It’s always interesting to see the players who are often available versus owned in the fantasy baseball realm’s popular platforms. At least it is to me. I don’t know why I allow myself to be surprised. The masses flock to results, regardless of the level of talent and statistical support that come with them. That’s where FanGraphs comes in, at least for those who want to know even a little more of the why. I don’t feel as if I fit in, but I enjoy the chance to learn from the experience and hope to share a little something of value along the way.
OF Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres
Ownership: CBS 14% | Yahoo! 2% | ESPN 1.0%
This feels more like a public-service announcement than anything else. Did you know that the Friars reinstated Maybin from the disabled list this past Sunday? It almost slipped by me that day. When he first ruptured the biceps tendon in his left arm, the forecast seemed to be pretty grim. A two- to three-month timetable seemed like a fairy tale, particularly because Maybin hasn’t been the fastest of healers.
But then it turned out that he wouldn’t need surgery – and may need only four to six weeks. And then he began to do baseball activity, once the season started. And then he began a rehab assignment on April 11. And suddenly, here he was, on the active roster. And he was actually right on schedule. It just seems that no one seemed to notice, or to care.
Maybin went undrafted in a vast majority of fantasy leagues. His health history, which ruined 2013 campaign, limiting it to only 57 plate appearances, isn’t attractive to begin with. His inconsistency at the dish, with that lifetime strikeout rate of greater than 20% and his career .248 batting average, doesn’t inspire. The 27-year-old is still a flawed ballplayer.
But his talent and athleticism remain. He was usually at minimum a flier pick in February mock drafts and real-deal drafts before the injury news struck. Maybin swiped 66 bases in his first two seasons in San Diego. The club activated him because they observed that he’d somewhat quickly regained his timing and was making hard contact in his final few rehab contests. He’s going to play, because he’s the best center fielder the Padres have. When Carlos Quentin returns from the DL for three weeks, Seth Smith or Will Venable has to be a PT loser.
Maybin probably isn’t going to save anyone’s year, and he may be injured again by Cinco de Mayo, but he’s certainly better than plenty of players who already occupy spots at the end of fantasy rosters.
SP Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ownership: CBS 14% | Yahoo! 2% | ESPN 0.3%
Take a look at those peripheral numbers. Isn’t this a pitcher you’d like to own, you’d expect would be owned, minus the results in the rotisserie categories, like wins and ERA? OK, granted, he’s 0-5 with a 5.54 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in six starts (37 1/3 innings). Your league’s player raters aren’t going to place McCarthy near the top of their free-agent lists. He’s obviously not among those most often added.
Still, the 30-year-old McCarthy has this look of buried treasure. Look at that strikeout rate of 20.7%, which would be the highest of his career, next to his expectedly stellar walk rate of 5.5%. How about that ground-ball rate of 55.0% and fly-ball rate of 21.7%, others marks that’d be the best of his career. Things have to be looking up for a pitcher with a 2.92 xFIP, yet another number that would prove to be the best of his major league lifetime were it to remain around there.
Eno Sarris interviewed McCarthy recently and learned more about the right-hander’s offseason focus on strength training – not for the purpose of gaining power as much as to improve his stamina. But it sure appears as if a nice little benefit of that gain in muscle mass has helped in other areas, particularly in fastball velocity, which is up by about 2 mph from his previous best average. That sinker he’s throwing nearly 60% of the time, according to PITCHf/x? It’s doing good things, isn’t it? It’s an offering he’s come to deploy increasingly often in the past couple of years.
Well, almost good things. McCarthy has surrendered home runs on 26.9% of the fly balls hit against him this season. Are you kidding? Brad Johnson took a look at the gopheritis that plagued McCarthy in the first couple of weeks of the 2014 season. It’s clear that McCarthy has made some mistakes. Opponents have also hit .284 against him, and the line-drive rate of 23.3% doesn’t scream that his would-be-high .325 BABIP is going to spiral downward quickly.
But my goodness. Look at all those juicy indicators. His 8.5 SwStr% doesn’t portend the sustenance of his career-high strikeout rate, but it doesn’t foreshadow much of a fall-off, either, especially because of his newfound oomph. It’s not as if he’s always been a bad pitcher. He posted that 3.32 ERA/2.86 FIP/3.30 xFIP in 2011 and followed it up with a 3.24 ERA/3.76 FIP/4.23 xFIP, both marks coming when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics, who facilitated his breakthrough.
He may not be an instant fantasy ace because you picked him up. It usually takes time for players to make adjustments to new limitations, weapons or, heck, even superpowers. It usually takes time for players to bounce back from traumatic events like the one that knocked McCarthy off a mound in August 2012. He was solid two starts ago, at the Chicago Cubs (five frames, seven hits (one ding dong), five runs (but only one earned), two walks and six strikeouts). He was excellent in his last outing, versus the Philadelphia Phillies (seven stanzas, seven hits (no bombs), two runs, one walk and 12 K’s). He may be coming around.
This is the type of pitcher at whom I love to throw a buck and sit on him until I’m confident that I can run him out there regularly, especially if I’m worried about my pitching depth. That time may come very soon. There don’t seem to be many fantasy owners who have taken that approach with McCarthy yet. I’d get on board before they do. This could turn out to be a career year for the righty.
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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.