Batter’s Box: Belt and Suspenders

Scott Chu provides fantasy advice and insight on Tuesday's top batters.

We’re less than a week from the MLB All-Star Game and are just past the halfway point of the season. As I’ve mentioned in several peices over the past week or so, it’s about that time to make judgment calls about our teams and how we can improve them. Most of the time, analysts target strategies for those who are in the middle of the pack and trying to climb up the rankings, but today, I want to talk to those of you sitting in first place. Like Mario Kart, first place in a fantasy league in July is a dangerous place to be. Everyone is gunning for you, and it’s MUCH harder to make moves to improve your team because many owners aren’t all that interested in doing something that might make your team better. Even if you have a commanding lead (looking at you in TGFBI, Shelly Verougstraete), you must stay vigilant in improving your team because everyone else is doing exactly that. Stagnation is death.

Note: The following advice is mostly relevant in rotisserie leagues, though it also has value in head-to-head categories. If you’re exclusively a points player, feel free to skip ahead.

So how does one improve his team when he’s already in first place? In those exceedingly rare instances where I am actually winning a league, the first thing I try to do is keep my watch list up to date and track players who could replace key cogs or provide a replacement stat in the event one of the players I am counting on suffers an injury. Injuries are wildly unpredictable, and in leagues that use categories, the loss of one or two assets can really throw off your place in the standings. For example, I play in a variety of 12- and 15-team OBP leagues and almost always have Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants), who went 3-6 and scored a run on Tuesday, on my watch list. Why Belt? Because he’s a predictable OBP asset who gets full-time plate appearances in the heart of a batting order. Is he an ideal player? Of course not, but I happen to know that I have a tendency to highly value OBP. I usually rely heavily on my entire roster to keep my OBP at the top of the league. Should I lose one of those few players, Belt is a guy who will probably be available and can be relied upon to give me some replacement-level counting stats and a solid OBP. While it’s true that winning OBP by .001 and winning it by .100 gets you the same points in the standings, it’s also true that it’s only July and that anything can happen from now through the end of September. At this stage of the game, I want to have commanding leads in a category wherever possible. I want the belt and the suspenders (FYI—I don’t know why attorneys love this phrase so much, but we do).

You see, I’m not trying to just win first place—I am trying to comfortably win first place. Every player and stat that goes to me is a player and stat someone else can’t have. To do that, I want to secure my strengths as much as possible so that I have more flexibility in August and September if the standings and available players dictate that I sacrifice from one category to make gains in another. I’m not really trying to do that yet—but at some point that may become a reality. By building on my top categories, I’ll be able to make those decisions later without fearing a meaningful drop in those areas of strength.

Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros)—4-5, 2 R, 2B, RBI, SB. He went three months between stolen bases, but he finally nabbed one! He’s hitting a solid .340/.357/.472 since coming back from the IL on June 19. He may not live up to the second-round value you paid for him, but he can still be a very strong contributor for your team for the rest of the season (especially if he starts stealing bases again).

Jake Bauers (1B/OF, Cleveland Indians)—4-5, R, 2B, 3 RBI. The plate discipline I was so excited about in the preseason hasn’t really panned out, but after a very slow start, he does appear to be turning a corner. Since June 14, Bauers has walked up to the plate 54 times and has produced a batting line of .353/.370/.627. The walk rate is extremely low in this stretch, but I suppose I don’t mind if he’s going to keep making contact. I want to be even more excited about his recent performance, but after seeing that it has come against the woeful pitching of Detroit, Texas, Kansas City, and Baltimore, I’m going to simply keep an eye on him as opposed to picking him up in 10- and 12-teamers.

Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox)—4-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI. He has nine extra-base hits in his past six games with 10 runs scored and eight RBI. The stolen bases are probably more or less done with considering that his last steal was June 5, and he’s been caught twice since then. One intriguing recent development has been his move into the No. 2 spot in the order, which will likely decrease his RBI opportunities but greatly increase his runs scored. It’s hard to say how permanent this move is, but it doesn’t really impact his value all that much—he’s a breakout third baseman who should be locked into your active roster.

Adam Frazier (2B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)—4-4, 3 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. He’s been surprisingly and remarkably useful this season. I would go into greater detail, but Van Burnett has published a Going Deep piece on Mr. Frazier today, so go read that for insight on his performance.

Evan Longoria (3B, San Francisco Giants)—4-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2B, 5 RBI. Of course he goes off on the same day that I say he’s basically washed up. I’m not changing my stance on him, but it’s worth noting that he and the rest of the Giants are red hot over the past three days.

Tyler Naquin (OF, Cleveland Indians)—4-5, R, 2 2B, RBI. You can ignore him in the vast majority of leagues, but DFS players should keep in mind that the left-handed Naquin has a career .283/.336/.456 line against righties. That’s not spectacular, but considering that he’s usually a very low-priced option, he’s a decent cost-saver against many of the weaker right-handers in the AL Central.

