“Round Robinson”: Is It Thumbs Up or the Finger for Hitters off DL?
In the last couple weeks, three potentially game-changing hitters have returned to the fold after prolonged stints on the DL. Two of them got off to fast starts before various hand afflictions forced them to miss time. The third is a big name who has struggled in 2014, opening up an opportunity that might not be seen again. What do we make of these returning stars and their outlook for the rest of the season? And how do you manage your roster with these three in mind? Let’s dig in and discuss.
Brandon Belt, SF: I’ve been on the Belt train since the preseason, and loved every minute of it early on. 9 HR, 18 RBI and an .820 OPS in his first 35 games was more than I could’ve expected. But a fractured left thumb derailed Belt from what could have been an All-Star caliber first half. He made his return on July 4 after a 50 game absence, and the immediate returns have not been good.
In his six games since being activated, Belt has just 2 hits in 22 AB with 1 HR and 4 RBI. I can’t say this wasn’t expected as it usually takes some time to get acclimated at the dish when coming back from hand injuries that affect the way you are able to grip the bat. In leagues I own Belt, I’ve got him stashed on the bench until he shows a flash or two of recapturing that early season stroke.
And I’m fully confident he will do just that. I don’t think Belt’s perceived value will be any lower than it is right now, so on teams where I don’t own Belt, I’m definitely speculating on him in an INF or UTIL role. The power will return and Belt will hit another 15 HR post ASG without killing your ratios. I also think now is a good time to buy in on the Giants as a team as this massive slide they’re on will come to an end once Brandon Belt starts hitting like Brandon Belt again. I’m getting him back into my top-75 for the rest of the season and will take him over guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Hosmer the rest of the way.
Nolan Arenado, COL: Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the first half was Arenado and his 28-game hitting streak in April and May. Building on a solid, yet unspectacular rookie year, Arenado slashed .305/.333/.489 with 6 HR and 28 RBI in the first 49 games of this season and was on his way to being one of the best values of 2014. One ill-fated slide into second base later, and he found himself on the shelf with a broken middle finger in his left hand.
Six weeks later and Arenado is back in the Rockies lineup. He, like Belt, has struggled mightily out of the gate, collecting just 3 singles in 26 ABs since returning July 3rd. What’s more is that all seven of these games have been at Coors Field. Interestingly, Arenado has actually been a better hitter away from Colorado than in the thin air. Yes, he has hit all six of his HRs at home, but before the injury Arenado was hitting just .270 at home as opposed to a .340 clip on the road. Perhaps some room service in Minneapolis will help get him jump started as the Rockies and Twins start a three-game set tonight. Regardless, I expect Arenado to really ramp it back up again after the All-Star break and see him as a sneaky good pick up or trade target that will outperform the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Lonnie Chisenhall down the stretch.
Bryce Harper, WAS: I can’t imagine there being a more perplexing player to own at this point. Harper’s been hurt and had an underwhelming season at the plate, but he’s still one of the most talented young stars in the game. So do you buy him? Do you sell him? Do you stand pat with him? Harper’s probably caused as many headaches for fantasy owners as he has his own manager.
After being ranked in the preseason top-25, Harper got off to an inauspicious start (.289 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI in 91 PA) before tearing the UCL in his left thumb sliding head-first. The injury cost Harper 57 games before getting back into the lineup on June 30. In the eight games he’s played since coming back, Harper is just 4-for-28 with 1 XBH and 10 K. He’s gone from being a top-20 caliber guy to someone we’re not even sure belongs in the top-50. So how do Bryce Harper owners approach this?
In a keeper league you’ve got some options. If you’re out of it at this point and already know you’re playing for next year (and don’t sugarcoat it, some of you have already thrown in the towel on 2014), there’s no reason whatsoever to give up on Harper now. His future is still as bright as any (sans Mike Trout) and he’ll be a stud on your team for years to come.
If you’re in the thick of things this year, you’ve got a very important decision to make. I personally don’t think Harper is going to be anything resembling the top-10 OF he was pegged to be at the start of the season. Because his keeper value is so high, he’s exactly the kind of trade chip you could use to fortify your roster for a deep playoff run. It’s going to be tough to part ways with him, but take a cue from the A’s: if you can win now, throw everything you’ve got into it. The haul you’ll get back for him will be massive and could turn you into the odds-on favorite to win your league. Similarly, if you’re that owner that’s out of it, think about putting together an offer to land Harper as now could be the best chance you’ll ever have to acquire him.
If you’re in a redraft league, you’re in a pinch. There’s no other way to put it. Like I said, my faith in Harper for 2014 is waning. Even in a best case scenario, all I see out of him the rest of the way is a .280 AVG with 10 HR and 6 SB, and that’s not what you banked on. Maybe you’ll find an owner who still believes in him, but I’m convinced most savvy owners know better by now. By all means, if you do find a speculative owner, make a move for a piece you need. But I’m saying hold otherwise. You’re pretty much backed into a corner and can only hope for the best from Bryce at this point.
Trade Analysis (A recap of the biggest moves leading up to the trade deadline)
Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to OAK; Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a player to be named later to CHC: Of course this deal would go down a mere hours after my article was released last week, but I still wanted to give my two cents on this blockbuster. And my two cents comes in one word: Wow. To say no one saw this coming might be an understatement. We knew Hammel would be moved. We were pretty sure Samardzija would get moved as well. But in the same deal? To the best team in baseball? Hats off, Billy Beane. You did it again.
From a fantasy perspective, Samardzija owners must be pinching themselves. 17 starts in Chicago netted him all of two wins. One start in Oakland: 7 IP, 1 ER, 5 K, 1 satisfying victory. I said before that I’m never happy seeing a pitcher go from the NL to the AL, but this might be the exception. Eight or nine more wins from this point forward could actually happen now, but keep one thing in mind. Samardzija’s career ERA is 3.95 and his career FIP is 3.78. Expecting to see a final ERA under 3.00 still sounds too good to be true for me, but if he comes close while posting 200+ K, absolutely no one will be complaining.
The news would seem as good for Hammel as well, but he wasn’t suffering from the win deficiency that Samardzija was in Chicago. He already has 8 W, and I don’t see him outdoing that in the second half even with the better lineup supporting him. His first start in an A’s uniform was nothing to write home about (5 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 H, 3 K, 3 BB and the loss), although this was against an NL foe in the Giants. Ultimately, his value doesn’t go anywhere with this move, but a quick word of caution. Hammel’s start on Wednesday put him at 113.2 IP for the season. In his career, Hammel has never reached 185 IP in a single season. Will he hit a wall down the stretch? We shall see.
If you’re in an AL-only league or NL-only dynasty league, hopefully this trade was a huge boost to your outlook. If you sat on a high waiver claim or a ton of FAAB money, this could be a game changer. But let’s not forget to pour a little out for the owners who saw a key cog go up in smoke. For every winner, there has to be a loser:
Is there an emergency online support group for people who had Addison Russell in an AL-only keeper league? @KevinHench and I need to vent.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) July 5, 2014
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