Fantasy, trending now (4/26)

Mike Aviles suddenly studly

Another example of why batting order might be the most important thing next to talent.

After a shoulder injury knocked Jacoby Ellsbury out of the Red Sox lineup for six-plus weeks, Mike Aviles was chosen as his replacement for the leadoff role.

A low-OBP guy, Aviles is hardly your prototypical leadoff hitter. Fortunately for fantasy owners, that doesn’t matter much. Mike Aviles is now a hot commodity, morphing from fantasy afterthought to stud overnight.

Yeah, moving from ninth to first can do that to a hitter.

A healthy Aviles, receiving a full-season’s worth of at-bats out of the nine hole, would have been expected to produce a respectable 63-13-71-13-.274 line, good for about half a point below average in 12-team leagues.

Place him in the leadoff role, with all those extra plate appearances and scoring opportunities, and his value balloons by two and a half points to 1.9 points above average (91-16-69-16-.274).

Granted, Aviles won’t remain the leadoff man for the remainder of the season, but two months in the role will do wonders for his value. Shuttling between the top and the bottom of the lineup, I don’t see any reason why Aviles couldn’t finish the balance of the season as a one-point player.

He likely isn’t available via free agency in your league, but if you’re in need of help at short, don’t be shy about kicking the tires. His ownership shot up only recently, so he can probably still be had on the cheap. Get the discussion started with the offer of a low-tiered starting pitcher (think about a low No. 4- high No. 5) or similarly valued outfielder (No. 3-No. 4). If you can pry him away for a guy around 0.5 points below average, I would say you’ve won that trade handily.

Is Phil Humber worth owning?

I think so.

His value might never be higher than it is right now, but if you can place him as a No. 5 in your rotation, I think you’re doing quite well.

This isn’t a perfect-game-hangover, either. Humber had a modest breakthrough last season, striking out 6.40 per nine to go along with a 3.75 ERA and 3.86 xFIP. He pounds the zone, as evidenced by his 54.1 zone percentage, and owns a decent groundball rate (47.1 percent in 2011).

This year, I think he improves on those K numbers to about 7.5 per nine, though he’ll have to take a step back in the ERA and WHIP department. That Chicago defense was flat-out bad last year (.686 defensive efficiency) and that will weigh down his BABIP like an anchor. The home ballpark will also hurt, driving up his HR/FB.

Overall, I see a No. 5 fantasy starting pitcher, finishing with a 4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 7.5 K/9. Sure, it ain’t sexy, but that’s a serviceable hurler who will accrue stats without hurting you anywhere. That line should be good for about 0.8 points below average, and believe me, you can do much worse than that.

David Wright looking like a totally different hitter… again

I’ve owned David Wright on at least one team for about three years now. I can’t say that, in any of those seasons, I’ve ever really known what is going on with him.

I won’t recount his history—that would just be a waste of time. If you’re reading this, you’re well aware of his ups and downs, his injuries, and his general inconsistency.

This year is no different. He’s up, he’s down, he’s got a broken finger, he’s hitting home runs, he’s striking out twice a game, he’s not striking out for three games in a row… blah, blah, blah. Just more of the same nonsense.

Homestretch: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Part 3
A tight race shows no signs of letting up.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t be better, though.

While it’s too early to say anything definitive about his power (up?), speed (down?), or batting average (does anyone know?), there are a few interesting trends in his plate discipline that suggest he may be moving in the right direction.

So far this season, his plate discipline seems vastly improve. He’s swinging at far better pitches, offering less out of the zone (17.4 O-Swing percentage, 25.6 percent career) and getting more aggressive in the zone (72.8 Z-Swing percentage, 63.8 percent career). This trend is a good one, as swinging at more strikes and fewer balls is obviously a good idea, and should lead to lower strikeout percentages (and possibly, a higher BABIP and HR/FB rate).

In true David Wright style, it hasn’t been all good news, however. Though his O-Contact rate has increased (ostensibly due to swinging at better O-Zone pitches), his Z-Contact rate is down significantly (83.1 percent, 86.7 percent career). Z-Contact is the main driver in strikeout percentage, so this is a somewhat troubling trend and bears watching.

Though his profile has changed significantly, the results don’t seem to be all that different. Any gains from these plate discipline improvements should be immediately reflected in Wright’s strikeout rate. However, his regressed K-rate comes in at 20.96 percent—just about the same as last season’s mark of 21.7 percent. The lack of improvement here is mainly due to the poor Z-Contact rate.

However, if you expect his Z-Contact rate to make a partial recovery to the 86 percent range, his K-rate drops to 18.5 percent and he gains another home run and about 30 points of batting average from the extra batted balls.

So, there is hope.

If you’re a Wright owner (or prospective owner), that Z-Contact rate is the number to watch. If it recovers and the other gains hold constant, Wright could reach the .300 benchmark for the first time since 2009. It will require a .330 BABIP, but that isn’t an unreasonable expectation (career .341 BABIP)—though the pinky injury does complicate things.

If you believe he can stay healthy (which is another question all in itself) and build on these plate discipline gains, Wright could once again return to the ranks of the elite. I can’t image he’ll ever be a top-five player again, but top-15 is within reach.

With his new approach, a healthy Wright can turn in a 99-27.5-100-15-.300 line. That line is good for 5.9 points above average, which is comparable to an early-to-mid second rounder in 12-team leagues. Before you get too excited, however, remember this is still David Wright we’re talking about. Don’t get too bullish, but know there is room for optimism.

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My ESPN league had its draft a little early this year, when Wright was still affected by his oblique injury, and nobody wanted any part of him. He just dropped and dropped, and finally I picked him up as the 100th(!) pick. If he can stay healthy, it’ll be by far my best value of the draft. Unfortunately, my first two picks were Pujols and Reyes, neither whom have done squat for me so far.