The dog days of summer are frequently the dog days of fantasy baseball, as many teams will feel locked into their current place in the standings now that players have had four months of the season to establish a baseline of expected performance. It is more difficult to trade for a player if his owner agrees with you on his value. However, some players will still improve over the final two months of the season, even some that you had already accepted as disappointments. The recent play of three veteran outfielders, all of whom have underperformed relative to their preseason expectations, has piqued my interest in particular.
There were already questions about whether Josh Reddick could rediscover the power he showed in 2012. His home runs decreased from 32 that season to 12 last season. Then, Reddick needed wrist surgery in the offseason. Fantasy owners have learned to expect diminished power following a wrist injury, and when Reddick had just four home runs and three doubles in 179 at bats through the first half of the season, it seemed reasonable to move on from him this season.
Since the break, Reddick has rediscovered his power. He has already equaled his home run total and beaten his doubles total from the first half in less than a third of the at bats in the second half. All told, he has hit .388/.392/.735 since the break. A healthy wrist seems like a prerequisite for this kind of turnaround, but Reddick has also seemed to change his approach. Both his walk rate—8.2 percent to 1.9 percent—and his strikeout rate—21.9 percent to 5.8 percent—have fallen precipitously since the first half. He has become more aggressive earlier in the count. All four of his second-half home runs have come within the first three pitches of the at bat.
Following the Yoenis Cespedes trade, the Athletics will need Reddick to continue to hit for power. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are the only remaining Athletics with double-digit home runs this season. Meanwhile, Reddick was promoted to the fifth spot in the lineup yesterday and should play every day in their depleted outfield. He had been slotted in the bottom third of the lineup in 11 of his previous 13 games. Those extra at bats and RBI opportunities will further increase his value. He should be a viable fifth outfielder the rest of the way.
When Matt Kemp hit 39 home runs in 2011, his average flyball distance was sixth in baseball at 307 feet. Last year, it was 285 feet, 117th in baseball. His 297-foot mark this season is half the way back to his peak seasons, and his recent performances have him much closer. Over the last two weeks, Kemp has five home runs after just eight home runs in the first three and a half months of the season. Meanwhile, four of those five recent home runs are among Kemp’s six longest of the season.
I expect Kemp to hit for a lot of power the rest of the way, but I wonder about the speed. Kemp has stolen a base in two of his last three games entering Wednesday. Before that, Kemp had not successfully stolen a base since May 12. That’s nearly three months! Maybe Kemp’s myriad health problems are finally behind him. The power spike is reason enough to take a chance on Kemp as a top 20 outfielder the rest of the way. A handful of steals would be a bonus.
Speaking of rediscovered speed, Ben Zobrist has four stolen bases in his last 10 games. That nearly doubled his season total. Zobrist has remained steady with his average and on-base percentage in his 30s, but he has seen a three-year decline in his stolen base totals and hit just 12 home runs in 2013 after hitting 20 in both 2011 and 2012. With his recent hot streak, Zobrist is on pace to better both his home run and stolen base totals from last season even if he falls woefully short of his recent-season RBI totals on the disappointing Rays.
Zobrist remained in Tampa at the trade deadline, which is unfortunate for his fantasy value both because of the lineup around him and because of the penalizing home ball park. Tropicana Field had a 96 Home Run Index in 2013, fourth lowest in the AL. However, his hot play should have him back in the top 10 at second base, the position you would most likely want to start the multi-eligible Zobrist. That is especially true as several of his second-base competitors have not had the same success since the All-Star Break. Specifically, Brian Dozier has just one home run and two steals and Howie Kendrick has hit under .250 in the second half.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt