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The Watchlist: Shane Baz, Jeremy Pena, Josh Rojas (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Ben Rosener
Apr 22, 2022
Shane Baz

Shane Baz is an interesting stash or trade target, given that it sounds like he won’t miss the bulk of the season.

This is The Watchlist.

The Watchlist is a weekly column designed to help you monitor and pick up players in the coming weeks. Whether they’re waiver wire or trade targets, these are the players you’ll want to add now before becoming the hot waiver commodity or trade target in a week or two.

Using underlying and advanced metrics, The Watchlist will help you get ahead of the competition in your league and reap the rewards later from your pickups.

The players could be anyone from a prospect in an ideal situation close to the Majors, a reliever in a saves+holds league, or even a starter doing well with misleading surface-level stats like ERA.

They might even be hitters with quality underlying stats. Or they could be none of those types of players and a different kind of player entirely. The point is that they’ll help you find success in your fantasy league while staying ahead of the curve of your league mates.

The payoff might not be immediate, but they should eventually provide significant value, more often than not.

These are some of those players for this week.

Shane Baz (SP – TB)

The bad news first: Baz is currently sidelined after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow.

MLB.com’s Adam Berry wrote the following about Baz and the surgery in an article on MLB.com on March 22:

“While elbow surgery never comes at a good time for any pitcher, the Rays are optimistic about the situation. For one, there’s nothing structurally wrong with Baz’s elbow. He’ll only be shut down from throwing for a few weeks, so even if he has to restart his throwing progression in mid-April, he could be fully ready for game action by mid-to-late May.”

A few days later, on March 24, in an MLB.com article by Dawn Klemish, Baz was quoted as saying:

“‘Basically, [it was a] big relief,’ Baz said. ‘[Dr. Keith] Meister was saying that everything else in my elbow looks pristine, and he was like, “There’s no wear and tear. I really didn’t have to clean you up,” kind of thing. So I’m definitely really happy with all that.'”

The not so bad news is that this doesn’t seem like an injury that will force Baz to miss the bulk of the season.

Of course, he’s missing time right now and was recently transferred to the 60-day injured list, but that’s what makes him such an intriguing injury stash if you drafted him or (more likely) a trade target if you can swing a deal for him.

If you pounced on the right-hander’s free-falling ADP and scooped him up as a stash play later in the draft, you’re looking at a potential breakout candidate or ace in the making.

If you didn’t, there’s a chance you might be able to acquire him at a steep discount. Even if he doesn’t pitch until mid-June, I’d be comfortable giving up anyone outside of the top 150 players for Baz right now.

Once he returns, he’ll have league-winning upside.

The starter entered the year as the 11th-ranked prospect in the sport by FanGraphs. MLB.com had him sitting at 12th in their rankings to begin the season.

This is also the same pitcher who logged 18 strikeouts in his first 13 innings, compared to just six hits and three home runs (all homers). His elite bat-missing ability was on display early in those games:

Shane Baz’s pitch totals, swinging strike numbers, and CSW rates for his first three starts in 2021:

  • 51 pitches, 15 swinging strikes, 32% CSW rate
  • 82 pitches, 14 swinging strikes, 37% CSW rate
  • 65 pitches, seven swinging strikes, 27% CSW rate

He’s also the same pitcher who the Rays, despite just three Major League starts, felt comfortable starting in Game 2 of the American League Division Series last season.

He’s an excellent stash, especially if your league has injured-list spots.

Before the surgery, Baz had an ADP of 138.33, according to NFBC.

Since then, it’s plummeted due to the surgery, falling to 170.59, where it currently is now, according to NFBC.

If your league drafted in after mid-March and you don’t have Baz in your league, there’s a chance whoever drafted him didn’t invest a top 15 pick in the promising Rays right-hander. In theory (every fantasy manager is different, obviously), that might help you get a deal done without surrendering what you might have to give up in June or even closer to a potential return later in May.

Assuming he returns healthy with no setbacks, it would surprise no one if Baz is pitching like a front-line starter by the All-Star break.

You’ll have to wait a bit longer for this one to pay off, but there are few potential stash options – or simply starting pitchers in general – with as much upside as Baz.

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Jeremy Pena (SS – HOU)

Pena may already be a hot waiver commodity, but this may be the last chance to get him before he goes from being a trendy pickup to a full-blown fantasy impact performer, at least if he continues to produce at this rate.

Let’s look at some statistical resumes. All stats are from the beginning of play on Thursday.

  • Shortstop A: 45 PA, 2 HR, 6 barrels, .308 average, .364 OBP, 6.7 BB%, 22.2 K% .425 xwOBA
  • Shortstop B: 52 PA, 1 HR, 1 barrel, .292 average, .327 OBP, 5.8 BB%, 25.0 K%, .319 xwOBA
  • Shortstop C: 45 PA, 1 HR, 2 barrels, .310 average, .356 OBP, 6.7 BB%, 15.6 K%, .338 xwOBA
  • Shortstop D: 46 PA, 1 HR, 4 barrels, .318 average, .348 OBP, 4.3 BB%, 28.3 K%, .316 xwOBA

Shortstop A is Pena, who seems to be settling in rather well as Carlos Correa‘s replacement in Houston. Shortstop B is fantasy superstar Trea Turner. Shortstop C is Turner’s former Dodger teammate Corey Seager, and shortstop D is Red Sox stalwart Xander Bogaerts.

