The members of fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus have each selected one player they have their eye on targeting for the second half in trades. Some are more expensive to acquire than others, but they are on this list because their current market value is lower than their expected value the remainder of the way. Here are those players, in alphabetical order:
Javier Baez, INF, Chicago Cubs
The return of Dexter Fowler has seemingly relegated Baez to a more traditional bench role. Baez started in only three of six contests over the past week, including just one of three since Fowler’s reinstatement. I can’t tell you when and where the at-bats are going to come from; with a full-time outfielder back in the fold, there will likely be fewer appearances on the grass for Bryant and Zobrist, and therefore less opportunity on the dirt for Baez. It’s that uncertainty that makes him a target, though, as it should drive his price down. When he’s gotten the chance, Baez has shown the kind of multi-dimensional skillset that will make him an early-round selection in the coming years. He’s on the verge of double digits in both home runs and swipes in 250 plate appearances. Most importantly, his average sits at an unexpectedly excellent .285, with PECOTA projecting a tolerable .244 the rest of the way. Improvement in his contact rate even as he’s gotten more aggressive have upgraded his outlook from the batting average sink I once thought he’d be. I find it hard to believe the Cubs will stagnate the 23-year-old’s development by making him a twice-a-week player going forward, especially as they sit on a comfortable lead in the Central. Invest if Baez’s current owner doesn’t have the patience to wait for the path to become clear. – Greg Wellemeyer
Anthony DeSclafani, SP, Cincinnati Reds
DeSclafani returned to the Reds rotation on June 10th and has rewarded patient owners by pitching to a sparkling 2.50 ERA over his first eight starts of the year after being sidelined with a troublesome oblique. DeSclafani showed significant improvement over the second half of last season, his first full season as part of a major-league rotation, trimming his walk rate from 9.4 percent in 101 innings prior to the All-Star break to 4.0 percent in 83 2/3 innings pitched over the season’s second half while also boosting his strikeout rate from 17 percent to 22 percent. DeSclafani has carried over his good work from last year’s second half to his first eight starts of 2016, keeping his walk rate near four percent (4.4 percent in 50 IP) and keeping his strikeout rate near 20 percent, and his 19.6 percent rate overall is down a tick as he struck out only two batters in each of his first two starts back from the disabled list. After those first two starts, in which DeSclafani only pitched 8 2/3 total innings, DeSclafani’s strikeout rate is 22.6 percent—right in line with his output after the All-Star break last season. DeSclafani’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors over the past couple of weeks and his value could also be helped if the Reds decide to cash in their 26-year-old starter with Homer Bailey’s return around the corner and the likes of Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett waiting in the minors. DeSclafani pitched to a 3.00 ERA away from Great American Ball Park last season and has continued to pitch well on the road this season (3.27 FIP in four starts). – J.J. Jansons
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Relievers who don’t get saves usually don’t generate much value outside of deep leagues. Edwin Diaz is an exception, striking out more than two batters per inning in his rookie season. That’s nuts. His 18.3 K/9 makes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller look like Mike Pelfrey. Over the last thirty days, 39 pitchers have struck out the same number of batters as Diaz or more. All 39 are starters. Diaz did it in twelve innings while the lowest innings pitched total for any of the pitchers ahead of him or tied with him is 24.3, more than double his total. His 2.08 ERA and 1.20 WHIP will help your team, too, but the strikeouts are the attraction here.
One additional consideration with Diaz is the fact that he has significantly outperformed the two main relievers ahead of him on the depth chart, Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit. Neither of these veterans has distinguished himself in 2016. If either or both has a rough patch, it’s not hard to imagine the Mariners handing ninth inning duties to the guy with the 97-MPH fastball, the killer 87-MPH slider, and the superhuman strikeout rate. Don’t expect saves when you pick up the 22-year-old, just think of them as a nice extra if a few flow your way along with the avalanche of strikeouts. —Scooter Hotz
Ryan Dull, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Picking up players in the middle of the season is hard. All of the good players are already taken, so you need to try to predict the future and decide which players will be good later. Humans can’t predict the future, in case you were not aware. Fortunately, relievers exist and are the only fantasy assets who can be good and available. Take Ryan Dull, for example. Oakland’s middle reliever turned setup man is striking out over a batter per inning while walking under two per nine innings. Even after a bit of a rough stretch recently, he’s the owner of a 2.13 ERA, a 3.22 FIP and a 2.98 DRA. Of course, he doesn’t get saves, so he’s owned in just six percent of ESPN leagues, 11 percent of CBS leagues, and 12 percent of Yahoo leagues.
