Fantasy Baseball 2012: 10 Untouchable Assets Before Mid-August Trade Deadlines
The following countdown touts 10 MLB stars (six hitters/four pitchers) who should be "untouchable" prior to the fantasy trade deadlines in mid-August.
To clarify, any of these dynamos could be had in an obviously one-sided 3-for-1, 4-for-2 or 5-for-2 blockbuster. But in the realm of 1-for-1 or 2-for-1 swaps, it's virtually impossible—or highly implausible—to find equity in trades that pit a five-category star hitter or four-category pitching wiz against one or two productive, but ultimately replaceable talents.
The publishing date for this countdown is Aug. 2, but nine of the players listed have proven to be time-tested studs from month-to-month or year-to-year, with few exceptions.
And the 10th player, Angels rookie Mike Trout, is already making a strong case for being the consensus No. 1 pick in 2013 fantasy drafts, regardless of league scoring rules.
Enjoy the show!
1st Base: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Season: 22 HR, 71 Runs, 59 Runs, 7 Steals, .284 BA
July Stats: 8 HR, 20 RBI, 18 Runs, 3 Steals, .330 BA, 1.071 OPS
Skinny: From a seasonal perspective, Albert Pujols likely wouldn't rate as an untouchable hitter on the trade front.
But given his long-standing track record of dominance (per-season averages of 41 homers, 121 RBI, 117 runs and .332 batting from 2001-11), supreme numbers in July (above) and excellent on-base percentage for the year (.350), fantasy owners should have little motivation to part with King Albert in the next few weeks.
As a result, the painful recollection of Pujols' miserable April has long been replaced by warm memories of his production for May (8 HR/24 RBI), June (4 HR/19 RBI/.326 BA) and July, which included elite marks in OBP (.411) and slugging (.660).
In terms of his standing among the first base-eligible dynamos, Pujols is second only to the next superstar in our countdown.
1st Base/3rd Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Season: 26 HR, 87 Runs, 68 Runs, 4 Steals, .323 BA
July Stats: 9 HR, 23 RBI, 22 Runs, 1 Steal, .344 BA, 1.086 OPS
Skinny: Miguel Cabrera's July-only marks in hits (33), homers (nine), batting average (.344), OBP (.409), slugging (.677) and OPS (1.086) were absurd—but hardly unexpected.
Miggy notched at least seven homers and 20 RBI for April, June and July; and for May, when he only belted two homers, he batted a robust .331.
The lesson here: A random player or two may rise up to eclipse Cabrera's numbers from a month-to-month perspective. But when factoring in the totality of it all, no hitter can match Miggy's prodigious pace of power and pure hitting excellence.
Outfield: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Season: 29 HR, 73 RBI, 72 Runs, 19 Steals, .313 BA
July Stats: 6 HR, 15 RBI, 20 Runs, 6 Steals, .301 BA, .941 OPS
Skinny: Of the 12 major league hitters with a realistic shot at 40 homers this season, Ryan Braun is the only one who'll likely finish with 25 steals. That alone reveals the greatness of Braun in fantasyland, regardless of scoring rules.
Here's another way to crystallize Braun's superstar status: Of the 17 hitters with 22 or more homers (including Pujols, Miggy Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen), Braun is the only mortal lock for 105 RBI and 105 runs.
Bottom line: Braun may be the most bankable asset of this countdown.
Outfield: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Season: 22 HR, 66 Runs, 72 Runs, 14 Steals, .373 BA
July Stats: 7 HR, 15 RBI, 22 Runs, .446 BA, 1.249 OPS
Skinny: How high has Andrew McCutchen raised the fantasy bar this season?
His 15-day batting average of .370 eerily resembles a prolonged slump, and his 15-game homer drought seems like it started back in mid-May.
That's the downside of batting .446 in July while collecting votes in droves for National League MVP by season's end. The day-to-day expectations of this Bucs basher have simply gone through the roof.
At this point, there may be no reasonable 2-for-1 blockbuster to absorb the trade loss of McCutchen down the stretch, unless you're desperate for steals—his only so-so category.
That said, his owners should ask for the moon and expect the stars when trying to consummate a deal. It'll probably take a 3-for-1 or 5-for-2 to get full value, though.
Outfield: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Season: 20 HR, 71 Runs, 70 Runs, 14 Steals, .324 BA
July Stats: 3 HR, 13 RBI, 11 Runs, 4 Steals, .295 BA, .851 OPS
Skinny: If Carlos Gonzalez hadn't endured a mild downturn in July, he'd easily be in the class of Braun and McCutchen from this point forward.
But there's certainly nothing wrong with being one baby step behind that dynamic duo.
Need motivation to believe CarGo is an absolute lock for big numbers from this point forward?
1. Gonzalez combined for 13 homers, 40 RBI, 41 runs, six steals and a .319 batting average for May and June.
2. Gonzalez's elite-level production in on-base percentage (.387) strongly suggests his OPS rate will be at or near 1.000 by season's end.
