Greetings from the Week 3 Hot Topics column. Unless you live in a cave with no internet access, you know that the Chicago Cubs raised their championship banner and received their championship rings this past week.
Is that Fantasy Baseball relevant? Not really, but I don’t care. If you read my article titled The Curse is Dead, Long Live the Cubs here on SCFE, you’ll understand my need to celebrate like Happy Gilmore doing the bull dance.
If you watched the Cubs’ ring ceremony (and if you’re reading this kind of article, I’m guessing you did), you may have wondered what that background music was. And the survey says . . . the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Yes, that brings the awesome.
For this week’s column, I will introduce each topic with a quote from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, I still agree with the wisdom of Randal Graves. There is only one Return; and that’s of the Jedi (Kevin Smith fans – you’re welcome).
As I discussed in last week’s column, it’s still early in the season with a small sample size of data. No matter how you started the season, it’s way too premature to declare victory or concede defeat after two weeks. Although trend lines are forming, more proof is needed for definitive conclusions. With that in mind, here are your Fantasy Baseball Week 3 Hot Topics.
Week 3 Hot Topics
Hot Topic No. 1: “You Shall Not Pass!”
James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners
This iconic quote is from The Fellowship of the Ring during Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog. This also sums up James Paxton’s pitching performance during the first two weeks of the season.
Paxton dominated the first two weeks of the season like the baseball gods gave him the Diesel push at the Royal Rumble. With a 2-0 record, 0.00 ERA (you read that right), 0.57 WHIP, and 22 Ks in 21 IP, you almost wanted James Paxton to say “Who’s the one and only master? I am.” If you’ve never seen The Last Dragon and don’t get that, you haven’t lived.
Some of us have been waiting for Paxton to arrive and announce his presence with authority for years. He is a 6-4 lefty with a blazing fastball and a wicked curve. Once considered one of the Mariners’ top prospects, he spent the last few years struggling with various injuries.
Last season, he stayed mostly healthy and the Mariners plugged him into the rotation in June. His second half surface stats were not exceptional (4-4 record, 3.44 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), but his solid 8.2 K/9 and exceptional 1.3 BB/9 showed the skills were there. So far this year, the command has stayed (only four BB in 21 IP).
In his first three starts, Paxton has thrown shutout baseball against the Texas Rangers and twice against the Houston Astros. Not exactly creampuff lineups we’re talking about. Although the health issues remain a concern, the skills are unquestionable. Amazingly, Paxton is still unowned in roughly 10% of ESPN leagues and 7% of Yahoo leagues. If you are lucky enough that he is still unowned in one of your leagues, run and don’t walk to grab him. Go ahead and check the waiver wire, I’ll wait. If you need more pitching advice, head over to the Pitching Planner provided by Scott Guthrie.
Hot Topic No. 2: “Fell Deeds Awake. Now for Wrath, Now for Ruin and the Red Dawn!”
Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
This quote from King Théoden’s legendary charge in The Two Towers describes Chris Owings’ first two weeks of the 2017 season. With a .356 AVG/4 R/1 HR/6 RBI/4 SB stat line, Chris Owings has opened as hot as a Fast and the Furious movie.
Looking at last year’s stats, this is not completely unprecedented. Despite missing a month with a foot injury, Chris Owings posted a .277 AVG/52 R/5 HR/49 RBI/21 SB stat line in 437 ABs in 2016. He also tied for the most triples in MLB last season, so the speed is legit.
There are some concerns, however. His walk rate is poor (4% in 2016), which means he won’t help you if OBP is a scoring category and if his contact slips, his BA could plummet. He has also never flashed much power.
That being said, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives. He cut down his strikeout percentage from 2015 (28%) to 2016 (20%), and playing half of his games in Arizona will help his power chances. He will also have abundant scoring opportunities if he continues to hit at the top of that lineup, and he provides speed. With speed at a premium, that is value right there.
The batting average will almost certainly come down, but a player with speed at the top of a lineup in a hitter’s park can do a lot to help your team. He also has dual eligibility for SS and OF in both ESPN and Yahoo Leagues, where he is currently owned at 60% and 70%, respectively. If you need an early-season injury replacement or have an empty roster spot, Chris Owings can provide short-term help. He also could stay on your roster for the rest of the season if he keeps things up. If you are looking for more waiver wire assistance, please check out Dennis Sosic’s Waiver Wire column.
Hot Topic No. 3: “Certainty of Death, Small Chance of Success . . . What Are We Waiting For?”
Eric Thames, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
If you took this draft flyer, I salute you through the first two weeks of the season. Like Gimli’s quote from Return of the King regarding our heroes’ march to the Black Gate of Mordor, drafting Eric Thames required a certain amount of bravado.