The time to add him is now. It’s trade deadline season, and we all know that means selling teams are going to try to sell off their relievers for whatever they can get. For Oakland, that means trying to deal Ryan Madson. Now, there are no guarantees he’ll be dealt. In fact, there are no concrete rumors at this time. On the other hand, the A’s are in a position to get what they can for him right now. Additionally, Dull could still become the closer even if Madson isn’t traded given the latter’s rough performances of late—he has a 6.35 ERA and a 9-to-5 K:BB over his last 11 1/3 innings. It’s really hard to find good players on the waiver wire this time of year, but prospective closers can be just that. There may not be a better bet right now than Dull. —Matt Collins
Leonys Martin, OF, Seattle Mariners
I decided to pick the same player I picked last year for many of the same reasons I took Martin last season: despite the fact that his offensive numbers are pretty good on the whole, not a lot of fantasy owners are investing in Martin. 20/20 seasons are rare these days, but Martin has a good chance of reaching that milestone if he runs just a little bit more in the second half. The batting average isn’t anything to write home about, but that’s not what you are paying for when you draft or trade for Martin. His numbers dropped off after a hot May, but Martin is nothing if not a streaky hitter and is the kind of player who is worth riding the streaks and reaping the benefits at the end of the season. His glove will keep him in the lineup barring injury, and Martin doesn’t need to be a .270 hitter to provide a positive return for fantasy owners – Mike Gianella
Michael Pineda, RHP, New York Yankees
It’s not often you see a pitcher put up the kind of topline numbers Pineda has put up this year while also churning out the quality of peripheral numbers that Pineda has churned out. But here we are, face to face with a 5.25 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and four measly wins in 19 turns. As of this writing the Yankee right-hander stands with a DRA over two full runs lower than his ERA- a gap that’s tied for the third-largest of any starting pitcher, behind luminaries Alfredo Simon (whose ERA is a football score) and Luis Perdomo (the second one to pop a 1.50-plus WHIP in his first 75 big-league innings). Pineda’s whiff and walk rates are so delicious, but man does he give up some hard contact for a kid with his stuff. His HR/FB rate is awful, and his average exit velocity is in the hardest quartile allowed. The Yankees’ defense is perfectly adequate at efficiently converting hit balls into outs, however, and even allowing the grade of contact his .342 BABIP—fifth-worst among starters—is more likely to come down at least marginally than it is to balloon further. Toss in some self-regulating Win Karma and a frame built to hold stamina beyond last year’s 160 innings, and he makes for a quality target in leagues where the manager who rosters him has been suffering the ratio slings and arrows all year in building frustration. – Wilson Karaman
Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
When I first received the group email that said we needed to identify a second-half target, my immediate reaction was “Diamondbacks Starter.” Joking. Heck, I’d better be f—ing joking. Over the last five seasons, only the Rockies have had a worse cumulative team ERA than the D-Backs in the entire National League. That’s not surprising, either, given Chase Field’s 116 Run Factor against lefties and its 106 Run Factor against righties. The park gives any pitcher a headache.
So… why Ray? For several reasons:
The velocity uptick has proven sustainable. His average fastball jumped two miles per hour to 94.22 mph last year. That has climbed a bit more to 94.78 mph. This means we’re no longer looking at a semi-soft-tossing lefty who gets by on moxie and command. Instead, he’s a lefty with power stuff who’s striking out a batter per inning and overwhelming guys. In short, he’s increasing his margin for error by throwing harder.
He’s striking out 26.8 percent of the batters he’s facing, which means fantasy owners can make a second-half charge in the strikeout category, if needed. His swinging-strike rate has jumped from 5.7 percent to 9.0 percent to 10.8 percent over the last three years, respectively, so the newly-gaudy strikeout numbers have some meat to them. For context, the southpaw hasn’t whiffed fewer than six guys since March 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Our advanced statistics indicate that he’s pitched better than the numbers would otherwise indicate and that he’s projected to be above-average going forward. His 3.83 DRA is roughly three-quarters of a run lower than his actual ERA, as is his FIP. Such numbers tell a much more optimistic history. To that end, his 87 cFIP ranks 27th among starters with at least 50 innings pitched — ahead of many bigger and pricier names. That makes sense, given the first two aforementioned points, and such a level of performance would make him an easy top-40 starter.
The ballpark is scary, yes, but Robbie Ray appears to have the raw tools to be a quality fantasy starter over the next two months. He’s a guy who can bring strikeouts and above-average run prevention, and because of his first-half performance, he can probably be had at a bargain price. –J.P. Breen
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
I feel like I’ve historically been the low man on Russell among my BP brethren, but the 22-year-old seems to be turning a bit of a corner (what took him so long, right?). His walk rate is up slightly from last season, his strikeout rate is down, he’s hitting for more power, he’s been on fire in July and he’s playing often enough on a stacked Cubs team that he’s already surpassed his RBI total from 2015. If you remember Russell as a prospect, it’s a bit disappointing that he isn’t running more, and of course it would be swell to see his average take a jump from .249. He’s a very legitimate R/RBI/HR threat moving forward, and unless you’re playing in a dynasty league, odds are you’ll be able to buy lowish on Russell, who’s only been the 21st-best shortstop in fantasy so far this year, per ESPN’s player rater. I think Russell will perform more like a top-15 option for the rest of the year, meaning that he won’t save your squad, but could be a cheap MI filler with power upside. —Ben Carsley
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
The 25-year-old got off to an atrocious start, posting a 5.33 ERA and serving up 10 home runs in 16 starts over the first three months of the year. He rebounded slightly over his final two starts in July, but still owned a disastrous 4.89 ERA at the All-Star break. The concerns fantasy owners justifiably hold regarding his less than stellar performance this season is certainly warranted, but there is reason for optimism moving forward over.
According to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Stroman has recently “refined his delivery to eliminate a hand pump to his ear at the beginning of his windup…which allows him to consistently drive his sinker down and generate a sharper break on his cutter/slider.” He struggled in his first post-break outing, lasting just 4 2/3 innings while giving up six earned runs to Oakland, but rounded back into form against Arizona firing eight innings, allowing just one run on eight hits while striking out six.
By Deserved Run Average, the 0.97 run differential between Stroman’s ERA (4.90) and his DRA (3.93) is one of the largest of any starter with at least 100 innings this year. According to cFIP, a predictive pitching metric, Stroman (89 cFIP) ranks 29th out of 122 pitchers with at least 75 innings this season, with that mark forecasting above league average performance over the remainder of the current campaign. Barring an unforeseen spike in strikeouts, Stroman won’t transform into a fantasy ace, but he does represent a unique buy-low opportunity if his current owner is fed up with his “inconsistent performance.” —George Bissell