While fantasy owners await the returns of Madison Bumgarner and Kyle Hendricks in the second half, one starter made a triumphant comeback against the San Diego Padres, taken with a grain of salt, and the Houston Astros’ rotation should receive a boost as well. Plus, could there be a Detroit Tiger worth speculating on, but he has burned many before.
Jerad Eickhoff seemed like the under-the-radar pitcher for the Phillies in the preseason, posting 11 wins last year with a 3.65 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings. His FIP of 1.16 grew in 2016 but would be very intriguing to own this year. After struggling early in the season, he returned with five shutout innings giving up five hits, one walk and eight strikeouts against San Diego prior to the break.
Many owners seem to be searching for upside arms in the second half and Eickhoff could be one of them. His FIP sits below his ERA this year. With some positive migration and added strikeouts, Eickhoff may be worth the risk as a starting pitcher five the rest of the way.
From 2014 through 2016, Collin McHugh posted 43 wins with a 3.71 ERA and 505 strikeouts over 543 innings. It’s worth noting his WHIP grew each season from 1.02 to 1.28 and then 1.41 last year. He threw 74 pitches during his last rehab start. If healthy with his strong curve, he could be a solid back-end starter for fantasy as well. McHugh plays for the Astros, who have won 60 games in the first half. There’s no guarantee how well McHugh will do, but there’s a track record and potential upside in stashing him now.
Raise your hand if you have never been burned by Anibal Sanchez in fantasy baseball. If it’s not up, adding him could be worth the flier. Since his recall from the minors, he pitched 23 1/3 innings over four starts, giving up eight runs (3.09 ERA) with 22 strikeouts. His changeup seems to be fueling his recent success. Sanchez attributes being able to use any of his pitches in any count. It remains to be seen if he can maintain his recent success after the break, but it’s very cheap to find out.
- Middle infielders of interest for 12-team leagues
Almost an afterthought following a slow start and then an appearance on the disabled list, Brad Miller could be a sneaky add with eligibility at second base or first base. Over his last seven games, he’s 7-for-22 (.318) with three doubles and two home runs. He hit 30 homers last year and has stolen four bases so far this season. His home run total will not approach last year’s results, but his hard contact is up along with ground ball percentage. However, Miller could be the cheapest double-digit home run profile in the middle infield for the second half, playing for a team chasing a spot in the playoffs.
Another player seems to be off the radar with Marcus Semien returning to the A’s. He tied for the league lead with 27 home runs as a shortstop along with adding 10 stolen bases last year. Through 14 games this year, he has already swiped five bags. There’s not going to be upside in his batting average, but he is due for some positive movement to the .240 range with upside in all four statistical categories, especially if he hits second for Oakland in the second half. Those looking for power and speed in the infield should kick the tires on Semien.
No one wanted to prevent the first half from ending more than Paul DeJong, who seemed to be hitting everything while ending the break on a six-game hitting streak, going 12-for-20 with three home runs. He has already recorded four three-hit games and seven multiple-hit games with St. Louis. DeJong hit .299 at Triple-A with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 48 games and carried the power to the majors with three different back-to-back home run games already on his resume. There’s a measure of risk here since he’s pulling the ball 47 percent of the time with 36.3 percent hard contact, a swinging strike percentage of 15.2, and only 72 percent contact rate. Add him for power, but plan on the average regressing to the mean.
- Corner infielders for 12-team leagues
Yulieski Gurriel seems to be lost in the shuffle of all the Astros’ hype. He’s 14 for his last 30 (.467) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Five games within this seven game streak are multiple-hit games. Gurriel is second on Houston with 24 doubles, hitting .297/.321/.491. He has improved his isolated power to .195 and his hard contact rate by 8.5 percentage points. Plus, his power could be on the rise — his home run per fly ball percentage is up from 6.7 last year to 12.1 in the first half. Owning a part of this offensive juggernaut can pay off for fantasy purposes.
In deeper leagues, Atlanta’s Johan Camargo seems to be forcing his way into the lineup due to his recent uptick in production. He’s hitting .348 through his first 24 starts and .344 (32-for-93) since his most recent recall over his last 31 games. Like DeJong above, there are some warning signs to heed. Camargo is hitting .327/.355/.500 in his first 40 games but with a 11.2 swinging strike percentage and 38.5 swings at pitches outside the strike zone. He does generate better contact at 79 percent, but while the stats could continue to remain good, his average should take a hit once teams adjust to him.
- Mad Max in the second half?
Streaming outfielders seems to make sense this year. It may be time to get back on the Max Kepler bandwagon. He produced 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in the first half. While this seems disappointing, some consolidation along with the possibility of a strong second half could be in store. Kepler finished with five multi-hit games over his last nine played with five doubles, one triple and a home run with nine RBIs. His .266 average may not seem enticing, but key on the .337 on-base percentage along with a .451 slugging mark. That’s not a perfect profile, but one which could produce 10 home runs and five stolen bases after the break.
- Saves chasers
Every week closers seem to change roles with many chasing fluid situations in Texas and Washington while ignoring Brandon Maurer. He is still under 50 percent owned in many formats despite 19 saves. His 5.60 ERA could be what scares owners off, but his 2.95 FIP provides hope for positive migration to the mean. Maurer’s 35 strikeouts against seven walks through 35 1/3 innings with a 1.16 WHIP also compares well with other closers. Most important, he has been unlucky with a 52.9 percent left-on-base rate compared to the league average 73 percent. He is not a threat to lose his role with Brad Hand on the trade block, so why not add a pitcher in the role instead of speculating on someone getting it?
There’s been little news regarding the comeback of Mark Melancon. He received an injection in his arm, which just does not sound inviting. Since ascending to the closer role with the Giants, Sam Dyson notched three saves — in 12 games with his new team, he has lowered his ERA to 2.92 with a 2.17 FIP and 1.14 WHIP with 12 strikeouts. Dyson is one year removed from 38 saves; the longer Melancon is out, the more Dyson owners could profit.
Some deeper league options include Austin Barnes or Stephen Vogt at catcher along with stashing Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies in case they trade Tommy Joseph.
Be sure to check back this weekend for Al Melchior’s Sunday stream article, Jim Finch’s two start pitcher column, and the hitters to target for the week ahead by yours truly.
Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MLB.com