It’s that special time of the year: fantasy baseball playoffs. Personally, in my two main leagues, I have a first-place bye in one (thank you, Jose Bautista, Jered Weaver, and Justin Verlander) and was in the basement in the other (thank you, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Buster Posey, and Jason Heyward). Hopefully you’re still in the playoff hunt because this is the time when every decision is magnified.
Homer Bailey, Reds (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 7%, CBS 46%)
I’ll admit to a small amount of bias here since I chose Bailey as my “sleeper pitcher” in the BP preseason fantasy predictions and then watched as he missed a good chunk of the first three months of the season due to shoulder troubles. Since returning in late June, he’s been generally decent with a touch of awful, though there’s reason to think he’s turning the corner: in his last three starts, he’s struck out 19 while walking just three. His last start on Monday against the Phillies was solid enough on its own merits (9/0 K/BB, three earned runs in eight innings) yet could have been even better as he was outstanding through seven innings before being touched by a Shane Victorino homer in the eighth. Bailey’s next start will come on Saturday against a reeling Cardinals club, and he could make an interesting play if he’s able to keep his recent hot streak going; when he’s healthy, there’s never been a question about the talent.
Randy Wells, Cubs (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 3%, CBS 17%)
Randy Wells pitched a two-hit shutout in his last start, and while the “yeah, but it was against the Giants” jokes are obvious, that’s still a pretty impressive feat. Wells has actually been pretty good for all of August, striking out 27 against eight walks and picking up four wins. It should be noted that Wells’s BABIP is .182 over that span, which does make you wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. Still, he has been showing steadily improved velocity since returning from his early season arm concerns, and if the BABIP gods are on his side, then perhaps his nice August can run into a solid September as well.
Doug Fister, Tigers (Yahoo! 33%, ESPN 47%, CBS 74%)
Fister took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Royals on Tuesday, and he’s now allowed two earned runs (with a 21/2 K/BB) over 21 2/3 innings in his last three starts. As you can imagine, fantasy players are noticing that sort of production, so we’re saying goodbye to him as a Value Pick. If he’s still available, by all means snap him up.
Javier Vazquez, Marlins (Yahoo! 44%, ESPN 36%, CBS 59%)
Like Fister, we say goodbye to Vazquez not because he isn’t worth a roster spot but because he’s been so good lately that we can’t justify keeping him around as a value any longer. As this piece was sent to editing last week, Vazquez had just finished striking out 11 Reds over six innings in the first game of a doubleheader, and he followed that up with seven scoreless at the Mets on Tuesday. That makes seven consecutive starts (and 13 of 14) in which he’s kept the opposition below three earned runs, adding a 79/16 K/BB over the 14-game stretch. It’s hard to imagine after how bad he was in 2010 and how poorly the first half of 2011 went, but he’s worthy of a roster spot in nearly every league right now.
Mike Minor, Braves (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 17%, CBS 50%)
Thanks to Hurricane Irene wreaking havoc with the baseball schedule, Minor hasn’t actually pitched in over a week, dating back to August 23 when he picked up his fourth win over the Cubs. He’s scheduled to start at home against the Dodgers on Saturday. That’s usually a good matchup since Los Angeles has been one of the weaker hitting clubs in the bigs until a recent surge, though keep in mind that Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw (who is three months younger than Minor) will be his opponent.
Dontrelle Willis, Reds (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 15%)
Willis has yet to win any of his ten starts for the Reds, which isn’t exactly a fact you want to trumpet when discussing someone’s fantasy prospects. Still, it’s hardly his fault that the Reds have scored a total of five runs in his four losses, and his 120-pitch outing against Philadelphia last night represents the ninth time in those ten starts that he’s allowed three or fewer earned runs. Still, the concern (as always) with Willis is his control; after a four-game stretch in which he walked only one or two, he’s now walked thirteen in his last three games.
James McDonald, Pirates (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 7%, CBS 39%)
McDonald came down with the loss last night against Houston, through no fault of his own, however; he allowed just one earned run over six innings. It’s another in a string of solid starts from McDonald, though he’s won just one of his last six outings thanks to some lackluster run support and a faltering bullpen. McDonald has done a good job of avoiding disaster outings, allowing more than five runs just once in the last three months. Combined with his ability to pick up strikeouts, McDonald is a continually under-the-radar pitcher available in most leagues.
Brandon McCarthy, Athletics (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 13%, CBS 54%)
Since I wrote about McCarthy last week, all he’s done is go into Cleveland and strike out ten over eight innings (he took the loss, since Oakland’s anemic offense couldn’t score more than once for him). With the exception of a stinker on August 12 against Texas, McCarthy has been solid for the entirety of the two months in which he’s been back in the rotation after injury. Over his last six starts, including the lousy Texas game, he’s got a K/BB mark of 33/6, and short of grabbing a bat and joining the A’s offense attack himself, I’m not sure what else he needs to do in order to get noticed.
Luke Hochevar, Royals (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 3%, CBS 31%)
Hochevar’s never been all that, what’s the word, “good” since arriving in Kansas City, and his 2011 didn’t get off to such a fine start either when he allowed five or more earned runs in three of his first six starts. Quietly, however, Hochevar has become a somewhat reliable strikeout artist over the last two months or so, whiffing 42 over his last 46 1/3—probably not so coincidentally as his velocity has begun to increase. He’s walked just 12 over that span, and while he’s certainly not a must-add, those in deeper leagues in need of strikeouts could find some value here.
Tom Milone, Nationals (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 0%)
I know this isn’t exactly the highly-touted Nationals debut everyone’s talking about, but if Stephen Strasburg is still available in your league, it’s probably time to find another league. Milone has the requisite ridiculous minor-league numbers that you like to see (9.69 K/BB this year, which is 155/16), though with a fastball that rarely (if ever) touches 90, he’s already picked up the “crafty lefty” label at the tender age of 24. If your velocity is that low, you’re getting by in other ways, and Milone was predictably recognized by Baseball America as having the “Best Control” in the Nationals organization last winter. Milone makes his debut against the Mets on Saturday as he attempts to answer the question of whether one can truly emulate Jamie Moyer below the age of 35.