Giancarlo Stanton has battled injuries and the Marlins’ awkward ballpark this year, but I haven’t completely lost hope. Since arriving in the majors, he’s been a fantastic player in OPS leagues because, aside from his insane slugging, he’s been taking walks at a solid rate. This year’s been different, with Stanton walking a lot less, hitting less of his balls in the air, and less of his fly balls becoming home runs. I have no idea how much of his struggles can be attributed to lingering knee problems, but the fact that the Marlins have played him in a majority of their games gives me confidence that his knee is improving. If he stays on the field, I don’t believe these negative trends will continue because his excellent eye and power are too good to disappear. For the rest of 2012, I’d expect his baseline near .330/.500/.830, or roughly his 2010 numbers. Keep in mind that he already has 57 career home runs, despite being only 22 years old. I believe that he will regularly top a .900 OPS throughout his career, possibly as soon as next year. Speaking of sluggers with slow starts…
Nelson Cruz, an avid historian, has been a long-time believer in Theodore Roosevelt’s sage advice to speak softly and carry a boomstick. He has a relatively low OBP, but offsets this potential shortcoming in OPS leagues with his career .500 slugging. He’s had a weak start in 2012, posting an OPS below .700. There are many numbers that stand out this season. Cruz has been swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and more pitches inside the strike zone, always a good sign. However, he’s made less contact with the pitches he’s swung at, as evidenced by an increased swinging strike rate, an increased strikeout rate, and a decreased contact rate, relative to his career norms. Another important factor is that his HR/FB is roughly half his career rate, suggesting likely improvement going forward. Overall, I believe these factors indicate some decline is probable, but improvement is to be expected from his current 2012 pace. For the rest of the season, I’ll project a .320/.480/.800 line.
Derek Jeter is a player only Matthew Berry would call an “upper-level fantasy shortstop” for the rest of 2012. Sure Jeter’s been rocking a 1.000 OPS this season, but I’m astonished that other fantasy baseball ‘perts are buying into him. Apparently ESPN analysts watching the Yankees are like observers at a Man vs. Food event shouting “This is the stuff of legends!” In OPS leagues, it might be tempting to like his fast start, but he’s just not going to continue anything remotely near this pace. In fact, Jeter has arguably been the luckiest player in baseball, with a .400 BABIP and a HR/FB at 30%. It’s also important to note that he hasn’t maintained an OPS over .900 since he partied in 1999, while his OPS has been below .750 the past two seasons. I think he approaches a line of .360/.390/.750 as he did in 2011. However, his upside is limited and there’s the possibility that Jeter leaves his fantasy owners alone in a world that’s so cold.
Seth Smith is used to being neglected. The Lisper’s Nightmare was the backup quarterback to Eli Manning at the University of Mississippi. Last year he was traded to the A’s for Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. He’s currently owned in less than 1% of ESPN leagues. If this doesn’t compel you to pick up Smith out of sympathy, then do it because he’s a sneaky play in OPS leagues. His plate discipline has improved, as illustrated by his increased contact rate and walk rate, along with him swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone. Despite these encouraging signs, he’s posted a .650 OPS. I expect Smith’s BABIP to surge and his overall line to have a corresponding rise, with .340/.460/.800 a distinct possibility for the rest of the season. In leagues with daily changes, it would be worth benching him against lefties because the A’s plan to do so the majority of the time (Smith has a career .590 OPS vs. lefties and .870 OPS vs. righties).
Bryan LaHair continues to set the world on fire. The 29-year-old rookie obliterated Triple A in 2011, with 38 homers in 129 games, also known as taking candy from a baby. In his stint with the Cubs last September he demonstrated that he appears to be capable of playing in the majors, with an .885 OPS across 20 games. This year he switched jerseys with Albert Pujols and is currently carrying an OPS over 1.200. Some, if not all, of his stats are downright ridiculous and he won’t be able to remain the best player in the league. Nevertheless, after heavily regressing his numbers, there appears to be a decent hitter underneath all that luck. I’d expect LaHair to produce a .330/.470/.800 line for the rest of the season, with upside for more if his luck continues. You may be old for a rookie Bryan but tonight, with you on my fantasy team, we are young.