Extreme valuation movements can be a dangerous thing in fantasy baseball.
Many owners already have a tendency to overreact to small sample sizes at the extremes -- a recent example perhaps being Denard Span's .449 batting average and seven stolen bases in his past 13 games -- adjusting their expectations too much to compensate. These can often result in snap-decision trades owners subsequently regret.
Further dissecting Span, his BABIP during the 13-game span has been .478, his line-drive rate 26 percent; but just five of his 12 line drives hit were judged to be hard contact. Though Span's efforts -- more his .347 average and 14-for-14 performance in steals in his past 42 games, and much, much more so the fact he's a natural .280-average-capable hitter with 25-steal potential -- earned him a 42-spot bump in the going-forward rankings this week, let his example serve as a reminder not to get too optimistic with your rest-of-season projections looking at recent hot spells. There's no reason to overreact and suddenly proclaim Span a top-100 player.
It's the week of the trade deadline in ESPN standard leagues -- it arrives at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, Aug. 8 (that's the deadline for owners to accept deals) -- so there's little wiser use of this week's space than to address the specifics behind some of those significant movers. After all, while adjusting player values, it always helps to examine the reasons behind them, if for nothing more than to keep owners' expectations grounded.
These are the eight players who improved the most in the rankings:
Javier Baez (from unranked to No. 192/No. 16 shortstop): His skyrocketing ranking makes complete sense; three short days ago, he was a minor leaguer with no specific projected arrival date in the majors, and there remained the possibility that the Chicago Cubs wouldn't promote him at all in 2014. Then Baez debuted, at Coors Field on Tuesday, and hit a game-deciding home run to right field. As minuscule as samples come, Baez's debut actually encapsulated his fantasy value: He'll be a free swinger -- he swung at six of 10 pitches outside the strike zone and missed on four of them -- whose batting average suffers accordingly, but he also possesses both the tremendous bat speed and all-field approach that could result in a sneaky homer total.
A smart 162-game projection for Baez would be a .240-.250 batting average, 22-24 homers and 8-12 steals, the stolen bases a conservative projection because his on-base percentage might hover beneath .300; that's plenty valuable as a shallow-mixed middle infielder. He's as attractive a dynasty-league trade target as they come, and it's doubtful you'll get him at a fair price in those formats today. In redraft leagues, however, he might actually be overrated, if anyone believes he's an instant top-10 option at either shortstop or, soon, second base (he'd be my No. 16 player there, incidentally, had he qualified today). Yes, I'd consider selling Baez if I had a good offer in redraft leagues.
But to summarize, it's all about the at-bats. Gyorko is now one of the San Diego Padres' most prominent, long-term hitting pieces, so he's going to play, and regular playing time should help him cure many of his woes (most of them tied to strikeouts).
Brandon McCarthy (up 99): He'd rank higher if we had the promise of consistent, 33-start, fully healthy seasons. McCarthy's problem is the injuries; he has never made more than 25 starts in a single year, and he has averaged 19 starts per year since 2007. Still, few pitchers have done more during that eight-year span to improve their approach to pitching than McCarthy; he turned an extreme fly-ball tendency from early in his career into a more ground-balling, balanced-split, command-based approach.
New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild apparently has found something in McCarthy that boosts the right-hander's stock, as McCarthy has thrown 5 percent more cutters with his new club than his former team. The injury risk cannot be glossed over, but at a certain stage of the season we must ask, what right do we have to assume an injury is coming? He'd be a top-50 capable starter if we had the promise of 10 more Yankee starts, meaning he'd be no less attractive a fantasy option than rotation mate Hiroki Kuroda (ranked 49th among starters).
Rajai Davis (up 89): If you're the Detroit Tigers, a team that already lost one outfielder to a season-ending injury (Andy Dirks), you don't trade your everyday center fielder if you don't fully believe in the part-timer you plan to slot in. Yes, Davis has a significant righty-lefty platoon split -- 100 points in terms of weighted on-base average during his career, 139 in 2014 alone -- but the Tigers haven't been afraid to start him against his weaker side, slotting him into 44 of their 72 lineups against a right-handed starter.
