I still can’t get over how far along in the season we are. There are 12 days until the fantasy playoffs are over and the MLB playoffs begin. 12 days to fight and claw our way to fantasy glory. This is not a time for hemming and hawing, folks—we need to take decisive action!
Part of that decisive action is figuring out what to do with hitters like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who went 3-5 with a home run and a double, two runs scored, and an RBI yesterday. Despite the strong performance, it’s been a mostly disappointing sophomore season for the young slugger, who has slashed a rather pedestrian .251/.328/.440 through 47 games with just seven home runs and 24 RBI. It’s been even rougher so far in September as he has a sub-.700 OPS in 55 plate appearances.
So, should you cut him? I mean, that’s the big question, right? In a 10- or 12-team league, I can actually understand the move. As a licensed attorney, I have to give you the only answer I’ve been trained to give when asked tough questions: it depends. Because that’s not a helpful response, let me take you through a little example of how I’d run through a set of hitters and make a decision about who should be in my lineup. I’ll compare Guerrero Jr. with three younger hitters who have been on fire: Jeimer Candelario, Ryan Mountcastle, and Alec Bohm.
To make a tougher decision like this at this point in the season, I actually don’t run to a player’s Statcast or FanGraphs page first—instead, I look at their upcoming schedule using tools like the excellent Fantasy Baseball Forecaster at ESPN. Since we know that these players are healthy, and all are either hot, talented, or both, the key question we face is opportunity. Who has the softer schedule? Do any of these guys face a slew of buzzsaws in the next few days? For example, Guerrero Jr. might be struggling a bit, but I’ll take him 100% of the time over Candelario if Candelario is facing Shane Bieber.
As it turns out, Candelario does, in fact, run into the wall that is the Cleveland rotation for four games starting on Thursday, then has an off day, then ends the season on the road against Minnesota and Kansas City. Of the remaining games, I really only like him in the remaining Kansas City matchups today and next weekend. Mountcastle also has tough sledding ahead with five games against the crafty Rays rotation and bullpen, though he runs into Boston after that which is a pretty hitter-friendly series. Guerrero Jr. has a bunch of games on his schedule to pile up stats; however, he’ll face a lot of Yankee pitchers. The Yankees have held him to a .693 OPS in 88 plate appearances over his career and aren’t an easy matchup for right-handed hitters.
That leaves us with Bohm, and while this article isn’t about him, it’s worth noting that not only will he play more games over the several days than the other three, he also has noticeable softer opponents in the Blue Jays and Nationals.
And there you have it. If I was faced with choosing between these four guys, I’d probably lean towards Bohm thanks to his schedule. Of course, this was made a little easier because I don’t have too many talent-related questions about these three. That could add a bit of a wrinkle, and I’d need a lot more than this intro to go into that.
For the remainder of the piece, I’ll try to add a little forward-looking context related to the next 7-10 days in case you need to make some lineup decisions. If I don’t answer your question in the piece, just throw your question in the comments. Don’t be shy!
DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B, New York Yankees)—4-6, HR, 2 2B, 3 R, 5 RBI. I know he isn’t available on your waiver wire and that you’d never dream of benching him, but LeMahieu managers should be feeling pretty confident about firing up the .363 hitting infielder. The Yankees have a soft schedule for right-handed hitters on the horizon and LeMahieu could very well push Tim Anderson in the batting title race despite trailing by 14 points.
Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees)—3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 5 RBI. 2019 was a bit of a drag based on the expectations after his stellar 2018, but 2020 puts him right back on track. He’s been the third-best fantasy first baseman this season and should land somewhere in the top seven of my rankings going into 2021.
Kole Calhoun (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 5 RBI. It has been a decent run for Calhoun in his first season as a Diamondback as he leads the team with his 11 home runs and 29 RBI. The batting average has been rough, but he has shown strong plate discipline and power against righties and should be able to add a few more home runs in his team’s upcoming series against the Astros and Rangers.
