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It has been a busy week in the baseball world. Michael Brantley has returned to the Indians lineup, though he is not yet in the lineup consistently. That could change this week.

Everyone’s favorite baseball soap opera between the Red Sox and Pablo Sandoval seems to have reached its conclusion. Sandoval is having shoulder surgery that will seemingly keep him out for a long period of time, if not the entire season. Based on his performance, there was little chance that Travis Shaw would be benched, but his role should now be completely secure.

Meanwhile, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Cubs lineup and depth early this week as Jason Heyward has missed action both Monday and Tuesday and Matt Sczur hit the disabled list. This should benefit Javier Baez with playing time, and although he is probably already stashed in deeper leagues, he may be available in shallow leagues. Heyward’s absence could very well be short-term, so don’t go crazy with a FAAB bid or in dropping a valuable player, but Baez is worth taking a look at.

Of course, the big news last week was Dee Gordon’s suspension, but by now there has been so much talk of him and potential replacements (including on this site) there is little reason to revisit that.

In the meantime, here are your hot topics this week.

2016 Fantasy Baseball Hot Topics

Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds

 

Devin Mesoraco has a torn labrum in his shoulder and much or possibly all of his season is lost. This is now the second season in a row that Mesoraco has missed a season, almost its entirety, due to serious injuries. With hip and shoulder surgeries in back-to-back seasons, his future as a catcher has to be in doubt, which will affect his stock in long term dynasty or keeper leagues.

It seems most likely that he will play as a first baseman or designated hitter in the future, though a trade would need to happen for either scenario to play out due to the presence of Joey Votto and the lack of a designated hitter in the National League.

For season long leagues, Mesoraco was likely drafted as a starting catcher so it will be necessary to find a replacement. In deeper leagues the obvious replacement is Tucker Barnhart who will take over starting duties in Cincinnati. Other options are scarce but Cameron Rupp and Dioner Navarro are getting at-bats for the Phillies and White Sox respectively and are widely available.

In shallower leagues, the situation is less dire as Yasmani Grandal and Nick Hundley are available in over 70-percent of leagues. Although, Grandal was a hot name during draft season and he has failed to live up to that as his power and counting stats have been seriously lacking. He will have to increase his abysmal 22.9-percent fly ball rate for the home run power to show up. Hundley has hit even more ground balls than Grandal, but also has the benefit of Coors Field to enhance his power numbers.

Neither is a bad option but I would have a slight preference for Hundley.

Jung-ho Kang, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kang has been on a minor league rehab assignment for the past week and can remain on that assignment until May 8 at the latest. He is scheduled to play two out of three days in his return to the Pirates initially, which will limit his value some in weekly leagues.

What seems most likely to happen is that Kang will play mostly at third and bump David Freese to a bench role and will be limited to starts at first base only when a lefty is on the mound. On those days, John Jaso will be bumped to a bench role.

Thus, Kang’s return should only have implications for deeper leagues and NL-only leagues, with the biggest negative impact to David Freese.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros

 

Dallas Keuchel has had three consecutive starts where he has surrendered five runs or more. The narrative at the beginning of the season was that Keuchel was a still must-start at home and should be managed by matchup for starts on the road. That is quite a fall from grace for the 2015 Cy Young winner, but even worse is that his last start on May 2 came at home.

So what do we make of Keuchel now? The first thing that jumps out about his line is an 11.2-percent walk rate, which is nearly double his walk rate from both 2014 and 2015. The good news is that his pitches have found the strike zone just as much this year, batters have swung less at those pitches, and have also made less contact. Thus, that issue seems likely to work itself.

The problem is that hitters are now keying on what Keuchel wants to do with his pitches, especially when he falls behind. Hitters have hit Keuchel’s first offering 17 times this season and have hit .529 off that pitch. After he falls behind 1-0 in the count, which he is doing more often this year than in the past, batters are hitting .314 off of him. When Keuchel begins a batter 0-1, that number falls to .205.

If I can pick up on these trends, it is almost certain that Keuchel and pitching coach Brent Strom know what is happening. Keuchel likely won’t repeat as the Cy Young winner but his groundball rate is still elite,  he has maintained his swinging strike rate, and he has only surrendered one HR this year. Given that, I view Keuchel as a very good buy-low opportunity.

 

 

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