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Fantasy baseball necessitates relying on small sample sizes for day-to-day or week-to-week decisions, despite the recognition that it’s not desirable. I’ve written about that phenomenon in this space before. It means fantasy owners must take a gamble that some short samples are real, as the strategy of fantasy baseball doesn’t allow long-term trends to develop before acting. Players simply aren’t available long enough for a wait-and-see approach.

With that in mind, it’s often useful to look back at the past 30 days and see which players are leading the pack at their respective positions. Perhaps it allows us to unearth a hidden gem, but it always affords us the opportunity to recalibrate what’s been happening in fantasy value over the last 30 days.

NOTE: I’ll be writing a similar piece next week, focusing on the infield players.

STARTING PITCHING

#

Name

Team

1

Rick Porcello

Red Sox

2

Danny Duffy

Royals

3

Justin Verlander

Tigers

4

J.A. Happ

Blue Jays

5

Dan Straily

Reds

Just as we all expected back in April, yeah?

Porcello is sitting atop this list thanks to a 2.40 ERA in the second half and five wins. He’s intriguing because his performance has improved so dramatically from last year (4.92 ERA) to this year (3.30 ERA) despite eerily similar peripherals. His strikeout rate has jumped from 20.2 percent in 2015 to 20.3 percent in 2016. His small walk rate has shrunk roughly a percent, while his ground-ball rate is 0.3 percent different and he’s still giving up more than a home run every nine innings. The only real difference is that his BABIP has dropped from .332 to .269.

This seems to be a case of Porcello presenting his ceiling and floor in back-to-back seasons. His cFIP—which attempts to project his true talent going forward—was 93 a year ago and is 93 once again this season. In essence, he’s been the same guy, just with better luck and a crap-ton of wins.

Danny Duffy, on the other hand, has suddenly become phenomenal. The lefty boasts a 28.1 percent strikeout rate with a minuscule 5.1 percent walk rate. He doesn’t induce too many groundballs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing with the Royals’ ballpark and defensive prowess. Duffy owns a 2.79 ERA as a starter this season and is holding opposing hitters to a .213 batting average.

The Royals’ hurler has seen his stuff tick upward across the board, but his changeup has specifically been dynamite. He only had a 11.35 percent whiff rate on the pitch in 2015. Over the past 30 days—to avoid his time as a reliever—he owns a 27.84 percent whiff rate. That’s a big reason why he’s striking out 26.5 percent of the righties he has seen, despite only striking out 16.4 a year ago. His ability to neutralize right-handed batters has been a huge reason for his recent success.

RELIEF PITCHING

#

Name

Team

1

Edwin Diaz

Mariners

2

Seung Hwan Oh

Cardinals

3

Aroldis Chapman

Cubs

4

Roberto Osuna

Blue Jays

5

Mark Melancon

Nationals

Investing in relievers is a horrifying, yet necessary evil. Punting the saves category only works with quite a bit of luck; however, this list shows us that three of the top-five relievers in the past 30 days were nowhere near the top of the crop in the pre-season. Edwin Diaz only mattered to people in dynasty leagues. Seung Hwan Oh was intriguing, but seemingly had no path to the ninth inning with Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness in his way. Finally, Roberto Osuna was in a preseason battle with Drew Storen and was supposedly on the outside looking in.

Ah, the fickle ways of fantasy baseball.

Diaz has been absolutely phenomenal, and there’s no point in arguing otherwise. He throws in the upper-90s, has a 1.64 ERA and has struck out an incredible 44.1 percent of the batters he has seen. It was a bit of a surprise that the Seattle Mariners bumped Diaz to the bullpen at only 22 years old, especially considering he wasn’t particularly poor in Double-A to start the campaign. Given the importance of shutdown relievers in a postseason race, though, it appears the Mariners made a shrewd calculation and now have one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball. And, yes, that feels like an exaggeration. It’s not.

Thirty-something-year-old relievers coming to the big leagues for the first time don’t generally garner too much fantasy attention. Oh was no different. The right-hander, however, has been utterly brilliant with a 1.91 ERA, a 34.2 percent strikeout rate, and a non-existent platoon split. He took the ninth inning when Rosenthal landed on the disabled list with shoulder and forearm injuries—but it may be difficult for manager Mike Matheny to remove Oh from the closer’s role whenever Rosenthal is able to return (which doesn’t sound like it will be anytime soon).

Long-time readers know that I adore pitchers who can handle opposite-handed pitching, and Oh has been great in this area.

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

HR/9

BABIP

vs LHH

.167

.236

.218

28.8%

6.3%

0.32

.232

vs RHH

.170

.222

.263

38.9%

6.4%

0.84

.269

Oh has a dynamic slider that has handcuffed both righties and lefties. Opposite-handed hitters have only hit .100 against the pitch all season with one extra-base hit. That’s actually better than right-handers have done against Oh’s slider, which isn’t exactly supposed to happen.

The top fantasy relievers over the past 30 days may not have the names we would’ve expected in April, but each one of them has been stellar and still projects to be so.

OUTFIELD

#

Name

Team

1

Billy Hamilton

Reds

2

Charlie Blackmon

Rockies

3

Ryan Braun

Brewers

4

Mookie Betts

Red Sox

5

Hernan Perez

Brewers

The power of stolen bases to inflate fantasy rankings, man.

Hamilton is hitting .321/.393/.385 in the second half with 29 stolen bases, and the fantasy community is once again becoming overly infatuated with the six-foot slugger. He has a .402 BABIP in the second half. Y’all may want to argue that his speed means that his BABIP should be sky-high, but he owns a .300 BABIP for his career.

I know we’re supposed to take gambles on short-term trends. This isn’t one of them that makes sense, though. Hamilton still can’t hit lefties, has no power, and will see his BABIP come back to earth. The stolen bases are obviously real, but I see little reason to believe he’s suddenly different than what he was in 2014 and 2015.

In the second position, we see Charlie Blackmon. I missed so hard on Blackmon. I was able to acquire him in a dynasty league this year, which is a bit late, I suppose, but better late than never. He’s carried my offense over the past couple of months.

Blackmon isn’t just a Coors Field wonder (like his partner in crime, Corey Dickerson, who I didn’t miss on). Away from his friendly, high-altitude ballpark, the bearded wonder is hitting .326/.385/.564. That’s actually better than what he’s done at home. He’s performed better against lefties recently, hitting for average and reducing his strikeout rate, but he’s now one of the best power/speed guys in fantasy baseball, regardless of where he may be playing in 2017.

Thank you for reading

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redsoxin2004
8/17
For Porcello I think the 2016 improvement is a continuation of the changes made in late 2015. Upto July 29th Porcello had an 18% strikeout rate (20 starts) and 5.81 ERA. After coming off DL, from August 26th onward (8 starts) his K rate was 24% coupled with a 3.14 ERA. So I think the 23% mark in 2016 does represent a significant improvement.
grandslam28
8/17
Thoughts on Hernan Perez?