Left-handed Ezequiel Carrera does fit as a potential platoon mate for Davis, especially accounting for his defense, but this is ultimately Davis' gig first and foremost, and as one of the quickest players in baseball, he'll be helped by every single at-bat he can garner the rest of the year. Feel free to pick Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon as the leading base stealer from today forward if you wish; I say Davis gives them both a run for the honor. The main reason, therefore, that Hamilton and Gordon rate noticeably higher is that they're everyday types who should hit for higher averages.
Tanner Roark (up 73): Perhaps I've been too slow to credit Roark for what has been an outstanding season, so consider this more of a correction to that assessment upon closer examination, rather than anything he has specifically done in the past six days. He's 14-for-22 in quality starts this season, and he has a 2.52 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and sparkling 4.4 percent walk rate in 12 turns since June 1; those latter statistics hint that perhaps he already endured his big league adjustment period when he had a 4.25 ERA in May while leaning more on his secondary pitches.
Roark has good control, balanced splits and an above-average ground-ball rate, so there's no reason he can't be a top-50 fantasy starting pitcher going forward.
As some rise in the ranks, inevitably others must drop, and listed below are the five who moved down the most this week. Note: This list excludes Matt Garza (down 73 spots), whose downward move was injury-related.
Mike Minor (down 68): Three of his past four outings not only failed to meet the quality start standard, they resulted in Bill James Game Scores of 30 or below; Minor's ERA in those games was 8.71. He has been getting tattooed all season, though, with a 27.7 percent line-drive rate that ranks third highest among pitchers with at least 15 starts, and a .199 hard-hit average that, again, ranks third highest among that group.
Oddly, Minor has also afforded left-handed batters a .420 wOBA this season; he limited them to a .258 number in 2013. And now, with the Atlanta Braves using their off days this week to skip his rotation turn, Minor's rest-of-season outlook is cloudier. Nothing in his recent performance offers hints of an imminent turnaround.
Pedro Alvarez (down 62): As I noted in my video above, Alvarez's role has come somewhat into question, as the Pittsburgh Pirates have benched him in six of their past seven games against a left-handed starter, not to mention four of their past seven against a right-handed starter.
It's a valuation adjustment that makes sense considering his righty-lefty splits, Josh Harrison's recent performance and Alvarez's overall lack of production this year.
J.J. Hardy (down 49): His four-hit game on Monday notwithstanding, Hardy simply hasn't performed like a shortstop worthy of a healthy, high-end mixed-league middle infielder ranking.
He's a .279 hitter in 18 games since the All-Star break, sure, but he has just one home run during that time and he has a .391 BABIP, 28.8 percent strikeout rate and 22 percent swing-and-miss rate; all of these suggest he has been somewhat fortunate on batted balls. Hardy's struggles have lingered too long into the summer to warrant keeping him in the upper half of my rankings.
C.J. Wilson (down 38): One start fresh off the DL shouldn't normally send you into a state of panic with a typically above-average starter, but in the case of Wilson, who had struggled mightily before his DL stint, it might.
As was the case before he was hurt, Wilson's velocity was down in his outing this past Saturday, averaging 90.3 mph, and in his past five starts combined, his fastball has averaged 90.7 mph. During that span, he got misses on only 14 percent of his swings (his seasonal rate is 22 percent), and he served up line drives on 36 percent of his balls in play. This is clearly a different C.J. Wilson than the one who managed a 3.05 ERA the first two months of the season, and his drop in the rankings reflects that.
Gio Gonzalez (down 32): He has struggled to the tune of zero wins, one quality start, a 5.85 ERA and a 9.0 percent walk rate in four starts since the All-Star break, and bear in mind that he hasn't faced the most challenging schedule during that time, with only the Milwaukee Brewers (July 20) a particularly scary one.
Worse yet, opponents have swung and missed on only 13 percent of their swings against him in back-to-back outings; his rate for the season is 27 percent, by comparison. There isn't much in Gonzalez's peripherals to signal a significant drop in value -- as in, he has more bounce-back potential than the aforementioned Minor -- but he has shown enough of late to warrant moving down a tier (or two).
Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 "going-forward" rankings
For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.