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July 23, 2014

Dynasty Dynamics

Players We're Buying at the Deadline

by Ben Carsley and Craig Goldstein

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The trade deadline happens soon. This means that if you’d like to change the personnel on your team without utilizing the waiver wire exclusively, you’ll need to make a deal before the deadline passes, in many leagues. Weird how that works, we know.

While the deadline is a crazy time in leagues of every composition, they’re especially hectic in dynasty formats. Good teams are often willing to go all-in, as winning a dynasty championship is a difficult feat to accomplish. Mediocre teams generally break one way or the other. And even teams who are out of it have every incentive to be quite active, as there’s always 2015 and beyond.

To that end, we thought it would be useful to identify talent that we're looking to buy in dynasty leagues. This means less riding of hot hands and more willingness to take on a struggling star (I'm still looking at you Chris Davis), with the caveat that we think they'll return to their previous production.

Regardless of your position, though, it helps to identify talent that you think will be able to improve your squad not just for the second half of 2014, but for years to come as well. This is a great time of year to pull a poorly performing player away from a desperate owner, and to reinforce your ranks moving forward.

With that in mind, here are six players Craig and I think make nice deadline targets in dynasty formats.

Craig: Tyler Skaggs, SP, LAA
While he hasn't been everything we thought he'd be when he was on the verge of the major leagues with Arizona, it seems getting away from the Diamondbacks has done Skaggs some good. Finally a regular in the rotation, Skaggs pitched and yawed a bit in the first half, showing mediocre results but positive peripherals. This puts him in line for a better second half and also means there's a positive career trajectory that fantasy owners should be keen to get a hold of.

With an ERA of 4.65, Skaggs isn't winning anyone a fantasy title thus far this year, but with a FIP of 3.63, there's room for growth. Add in an extremely beneficial home park and a team that should look to contend over the coming seasons, and there's plenty of upside here. Skaggs also isn't missing as many bats as we anticipated coming into the season, and at 23 years old, he's not done evolving as a pitcher. He's below league average at present in terms of strikeout rate (Skaggs: 17 percent, league: 20 percent), but compensates with an above-average walk rate (Skaggs: 6 percent, league: 8 percent).

With the rediscovery of his velocity upon returning to Anaheim, Skaggs should be able to miss more bats going forward—in fact PECOTA has him above seven strikeouts per nine innings for the remainder of the season. If he can raise his strikeout rate, his value should follow suit. In dynasty leagues young, everyday starters are nothing to sneeze at, and given Skaggs' pedigree and solid start to 2014, the price you pay at the deadline could like a bargain come July 2015.

Ben: Zack Wheeler, SP, NYM
Remember Wheeler? He’s been overshadowed by Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, and in some ways, rightfully so. But before Harvey’s breakout, many preferred Wheeler’s pure stuff among the three, and he’s long been billed as a big-time fantasy prospect. He’s actually lived up to that potential in some regards, posting a 3.61 ERA and 21.4 percent strikeout rate through his first 214 1/3 innings in the majors, but he’s yet to dominate. That, of course, has some people rather down on him.

There’s no denying that when Wheeler is bad, he can be spectacularly bad. He’s given up five earned runs or more three times this season, including his recent six-run, two-inning implosion against the A’s in late June. But Wheeler’s shown the ability to shut down lineups in between his clunkers, and he’s getting better as of late. As Doug Thorburn pointed out last week, Wheeler has walked more than two batters just twice in his past 11 starts and has actually added some velocity this season.

Wheeler has seen his ERA drop from 4.45 on June 25 to 3.78 today, and I expect that number to continue to fall as the season progresses. He’s in a great home ballpark and has all the talent in the world, so while wins may be tough to come by and he may never sparkle when it comes to WHIP, he should be a solid contributor in ERA and strikeouts. He’s an especially attractive buy-moderately-low guy in dynasty leagues because of his age and upside.

Craig: Oscar Taveras, OF, STL
It's been a long couple of seasons since Taveras violently hacked his way into our prospect-loving hearts, wielding his bat as a weapon, and treating baseballs as though they wrong him on a deep, personal level. He's been at Triple-A for most of that long time, first adjusting to the advanced level and then battling an ankle injury that has lingered into this season.

While Taveras languished in Triple-A in 2013, he produced a .306/.341/.462 slash line as a 21-year-old, and it was met with a collective yawn. It was a good amount of production, no doubt, but he needs to be a superstar to force his way into an already crowded St. Louis outfield, and it just wasn't quite there. Finally close to 100% in 2014, Taveras kicked it up a notch, slashing .318/.370/.502 in 62 games. He still has to battle a crowded outfield with Peter Bourjos imported after Carlos Beltran departed, and Allen Craig seeing more time in right field, but he's managed to earn a couple cameo appearances.

