Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
For fantasy baseball manager testing their chops in deep leagues, it’s far too late to grab Enrique Hernandez, Tim Beckham, or Ryan McMahon off the waiver wire. Those early risers, who have become hot free-agent finds in the typical mixed league, were likely drafted in the comprehensive formats this weekly column will address.
Welcome to 2019’s first installment of a waiver-wire column dedicated to deep hitting finds. While these endorsements are geared toward gamers in single-league contests or 15-team mixed leagues, some under-owned players could merit a closer look anywhere. After all, the likes of Max Muncy, Adalberto Mondesi, and Brandon Nimmo graced this column at one point last season before working their way to mainstream recognition.
All players must carry a consensus ownership rate below 10 percent. Strictly adhering to those set rules, Kendrys Morales (13%), Kolten Wong (12%), Ryan Zimmerman (12%), and Christin Stewart (10%) narrowly missed the cut. Perhaps it’s not too late to snatch up some of those hitters, but the following batters all exited the season’s opening weekend in single-digit terrain.
Greg Bird (1B – NYY): 8% Owned
Think of all the love bestowed upon Luke Voit this spring. That would have been Bird three years ago had he not needed season-ending surgery to repair his torn right shoulder labrum.
Everyone saw a star when the newcomer accrued 11 homers and a .372 wOBA in 48 games with the Bronx Bombers. Many drafters were smitten enough to invest after a full season on the shelf, only to see him hit .190 in a 2017 campaign also besieged by injuries. Those who stuck by his side in 2018 watched the beleaguered slugger again fall below the Mendoza line at .199.
So can anyone blame drafters for bowing out on Bird entirely? As bright as the future once looked, the 26-year-old holds a career .213/.302/.436 slash line in just 668 plate appearances. He’s also getting another chance sooner than anticipated due to Aaron Hicks’ back injury. The lefty has started two of the Yankees’ three games (all against righties) and went yard on Opening Day. Although highly unlikely to stay healthy, hit for much contact, or supplant a healthy Luke Voit at first base, Bird should provide a short-term power jolt in a loaded lineup.
Rather than holding out hope for that overdue 40-homer breakout, temper expectations simply to “cheap power.”
Yandy Diaz (3B – TB): 6% Owned
Fantasy managers should know never to trust the Rays. Only three players have started all four games for the explorative squad: Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows, and … Yandy Diaz.
A surprising inclusion to that short list, Diaz wasn’t even guaranteed an Opening Day roster spot. They have already deployed six different infielders, but the 27-year-old has started three times at third and once at first. Although maneuvered throughout the batting order, he has slotted no lower than fifth.
Maybe they’re just riding the hot hand; Diaz has gone 5-for-15 with two doubles and a homer. By taking Gerrit Cole deep, he has already matched his previous career tally in 299 prior plate appearances. Despite his chiseled frame, the 6’2″ righty has failed to generate any power due to a career 1.9-degree launch angle nine full points below baseball’s average. That must change for him to maintain a permanent spot in Tampa Bay’s fluid lineup, but an altered approach — and more opportunities — could unearth a considerable breakout for someone who sprayed a 44.4% hard-hit rate in 2018.
Leonys Martin (OF – CLE): 5% Owned
Rather than overreact to a few games, let’s highlight a personal preseason favorite who should have been drafted in more leagues. While Martin only has one hit in three games, he has spent all of them in Cleveland’s leadoff role. Even if that says more about a contender’s stunning lack of initiative, deeper gamers must take notice of a guy topping a lineup ahead of Jose Ramirez.
Martin should not hold such favorable real estate for a perennial playoff participant, but he can help his real and fake teams by replicating last year’s results. Following an abhorrent 2017 in which he notched a .224 wOBA that wouldn’t look out of place for a pitcher, he rose the pivotal metric 99 points while tallying 11 homers and seven steals in 353 plate appearances. He slashed his ground-ball rate by 9.9% and skyrocketed his hard-hit rate from 25.3 to 37.9.
This is all despite ending his season early to treat a life-threatening bacterial infection. He entered the All-Star break batting .257/.327/.431 with nine homers and seven swiped bags in 70 games. Now fully healthy and receiving all the plate appearances he can handle, a 20/20 campaign with ample runs isn’t entirely far-fetched. Those who can still pluck him off the waiver wire as a fifth outfielder should gladly take 15/15.
Chad Pinder (2B/3B/OF – OAK): 5% Owned
For a moment, Pinder looked poised to out-grow this column’s parameters. After developing a fantasy cult following during the offseason, he started and hit a double in both Tokyo games. Then Matt Olson suffered a hand injury that potentially cleared a full-time role.
Not so fast. Oakland, which opened the season against a pair of Seattle southpaws, acquired Morales to play first base against righties. He’s the preferred add if still available. Hardcore managers, however, should take a close look at Pinder.
Making most of his platoon role last year, the utilityman pounded 13 homers and a .333 wOBA in 333 plate appearances. Perhaps he was even better as those numbers suggest. Statcast assigned him a .366 xwOBA along with a .512 xSLG far above his actual .436 clip. He barrelled the ball on a higher rate of his plate appearances (9.0%) than Giancarlo Stanton (8.9%), Aaron Judge (8.7%), and all but a dozen hitters.
Are the A’s optimizing his value as a lefty-masher, or could he take another leap in a more prominent role? He wasn’t atrocious against righties (.310 wOBA) last year, so it may behoove them to find out. A progressing right-handed power source with multi-position eligibility, consider Pinder the deep-league version of Hernandez. Perhaps he also works his way into mixed-league relevancy.
Rowdy Tellez (1B – TOR): 1% Owned
On the other end of the Morales trade, his departure abdicates first base for Tellez in Toronto. The burly lefty had an odd start to his big league career, hitting .314 (22-for-70) in 23 games despite recording two walks to 21 strikeouts. It’s probably best to throw those early returns out the window, as they’re a poor predictor of his profile.
The 6’4″, 220-pounder instead projects as a Big Beefy Baseball Boy with 60-grade power. He hit .270 in Tripe-A last year, so don’t expect much in the batting average department. He also, however, drew a healthier 9.8% walk rate over his minor league career. He could offer 20-25 homers, but beware a possible platoon with Brandon Drury once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arrives.