Ryan Braun – Ryan Braun has been making it rain all season long. With 35 homers and nearly a 1.000 OPS to date, he’s definitely put the bomp in the Brewers offense. What’s more is that he’s been incredibly consistent on a monthly basis, as he’s posted no less than a .941 OPS all year. Of course, this is nothing new for Braun, who possesses a .940 career OPS. So can he keep it up? That’s really a question for whoever was prescribing him testosterone supplements, but I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue to be one of the best fantasy baseball hitters for this season and for many more years to come. The impressive thing is that he’s only two home runs shy of tying his career high in that category, with over a month to go. He’s benefited from a higher home run to fly ball rate, although this figures to be less a result of luck and instead a conscious effort towards a more aggressive approach. This is evidenced by a higher strikeout rate as a result of him making less contact in general, but also swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. Normally this would be cause for concern, but he’s an elite player and this hasn’t negatively impacted his performance, so I’m willing to let it slide. At worst, he may remain more of a .300 batting average hitter instead of .320+. For the rest of the season and beyond, I project a .300/.380/.590 line.
Jason Kipnis – From the depths of Camp Crystal Lake, Jason has emerged to slaughter fantasy teams after giving them false hope last year…or has he? Despite having an OPS at .700 this year after posting an .841 OPS last year, I’m not ready to give up on Kipnis. In fact, he’s showing all kinds of improvement, with an increased walk rate and a decreased strikeout rate, partially thanks to an increased contact rate. That’s why his on-base percentage has remained roughly identical to last year, despite a much lower batting average on balls in play. The massive drop from last year has been in his slugging, and this can be credited to him having a home run to fly ball rate almost half of what he had in 2011. Now, it might be tempting to say that this will increase substantially, but I’m not so sure. Throughout his minor league career he never hit home runs at the rate he did last year, so I don’t expect him to do so again. However, he has demonstrated that he could hit for a high slugging and had 20 home run potential, so his slugging should increase from its current level. Going forward, I project a .260/.330/.430 line.
Here are some updates on guys I covered earlier in the year and where I expect them to be for the rest of the season:
Kevin Youkilis – Apparently Youk’s entrance song earlier in the year was Biz Markie’s Just a Friend, although he has since switched songs. That makes perfect sense because the last time I covered him a couple months ago, he had a .722 OPS, making him somebody that you wouldn’t want to make a long-term commitment with on your fantasy team. Since July, he’s managed to completely turn his season around and post a near .900 OPS, which is in line with his fantastic career average. Whether it had to do with his move away from the Red Sox or was simply him returning to form, I don’t know. His walk rate has improved tremendously the past two months, and it appears that he is trying to take full advantage of U.S. Cellular Field, with a significant increase in his fly ball rate. I thought that his age and injuries had finally caught up to him, but he’s proved me wrong. He should be able to maintain a line of .250/.380/.480 for the rest of 2012. You’ve got a friend in me, Kevin.
Ike Davis – After having a horrific start to the year, which I had previously attributed in no small part to his insanely low BABIP, he’s come roaring back. Just look at his OPS by month: .550 in April, .496 in May, .929 in June, .794 in July, and .900 in August. Some of this improvement can be credited to a higher BABIP, but he is also showing increased patience, with a walk rate over 13% in two of the last three months. I thought that a .790 OPS was his floor, but he’s making Bill James’ preseason projection of an .886 OPS not look as ridiculous as it used to sound. He’s made enough of an improvement that it is reasonable to expect a .250/.350/.480 line.