Al Melchior's Fantasy Bench Coach

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Charging the Battery for Week 21

Russell Martin (25413836413)

Photo credit: By Terry Foote (Russell Martin) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

With so little time left in the season, you can’t be too careful in selecting your starting pitchers from week to week. The pool of two-start pitchers likely to be on waivers is uninspiring and offers even more reason to exercise caution. You’re probably best off to go with the pitchers you already have, though a couple of the starters who pitched on Friday are worth searching for. Both will be one-start pitchers in Week 21, and neither would be a good use of an active roster spot right away, but both could be helpful over the longer haul (such as it is this time of the season).

Friday’s most eye-opening performance came from Kendall Graveman, who twirled a two-hitter against the White Sox. While he’s not trustworthy with a single Week 21 start versus the Indians, he could be worth stashing. The A’s could afford to go with a four-man rotation in Week 22, and if they go that route, Graveman will draw starts against the Astros and Red Sox at home. Since he can’t be relied upon for strikeouts, Graveman needs two starts to be viable, but he is getting to the point of being a must-start option when he does go twice. Over his last dozen starts, Graveman has exceeded one walk only twice, and he has failed to last six innings only twice. He has also posted a 3.20 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over that span, though he has had some help from a .251 BABIP.

Francisco Liriano looked more like his old self in striking out seven Cleveland batters and allowing one unearned run over six innings. The lefty’s control still isn’t great, but it’s been better since he came over to the Blue Jays. Liriano’s walk rate just has to be not terrible as long as he is getting strikeouts. This most recent start was Liriano’s best in four weeks, but it’s not quite enough for me to trust him this week against the Twins. If he aces that outing, though, there could be more owners looking to make a claim on him. If you have room to stash Liriano, you might as well bring him aboard now.

If you can still get Homer Bailey and his starts versus the Dodgers and at the Diamondbacks, he is the pitcher to pick up for this week. I’m not sure he can maintain his 12.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 or 0.5 HR/9 ratios, but with two starts, he won’t need to.

I wouldn’t start Reynaldo Lopez (at BAL, vs. COL) if I had decent one-start alternatives available, but if it’s for a Fantasy team that’s trying to make up a lot of ground in the standings, he would be my fallback option if Bailey is unavailable. Lopez has been getting swings and misses consistently, and he boasts a 12 percent rate over his four starts. He has also shown good control in three of his four starts. However, his flyball tendencies could be a problem against a pair of teams that don’t lack for sluggers.

It’s not just the pitching end of your battery that might need an upgrade, and you may have an easier time finding catching reinforcements. Sandy Leon continues to go strong, batting .367 in August, and he has taken his power game up a notch with four home runs this month. Yet many owners have passed him over, mostly likely not trusting the results over 158 plate appearances, particularly the outlandish .456 BABIP.

No one should expect Leon to maintain a rate even 100 points shy of that mark rest-of-season, but what’s left over once we account for some good fortune on balls in play? Simply put, Leon is whacking the cover off the ball. He has a 38 percent hard-hit rate (per FanGraphs) and a .270 Isolated Power. Those marks may regress as well, but while his exit velocity and average batted ball distance aren’t among the majors’ best, they are far above what they were a year ago. According to Statcast data, Leon’s average exit velocity this season is 88.1 mph, as compared to 83.6 mph in 2015. His average distance is 224 feet, which is a 54 foot increase over last season.

Leon has clearly ascended to the primary catcher role for the Red Sox, so playing time is not an issue. If you’re tired of waiting for sustained production from, say, Salvador Perez or Matt Wieters, Leon is a worthy replacement.

So is Russell Martin, who is now 10 for 19 with five home runs in his last five games. It’s true that hot streaks were meant to end, but Martin has a good shot of extending his good run through all of Week 21. The Blue Jays will face the Angels and Twins, the two teams with the highest staff ERAs in the second half.


  1. Welcome back, Al! One week wasn’t too long, but we’ll still call this “The Return of the Giant Hogweed.” You may have talked me out of Lopez. What do you think Wily Peralta? Heard he made a change in delivery and upped his velocity.

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