Austin Jackson, OF, Det Tigers – I've been singing the praises of Jackson all season, and he's been repaying me by taking a dump on my chest. A lowly 3 home runs, a decent 9 steals and an uninspiring .264/.327/.388 slash line should have him either on the waiver wire in shallow leagues or make him an easy trade target otherwise. His early season metrics had me quite excited as he was walking more than ever, striking out less that the previous few years and hitting more fly balls in an attempt to up his homers and drive in more runs since he was hitting down in the order rather than leading off. Well now it's mid-July and almost all his numbers have slowly but surely crept back to their career norms, with the exception of his fly-ball rate, which is still at 40.5%, a whopping 10% over last year and a career high. Yet somehow with all those extra fly balls he's only managed 3 homers, which brings up the fact that his HR/FB% is a career-worst 2.9%. He's posted rates of 11.4% and 9.2% in 2012 and 2013 respectively, so there's been more than a little bad luck in play here as his average batted ball distance is actually slightly higher than last year. He's back to hitting leadoff now for the Tigers though, and since the move up in the order he's been on fire, going 22 for 57 (a .386 BA). He also won't have to worry about being stuck behind the lumbering Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the basepaths, which hindered his SB opportunities, so I expect a second-half surge in steals. I don't think 4-6 home runs and 10-15 steals over the final 2.5 months would be asking too much, great numbers you could get for cheap right now.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Tex Rangers – Choo recently admitted himself into a psych ward. “I just needed to get out of my own head.” he said through a translator. “So I've been sitting around, slurping oatmeal through a straw and shoving things up my ass. It really helped, and now I'm back in the outfield, ready to help the Texas Rangers not contend, since everyone on the team is hurt.” ...alright, I made that bit up. But that's what it feels like he's been doing all year to his fantasy owners, myself included, who expected much more from the Rangers' prized offseason acquisition. The lineup will be sweet, I thought. Hitting in front of the likes of Beltre, Fielder and Rios, he could score 110 runs, go 20/20 with a .375 OBP, I declared! Well the rest, as they say, is history. As of this writing Choo has 9 HR's (a .130 ISO, his career-low) and a wretched 3 steals (in only 3 attempts, if you want a silver lining). He is still walking at a great pace (13 BB%, a .354 OBP) although if you're in a batting average roto league you're hating the .236 BA. If it's steals you need, look elsewhere – he's still complaining about his ankle bothering him, so owners will just have to take the net loss in steals as I don't expect him to start running again anytime soon. However, as the summer wears on I expect a few more balls to leave Arlington, and his poor BABIP luck (a career-low .296; his career mark is .345) should turn around. He's not without risk though. If he re-aggravates his ankle, he could spend some time on the DL, and if it happens late enough in the season the Rangers just might tell him to pack it in for the year since it's a lost season for Texas anyhow. But he will score plenty of runs and could hit 7-8 dingers to go along with a .280ish average the rest of the way, so if you can land him for fifty cents on the dollar, do it.
Jean Segura, SS, Mil Brewers – First I'd like to send my condolences to Jean and his family for the recent loss of his 9 month old son. I owned Segura in every league last year, and enjoying his statistical success was one of my best calls in recent years, and turned him into one of my favorite players. The news of his sons' passing very much saddened me. His early season struggles have also saddened me, although clearly in a much shallower, nerdier way. His slash line to date is a putrid .233/.266/.319, with a mere 4 home runs and 15 steals. The home runs pace is probably more on par with what we should expect from Segura's skill set, as the 12 home runs we saw last year will likely be the high water mark for Segura for quite some time. I expected him to leadoff for the Brewers all year, scoring more runs than last year (when he was at the bottom of the order for the first month), crossing home plate as many as 90-95 times and stealing 40 bases. His early season struggles have had him back at the bottom of the lineup again though. His stolen base success rate has also dropped inexplicably this year, from 77% (44-57) to 65% (15-23) from a year ago. I can only attribute the lack of stolen base success to his massive posterior. That man's got a big butt. BUT (see what I did there?) I expect a second-half surge in BA from the young shortstop, as his BABIP is remarkably low (.258, down from .326 in '13) which has lead to his ghastly .233 BA. He is a heavy ground-ball hitter, but with his elite speed that isn't the problem. Hit batted balls just haven't been finding holes, and with his good contact rate (86.4%) I still think his long-term outlook is a .300 hitter, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him hit .280-.300 the rest of the way. And naturally with more hits comes more SB opportunities, and it would take only a modest hot streak to see him sitting atop the Brewer lineup again. He still swings at way too many pitches and doesn't walk, but if you have a hole at SS and/or a need for speed (not the drug, kids. Because as I always say, “if you do drugs then f*** you”), then go get Jean Segura.
Alex Cobb, RHP, TB Rays – I initially thought about talking about young Phillies reliever Ken Giles here, who's been ridiculous since being called up, but I think Cobb will be the more beneficial grab for most fantasy teams. By all means, go grab Giles if you can in all but the shallowest of leagues. If the Phillies do somehow manage to deal Papelbon to some poor shmucks, Giles looks like the real deal as closer of the future in Philadelphia, and even when he's not getting your saves he is putting up tremendous ratios right now. But anyway, onto the “main course” here, Alex “Corn on the” Cobb. Boy, the puns are flying now! I've been a Cobb fan for the duration of his career, a righty who doesn't walk many batters and pitches for the Rays with a good fastball/curveball/changeup mix. If he didn't try to eat a comebacker with his forehead last year I think he would have finished as a top 15 starter, so I had high hopes for him this year. He was hurt again though unfortunately and missed some more time, and to this point has a 4.08 ERA with a 7.71 K/9, which is down from his 2.76 ERA and 8.41 K/9 that he posted in '13. Those numbers are so boringly average that he was dropped in my 10-team mixer, and could be available in your league. So why will he be better than this down the stretch? Well, this is more of a gut call than the rest of these guys because I just think he's better than this. His walks and HR/FB% are on par with career norms, and his FIP (4.07) and xFIP (3.71) don't scream positive regression at all. However, his GB% is up, his strand rate is quite low (72.6%) which indicates either he or his bullpen have been allowing a few too many baserunners to come around and score. His line drive rate is way down (14.4% from 21.7% in '13), he's coaxing more swings outside of the strike zone, allowing less contact than ever (his career-best 74.8% is way down from 78.7% last year), AND is enjoying a career-best swinging-strike rate (11.2%, up 2% from last year). All of this adds up to a steaming pile of this-should-get-better. Grab him on the cheap, and reap the rewards.
Kole Calhoun, OF, LA Angels – A favorite of The Great Tim McLeod (check out his appearance on the NastyCast), “Cowboy” Kole Calhoun has been on a tear lately. If he's still available, stop reading this and pick him up now. Put down the Cheetos and do it. Speaking of which, have you tried the Flamin' Hot Cheetos? Those things are tasty. I guess they're sending kids to the ER though, so they may not be available for long. Anyway, he was dropped in many a league after a disappointing start followed by a lenthy DL stint. A source of good pop and a little speed, Calhoun will benefit greatly from hitting in front of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. He's already scored 51 runs despite only having 234 AB. It doesn't matter the league, add now before it's too late.