In 25 games, Taveras is slashing .190/.226/.266, so he's not off to the white hot start we've come to expect of Cardinals prospects. That said, he's just as talented as he was when we fell for him, and at 22 years old, he's got more than enough time to round into shape. Taveras still has the 70/70 ceiling in his hit/power tools, and his extended stint in Triple-A and clouded future in terms of playing time, combined with his stumble out of the starting blocks means that this is likely the last time you'll be able to acquire him cheaply. If you can foist a veteran with steady stats to a contender who can't afford to wait on Taveras to reach maturity, you should do it before reading the rest of this column. The kid is going to be fine.

Ben: Justin Masterson, SP, CLE
Masterson is currently on the disabled list recovering from a right knee injury, but he’s already made one rehab appearance at Triple-A and is probably only in line for one more before rejoining the Indians. That makes now a phenomenal time to buy low on him, as Masterson is very likely going to pitch much better in the second half of the season than he did in the first.

Coming off arguably the second-best season of his career in 2013 (third-best by WARP), Masterson has disappointed greatly by pitching to a 5.51 ERA in 98 innings so far this season. His 12.4 BB% is a career-high and well above his career average of 9.5 percent, and his BABIP against sits at .350 compared to a career level of .306. Masterson’s strikeout rate is in line is worse than last year but better than his 2010-2012 rate, and he’s actually doing a better job of keeping the ball in the park than he has in the past.

If we expect BABIP and HR/9 to stabilize somewhat, Masterson should see some improvement—especially since his FIP is already nearly a run-and-a-half lower than his ERA. If a healthy Masterson also improves his control, you’re looking at a potential strong fantasy contributor who can be had quite cheaply right now. He’s not a savior, but he should be relevant even in 12-team leagues moving forward.

Craig: Jake Odorizzi, SP, TB
For some time, Odorizzi was the perfect definition of the prospect with a nice mix of pitches but none that could miss bats consistently at the big league level. That changed this Spring when Alex Cobb taught Odorizzi his split-change. Since then, Odorizzi has been missing bats at elite levels. His strikeout rate currently rests at 26.5 percent, a far cry from the 18 percent he put up in 2013 with the Rays. Now, small sample sizes surely abound, but when we can identify a process change in a player, there's good reason to believe this new Odorizzi is here to stay.

As good as he's been at missing bats, Odorizzi has had plenty of blow up starts along the way, as he routinely struggled to turn a lineup over early in the season. He's done better in that regard as the season has worn on, truly turning a page in June. Since June 10, he's amassed 43.1 innings in seven starts, with a 2.28 ERA, striking out 45 and issuing only 14 free passes. While all it takes in one bad start to undo much of that progress, Odorizzi's new pitch gives him a weapon to miss bats, and allows each of his other pitches to flourish in their own right, while hitters think about the split-change. With a 4.01 ERA but a 3.26 FIP, it's clear Odorizzi's peripherals indicate a better pitcher than he's been. From this point on though, it's fair to expect something closer to the June/July pitcher than the April/May version.

Ben: Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, BOS
I know, I know, it’s quite unlike me to extoll the virtues of Xander Bogaerts in an Internet Baseball Column. And I get why you’d be hesitant to buy after a six-week stretch that’s seen the rookie plummet from ROY discussion to weekly salvoes of “should he be demoted?” from the Boston media. But Bogaerts has shown signs of breaking out of the longest substantial slump of his professional career, and I think he’s poised for a big second half, even if there are a few more bumps along the way.

Bogaerts’ BABIP is sitting at .303 for the season and his line-drive rate sits at 20.7 percent (roughly league average), so bad luck isn’t really to blame here. Instead I’m banking on Bogaerts’ ability to make adjustments—something we’ve already seen over the past few games—and his natural skill as the catalysts for a comeback. Bogaerts was badly fooled by sliders from right-handers for much of his slump, and that’s still a pitch he’s going to need to work on laying off. But lately he’s been staying on breaking pitches much better, showing a willingness to take the ball back up the middle and to the other field on occasion.

As ugly as Bogaerts’ June and the first half of his July were, keep in mind that he produced at an All-Star level in April and May. It’s always unsettling to see highly touted prospects bleed their own blood, yes, but there’s little reason to think Bogaerts won’t thrive again now that we’re seeing signs of him making an adjustment. Now is a good time to buy low.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Dynasty Leagues

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