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August 5, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Ditch or Play Down the Stretch

by Mike Gianella

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If you’re in an NL- or AL-only league, your bed is made with all of the big-ticket items on your roster. Starlin Castro might be a disappointment, but at this point he’s your disappointment. You’re not going to cut him for a back-up middle infielder in the free agent pool who is going to get three to five at-bats a week.

In mixed leagues, however, these are the types of players you have to make choices on down the stretch. A number of mixed leaguers have already cut the cord with Castro. However, there are other players who might be worthy of tossing off of your roster, or at least keeping on reserve for the time being. Below are a handful of players who are slumping yet mostly owned in mixed leagues. Should you hang on or try to find better stats elsewhere?

Gerardo Parra
Some viewed Parra as a big-time fantasy sleeper entering 2013, particularly in mixed leagues. The thinking was that his strong defense would keep him in the line-up no matter what, and while his counting stats would not be incredible, he would be a solid source of steals and a sneaky source of power. A 10-HR, 25-SB season didn’t seem out of whack for Parra, and while that certainly wasn’t going to make him a prime choice, it would have made him a vital fourth or fifth outfielder.

So far, the results have been disappointing. While Parra has been picking up at bats, the steals haven’t been prolific and, at-bat for at-bat, his production has suffered. Despite this, Parra is playing on a regular basis, primarily because his defense has been as terrific as advertised. While the certainty of playing time helps, without a high quantity of steals, Parra is a questionable mixed league option. He’s currently owned in 42 percent of ESPN leagues, which seems appropriate. He seems much more like an injury replacement than an everyday player.

Manny Machado
Given all of the real-life accolades for Machado, you wouldn’t expect to see him on this list. But a post-All-Star-Game slump puts him firmly on the list of players who haven’t delivered of late. One of the problems with Machado is that while his defense makes him one of the best third basemen in real life, his fantasy production isn’t spectacular at all. Machado is an example of an asset in only leagues who is questionable in mixed formats. His 64 runs and 51 RBI put him far above replacement level in AL-only; in mixed leagues, a lot of corner infielders play everyday, score, and drive in runs. Machado’s nine home runs and six stolen bases aren’t special production from a corner. Long term, there’s more power coming in this bat. In 2013, there are no guarantees that big-time power is on its way. Machado is still worthy of starting in mixed leagues, but don’t count on him as an invaluable asset.

Adam LaRoche
Earlier this year, I pointed out that despite perceptions that LaRoche is a perpetual slow starter, the reality is that LaRoche has had more strong Aprils than weak ones and is more of a streaky hitter than anything else. Sure enough, LaRoche is on one of those bad streaks now. A .159/.227/.284 slash line in July has pushed LaRoche’s numbers down significantly. Overall, he looks like the same player he always has with the exception of the worst slugging percentage of his career in 2013 to date. The good news from a fantasy perspective is that most of the loss in power has come on LaRoche’s doubles and triples. He’s still on pace to finish in the mid-20s in home runs and a streaky burst to get close to 30 wouldn’t be a shock. If you grabbed LaRoche in a mixer, you should have assumed this kind of streakiness heading into the season. Bench him if you must, but if you give up on LaRoche entirely, you’ll probably miss his next big upswing.

Carl Crawford
The assumption among most is that Andre Ethier will lose playing time when (if?) Matt Kemp comes off of the DL. However, Crawford’s at-bat for at-bat production is hardly inspiring. For all of the raves about Crawford’s early performance, his numbers look fairly similar to his blah 2011 numbers with the Boston Red Sox. Crawford is 100 percent owned in ESPN leagues, but he really isn’t much better than Parra. If you’re pushing hard for a title in mixed leagues, you should be doing much better than Crawford.

Mitch Moreland
Moreland’s the kind of player who saber-minded people understandably might gnash their teeth at, but in fantasy must be owned. Unless you’re in an OBP league, Moreland’s 16 HR and 43 RBI cannot be ignored. One drawback to Moreland this year is that he hasn’t dominated in Arlington like you might expect. His power at home versus on the road is almost identical, so if you drafted him hoping to platoon him for home games, that strategy hasn’t worked out so well for you.

A.J. Griffin
Griffin received some publicity for putting together a double-digit streak of starts where he lowered his ERA. However, these kinds of streaks gloss over the idea that you have to be really bad in the first place to reach such a dubious achievement. Predictably enough, all good things came to an end for Griffin in July, as he put up a 4.86 ERA. His high number in July was certainly not an indication of his overall skills, but then neither was his 2.60 ERA in June. Griffin’s fly ball proclivity makes him a home run risk and more likely to put up something closer to a 4.00 ERA than a 3.00. Griffin’s a decent enough back-end guy in mixed, but people have been touting him as much, much more than his ceiling.

CC Sabathia
The knock on Sabathia this year has been that his velocity is down, but this is a fallacy. While his velocity was lower in April and May it has been trending upward since June. It is lower than it was in 2011, but comparable now to what it was in 2012. Sabathia’s problem at the moment is with his command. Problems with location have led to Sabathia falling behind in counts and losing hitters to walks. It’s hard to recommend Sabathia and he isn’t the ace that he once was, but if he can start getting the ball over the plate again, he’ll be a useful asset in mixed leagues, albeit more as a no. 2 starter than a top-tier ace.

Andrew Cashner
Cashner isn’t viewed as a mixed-league stalwart, but he often gets fantasy types excited because of his high ground-ball rates and mid-90s fastball. Despite all of this, Cashner has never delivered a high-octane fantasy season and 2013 is looking like no exception. Cashner is an okay streamer, but there are too many fans that look at him and see an ace just around the corner. Watch the news today for Everth Cabrera. The Padres don’t have a natural shortstop to replace Cabrera, and even with Cabrera’s poor defensive reputation, putting a fill-in in there can’t possibly help.

Jordan Zimmermann
Zimmermanm had an awful July but it is your loss if you gave up on him. His overall numbers are fairly consistent with what Zimmermann has done ever since his rookie year in 2011. He isn’t a big strikeout guy, so he isn’t a fantasy monster, but in terms of consistency/reliability, Zimmermann is as good as it gets. It stung if you carried Zimmermann in your rotation for all of July, but he is still a must-start in all formats.

Kris Medlen
Medlen was slated to return to the bullpen after Brandon Beachy came back from the DL, but a Tim Hudson freak injury and a quiet trade deadline saved Medlen’s spot. Medlen’s season only seems disappointing in the context of last year’s surprising numbers. Medlen’s stuff isn’t overpowering, and the ERA he has in the high 3.00s is about what should be expected. The ridiculous strand rate from 2012 corrected itself and Medlen’s ground-ball/fly-ball rate has also corrected. There’s nothing wrong with Medlen, but right now he’s more of a spot-start/fringe mixed option. That is how I would view him the rest of the way.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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