Closing Time: The case for Nate Karns

How about a test drive on 55? (AP)
How about a test drive on 55? (AP)

What’s on your schedule for a Thursday? Some yard work? Maybe a trip to a steakhouse? Some NHL playoffs? Poker with your pals? An afternoon nap? An endless sea of rhetorical questions?

How about a point and click with Nate Karns? The right-handed starter has been trying to get your attention in Kansas City, but the fantasy crowd has been slow to react.

Karns has been a strikeout ace in his last three turns, whiffing seven, 10 and 12 batters. Normally that’s the sort of thing that makes you leap off the waiver wire, but he’s still available in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. You see, his overall ERA is still 4.46, and he’s on a Royals team that’s been hard to trust for fantasy this year.

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Maybe the ERA isn’t a big deal though — Karns also has a 1.21 WHIP, and when an ERA and WHIP conflict, I tend to trust the WHIP. And the Royals have a plus defense, which is going to help Karns more than it hurts. If Karns could just keep the ball in the park a little bit more — a 22.9 percent HR/FB rate has been killer — we might be looking at something special. His xFIP currently trades at 3.24.

Flexibility adds to the Karns case — he qualifies at SP and RP in Yahoo leagues. He’s getting more swinging strikes this year, and more out-of-zone chases. There’s a sneaky upside to be had, you just have to look in the right pockets. Maybe you don’t like Karns at the Yanks next week, but I’ll use him at Minnesota for Friday, and against Detroit on May 29.

• We mentioned the Yankees in passing above, and let’s take it little deeper. The Bronx Bombers have become the wrecking crew in the American League this year. On Wednesday, the Yanks threw 11 runs and 16 hits at the Royals, kick-starting the Jason Vargas regression tour (4 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 4 K).

The Yanks are second in the majors in runs, and it’s a group that keeps coming at you. Consider this: Aaron Hicks slotted eighth in Wednesday’s lineup, despite his juicy .326/.464/.616 slash. It seems a little ridiculous, but who are you going to bump? The Top 7 Yanks have OBPs ranging from .336 (Headley) to .426 (Judge), and there’s power and speed sprinkled throughout the group.

New York ranks second in average, first in OBP, and third in slugging. The Yanks are third in homers, fifth in steals. This versatile lineup is here to hurt us.

Hicks has chased up to 60 percent ownership in Yahoo, despite the fact that he doesn’t play every day. Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, and Jacoby Ellsbury also man the outfield spots, while Matt Holliday and Chris Carter are around for 1B and DH. I’m more optimistic about Hicks than most, chasing his first-round pedigree and his broad range of skills. I’d also slot him higher in this order, but the way Hicks has been producing to this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Shortstop Didi Gregorius offers a cheaper path into this offensive undertow. Gregorius wasn’t ready to go when the season started, which is why his run production isn’t much yet — he’s only had 72 at-bats. But a .319/.351/.417 slash is acceptable from a middle infielder, and remember he conked 20 home runs in his 2016 breakout.

I’d certainly take Gregorius over several other players in his ownership neighborhood, names like Logan Forsythe, Yangveris Solarte and Tim Anderson.

• For the last three years, Eddie Butler has been a dead fantasy commodity to me. I don’t mess with Colorado starters. There’s too much downside risk in that ballpark, in those elements. Gravity always wins.

But Butler now toils for the Cubs, and maybe he’ll push his way into our fantasy lives. Maybe we can start to feel excited about the prospect buzz he had a few years ago.

The 26-year-old opened the year at Triple-A Iowa, putting in five strong starts (1.17 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). His strikeout rate wasn’t anything special (17 in 30.2 innings), and his K/BB ratio was just an eyelash over two. But when Butler got the call to Chicago, we watched with interest.

Butler looked the part at St. Louis, snapping off a strong six-inning debut (2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K). If Butler can make good against Milwaukee on Friday, perhaps he’ll have some staying power in the rotation. Brett Anderson (back) is on the disabled list, and he wasn’t getting anyone out (8.18 ERA) before the move.

• We had a chat about Justin Smoak a few days ago, so we won’t break into heavy rehash mode. Let’s just mention that he’s getting buzz in other places. Here’s our friend Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus.

Since we had our Smoak blog, he’s turned in two productive games. He walked three times and scored two runs Tuesday, then had a two-run Smoak Bomb in Wednesday’s loss at Atlanta. Do you like home runs? Do you like guys who get on base? Do you like gladiator movies?

The slash is up to .280/.342/.545, amigos. We can’t make the point and click for you. Smoak is still free to grab in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues. If you lost Freddie Freeman on Wednesday, or have worries about Miguel Cabrera, perhaps Smoak can offer some temporary relief.

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