Category: Diamonds in the Rough

Blind résumé: thoughts on perceived value

Fantasy analysts say things like, “I know, I know, blind résumés are cliché,” and then proceed to do them anyway. So.

I know, I know, blind résumés are cliché. But this is important, I swear. This is an exercise in perceived versus actual value, and exploiting market inefficiencies.

Note: I wish I had written this a month and a half ago (June 21, to be exact), when I talked about it with my good friend/league enemy Rob. You’ll see why.

OK, here are the stat lines, as of Sept. 5:

Player A: 81 R, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB, .301/.351/.458/.808
Player B: 73 R, 13 HR, 60 RBI, 8 SB, .295/.382/.481/.864

If we are talking about players’ offensive skills from a traditional standpoint, you can argue that Player B is perhaps more valuable, given the comparable batting average, better on-base percentage and better isolated power (ISO). However, this is a fantasy baseball blog, and Player A is clearly the more valuable one as he leads all categories except stolen bases.

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The screenshot is from a pre-trade deadline conversation I was having with Rob. And if you haven’t caught on by now, Player A is Melky Cabrera, and Player B is Yasiel Puig. I set the blind résumé deadline at Sept. 5, marking Cabrera’s last game prior to missing the rest of the season with a finger injury.

Referring back to the side note at the beginning: On June 21, ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Puig in his Top 10 and Cabrera outside his Top 50. At the time, the blind résumés would have looked more like this:

Cabrera: 47 R, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, .300/.345/.476/.821
Puig: 39 R, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 7 SB, .321/.411/.538/.949

Honestly, their stat lines were less similar than they are now. Anyway, the important part to note is Cockcroft’s updated ranking are always going-forward rankings — that is, Puig will be a Top-10 player going forward. And on June 21, Cockcroft thought Puig was the 8th-best fantasy option available (Cabrera, meanwhile, 65th or so) despite him going almost a month without clearing an outfield fence.

Things have changed, obviously. Cabrera was the better player in all categories since June 21 — in fact, his triple-slash rates are almost identical more than two months later, serving as a testament to his consistency — and his fantasy contributions have dwarfed those of Puig. Still, Cockcroft ranks Puig the No. 14 outfielder (40th overall) and Cabrera No. 20 outfielder (62nd overall). Elsewhere, CBS Sports’ Al Melchior still lists Puig as his No. 4 outfielder. (He has omitted Cabrera from his list given the news of his injury.) Michael Hurcomb, also of CBS Sports, lists Puig as his No. 4 outfielder and Cabrera at No. 15. (His list was last updated Aug. 12, but it’s not like Puig wasn’t already slumping.) Only one of the three CBS Sports analysts, Scott White, seems to have some sense, ranking Cabrera above Puig (Nos. 11 and 15, respectively).

Perhaps Puig is due to bounce back from a prolonged slump, which would justify his high ranking. But he had sported an abnormal BAbip (batting average on balls in play) all year; and while his 2013 BAbip was a monstrous .383, it would be wildly impressive for him to possess the hitting prowess to sustain one of the highest BAbips in MLB history. So, now, Puig owns a .353 BAbip, still well above the league average.

The question now: Is Puig a premium hitter, or has he been the beneficiary of a lot of good luck for a long time? ESPN’s hard-hit average data would be very beneficial right now, but alas, I don’t have access to it. Line drive rates can be used as a theoretical comparison, however, albeit not a pure substitute: line drives epitomize hard contact. And Puig has hit line drives only 14.3 percent of the time this year, as opposed to 19.1 percent of the time last year. (Mike Trout, who has seen his BAbip fall a comparable 31 points in BAbip from 2013, has seen his line drive rate drop an equally-comparable 4 percent.)

It will take a larger sample size — namely, the addition of the 2015 season — to determine whether Puig is closer to his 2013 line drive rate or his 2014 rate — and, thus, whether he is closer to his 2013 BAbip or his 2014 BAbip. For now, I would err on the side of caution and bank on the floor rather than the ceiling.

All of this slowly gets me back to my point: People have different perceptions of players’ values, and they often let other factors inhibit their judgments, even subconsciously. For example, people may still attribute Cabrera’s success to PEDs, a worry which seemed to be validated by his sub-optimal 2013 (during which he played through a herniated vertebrae, or something like that). Meanwhile, Puig is the next big thing, and people expect such from him. When you strip them of their names — from which their discrepancies in value stems, honestly — you uncover the market inefficiency lying within.

