There’s a certain unpredictability in the air this year. The suped-up baseball is part of that, adding an extra layer of complexity behind small sample success from unexpected places. It’s hard to know where to rank a hard-charging rookie or a journeyman who has made some mechanical changes. The thing is, at this point, it doesn’t matter. You only need a few weeks of solid production as you prepare for fantasy playoffs and the home stretch. Throw away the idea that things will normalize over the course of a full season. They might not.
It’s often been said that September numbers are an imperfect guide for what to expect moving forward, as rosters are overflowing with call-ups and competition is watered-down. Things will be a little different next year, as September call-ups will be limited. However, with the “juiced” baseball front and center this year, we could be in for a wild final few weeks. That’s why I’d still have some optimism if I’m playing catch-up in a fantasy league. This sort of uncertainty creates opportunities on the waiver wire, so stay tuned.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, August 8th.
Mike Foltynewicz SP, Braves (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)
Foltynewicz has been a huge disappointment coming off his breakout 2018 campaign, but there’s still time for redemption down the stretch. He took the first step in his return to the majors on Tuesday against the Twins, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings for the victory. All three runs scored in the sixth inning, including a pair of homers. In addition to the Twins being a tough offense, it’s understandable he’d run out of gas in his first start back. Still, Folty fanned seven and walked a pair while inducing 16 swinging strikes in his 101 pitches. The velocity looked good and he picked up a ton of whiffs on his slider. Now, it’s unfair to expect a return to the pitcher he was last year, but he’s earned himself an opportunity on most fantasy rosters. He’s a no-brainer start against the Marlins in Miami on Sunday.
Mike Tauchman OF, Yankees (Yahoo: 48 percent rostered)
Giancarlo who? The Yankees have put together an incredible regular season despite a clown car of injuries to key contributors on their roster. Unexpected heroes have been the name of the game, from DJ LeMahieu becoming a superstar to Domingo German stepping up in the rotation and Gio Urshela suddenly pairing his excellent defense with a potent bat. Tauchman is the latest to join in on the fun, hitting .441 (30-for-68) with six homers, seven doubles, one triple, 22 RBI, three stolen bases, and 20 runs scored over 21 games since returning from the minors in early July. It’s actually stunning that he’s still available in more than half of Yahoo leagues, but we’re also reaching the point in the year where these numbers can be misleading. Either way, he needs to be rostered everywhere as long as the at-bats are fruitful. Tauchman always put up solid numbers in the minors, albeit in great hitting conditions in the Rockies’ organization, but perhaps the Yankees have found themselves a late-bloomer. About time that franchise catches a break, right?
Dinelson Lamet SP, Padres (Yahoo: 18 percent rostered)
Lamet is no stranger to this column — he was mentioned about a month ago after making his return from Tommy John surgery — but he warrants another look after flirting with history this week. Lamet carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Mariners on Tuesday night before Omar Narvaez broke it up. While the wait continues for the first no-hitter in Padres history, Lamet tied a career-high with 12 strikeouts in the start while collecting 15 swinging strikes in his 104 pitches. He also walked four batters, functioning as a reminder of his previous control issues. It would be nice to see more of his changeup, but he relied heavily on his slider Tuesday and it worked for him. Since returning to the majors on July 4, Lamet ranks 10th among all major league starters in strikeout percentage. The Rockies are just not a very good road team, so feel free to roll with Lamet on Sunday.
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Isan Diaz SS, Marlins (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
Diaz received his long-awaited call to the majors this week following a monster season in Triple-A where he batted .305/.395/.578 with 26 homers over 102 games. Acquired from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich deal, the 23-year-old has been installed as the regular second baseman for Miami while Starlin Castro plays third and Brian Anderson moves into the outfield. Diaz homered in his major league debut against the Mets on Tuesday, though it is his lone hit (with seven strikeouts) through 15 at-bats so far. He did a nice job cutting down on his strikeouts this year in Triple-A, but he’s had some contact issues in the past. Hitting in this lineup and home ballpark also likely caps his value down the stretch, but there are worse fliers to take in deeper fantasy formats.
