A-bargain-shopping we shall go …
The 2013 season, thus far, has been a disappointing one for more than a few hitters: Josh Hamilton, Miguel Montero, B.J. Upton, Giancarlo Stanton, Ike Davis … OK, for today's discussion at least, let's scratch Davis, following his recent demotion to Triple-A. There's little hope he can turn it around soon.
But knowing when it's time to trade for -- and for which of -- these struggling stars is key toward your competitive hopes. Remember, it's all about maximizing value; getting a player at the low end of his value curve gives you quite the competitive advantage. Sticking with the theme of Tuesday's 60 Feet, 6 Inches, today's "Hit Parade" identifies seven such undervalued hitters.
They are what we call "buy-low" players, players potentially in your league's bargain bin for one reason or another.
The No. 30 overall player selected on average -- and my No. 18-ranked player -- in the preseason, Heyward has been one of the year's biggest disappointments, due in part to the 23 Braves games he missed while recovering from an April 22 emergency appendectomy, but also in part due to his batting a ghastly .146/.290/.243 in his first 30 healthy games.
Since the beginning of June, however, Heyward has six multihit games out of 10, he's a .366/.409/.634 hitter in the month, he has an 83 percent contact rate that vastly exceeds his 76 percent career number and he has a 20 percent line-drive rate. He's also making consistently hard contact against right-handed pitchers, his well-hit average against them .221 for the season, offering a glimmer of hope that he can return to the 25-homer, 80-RBI plateaus.
Granted, that might paint a picture of an Andre Ethier-esque (the old Ethier, I mean) platoon man, but the Braves should pick their spots to sit Heyward with Evan Gattis on the roster, and that's a plus for Heyward's batting average. He shouldn't cost you close to top-50-overall-player value in trade, but there's little doubt that he has that kind of potential.
I know what fantasy owners must be thinking: "First base is sooooooo deep and Ryan Howard is sooooooo old, why would I want him?"
It's simple: Howard has historically finished his seasons stronger than he has started them, and every day gets him further from the nasty Achilles injury that cost him most of 2012 -- one that effectively prevented him from ever returning to full form that year. To the former point, take a look at how many points his year-ending OPS has increased comparative to the morning of June 12 in his six full seasons, working backward: 46 (2011), 42, 34, 125, 37, 109 (2006). Howard also has a lifetime second-half OPS 109 points higher than in the first half (.962-.853).
Here's one more thing to consider: Twenty-five times so far this year Howard has made hard contact and hit a fly ball; his batting average on is .583 and he has a 24 percent homer rate (six homers total) when he has. From 2010-12, to compare, he struck 145 well-hit fly balls, he had a .723 batting average and a 51 percent homer rate (74 homers) on them. Just a little greater fortune on those batted balls alone and he might be more like a 13-homer than 7-homer hitter right now.
I'm at a loss to explain his poor start, because everything in his profile says that he's the victim of inexplicably bad luck, and nothing more. Consider:
• His overall BABIP is .262; the 2013 non-pitcher major league average is .297, and Prado's career number entering the year was .317.
• His BABIP when he makes hard contact is .574; the non-pitcher league average is .647 and Prado's 2009-12 number was .603.
• He has made hard contact 22.3 percent of the time he has put the ball in play this year; he did so 24.1 percent of the time in 2012.
This isn't to say that Prado is a fantasy superstar at his best, but he's also not deserving of dropping into the standard-league-replacement-level (read: around my 150th-ranked player below) tier, especially as he qualifies at three positions: second base, third base and outfield. If his owner has been benching him of late, then he or she might not recognize Prado's combination of versatility and low downside.
He slipped out of my top 150 several weeks ago, due to a mediocre start to his season, and the move made sense: In a 10-team ESPN standard league, only one catcher starts per team, meaning 10 active catchers at any given time. Martinez, simply put, was not deserving of top-10 catcher status.
Since then, however, he has elevated his game to the point where he might be due a massive rankings spike in the coming weeks, unsurprising considering he's now 62 games removed from microfracture knee surgery. Martinez has batted .303 with three home runs in his past 21 games, but let's go deeper: He has a .253 well-hit average (percentage of his at-bats that resulted in hard contact), which ranks 12th-best among qualifiers during that span.
Oh, and he bats behind some guys named Cabrera and Fielder…
Patience was a requirement if you were Headley's drafting owner, and if it is a virtue you lack, then brace for someone to steal him away from you on the cheap.
Consider that last season, Headley hit 23 of his 31 home runs, had 73 of his 115 RBIs and had a .978 OPS after the All-Star break, that OPS 198 points higher than before it. And that's not to say that he's a historic second-half player -- he had a .270/.351/.396 lifetime triple-slash line after the All-Star break from 2007-11 -- but rather that, if you drafted him, you were picking him almost exclusively based upon his second-half performance of 2012.
Headley's early struggles could merely be a timing issue after he began the season in the DL with a fractured left thumb, and while his 51 games played might seem like plenty to recapture it, his second-half outburst last year hints that maybe he's a player who needs even more time than that to get going. Heck, he homered Tuesday, maybe a first step toward recapturing his 2012 form. If he costs you anything less than a top-10 third baseman's price, he's a must-acquire.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
The hate surrounding Stanton during his sluggish start to the season reached near-absurd levels. I won't hide the facts: He drove in nine runs in the Marlins' first 26 games, averaging one RBI per 9.8 plate appearances or 3.2 total bases. To compare, of the 21 other qualified No. 3 hitters in baseball at that stage of the season, only Kendrys Morales (9) had as few RBIs. I get it, the Marlins' lineup stinks.
Still, Stanton possesses as much raw power as almost anyone in the game -- he's at worst among the top five -- and homer hitters tend to fall into RBIs; there have been only five instances of a 40-homer hitter driving in fewer than 100 runs since the turn of the century. He also helped alleviate questions about his swing, having recently been activated from the DL due to a shoulder injury, hitting a home run to decide Tuesday's game.
If there's any chance Stanton's owner has Marlins doubts (Like, "He'll never see anything good to hit!"), sneak in and steal this potential top-25 overall hitter at a dramatically reduced price.
Like the aforementioned Howard (and to a lesser degree Headley), Wieters has a track record of stronger finishes to his seasons than starts; he has a lifetime second-half OPS 57 points higher than during the first half. That has been especially apparent the past two seasons, when he had second-half OPS of .840 (2011) and .771 (2012), those representing the best half-season numbers in his career.
While it feels like it has been forever that we have been waiting for a Wieters breakthrough, and the assumption that he'll settle in as an annual .240-hitting, 20-homer candidate is tempting, I still see more room for growth in this 27-year-old -- at least to the point he should be capable of a .260 average and 30 homers. Wieters is on pace for 20 homers, his home run/fly ball percentage down by 3 percent from his 2011-12 levels, despite what has been his highest rate of fly balls/line drives in his career (59.0 percent).
Another point in Wieters' favor: The catcher position has been terribly thin beyond the top six, to the extent that even in an ordinary year, he ranks 12th at the position on our Player Rater. There's little-to-no doubt he'll be a top-10 catcher come year's end and he might even reach the top five, but could he come cheaper?
TOP 150 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For position-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rnk" column; these rankings can also be seen split up by position.