Not that I can say that I would have had the foresight to trade Puig for Cabrera on June 21 (mostly because I owned both), but if I was offered Puig for, say, Corey Dickerson, straight up, I would have pulled the trigger. Because at that point, it was all about name value and recognizing the true performance of each player without bias. Dickerson, having arguably a better season than Cabrera or Puig, is ranked Nos. 17, 25, 32 and 40 among all outfielders on the four expert lists I mentioned.

Moral of the story: Try not to let the name bias your projections. Exploit other owners’ misguided perceptions of value.

Under-the-radar 2015 fantasy prospects

Another month without any published material has come and gone. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker earned himself American League Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month honors for August. Good thing I wrote my glowing endorsement for him on July 25. It will be interest to see how he’s ranked next year. Julio TeheranMichael Wacha, Sonny Gray and Tony Cingrani were touted prospects and drafted Nos. 29, 32, 41 and 44 on average in ESPN live drafts this year after pretty amazing 2013s. So, what now for Shoemaker? He was never a touted prospect; most fans still probably don’t know who he is, similar to how I anticipate Corey Kluber will get robbed of Cy Young votes this year simply because he isn’t a name-brand ace.

Alas, there will be doubts about Shoemaker’s ability to repeat his performance — his swinging strike and contact rates have tailed off a bit since I wrote about him a month ago, and he doesn’t occupy the strike zone enough for me to think the walk rate is sustainable — which could make him a 2015 draft day bargain. Starting pitching is deeper than ever, so it would not surprise me whatsoever to see Shoemaker make a variety of “just missed” lists, right outside the Top 60 pitchers or so, with an average draft positions of maybe 45th for starting pitchers.

If I had to run a quick-‘n’-dirty projection for next year right now, it would look something like:

Bearish: 180 IP, 11 W, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 K
Bullish: 200 IP, 13 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 189 K

FYI, those are both pretty darn good projections, good for what will probably be Top-30 in my 2015 rankings.

Anyway. ANYWAY.

Let’s get to what I really wanted to discuss: 2015 fantasy prospect sleepers. Many notable prospect lists are published prior to the start of each season, and a handful are updated as the season unfolds. Case in point, ESPN’s Keith Law published his updated Top 50 list about a month ago. Obviously, the list accounts for the triumphs — and tribulations — of current and now-former top prospects in whichever league(s) the player performed this season as of July 17.

Today’s scouting report has two faces: the qualitative, through which we award players a grade of 20 through 80 for their five tools; and the quantitative, through which we assess the progress of a player based on what he has actually accomplished.

It’s all good and well that prospect lists exist — especially updated ones. But, frankly, there isn’t room on the list for everyone, and the lists often span more than just players who are Major League-ready.

Thus, I occasionally look at Minor League leaderboards and try to find less-trendy fantasy prospects to scoop in the late rounds of a draft or spend a dollar on in the twilight of an auction. I create a list and periodically update it, tracking the player’s progress or lack thereof.

In alphabetical order, here are some players who, given playing time, could be impact players in 2015:

Steven Moya, DET OF | 40 Hit, 60 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
It wouldn’t surprise me if 99 percent of baseball fans outside of Michigan knew Moya was called up when the Tigers’ roster expanded. Absent from all major prospect lists, Moya belted 35 home run, swiped 16 bases and batted .276 in 133 games at Double-A Erie. Those are numbers that could get anyone all hot and bothered. It’s not a huge surprise to me why he wasn’t so highly touted: he combined for only 42 home runs and 16 stolen bases combined in his first four years in the minors. What’s overlooked, though, is he debuted when he was 17, and he has obviously made great strides as he fills out at the ripe age of 22. All that glimmers is not gold, however; Moya struck out in almost 30 percent of plate appearances while walking only 4 percent of the time. There’s a lot of potential for bust simply because he may never catch up to Major League pitching.

