FANTASY PLAYS: Can Corey Kluber keep up his Cy Young pace?
Corey Kluber is looking like a Cy Young favorite, while Michael Taylor is overlooked in Washington. Meanwhile, it might be time to bail on Taijuan Walker, and Jonathan Villar returned with a bang but still has lingering concerns.
Corey Kluber, CLE - To say Kluber has been great would be an understatement. Since his return (six starts), Kluber has just six earned runs with 64 strikeouts in 43 innings, including 10-plus strikeouts in all but one start. Not surprisingly, owners have started asking if they should sell high on Kluber because “it can’t get better than this, right?” Not so fast. Kluber now has a 3.02 ERA for the season, which is just slightly under his 3.14 ERA from last year. Kluber’s expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) is actually 2.69, and he had a 2.44 ERA in 2014, so it can get better. Even if this is peak Kluber and he settles in to a 3.00 ERA and around 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings instead of his current 11.8 mark, you can’t sell high on Kluber. This year is not like most. Having an ace pitcher like Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer or Chris Sale gives you a distinct advantage over your competition. Madison Bumgarner should return soon, but Noah Syndergaard will still miss more time and top-end pitchers such as Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are having down years. Dallas Keuchel is still the fourth-highest rated pitcher, and he’s been on the DL for weeks. Sometimes, you have to understand the edge you have with stars, and a pitcher like Kluber means your No. 1 is better than most of the league. Don’t sell high.
Michael Taylor, WSH - It’s not clear what it will take for fantasy owners to appreciate Taylor. Taylor is in the top 20 in runs and HRs, top 30 in RBIs and top 6 in SBs with a .293 average in the month of June. In other words, Taylor has been a top 15 overall hitter for the month. Yet, if you offer him in a trade, owners will balk at his value being anything more than an fifth outfielder. That’s where your knowledge comes into play. Go after the Taylor owner and try to grab him in a deal. You might find that the owner is wise to Taylor’s value, but many owners are still reluctant to believe. It’s possible that Taylor’s inconsistent playing time over the past two seasons clouds people’s judgment, but Taylor is a true 20/30 threat for HRs/SBs and is at least a third outfielder for fantasy teams this year. Maybe Taylor can even soften some of the blow from Trea Turner’s loss.
Taijuan Walker, ARI - Walker’s possible breakout season is starting to look less likely by the start. Since May 16, Walker has a 3.9 strikeout minus walk percentage, which is the 11th-lowest mark among starters. While Walker’s 3.50 ERA looks solid, he’s given up nine runs (seven earned) in his last three starts. Walker’s xFIP is nearly a full run higher at 4.43. Looking deeper, he is allowing one-third of the number of home runs he did last year (per nine innings). You might think that’s good, but it’s actually concerning, as Walker is allowing the highest hard hit ball percentage of his career and has regularly allowed well over a home run per nine innings pitched. Additionally, the Diamondbacks nixed the plans to add a humidor this year. Pitching in Arizona makes regression more likely given its hitter-friendly nature, and Walker is walking more batters than ever while striking out fewer over the last few weeks. There are signs here telling us it would be a good time to sell high on Walker.
Jonathan Villar, MIL - Villar returned from the DL to find himself on the bench in his first game back. He more than made up for that with two home runs against the Reds, but should you be encouraged or still have concerns? Villar entered the game with a .216 average while on pace for 15 HRs, 71 runs, 66 RBIs and 36 SBs. Other than that painful average, the drop in runs and especially stolen bases made Villar one of this year’s biggest disappointments. The problem is that Villar is striking out over 30 percent of the time, a career worst. On top of that, Eric Sogard has been playing great, Orlando Arcia is doing well too and Hernan Perez is the Brewers everyman, now pushed to the infield more with Ryan Braun back. If Villar doesn’t keep hitting, there are numerous options for the Brewers. If you own Villar, look to sell high quickly. If you can get high-end shortstop value for him, move on and eliminate the risk, but don’t just toss Villar away for pennies.
You should know this by now, but stream your pitchers against the Padres. They continue to lead the league in SOBB (strikeout percentage minus base on balls percentage), making Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Nick Pivetta and Aaron Nola all strong starts. The Rangers offense is still struggling to hit consistently and are just behind the Padres in SOBB. Consider Rick Porcello a better play than he has been in most starts to date. The Athletics are a strong matchup play, which makes Carlos Rodon, Ariel Miranda and Felix Hernandez quality options.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by Jake Ciely of the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com