Kevin Pillar (OF, San Francisco Giants)—4-5, 2 R, 2 2B, RBI. As I mentioned earlier, the Giants are crushing the ball right now, scoring 10 or more runs in each of their past three games. I wrote him up yesterday as well, but the basic summary of Pillar is that he’s on a hot streak, he doesn’t walk, and he has double-digit power and speed. He should be owned in most deep 12-team leagues and 15-teamers that use batting average.

Jason Castro (C, Minnesota Twins)—3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2B, 2 RBI. He had an absolutely miserable 34 wRC+ in June and was deservedly kicked to the curb in single-catcher leagues. I can’t necessarily advocate for him as he’s really just a streaming option against righties while Willians Astudillo is out, and even then I don’t expect him to catch more than two or three times a week.

Yuli Gurriel (1B/3B, Houston Astros)—3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI. It’s a nice power outburst for a guy who doesn’t have much power, and he remains a decent corner infielder in points leagues because of his contact ability. He’s under contract through 2020, but I’m interested to see what the Astros have in store for him next season with the rise of Yordan Alvarez.

Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. It’d be really nice to see the kid break out, and he does have three home runs and is slashing .400/.423/.840 since June 23. That might not be enough to add him after such a long period of futility, but it’s enough to watch him.

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B, Colorado Rockies)—3-4, RBI, BB, SB. He’s not blowing us away, but he’s playing every day. In dynasty and deep leagues, that’s a strong step in the right direction. Who knows what the Rockies will do in the future or for 2020, though.

Brandon Lowe (2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays)—3-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, SB. The plate discipline is still a concern, but the power and speed are not. Even if the batting average comes down, I’m excited about this kid and his potential as a fantasy second baseman.

Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. He’s worth a stream as a back-end outfielder in deeper leagues while he is filling in in right field with Marcell Ozuna on the shelf for a few more weeks. He can provide a .280 or better batting average with acceptable power, though he’s such a bad defender that he’ll be moved back to a pinch hitting role once the team is healthy again.

(Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu is a Senior Fantasy Analyst here bat Pitcher List and has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. He's also the inventor and mascot for Fantasy Curling (as seen the Wall Street Journal) and a 3x FSWA Award Finalist. In addition to being a fantasy analyst, he's a dad, animal lover, Simpsons fanatic, cartoon connoisseur, amateur curler, a CODA, and an attorney.

9 responses to “Batter’s Box: Belt and Suspenders”

  1. Orange WHIPs says:

    Biggio or Kingery in an OBP/SLG, 10-team keeper league (but in win-now mode)?

    • Scott Chu says:

      Kingery. He was a stronger prospect than Biggio ever was and probably has more power in his bat. I think Biggio will have the edge in OBP, but Kingery should outperform him in every other category.

  2. theKraken says:

    Belt is terrible int he second half every year (just going from memory). I think this because everyone says he is breaking out every year and the numbers always end up pedestrian.

    Someone looking to make a name for themselves needs to write about Devers. He was a really great prospect and is killing it a great lineup. I can’t understand how he isn’t getting more attention. He must not be a progressive metric darling? In real baseball the kid is killing it.

    • Orange WHIPs says:

      Nope, he’s killing it in the progressive metrics too. Statcast data elite batted ball profile (mediocre sprint speed, so don’t hold out for more SBs), near the top in hard hit percentage, contact up slightly, line drives way up. The .365 BABIP is slightly inflated, but even there he should post something in the .325 range based on his batted balls so not a huge drop to be expected. He’s a stud.

    • Scott Chu says:

      Belt has a career 125 wRC+ in the first half and a 121 wRC+ in the second half, so it’s not really a time of year issue. Belt’s real problem, Kraken, is his injury history. It’s not good. He has over 1000 fewer plate appearances in the second half than he does in the first half over his career and it’s because he struggles to stay on the field. He’s just an example, though. I’m not THAT crazy about him.

      My colleague Jim Chatterton (who writes this column over the weekend) actually did a fine job writing up Devers as a spotlight in the Batter’s Box back in May, and I think I’ve done it this season as well. I am surprised more people aren’t writing him up, though his 100% ownership makes him a player who can’t really be added or acquired in most leagues (because I can’t imagine anyone wants to trade him). He’s only 22 years old, which is probably the thing many people forget about. He’s younger than many rookies getting their call ups.

  3. Syryn says:

    To be fair Jose Martinez was playing everyday even before Ozuna got hurt

    • Scott Chu says:

      There are full time stretches for him, but he’s gone through quite a few 2-3 week periods where he rides the pine 2-4 times a week. He’s a talented hitter but a frustrating fantasy asset.

      • Syryn says:

        Yeah I guess I was just saying the latest we saw of him even before Ozunas injury was full time bats. He has a chance to run away with that role

        • Scott Chu says:

          I think that WOULD be true if he wasn’t still a Cardinal. They’ve made it clear they’d rather have almost anyone else in their outfield, though Bader and Fowler have been so bad that they basically have no choice right now but to use Martinez. His defense is truly bad, though, and is be betting against playing time (though simultaneously praying for it).

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