Looking forward: Moya is currently buried on the depth chart, as he was called up more for depth and reps than impact contributions. Still, right fielder Torii Hunter‘s contract expires this year, leaving Moya to compete with Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Ezequiel Carrera (whom I actually like as a speedy, Leonys Martin-type of outfielder). Davis is underrated and Martinez has reestablished himself as a credible starter, although it remains to be seen if he sustains it, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see Moya win a starting role over Carrera — or all of them, really. His plate discipline is problematic, though; even notorious free-swinger Pedro Alvarez had better discipline before his call-up. Still, not all prospects with poor hit tools are doomed to bust, but given his relatively unknown prospect status — he’s buried at No. 7 in the Tigers’ organizational depth, according to MLB.com — he could be a low-risk, high-reward (and also high-volatility) player in 2015.

Steven Souza, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
Souza is perhaps the most talented and enigmatic of the three players listed here, based strictly on 2014 performance and MLB.com’s scouting grades. Like Moya, Souza didn’t make any preseason or midseason top-prospect lists, despite hitting 18 home runs, stealing 26 bases and batting a whopping .350 across 407 Triple-A plate appearances. (In there defense, Souza was really, really bad prior to 2012, and was busted for PEDs in 2010.)

Again, if you live outside of New England and knew Souza was recently called up when rosters expanded: congratulations! All of Souza’s numbers — his speed, his power and especially his hit tool — correlate very poorly with how MLB.com evaluated him above. Even if the power and speed do somehow project to be average, his plate discipline is very evidently better than below-average: he struck out in 18.4 percent of plate appearances and walked in 12.8 percent of them. And he achieved this in Triple-A, not Double-A, where Moya flailed away. Future Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor allegedly has a 70-hit tool, yet posted strikeout and walk rates of 19.5 and 5.2 percent — not at all elite. Trust the statistics.

Looking forward: The only things standing between Souza and a starting role in 2015 is Denard Span‘s 2015 team option (who has performed well enough to earn it and then some) and the next guy on this list. Thus, Souza may be doomed to a fourth-outfielder role next year until Bryce Harper inevitably injures himself, so Souza’s heyday may not truly come until 2016. If he somehow assumes the first baseman role, it would be hard to rely on a guy who hits 15 home runs, steals 10 bases, bats .275. But if he eventually moves to the outfield where he belongs, or gets traded, his potential /.280/.340/.380 would be serviceable in fantasy leagues.

Michael Taylor, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 60 Run (MLB.com)
Shoot. I kind of forgot that Taylor and Souza are on the same Triple-A team battling for the same potential center-field opening that will, realistically speaking, not be vacated by Span next year. Taylor got a brief look earlier in the year and promptly hit a home run — but also struck out eight times in 22 trips to the plate. It’s difficult to ignore his 22 home runs, 34 stolen bases and .313 average at Double-A Harrisburg, and the 51 steals at Single-A Potomac last year add a nice touch. Like Moya, the hit tool as graded by MLB.com is probably accurate: Taylor struck out 130 times in 441 plate appearances (25 percent), but at least he walked more than the league average.

Looking forward: Taylor and Souza are theoretically competing with each other, which could make either of them offseason trade bait. Taylor, however, spent the majority of this year in Double-A, only recently getting promoted, so he may have a year of development ahead of him, despite being ahead of Souza on MLB.com’s organizational depth for the Nationals (Nos. 5 and 7). It’s also worth noting  that Souza is listed as third on the depth chart at first base, and Adam LaRoche is in the final year of his contract, so it’s possible that Taylor earns the fourth-outfielder role and Souza earns first base outright (or becomes the backup to Kevin Frandsen… yuck). Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore any potential 20/20 players, and he looks like another guy who could get there, albeit with a low batting average.

If I had to guess which of these three players will make the biggest impact in 2015, I would say Moya, who I think has the highest bust potential but also the highest ceiling. Souza is the safest and will make for an adequate, and perhaps enticing, replacement given the event of an injury in the Nationals’ outfield. Taylor has the same kind of boom-or-bust potential as Moya, albeit with a little less power and a little more speed.

 

Matt Shoemaker, pending fantasy star

How does one apologize for not writing for more than a month and a half? It’s hard, man. Maybe one does not apologize to one’s readers. Maybe one’s readers accepts that it is what it is.

You know what else is what it simply is? Matthew David Shoemaker, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s right-handed reliever-turned-starter.

Every baseball season often produces more questions than answers. Namely: Who is Matt Shoemaker? Where did he come from? Why am I writing about him if he’s not that good?

