The Minnesota Twins are currently the worst team in the American League, standing at 24-35. No one expects a contending summer here, or a team over .500. If you close your eyes for a moment, you can probably hear Lou Grant grousing about this sorry club.
So what should fantasy owners do with this woebegone team? Start picking up a bunch of Twins, of course.
Every MLB club has some mixed-league fantasy value to offer us, that's one of those universal rules that never changes. If you closed your mind off to the Pirates back in March, say, you missed out on their solid starting staff. Who wants a closer in Houston? We all should. In any mixer, you need to know all the rosters, all the starters, all the primary players.
Starting pitcher Scott Diamond is your first target, a nondescript lefty who's still unowned in 67 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Diamond has been a revelation through seven starts, posting five wins, a 1.61 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Beware of the Diamond Dog.
It's not hard to see the caveats to Diamond, mind you. He wasn't a hot prospect to begin with, his average fastball is under 90 mph, and he's striking out a mere 5.84 batters per nine innings. He's not going to keep an 82-percent strand rate all season.
But Diamond does two important things that allow him to be successful: he doesn't walk anyone (just three unintentional walks over 44.2 innings) and he gets ground balls by the bushel (61.7 percent). While his peripheral-suggested ERAs don't match up to his current 1.61 number, they're at least in usable areas (3.29 FIP, 2.96 xFIP, 2.72 SIERA).
And then there's the schedule, which brings this story together nicely. The non-threatening Phillies come to Minnesota this week (with Joe Blanton up against Diamond), and a trip to Pittsburgh follows (the Pirates, as you should know by now, have far and away the worst offense in the majors). Check the waiver wire, let's have some fun with this.
The Minnesota offense has been a punchline for a while, but it might not be as bad as you think. The Twins have 245 runs on the year, 22nd in the majors. They've outscored a few winning clubs: the Giants, Marlins, Nationals. They're only two runs behind the Reds. Minnesota's best swings seem to come against left-handed pitching, where they're ninth in OPS.
I was dismissive of Trevor Plouffe in the last Shuffle Up, but perhaps that was a hasty move. Plouffe has eight homers over his last 17 starts, and he's currently qualifying at a host of positions (second, short, third, outfield). He's a hack-first player all the way — he's collected 16 whiffs against just two walks over this stretch — and he doesn't run at all, so this might not be a long-term story. But doesn't everyone like a Swiss Army Knife, especially when you run into a short slate of games?
Plouffe's slash line shows a major platoon problem — his OPS is over 1.000 against lefties but collapses against righties. That said, he does have four homers in 89 at-bats against the right-handers. Minnesota faces just one lefty starter this week, for what it's worth. You know your team needs better than I do, see what you make of it. You can add Plouffe in 83 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
The Ben Revere propaganda has been running here for a while, but we'll tack on one more note since we're Feeling Minnesota. Revere is on a 22-for-55 clip over his last 13 games, with 10 runs scored and seven steals. Forget the power categories, he can't do a thing for you there. This is a specialty play if you find yourself needing some help in 2-3 categories. Revere does carry a .347 BABIP but that doesn't throw me: when you consider his wheels and his 23.9 line-drive rate, he should have a hit rate that's higher than usual. He's still waiting for your call, unowned in 91 percent of the Yahoo! world.
While you toss your hat in the air and consider some of these Minnesota themes, I'll take a moment to collect some thoughts that are tied to the short slate of Monday games:
• Let's establish a few things up front: I have no stake in the Los Angeles Angels, and I don't own Mike Trout on a single team. I have nothing to gain from Trout's ballistic run. But I'm starting to wonder if this 20-year-old dynamo might be able to jump into the AL MVP race.
I know, Josh Hamilton's having a video-game season, I'm with you. There's a long way to go. But consider what Trout has done through 40 games (.354/.412/.565, 35 runs, six homers, 26 RBIs, 15 steals in 18 attempts), or how he's turned the Angels season around. The Sons of Scioscia are 24-15 when Trout starts, 9-14 when he doesn't. You can't find any split that makes him look bad: he's going off against lefties and righties, home and away.
Trout's become more confident and daring on the bases as the season has moved along. He's already stolen seven bags this month — in just 10 games — and he's obviously got the green light to go whenever he wants. The Dodgers had no idea how to handle him Monday. How many outfielders would you take before Trout if you entered a redraft today? What would it take for you to move this guy in a keeper league?
Just promise me one thing: don't put Trout into the "untouchable" file. Everyone should be tradable in roto. Maybe you can get someone to ridiculously overpay to such a great degree, your title becomes ensured. Trout can get hurt or fall into a slump like anyone else. But it's scary how dominant he looks right now.
• For all of my Brandon Morrow skepticism this year, the last thing I wanted is an injury. I'm eager to watch him take on the AL East, see if he can handle the challenge. Maybe that story will still come about later in the year, but it looks like Morrow's oblique injury from Monday night is going to necessitate a DL trip. I have no news that Morrow owners don't already have; we'll see what the club tells us as the week goes along.
Sergio Santos is another Blue Jay in limbo right now; he felt soreness during his recent bullpen session, putting a snag into his rehab schedule. It would not surprise me if Casey Janssen held Toronto's closing post for most (or all) of the season.
• Anyone interested in Ivan Nova's reinvention? In deeper leagues, you should be. The surface ERA might not show it, but he's a much better pitcher this year. He certainly had his sharp stuff Monday at Atlanta (7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K).
Nova's been a big winner for a while, we all know that. He went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA last year, and he's 8-2 this year, despite a 4.64 ERA. But when you pop the hood, he's pitching far better in 2012. The strikeout rate is way up, from soft-tosser (5.3/9) to bat-dodger (8.0/9). He's trimmed his walk rate, too. A 53-point rise in BABIP and a gopher-ball problem (his HR/FB rate has doubled) explains the ERA jump, but anytime a pitcher is missing more bats and hitting the strike zone more often, we need to take notice.
If you want to simply make Nova a road-game streaming option, that's okay too. His ERA is 3.63 on the road for his career, but it jumps almost a run in The Bronx. Go ahead and dial him up at Washington this weekend.
• I'm certainly no doctor but does Dustin Pedroia (thumb) look right to you? Here's what he's done since returning from his brief break: 4-for-27, one extra-base hit, .250 OBP, .185 slugging. He hasn't attempted a stolen base since May 7 and he hasn't homered since May 10. If you can get someone to pay most of the freight on Pedroia's name brand, I'd ship him in a second. I'm very concerned the thumb issue will be a problem most of the year.
Pedroia certainly isn't the only Boston infielder stumbling around these days. Kevin Youkilis hasn't done much since returning from the DL (.246/.338/.404), Mike Aviles is getting torched by right-handed pitching (.238/.249/.360) and Adrian Gonzalez hasn't looked right all year. I'll be shocked if this star-crossed team somehow sneaks into the playoffs.