As the 2016 season has forged on, fantasy owners have been treated to resurgent campaigns from seasoned veterans and upstart performances from newcomers. When building the optimal roster, a combination of the two types of players typically works best in the long run.
In Week 17 of Three Up, Three Down, two established veterans prove their prime years aren’t quite over yet, and a former can’t-miss phenom finally makes a name for himself. Meanwhile, two established sluggers battle through slumps, while a relative newcomer to fantasy relevance suddenly goes cold.
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 14-for-25, 1 HR, 8 XBH, 8 R, 9 RBI, 5 BB, 4 KPercent owned: 22 percent
Wait, what year is it again? It’s been a dreadful season for Twins fans, but over the past month or so, they’ve been treated to vintage Mauer. The 33-year-old has been in peak form of late, posting six consecutive multi-hit games to start the week. Mauer has a .315/.426/.491 slash line since July 1, numbers reminiscent of his heyday when, from 2006-09, he slashed .336/.419/.496 and won three batting titles.
During those prime years, Mauer excelled at controlling the strike zone, walking 296 times compared to only 218 strikeouts. This year, his batting eye has nearly returned to that same level, as he owns a 15.5 K% and a 14.2 BB%. In his past 30 games, Mauer has walked 21 times in 129 plate appearances, with only 14 strikeouts.
Mauer has posted a career-best line-drive rate this season (28.3 percent), and his rate of hard contact is the highest it’s been since 2013, the year of his last All-Star appearance. His days of contending for batting titles may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put Mauer out to pasture. He still has fantasy relevancy at this stage in his career, though obviously not as a power threat.
1B/OF Mike Napoli, Cleveland Indians
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 9-for-27, 4 HR, 7 R, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 10 KPercent owned: 81 percent
Though he’s heated up this past week, the #PartyAtNapolis has been raging all summer long, as the 34-year-old has enjoyed quite the comeback season. Napoli homered in five straight games from July 30 to Aug. 3, and he’s currently riding a nine-game hit streak.
Napoli is hitting .284/.399/.629 since July 1, with 12 home runs and 27 RBI during that stretch. He’s been particularly aggressive this year against pitches up in the zone, swinging at high strikes over 70 percent of the time, much higher than his swing rate at lower strikes.
Until opposing pitchers take note and start to keep the ball low, there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down any time soon. The Indians are in a dog fight with the streaking Detroit Tigers, and Napoli will be integral in making sure Cleveland (and his fantasy owners) can find their way into the postseason.
SP/RP Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 2 GS, 2-0 W-L, 13.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 16 KPercent owned: 50 percent
For a while, it seemed as if Bundy was doomed to become yet another high-draft pick bust by the Orioles, joining the ranks of players like Billy Rowell, Brian Matusz and Matt Hobgood from recent years. Taken with the fourth overall pick in 2011 — ahead of players like Francisco Lindor (No. 8), George Springer (No. 11) and Jose Fernandez (No. 14) — Bundy struck out 40 of the first 99 batters he faced as a professional for the single-A Delmarva Shorebirds in 2012, then made his Major League debut in relief later that season. He was named the No. 2 prospect in the game by Baseball America and MLB.com heading into 2013, but underwent Tommy John surgery in June of that season and missed a year of action.
It’s been a long road back for Bundy, but he finally returned to a big league mound this year for the first time since he was 19. He began the season as a reliever but made his first start on July 17. That outing didn’t go well, but in the four starts since, he’s finally begun to look like the ace many thought he’d be.
Since July 22, Bundy has pitched 23.2 innings with a 3-1 record, striking out 29 batters with only three walks. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on July 27 against the Rockies, then did the same thing in his next start versus the Rangers. In his most recent start on Sunday, he set a career high with nine strikeouts against the White Sox in just six innings of work.
Bundy threw 92 pitches on the afternoon, the most of any professional outing in his career. His final pitch — a 95-mph fastball — struck out Justin Morneau swinging, indicating Bundy’s increased comfort with pitching deep into games. It might have taken longer than expected, but Bundy has the look of an ace in the making. He’s available in half of leagues, and if he’s up for grabs in yours, go pick him up before it’s too late.
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 3-for-22, 0 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 11 KPercent owned: 62 percent
In making his first career All-Star appearance, the 29-year-old Saunders had the look of a classic late bloomer. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder always had the tools but never quite put everything together, peaking in 2012 when he hit 19 home runs with 21 stolen bases in 139 games with Seattle.
In the first half of this season, Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 43 extra-base hits, numbers that were propped up by an unsustainable and uncharacteristic .377 batting average on balls in play. Since the break, he’s looked absolutely lost at the plate. Saunders owns a .145/.280/.339 slash line in the second half, with 26 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances.
Saunders hasn’t played more than 130 games in a season since 2013, so it remains to be seen if his body will be able to hold up over the course of a full year. Owners should be ready to sell high while Saunders’ overall numbers still look strong.
1B/OF Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 3-for-19, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 8 KPercent owned: 96 percent
By now, fans should come to expect this type of feast-or-famine performance from Davis. The man who leads the Majors in home runs since 2012 is also the proud owner of two of the eight most strikeout-heavy seasons in league history. Davis’ 208 whiffs in 2015 were a career high and the fifth-most ever, and he’s on pace to top that mark this season.
Davis is on track to tally 224 strikeouts this year, which would edge Mark Reynolds’ all-time record of 223 set in 2009. His .219/.336/.443 slash line is much closer to his abysmal 2014 performance than his 2015 campaign, a 47-home run outburst that helped earn himself a $161 million contract.
With his all-or-nothing approach, Davis will forever be prone to cold streaks. He has 45 strikeouts in his last 123 plate appearances since July 1, so he’s clearly out of sorts at the plate, though perhaps that means some natural regression to the mean is on its way. Owners should hold out a little longer in hopes that Crush returns to form for the stretch run.
Stats Aug. 1 – 7: 4-for-24, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 KPercent owned: 91 percent
It was a rough first week as a Met for Bruce, who was acquired at the trade deadline for minor leaguers Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. Though he did hit two home runs, his .167 batting average wasn’t the best way to endear himself to his new fan base.
Bruce’s fantasy value has outweighed his actual value all season, thanks in large part to his poor defense and high RBI total. Though the Reds aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, Bruce did have the benefit of hitting behind on-base machine Joey Votto, and the team currently ranks 10th in the NL in runs scored. The Mets, on the other hand, rank 14th, just ahead of the anemic Braves, leaving Bruce little to work with for a supporting cast.
Eight of the Mets’ nine lineup spots have OBPs under .330, a recipe that won’t result in as many RBI chances for Bruce. The two hitters most commonly used ahead of Bruce in the lineup have been Neil Walker and Alejandro De Aza — not exactly the best table setters a team could have.
With Yoenis Cespedes currently on the disabled list, the Mets will continue to struggle scoring runs for the time being, which puts a big damper on Bruce’s fantasy value. I can’t imagine him performing better going forward than he did before he arrived in New York, so he looks like a clear sell candidate at this point.