By: Jack Moore
Each week we’ll be providing you with insight into the best (and worst) baseball players to play in your fantasy baseball league.
1. Norichika Aoki, OF, MIL: After 517 plate appearances, it seems safe to say Aoki is mostly for real. The 30-year-old Japanese import has a .289/.359/.430 line this season, including 68 runs and 26 stolen bases. He’s entrenched at the top of the lineup for the highest scoring team in the National League and hitting just two spots in front of the league’s best hitter in Ryan Braun. He’s still available in 70% of leagues in the Yahoo! game. Teams with outfield needs should grab him immediately.
2. Andy Pettitte, SP, NYY: Pettitte is slated to make his return to the Yankees on Tuesday. The 40-year-old was excellent before an ankle-snapping line drive forced him out of action earlier this season. In 58.2 innings, Pettitte struck out 59 against just 15 walks, good for a 3.22 ERA and 3.41 FIP. There’s little reason to believe he’ll be significantly different down the stretch; the only thing to watch for is if the Yankees keep a pitch limit (thought to be in the 70-80 range for his first start) on him for every start.
3. Wily Peralta, SP, MIL: Peralta announced his arrival on the big-league scene in a big way Sunday, throwing eight shutout innings with just two hits and a walk against five strikeouts against the Mets. Peralta now owns a 2.14 ERA, 2.72 FIP and 3.63 xFIP in his first 21 innings. Most notably: the control. His struggles in the minor leagues earlier this year were largely due to missing the zone and walking the world. If he can keep throwing strikes as a big-leaguer, his 95-97 MPH fastball and nasty breaking stuff should keep on getting outs.
4. John Axford, RP, MIL: Axford has converted 11 straight saves after a one-strikeout, one-walk outing Sunday. Although he’s hardly been perfect over this stretch – he gave up a two-run homer Saturday in a non-save outing. Still, since his last blown save back on Aug. 10, Axford has pitched well: a 3.14 ERA in 14.1 IP, including 19 strikeouts and just one home run. The warning sign? Still 11 walks. But he has the job back, and that’s what largely matters for those of us in fantasy circles for the rest of the season.
5. Kyle McPherson, SP, PIT: Need a deep sleeper for the final weeks? McPherson is taking over James McDonald’s spot in the Pirates’ rotation and is worth a look. He posted a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings of relief this season, but the real signal is his dynamic minor league numbers. Between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, McPherson posted a 3.22 ERA with 63 strikeouts against just nine walks in 67 innings, a 7.0 K/BB. The Pirates are free falling right now, but McPherson could put up some solid numbers as they cling to contender status.
1. Tyler Colvin, OF, COL: This entry actually applies to all Rockies, I just chose Colvin as the representative (possibly the widest-available fantasy-relevant Rockie?). The Rockies have just seven home games left against 10 on the road. The team hits .300/.363/.494 at Coors Field, but just .241/.291/.376 on the road. Keep such schedule concerns in mind with your Rockies players.
2. Delmon Young, OF, DET: Last two weeks: 11 games, nine starts, 39 plate appearances, seven hits, one walk, zero extra base hits. That comes out to a .184/.205/.184 line. Delmon runs in streaks, and it generally evens out to a bad hitter. Going back to last September, Delmon is now hitting just .266/.299/.424. Don’t be fooled by his occasional hot streaks; the cold ones kill even more than the hot ones help.
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL: Beyond the schedule issue, it appears less and less likely that Tulowitzki will return for any significant amount of time. There are only 16 days left in the baseball season. If he’s going to be out a week, you’ll get more out of filling the roster spot with somebody who’s actually healthy than getting seven games out of Tulowitzki – and consider with his latest setback, there’s no guarantee he returns at all.
4. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI: If Howard’s first 61 games this year are any indication, his contract will go down as one of the worst in baseball history. Howard is hitting just .229/.308/.413 since returning from his Achilles injury suffered in last year’s playoffs. The power is there (10 homers), but not on the level we’re used to (just a 27 HR pace) and he has struck out a whopping 84 times in just 61 games. With that kind of whiff rate, there’s no way Howard posts a batting average anywhere near respectability.
5. Jon Lester, SP, BOS: Lester’s struggles continue. His underlying numbers aren’t terribly different from last season – a 4.09 FIP compared to 3.83 from last year, a 2.49 K/BB compared to 2.43 last year. But he’s not stranding runners (66.7%) and, in related news, he’s giving up more home runs. This might be an effect we can expect to see fixed next season, but Lester just hasn’t seemed sharp at all this season, and there appears to be little reason to bet on him or his Red Sox over the next 16 days.
Jack Moore is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Mathematics and Economics. His work can also be found at FanGraphs.com, DisciplesOfUecker.com, RotoWire.com, AdvancedNFLStats.com and ESPN. Follow him on twitter at @jh_moore.