FANTASY PLAYS: Handling Smith's chance, Garcia's breakout
Mallex Smith has taken over center field for the Rays and fantasy teams. Avisail Garcia is finally worth the hype, while Carlos Gonzalez and Marco Estrada are worrisome, to say the least. Let's dive in and figure out how to handle all four.
Mallex Smith, TB - With the injury to Kevin Kiermaier, a full-time role for Smith is available. Since taking over for Kiermaier, Smith is just hitting .407 with four stolen bases in seven games. Not surprisingly, owners are rushing to the waiver wire to grab Smith. Is he a must-own in all leagues and even a must-start option? Yes. But, he's not this good or even a top 30 outfielder. The speed is the real appeal with Smith, and it actually helps him get a few extra hits. We can't ignore the .238 average in 72 games for the Braves last year, though, and there are clear metrics behind his average improvement and coming regression. Most evident is Smith's .432 BABIP (.588 in those seven games), which was just .302 last year. Smith's speed allows for a higher BABIP, more in the .330-.350 range, but even that is a significant drop from .429. Additionally, Smith's ground ball percentage is nearly identical (and poor) to last year's mark at 60.7. Smith has seen an enormous increase in his infield hit percentage, which is 21.1. For reference, Jose Altuve's average mark is 10 percent. Smith will help in stolen bases and runs, as long as he hits atop the order, but that's about it. If you picked him up and don't need the steals, sell high now before regression hits.
Avisail Garcia - Owners were reluctant to buy into Garcia after the hype and disappointment of the past three seasons. That's understandable after people called him "mini Miggy" in a comparison to Miguel Cabrera. Garcia is no Cabrera, but he's at least been mimicking him this year with a .343 average, 10 HRs, 37 runs and 48 RBIs. Having those numbers this far into the season means Garcia is certainly no fluke, but we still need to know if he's going to be mini Miggy this year. As great as Garcia has been, he's still been a bit lucky, as seen in his .410 BABIP. Last year, the league leader was DJ LeMahieu at .388, so it's likely that Garcia will have his BABIP fall at least 20 points. There are more reasons to believe Garcia will regress a bit besides the BABIP, as his hard hit ball percentage is nearly the same as last year (35.3 to 34.3) and his line drive percentage and home run to fly ball ratio are only a few percentage points up from last year. Garcia is pulling the ball more, he's stopped trying to spray the ball and just doing what works. Nevertheless, consider selling high if someone wants to treat Garcia as a top 15 outfielder because he may be Miggy so far, but Garcia is still more mini than the real version.
Carlos Gonzalez, COL - It's sad when it happens, but every year, some players finally hit the career wall. That looks to be the case for CarGo. While he's been a slow starter plenty of times, carrying a .215 AVG with just five home runs into the middle of June is a new low for Gonzalez. Even worse is that Gonzalez is batting just .108 with one home run in June, a month in which Gonzalez has a .290 career average and his second most home runs in any month. Everything is down for Gonzalez: hard hit ball percentage, exit velocity, power, etc. It's time to stop hoping for Gonzalez to simply flip the switch and be his old self. Don't look to buy low, and if you own him, try to spin the career numbers as much as you can and get away.
Marco Estrada, TOR - Estrada had a terrific first two months with a 3.15 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. June has been miserable for Estrada with 17 runs in three starts for a 12.08 ERA. Looking at the three starts, Estrada has a .533 BABIP, 55.1 left on base percentage and 2.8 home runs per 9 innings. The main differences in pre-June and Estrada's June performance have been his curveball and control. Estrada was hitting the strike zone more frequently before June, and he's throwing his curve more for some reason, which is curious. Why the change? It's never been his best pitch or even that effective, yet Estrada is struggling with control and changing his pitch selection. It's possible this is just a rough stretch and Estrada will improve and have better luck. However, there's a bit of concern here that Estrada might be hiding something. You can buy low, but make sure it's low, as there is no guarantee with Estrada.
The Athletics are striking out more than any other team over the last 30 days. Brad Peacock, Mike Fiers and David Paulino are strong streamers from the Astros. The Padres are nipping at the A's heels and score even less, which makes Eddie Butler of the Cubs, and Tigers pitchers Buck Farmer and Jordan Zimmermann solid plays. The Rangers' offense is a shadow of years past, which makes Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda near must-starts. Three Blue Jays -Estrada, Francisco Liriano, Joe Biagini - are all high risk/high reward options against those Rangers.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by Jake Ciely of the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com