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Fantasy Baseball: Three Up, Three Down

Value in fantasy baseball is in constant flux. Player’s who’ve found themselves wallowing on waiver after abysmal starts to the season can just as quickly become assets as the summer heats up. On the flip side, it’s important to look past season totals to identify players trending in the wrong direction. As we cross the official halfway mark for the season, let’s check on a couple of players who are defining a new level of performance after frustrating owners over the first couple months of the season. We’ll also examine a few players who have been flat-out struggling of late, though it’s not time to jump ship on all of these guys even during a frustrating cold streak.

Three Up

Jason Heyward (ATL)

Season: .231/329/.373, 29 R, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB

Month of June (27 games): .312/.370/.495, 12 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB 

Heyward busted out with 27 home runs and 21 steals last season, making him, on average, the 11th outfielder off the board in spring drafts. Optimism over Atlanta’s revamped lineup and potentially historic outfield had many owners dreaming of fantasy championships when snagging Heyward, but have been rewarded with very little production from the talented youngster. He missed a month following an appendectomy and since has been simply a different player. His work in June reminds us about the excitement surrounding a player who put up an .800 OPS over his first three seasons in the big leagues. Still just 23 years old, Heyward posses the talent to be a fantasy force and if his June performance is any indications, he’ll be making owners smile down the stretch with solid all around production. A .247 career hitter before the all-star break, Heyward has batted .271 with a .801 OPS in his first three second halves. Though his current numbers remain fairly uninspiring, there’s a lot to like about Heyward as we get deeper into the summer months.

Erick Aybar (LAA)

Season: .284/.303/.379, 25 R, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB

Last 17 Games: .353/.366/.471, 9 R, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB

In 2012, Aybar stumbled his way through the first month and a half of the season, batting just .189 through 36 games. From that point forward, the Angels shortstop batted .323 with eight home runs, 18 steals and 59 runs scored in 105 games played. Though his sluggish start lingered a bit longer in 2013, it appears as though Aybar’s bat is finally waking up. He’s providing a solid average with nice speed and a little touch of pop over the past several weeks. Aybar’s counting stats for the season are pretty underwhelming and it’s little surprise that he’s been just the 16th ranked shortstop for the season according to ESPN’s player rater. He is, however, a capable bat who could once-again find himself batting at the top of the Angels’ lineup if he continues to swing a hot stick. At a position with very little certainly outside of the top-6, Aybar represents a very nice buy-low option given his recent work at the dish and track record of across-the-board production.

Eric Hosmer (KC)

Season: .277/.330/.412, 39 R, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 7 SB

Month of June (27 games): .303/.347/.541, 21 R, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 4 SB

Like teammate Mike Moustakas, Hosmer has seemingly taken to George Brett’s installation as hitting coach for the Royals. Despite a decent batting average, Hosmer displayed a complete lack of power over the first couple weeks of the season. Now, he’s racked up 13 extra-base hits in the month of June after knocking just 10 extra-base hits in his first 50 games in 2012. He’s the No. 12 offensive player over the past 30 days according to ESPN’s player rater while handsomly rewarding owners who kept the faith through the early season struggles. Still just 23 years old, Hosmer has shown a much improved eye at the dish with eight walks against 13 strikeouts during his hot June a vast improvement over the 15:32 walk-to-strikeout ratio he put up in April and May. While his actual performance level likely lies somewhere between the early season slump and his work at the dish of late, but even in a down year in 2012, Hosmer was able to provide double-digit power and speed, a rare feat for a first baseman. If he can keep up this recent power surge, we are looking at a player who can provide 20 home runs with double digit steals at the first base position with an average that’s not going to kill you. Think that sound valuable? It’s exactly what Paul Goldschmidt did during his breakout 2012.

Three Down

Ryan Howard (PHI)

Season: .264/.317/.462, 31 R, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 0 SB

Last 5 games: .000/.053/.000, 1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI. 0 SB

Interestingly enough, had we written this a week ago, Howard could have easily found himself in the Three Up section after batting .357 with three homers and 15 RBI over his first 21 June games. Since, he’s struggled with soreness in his knees and played his way onto the bench for two games during the Phils’ weekend series in LA. All told, Howard’s performance registers as a mild disappointment so far this season as his power pace is far behind his prime levels.  The strikeouts are an obvious concern, but Howard has drawn a respectable 12 walks in the past month and he’s still capable of producing solid power numbers when he gets in a grove. Injury questions remain, but there’s a good chance you can go out and acquire Howard dirt cheap right now. It is not time to break the bank on the ageing slugger, but he is worth a buy-low offer at the very least.

Elvis Andrus (TEX)

Season: .243/.300/.287, 42 R, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 17 SB

Month of June (26 games): .196/.265/.216, 9 R, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB

Coming into the year, Andrus was a player we were avoiding in drafts. For a top-of-the-lineup speedster, his 85 runs scored in 2012 was a disappointing total as was his poor 21-for-31 stolen base success rate. Elvis looked to be making solid progress early this season and has improved his stolen base efficiency significantly. He has, however, watched his BABIP dip by over 40 points this season while striking out more, walking less and watching his infield fly ball rate nearly double. The frustration has boiled over for Andrus owners this month with a meager .481 OPS that simply will not do. His futility at the plate rivals that of fellow bust Starling Castro, but in Andrus’ case, perhaps there is a chance to sell someone on his solid 17 stolen bases for the season. At such a weak position, it is difficult to just pull the plug on a player you likely spent a top-100 selection on, but that was a mistake from the start. It’s time to move on from Elvis and find yourself a player with a more upside than two potential scoring categories.

Alex Rios (CWS)

Season: .268/.327/.444, 42 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 14 SB

Since May 25 (31 games): .218/.269/.298, 13 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 6 SB

Rios has watched his average dip by over 30 points in the last few weeks and as the White Sox continue to flounder, owners may be frustrated to see Rios bat turn ice cold as the summer heats up. That said, the talented outfielder continues to provide value on the basepaths and for the year, he’s nearly double his walk rate from last season (7.9 BB% in 2013 vs. 4.1 BB% in 2012). Rios remains on-pace for his second straight 20/20 season and third in his past four years. The increased walk rate should help to overcome the lack of offensive support in that White Sox lineup and perhaps his struggles over the last five weeks will create a buying opportunity. Of all the players on this list, Rios remains the most bankable fantasy commodity and we fully expect the five-category goodness to continue even despite his recent struggles.

 

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