I guess you could say Thames took the long way ‘round to get to the Milwaukee Brewers (the Doctor Who season premiere was last week; I had to go there at least once). A former prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays, he did hit 12 HRs in 362 ABs in his rookie season of 2011. Things went downhill quickly from there, however, and he was out of the majors by 2013.
Rather than waiting for an opportunity in the states, Eric Thames took his talents to Korea and hit 124 HRs in three seasons. He also had his own line of watches. Of course, questions about the level of competition led to skepticism about his video game numbers from Korea. When the Brewers signed him this past offseason, you could almost hear the crickets chirping.
As a result, drafting Thames this year involved substantial risk with no assurance the risk would pay off. But Like George Lucas in 1976 telling the 20th Century Fox executives that he was going to make a little movie called Star Wars his way and too bad if they didn’t like it. Sometimes the risks work out.
If Chris Owings’ start to the season was like the premiere of a Fast and the Furious movie, then Eric Thames’ start would have to be something like a Star Wars/Star Trek crossover. We’re talking off the charts. Through April 17, the stat line reads .405 BA/15 R/7 HR/12 RBI. That’s too hot to handle, too cold to hold.
Will his incredible start hold up? There are reasons to believe. The power is for real, and playing half of his games in the hitters’ haven (alliteration aside) known as Miller Park certainly won’t hurt his chances. Although he developed a reputation as a hacker his first time around, so far this season he has significantly reduced both his swing and chase rates. Of course, the real test will be his reaction to the inevitable adjustments pitchers make to him. That is for a later date, however. For now, enjoy the ride Eric Thames owners.
Hot Topic No. 4: “I Guess That Concludes Negotiations.”
Joaquin Benoit, RP, Philadelphia Phillies
You need to have seen the Extended Edition Return of the King for this one. This is Gimli’s line after Aragorn slices the head off the Mouth of Sauron. This pretty much sums up the fate of the season’s first closer axed and Joaquin Benoit’s promotion. Jeanmar Gomez, we hardly knew ye. If you had Gomez in your closer dead pool, the cash is yours.
As for Joaquin Benoit, the job is his (cue ominous music) for now. Signed by the Phillies to a one-year deal this past offseason, Benoit does have prior closing experience. Of course the last significant time was in 2013, but that still counts. He also puts up good strikeout numbers as his 9.8 K/9 in 2016 demonstrates.
Like the rumored Big Trouble in Little China remake, however, there are a number of reasons for concern. First, the Phillies are still in tanking/rebuilding mode, so save opportunities may be less than plentiful. Second, Joaquin Benoit is 39 years old, and his innings have steadily decreased over the last five years. Third, his shaky command (4.5 BB/9 in 2016) means his appearances are not for the faint of heart and can blow up your WHIP real fast.
Despite all of those issues, he should have the job for the time being. Of course, if he performs well he will likely be traded by the deadline. Being on a one-year deal, he is the perfect trade chip for a team like the Phillies looking to flip assets for prospects. When the trade deadline rolls around, contenders are always looking for bullpen depth.
If you don’t need immediate bullpen help but have an extra roster spot and want to play the long game, consider Hector Neris, another Phillies reliever who is more intriguing. With ridiculous stuff (11.4 K/9 in 2016) he should be the Phillies’ long-term answer at closer. This year, however, by keeping him out of the closer role, the Phillies can try to hold down his value when he becomes arbitration-eligible.
That being said, the Phillies want to turn the closer job over to Hector Neris at some point, and they could get him some experience by giving him the job if and when Benoit is traded. It could happen sooner if things turn ugly for Benoit, and he already blew his first save on April 16.
But for now, congratulations to Joaquin Benoit, the first newly-anointed closer of 2017. If you’re desperate for saves, he has the job (cue ominous music followed by clap of thunder) for now.
There are your Week 3 Hot Topics. As I said at the beginning, it’s still early. Trends are developing, but we’re still only two weeks in. Think twice before cutting a struggling player or rushing to the waiver wire to grab an unproven commodity with a hot start. 2016 Mat Latos anyone? Sorry, was that too soon?
Next week’s column will correct an oversight. Because the Cubs got their rings this week, that overrode all other directives. There is another baseball milestone that needs to be recognized, however. This past week was the 24th anniversary of the premiere of The Sandlot. Next week’s column will be dedicated to this cinematic masterpiece. If somehow you have never seen The Sandlot, do so now. If you don’t agree that The Sandlot belongs in the pantheon of the greatest baseball films of all time, then you have no soul. Until next week, get schwifty.
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