ROTISSERIE: Risky upside plays

This article appeared in the August 7th issue of Sports Weekly

We typically advise fantasy baseball owners to minimize risk whenever possible. Players who have had trouble staying healthy or who have no real track record of sustained success are not best served as building blocks for your team. At the very least, their acquisition price in March should reflect their high-risk profile before they find a roster spot.

But with roughly two months left in the season, it might be time to soften one’s stance. If your team is scuffling and in need of a boost, embracing risk and taking chances on high-upside players might be your best shot at competing. With a bit of luck, this strategy just might lead you to a championship. And if it doesn’t work out… well, at least you went down swinging.

Most of the players on this list should be rather easy to acquire via trade, or in some cases via free agency, in your league.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

A July 31 trade that sent Jesus Aguilar (1B, TAM) from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Tampa Bay Rays might prove to be a boon for Aguilar. The 29-year-old enjoyed a breakout 2018 as he batted .274 with 35 home runs, but a slow start to 2019 relegated him to a reserve role. While it’s unclear exactly how the Rays plan to utilize him, he figures to see lots of action between first base and designated hitter. Since the beginning of June, he has compiled a .298 batting average with five home runs in 94 at-bats, so perhaps he has righted the ship.

The Toronto Blue Jays promoted Bo Bichette (SS, TOR), son of former big leaguer Dante Bichette, from Class-AAA Buffalo on July 29. The younger Bichette has lived up to the billing of being one of the game’s top prospects. Despite being sidelined from April 22 until June 7 with a broken left hand, the 21-year-old amassed a .275 batting average with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases in 222 at-bats. He has batted leadoff in six of his first seven games since his arrival in Toronto, and could provide multi-category production down the stretch.

Jose Leclerc (RHP, TEX) of the Texas Rangers exploded onto the scene in 2018, compiling a 1.56 ERA while striking out batters at an elite 13.3 per nine inning clip (K/9) and converting all 12 of his save chances. He began 2019 as the team’s closer, but early season struggles prompted the Rangers to replace him with Shawn Kelley. However, Kelley hit the injured list on July 22 with right biceps soreness, and the recent departure of Chris Martin to Atlanta has left the closer job vacant. Leclerc has pitched much better since April, logging a 3.46 ERA and 13.6 K/9 in 39 innings. If he can string together a few clean outings, the closer job should again be his.

Aaron Sanchez (RHP, HOU), who was traded from Toronto to the Houston Astros on July 31, owns a putrid 5.76 ERA in 119 innings this year, but there is reason for cautious optimism. Over his last three starts, he has surrendered only five earned runs and two walks while fanning 22 batters over 17 innings. In his first start with the Astros, he altered his pitch mix, throwing more four-seam fastballs (many of them up in the strike zone) and curveballs while throwing his worst pitch—the sinker—less often. It worked to great success, as he no-hit the Mariners for six innings and struck out six. Given Houston’s past achievements retooling pitchers, it’s worth rolling the dice on Sanchez.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Yu Darvish’s (RHP, CHC) first season with the Chicago Cubs didn’t go to plan as injuries limited him to just 40 innings. He was plagued by extreme wildness when on the mound, walking 4.7 batters per nine innings (BB/9), which contributed to an unsightly 4.95 ERA. The 2019 season began in similar fashion, as he finished May with a horrid 5.02 ERA and 6.0 BB/9 in 61 innings. However, he has since rebounded with a 3.74 ERA and an impressive 1.4 BB/9 while racking up a 10.6 K/9 over his last 65 innings. The 32-year-old has topped 145 innings just once in the last four seasons, but if he can stay healthy, he could have a huge impact.

With outfielder Nick Markakis expected to be sidelined until at least mid-September with a fractured left wrist and rookie third baseman/outfielder Austin Riley mired in a deep slump, the Atlanta Braves have turned to Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) and Adam Duvall (OF, ATL).

Inciarte had been the team’s starting center fielder before a lower back strain sent him to the injured list on May 15. In his absence, Riley was summoned from Triple-A Gwinnett after batting .299 with 15 HR in 144 AB there. Riley hit the ground running in his first taste of MLB action, batting .273 with 14 HR in 165 AB through the end of June. However, he has since struggled mightily, batting a measly .169 with three home runs and 32 strikeouts over his last 71 AB. That has opened the door for Inciarte to reclaim the lion’s share of playing time, and he has stepped up with a .268 batting average, two home runs, and three steals in 41 at-bats. Given Inciarte’s track record and tendency of being a strong second half performer, he’s capable of providing a nice batting average and stolen base boost.

Meanwhile, Duvall bounced back from a dreadful 2018 campaign to bat .259 with 29 home runs at Gwinnett prior to his July 27 promotion to Atlanta. The 30-year-old, who batted .245 and slugged 33 and 31 home runs per season in 2016 and 2017, respectively, launched five round-trippers in his first 35 at-bats with Atlanta and figures to be an everyday player until Markakis returns.

Nick Castellanos (OF, CHC) has had a disappointing 2019, but perhaps the recent move from the rebuilding Detroit Tigers to the contending Chicago Cubs will give him a spark. The 27-year-old has hit .285 and averaged 25 home runs per year over the past two seasons, so it would not surprise us to see him something along the lines of a pro-rated version of those numbers between now and season’s end.

Wil Myers (3B/OF) of the San Diego Padres is another player who has had a down year by his own standard. The combination of power and speed has been there, as evidenced by 13 home runs and 9 steals in 299 at-bats, but it has come with just a .224 batting average. With Franmil Reyes now in Cleveland, Myers figures to be in the lineup most days, making him worth a look if you can stomach a potential .240-.250 batting average.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.