Three of the four major-league leaders in RBIs going into this weekend — Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton — had something fantastically important in common.
Slugging outfielders Ethier (Dodgers), Swisher (Yankees) and Hamilton (Rangers) are set to become free agents this winter, meaning they’re in their so-called walk years. The otherworldly Kemp is signed to the Dodgers long-term — he’s just in a leap year.
It’s human nature for players to have career years on the brink of a massive payday. They have a few million reasons to increase their preparation, up their intensity, tough out a minor injury, etc. Carl Crawford in 2010 and Jose Reyes in 2011 immediately come to mind.
The walk-year bump is a useful trend for fantasy managers to exploit. Here’s a look at some of the lesser lights of the 2013 free-agent class worth a pickup:Starting pitchers
Let’s say prime-age strikeout artists Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels aren’t for sale. There are a number of attractive arms on the next tier.
Don’t let the home-run numbers scare you off the Rangers’ Colby Lewis. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher working in a bandbox, it comes with the territory — he allowed a league-leading 35 last year. But with a slight luck correction, dependable run support, a strong K rate and walk numbers approaching nil, he’s a savvy buy.
The Nationals’ Edwin Jackson (who has 26 whiffs through 25-plus innings by featuring a devastating slider) and the Marlins’ Anibal Sanchez will pile up strikeouts while minimizing ERA damage in what appear to be pitchers’ parks. ERA front-runners Kyle Lohse (Cardinals) and Joe Saunders (D’backs) have been more lucky than good so far, but it doesn’t mean you can’t ride it.
The Michael Bourn Legacy — on basepaths this summer. The Braves leadoff man has hiked up his walks, making 70 steals a possibility. Carlos Lee is a forgotten War Caballo, on pace for 110 RBIs and a candidate for a work-release from his term in Houston.
Crawford’s elbow injury is medicine for Cody Ross owners: The pull-happy Red Sox righty can challenge 30 homers taking aim at the Green Monster. The Rays’ B.J. Upton is the most dissed 20-30 guy in the league. The Giants’ Melky Cabrera is the most covert 20-30 threat in the league, and he might hit .300 to boot.
Mike Napoli has launched another 30-homer season in Texas. See if you can pry away Diamondbacks backstop Miguel Montero while his early-season slump lingers. The mirage is his .250 slugging percentage at Arizona’s generous Chase Field — that figure should double.
Russell Martin, worth more in an on-base league than one with straight batting average, was nursing a .118 average with runners on. A reversion there will produce an RBI windfall in the potent Yankees lineup.
Nick Swisher, Andre Ethier, Josh Hamilton, Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Dodgers, Zack Greinke, Jonathan LehmanROTO FILESThree, Cole Hamels, Michael Bourn Legacy, Rangers, Edwin Jackson, Colby Lewis, the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Reyes, Miguel Montero, Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders