- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and his sore right foot got the day off Thursday against Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle, but fantasy owners can’t complain about a season’s worth of surprising production. Davis, a 15th-round choice in ESPN average live drafts, enters the final weekend of the season with a MLB-leading 52 home runs, the only impediment to Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera perhaps earning his second consecutive Triple Crown (the two are tied with 137 RBIs). However, Cabrera was the first overall pick in most leagues, so congrats to Davis for taking home fantasy MVP honors among hitters, as he provided incredible value.
Davis always had noteworthy power, but not this much. He still swings and misses at many a pitch and could top 200 strikeouts this weekend, but he has raised his walk rate and hit a lot more fly balls, and a lot of them have left ballparks. If you had told me in March that Davis was more likely to reach 50 home runs or flirt with a .300 batting average much of the season, I would have taken the power. It’s unique for anyone who strikes out in nearly a third of at-bats to hit for a high batting average; of the top 15 in strikeouts, three aren’t even hitting .200. Davis is the only one hitting .270 (he’s at .285, with a .265 career mark). Still, ESPN Fantasy had him pegged at 31 home runs and 83 RBIs. Davis had those numbers by mid-July.
There’s an old saying that fantasy baseball leagues aren’t won by first-round picks like Cabrera and Mike Trout, but by the mid-round picks that blossom into superstars. Davis should be a first-rounder in 2014 drafts, and while I tend to devalue first basemen some, and remain a tad worried about batting average, it’s tough to argue. The guy has 52 home runs! He and Cabrera are the only ones with more than 36. It’s a large differentiator. Davis should return to Baltimore’s lineup this weekend and finish his amazing campaign among the top five on ESPN’s Player Rater. Last year he was No. 104. That’s value. Others high on the value list for fantasy hitter MVP are Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (stolen base champ), Milwaukee Brewers Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter and Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Box score bits (AL): While Davis shined, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters took a few steps backward this season. Sure, Wieters blasted his 22nd home run Thursday, but it has still been a disappointing season for him with a .234 batting average and .286 on-base percentage. Wieters was the fourth catcher chosen in ESPN average live drafts. In 2014, he might miss the top 10. … Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb tossed seven shutout innings at Yankee Stadium Thursday, lowering his ERA to 2.76. He doesn’t have enough innings to be among the ERA leaders, but Cobb won his final three starts and became a major strikeout option. Top-20 stardom could be looming in 2014. … Not only did Texas Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry start against a right-handed pitcher Thursday, but he stole his 21st base and seventh in the past week. He’s not young and not likely to get 500 at-bats in a season, but if you need steals this weekend, go get him. … Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko hit his 12th home run Thursday, obviously a lot fewer than was expected. Konerko, 37, might be done, and if that’s the case, fantasy owners will remember his 434 home runs and .281 batting average fondly. He was largely underrated.
Box score bits (NL): Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward smacked the first pitch of Thursday’s win for a home run, then later doubled three times and singled. Heyward will finish a major disappointment for the second season in three, but remember, he’s only 23. He’ll be a 2014 bargain. … New York Mets leadoff hitter Eric Young Jr. stole two bases Thursday, giving him 44 on the season, tied with Segura for most in the NL. Young has no power and a low OBP, but watch his situation next spring. He’s worth owning if some team gives him 500 at-bats. … Mets third baseman David Wright left Thursday’s game early when struck in the head by a Johnny Hellweg pitch. Wright might not see any more pitches this week, but I have no concerns about him for 2014. If he misses my top 10 overall, it won’t be by much. … Young San Diego Padres lefty Robbie Erlin closed his rookie campaign strong with seven innings of three-hit, two-run ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Erlin posted a 1.96 ERA in his final five starts. He’s a strikeout guy with Petco Park as an asset, and a 2014 sleeper.
Closer report: I would not want to own Cleveland Indians right-hander Chris Perez this weekend. Look for manager Terry Francona to go with Joe Smith or even starter Justin Masterson. Perez, meanwhile, could be elsewhere in 2014, starting his Kevin Gregg-like journey that will always result in messy saves. … Cardinals fans seem to think Trevor Rosenthal will remain the team’s closer in 2014. It’s certainly possible, but that’s a 220-inning arm. The Cardinals are smart, Rosenthal will start. … It has finally sunk in that New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is done. In dynasty leagues in which free agency closes when the final regular-season game does, add David Robertson. He’ll save 35 games in 2014. … If Baltimore’s Jim Johnson saves a game this weekend it will give him 100 in two years. It’s about opportunity, folks, not skills. Just ask Kevin Gregg.
And that is all for the Box Score Bits in 2013. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, supporting and hopefully enjoying. It was an honor, as always. Enjoy your offseason!