Kolten Wong remains unowned in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, and on some level, I understand that. The dog days of August are here. Football is forcing its way into the mix. Some leagues fall by the wayside.
But I also think Wong's modest ownership tag reflects a disconnect when it comes to modern player evaluation. Sure, Wong has some holes in his game - holes in his swing, to be blunt. But when you also consider the category juice he brings to the equation, the endorsement becomes a no-brainer. (There's a reason we kept shouting Wong's name all through July.)
Wong had a monster game in Thursday's victory over Boston, homering twice and adding a stolen base just for fun. He's been a fantasy force since he came off the DL a month ago: .280 average, eight homers, eight steals. He's locked and loaded in the No. 2 slot in the order (a key factor in an NL lineup), and he'll probably finish the year in that role.
If you look at the fantasy leaders over the last month, you'll find some interesting names. Chris Carter (who also homered twice on Thursday) is first, followed by Wong. Josh Harrison is third, Jimmy Rollins fourth, Denard Span fifth. Carlos Gomez and Chris Coghlan come next.
There's a curious tie-in with many of these players: low contact rates, mediocre averages. Carter's hitting .225 this year and .221 for his career. Rollins is at .241 this year, and hasn't topped .252 in three seasons. Gomez will swing at almost any pitch. Wong only has three walks over the last month, opposite 22 strikeouts. His OBP is barely over .300 during this hot stretch.
Obviously batting average is a category and we have to manage it like anything else. But I'm willing to let a hacking approach slide if a player is consistently filling the other categories. Brian Dozier's been that type of guy this year - a drag in average, but useful elsewhere else (79 runs, 19 homers, 18 steals). Rollins is having a grossly-underrated comeback season, giving us 15 homers and 22 steals at age 35; whatever you paid in March, you're making an easy profit.
John Madden used to say winning was a great deodorant. That's how I feel about category juice; if a player keeps those columns humming, I'm not sweating the BA. You can chase Joe Mauer and his empty batting average all you want; give me the Doziers and Wongs and Rollinses, guys that do more things. (Remember how long it took some rotoheads to accept Gomez's breakout two years ago? The plausible-upside hunters had fun with that one; the wait-for-proof guys got beat again.)
Wong might eventually develop into a five-category player, anyway. He's just 23, and he was a .305 hitter (with a .367 OBP) in the minors. This story is far from finished. But in the meantime, I hope he doesn't change a thing. Keep hacking, keep running (he's 20-for-22 for his brief career), keep the juice coming.
• The Mariners haven't been supporting Roenis Elias much this year, so it was refreshing to see a 13-spot go up Thursday. Elias now sits at 9-9, and his 4.14 ERA is probably a little unlucky, too (consider the 1.25 WHIP, and peripheral-suggested ERAs that creep into the 3s).
Alas, we've talked about Elias in this space before. Maybe it's time to give James Paxton some attention. He's a well-regarded Seattle lefty, and he's getting the White Sox on Saturday. Note that Chicago's offense is much better against right-handed pitching: it ranks seventh in weighted runs created against righties, but a mere 20th against lefties.
Paxton was ordinary in his return start at Baltimore last week, but maybe he has his sea legs under him now. Safeco Field will hide some of the mistakes, of course. He's ready to go in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues
• Dustin Ackley is one of Seattle's biggest producers of late, and I never know what to do with him. On one hand, he's still just 26, and he was the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft class. Ackley was a big deal a few years back, a buzzy player. But his career .248/.313/.364 line is built over 1678 at-bats, and he's generally not a major factor in the category-juice areas (though he does have four homers in seven games).
I don't have any Ackley shares, but I can see why you might want some. He does cover two positions, after all, and he's settling into the No. 2 spot in the lineup. The development curve is different for everybody. The former Tar Heel is ready to add in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues.
• The closer you look at Kristopher Negron, the new Reds infielder, the worse he appears. He was a .246/.323/.360 slasher through an undistinguished nine-year career in the minors, no prospect pedigree at all. The Reds are only playing him because of the Brandon Phillips injury.
Nonetheless, it's fun to watch an unlikely source produce, and Negron has been doing that of late. He's on a 13-for-43 surge, with three homers and a steal. If you're desperate for a playing-time grab in a deeper league (or looking for a very cheap fill in your daily lineup), at least Negron covers three positions. He's also free to add in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues (though not the Yahoo Friends & Family - Andy Behrens took the Negron Plunge on Friday morning).