Daily Dose: Buy low for the second half

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While the baseball world pauses for the All-Star break, here are a
dozen players who fantasy owners should be looking to acquire with
their value low …

Scott Baker – Baker got off to a homerific start as he battled
shoulder soreness and inconsistent mechanics, going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA
and eight long balls after four outings. He’s been his usual self since
then, going 7-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 66/16 K/BB ratio in 81 innings. As
an extreme fly-ball pitcher homers will always hurt Baker, but he
hasn’t served up more than two in a start since April 22.

Cole Hamels – On the surface it looks like Hamels has declined
significantly this season, going 5-5 with a 4.87 ERA after last year’s
3.07 mark. However, the bulk of his struggles stem from an
unsustainably terrible .348 batting average on balls in play that’s 53
points worse than his career rate. Once that number gets back to normal
his strikeout and walk rates are as strong as usual and he’ll be fine.

Howie Kendrick – Kendrick has plenty of flaws in his game, but
there’s no doubt that he can post big batting averages and when the
Angels demoted him to the minors last month it just made him
undervalued. He came back two weeks ago, has hit above .300 since
returning, and the 25-year-old career .294 hitter should post his usual
high-average, low-power, solid-speed numbers down the stretch.

Cliff Lee – He hasn’t pitched as well as he did while winning the Cy
Young award last season, but the difference isn’t nearly as huge as his
lowly 4-9 record would indicate. Lee has suffered from a severe lack of
bullpen and run support, but his luck can’t help but improve and his
record could reverse itself in the second half if he keeps pitching
like the guy with a 3.43 ERA and 93/33 K/BB ratio.

Ricky Nolasco – Much like Baker, Nolasco’s brutal start to the
season masks an otherwise solid performance. His secondary numbers were
strong even when the Marlins demoted him to the minors, and since
returning he’s gone 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA and 53/8 K/BB ratio in 47
innings spread over seven starts. Since the start of last year he has
the eighth-best strikeout rate for pitchers with 300 innings.

David Ortiz – By this point everyone surely realizes that Ortiz has
snapped out of his early slump, but with his OPS still at a modest .733
not everyone is aware of just how good he’s been while slugging .617
with 11 homers, six doubles, and 29 RBIs in 35 games since the calendar
flipped to June. It should surprise no one if Ortiz posts a 1.000 OPS
in the second half.

Alexei Ramirez – Batting under .200 through 30 games has left
Ramirez’s overall stats looking sickly, but he’s at .318/.378/.484 with
10 homers in 55 games since. Ramirez has already drawn nearly twice as
many non-intentional walks as he did last year and is on pace for twice
as many steals. Despite the early hiccups, by season’s end he’ll likely
be a top-three fantasy shortstop.

Alex Rios – Rios is on pace for 20 homers, 40 doubles, 85 RBIs, and
25 steals, which is better all-around production than he managed last
season, but his .262 batting average is a career-low after he hit .302,
.297, and .291 in the previous three seasons. All of which adds up to
an ideal buy-low candidate, as Rios was a top-30 outfielder in the
first half and has room to move into the top 20.

Jimmy Rollins – Arguably the largest disappointment of the first
half, Rollins had a .227 batting average and .642 OPS after batting at
least .277 with a .770 OPS in each of the past five seasons. Throughout
the struggles he still showed plenty of power and speed with 29
extra-base hits and 16 steals, but an NL-worst .207 mark on balls in
play doomed him. That should be closer to .307 after the break.

Max Scherzer – Scherzer was one of my preseason breakout picks and
has lived up to expectations with a 3.64 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 96.1
innings, but his 5-6 record leaves him undervalued. He’s starting to
pitch deeper into games and has walked more than three batters just
once in his last 15 outings, so the wins figure to come easier for
Scherzer in the second half.

B.J. Upton – Upton missed the first week and got off to a brutal
start as he came back from offseason shoulder surgery, but has batted
.276/.352/.453 with seven homers, 24 total extra-base hits, and 24
steals in 55 games since mid-May. He’s a good bet to show even more
power in the second half, and only Willy Taveras and Jacoby Ellsbury
have swiped more bases since the beginning of last year.

Matt Wieters – Don’t let predictably failing to live up to the crazy
immediate hype convince you of anything other than the fact that
Wieters is human. Owners who expected him to arrive in the majors as a
fully formed MVP candidate have been disappointed, but he’s quietly hit
.300 with three homers and four doubles in the past two dozen games and
is capable of being a top-10 catcher going forward.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.