By the Numbers: The All-Enigma Team


In the days heading into the All-Star break, many of us like to invent our own lists of All-Somethings. There are All-Snub, All-Overrated, All-Underrated and All-Bounceback teams, at least in our imaginations.

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But what about the All-What-the-Heck-Happened-Here Team?

That's the lineup I'm going to build right here and now, though for the sake of brevity, I'll call it the All-Enigma Team.

Going around the horn, I'll pick a player at each position who has put up numbers that don't look the way I thought they would at midseason and try to figure out exactly what happened over the last three months. I'll even throw in a bonus pitcher, singling out both an enigmatic starter and a reliever. Some of these players will have clear signs of an impending breakout or downturn, while others could easily remain on their current course for the rest of the year.

All stats are current through Tuesday, July 3.

Catcher: Carlos Santana, Indians: Santana's disappointing follow-up to his breakthrough 2011 season has everything to do with a lack of power. His strong plate discipline is intact, but when he makes contact, the result too many times has been a weak grounder. Santana's ground ball tendencies have grown even stronger over the last month, and when he has been getting air under the ball, not many of his flies have had warning track power behind them. Given that Santana has been dealing with a sore back recently, it's plausible that his worsening trends are tied to his injury. Just a year ago, we saw that the 26-year-old is capable of much more, so under no circumstance should Santana be dropped or sold low. However, he is benchable in one-catcher leagues until he shows improvement.

First base: Mark Trumbo, Angels: Entering the season, it wouldn't have seemed outlandish for Trumbo to go on a 35-to-40 home run pace, as long as he found a way to get regular playing time. However, even with that power, he didn't appear to have enough else going for him to be ranked among the top five first basemen in Rotisserie value, which he currently is. A high batting average on grounders has inflated his singles total, and a high average on liners has given him a boost in doubles, but his overall BABIP has already started to plummet. Over the last 28 days, Trumbo has clubbed eight homers, but he has hit just .242 with one double and two triples, and for that time period, he ranks 10th in Head-to-Head points and 11th in Rotisserie value. In the coming months, he may swap a few home runs for doubles, but ultimately, his June numbers should be a fair indicator of what he will do in the second half.

Second base: Neil Walker, Pirates: Walker is currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak that has added 13 points to his batting average, but even with the recent surge, he ranks 15th among second basemen in points leagues. Since we had projected him as the 10th-best second baseman for that format, Walker's first half has to rank as a disappointment. The doubles power that he showed over his first two seasons is what gave him some allure in standard Head-to-Head formats coming into this season, and up until a week ago, Walker had only 13 two-baggers on the season. His recent streak has put him more in line with his typical level of production, but a .407 BABIP since June 1 masks the fact that Walker is striking out far too often. For the second year in a row, pitchers are offering him far fewer pitches in the strike zone, and Walker is not having much success connecting when he ventures outside the zone. Maybe Walker can turn it around, but with few signs of a return to his prior form, it looks like a good time to put the Pirates' keystone on the market.

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Third base: Daniel Murphy, Mets: Since most owners probably use Murphy at second base, I'm cheating a little bit with my selection of him for the hot corner. While I've written on other puzzling producers like Ryan Zimmerman and Edwin Encarnacion, only lately has Murphy emerged as a riddle. He has been an excellent source of doubles throughout his career, but a series of knee injuries has appeared to have robbed him of his home run power. After a 12-homer season at the age of 24, Murphy looked to have 20-homer potential, but since then he has left the yard nine times in 188 games. The good news is that three of those homers have come in the past week. With a ground ball rate just above 50 percent over the last year and a half, it's no mystery as to why Murphy's power has evaporated, but he has slowed down his ground ball rate substanstially in recent weeks. Murphy's resurgence could turn out to be a speed bump inside of a larger trend of diminishing power, but at 27, he could just as easily be getting back to where he left off in his promising 2009 season.

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar, Royals: When Escobar hit .304 in a late-season callup with the Brewers three years ago, he looked like a future staple in Rotisserie leagues, where he could help owners with both batting average and stolen bases. Though he did amass 26 steals a year ago, Escobar's production had been so lackluster coming into this year that he became a draft day afterthought. He is hitting over .300 again and currently ranks 14th among shortstops in Rotisserie value, putting him back in the weekly start-or-sit discussion. Back in '09, I thought Escobar would be a legitimate .300 hitter in the mold of Ichiro Suzuki or Carl Crawford, using his speed to generate infield base hits. However, Escobar continues to be not much better than a typical hitter on ground balls (.263 ground ball batting average), but he is pumping up on his average with a .260 flyball BABIP. That might be sustainable for a more powerful hitter, but it just makes Escobar look like a major regression candidate for the second half.

