The loss of a couple of big-name first basemen – one of whom is actually a damn good hitter and major fantasy baseball asset – for the rest of the season, or close to it, has turned rotisserie and head-to-head attention to alternatives at the position. A young buck at the cold corner has plenty of room to grow – and may have hit a spurt.
A division-leading club has lost one of its top starters for at least a couple of weeks. The fill-in could be the bum that this team previously booted from the rotation. But they know what he’s about, so why shouldn’t they go with another option?
1B Jon Singleton, Houston Astros
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Houston hitting coach John Mallee has worked with the club’s left-handed first baseman, who had largely struggled since his major league debut in early June. The goal has to been to reduce Singleton’s long swing, and the instructor labeled initial results “absolutely amazing,” according to the team’s official site. Coaches often say nice things about players, and nearly as often, those things are hogwash. But it’s kind of uncommon for a coach to gush, so, I figure, it won’t hurt to follow this one.
We want to see evidence of these positive changes in action, of course. Singleton has struck out at least once in all but eight of his 54 career games in the majors; three of them have come in August, which started only four games ago. This is progress. It’s unfortunate, obviously, that he tried to make up some ground in the whiff column by fanning three times on Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s still a work-in-progress. His swinging-strike rate is 14.4%, but he’s reduced the mark by nearly a full percentage point in the last 10 days or so.
The Astros had to know that Singleton is a platoon risk given his .239/.338/.367 line and .128 ISO against southpaws in his last three and a half years in the minors. But it’s been the opposite for him in a small sample (59 plate appearances) against left-handers in the bigs thus far: .264/.322/.566, with a .302 ISO. He’s struggled versus the northpaws, instead, with a .168/.269/.336 line and .168 ISO. At times on the farm, Singleton displayed the discipline to hit left-handers. Mallee’s work may help the pupil to continue the good work against lefties. But those results are undependable, somewhat BABIP-driven, so it’s nice to see that Singleton is working to cut down the exploitable areas of his swing, period. He must hit righties to succeed.
Strikeout rates above the major league average (that’s a bad thing) came with the package that the front office promoted and signed to a five-year, $10 million contract that includes three relatively low-cost club options. Also coming with it is a possible better-than-league-average OBP, especially if he hits something close to his weight (listed at 255 pounds), thanks to his propensity to draw bases on balls. That’s in addition to 25- to 30-homer power, which has already been on display. It’s encouraging to see that the 22-year-old is making adjustments.
He’ll have to continue to do so in order to win in the long term. For now, fantasy owners can feel a little better about what has happened in Singleton’s last nine games: .310/.429/.793, with four round-trippers and a 28.6 K%, in 35 plate appearances. Let’s hope it continues.
For those in mixed leagues in need of a first baseman in the wake of the losses of Paul Goldschmidt (fractured left hand) and Eric Hosmer (stress fracture in right hand), Singleton may not be a bad option. This is assuming that a potentially resurgent Billy Butler isn’t available. Singleton will tangle with some of the weaker pitching staffs in baseball in Houston’s next couple of series.
Upcoming schedule: @PHI (2), TEX (3), MIN (3), @BOS (4), @NYY (3)
SP Mike Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers
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Milwaukee’s placement of Matt Garza (strained oblique) on the 15-day disabled list has created an opening. Marco Estrada and Fiers are basically the two pitchers being considered for that slot, which first comes up this Saturday. Whoever gets the assignment probably won’t have it for long; Garza doesn’t believe that this injury is as serious as the one that kept him out for about the first seven weeks of last season. Then again, this kind of injury can be a nuisance when it comes to recovery and projected timetables for returns.
Estrada posted a 4.96 ERA in 107 innings this season. He served up 2.27 home runs per nine innings. That’s just what he does. Except as a reliever, at least for his first 10 1/3 innings in the role this year. It has to be only a matter of time, though. Milwaukee knows what the results look like when Estrada has toed the rubber for them this year, and they were already over it. The righty is available out of the bullpen in the next few days, before the Saturday turn comes up. Unless they’ve spent extensive time working with Estrada to iron out something and believe they’ve made significant progress, he seems like an uninspiring choice.
Not that Fiers is definitely better. He’s posted a 2.55 ERA, 31.5 K% and 4.2 BB% in 17 starts at Triple-A Nashville this year. But he’s 29, so he should be good against that level of competition. Still, he’s had some significant success in the bigs before. He has some pretty attractive peripheral numbers, even on the MLB stage, with an OK four-pitch mix. He’s played good soldier, appeared in relief for the parent club a few times in June. He’d be on turn, having last pitched for the Sounds on Sunday. Come on, Milwaukee. Enough with the Estrada guy, already. Sheesh.
This would basically be a speculative move in the deepest of leagues. If a pitcher who could make as many as a handful of starts has usefulness to you, especially if that pitcher can do no worse than Estrada, then you may as well get a head start. I’d assume that you play in a hell of a deep league and can afford to drop someone, if so. The Brew Crew have a couple of days off here and there and may be inclined to skip this spot at least once. With a couple of 25-year-olds in the rotation, though, they probably don’t want to do that too much.
Upcoming schedule: LAD, @CHC, TOR, @SD, @CHC
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