Let us rewind to 2012. A mysterious figure emerged from the mist of the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen to dazzle us– or maybe just me, given he never really received the recognition he deserved. Maybe he had a right to be ignored: he posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 30-1/3 relief innings. If you don’t know how this fairy tale ends, it goes something like: goes largely unnoticed in 2012, is drafted outside the top 75 pitchers on average in ESPN drafts in 2013, and eventually emerges as a borderline fantasy ace by the name of Hisashi Iwakuma.

There’s a lesson to be learned. Iwakuma’s horrid statistics as a reliever muddied his season numbers. In hindsight, a 3.15 ERA for the year is solid, but a 2.65 ERA is better, and that’s what Iwakuma posted strictly as a starter. Yet fantasy owners who opted only to scratch the surface saw mostly unsightly ratios.

The same fairy tale manifested itself in a different form in 2013 that would make the Brothers Grimm proud. The Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber emerged from the bullpen in May, albeit after only half a dozen innings, many more than that in 2012. Kluber’s season, however, began with aplomb — and by aplomb, I mean “a handful of horrible starts.” Starts horrible enough to sully his numbers for the year (3.95 ERA). But the peripherals were there at season’s end: 8.28 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.09 walks per nine, 3.12 xFIP. In case you haven’t kept track, Kluber has more or less assumed the role as Cleveland’s staff ace this year, posting a 2.95 ERA with more strikeouts than innings.

I will now shortsightedly assume, without any kind of research, that this kind of thing happens every year. Every year, there’s at least one player who emerges from the bullpen and becomes an ace. Sure, you have the Chris Sales and Adam Wainwrights of the baseball world, who make a gigantic, whale-sized spash, but you also have the Iwakumas and Klubers, who basically don’t make a splash at all and probably sit on the side of the pool with their feet dangling in and shirts still on.

So I’m calling it: Mr. Shoemaker will be 2015’s reincarnation of this fairy tale.

In keeping the trend alive, a look at Shoemaker’s stats tell you… well, in the way of anything positive, not much. He has somehow notched seven wins despite a 4.54 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, so that rules. Worse, his WHIP was, like, 1.42 before his most recent start. So, bad season stat line? Check.

Meanwhile, he has struck out 9.68, and walked only 1.87, hitters per nine innings. It would behoove me to point out that these numbers dwarf those posted by Kluber in 2013, during which Kluber existed primarily in a gelatinous state of Emerging Star. It would also behoove me to point out that a reader with a discerning eye would notice that Shoemaker has a still-lackluster 4.37 ERA and 1.28 WHIP as a starter, fitting the mold of “maybe his season numbers are ruined.” It would further behoove me to point out that he is suffering the misfortune of a .350 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which, if normalized to a more reasonable .320, would produce a 1.20 WHIP. A league-average .300 BABIP? A 1.14 WHIP. So, distorted stats as a starter? Check.

Perhaps the most important, and valid, question at this point is whether or not Shoemaker can sustain what he’s doing. Small sample size caveats abound here, but I think the results are still substantial, if not due for regression. For all pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings, Shoemaker ranks 11th in swinging strike percentage (11.9), one spot behind Stephen Strasburg, the MLB strikeout leader, and three spots ahead of his teammate Garrett Richards, who has done all kinds of breaking out this year. Shoemaker also ranks 9th in hitter contact allowed (73.5 percent), sandwiched between Gio Gonzalez and, yes, Richards. Thus, even given small sample size caveats, Shoemaker is among excellent company. The walk rate may suffer; it’s hard to say, and even harder still given that I’m on an airplane over central California with no internet. But, given the browser tabs I still have open, I can tell you that Shoemaker’s percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone, according to FanGraphs’ data, trails only Clayton Kershaw and Mets reliever Carlos Torres among the 10 names ahead of his on the swinging strike percentage list. That bodes well for projecting his control going forward. (PITCHf/x, however, portends another story, as his zone percentage trails six of the eight names ahead of his. But when the names you trail are Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka and Kershaw, I’d say you’re not doing so bad for yourself.) So, solid peripherals? Check.

