The 2014 Nationals will enter the playoffs with a familiar face at the back of the bullpen. After a turbulent 2013, Drew Storen has emerged as the team’s late option after Rafael Soriano went through a rough stretch. Storen has rewarded the Nationals’ faith this year, posting a 1.25 ERA, and 2.80 FIP, over 50.1 innings. That wasn’t the case last year. Storen posted a 5.95 ERA over his 42.1 innings and was demoted to Triple-A. Less than a year later, he’ll close things out for the Nats again.
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman has arrived. OK, that’s not entirely factual. Stroman arrived as a starter in late-May, and has turned in an incredibly strong rookie season. But after Monday’s complete game shutout, Stroman has been hard to brush aside. Over 114.2 innings, the 23-year-old Stroman has a 3.53 ERA and a 2.87 FIP. Those are numbers we expect to see from a long-time veteran, not a rookie. While he still has a few more starts left, it’s worth it to look at how well Stroman compares to some of his more recent colleagues.
Tigers closer Joe Nathan hasn’t had the type of season fantasy owners were expecting. While Nathan has notched 32 saves, things haven’t come easy. Through 50 innings, Nathan has a 5.04 ERA. The performance has been somewhat of a shock. Yes, there were some reasons to be concerned about Nathan entering the year, but it’s safe to say no one expected him to struggle this much. One of the main reasons for concern entering the season was Nathan’s age. It’s tough for any player to be dominant at age-39. Are Nathan’s struggles a product of his age, or is there more going on here?
It’s been a big sophomore season for Anthony Rendon. After a passable, but somewhat underwhelming, rookie year, Rendon has emerged as one of the Washington Nationals best players. By WAR, Rendon has been the Nats best position players this season. But if you’re skeptical of defensive numbers, he’s rated as the third best hitter on the team this season, behind Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Rendon’s improvement shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Yes, Rendon’s improvement has been large, but he was a top draft pick and came with a strong pedigree. With the season entering its final month, it’s time to wonder whether there’s more room for improvement in Rendon’s bat.
With the season winding down, let’s take a look at the National League starting pitcher tiers. September is near, and that brings the promise of prospect call-ups once rosters expand. While one or two September call-ups could make a difference down the stretch, the rookies who may decide your league have likely already been in the majors for a while now. Where do they rank among the top players at the position? Let’s find out.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is not a bust. But that’s not going to stop fantasy owners from complaining. The 21-year-old entered the season with giant expectations. Many fantasy owners spent high picks on Harper, hoping to get superstar numbers. Instead, they’ve received an injury-riddled, three home run campaign. Harper’s well aware of his issues at the plate this season. Early in the year, he made reference to not having his timing down. That same issue seemed to carry over immediately after Harper was activated from the disabled list. Things changed over the All-Star Break, though. Harper emerged after the break sporting a new stance, and while it’s only been a few games, a second-half surge seems possible.
Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs should be in the middle of a breakout season. At least, that’s what his peripherals seem to suggest. Through 96 innings, Skaggs has posted a less-than-stellar 4.50 ERA. His 3.55 FIP, however, suggests that he should have been much better over the first half of the year. The main reason for the difference between the two stats appears to be Skaggs’ ability to pitch with men on base. Skaggs will have to figure out how to keep runners from rounding the bases if he wants to post a second half breakout.
White Sox rookie Jose Abreu may have already cemented his status as the best free-agent signing from the past offseason. Through his first 77 games, Abreu has flashed elite power skills, clubbing 27 home runs. Entering the year, there were legitimate questions surrounding whether Abreu could produce in the majors. While he hasn’t completely eradicated those doubts yet, it’s clear the league will have to adjustments in order to slow him down.
Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday hasn’t gotten off to the start fantasy owners expected. His complete lack of power to start the year has been baffling. After never posted a slugging percentage under .488 over his career, Holliday has seen his slugging numbers drop to just .386 in 2014. With most players in this situation, it’s easy to preach patience. But Holliday is age-34, which leaves some creeping doubt about we’re starting to see the start of a decline.
When should we begin to buy a breakout? Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has played the part perfectly this year. After two seasons of solid performance, Brantley has emerged as an elite hitter at age-27. While that’s typically the time hitters come into their prime, Brantley’s surge comes as a surprise. The question, of course, is whether it’s legitimate. Has Brantley seen an inordinate amount of luck early, or have his skills progressed? Can’t it be both?