For most fantasy baseball leagues at this point, we are just 11 days away from seeing who will be champions after six months of hard work and dedication. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far and still actually have a shot at winning your league! Now, assuming that you have made it to this point, it is of the utmost importance that you maximize every roster spot the rest of the way. This means that a player going into even a two week slump is unacceptable by our current standards, as your season will be over by the time they start to pick things up again. This brings us to this week’s edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at a few under-performing players to figure out if they will turn things back around in time to still make a positive impact for your fantasy teams in the most crucial part of the season.
Wade Miley (SP, Houston Astros) – 13-5, 3.74 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 134 K, 156.1 IP
There are no words to describe the level of disappointment Wade Miley has provided his fantasy owners since the start of September. After making it through the end of August with a stellar 3.06 ERA, he made his first start of September, which coincided with the first round of fantasy baseball playoffs, and he completely fell apart. Miley faced six batters, gave up five runs, and failed to record an out before being pulled from the game. For a lot of fantasy players out there, that performance may have ended their seasons. But for the ones lucky enough to survive such a horrid performance, they made it to the semifinals, only to see Miley implode again! This time, he managed to get one out while allowing seven runs, being yanked from the game after seeing everyone in Oakland’s lineup once.
Normally, one abysmal start like this is just a fluke, and the pitcher typically bounces back in their next outing. Two of these starts in a row however, is a serious cause for concern, especially given the time of year in which he is doing this. Looking a bit deeper into the numbers, Miley has a 4.42 xFIP and a 4.69 SIERA, indicating that while he’s obviously not even close to as bad as he has been these last two starts, it’s also extremely possible that he’s not actually as good as his season ERA would show. He is also giving up hard contact 36.7% of the time this season, which is actually worse than he allowed in both 2016 and 2017, when he struggled to an ERA above 5.00. Another potentially concerning aspect here is that Miley has now thrown 156.1 innings, after throwing just 80.2 last year, 157.2 two years prior, and 166 the season before that. It is certainly possible that fatigue has set in at this point, and with the Astros in no danger of missing the postseason, it might make sense for them to let him rest for these last couple weeks before the real MLB playoffs. All this being said, it would probably be wise to avoid starting Miley down this final stretch.
Mike Fiers (SP, Oakland Athletics) – 14-4, 3.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 K, 170 IP
Never considered to be an exciting name for fantasy purposes, Mike Fiers has had an extremely solid season overall, including a stretch of 19 consecutive starts in which he gave up three or fewer earned runs. In his last five starts however, he has begun to falter, allowing 21 earned runs in 22.2 innings, including a nine run, one inning disaster against Houston on Monday. For the season, Fiers has posted a 5.27 xFIP and a 5.23 SIERA, showing that he appeared due for some serious regression. This seemed almost inevitable due to his uninspiring ability to miss bats, with a 6.14 K/9 and 7.8% swinging strike rate that are both near the bottom of the league. Not only are batters almost always putting the ball in play against Fiers, but they have a 38.4% hard contact rate against him compared to just a 16.7% soft contact rate.
Looking toward the future, Fiers has back-to-back starts against the Rangers coming up. He has already made two starts against Texas this season, and he has allowed eight earned runs in 11 innings of work. On top of that, his first start against them will come on the road, where he has a mediocre 5.00 ERA compared to a 3.15 ERA at home. Already in the midst of slump and due for even more regression, this upcoming matchup does not seem like a great chance for Fiers to get back to his mid-season form.
Will Smith (C, Los Angeles Dodgers) – .271 AVG, 23 R, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB
After getting off to a terrific start to his big league career, Will Smith has struggled mightily of late, driving in just three runs with one homer and two runs scored since August 23rd, batting a disappointing .178 in that time. Overall however, Smith has been crushing the ball, making hard contact a whopping 46.6% of the time. With a heavy 23.9 degree launch angle, Smith has still managed to square up the baseball plenty, posting a strong 12.5% barrel rate. However, the ridiculous 12 home runs he hit in his first 28 games obviously cannot be repeated. In fact, while his power is certainly real, his .469 expected slugging percentage is nowhere near the .624 slugging percentage he has managed to produce thus far.
While Smith might not necessarily get hot again before the season ends, I would still play him purely off his ceiling to hit a few homers and potentially hit for a high average in this last week and a half at the catcher position. There are likely no better options at catcher on the waiver wire, and if you happen to have another solid catcher on your roster, Smith could still be used in certain matchups. Interestingly, despite being a right-handed batter, Smith hits much better against righties than lefties. He has posted a terrific .301/.368/.735 line against righties, while owning a much less impressive .217/.294/.457 line against southpaws this season. Due to the lack of options at the catcher position, along with his ridiculously high ceiling, I am remaining patient with one of baseball’s top young backstops.
(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)