and not show his full potential. Since I'll always stress that catchers are disposable aside from the top few, I can see a stash of d'Arnaud if you have the extra DL spot - cheap power at the catcher position is lovely.
Athletics Duo - Khris Davis and Danny Valencia have been popular adds in many leagues over the last two weeks and for good reason. Davis last year put together a 27 HR season, and is currently on pace to do the same with the 13 bombs he already has. The problem with Davis is that for him it tends to come in bunches. After three pretty bad months to start his 2015 campaign, he raked 19 homers through August and September. This year he struggled through the month of April but has put together a 10 HR month for May to go along with 22 RBIs. His month would look a little bit less stellar if not for a 3 HR game earlier in the month, but if somebody in your league values him higher than a 35 HR guy, I wouldn't be against selling for somebody with less swing-and-miss problems. At the same time, If he's available I wouldn't hesitate to grab him but he is likely owned in most 12 team leagues.
Valencia on the other hand has seen a lot of success against left handed pitchers since coming off the DL, which makes me a little bit hesitant to deploy him on a daily basis. Valencia as well saw a lot of his power come in one weekend versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Currently holding an OPS below .700 versus right handers, while there has been improvement, maintain an aura of skepticism moving forward with Valencia. I'm expecting a .280 hitter for the rest of the season but as with many other Athletics hitters, he'll be in a lot of questions revolving around add/drops when he hits his skids.
Trea Turner - Today is the day to grab him if he is still somehow available in your league. With a projected call up coming at the beginning of next week, Turner should be a welcomed addition to many teams in need of middle infield help. Turner's AAA track record for 2016 looks like this...
Best of luck for the weekend around baseball.