Outfield: Josh Willingham, Twins: Willingham is a top 10 outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues and top 20 in Rotisserie, and his 18 home runs are getting all of the attention. However, this type of home run power is not unprecedented for Willingham, as his 20 percent home run per flyball ratio is not far above the 18 percent mark he registered three years ago. Injuries have limited Willingham's counting stats in the past, but even with good health, he has never been much of a doubles hitter. With 21 doubles already, it will take a major injury or slump to prevent him from surpassing his career high of 32, set with the Marlins in 2007. There is no apparent explanation for Willingham's bump in doubles, and his pace has started to slow over the past month. There is no reason to think that he won't continue to club homers, and that makes Willingham worth a start in practically all leagues, but especially in points leagues, now would be a good time to sell Willingham, if you can find an owner to buy him at his current value of a top 10 outfielder.

Outfield: Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays: When Rasmus was a Cardinal, he had to use road trips to put up a lot of his power stats, so his move last season to Toronto seemed to be a great fit. However, Rasmus' power numbers as a Blue Jay were decidedly unimpressive until recently, but over the past month, he has hit 10 home runs to go along with a .310 batting average. The turnaround can be traced to a reduction of strikeouts and a sizable upward tick in his flyball rate. reported that Rasmus adjusted his swing right around the time he started to heat up, but whether that has made the difference or not, we know that Rasmus is capable of sustaining this type of power production, since he did it for the Cardinals two years ago. The high flyball rate should eventually take a toll on Rasmus' batting average, but even so, he will be worth using in standard mixed leagues every week.

Outfield: Alex Rios, White Sox: Every team needs a captain, so I'm giving Rios a capital "C" for his All-Enigma Team jersey. After years of peaks and valleys in his Fantasy production, Rios has earned the distinction. Some of the year-to-year variation in his stats has been little more than white noise created by BABIP fluctuations, but there have been real swings in his home run power. It's not clear why Rios has been resurgent as a power hitter this year, but owners can trust it because he has done it before and he's not getting many cheap homers. Rios' personal-best rate of infield hits could slow down, bringing his batting average under .300, but he should still maintain enough value to remain viable as a No. 2 outfielder.

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Starting pitcher: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs: As a minor leaguer and as a major league reliever, Samardzija had been hard to pin down, and he has continued the pattern as a starter. After a rocky beginning of the season, Samardzija rolled off a series of seven starts that included several tough opponents, six quality starts, strikeouts aplenty and not too many walks or homers. Then hitters were suddenly lining up to take a shot at him, making frequent contact, hammering him for extra-base hits and drawing walks. Just when you thought you could give up on Samardzija, he came out and dominated the Braves on Monday.

We may just have to live with the inconsistency, at least in the short term. Even during Samardzija's bleak June, there were games where his command was strong and games where he was missing bats, but he didn't have both things going at the same time. We have to remember that Samardzija is new to this role, and he still doesn't have that much major league experience as measured by innings pitched. We have seen his ceiling, but just because we saw it consistently over several weeks doesn't mean he can achieve it with consistency going forward. Samardzija showed us on Monday that he isn't done as an arm for standard mixed leagues, but he will need to reel off a few more gems before he can be trusted as anything more than a low-end, through-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks option.

Relief pitcher: J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks: Both Putz and John Axford were among last season's top five Fantasy relievers, but neither is currently among the top 30. At least with Axford, you know that an erosion of his control is to blame, but Putz is a harder case to crack. His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates are all very close to last season's, and his WHIP is respectable at 1.15, but his ERA is teetering just south of 5.00. Part of Putz's problem is one of perception; he overperformed in 2011, thanks to a microscopic eight percent line drive rate, so some dropoff in performance was to be expected. However, the biggest factor impacting his ERA is a 62 percent strand rate. While Putz has rarely excelled at stranding baserunners, he is usually much better than this, but strand rates can vary greatly from year to year. Chances are good that Putz will strand more runners in the second half, and he should be no worse than a low-end No. 1 reliever.

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