Aaron Sanchez SP, Astros (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
Good starts happen all the time. But it’s the context that matters. With Sanchez, his part of the combined no-hitter (six scoreless frames with two walks and six strikeouts) shouldn’t change the needle too much in a vacuum. After all, he had a brutal 6.07 ERA over 23 starts with the Blue Jays this season. But it’s how he got there that stands out, as he relied more on his curveball while putting two-seamers down in the zone aside for four-seamers up. It worked, at least for one night. And with the Astros’ success in tinkering with pitchers, they deserve some benefit of the doubt here if you’re looking for an upside play for the stretch run. His next start comes Saturday against the Orioles, who aren’t a pushover offense, but he’s certainly safe to start there.
Jesus Aguilar 1B, Rays (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Aguilar being traded to the Rays last week, so I stopped short of including him among my recommendations. Now I wish I hadn’t, as he’s 6-for-15 (.400) with a homer and a 1/3 K/BB ratio through his first 19 plate appearances with his new team. There are still a bunch of moving parts with this lineup, but Aguilar appears likely to see semi-regular at-bats between first base and the DH spot while hitting the middle of the Rays’ lineup. Sporting a respectable .287/.379/.494 batting line in 74 games since his brutal slump to begin the season, he’s capable of helping as a corner infielder in most formats the rest of the way.
Steve Cishek RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
Okay, so the Craig Kimbrel addition hasn’t exactly worked out as hoped so far. After holding out until June for a contract, the seven-time All-Star posted a 5.68 ERA through his first 14 appearances with Chicago before going on the injured list due to swelling in his right knee. It sounds like he won’t be gone for long, but Cishek likely deserves to be at the top of the depth chart with Brandon Kintzler also sidelined due to a right pectoral injury. Pedro Strop just returned from the injured list this week, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence this year with a 5.02 ERA in 33 appearances while also missing time due to injury. David Phelps, Rowan Wick, and Kyle Ryan could also be in the mix if Cubs manager Joe Maddon truly wants to go with the committee approach.
Aristides Aquino OF, Reds (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
In last week’s column, I focused on Josh VanMeter as the opportunistic pickup with the Reds following the recent trades of Scooter Gennett and Yasiel Puig, but it’s actually Aquino who has garnered the most buzz right now. The 25-year-old has hit the ground running with seven hits (including two homers) through his first 15 at-bats since his call-up. Ridiculously small sample size, yes, but a couple of factors merit a deeper dive. First of all, he made a stance/swing change this spring, which was followed up by him hitting .299/.356/.636 with 28 homers over 78 games in Triple-A. He still has the benefit of the MLB “rabbit ball” and will play half of his games in a launching pad in Cincinnati, so color me intrigued. “The Punisher” has hit cleanup in each of his last two starts.
Brad Keller SP/RP, Royals (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
If you lost your patience with Keller earlier this season, you weren’t alone. The 24-year-old had a 4.63 ERA with 50 walks in 105 innings through the end of June. However, he bounced back big time last month, with a 2.20 ERA and 31/9 K/BB ratio in 41 innings over six starts. Five of those walks came in his July 5 start against the Nationals, but he didn’t walk more than two batters in any of his other five starts. He’s not a big swing and miss guy, so limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground is key for him. His upcoming schedule (Tigers, Mets, Orioles, Athletics, Orioles, Marlins) should provide some confidence about giving him a try.
Seth Lugo RP/SP, Mets (Yahoo: 34 percent rostered)
Despite appearing to open the door for a change at closer on Sunday, Mets manager Mickey Callaway has since extended a vote of confidence to the struggling Edwin Diaz. However, with the rolling Mets suddenly in the thick of the wild card race, one wonders how long the leash might be. After delivering seven straight scoreless appearances, Diaz has allowed five runs on four hits (including three homers), three walks, and two hit batters in 4 2/3 innings over his last five appearances. He’s now allowed 10 homers this year after giving up five all of last season. Meanwhile, Lugo hasn’t allowed a run since June 29. He’s put up a 19/1 K/BB ratio with just three hits allowed in 15 2/3 innings in that time and was recently named as the reliever of the month for July. It would be wise to keep him stashed.