Game of Fantasy Thrones: Saying goodbye to big-name players

By R.J. White |

Justin Verlander may be on his way off Fantasy teams. (USATSI)
Justin Verlander may be on his way off Fantasy teams. (USATSI)

HBO has hit the jackpot with Game of Thrones, its adaptation of the popular series by George R.R. Martin. Part of the fun of Thrones is the way the audience goes nuts when a character gets fatally written off the show. It's been proven that it can happen at any time with anyone.

In Fantasy baseball, some players on your roster feel like they should never be cast to the waiver wire, due to high expectations, former success or a combination of the two. But sticking with a disappointing player for too long can be the main reason a team kisses in championship hopes goodbye in non-head-to-head formats.

It's time to take a cue from Martin and Thrones. Here are some players that I'll be selling low to whomever is willing to give me something of value.

Matt Cain, SP, Giants

One of the most consistently good pitchers of the last few years, Cain has seen the bottom fall out in 2014. His strikeout rate has dropped, his walk rate has climbed and his home run rate has shot through the roof. The fickle nature of BABIP can't be blamed, as Cain has actually posted a lower BABIP (.249) than normal. What has happened is that his once-great silder has turned into a mediocre pitch, and one of the results of that is that Cain is getting far fewer swings out of the strike zone.

Normally when a pitcher struggles, you can say "At least it couldn't be worse." I think we've been lucky that Cain hasn't turned in an ERA over 5.00. His pedigree and age suggest he's far from finished, but I'm done counting on a guy who has turned in just three quality starts this season.

Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers

When you caught on to the premise of this article, you knew we'd have an Orange Wedding on our hands. Verlander has fallen well short of his strikeout-per-inning excellence of the last five years. Despite the lower strikeout totals, his overall numbers were just fine through early May, but things have quickly turned south. Over his last seven starts, Verlander has given up less than five earned runs just once. He's struggled with his control (3.78 walks per nine innings this season), and teams have been able to wait for pitches to drive as a result, leaving Verlander to give up runs in bunches. His average fastball velocity has slipped from the 95-mph range in 2011 and earlier down to 92.6 mph this season.

Could he be dealing with a nagging injury? Could his arm finally be getting fatigued after delivering high inning totals year in and year out? Either way, I'm sending him to the Wall and going to war with someone else at this point.

Jay Bruce, OF, Reds

When you own Jay Bruce on your Fantasy team, you deal with a mediocre average in order to enjoy the benefit of his awesome power. Not only has the power not been there this season, but his batting average has dropped from mediocre to Dunnsian levels. Bruce has posted the lowest Isolated Power mark of his career by a mile this season as his batted ball profile has turned into one with a ton of grounders and an absence of fly balls. Normally a guy who knocks the ball in the air 40 percent to 45 percent of the time, Bruce has managed just a 31.1 percent fly ball rate as we near the halfway mark of the season. On the other hand, his groundball rate has shot up roughly 10 points to 45.1 percent. He has endured issues with the strike zone this season as well, swinging at only 67.2 percent of pitches in the zone, down from 76.1 percent in 2013 and 75.8 percent in 2012.

If we're talking about a relatively shallow league with quality OF talent on the wire, I'd seriously consider dropping Bruce completely off the roster if I couldn't find a willing trade partner. In 12-team leagues or higher, I'm using him to get an upgrade somewhere on my team and rolling with a replacement-level talent in Bruce's spot.

Joe Mauer, C/1B, Twins

Once a king of the catcher rankings, Mauer was in line to enjoy a healthier season with his permanent move to first base this year. Fantasy owners were lining up to enjoy his last year of catcher eligibility with the expectation that his large volume of at-bats would help to elevate Fantasy team batting averages. Mauer has had the at-bats, but he's hitting more like a league-average catcher than the Mauer we've come to expect. While he has delivered a typically-excellent line drive rate, the first baseman has seen his BABIP drop from Mauerian levels to a merely average level. His decent power has been virtually nonexistent, and as a result, Mauer has posted the lowest Isolated Power mark of his career, so he's not trading batting average for a better power stroke.

Teams in two-catcher leagues obviously don't have any other choice but to hang on to the slumping catcher-eligible player, but those in one-catcher leagues are better off swapping Mauer in a trade for something useful and rolling with a guy like Derek Norris, John Jaso or Kurt Suzuki at the catcher position if available. This was supposed to be Mauer's last season of major fantasy relevance, but it appears that day has already come and gone.

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