We’re obviously dealing in small sample sizes – it is only late April, after all – but Pena’s start is notable, and it’s not only noteworthy, but it might be sustainable too.

The 24-year-old makes plenty of hard contact, with a 50% hard-hit rate entering play on Thursday. That has him ranked in the 77th percentile league-wide.

He’s in the 81st percentile league wide in max exit velocity (110.3 MPH, 81st) xwOBA (.407, 86th), xSLG (.584, 86th), barrel rate (20%, 94th)

Pena should also continue to benefit from playing half his games at Minute Maid Park. Although he only has two home runs on the season, his expected HR number for Houston’s home park is already at four.

Pena has also moved to the leadoff spot in Dusty Baker’s lineup the last few games with Jose Altuve out. Obviously, that won’t be a permanent move for the shortstop. Still, it’s hard not to like his fantasy upside even more in the short term if he continues to hit ahead of Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker regularly.

Tommy Kahnle (RP – LAD)

Last year, the Dodgers bullpen was a gold mine for managers in saves+holds leagues. Blake Treinen paced all baseball with 32 holds, while Victor Gonzalez (16) and Joe Kelly (10) both reached double digits in the category.

Elsewhere, Corey Knebel racked up seven holds and three saves in his 23 appearances for the club, while Jimmy Nelson logged six holds in 27 outings for Dave Roberts and company.

This year the relief corps looks a little different to start the season.

Kelly and Knebel signed elsewhere during the offseason, while Nelson is on the injured list after having Tommy John surgery last year.

That being said, Los Angeles certainly isn’t short on quality options with Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol, and Alex Vesia on hand, but this is a bullpen that can support multiple quality late-inning options in saves+holds leagues.

Kahnle, once he returns from the injured list, could be one of those options.

And he could be returning soon. According to a tweet from AM 570 Sports’ David Vassegh on April 15, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects Kahnle to be active from the injured list in May.

Provided he can return to action and at least some of his effectiveness before the injury, the 32-year-old could be poised for a strong bounce-back season.

One of the game’s premier bat-missing specialists out of the bullpen from 2017 to 2019, Kahnle finished in the top ten in both swinging strike percentage (sixth, 16.8%) and strikeouts per nine innings (ninth, 13.07) during that span despite a down year in 2018. He also, for good measure, had 44 holds during that span, including 27 during the 2019 campaign.

In short, playing a vital role in a contending bullpen is nothing new for Kahnle.

It’s probably unfair to assume that the veteran will immediately pitch as he did in a Yankees uniform once he starts playing for the Dodgers. Even if he can regain some of that effectiveness, he’ll be plenty productive in fantasy.

Even if Kahnle’s strikeouts per nine innings rate and swinging strike percentage fell to 11.6% and 14.1%, respectively (still quality numbers but a step back from his past numbers), he’d still be plenty productive in fantasy. There are other similarly pressing stats like ERA, WHIP, saves, and holds to consider, but just 19 relievers cleared both bars last season.

There’s an obvious risk with Kahnle coming back from Tommy John surgery, but the upside is notable.

Josh Rojas (2B,3B,SS,OF – ARI)

Another injury stash from the National League West comes on the position player side of things in Josh Rojas, who is currently on the injured list with a Grade 2 right oblique strain. Per a tweet from The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro on April 3, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said Rojas would miss “weeks, not days.”

Fast forward to April 12, and Rojas was reportedly set to “begin swinging activity” per a tweet from 98.7 Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson.

Rojas, when healthy, makes for a unique and ideal addition to your fantasy team.

Unlike many players available on the waiver wire, Rojas can provide value in many different ways.

Rojas can provide plenty of value in fantasy, whether it’s as a versatile bench piece capable of filling holes in your lineup multiple days a week or as a contributor in home runs or stolen bases.

Last season, the 27-year-old hit .264 with a .341 on-base percentage, 11 home runs, and nine stolen bases in 550 plate appearances.

And while he’s yet to debut this season due to that oblique injury, he was just one of 14 players in the league, with a minimum of 500 plate appearances to log at least 10 home runs, nine stolen bases, an on-base percentage over .340, and a double-digit walk rate last season.

Furthermore, of those 14, Rojas, Kris Bryant, and Chris Taylor are the only three who are currently eligible for a minimum of three positions in Yahoo leagues. Rojas, for reference, is currently eligible at third base, shortstop, second base, and the outfield.

He probably has more value in leagues where on-base percentage is part of the scoring, but his eligibility across makes him an intriguing stash for the near future.


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