By Sam McPherson
A lot of experienced fantasy baseball owners do not risk high draft picks on relief pitchers before the season starts, because other than a few secure closers that go early, a lot of save opportunities “change hands” over the course of a six-month Major League Baseball season. By combing the waiver wire regularly, saves can be picked up cheaply after the draft, thus allowing a team manager to load up on other key categories in fantasy baseball that will win the league, eventually.
The same is often said about stolen bases, the oft-forgotten category on the hitter’s side of the fantasy equation in baseball. Other than a few top, elite speedsters that actually will post decent batting averages, there’s no point in drafting for stolen bases as players will show up during the season to provide the numbers for your team. Whether it’s a rookie or a benchwarmer that suddenly gets playing time, steals can be found throughout the year that will ensure your roster doesn’t finish dead last in the category. That’s usually good enough to win the league.
Players to Get Onto Your Roster Now
1. Corey Knebel, RP, Milwaukee Brewers: He is the perfect example of a set-up man that grows into a closer. The club doesn’t trust a young kid yet, so they go with a veteran who then loses the job through ineffectiveness. Knebel has 63 strikeouts in just 35 2/3 innings, and the 1.01 ERA is nice, too, of course. Strangely, he’s still available in a lot of leagues around the online fantasy world, so grab him if he’s still sitting there in your league. There’s no risk here at all.
2. Cameron Maybin, OF, Los Angeles Angels: It’s hard to believe, but Maybin was traded once (along with Andrew Miller!) for Miguel Cabrera. He’s been very solid now for three years, and this season so far, he’s stolen 21 bases and been caught just once. Maybin hit .315 last year, although his average is down to .267 this season. The on-base percentage is near a career best right now, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio is the best of his career. At age 30, he just needs to stay healthy, and Maybin can lead your team to the championship.
3. Felipe Rivero, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates: His situation is just like Knebel’s scenario, really. Rivero just doesn’t strike out as many hitters (only 41 Ks in 37 1/3 IP), although his 0.72 ERA is lower. He has just six career saves, but he’s the man now for the Pirates. At age 25, Rivero is pitching better than he ever has before, and the time is prime to grab him before someone else in your league does. The 0.723 WHIP is pretty shiny, too. If Knebel is gone in your league, Rivero is a nice consolation prize.
4. Mallex Smith, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: His speed has been forecast for awhile now, and Smith is finally hitting MLB pitching well enough to stick with the big club. With 23 steals in 90 career MLB games now, it’s clear Smith has the wheels to help your fantasy team. He’s hitting .368 right now, and while that probably won’t last, it’s much better than the .238 average he posted with the Atlanta Braves in 72 games last year. Smith is a great option right now for speed if you need it.
Players to Sit/Drop This Week
1. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles: Hopefully, he’s not on your roster already, because now he’s injured, too. His .226 batting average and mere 26 RBI are pitiful for the corner positions, despite his 14 HRs. He has an oblique injury that will now keep him out for at least three weeks, but Davis shouldn’t be on your team, anyway. There are better power options out there at first and third bases, respectively, and healthier ones, too. Let him go, and never think twice about it.
2. Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: He’s a huge fan favorite in Toronto, although that lifetime .305 on-base percentage is a killer for a guy that needs to get on base to be valuable. With just 17 RBI and a .257 average, Pillar’s value in fantasy baseball is based on speed. With just 10 steals right now, though, he’s not lighting up the base paths in a way that makes him worth a roster spot, considering the aforementioned statistical deficiencies. Bench him and see if his OBP comes around, but it’s not likely.
3. CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees: He will be 37 in a month, and his huge contract with the Yankees is up at the end of the year. Sabathia has been a solid contributor this year, surprisingly, with a 7-2 record, a 3.46 ERA and a 1.248 WHIP. His 62 Ks in 75 1/3 IP have been decent, too. However, he’s now on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and for a guy like CC who depends on his strong legs for his delivery, it’s a bad sign at his age. He could miss a month, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be strong when he comes back. Thank him for the seven wins and say goodbye now.
4. Neil Walker, 2B, New York Mets: His teammates are dropping like flies, and the injury bug got to Walker last week. He’s always been a reliable option at the position, providing power and a solid average. But he will be 32 in September, and his current hamstring injury is going to take at least a month to heal. Walker always has been above average for second basemen, in terms of OPS+, so he will be hard to replace. Stash him on the bench until he’s able to play at his normal level again.