Four Hot Finishers: Tomas, Alvarez, Dickerson and Paxton by Josh Shepardson August 12, 2016 This is the weird part of the fantasy baseball season. Trade deadlines are rapidly approaching or have recently passed in leagues. Gamers in keeper and dynasty leagues range from pushing their chips in the middle to chase the crown this year to playing for future seasons. As the season winds down, I love looking at recent performance. This is especially true in keeper leagues. Who’s playing well down the stretch? Have these hot performers made tangible and sustainable changes that could improve their stock going into 2017? Is a youngster getting a look and playing well? Let’s pick through the data together. Yasmany Tomas – 3B/OF – Arizona Diamondbacks (CBS: 78%, ESPN: 59.5%, Yahoo!: 59%) Tomas’ first season in MLB was awful. He was a hindrance in the field, on the bases and at the dish. He remains a poor base runner and an awful fielder, but he’s raised his wRC+ from 88 to 109. He’s walking a bit more and striking out a bit less, but neither his 5.4% walk rate nor his 24.5% strikeout rate are particularly good. The most notable change is a stark increase in thump. Power was the calling card the Snakes paid for when inking him to a six-year contract worth $68.5 million, and after tallying a pitiful .128 ISO and nine homers in 426 plate appearances last year, he’s ripped off a .231 ISO and 21 homers in 387 plate appearances this season. As I noted in the intro, it’s recent performance of the players in this piece that caught my eye, and Tomas has been on a tear. Over the last 30 days, he ranks tied for eighth in wRC+ (181) and boasts a .380 ISO with eight homers in 82 plate appearances. A glance at his month-by-month splits is fairly interesting. During the first month of the year, Tomas walked at his highest rate of the year (8.3%) while striking out at his lowest rate (18.8%) by month. He did these things while also slugging (.253 ISO and five homers in 96 plate appearances). His second highest walk rate (7.0%) was earned in the month of May, but that’s roughly the best thing he did that month as his strikeout rate jumped to 23.3% and his power crumbled (.089 ISO). Since the end of May, he’s basically said to hell with walking (3.4% walk rate since June 1st) and sacrificed contact (27.8% strikeout rate) for power (.278 ISO and 15 homers in 205 plate appearances with a 41.1% Hard%). The result is a 119 wRC+ since June 1st. The strikeout rate might seem alarming, but it’s largely bloated by a 35.2% strikeout rate in June. Since July 1st, he owns a much more palatable 21.9% strikeout rate. His power hasn’t gone anywhere, either, as he has hit eight homers with a .270 ISO in 114 plate appearances in that time frame. Tomas has missed a few games with a stiff neck this week, but he made this piece as a player who I’m interested in beyond this year. Tomas’ lackluster defense and base running make him a more valuable fantasy player than real life one and puts a ton of pressure on the bat. The good news is that A.J. Pollock’s return will result in a stud defender in center field for Arizona, and perhaps a willingness to stomach Tomas’ bad defense. Should they be unwilling to deal with the defense, moving him could be tough as his contract is heavily backloaded. That said, power is always in demand, and an AL club could view him as a Khris Davis type (i.e. a player who splits time between the outfield and designated hitter) if the Diamondbacks ate some of his salary or took a bad contract back in return. Speaking of Davis, it doesn’t take too much squinting to see similarities between the two. Sure, it’s not a perfect comp, but Davis serves as a decent blueprint for Tomas sustaining fantasy success. Pedro Alvarez – 1B/3B – Baltimore Orioles (CBS: 43% ESPN: 29.2%, Yahoo!: 30%) I’ll keep the write-up for Alvarez short and sweet. He’s a slugger with some swing and miss (his 25.4% strikeout rate this year is right in line with his work since 2014). The lefty is walking at the second lowest rate of his career (8.1%), but he currently owns a new career-high ISO (.266) and wRC+ (118), and by and large is the player we’ve grown accustomed to. His season got off to a miserable start. In the first two months of the year, he hit just .194/.294/.350 with three homers in 119 plate appearances. Given his defensive limitations, the O’s probably wouldn’t have been criticized by many pundits if they opted to cut the cord at that point. They have to be thrilled they didn’t, though. Since the calendar flipped to June, he’s hit .297/.327/.641 with 15 homers and a .345 ISO in 153 plate appearances. He’s in the midst of a heater, and the schedule is favorable down the stretch. The Orioles play just five more games in National League parks. Three of those will be knocked off with the three-game series in San Francisco starting tonight, and the last two will be in Washington on August 24th and 25th. In their last 48 games, Baltimore will play 25 at home where the lefty park factors are dreamy. They also play six games in New York against the Yankees, three in Tampa Bay and three in Toronto. All three of those ballparks enhance