It’s a makeshift and largely personal checklist, but so far, Shoemaker meets all my criteria for the gelantinous Emerging Star. Who knows how Shoemaker will fare during the season’s last two months, but I think he’s worth owning now despite his current stat line. As for 2015 and beyond, I like him — for now. I wouldn’t bother keeping him, as I think his value will be depressed heading into next year’s draft, so you can easily wait around for him in the late rounds, if not add him as free agency in the first couple of weeks of the season, just as many owners did with Iwakuma and Kluber the past two years.

I hesitate to say Shoemaker is a lock for success. If anything, this post is less about finding The Next Big Thing as it is finding a pitcher whose performance betrays his value. There are the Sonny Grays and Michael Wachas of the world, whose status as top prospects make them costly prospective adds. Then there are the Matt Shoemakers, whose obscurity and relative misfortune keep him out of the fantasy limelight — and, one would hope, on the clearance shelf, from which you can swipe him on the cheap.

Ten bargain starters outside my top 60

The idea is simple: In a standard 10-team mixed league, an owner is allotted six spots to fill with starting pitchers. That relegates everyone else drafted No. 61 and higher to fantasy benches or free agency.

That doesn’t mean pitchers drafted outside the top 60 are worse than pitchers in the top 60. You can find good pitchers up until the 60th pick — heck, it’s the Brewers’ Marco Estrada, who has excellent control and solid strikeout numbers — but as many as a third of those 60 are risky are overvalued. Value bleeds into the late rounds  and it’s worth figuring out who’s worth reaching for, despite pitchers with better ADPs (average draft positions) still on the board, and who’s worth waiting for.

I’ll discuss a handful of pitchers I like outside my top 60, in order of ESPN ADP.

John Lackey | ADP: 63rd
Lackey had a renaissance 2013, coming back from a lost 2012 and miserable 2011. The strikeout and walk rates were second-best and best of his career, respectively, and there’s little reason to think he’ll crumble overnight. He’s less risky than Dan Haren (about whom I’ve been vocal about my distrust), who is being drafted 49th of starting pitchers, or Dan Straily, going 56th, who is honestly mediocre. He’s enough to fill the back of your rotation, let alone a bench spot.

Alex Wood | ADP: 66th
Wood is a control artist, and the Braves simply know how to develop pitchers. Scouts and experts are excited about him; I don’t know why he’s not getting more draft love. He’s guaranteed a rotation spot, due to the rash of injuries to Atlanta starters, and should be more than serviceable.

Corey Kluber | ADP: 79th
I love Kluber.

Josh Beckett | ADP: 91st
Sources say he’s recovering well from his surgery. If he makes the Dodgers’ rotation and remotely resembles the Beckett of old, he’s  a value.

Tyson Ross | ADP: 103rd
He absolutely dealt for the Padres last year. A reader mentioned he could be on an innings limit, but I would still ride him until he’s shuffled out of the rotation, and then simply find a replacement for him.

James Paxton | ADP: 105th
If the Royals’ Yordano Ventura is going 62nd on average, there’s no reason Paxton should be going outside the top 100 pitchers. Paxton doesn’t gas a 10o-mph heater like Ventura does but his strikeout and walk rates are very similar to Ventura’s.

Tyler Skaggs | ADP: 110th
Skaggs was a three-time top-100 prospect for Baseball America, peaking at No. 12 in 2013 (and No. 17 for Baseball Prospectus). It would be a mistake to write him off so soon after one bad season, especially with minor-league numbers better than those of Ventura or Paxton. His 2013 and current spring training numbers are an eyesore, though, so the repulsion is understandable. But, as I always say, he’s a name worth remembering.

Other notables: Drew Hutchison (114th), Erik Johnson (133rd), Jake Odorizzi (151st)

The case for Rajai Davis as a must-draft

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis is 95th on the ESPN player rater this year with a whopping 45 stolen bases in only 349 plate appearances through Sept. 22. To compare, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Brandon Phillips is No. 94 on the player rater, and he has amassed 646 plate appearances. That’s almost double the playing time Davis has seen. Although it’s not as simple as I’m about to state it, one could claim Davis has been doubly effective in his limited playing time compared to Phillips, even with Davis’ modest batting average and low RBI count.

By the way, Davis was 96th on the player rater in 2012. I’m starting to think this is no coincidence.