3. In 175 career games for August and September (spanning 629 at-bats), Gonzalez has 36 homers, 115 RBI, 119 runs, 24 steals and a .305 batting average.
Outfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Season: 18 HR, 55 Runs, 81 Runs, 31 Steals, .348 BA
July Stats: 10 HR, 23 RBI, 32 Runs, 9 Steals, .392 BA, 1.259 OPS
Skinny: Forget about rookies. In 30 years of reading countless box scores and pouring over thousands of stats from Baseball-Reference, Retrosheet or FanGraphs, I cannot recall a month like the one Mike Trout just concluded in Anaheim.
And he doesn't turn 21 until Aug. 7!
Sure, Andrew McCutchen posted a higher batting average and Jason Kubel/Josh Willingham belted more homers in July, but Trout's monthly tally might be the most complete fantasy demolition over a 30- or 31-day calendar period. Ever.
The kid is literally embarrassing opposing pitchers and defenses with his uncanny combination of blinding speed, raw power, elite athleticism and pure baseball savvy.
It goes without saying: Trout has already locked up the No. 1 overall slot in next year's fantasy drafts. Just ahead of McCutchen, Cabrera, Braun and Matt Kemp.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Season: 9-5, 2.79 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 153/41 K-BB
July Stats: 3-0, 2.03 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 39/9 K-BB
Skinny: Let's start this mini-section with a Grand Canyon-sized caveat: If offered a 1-for-1 swap involving one of the countdown's six hitters, and then the four pitchers, ALWAYS side with the batter.
Conservatively speaking, the everyday hitters should have 212 more chances (53 games + four daily at-bats) to impact their fantasy standing, or 212 opportunities to alter the fortunes of their respective fantasy teams.
On the flip side, aces like Felix Hernandez will likely only start 10, maybe 11 games from this point forward (assuming full health).
With that important clarification out of the way...
Back in late June, yours truly wondered aloud on Twitter, "What will King Felix do for an encore?" after racking up double-digit strikeouts on June 23 (Padres) and 28 (Red Sox).
Well, Hernandez answered that rhetorical question with a primal scream of success in July, collecting three wins, allowing just 10 runs (spanning six starts and 44.1 innings) and posting four outings of six or more strikeouts.
The numbers look even better when viewed through the prism of Felix's last five outings: 1.38 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
Here's another scary thought: Despite an All-Star month, Hernandez has the skills to establish an even higher fantasy ceiling for August and/or September.
Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Season: 11-7, 2.63 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 152/40 K-BB
July Stats: 3-2, 2.43 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 31/11 K-BB
Skinny: Here's a good example of why it doesn't always pay to watch a certain player or team every night.
As a Detroit native and unabashed Tigers fan, I've had to endure a handful of nights this season when Justin Verlander was either far from razor-sharp or had the unfortunate honor of pitching before, after or during rainstorms.
As a consequence, I simply figured that Verlander's numbers had been stellar, but not elite.
Apparently, I was wrong.
For four straight months, Verlander has registered ERAs below 3.00, and for April, May and July, his WHIP was comfortably below 1.00 each time.
Regarding strikeouts, Verlander (142 strikeouts in 160.2 innings) has a ratio of 0.89 strikeouts for every inning.
Regarding victories, the reigning Cy Young and MVP (American League) has an over/under of 7.5 wins from this point forward.
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Season: 8-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 143/39 K-BB
July Stats: 3-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 40/12 K-BB
Skinny: Clayton Kershaw might not have been July's most dominant pitcher, but he certainly had the most unique journey to All-Star fame.
Two outings of eight runs and five runs allowed, buttressed by four superb outings that called for a grand total of three runs. And when viewing his numbers since June 21 (spanning eight starts and 55 innings), Kershaw boasts a 1.47 ERA even with the eight-run and five-run clunkers on the resume.
Bottom line: Given Kershaw's elite standing in the fantasy community and last year's mind-blowing numbers from August and September (9-1, 1.46 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 75/14 K-BB ratio), he subsequently ranks as my No. 1 most coveted pitcher for the stretch run.
So, if there's a scintilla of a chance to land this southpaw for the final months without gutting your offensive core, I highly recommend doing so.
Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Season: 14-1, 2.29 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 92/27 K-BB
July Stats: 6-0, 2.23 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 26/9 K-BB
Skinny: Jered Weaver (.202 opponents' batting average) was a perfect 6-for-6 in collecting victories with July starts.
In that span, he also surrendered two walks or less five times and just two runs or less five times (including two scoreless efforts).
For the stretch drive, it would be a minor upset if Weaver didn't win his first American League Cy Young; it would also be a surprise if he didn't raise the stakes—strikeout-wise—with his next five opponents (White Sox, Mariners, Rays, Tigers, Red Sox).
Strikeouts are the only thing keeping Weaver from being the No. 1 overall pitching asset.
To be an untouchable commodity like Verlander, Kershaw and King Felix, he absolutely needs four games of nine or more strikeouts from this point forward.