Whatever Raul Ibanez is eating for breakfast these days, pour me a bowl of it, too. Seattle's Popeye lookalike cranked two more homers Friday (No. 23 and 24), sparking the Mariners to an 8-3 triumph over the Angels. Enjoy some hometown video, and let's revel in the story of the tilde.
Ibanez barely registered during the April schedule (.158, two homers), but he's been a power stud since then. If you rank all the fantasy-eligible outfielders from May 10-onward, Ibanez grades out as the No. 6 option. A ridiculous season from someone who turned 41 in the first week of June. Must be pretty good spinach.
To be fair, this isn't a full and balanced 5x5 rack of stats we're collecting. A .264 average doesn't move the needle, 38 runs is a modest amount, and Ibanez hasn't attempted a steal all year. But we'll take homers and RBIs where we can get them, especially in the current de-juiced version of the game.
Ibanez offers a few surprising splits when you cut the numbers up: he's hanging in just fine against lefties (.904 OPS; they've given him fits for years) and he's crushing it at Safeco Field (16 homers, .642 slugging). Before the year, even the most ardent Ibanez supporter would have labeled him a pick-and-choose power streamer at best. Alas, that hasn't been the case.
So where does the story go from here? How do we rank Ibanez forward? How long can a 41-year-old outfielder keep knocking down walls?
I'm not going to rant about Ibanez's lofty HR/FB number (27.6 percent). There's no eureka moment there - you can't hit a bunch of homers without doing well in this area. We're not talking about Little League, where any grounder can go for extra bases once it reaches the outfield. Ibanez is making much of his own luck, pushing his FB bias up to 43.7 percent (a career high) and socking line drives 20.6 percent of the time (his best rate since 2005).
Ibanez keeps himself in extraordinary shape (he's been recognized as a workout freak for a long time) and he's one of the smarter sluggers in the game, so I'm not going to forecast a crashing correction. Sure, no one expects Ibanez to stick with this pace, that's the easy part. But "Regression!" is not the end of the conversation, it's the beginning of one.
Here's my forecast for the rest of Ibanez's year: .250, 31 runs, 14 homers, 39 RBIs, one steal (dare to dream). Share your crystal ball (and your Ibanez 2013 pickup date, if applicable) in the comments.
• Seattle also has a journeyman doing excellent work in the starting rotation, albeit the story isn't as shiny and hasn't been discussed much in fantasy circles. Joe Saunders is trying to get your attention, if you're open-minded enough to take the meeting.
Saunders scored his third straight win in Friday's cruise, working seven scoreless against the Angels (5 H, 2 BB, 5 K). It's the eighth time Saunders has allowed three runs or less in his last nine turns; the Pirates pushed him off the plank on June 25 but otherwise it's been a terrific run. There have been easy matchups along the way, sure, but Saunders also picked up wins at Arlington and at Cincinnati, tricky parks to do your business.
If you collect the numbers over this stretch, here's what comes back: 57 IP, 54 H, 15 ER, 11 BB, 32 K. That's a 2.37 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, along with five wins; he's the No. 20 starting arm over this period. Saunders is beating them with soft rock, sure, but with a K/BB ratio of almost three, we can respect him in the morning. A .276 BABIP is fortunate but not the fluke of the century.
In the K/9 and innings cap world, Saunders can't be streamed aggressively: his low strikeout rate (61 whiffs in 114.2 innings) serves as a deal-breaker. But with a 3.11 ERA and 1.16 WHIP at Safeco, I'm willing to put him into the temporary-assignment conversation when the schedule plays along. And given what we saw in the wins over Texas and Cincinnati, maybe Saunders can be rostered as a deep-league head-to-head option (where volume becomes a little more important).
I'm not sure how Seattle will open the second half with its rotation, but the schedule looks reasonable for the first week and a half (at Houston, then Cleveland and Minnesota at home). Perhaps this is someone we can trust in deeper formats, and in leagues where the strikeout chase isn't everything. (I took the plunge in the 16-team Puppet Show pro-am, perhaps to the jest of my competitors. Go ahead, have a laugh, amigos.)
• Brett Lawrie was a fantasy letdown for most of 2012 (given his draft day cost) and he's been an outright flop this year (.209/.268/.374 over 37 games, though we'll take the five homers). A left-ankle sprain has kept him off the radar for six weeks. But now Lawrie is back in the majors, with a new path towards possible fantasy value.
The Blue Jays used Lawrie at second base during his rehab work (he was a second baseman for his first two years in pro ball) and the third-year man will start there Saturday at Baltimore. It's an interesting move for a variety of reasons. Our fake teams would love to see Lawrie add an extra spot of eligibility, but it's always risky to move a player to a more difficult defensive position. Remember the Gordon Beckham crash landing back in 2010, everyone? (Bill James put it succinctly back in 1988: "Rightward shifts along the defensive spectrum almost never work.")
Mind you, fake-baseball owners don't care much about Lawrie's defense - we just want him to hit and stick in the lineup, somewhere. Maybe there's a post-hype story to consider in the YYZ. Everyone was in love with Lawrie back in 2011, after all, and he was a Top 40 prospect before that season.
Speed Round: Although the Mets are going to keep Matt Harvey available for the All-Star Game (where he will likely start for the NL), he's going to miss a turn or two for the Mets, partly due to a blister. For those in head-to-head formats, this is welcome news - usually we're fine to trade some work now for assignments in September . . . The Pirates dispatched New York in 11 innings, partly because Terry Collins followed the maddening strategy of burying his best reliever, hoping for a save situation to come around later. Bobby Parnell watched it all from the bullpen . . . Chris Perez needed a day off, so Cody Allen (2 H, 1 BB, 3 K) negotiated a tricky ninth for the handshake against the Royals . . . Jarred Cosart had the Rays baffled during his big-league debut (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K), but his walk problem in Triple-A (it's at 4.8/9 this year) steers me away . . . Yasiel Puig (hip) started Friday's game but was removed in the fourth inning . . . Justin Upton left Friday's game with a calf strain and won't play Saturday . . . Alex Cobb is ready to start throwing batting practice after passing a series of concussion tests . . . Ryan Hanigan (wrist, 15-day DL) isn't much of a hitter, but the Reds are going to miss his defense. Devin Mesoraco figures to be the primary catcher for a couple of weeks . . . John Lackey and Jarrod Parker pitched to a draw Friday, though Boston's offense and bullpen provided Lackey with a win anyway (Parker took a no-decision). After a horrible start to the year, Parker has settled down nicely: he's posted a 2.49 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over his last 12 games.