The center of the baseball world seems to be South Beach right now, though perhaps not for the reasons Marlins’ fans would have hoped. Admit all the wheeling and dealing of the front office, there are a pair of interesting fantasy options.
Justin Ruggiano (ESPN: 45 percent owned; Yahoo!: 24 percent owned)
Ruggiano came up from Triple-A swinging and for the first time in his major league career, good things started happening when he made contact. Counting from the first game he started this season on June 2, Ruggiano’s OPS has never dipped below 1.000, and yet, the Marlins’ outfielder was one of ESPN’s most dropped players over the last week. After multiple stints as one of the biggest risers, Ruggiano hit a 2-for-19 skid and enough people cut bait that he went from virtually unavailable in ESPN leagues to ownership rates under 50 percent; he’s consistently been more available on Yahoo!.
So, what are we to make of a 30-year-old outfielder who is posting a wRC+ this season higher than the rest of his major league experience combined? First, and this ought to go without saying, he is not going to keep up a 189 wRC+ for the rest of the season, but neither so is he going to be the player who hit .176/.263/.294 and got dropped in so many leagues. The name that comes to mind when looking over Ruggiano’s performance is Danny Valencia circa 2010.
For those not seeing the connection, Valencia finished third in Rookie of the Year voting despite having fewer than 350 PAs. In July, he posted a slash line of .453/.508/.623 and while he didn’t hit that way for the rest of the year, he did finish the season with an OPS just under .800. 2011 was a disappointing year for Valencia and his start to 2012 was so bad, he’s presently looking upwards at a .700 OPS in Triple-A. Ruggiano may have more of a journeyman flavor to him than Valencia does, but neither were particularly high draft picks and viewed more as an organizational soldier than a prized piece. Both players hit consistently at nearly every level in the minors and showed the potential to hit a lot even in the majors. It’s way too early to say that like Valencia, Ruggiano will have one good season and then fail to produce another, but it would hardly be much of a surprise if that were the case.
The takeaway from the comparison is that there’s every reason to believe a couple things: First, Ruggiano will regress some over the rest of the season. Second, just because he’ll regress doesn’t mean that he’ll cease to be productive and valuable. Last, stating his inability to keep up his production over the rest of his career is completely irrelevant to whether he can be productive for the rest of this season.
ZiPS thinks he’ll finish the year with a .310 average, 11 total home runs — four more than his current total of seven — and an equal number of stolen bases. It’s a less compelling line than the .362/.427/.672 marks he’s currently sporting, but it’s also something of a vote of confidence that even though Ruggiano may feel as though he’s come out of nowhere to rake, he has real staying power. I wouldn’t mark him as a keeper for next year just yet, but he’s worth grabbing off the wire and using for the rest of this year.
Nathan Eovaldi (ESPN: 0.5 percent owned; Yahoo!: 2 percent owned)
As Hanley Ramirez moves west for a change of scenery with the Dodgers, Eovaldi provides his counterweight and heads east to the land of unbelievably garish art installations. To some extent, their careers will always be at least causally linked, but while the Marlins may find some solace in the fact that they’ve gotten rid of Ramirez’s bloated contract even if Eovaldi doesn’t pan out, fantasy owners will find no such comfort. Either Eovaldi is an asset or he’s a liability and the middle ground between the two is perilously thin.
Unlike a move to either Coors Field or SafeCo Field, the switch to Marlins Park just doesn’t seem like it’s going to make a big difference for the young righty either positively or negatively. The one thing that perhaps might help Eovaldi is that Chavez Ravine boasts a left-handed home run park factor slightly above average — 106 to be precise — while Marlins Park is more or less dead on average. It’s a small change in the pitcher’s favor, but it becomes a more important switch when Eovaldi’s specific needs are brought into the equation. Against fellow right-handers, Eovaldi is fine, holding them to a .202/.253/.292 line, but he seems to fall apart against lefties as he melts down to a .349/.404/.519, which is the difference between facing someone like Cliff Pennington and facing Matt Holliday. All five of the home runs that Eovaldi has allowed this year have come at home and four of them have been hit by a lefty, so the move may at least help Eovaldi give up fewer of the home runs that have hurt him.
Even allowing for some daydreaming on what an improved version of Eovaldi would look like, there’s just not a light that really jumps out in his profile right now. His FIP and xFIP are right inline with his current ERA; he walks an average number of hitters, but allows too many hits thanks to a line drive rate of 22 percent; and he’s striking out a below average number of hitters, which means that most of his outs have to come from balls in play. The Marlins aren’t a bad defensive team — and while the departure of Omar Infante from second base isn’t going to help, perhaps it will be canceled out by the “loss” of Ramirez at third — but they aren’t as good as the Dodgers are, which doesn’t bode well for Eovaldi.
Plenty of smart people like Eovaldi and he’s just 22, so there’s plenty of time for him to find a more functional changeup or another secondary pitch to compliment his slider, but expecting that to happen still this season is asking a bit much. Eovaldi could hit his stride in 2015 and still have a solid major league career when all is said and done, but that doesn’t make him worth waiting on in the meantime. He isn’t bad to the point of complete unusability, there are almost certainly leagues where slightly below average pitchers are still rosterable, but anyone hoping for a reversal of fortune because of Eovaldi’s move is likely going to be disappointed when moving to Miami doesn’t solve his issues.
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