homers to lefties, according to the three-year rolling average park factors at StatCorner. They also play three games in Boston, which decreases homers sharply but more than offsets that with its park factors for left-handed batter runs scored and doubles. Alvarez can be a helpful asset to teams competing for a title this year. Alex Dickerson – OF – San Diego Padres (CBS: 33%, ESPN: 19.0%, Yahoo!: 20%) Let me start by seconding Scott Strandberg’s endorsement of another Padre outfielder, but Travis Jankowski isn’t the only productive player patrolling the outfield for San Diego. Sooner or later, one of the outfield corners will belong to prospect Hunter Renfroe, but that still leaves one corner up for grabs. Dickerson is doing what he can to lay claim to the other spot. In 199 plate appearances, he’s hitting .284/.328/.560 with a .275 ISO, 134 wRC+, seven homers and a contact-centric approach. The left-handed hitting outfielder doesn’t walk often (5.9%), but he excels at putting the ball in play with just a 11.8% strikeout rate. The 26-year-old outfielder’s low walk and strikeout rates are true to his minor-league form. His power is up in the Show, but his .240 ISO in 240 Triple-A plate appearances this season is nothing to sneeze at. He’s doing a good job of lifting the ball to tap into his power with a 40.6% flyball rate, and he’s hitting the ball hard with a 38.1% Hard%. At first blush, a corner outfield platoon of lefty Dickerson and righty Jabari Blash would make sense when Renfroe arrives, but it might behoove San Diego to award Dickerson playing time against southpaws. He’s hit respectably or better in same-handed matchups in the minors and has done fine in his itty bitty sample of 20 plate appearances against lefties in the majors. Dickerson is worth a grab by owners competing this year, but his combo of a high contact approach, hard hit balls and fly balls makes him a worthy flier for teams out of it in dynasty or deep, deep keeper leagues, too. James Paxton – SP – Seattle Mariners (CBS: 65%, ESPN: 25.3%, Yahoo!: 27%) This isn’t the first time I’ve touted Paxton (as you can see here), but he’s earned another shout out. His cost has almost certainly risen since the last time I wrote about him, but if he continues his recent run of success the remainder of the year, his cost could skyrocket. The lefty won’t toe the rubber in a game again this week after being struck on his elbow in his last start, but he should return to the bump next week. At that point, Paxton will look to continue his stretch of dominance. Before moving to the numbers, check out Jeff Sullivan’s piece from August 8th with plenty of video of Paxton striking out Mike Trout. Let’s get back to the analysis. Paxton has pitched eight innings or more (16.1 total) in his last two starts. In those two turns, he allowed two runs (one earned) on nine hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts. He wasn’t merely taking advantage of weak opposition, either. The southpaw’s last two starts were against the Angels (sixth in wRC+ versus lefties this year) and the Red Sox (third in wRC+ versus lefties this year). He’s struck out six or more batters in each of his last four starts, and he’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts while pitching at least five innings in all seven of those turns. During that seven-start stretch that began on July 2nd, Paxton has pitched 47.0 innings to the tune of a 3.06 ERA (3.10 FIP and 3.78 xFIP) and 1.06 WHIP with a 3.8% walk rate 17.4% strikeout rate and 49.3% groundball rate. The strikeout rate is the least inspiring number in that statistical mix, but his 10.7% SwStr% in that time frame paints a more optimistic picture for punching out batters at a higher clip going forward. Oh, and he’s still throwing really, really hard. His fastball averaged 97.1 mph in those starts, his cutter averaged 90.0 mph, and he was able to slow things down with a 88.7 mph changeup and 82.6 mph knuckle curve. Furthermore, his goodie bag is loaded with put-away pitches. In his last seven starts, he has a 18.8% whiff rate on his cutter, 20.0% whiff rate on his curve and a 22.0% whiff rate on his changeup, according to Brooks Baseball. The flame-throwing lefty isn’t without flaws. Among pitchers who’ve thrown a minimum of 80 innings this year, his 11.5% Soft% is the lowest in the league. Interestingly, he isn’t one of the hardest hit pitchers. Paxton ranks 66th in Hard% (31.3%). He’s also exhibited issues stranding runners at various times in the minors and majors throughout his professional career. That said, his 71.6% LOB% for his career is substantially better than his 67.6% mark this year and just a tick and a half below this year’s league average of 73.1%. All in all, the warts aren’t terribly alarming, and the good far outweighs the bad. Also, as an added bonus, Mike Zunino’s improvements as a hitter will put the top-shelf pitch framer (eighth in per-game pitch-framing value among catchers who’ve caught a minimum of 1,000 pitches) in the lineup more frequently to help all of the M’s pitchers. Putting it simply, I’m completely enamored with Paxton. He should be universally owned.