Fantasy Baseball's Top 10 Mr. Right Now
Howard Bender takes a look at 10 unheralded MLB players who are killing it for your fantasy baseball teams right now.
This is probably one of the toughest times of the season for fantasy baseball owners. You’ve got the MLB trade deadline looming, you’re continuously researching potential late-season call-ups, you’re crunching numbers to see where you can move up in the different categories and all the while, half your league has already checked out and headed towards fantasy football. That’s a lot to deal with, especially if you also play fantasy football as your prep work for that needs to start as well. As a result, some things just slip through the cracks. Maybe you’re so focused on your team and your players that you miss some incredible things going on around the league. So with that, we’re going to take a stroll around the league and check out some of the hottest players in baseball right now who may not be getting the marquee attention they deserve. Forget about Mr. Right. Get yourself a hold of Mr. Right Now!
Tommy Pham, OF STL – He’s probably one of my least favorites in recent years because he’s either hurt or too streaky to be a reliable fantasy asset. However, Pham seems to have really hit his stride this season and has been an outstanding waiver addition for those lucky enough to have grabbed him. Over the past month, Pham is slashing .366/.450/.613 with five home runs, 21 RBI, 22 runs scored and six stolen bases. The Cardinals have locked him into regular playing time due to injuries to Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowler, but even when they return in early-August, manager Mike Matheny is going to have a tough time putting Pham on the bench.
Chris Taylor, SS/OF – He’s one of those guys we’ve talked about a lot in recent weeks as his performance has not only been fantastic, but the power he’s shown has seemingly come from out of nowhere. There’s been talk of him revamping his swing during his last stint in the minors, but a .221 ISO mark is a pretty major spike for a guy whose highest mark prior to this year, .190, was back in High-A ball in 2013. Obviously the tweaks he’s made have helped him with his launch angle and hard-contact rate, but he’s also still swinging through a lot of pitches (11.4 SwStr%) and fanning at a 27.5-percent rate. Not that anyone is complaining about a guy batting .409 with three homers, 15 RBI and two steals over the last 30 days who qualifies at both shortstop and in the outfield.
Willson Contreras, C CHC – No one was complaining about the 11 home runs Contreras hit in the first half of the season, but the .261 average was less than desirable and his RBI total was good but not great due to the rest of the Cubs lineup struggling throughout the first half. But he did head into the All Star break strong and in the 10 games since, he’s batting .341 with five home runs, 15 RBI and he’s even kicked in a stolen base. His power is for real and the plate discipline has been stable, so enjoy what you’re getting from him as it will likely continue straight through the end of September.
Whit Merrifield, 2B KC – Second base has been a disaster for the Royals over the last several years, but it looks like they’ve finally found their man. He’s a bit of a late-bloomer here at 28-years old, but with a little bit of pop and some quality speed numbers, he’s the ideal set-it-and-forget-it for your middle infield. Over the past month, he’s slashing .315/.358/.577 with five home runs, 14 RBI, 17 runs scored and nine stolen bases and with how aggressive the Royals are being in their quest for a playoff berth, you can expect him to continue swiping bags at a solid rate the rest of the way. Realistically, 25-30 steals is within reach which would be a huge boon to your fantasy squad.
Paul DeJong, SS STL – Another Cardinal who has pushed his way into a full-time job thanks to solid defense and a white-hot bat. The strikeout rate is a little tough to take as he’s proven to be a swing-for-the-fences type of guy, but with nine homers, 18 RBI, 15 runs scored and a .293 batting average over the last month, he’s making everyone forget who that Aledmys Diaz guy was. It would be nice if DeJong could improve that plate discipline, but the team is going to ride the wave until it breaks. For those wondering if DeJong is worthy of keeper status for next year, keep in mind that poor plate discipline should trump a hot first year in your evaluation.
Aaron Nola, SP PHI – If you haven’t been paying attention to what Nola has been doing recently, you’ve really been missing out. He headed into the break with four-straight quality starts in which he posted a 1.53 ERA with a 34:9 K:BB over 29.1 innings and now has another three quality starts since the break in which he’s posted a 1.42 ERA and a 26:5 K:BB over 19 innings. In case you have a tough time doing math, that’s a 1.49 ERA with a 60:14 K:BB over his last seven starts (48.1 innings). That’s better than Kershaw, if you need the comparison. If you’re wondering how, well much of the credit should go to how well he’s throwing his changeup and fooling hitters. It may only be a three-pitch arsenal he’s working with, but his command over all three has been phenomenal lately.
Sonny Gray, SP OAK – Every day that passes, Gray wonders what his new uniform will look like as Oakland GM Billy Beane is creating quite the bidding war around the league right now. But independent of where he lands is how he’s landing and right now, it’s on his feet and ahead of the curve. Similar to Nola, he went into the break strong with three-straight quality starts and has thrown three more since, including two six-inning shutouts against some strong opponents. Over these last six starts, a total of 39.1 innings, Gray has posted a 1.37 ERA with 36 strikeouts and is crushing it with a near 60-percent ground ball rate. His 56.7-percent ground ball rate for the season obviously makes him an even more attractive option as a park shift to a more hitter-friendly location isn’t going to be a problem.
Lance Lynn, SP STL – Every start Lynn makes could be his last in a Cardinals uniform and he’s certainly making it difficult for St. Louis, who is chasing a playoff spot, to deal the impending free agent. He’s thrown five quality starts in his last six outings and he’s allowed just two earned runs since coming back from the break. This stretch of deliciousness has lowered his season-long ratios to a 3.21 ERA and 1.10 WHIP and he’s even starting to see a slight uptick in his strikeout rate. Given the fact that he’s more or less equal in ground ball and fly ball rates, a new location might make all the difference in either direction, so pay attention to what the rumors are saying. If he stays in St. Louis, it’s a moot point and we’ve got ourselves a rock-solid starter for the rest of the way.
Brad Peacock, SP HOU – A rain-shortened outing in his last start clipped his streak of quality starts at three, but he still managed to provide his owners with more strikeouts than innings-pitched, so there was at least some productivity. Prior to that, he had a 1.89 ERA with 20 strikeouts over his previous three starts (19 innings) and it now looks like manager A.J. Hinch is taking the reins off of him and no longer limiting him to the five innings we had seen upon his return to the rotation. With a number of starters returning from injury, the Astros are deep enough that they can limit his innings down the stretch to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but given the level at which he’s pitched this season, the club may not want to use someone in his stead. Keep him active in your lineup and take advantage of the strong K-rate which will continue to boost you as you come down the fantasy home-stretch.
Jhoulys Chacin, SP SD – Guess who just went from being amazing at home to just being amazing? The home/road splits on the season are pretty remarkable as the guy has a 2.05 ERA over 70.1 innings at Petco Park, however, he’s allowed just five runs over his last three road starts (18.1 innings) and seems to have really found a groove here in the summer months. In fact, we’re talking about eight quality starts in his last 10 outings. Unfortunately, the 20.1-percent strikeout rate is good but not great and given that he plays for San Diego, you’re not likely to see a whole mess of wins come your way in the future. Still, for a fifth or sixth starter on your fantasy team, he’s been quite the unheralded asset.