I’m being facetious. It’s totally not a coincidence. Davis has swiped 216 bags in the past five years alone. He has more steals than Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury since 2007, the year of their rookie seasons, and more steals relative to playing time (measured by plate appearances or games, your choice).

OK, you get it. He’s fast. That’s not the question here. The question is, and has been, since 2007: What will Davis’ playing time look like? And that is a question that has been difficult to answer for years — hence why Davis has gone undrafted the past two years.

And the answer to the question, at least for next year, is pretty apparent: Melky Cabrera in left, Colby Rasmus in center, Jose Bautista in right. But is it really that simple?

Brett Lawrie has, again, disappointed owners this year, but it’s not like Munenori Kawasaki (or whoever is manning second base nowadays) is any better. If Lawrie moves back to second base, Bautista to third and Encarnacion to first, it would leave room for Davis to play left field. This situation completely disregards Adam Lind, but he can slot in as the designated hitter if he does not pursue arbitration. If he does, that leaves even more space for Davis.

Moreover, I think it’s about time to let Joey Bats assume the DH role, at least until he can prove he can stay healthy. Even with Lind at first, Lawrie at second and Encarnacion at third, it still leaves a spot open for Davis. And even if this doesn’t happen, Davis has been more productive than Cabrera now that the speedster has been showing some pop (six home runs this year), which he showed last year as well.

So if I’m a Davis owner, which I conveniently am, I’m considering keeping him for next year. If he’s a free agent, I’m adding him.

Because if Davis earns a full-time role, he is not only a top-100 player — remember, he’s No. 95 right now, on limited playing time — he could be something like a top-50 player, or maybe even better than that. Even in a platoon role (he has smoked lefties to the tune of .330/.395/.491 this year) he would be plenty valuable, and he always has the chance of inheriting playing time with every Joey Bats at-bat.

Now, even with all these scenarios, there’s one last caveat: Davis is a free agency this offseason. While he could stay in Toronto, where he seemingly has the green light, he could sign with a team that is looking for a Billy Hamilton type — a speedy, spark-plug pinch runner.

In all scenarios — a full-time role, a platoon role, even a pinch running role — Davis deserves to be drafted. In which round is a question for another day, but it’s a question I plan to revisit. Davis could theoretically warrant a 10th-round pick in next year’s draft based on his performance the past two years. Otherwise, the incredible value he provides via stolen bases alone is worth a late-round draft pick whom you can stash on your bench until his playing time is sorted out.

In the meantime, keep abreast of Davis’ offseason. Any and all developments will have profound fantasy implications. There are only a handful of players about whom I can say that and mean it — and, until recently, I hadn’t even considered Davis a candidate for discussion. But he is. He’s a fantasy game-changer.

Blind résumé: Thoughts about 2014 SS rankings

Take a look at stat lines by two different shortstops since July 22.

Player A: 205 PA, .267/.348/.352, 1 HR, 25 R, 8 RBI, 17 SB (7 CS)
Player B: 209 PA, .241/.268/.322, 1 HR, 19 R, 13 RBI, 14 SB (8 CS)

Can you guess who they are?

Is it going to blow your mind? (Probably not — if you’re the owner of the more popular player, you’re well aware of his recent performance.)

Player A is the Houston Astros’ Jonathan Villar. Player B is the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jean Segura. July 22 is the day Villar debuted.

Like I said, Segura’s owners know he has been struggling, which raises a legitimate question: What should fantasy owners expect from Segura next year? I’ll guess most projections will split the difference between his first and second halves, but honestly, that may be too optimistic considering how long his struggles have lasted.

Meanwhile, Villar continues to fly under the radar for the lowly Astros. As you can see above, he has more stolen bases, more attempts and a better success rate across almost the same number of plate appearances as Segura. But that’s not anywhere near the most important part of this post. Look again at their on-base percentages from the sample:

Villar: .348 OBP
Segura: .268 OBP

Villar has gotten on base 8 percent more often than Segura has, which is a huge margin. Villar strikes out way too much — compare his 58 K’s to Segura’s 33 since July 22 — and that will likely weigh down his batting average. But his 10.8 percent walk rate is helping him get on base, which equates to runs and stolen bases.

The Astros batted Villar lead-off for 12 games, but he struck out in one-third of his plate appearances before they pushed him down to the bottom of the order. Eighteen games and a .313 batting average later, they moved him back up to the lead-off spot.

