With the All-Star break now in the rear-view mirror, fantasy baseball playoff races are beginning to heat up. Whether you’re battling for playoff positioning, a top seed, or are just trying to make it to the postseason, it’s at this point in the year when every move you make seemingly has a monumental effect on your season. Dropping a scuffling player who has been on your team for months in exchange for a late-season call-up who excels down the stretch could be the move that wins you your league. For that reason, it is becoming increasingly important to know which underperforming players you can drop, versus the ones who are poised to turn things around and produce at the most crucial time of the year. This brings us to another edition of Patience or Panic, where we evaluate struggling players to determine if they are worth holding onto or if they should be dropped for a hot free agent.
J.A. Happ (SP, New York Yankees)
7-5, 4.93 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 76 K, 95 IP
After posting a strong 2.69 ERA following a trade to the Yankees at the deadline last year, a full season in pinstripes was supposed to make for an exciting season from the veteran lefty. However, Happ has been less than stellar, managing just one quality start since the end of May. His main problem stems from an inability to keep the ball in the park, having given up 20 long balls in 18 starts. His 1.89 HR/9 this season is the worst of his career by a wide margin, despite his fly-ball rate actually being 2% lower than it was in 2018. This is a result of batters having a hard-hit rate of 38.9% this season, the worst of his career and nearly a full 5% higher than a year ago. Happ has also had to deal with more balls in play this season, thanks to his strikeout rate dropping from 26.3% all the way down to 19.1%. This likely has much to do with his fastball velocity declining to a mediocre 91.9 mph.
Despite these numbers, Happ remains a strong candidate for wins, pitching behind the best lineup in baseball. On top of that, he has proven to be a solid matchup-based pitcher, with staggering home/away splits. His 3.77 road ERA and 1.10 WHIP are certainly worth having, especially when those numbers come with such a high chance at a win, but he is an epic disaster at Yankee Stadium, where his ERA balloons to 5.98. Keeping this in mind, the 36-year-old still holds good overall value if you are willing to play the matchups.
Blake Treinen (RP, Oakland Athletics)
2-3, 4.66 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 16 SV, 37 K, 38.2 IP
Blake Treinen began his major league career in 2014, and he was always a nice pitcher. Nothing more, nothing less. Then 2018 happened. In his first full season as a closer, Treinen posted a 0.78 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP. After such an incredible season, he was naturally considered to be one of the best relievers heading into 2019, as even some regression from his 2018 numbers would still prove to be a pretty terrific season. Unfortunately however, there has been a lot of regression, to the point where he has now been replaced as Oakland’s closer. A big reason for these struggles have been ground balls, and in this case, not enough of them. Treinen posted a ground-ball rate over 50% in every season of his career, but this year, he is inducing grounders just 43.3% of the time. In turn, his fly-ball rate has jumped to a career worst 32.7%, a 50% increase from his career average. This is partially a result of batters having an 11.2-degree average launch angle against him this year, compared with an average launch angle of 3.1 degrees in previous years. On top of that, Treinen has thrown fastballs and changeups more than ever before, while throwing sinkers and sliders less than ever before. Interestingly enough, the 31-year-old is throwing sliders on just 9.3% of his pitches this season, compared with a 23.2% lifetime average. Treinen is also striking out far fewer batters than he did last season, as his swinging-strike rate has dropped from 18% to 12.7%. However, both his strikeout totals along with his current swinging-strike rate are actually right in line with every other season of his career.
After looking at all of this information to see if Treinen will bounce back before the end of the season, there is another obstacle that is completely out of his control: Liam Hendriks, the man who has recently become the closer for the Athletics, has been tremendous all year long, pitching to a 1.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and an 11.25 K/9. It is entirely possible that even if Treinen regains his exact form from 2018, Hendriks could stay in the closer role if the team continues to have success. For this reason, along with it being far from a guarantee that Treinen finds his old form, I’d say it’s unlikely that he returns to being the regular ninth-inning man for the Oakland A’s.
Hector Neris (RP, Philadelphia Phillies)
2-4, 4.08 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 17 SV, 54 K, 39.2 IP
After acquiring David Robertson in the offseason, it was presumed by nearly everyone that he, or perhaps Seranthony Dominguez, would be the Phillies closer this season. However, a combination of injuries and poor pitching gave Hector Neris a chance in the ninth, and he took full advantage of it. That is, until recently, where he has given up nine earned runs in his past six innings, recording just one save in that time, and is now in jeopardy of losing the job. However, he is still striking out batters with a 12.13 K/9 and an 18% swinging-strike rate. Batters have a hard-hit rate of 35.1% against him, and their barrel rate is 7.4%. All of those numbers are right around his career numbers, which is a good sign, as his ERA each year from 2015 to 2018 are 3.79, 2.58, 3.01, and 5.10. The 5.10 ERA in 2018 is the only bad season he has had to date, and that seems to have bad luck written all over it, as batters had an insane .354 BABIP, while his xFIP stood at a strong 2.71. Even this year, his xFIP is a solid 3.54, and he has an even better 3.17 SIERA. It therefore seems very likely that this bad stretch is just a blip on the radar, and he should be back to normal sooner than later.
As for his job security, the Phillies don’t really have any bullpen options that seem better than simply letting Neris get through this funk. It is certainly possible that they trade for some bullpen help if they decide to be buyers at the deadline, but we’ll cross that bridge if we get there. For now, Neris is the best option in Philadelphia’s bullpen, and I believe it will remain that way the rest of the season.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)