Welcome to the first edition of Fantasy By The Numbers for the second half of the season. Hopefully your teams are all sitting in the top 3 and gearing up for a push for the title, but if not, there’s always the hope of a strong second half from your key pickups and slumping stars. In this edition, we’re buying the American League and selling the National League because of some key history made after the All-Star Break. For the first time in American League history, 11 of the 14 teams in the league have had a .500 record at the same time. The 8-0 shutout in an exhibition game aside, it would be tough to argue that the NL is better than the AL at this juncture in the season.
Who to Add
Jon Lester and Josh Beckett
The Boston duo of Beckett and Lester really hasn’t recovered from the beer and chicken scandal of last season, and they’ve killed their fantasy owners in the process. Lester sits at 5-7 after a rough loss last night against the White Sox with a career-high ERA of 4.80. Beckett’s stat line is almost identical, sharing the same record and an ERA of 4.44. The two also share an enormous amount of bad luck. Both have FIPs of 3.68 or below, suggesting that their ERAs should be almost a full point lower than they currently stand. Further, their WARs of 2.1 and 2.4 are right up there with fantasy studs like Jered Weaver, whose 11-1 record and 2.26 ERA are incredible compared to his 2.4 WAR. For the 5-7 Jon Lester to have the same WAR as Weaver is almost absurd when looking at traditional statistics, and nearly all sabermetrics point to the conclusion that Lester and Beckett are destined to turn things around in the second half. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury both returning from the DL, the duo will receive much more run support, inflating their wins in the second half.
Off the top of your head, can you name the top 3 fantasy shortstops this season in the AL? Unless you play in an AL-only league or have a fantasy baseball addiction, you probably can’t. In a position that traditionally was the home of AL fantasy superstars like Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Cal Ripken Jr., the modern stars are almost unrecognizable. Nobody better personifies this shift to unheard-of stars than Escobar, whose stellar season has gone almost unnoticed anywhere other than Kansas City. 2012 is the first year that Alcides Escobar has earned $1 million in a season, and the first-time millionaire has been a great return on investment for the Royals. So far, Escobar is on pace for career bests in nearly all statistical categories, and his .311 batting average is showing little signs of slowing down. Escobar is still available in almost a quarter of ESPN.com leagues and would fit well on any team needing a shortstop or batting average help.
Who to Drop
R. A. Dickey
One of the most frustrating things about the knuckleball is the lack of consistency in the pitch. In one of the most unbelievable sights of my young career as a fan, I watched Tim Wakefield make Ken Griffey Jr. swing at what appeared to be a ball on a string. Griffey Jr.—the man named to the MLB’s all-century team as an active player—was made to look absolutely ridiculous by a man who made one All-Star Game in his entire career. When a knuckleball is moving correctly, it can’t be hit. Unfortunately, when the pitch isn’t working, a knuckleballer is practically throwing batting practice to hitters.
For R.A. Dickey fantasy owners, his success with the knuckleball this season has come as an amazing surprise, and his 12-1 record, strikeout/9 inning ratio of over 9, and 2.66 ERA have been an incredible boost to any team. However, scouts around the NL believe his knuckleball has lost some of its effectiveness of late, and the stats back this up. His ERA in July has been 7.50, and he has given up 14.2 hits/9 innings in the month. Unfortunately, his current 2.66 ERA isn’t sustainable if his knuckleball truly has lost its effectiveness, so Dickey owners should be warned to sell high on this great story.