This is probably one of the toughest times of the season for fantasy baseball owners. You have the MLB trade deadline looming. You’re continuously researching potential late-season call-ups. You’re crunching numbers to see where you can move up in the different categories. All the while, half your league already has checked out and is headed toward fantasy football.
That is a lot to deal with, especially if you also play fantasy football and have begun your prep work for that as well. As a result, some things just slip through the cracks.
Let’ s take a stroll around the league and check out some of the hottest players in baseball who may not be getting the marquee attention they deserve.
Tommy Pham, OF, Cardinals
He probably is one of my least favorites in recent years because he is either hurt or too streaky to be a reliable fantasy asset. However, Pham seems to have hit his stride this season and has been an outstanding waiver addition for those lucky enough to have grabbed him.
Over the past month, he is slashing .366/.450/.613 with five home runs, 21 RBIs, 22 runs scored and six stolen bases. The Cardinals have locked him into regular playing time, because of injuries to Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowler, but even when those two return in early August, manager Mike Matheny is going to have a tough time putting Pham on the bench.
Chris Taylor, SS/OF, Dodgers
He is one of those guys we have talked about a lot in recent weeks. His performance has been fantastic, and the power he has shown seemingly has come from out of nowhere. There has been talk of him revamping his swing during his last stint in the minors, but a .221 ISO mark is a pretty major spike for a guy whose highest mark prior to this year was .190 in High-A ball in 2013.
Chris TaylorGetty Images
Obviously, the tweaks he made have helped him with his launch angle and hard-contact rate, but he also still is swinging through a lot of pitches (11.4 swinging strike percentage) and fanning at a 27.5 percent rate. Not that anyone is complaining about a guy batting .409 with three homers, 15 RBIs and two steals over the past 30 days — who qualifies at shortstop and in the outfield.
Willson Contreras, C, Cubs
No one was complaining about the 11 home runs Contreras hit in the first half of the season, but his .261 average was less than desirable, and his RBI total was good but not great due to the rest of the Cubs’ lineup struggling throughout the first half. But he did head into the All-Star break strong, and in the 10 games since then, he is batting .341 with five home runs, 15 RBIs. He even has kicked in a stolen base.
His power is for real and his plate discipline has been stable, so enjoy what you’re getting from him, because it likely will continue through the end of September.
Whit Merrifield, 2B, Royals
Second base has been a disaster for the Royals over the past several years, but it looks like they finally have found their man. He is a bit of a late-bloomer at 28 years old, but with a little bit of pop and some quality speed numbers, he is the ideal set-it-and-forget-it for your middle infield.
Over the past month, he is slashing .315/.358/.577 with five home runs, 14 RBIs, 17 runs scored and nine stolen bases. With how aggressive the Royals are being in their quest for a playoff berth, you can expect him to continue swiping bags at a solid rate the rest of the way. Realistically, 25-30 steals are within reach, which would be a huge boon to your fantasy squad.
Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals
He has pushed his way into a full-time job thanks to solid defense and a white-hot bat. His strikeout rate is a little tough to take, as he has proven to be a swing-for-the-fences type of guy. But with nine homers, 18 RBIs, 15 runs scored and a .293 batting average over the past month, he is making everyone forget who that Aledmys Diaz guy was.
Aaron NolaGetty Images
It would be nice if DeJong could improve his plate discipline, but the Cardinals are going to ride the wave until it breaks. For those wondering if DeJong is worthy of keeper status for next year, keep in mind that poor plate discipline should trump a hot first year in your evaluation.
Aaron Nola, SP, Phillies
If you haven’t been paying attention to what Nola has been doing recently, you really have been missing out. He headed into the break with four straight quality starts, in which he posted a 1.53 ERA with a 34:9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 29 ¹/₃ innings. He has another three quality starts since the break, in which he has posted a 1.42 ERA and a 26:5 K:BB over 19 innings.
In case you have a tough time doing math, that is a 1.49 ERA with a 60:14 K:BB over his past seven starts (48 ¹/₃ innings). That is better than Clayton Kershaw, if you need the comparison. If you’re wondering how, much of the credit should go to how well Nola is throwing his changeup and fooling hitters. He might have just a three-pitch arsenal to work with, but his command over all three has been phenomenal lately.
Sonny Gray, SP, Athletics
Every day that passes, Gray wonders what his new uniform will look like, as Oakland general manager Billy Beane is creating quite the bidding war around the league right now. But independent of where Gray lands is how he is landing and right now: On his feet and ahead of the curve.
Similar to Nola, he went into the break strong, with three straight quality starts and has thrown three more since — including two six-inning shutouts against some strong opponents. Over those past six starts, a total of 39 ¹/₃ innings, Gray has posted a 1.37 ERA with 36 strikeouts and is crushing it with a near 60 percent ground ball rate. His 56.7 percent ground ball rate for the season makes him an even more attractive option, because a park shift to a more hitter-friendly location isn’t going to be a problem.
Lance LynnGetty Images
Lance Lynn, SP, Cardinals
Every start Lynn makes could be his last in a Cardinals uniform, and he certainly is making it difficult for St. Louis, which is chasing a playoff spot, to deal the impending free agent. He has thrown five quality starts in his past six outings and allowed just two earned runs since coming back from the break.
This stretch of deliciousness has lowered his season-long ratios to a 3.21 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, and he is starting to see a slight uptick in his strikeout rate. Given the fact he more or less is equal in ground-ball and fly-ball rates, a new location might make all the difference in either direction, so pay attention to what the rumors are saying. If he stays in St. Louis, it is a moot point, and we’ve got ourselves a rock-solid starter for the rest of the way.
Brad Peacock, SP, Astros
A rain-shortened outing in his previous start clipped his streak of quality starts at three, but he still managed to provide his owners with more strikeouts than innings-pitched, so there was at least some productivity. Before that, he had a 1.89 ERA with 20 strikeouts over his previous three starts (19 innings), and it now looks like manager A.J. Hinch is taking the reins off and no longer limiting him to the five innings we had seen upon his return to the rotation.
With a number of starters returning from injury, the Astros are deep enough that they can limit his innings down the stretch to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but given the level at which he has pitched this season, the club may not want to use someone in his stead. Keep him active in your lineup and take advantage of the strong K-rate, which will continue to boost you as you come down the fantasy home-stretch.
Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Padres
Guess who just went from being amazing at home to just being amazing? The home/road splits on the season are pretty remarkable — Chacin has a 2.05 ERA over 70 ¹/₃ innings at Petco Park. Now, though, he has allowed just five runs over his past three road starts (18 ¹/₃ innings) and seems really to have found a groove in the summer months. In fact, we’re talking about eight quality starts in his past 10 outings.
Unfortunately, his 20.1 percent strikeout rate is good but not great, and given he plays for San Diego, you likely won’t see a whole mess of wins come your way in the future. Still, for a fifth or sixth starter on your fantasy team, he has been quite the unheralded asset.
Howard Bender is the VP of operations and head of content at FantasyAlarm.com. Follow him on Twitter @rotobuzzguy and catch him on the “Fantasy Alarm Radio Show” on the SiriusXM fantasy sports channel weekdays from 4-6 p.m.