Setting the Trends: Blackley meeting old expectations

Travis Blackley was, many years ago, one of the best pitching prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization -- the "crown jewel" -- according to then-manager Bob Melvin.

But after a poor showing in his first go-round with the team in 2004, coupled with nagging arm injuries and a poor attitude, Blackley became -- and he said this himself -- "Triple-A filler," bouncing between the farms teams of Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Arizona, Oakland and the Mets. He went through the gamut of being "kicked around," as the Australian was traded, released (twice), added off waivers and even selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

After making his Major League debut in 2004, Blackley pitched 8 2/3 additional innings in 2007 with the Giants before being cast into obscurity. In 34 2/3 total major league innings -- with a shoulder surgery in between -- Blackley managed a 9.35 ERA, 2.077 WHIP and gave up 11 home runs. He wouldn't see the majors again until 2012.

Before we get to the 2012 part of Blackley's story, though, it's important to note that he pulled a move that once changed the fortunes of Ryan Vogelsong and, in a stretch of a comparison, Cecil Fielder: spending a season (2011) in Asia (in this case, South Korea, pitching for the KIA Tigers in the Korean Baseball association). He also spent some time in Mexico and Australia.

In February, Blackley signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants and was assigned to the PCL. In 23 1/3 innings with the Fresno Grizzlies, Blackley went 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA. He was called up to San Francisco, thrust into a relief role and released after putting up a 9.00 ERA in five innings. Days later, the A's -- managed by ... Bob Melvin! -- picked up the discarded lefty, who threw six relief innings before being tabbed to start against the Twins on May 28. He allowed one run in five innings and, outside of giving up five runs in his next outing against the Rangers, Blackley has been stellar. As impressive as his current 3.15 ERA is, it gets even better when you just isolate his stats as a starter: a 2.92 ERA with the WHIP staying at 1.05. He even got his revenge on Texas five starts after they tagged him for five runs, holding them to one run in seven innings on July 1.

There's no telling how long this will last for Blackley. On one hand, there's very little in any set of numbers he's produced in the last seven years that would suggest he will keep this up. On the other hand there is everything else the numbers don't show -- a renewed work ethic, a Vogelsongian season in Asia, his former top prospect status and a refreshing outlook on how he approaches each game. For a Fantasy team looking to go for broke and make a run at the title this year, Blackley makes for a very intriguing option.

On to the Roster Trends!

Most Added Players (as of 7/25)
Player % increase
1. Josh Rutledge , SS, COL 24
2. Homer Bailey , SP, CIN 23
3. Ben Sheets , SP, ATL 22
4. Francisco Rodriguez , RP, MIL 14
5. Francisco Cordero , RP, HOU 18
6. Danny Espinosa , 2B, WAS 17
7. Paul Maholm , SP, CHC 17
8. Lorenzo Cain , OF, KC 17
9. Casper Wells , OF, SEA 16
10. Jose Quintana , RP, CHW 10

Most Added Highlights

Josh Rutledge , SS, COL
Jump in Ownership: 24 percent (from five to 29)
Reason for the jump: Rutledge is Colorado's new starting shortstop and is hitting .341, with one home run, six RBI and five doubles over 11 games.
Why you should join the crowd: First, Rutledge has the job right now, which sometimes is the most important factor when dealing with players owned in less than 30 percent of leagues. But he also has an impressive track record, with a .320 career minor league batting average. In 87 games with Double-A Tulsa this year (Rutledge skipped Triple-A entirely on his path to the majors), he had hit 13 home runs and stolen 14 bases. And, at least through his first 11 games in the majors, Rutledge has shown that he can hit at this level.
Devil's Advocate: The biggest obstacle between Rutledge and universal ownership -- right now -- is the eventual return of injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki . When that happens, one of three things could occur:
1. Marco Scutaro , currently starting at second base, will be traded or moved to third (currently manned by Jordan Pacheco and DJ LeMahieu ), clearing the way for Rutledge to start at second base.
2. Rutledge moves to third base.
3. Rutledge is optioned to the minors.
Those three scenarios will probably play out in that order, from most-likely to least. The Rockies are currently 17.5 games out of first place in the NL West and 16 behind the second wild card spot. They are likely seeing what Rutledge is capable of and would probably embrace the fact that they now have a tradeable asset in Scutaro if Rutledge can keep this up.

