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MLB Player Notes: Weathering the Injury Storm

The injuries just keep on hitting in this bloodbath of a 2014 baseball season.  Whether you just lost Joey Votto, Jose Abreu, Jose Fernandez, or, like me, were stubbornly hanging on to the hope that Danny Salazar was just one start away from turning it around, let’s settle in and take a look at some under-owned guys that may just help keep you afloat while everyone gets healthy (or works out their kinks in the minors).

Juan Francisco has been bouncing around the league since 2009, but his shortage of plate discipline and inability to make consistent contact have prevented him from ever settling in and becoming a regular at the major league level.   But now, with a few years of experience under his belt, maybe he’s finally found a home in the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre and the womb of the explosive Blue Jays lineup.  Injuries have kept Francisco in the Jays lineup almost every day for the past month or so, and the results have been quite impressive.  He currently sports a line of 18-8-19 with a .292/.373/.629 slash over 89 AB, making him the 23rd best player in fantasy over the last month.

Francisco still needs to cut down the Ks (currently 35.3 K%, pretty close to his career mark) if he wants to maintain a BA north of .250, but his BB% is by far a career-high (10.8%) and his power is off the charts at the moment (clocking in at an otherworldly .337 ISO).  Because of his Ks we can expect some regression in the BA department, and he will eventually lose some ABs when the Jays get everyone healthy, but as long as he’s healthy and hitting he will stay in the lineup against RHP at least, and his power potential makes him worth a spot on our rosters as long as he is playing.  Francisco is only owned in 48% of Y! leagues as of this writing, yet he’s second in the league in SLG to Troy Tulowitzki!  Get this guy on your team if you need power.

The Indians pitching staff continues to be a source of disappointment and frustration for me, as in addition to the aforementioned optimism for Salazer, I’ve kept the faith and continued to start Justin Masterson all year long.  I assumed the diminished velocity was just an early season fluke and he would return to last year’s levels, well, right about now.  Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong, and have been rewarded with more crooked numbers than I would care to recount (though at least his Ks have been solid).  Now I will have to consider benching him in all but the juiciest of matchups going forward, and with the unexpected DFA’ing of Salazar, I’m left with quite a hole in a couple fantasy pitching staffs.  But enough about my bad pitching luck, some of you just lost Jose Freaking Fernandez!  If you are still struggling to replace him, let’s have a look at some available SPs and see if we can’t address our pitching problems together.

Salazar’s replacement, Trevor Bauer, should be on our radars, as he makes his first start in place of Salazar Tuesday.  Bauer has always been a high upside prospect who, until this season, has struggled to harness his raw stuff and exhibit the necessary command to have consistent success at the Major League level.  However, his first start this year was very impressive (6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K April 9 against SD), and he’s only walked 14 batters over 46 minor league IP so far (not great, but a vast improvement from his career 7.09 BB/9 mark across all levels), so we should be optimistic about his chances to generate value the rest of the season.  He’s currently owned in only 34% of Y! leagues and, while Tuesday’s start against DET isn’t the ideal matchup, you may want to jump on board before it in case he dazzles and gets scooped up by someone else before you get the chance.

Phil Hughes has been throwing darts under the radar for the last 3 weeks or so, and at only 23% owned he may still be available to you.  This guy also had a lot of promise once, before he was thrown into the meat grinder that is the AL East.  But now that he’s been liberated he seems to be getting pretty comfortable in the Land of A Thousand Lakes, as he’s gone at least 6 IP with 2 ER or less each of his last 4 starts.  Another boring vet to take a look at is Josh Beckett, who has quietly allowed 2 ER or less in 5 of his 7 starts this year.  He’s also piling up Ks at a rate of close to one an inning, so it’s looking like a healthy season back in the NL is just what the doctor ordered for him.  He’s still owned in only 44% of Y! leagues.  Dallas Keuchel has also been impressive lately, giving us 6 straight starts of at least 6 IP while only giving up more than 3 ER once in that span.  That stretch culminated in a 7-hit shutout of TEX May 13, so maybe he’s ready to step up and be the much-needed ace the Astros have awaited for so many seasons.  He’s obviously hindered by his team’s offensive woes, but he should keep providing beneficial ratios and is only 34% owned at the moment.

