|ESPN.com: Eric Karabell||[Print without images]|
I spent a reserve bench pick on New York Mets outfielder Marlon Byrd in the LABR NL-only auction the first weekend of March, hoping the guy would just make the team. After all, the goal late in a one-league format is often to simply find playing time, and the Mets seemed oddly committed to Byrd, a fellow who was awful for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox in 2012, hitting .210 with three extra-base hits in 47 games. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Byrd was out of baseball by the All-Star break, but of course I’m quite pleased that his grand slam in San Francisco late Tuesday night was his 14th home run of the season, putting him on pace to obliterate his career mark with 26 blasts at age 35. Makes perfect sense, right?
Fantasy owners in mixed leagues continue to seem rather cautious in adding Byrd, as he’s available in roughly three-quarters of standard leagues, even though he’s showing no signs of curtailing this power surge. Byrd is hitting .333 in July and has three consecutive multihit games and five in his past eight starts. After all, even when Byrd was in his prime -- he’s certainly past that now -- he wasn’t hitting for this kind of power. Byrd played for the Texas Rangers for a few seasons, and only once did he hit more than 12 home runs. That was 2009, when Byrd mashed 20 blasts and knocked in 89 runs for a team in a clear hitter’s park. Last year, Byrd hit one home run. He was a mess. Somehow he’s already hit 10 home runs off right-handed pitching alone, and not only has he kept his starting job for a team going nowhere, he’s now tied for the team lead in home runs, with one more than Home Run Derby captain David Wright.
OK, so this has to end soon, right? Byrd is old and, unlike the surprising Raul Ibanez of the Seattle Mariners, showed no hint of power last season. Ibanez has hit for relatively consistent power for a decade. Byrd has not. Plus, he’s striking out in more than 28 percent of his at-bats, he isn’t drawing walks at even a modest rate, his BABIP is inflated (.327), his fly-ball rate is really inflated (nearly 40 percent) and his home ballpark, while lovely and possessing a Shake Shack (my excitement level for that establishment is right up there with attending the All-Star Game next week!), is not exactly favorable for power hitters. Byrd is hitting .233 with a .664 OPS at Citi Field and .305 with a .963 OPS away from it. And despite all this evidence, I really don’t see Byrd simply falling apart. It’s not like the Mets have some magical right-field prospect ready to replace him. Sure, he should lose some batting average points soon, but his new approach -- to simply try to hit everything to left field and in the air -- is apparently working, and pitchers aren’t adjusting. Byrd hasn’t been hapless against right-handed pitching. Can he hit another 10 home runs overall and provide value for deeper-league owners? It makes little sense, but yeah, it looks like he can.
Box-score bits (NL): Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta spun a three-hit shutout (although Derrick Robinson looked safe on his inside-the-park home run) against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, walking four and striking out six. Peralta entered play with a 5.27 ERA and a sore hamstring that had pushed this outing back, but this is a reminder of his immense upside. I just wouldn’t unilaterally trust him for his next outing. Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Eaton mercifully made his season debut Tuesday, going hitless in four at-bats as the leadoff hitter and dropping a fly ball in center field. Eaton projects as a base stealer with batting average upside and a bit of power, and if his balky elbow is healed, watch him even for standard leagues. Eaton’s season debut came in the Los Angeles Dodgers debut for right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who was far more successful with seven innings of one-run ball and two hits at the plate. Nolasco left Miami’s pitcher’s park for another in Los Angeles, but his erratic history tells us it shouldn’t matter. Be careful trusting Nolasco. The Washington Nationals unveiled new outfielder Scott Hairston on Tuesday, and he led off and had both hits off Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels. Hairston, acquired from the Chicago Cubs Monday, smacked 20 home runs for the New York Mets a year ago, and does his best work against lefties. Look for him to be busy with the Nats, though he’s not close to 10- or 12-team material. Antonio Bastardo closed out Hamels’ fourth win of the season, as Jonathan Papelbon had pitched four of five days. The confused Phillies aren’t at all likely to trade Papelbon, but this is a reminder that Bastardo is next in line.
Box-score bits (AL): Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer continued his fine work Tuesday by beating the Minnesota Twins. Archer allowed one unearned run in six innings, lowering his ERA to 3.59. This is a pitcher to buy low on, especially when he limits the walks. Texas Rangers rookie Jurickson Profar started at shortstop Tuesday and hit second in the order, hitting a double, drawing a walk and scoring twice because Adrian Beltre is really, really good. Profar has been a disappointment, but note his slash line of .246/.323/.364. Incumbent shortstop Elvis Andrus, the designated hitter Tuesday (which is just ridiculous, by the way), has a .250/.305/.290 slash line. Free Profar. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft has been warning fantasy owners that Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was a sell-high choice, and look at the numbers: Including Tuesday’s pounding by the Boston Red Sox (six runs, eight hits in three innings), Iwakuma has a 6.83 ERA and no wins in five starts. Sorry, but it’s probably too late to sell now.