Less than 50, more than 50
Players owned in less than 50% of leagues who should be owned in more than 50%
Player % owned
1. Carlos Marmol , RP, CHC 48
2. Mark Reynolds , 3B, BAL 47
3. J.D. Martinez , OF, HOU 45
4. Erik Bedard , SP, PIT 45
5. A.J. Griffin , SP, OAK 38

Francisco Cordero , RP, HOU
Jump in Ownership: 18 percent (from five to 23)
Reason for the jump: Cordero is the new closer for the Houston Astros.
Why you should join the crowd: From 2007 to 2011, Cordero had 194 saves, an average of 39 per season. His ERA over that span was 2.94 and he struck out, according to Baseball Reference, 8.7 batters per nine innings. He was a two-time All-Star in that span and finished among the top five in saves in the National League four out of those five years.
Devil's Advocate: Cordero's 2012 has been far ... uglier. His 5.60 ERA is the highest of any season in his 14-year career and his 1.76 WHIP ranks as his third-highest. He's also giving up hits at a much higher rate (12.2 H/9) than he has at any other time in his career (8.1 lifetime average). On top of it all, Cordero is 37 and faces a possible challenge in the Houston bullpen from Wilton Lopez , who has a 2.68 ERA and 1.03 WHIP so far this season.

End game in demand
The most-traded closers
Player Number of trades
1. Jose Valverde , RP, DET 316
2. Jonathan Papelbon , RP, PHI 305
3. Aroldis Chapman , RP, CIN 303
4. Rafael Soriano , RP, NYY 285
5. J.J. Putz , RP, ARI 284

Casper Wells , OF, SEA
Jump in Ownership: 16 percent (from three to 19)
Reason for the jump: With the trade of Ichiro Suzuki to New York, Wells is pretty much cemented in a starting role with the Mariners.
Why you should join the crowd: Wells showed some power and speed in the minor leagues, with highs of 27 in home runs and 25 in steals.
But...: Both of those highs came in the same season (2008), when Wells split time between Single-and Double-A. They haven't really carried over to any other seasons.
Back to the Good Stuff: Wells probably won't hit for much in the way of batting average, but that power may be for real -- he had 11 home runs last year in just 215 at-bats and has six so far this year. Adding to the fun of owning Wells is that he could find himself batting anywhere from first to third -- he has hit from all of the top three spots in the last four days.
Devil's Advocate: Wells will see some of his power sapped by his home park, and will likely lose at least a little bit of value by not having Ichiro in the lineup. Justin Smoak now in the minors, Wells may also be looked upon to carry more of the offensive load, leading to him possibly pressing and seeing his numbers drop a little off their current pace.

Cody Ross , OF, BOS
Jump in Ownership: 12 percent (from 61 to 73)
Reason for the jump: In his last six games, Ross has hit .333, with three home runs, nine RBI, and a 1.152 OPS.
Why you should join the crowd: Even having missed a month between May and June with a foot injury, Ross still has 16 home runs on the season. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury back in the lineup -- and with Adrian Gonzalez having a solid July (.382 average, three home runs) -- Ross has plenty more chances to drive in runs from the fifth spot in the lineup, where he's been hitting lately. On top of that, Ross has been playing a good amount of DH with David Ortiz sidelined, allowing him to give his previously-broken foot a bit of a rest from all the running in the outfield.
Devil's Advocate: Ross' career high in home runs is 24, and he's only hit 20 or more home runs twice in his career. In the last three seasons he's averaged just 15 home runs.
The Devil's Advocate's Devil's Advocate: Ross has played most of his career for teams with pitcher-friendly parks (Florida and San Francisco, most recently). Fenway Park seems to be far more accommodating to his shots to left field. If Ross was still playing in San Francisco, for instance, he would have lost at least two home runs thanks to the park's dimensions, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker. In short, Fenway Park, which has turned plenty of decent hitters into 30 home-run threats, could do the same for Ross.

Desperate Measures
Players owned in less than five percent of leagues who could be helpful
Player % owned
1. Carlos Gomez , OF, MIL 4
2. Jonny Gomes , OF, OAK 4
3. Cody Ransom , SS, MIL 3
4. Logan Forsythe , 3B, SD 3
5. Hisashi Iwakuma , RP, SEA 2

Jayson Werth , OF, WAS
Jump in Ownership: Four percent (from 66 to 70)
Reason for the jump: Werth is on a rehab assignment and is close to returning to the Washington lineup.
Why you should join the crowd: Before going down with a broken wrist in May, Werth was enjoying the beginnings of an Adam Dunn-style renaissance season, with a .276 average, three home runs and three steals through early May. He has the capability to hit 15 home runs the rest of the season with 10 steals, 15 doubles and a .275 average. He'll also return to a Nationals lineup that includes a little more offensive pop in the form of Bryce Harper .
Devil's Advocate: Werth admitted that, while his wrist feels great, his timing is a little off at the plate, so it might take him a few games to get back to early season form. And there's no guarantee that he won't just revert to 2011 form, either -- Werth was a disaster in his first season with the Nationals, hitting .232 with just 20 home runs and a .718 OPS.

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