- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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In 119 days' time, things have not changed: It is still all about value.
That's not intended to be a cryptic statement; it refers to the number of days that have passed since I published my preseason "Tristan's Twenty," players for whom my valuations were highest relative to the masses, a column in which I reminded fantasy was about finding value relative to player perception.
One hundred nineteen days later, that lesson bears repeating, except with a midseason spin: You could attempt to make a trade using the going-forward rankings at column's end (or from any source you wish), without having put in even 10 seconds' worth of your own research, but in the end your team would simply be one step closer to your source's dream team than your own.
Conversely, you could use the rankings below the way they're intended -- an effective "price guide" of players in a standard ESPN mixed league -- make your own educated adjustments where appropriate and make the deal you want. After all, value emerges every time you -- or your trade counterpart -- find a player you value significantly more or less than what's listed below; ideally it's a trade where you like the player a lot more, your counterpart a lot less, than I do.
Now here's the challenge: Player valuations are more broadly available in the preseason than they are now, as there isn't an "Average Draft Position" (ADP) for midseason, and Player Rater data merely measures statistics in the bank, not the numbers to come. You'll find that there are fewer in-season rankings sources than there are preseason rankings sources, so to refresh my list of personal favorites, it's a little more difficult to isolate good examples because there are fewer comparison points. There's a lot more guesswork with an in-season trade, which is one of the reasons you shouldn't fear a good trade ending in a bad result.
But that doesn't mean I'm not up to making some guesses.
Listed below are nine midseason value selections, players that I believe will come at reasonable cost on the trade market, and whom I believe have a noticeable amount of upside beyond their listed ranking below. I've picked one for each of the eight fantasy positions and a bonus one for starting pitcher, and have included some extras for the deeper outfield and pitcher spots.
If you've watched d'Arnaud play since his June 24 recall and believe you're watching a different hitter, it's because you are. His plate coverage has improved by leaps and bounds. He has swung nearly 17 percent more often on pitches on the outer half of the plate, has a lower miss rate on those swings and has 11 hits (two doubles and one home run) in 36 at-bats that ended on a pitch there; he had 10 hits on pitches there in his first 103 career at-bats. I've said many times in the past that I believed d'Arnaud would need time to adapt to big league pitching, but it now appears he's doing it and the chart below -- addressing his overall hitting approach -- is compelling evidence to buy in.
The Blue Jays have a history of squeezing the most out of reclamation-project power hitters -- see Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion -- partly because they have a ballpark that rewards power, and thus far Francisco has a higher slugging percentage (.515) than he had in any of his previous four big league seasons. He's also capable of playing either corner infield spot, both of which are currently open with Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind on the disabled list. And while Francisco has a wide platoon split that makes him a nightly matchup risk, let's not exaggerate said risk: The Blue Jays play 41 of their next 66 games against their four American League East rivals, who boast only Wei-Yin Chen, Jon Lester and David Price (who could be a trade candidate) among left-handed starters, not to mention Francisco has had the platoon advantage in 85 percent of his trips to the plate, a higher percentage than either Lind (84 percent) or Colby Rasmus (76 percent) in more PAs than either lefty (Rasmus has 218, Lind 198).
This is not merely about his five home runs in his first eight games since returning from the minor leagues on July 6. This is about three things: First, Wong's speed, evidenced by his 12 steals in 53 games. His contact ability, as he has an 87.6 percent rate in the majors this season after he posted an 85.8 percent mark in Triple-A in 2013-14 combined; these things reduce the risk of damage he could do to your batting average. But, perhaps most importantly, it's about Wong's prospects of regular at-bats with the Cardinals. Simply put, this team needs a jolt -- especially true in light of the Yadier Molina injury -- and Mark Ellis' .190/.267/.231 triple-slash rates say he won't provide it.
