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June 27, 2011

Resident Fantasy Genius

Players to Think About

by Derek Carty

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Brandon Beachy | ATL | SP: I was originally planning to write about Beachy last week when he was just returning from the DL, but he’s still owned in just 47 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, so I thought I’d discuss him today anyway.  Beachy is a guy I absolutely loved coming into the season, going as far as to say that he was the proper choice over Minor for the fifth spot in the rotation when many thought it was crazy. He was dropped in a lot of leagues when he was injured, but he returned last week and absolutely dominated an elite Blue Jays offense. He’s actually performed well against quite a few top-notch offenses this year, including the Cardinals and twice against the Brewers.

His fastball isn’t much better than average at 92 mph and is relatively straight, but he gets pretty good rise on it and complements it with three above-average secondary offerings, changing speeds well. He can go from 92 with the fastball to 81 with his change to 75 with his curve. He’s not the 10.2 K/9 pitcher he’s been so far this year, but he should be significantly above average at getting whiffs and has good control, so he’s a guy that really needs to be owned in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues.

Javier Vazquez | FLA | SP: In case you haven’t noticed, Javy is cruising lately. Over his last eight starts, he has an 8.3 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9. Those are a bit inflated by a high BABIP, but given that he’s owned in 24 percent of Yahoo! leagues and just 2.5 percent of ESPN leagues, it’s time to pick Vazquez back up.

Perhaps the best news for Javy’s prospects of keeping this up is that his velocity seems to have returned. It still might be a tad early to really say that it’s back, but over his past three starts, Vazquez has been averaging 91 mph on his fastball. That’s still a mph less than he was throwing in 2008 and 1.5 mph less than 2007, but it is in line with his dominating 2009 campaign with the Braves and up two mph from his disastrous 2010 with the Yankees. Also of note is that he’s throwing his changeup 1.5 mph slower than last year, creating the same 11-plus mph velocity separation he generated in 2009 between his fastball and change.

Because Vazquez has such a good history, PECOTA sees him as a 3.77 ERA pitcher right now despite his struggles last season and early this year. Pair this with his excellent peripherals over the past six weeks and the return of his velocity, and Vazquez is looking like he could be a steal as a waiver wire pickup.

Wily Mo Pena | ARI | DH/OF?: Pena is a fascinating case. He was once a top prospect heralded for Hulk-like power, but with lots of strikeouts, not enough walks, and poor defense, he never managed to secure a full-time job. He’s been out of the fantasy picture for a few years now, but his utter domination of Triple-A this season cased the D’Backs to call him up to DH during interleague play. He’s blasted two home runs thus far, but a .211 average without a walk can’t impress them. Still, his power is incredible; both of his homers have gone over 450 feet with (it seems like) a third that went nearly as deep but didn’t clear the fence (per HitTracker).

One somewhat encouraging sign is that Pena was striking out just 20 percent of the time at Triple-A before his callup, describing it as a change in approach:

My approach is just to hit for average. I think everybody knows that I would just worry about hitting home runs, just think about that. But I've realized I have to go to the plate and just make contact. I know I've got power. I just told myself that I have to prove that I can hit for average, too. I'm taking pitches, taking some walks and striking out less. I was surprised when I saw my numbers. I was like, wow, that's not me, not the way I used to strike out before. My main thing is just to make contact. If I make contact, something will happen. Just trying to put the ball in play and we'll see.

That approach hasn’t translated at the big-league level, though; Pena is striking out 47 percent of the time thus far. That won’t cut it if he hopes to remain with the club after they return home next Monday. Further hindering his cause is D’backs manager Kirk Gibson’s apparent reluctance to play Pena in the outfield during their short stint at home during this stretch of interleague play:

"He's probably in a little better shape than he was in spring training, but that's not his strength," Gibson said Wednesday. "I don't have any plans to play him in the outfield right now."

Gibson quickly added that those plans could change.

 Overall, things aren’t looking to good for Pena beyond this week, but he’s certainly worth a speculative add in the interim in case things change, he starts striking out less, and the D’backs decide to give him some time in left field over Gerardo Parra. His monster power warrants as much. Still, Parra is better defensively, and the team has Collin Cowgill hitting well at Triple-A to make the situation even murkier, so keep your expectations in check. 

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