FANTASY PLAYS: Machado finally delivers after bad first half

(AP) — It’s better late than never for a young superstar. A former Cy Young contender and fantasy ace is nearing the end of his career. Meanwhile, a highly-rated prospect is just starting his and turning into a future stud.

CHEERS

Manny Machado, BAL - Machado disappointed for most of the season after being a first round pick. Coming off a season with a .294 AVG, 37 HRs, 105 runs and 96 RBIs, Machado is hitting .267 and is on pace for 37 HRs, 87 runs and 108 RBIs. The good news is that Machado is on pace for nearly the same amount of combined runs and RBIs despite hitting for a poor average with 15 HRs and just 33 runs and 38 RBIs through June. Machado is hitting .332 with 12 HRs, 33 runs and 41 RBIs in just 45 second-half games. He’s back to the Machado we saw last year, showing the step forward many fans expected him to take from the start this season. While Machado’s second half is other-worldly, it shows that the first half was not the real Machado. If others let Machado fall to the second round next year, be happy, as Machado is still worthy of being a first round selection.

Robbie Ray, ARI - Ray has racked up the strikeouts over his past two starts, and it’s not the first time that he’s looked like an elite pitcher. However, Ray only pitched 11.2 innings over those two starts due to the high pitch count. That’s also been a common theme for Ray, pitching seven-plus innings just three times and not once since May 30. Due to his short stints, Ray is more risky than most starters with similar strikeout upside and can struggle to get wins. Additionally, Ray is carrying a 3.77 expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), which is higher than his 3.45 mark last year when he had a 4.90 ERA. That’s telling, as Ray’s walk rate has increased since last year while his strikeout rate has stayed the same. The major difference is that Ray’s strand rate is up to 85.4 percent, which is well above his career norm and the league average. Ray offers terrific strikeout numbers, but don’t overrate him in 2018. He’s an SP3 and due for some ERA regression.

TEARS

Cole Hamels, PHI - Hamels used to be one of the best pitchers both in major league and fantasy baseball. At the age of 33, Hamels is on a steep decline. While Hamels’ ERA is solid at 3.78, his strikeout rate has fallen precipitously from 9.0 K/9 in 2016 to 5.5 this season. Hamels’ SOBB (strikeout percentage minus base on balls percentage) is down to an awful 6.9 mark. Hamels’ xFIP is up at 4.89, and it’s largely due to his fortunate .240 batting average on balls in play, which is 45 points lower than his career mark. Hamels simply isn’t the pitcher he used to be, and he’s clinging to the slim amount of fantasy value he has left due to a helpful ERA and some wins. With Hamels turning 34 before next season and his strikeout rate bottoming out, he’s not even worthy of being part of your starting rotation in 2018.

FEARS

Byron Buxton, MIN - Buxton recently took a pitch to his hand and the fear was that he fractured a bone. The good news is that Buxton only suffered a bruise and shouldn’t miss much time. Owners are rejoicing, as Buxton has not only looked good in the second half, he’s looked like an elite talent — what his profile always suggested he could be. Buxton is hitting .327 with eight home runs, 23 runs, 22 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 30 post All-Star break games. If you’re curious, that would put Buxton at 41 HRs, 119 Runs, 114 RBIs and 41 SBs over a 155-game season. In other words, if Buxton played this well for a full season, he’d warrant being the first pick over Mike Trout. Buxton is nowhere near that good, but some players take a little while to round into form, and Buxton has finally broken through. With his power/speed combination and natural ability for stardom, Buxton could find himself in Round 2 of 2018 drafts.

STREAMING PITCHERS

The White Sox, Rays and Mets continue to struggle offensively and strike out more than any team outside of the Brewers. The Mets just lost Yoenis Cespedes for the season as well, so target all three when streaming pitchers. The Angels are making a late push for the players and are hitting nearly as well as the Astros. Avoid both lineups outside of your top-end pitchers.

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