Batting Gloves

Yangervis Solarte is on quite a roll lately and, given his position flexibility and home stadium, I’m amazed he’s not universally owned yet (currently 74% in Y! leagues).  He’s gone 11-4-10 the last two weeks, and has his season slash up to .313/.387/.500…Seth Smith has been scalding this month, raising his line from .243/.345/.378 on May 2 to .333/.434/.608 as of May 19.  His career splits are pretty well known (career .282/.362/.495 against RHP, .203/.276/.317 against LHP) so he’s unlikely to ever be an everyday player, but he obviously on the good side of the platoon, and .608 SLGs don’t just grow on trees in today’s MLB.  He’s only 30% owned and can fill two different OF spots…Catchers keep on impressing this year, as not only has Derek Norris been tearing the cover off the ball for the past month or so (.354/.441/.552 this year in 96 AB), but his platoon-mate, John Jaso, is also putting up some nice numbers (9-3-7-.314/1.042 last two weeks).  Oh, and Devin Mesoraco has a bomb and a 4-hit game in his two games back from the DL.  That puts Meso up to an even .500 over 54 AB.  Can he give us 300 or so more AB this year is the only real question with him at this point…A couple of throwback 2B have made their presence felt over the last two weeks, as Gordon Beckham and Rickie Weeks are ranked #5 & 6 at the position over that time.  Weeks’ ship has long since sailed, but keep an eye on Beckham as he’s still young enough to make a leap this year if he keeps getting consistent playing time.  Both players are owned in less than 10% of Y! leagues…Miguel Cabrera has 20 RBI over the last 14 days.  You guys weren’t actually worried about him, right?  If ever a buying opportunity was available to you, I hope you jumped on it while you had the chance.

Rosin Bags

Johnny Cueto is unfair this season, let’s just hope his obliques stay intact all year.  It’s almost a forgone conclusion at this point when he faces a meek opponent like he did against SD last Friday.  In the 6th inning, my friend asked me “over/under 5.5 hit shutout for Cueto” and we both went for the under.  He hasn’t pitched less than 8 IP for 6 consecutive starts.  If healthy, this guy will win people some leagues this year…Rick Porcello has been dealing this year as well, as he’s got 7 Wins and great ratios (2.91/1.01) on the season so far.  His lack of Ks (33 in 52.2 IP) makes him a bit of a liability in Roto leagues, but if you are otherwise good in Ks his ratios help may be of use to you still.  And in H2H or no IP-cap leagues, this guy is turning into a frontline starter.  Many forget that he is still younger than Stephen Strasburg, so there’s still plenty of time for him to continue growing as a pitcher…Jake Odorizzi is starting require our attention, as he’s gone 11 scoreless IP over his last two starts while striking out 18.  Those K numbers speak for themselves, and Tropicana Field and the Rays defense behind him work in his favor as well.  He’s currently only 8% owned in Y!, and is definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward…Here are some other under-owned pitchers worth looking into to fill injury holes or just to keep an eye on: Drew Pomeranz (46% owned), Jason Vargas (35%, the Ks are up a bit), Erik Bedard (3%, 2 ER total last 4 starts), Jorge De La Rosa (17%, 3 ER or less last 6 starts, even looking pretty good at home), Edwin Jackson (3%, prone to blowups and wildness, but great of late – 7 scoreless with 11 K against MIL May 17), Tom Koehler (32%), Tanner Roark (29%, having a great year if you subtract his 4 IP, 7 ER disaster against PHI May 3), Drew Hutchison (18%, over a K per IP this year)…If anyone is looking to sell Kershaw after his 1.2 IP, 7 ER debacle Saturday night, I’ll happily buy.  In other words, this occasionally happens to everyone, don’t sweat it.

Now, let’s collectively say a prayer to the injury gods to keep out teams safe from (any further) harm…Until next time, send me your questions/comments to @RotoClayton on Twitter.  Thanks for reading, and good luck