Jared Walsh (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-6, HR, 2 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI. So much for a post-Colorado hangover. Strikeouts are the thing to watch for right now, and he has just one over his last 20 plate appearances. With a bunch of home games against Arizona and Texas coming up, there’s no way you can even consider putting him on your bench.
Daniel Vogelbach (1B, Milwaukee Brewers)—3-4, HR, 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI, BB. The third team appears to be the charm for Vogelbach in 2020. While he had zero games with more than one hit with the Mariners and Blue Jays, this is his fourth multi-hit performance so far in just eight games with the Brewers. He makes for an intriguing pickup in deeper OBP leagues as he’ll see plenty of exploitable right-handed pitchers against the Cardinals, Royals, and Reds over the next week.
Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians)—3-4, HR, 2B, R, 4 RBI, SB. He has been quite good this season, slashing .286/.346/.469 with eight home runs and four steals so far this season, though I’m sure his managers are left wanting just a little bit more. A hot week or two against the Tigers and White Sox pitching staffs could be just what the doctor ordered. I’d expect at least one home run and a stolen base over the next four games, with the potential for a lot more.
Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)—3-4, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB. I really just want to see if he slows down the strikeouts over the last two weeks. The Brewers have a pretty neutral schedule for left-handed hitters, so he’ll have the opportunity to do just that.
Carson Kelly (C, Arizona Diamondbacks)—3-4, HR, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI. It’s a pretty tough schedule for Arizona right-handers going forward, so I’d probably be moving on from Kelly if he was my catcher in a single-catcher format. We didn’t really get the breakout we hoped for in his first season as the presumptive starter, so I suppose we ought to just wait and see for 2021.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-5, HR, 2B, 2 R, RBI. While I do think Guerrero Jr. is going to be a better hitter at some point, Gurriel Jr. is the better hitter right now. I talked about the Blue Jays rougher schedule in the intro, but I’m not at all worried about Gurriel Jr. and would keep him in my lineup.
Gary Sánchez (C, New York Yankees)—1-4, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. If we came into 2020 and I told you half of Sánchez’s hits would be home runs, you’d probably guess that he’d hit more than eight of them. Unfortunately, that’s where we are right now. The schedule for Yankee right-handers is quite good (which I already referenced once and will reference again shortly), so if you’ve been holding on to him for this long, you should keep him locked in as this might be his one last chance to redeem his value. He has the potential to win you a week-long matchup if he gets hot, and he will certainly have a chance to do just that.
Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox)—3-5, HR, 2 R, RBI. Do we believe yet? His unwillingness to take a walk doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and neither does his willingness to swing at pitches outside the zone or his propensity to swing and miss. Why? Because he has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat speed. Those skills will allow him to be aggressive without monstrous strikeout rates. As the leadoff hitter for an exciting young White Sox lineup, he should continue to produce with batting average, runs scored, and stolen bases while also providing a bit of pop.
Giovanny Urshela (3B, New York Yankees)—3-4, 2 2B, 3 R, BB. Urshela returned from the IL and picked up right where he left off with his fourth consecutive game with at least two hits. Urshela is available in roughly two-thirds of leagues, and with the Yankees having one of the softer remaining schedules for right-handed hitters, he should be locked into lineups in all 12-team formats for the rest of the season.
Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves)—3-6, 2 2B, R, 2 RBI. He is unlikely to receive NL MVP votes behind Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis Jr., but his numbers are equally as impressive. He’s the best first baseman in fantasy baseball and should be considered as such in 2021.
Nate Lowe (1B, Tampa Bay Rays)—2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB, SB. It’s been a pretty good few days and there’s nothing intimidating about the Rays rest-of-season schedule for left-handed hitters like Lowe. With almost every other Rays first baseman on the shelf, Lowe should get plenty of opportunities against right-handed pitchers for the rest of the season and could hit a handful of home runs in the process. I’d be just a little leery, though, as we’ve seen Lowe run incredibly hot and cold in his short career.
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire.