Fantasy Lowball: Five Hitters to Target in June
June is the month where Major League and fantasy GMs alike take stock of their lineups with an eye toward the midseason stretch run. This time of the season presents a great opportunity to trade for value. One team's chump could be the missing piece you need to finish strong.
If you like the odds of acquiring a perennial All-Star in the midst of a slump over scouring the waiver wire each week for busts, flames, and allegedly favorable matchups, this guide is for you.
Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is one of five hitters targeted as a solid buy-low option in this installment of Fantasy Lowball.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
The clock is ticking on Tulowitzki, as owners who have suffered through a miserable start to the season—which included a DL stint and April and May slash lines that could have been matched by even the most poisonous of waiver wire replacements at the shortstop position—are beginning to see in June some justification to their fifth-round pick.
Tulo has posted a season-best .353 batting average and 1.186 OPS over the past week, accompanied by numbers across the board—including a stolen base.
The price may be a bit higher than it was a week ago, but doubts about Tulowitzki's ability to stay in the lineup should be fresh in the mind of any manager who has dealt with Tulowitzki's on/off antics through April and May.
Put the right package together and you'll be getting a player who is seeing more pitches per plate appearance than at any other time in his career. This is an indication of a power surge that he may already be in the thick of, having hit two round-trippers in the past week—almost half as many as he'd hit all year.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins
To call Dan Uggla's 2009 season ugly would not only be in poor comedic taste, it would also be true.
Even from a career .257 hitter, Uggla's season-long flirtation with the Mendoza Line (he currently sits at .217) is a killer for fantasy owners who expected, well, a little more out of the Marlins second-baseman.
What Uggla owners may be missing in his limp .217/.339/.438 slash line is a dismal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .231, well below his normalized .299 career average. What this tells you is that Uggla's been one unlucky hitter, and as his BABIP eases back out of marginal territory, you should see his regular old batting average do the same.
Uggla has also managed to boost his fly-ball rate by a significant amount (48.1% in 2008, 51.6% in 2009) but he's not hitting them out of the park as often as he has in the past. The fly-ball rate may regress back to somewhere just under 50%, but so too will the home runs on fly-balls, meaning Uggla's power hasn't gone into hiding, as evidenced by the 11 he's hit so far this year.
David Ortiz, UTIL, Red Sox
This may be the most controversial pick of the list, as David Ortiz's 2009 season has stirred up the ire of fans and haters alike.
All that really needs to be said about this one is that, depending on the sense of humor possessed by his current owner in your league, Ortiz can be had for next to nothing and is worth the risk. Here's why:
Unless Ortiz is severely injured and hiding it (or just plain older, and therefore slower, than he actually is, by many years, and hiding that), the peripheral hitting numbers he's posted this season are all out of whack.
For one example, just look at his rate of home runs on fly-balls (HR/FB). Over his career, David Ortiz, one of the game's most formidable hitters, has posted a HR/FB rate of 18.6 percent. That's a home run for every sixth ball he's hit in the air. This season? Ortiz is hitting just 3.9 percent of his fly-balls out of the park.
Another area of interest is Ortiz's batting average on balls in play. Heading into the 2009 season, Ortiz's BABIP was just slightly better than average at .306; this year it's .253.
And before I rest my case, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the following: for his career, Ortiz has been a notoriously slow starter. His career slash lines for April and May are not all that far off from the agonizing percentages he's posted thus far.
You can believe the skeptics or you can gamble on the numbers. I encourage the latter, if only because David Ortiz's trade value is at the absolute lowest it ever has been (he's not even owned in some leagues) and the upside (career OPS for June/July/August above .900) is too good to pass up.
At worst, you may lose a couple of streaky roster-fillers and receive updates on the unfolding Papi Drama for as long as he sticks with your team.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies
Fantasy owners had high expectations for Rollins coming off a year in which he battled setbacks to help the Phightin' Phils win their first World Series since 1980. However, Rollins has thus far failed to make good on the first-round pick many owners spent on him.
With a noxious slash line of .226/.263/.335, a boomerang trip from the top to the bottom of the batting order and back again, and not a whiff of fantasy-worthy production, Rollins may seem like an unlikely trade target, so much so that a current Rollins owner may be too suspicious of your motives to pull the trigger. Tread carefully.
What you're gunning for here, as in all buy-low targets, is regression to the mean—and in Rollins' case, you shouldn't have to give up too much in order to get it.
The case for Rollins is that he is severely underperforming according to his career stats, and for a player of Rollins' caliber, with the track record he has amassed, you can't expect the guy to have declined at this rapid a rate. The numbers bear it out.
Rollins' season BABIP of .241 sits well below his career average of .298. His luck should turn around and no longer will he limbo the Mendoza Line.
The BB and K numbers Rollins has put up in the past are also fairly consistent, and this year he has struck out almost twice as many times as he's walked while seeing just about the same number of pitches per plate appearance. What that tells you is that Rollins' plate discipline±—usually a plus, and mediocre at worst—is still there, and he won't be competing with Mark Reynolds or Ryan Howard to break any strikeout records (for a batter) this season.
Charlie Manuel recently moved Rollins back to his customary position at the top of the potent Phillies lineup and by all accounts it appears that he's there to stay.
For the increased opportunity to score runs and see more pitches alone, Rollins should be a guy you want on your roster now, or at least as soon as you can convince your trade partner that you don't have a direct line to the baseball gods.
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
Jay Bruce stands out on this list because he is mashing and his owners have little to show for it other than a partially abysmal slash line of .218/.309/.481.
The qualifier, "partially," is in there because this is a classic case of (sing it with me) "one of these things is not like the others." That .481 slugging percentage figures to be the constant in that line, and if you low-ball a Jay Bruce owner now, you can reap the rewards as the batting and on-base averages regress to the mean.
While Bruce doesn't have the track record to project from that an established star like Jimmy Rollins does, there are a few key factors of Bruce's brutal season that should bounce back to, at the very least, some kind of normalized league average.
The BABIP currently produced by Bruce, .208, is beyond bad. It's one of the lowest marks in the league for an everyday player and a sign of extremely poor luck.
To give you an idea of where Bruce's batting average should and likely will be, consider this: in his 2008 debut, when Jay Bruce tried out his Adam Dunn impersonation by slugging 21 home runs and batting .254 in 413 at-bats, his BABIP was right around the league average at .298.
As for that number that's sucking all the life out of Bruce's OPS, the .309 OBP, you should know that in this, only his second season with the big league club, Bruce has crossed the "sluggers' threshold" of four pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA). The more pitches Bruce sees, the more likely he is to take walks and find pitches to drive into the seats. As long as this trend continues, Bruce should see his OBP rise out of the gutter.
Failing all that, Jay Bruce currently sits among National League leaders with the 15 home runs he's knocked out already, but most fantasy owners won't be able to look past the fact that while he's helped in one category, he's hurt them in two others, average and OPS.
Trade for Bruce now on the hidden strength of his performance to date, and enjoy the peaks of the remainder of this power hitter's first full season in the Major Leagues.