The All-Star Break has come and gone, christening the second half of the season -- but for most fantasy owners, the dawn of August signals the start of the stretch run, with around a month left until the playoffs in many formats.Whether you're jockeying for a top seed, trying to
The All-Star Break has come and gone, christening the second half of the season -- but for most fantasy owners, the dawn of August signals the start of the stretch run, with around a month left until the playoffs in many formats.
Whether you're jockeying for a top seed, trying to pull together a hot month to edge into the playoff picture at all, or even just trying to play spoiler down the stretch, there's still plenty of time left to make some savvy moves to address your team's areas of need as the season races to its finish.
And as we all know, it feels really darn good to earn the bragging rights that come with making a smart trade or waiver-wire acquisition for a player that the other owners in your league had cast aside or undervalued, because, well, he was right there for the taking ... for everyone. Here are some players that may fit that description and could be the missing pieces of the puzzle that push your team over the top.
Jon Gray, SP, Rockies
Yeah, he pitches half of his games at Coors Field. Yeah, he was briefly sent down to Triple-A to regroup. Yeah, he has a career 4.56 ERA. But here's why you should take a chance on the 26-year-old righty whose true breakout the Rockies have been waiting for since his debut in 2015.
At first glance, his traditional stats might make you cringe -- Gray has posted an unsightly 4.99 ERA in 20 starts this year. But if you look deeper, you'll see that Gray is posting the best strikeout rate (10.8 K/9), one of the best walk rates (2.7 BB/9) and the best K/BB ratio (4.00) of his career.
Per Statcast™, Gray has the fifth-most swings-and-misses when using his slider among all starters in 2018, keeping pace with aces such as Luis Severino and Chris Sale. And Gray is using his slider more than ever this season, throwing it a career-high 33 percent of the time.
And as you might have read, Gray is having a supremely strange season in that, at the time of his June demotion to Triple-A, he had the largest discrepancy between his ERA (5.77) and FIP (3.08) in recorded Major League history since 1901. On top of that, consider that his current xFIP is several points lower, at 2.97, and even considering the cavernous expanses of the Colorado outfield, all signs point to Gray's numbers improving down the stretch.
The demotion to Triple-A has, in fact, seemed to flip a switch for Gray. In three starts since he was brought back to the Majors in mid-July, he's 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA, 17 strikeouts and five walks. Two of those starts were at home.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Red Sox
Back in late May, two months into a one-year contract with the Angels, it looked like the aging curve was finally catching up to Kinsler, who was straddling the Mendoza line after a disappointing 2017 campaign that saw him post a career-worst .236 batting average and 91 OPS+.
But it looks like something clicked in July.
Kinsler slashed .417/.491/.646 from July 12-29, which boosted his profile enough to make him a desirable rental second baseman at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. And in good news for fantasy owners, the Red Sox were the team that acquired Kinsler to fill in for an injured Dustin Pedroia, meaning that he'll have the opportunity to mash baseballs off the Green Monster for the rest of the season.
Keep in mind that Kinsler's BABIP is .244 this season, below his career mark of .284, his hard-hit rate (31.1 percent) is still in line with his career average, and he's now part of the most productive lineup in baseball. He went 4-for-10 with a double and two runs in his first two games for the Sox, and with Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez being Boston's other options at second base, Kinsler should keep getting everyday playing time once he returns from what is expected to be a brief DL stint due to a left hamstring injury.
Kole Calhoun, OF, Angels
There might not be anyone in baseball whose slash line is less indicative of his recent performance than Calhoun.
Check out his season line: .208/.267/.386. Not great.
Now, check out his line since returning from a DL stint for a right oblique strain on June 18: .292/.358/.662. Ah. Much better. That 1.020 OPS is nice, isn't it?
The underlying numbers are also extremely bullish on the 30-year-old outfielder. Per Statcast™, his .732 xSLG since July 1 leads the Majors and is more than 20 points ahead of Matt Carpenter's in second place. And while it's also exciting that he has smacked 13 of his 14 homers since returning from the DL, it's more exciting to see that he's using the whole field to do it: 71.4 percent of his homers have gone to the middle of the field or to the opposite field, tops among left-handed hitters with at least 10 homers this season.
Even with his slow start, Calhoun is making hard contact a career-best 39.6 percent of the time. His average exit velocity on batted balls since July 1 is 12th in the Majors (92.6 mph), putting him ahead of Paul Goldschmidt, Christian Yelich, Player Page for Max Muncy and Manny Machado.
William Myers, OF, Padres
Myers spent the bulk of the season's first half on the disabled list with back tightness, nerve irritation in his right arm and an oblique strain before returning to action in late June. He sustained another injury Aug. 2, suffering a bone bruise when he fouled a ball off his left foot, but that may turn out to be a positive by lowering the cost on a promising bat.
Before the foot injury, which landed him back on the DL, Myers had returned to form, rewarding patient fantasy owners who stuck through the lengthy absence. He slashed .271/.329/.550 with 10 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 27 RBIs from June 21 through Aug. 2.
In that span, Myers made hard contact at a greater rate than any other National League hitter, ranking first in the NL (min. 50 batted balls) with a 53.5 percent hard-hit rate -- the percentage of batted balls hit with a 95-mph exit velocity or greater, per Statcast™. He also ranked among the top 10 in the league in hard-hit outs (21) during that time.
Ervin Santana, SP, Twins
The Twins right-hander is finally back after missing the first four months of the season while recovering from offseason right middle finger surgery. And while the numbers since his return aren't the prettiest (seven earned runs in 10 1/3 innings), the veteran was a strong fantasy option just last season.
Santana won't wow you with his counting stats and he has struggled to keep the ball in the park at times, but the balls that stay in the park have a tendency to find his defenders, giving him a strong track record of outpitching his peripherals. In fact, he has recorded an ERA well below his FIP in seven of the past eight seasons.
He also works efficiently -- his 20 quality starts last season were tied with Clayton Kershaw, Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, for example, and his five complete games tied for the Major League lead.
The 35-year-old righty might be the biggest wild card on this list, but it's probably worth taking a chance on a hurler that posted an ERA of 3.38 in 2016 and 3.28 in 2017, especially if you could use someone that will eat innings and keep his run totals down.
Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark.
Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.