With all the young talent scattered around baseball, it’s easy to forget about the well-established players still producing at respectable levels. Those seasoned veterans might be well-removed from their peak years, but can remain relevant in both the real world and for fantasy purposes.
Week 8 of Three Up, Three Down features two veterans aged 35 and older enjoying resurgent seasons, while a hot-swinging rookie continues to turn heads. Meanwhile, three other established stars aren’t putting up their normal strong numbers, but some promising signs suggest that a turnaround isn’t far off.
Stats May 23 – 29: 7-for-20, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 K
Percent owned: 10 percent
After years of defying Father Time, Utley appeared to finally fade out of fantasy baseball relevance last season. He hit a meager .212/.286/.343 with the Phillies and Dodgers, appearing in just 107 games. His weighted runs created plus (wRC+), an advanced metric used to quantify a player’s total offensive value, was a career-worst 71. The league average for wRC+ is always 100, meaning Utley was 29 percent worse than the average hitter in 2015.
This season has been a different story. Utley’s wRC+ is now 133, his highest since 2009. His walk rate of 10.6 percent is his highest since 2012, and he’s hitting line drives more often than ever before. His current contact profile and plate discipline have him looking more like 31-year-old, MVP-caliber Chase Utley than the 36-year-old washed-up version.
The biggest thing Utley has going for him is his ability to remain on the field, having appeared in 45 of the Dodgers’ 51 games. As the team’s primary leadoff hitter, he’ll have even more fantasy value if teammates Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig can heat up behind him in the lineup.
Stats May 23 – 29: 1 GS, 0-1 W-L, 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 7 K
Percent owned: 13 percent
It’s been a long, long time since Sabathia has been fantasy relevant. After two injury-plagued seasons — including ending last year with a stint in an alcohol rehabilitation facility — it appears the big lefty has reinvented himself during his 16th season.
After years of declining velocity, Sabathia has leaned more heavily on his sinker than ever before. His varied repertoire has resulted in a drastic decrease in home runs — he’s given up just one dinger in 41.1 innings this year after allowing 38 in 213.1 frames from 2014 to 2015.
Sabathia’s inducing more soft contact than he has since 2011, and his current ERA of 2.83 is right in line with his 2.99 FIP. Though he’ll almost assuredly allow home runs at a higher rate moving forward, he seems to have found a way to remain effective as he approaches his 36th birthday.
He’s still an injury risk, and the Yankees haven’t been able to score runs consistently for him, but Sabathia’s underlying numbers suggest a good amount of legitimacy for his strong start. Any fantasy owners struggling for starting pitchers should look to add the early contender for Comeback Player of the Year.
Stats May 23 – 29: 8-for-23, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K
Percent owned: 71 percent
Heading into the season, Mazara’s name was largely overlooked in favor of other high-profile minor league bats — Corey Seager, Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo all had more hype as fantasy players for 2016. None have enjoyed more success at the plate than the sweet-swinging Mazara, who’s shown an advanced approach at the plate well beyond his age.
In 131 minor league games last season, Mazara hit .296/.366/.443, with 42 extra base hits in 558 plate appearances. He’s been a line-drive machine during his rookie campaign, particularly against right-handed pitching, though he’s struggled to match that production against lefties.
In 57 plate appearances against left-handers, Mazara has just one walk and two extra base hits. Obviously he’ll need to improve on that, especially as the league is still adjusting to him. He’ll undoubtedly go through a rough patch or two at some point this year, but his first 42 games in The Show should be enough proof that he has staying power as a fantasy asset.
Stats May 23 – 29: 2 GS, 1-0 W-L, 13.1 IP, 5 ER, 10 H, 2 HR, 4 BB, 9 K
Percent owned: 99 percent
Price’s performance during his first two months in Boston has been an enigma. His 7-1 record looks good, and his 10.35 strikeout rate is the highest of his career. But he’s sporting an ugly 5.11 ERA, among the highest in the Majors, making him one the most disappointing offseason acquisitions.
The peripheral numbers, however, tell a different story. All of Price’s underlying stats are in line with — or better than — his career averages. The difference between his ERA and FIP is the highest among all qualified starters, which indicates he’s performing much better than the raw numbers would suggest.
David Price Career ERA, K/9 and BB/9 | PointAfter
Price’s spike in ERA can be attributed largely to his results on balls in play. He’s allowing a career high in BABIP and line drive rate, and though his velocity has declined a bit, the numbers suggest that he’s still plenty capable of pitching at an elite level. Price’s production doesn’t reflect his peripheral stats mostly because of mechanical inconsistencies and plain old bad luck, and he’s a very safe bet to improve going forward. Price owners should be on high alert for lowball offers and reject anything less than top dollar.
Stats May 23 – 29: 5-for-22, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
Percent owned: 98 percent
In the midst of a contract year, Encarnacion is not having the type of season a soon-to-be free agent would want. Though he’s on pace for another 30-home run year, his .239/.314/.443 slash line is his worst since 2010. His walks are down and strikeouts are up, both worrisome signs for a player entering his mid-30s.
The biggest cause for Encarnacion’s lackluster season has been his struggles against right-handed pitching. After hitting .280/.375/.575 last season, he’s managed to slash just .229/.285/.408 so far in 2016 while maintaining strong numbers against lefties.
It’s hard to say exactly why Encarnacion has fared so poorly. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and more often at strikes, and he’s hitting line drives at his highest rate since 2005. The Blue Jays have been a big disappointment this season, and Encarnacion is one of several hitters who have underwhelmed. As difficult as it might be for owners, patience seems like the best approach at this point. There doesn’t appear to be anything drastically wrong with his swing or health, so perhaps a turnaround is right around the corner.
Stats May 23 – 29: 8-for-29, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 6 K
Percent owned: 98 percent
No player has been trumpeted more often by readers for inclusion in the Three Down section than Abreu. After two months, the people have spoken — something is amiss with the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year.
After finishing fourth in AL MVP voting two years ago, Abreu’s production waned last year. He posted a 167 wRC+ in 2014, which dropped to 129 in 2015. This year, that number is down to 90. Abreu’s strikeout ant walk rates have more or less stayed the same each year, but his ISO has declined significantly.
Abreu hit 73 extra base his in 2014 but has just 16 through 50 games this year. He’s seeing more off-speed pitches than in years past, and he’s generally become more passive at the plate. All of this combined with his decline in hard-contact rate suggest that it’s time for the 29-year-old to develop a new approach, because teams seem to have figured him out.
Nick Selbe is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that's part of the Graphiq network. PointAfter is a platform for hitting charts, scatter plots and other data visualizations about MLB players, NBA teams and dozens of other topics.