I’m probably alone in thinking Villar deserves any kind of hype for next year. He’ll be playing for a terrible team (which, really, won’t be as bad in 2014 as it was in 2013), so the potential for counting stats is not as promising. But a lead-off batter who can at least hit .250 and walk 10 percent of the time deserves a look, especially when the dude tries to steal basically every time he reaches base.

Villar is the poor man’s Everth Cabrera, and I think he will at least rival Cabrera’s performance next year, if not exceed it. Villar will be among the top of my bold predictions when I make them next year, but you can have the spoiler alert now: Villar is a top-10 shortstop in 2014 with top-5 upside.

As for Segura… I don’t know, man. Flash in the pan?

Late-season pitching fliers

I mentioned in an earlier post that a pitcher’s overall statistics matter less and less as we enter September. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada, deterring owners with his 4.49 ERA, could be a legitimate top-45 starter for the rest of the season, fueled by his 7.25 K/BB ratio after the All-Star Break. (He should already be owned in most leagues anyway, given his 1.20 WHIP and 8.2 K/9, but that’s not the point.) There will always be free-agent alternatives, even to supposed aces such as the struggling Adam Wainwright of St. Louis, that can help your team down the home stretch.

(Note: I would never drop Wainwright in any context, nor would I bench him. But if I had someone like who struggled all year, such as the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, I would consider benching him to stream someone such as Estrada. Again, I digress.)

Here are three sneaky late-season pitcher pick-ups, ranked from my favorite to least favorite.

Tyson Ross, SD (12.3% ESPN ownership)
Ross continues to chug along. His ESPN ownership has been cut in half because of two starts that, honestly, were not even that bad (12-1/3 IP, 5.83 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.8 K/9). His strikeout rate on the season stands at 8.6 K/9 across 96-1/3 innings, and although his sub-3.00 ERA won’t last forever, his 1.19 WHIP is good enough to help anyone down the stretch, and he’ll likely pick up another two or three wins along the way.

Brett Oberholtzer, HOU (4.5% ESPN ownership)
If you need help with WHIP and not strikeouts, take a chance on Oberholtzer. He plays for a terrible team, yes, but he’s already racked up four wins in six starts (nine appearances). Oberholtzer was never overly dominant in the minors, and he never made any top-100 prospect lists, but he refuses to walk batters, a trait I like in any pitcher. Again, his 5.6 K/9 is not the most appealing thing in the world, but limiting baserunners will help win ballgames no matter who you play for.

Danny Duffy, KC (19.3% ESPN ownership)
Duffy is the antithesis of Oberholtzer (which isn’t a bad thing). Once a rated prospect, Duffy dominated the minors until he debuted in 2011, when he promptly started to lose all control, seeing his BB/9 ratio balloon from less than three walks-per-nine to almost four and a half. But he’s back from Tommy John surgery, and he has recovered most of his minor-league strikeout rate that made him so effective (currently 9.5 K/9). His walk rate is still a point of concern, but his strikeouts and wins will be valuable, especially if he can continue to limit the damage.

If you’re still waiting for Sabathia or R.A. Dickey to come around, stop. I’d rather take a gamble on someone who likely won’t do any worse than a flailing name-brand starter but has the upside to be a stalwart addition to your rotation.

Bonus coverage: The Philadelphia Phillies recently signed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million deal. He was originally slated to sign a six-year, $50-million(ish) contract before concerns arose about the health of his elbow. There isn’t a ton of information about the guy, but consider Major League Baseball’s two most recent Cuban imports.

Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting last year and was signed on a four-year, $36 million deal ($9 million per year). Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig is a National League ROY candidate, and he signed a six-year, $36 million deal ($6 million) per year).

Although Gonzalez’s contract equates to only $4 million per year, his original contract would have been at least $8 million per year on average, in the ranks of Cespedes and Puig. Maybe it’s foolish to hop on the bandwagon based on this nugget of information alone, but considering a player’s salary is predicated upon expected performance value, I’m sold. I don’t know in which round I would draft him next year or how much I would pay for him in an auction draft, but I’d take a low-round flier on him and maybe gamble $6 or so. And if he rears his head in the MLB come mid-September, I’ll take a look.