I'm all-in on Machado during the second half of this season -- the extent of this opinion outlined in the video above -- so while his name might be too familiar, his inclusion seemingly too obvious, the point is to identify players with potentially massive payoffs. Machado showed during the first half of 2013 that he can be a fantasy stud, and if you question his power during that half-season -- he hit only seven homers -- be aware that, since June 1, he has gotten more lift on the ball, evidenced by a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate; he had a 61.3 percent ground-ball rate in his career through May 31, 2014.
Predicting a big step up in power from Simmons, as I did in the preseason, might have been premature, but what if the mistaken read was that he's a second-half player, rather than his big 2013 second half portended a bigger full 2014? He does have a history of stronger finishes than starts: He batted .331 from July 1 forward in Class A Lynchburg in 2011, and he belted 11 home runs from July 1 forward for the big league club last year. Simmons has already batted .375 in his first 12 games in the month of July, and in a season where no lower-tier shortstop stands out as a clear value, that's enough for me to take the chance.
Why aren't more people talking about his improvements against left-handed pitching? Yelich, a .165/.245/.231 hitter against lefties during his rookie year of 2013, and a player who sported a more-than-200-point OPS split with greater success against right-handers in the minors from 2011-13 combined, currently sports .297/.354/.419 rates against lefties this season. Now all he needs to do is begin driving the ball with more authority; he had a 63.4 percent ground-ball rate in 2013, and he has a 63.3 percent ground-ball rate this year. Still, Yelich has considerable batting average and home run upside, and he's a handy contributor in stolen bases, with 11 in 76 games this season.
Quintana was one of the 88 pitchers to meet my "Kings of Command" criteria from 2013, and he's on pace to qualify in 2014, while increasing his strikeout, strikeout-to-walk and ground-ball rates in the process. In retrospect, he should've been one of my nine profiled pitchers in that column; perhaps I felt him too obvious a selection after he posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Both Quintana's FIP and xFIP, however, have showed substantial improvement comparative to 2013, so I'm correcting that by listing him now. He's a 25-year-old who has shown enough advances with his two-seamer to make a legitimate case as a top-30 starting pitcher performance in the best-case scenario.
Sometimes the rise from prospect to fantasy ace is a multi-step process: From struggling rookie to inconsistent midrange performer to trusted regular option. Odorizzi's career falls within the middle group, and the obstacle standing in his path to the latter is stamina/pitch efficiency. The chart below breaks down his 2014 campaign into three time periods, to illustrate the problems he has had pitching deep into games and how he has been working on improving:
What has changed for Odorizzi in his past seven starts has been his fastball: It has resulted in more success, more swings and misses, and it might be the result of an increase in velocity deeper into games. He averaged 90.0 mph with the pitch the third time (and beyond) through the lineup in the first set, 90.7 mph in the second and 91.0 mph in the third. At his current rate of progression, Odorizzi could step up into the top-25 starter group. He's actually not as far from it today as you might think.
One of my worst calls all season was that John Axford would pitch effectively enough to remain the Indians' closer; in fairness, I did say that I thought Allen was the better pitcher all along. Axford struggled mightily in early May, though, opening the door for Allen, who promptly closed it behind him. Axford has a 2.42 ERA in his past 24 appearances, which might hint at a threat to Allen's job security, but a closer look shows that Axford has a 1.34 WHIP during that time, which would put the team at too much risk if it switched back. Axford is a capable enough late-inning option for the team to deploy in lower-stress environments, and Bryan Shaw is a perfectly capable eighth-inning man in his own right. In the end, Allen -- who has the eighth-lowest wOBA (.166) among closers since May 30, the date he claimed the job -- gives the team its best chance in the ninth, and the team hasn't been in any trouble in the eighth without him there, which was the primary reason I was concerned in the first place that the team would use an Allen-Axford, eighth-ninth inning arrangement.
Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 "going-forward" rankings
For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.
Tristan H. Cockcroft offers up his going-forward 2014 fantasy baseball rankings, noting nine midseason value selections.