If you have been keeping up with your team all season, now is probably the time you are reaping the rewards. With only a few weeks to go, many of us are experiencing the "YES! LOCKED UP THE DIVISION TITLE, JERKS!" feeling. If you are one of those select people, continue to read as I discuss players you should be looking at as the playoffs start. If you are stupid, lazy, or a Communist (I am assuming the correlation of Communism and the fall of the Soviet Union applies to fantasy baseball) and your team is out, then go ahead and skip this post and go play some fantasy football. "Community" reference, ftw!
1. Mark Reynolds should be for real. His recent tear against the Yankees is leaving Joe Girardi and company with the option of hitting him every time he comes up so that he can't hit the ball into the upper deck. But set aside his power for a second and consider that his walk rate is up, his notoriously terrible strike out rate is down, and his BABIP is right on career average. His BABIP was awful the past two seasons (0.257 and 0.266) but he has decreased his FB% and GB% and increased his line drive rate. Considering his HR/FB is 2% below his career average, this is possibly a sustainable increase in skill. This could be largely due to him swinging less (Swing% of 42.9% is a career low) and is therefore being more selective about what ball to hit, giving him better contact. All in all, I am not suggesting selling everything you have for him- regression could still occur- but if you have him, don't sell him unless you get a crazy deal.
2. How Angel Pagan is not owned in every single league blows my FREAKING mind. (Translation, beg, borrow and steal for this guy). If at the beginning of the season you asked me to over/under a Pagan wRC+ of 100, I would have laughed. With 562 plate appearances, far from a small sample, he has a wRC+ of 110. No, seriously. Sure, it is not coming from his power (8 HRs, 0.146 ISO) but his 0.284/0.336/0.430 slash line is solid. If he could walk more than his tepid 7.5% rate, his speed could create even more runs. Granted, as he ages his speed will decline- and his higher-than-usual BABIP could spell regression- but he could probably be grabbed in a pretty cheap trade. With the Giants fighting for a playoff spot, his playing time should continue.
3. Alex Rios is having himself quite the underrated year. Owned in (a surprisingly low) 88% of Yahoo! leagues, he might still be available. Considering the Comeback Player of the Year could come down to teammate Adam Dunn or Rios, he is playing better than that percentage shows. After a miserable 0.227/0.265/0.348 last season, he is posting a 0.298/0.329/0.516. His speed is still around (20 steals, 80% steal rate), but his power is at career-best levels (0.218 ISO, 0.361 wOBA). He is swinging at more pitches out of the zone than usual, but he is being helped by his 12.6% HR/FB rate (well above a career level of 9.1%). Considering his FB rate is right around last year (39.3% to 39.2%) perhaps some of it is luck. Then again, ESPN Home Run Tracker designated 3 of his 13 HRs in 2011 as 'No Doubts' while this year 5 of his 22 are 'NDs'. The kid can still crush a ball. Example: noted.
This article goes to prove that right now is NOT the time to stop fact checking. You can definitely get good trades done if you find players like these that the 'market' under-appreciates (see last week's column for more). It could be the difference between a Championship or a long winter.