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Fantasy Baseball Category Analysis: Ryan Helsley, Ramon Laureano, Brandon Drury (2022)

May 8, 2022
Austin Hays

Austin Hays can help in multiple categories, especially RBIs.

Ok people. We have much to get to. I worked all week on this one, digging for hours and hours, so you don’t have to. There is an abundance of quality free agents still out there worthy of a roster spot, and many won’t last the week.

The question is whether or not to give up on your slow staring veterans or youngsters to add them. Every individual case is different, and ultimately the choice comes down to how risky you like to play, but I like to look at the “why” behind a good or bad performance and base my decision on that. This is pretty much the entire reason advanced metrics were invented.

Expected numbers create a great barometer when evaluating a player, but I still like to look at a few other key aspects. I won’t get into all of them, but I tend to investigate the level of competition a player has faced, his splits versus righties or lefties, where he has played, and of course, luck. Are they traditionally a slow starter is also something to keep in mind, and do they possesses a high ceiling? Eventually, most players will veer back to their career norms unless they are hurting somehow (or Father Time has finally caught up with them –Nelson Cruz?), or they have undergone a significant change in their game.

I won’t comprise an entire list of who you should move on from, but for a quick example at first base, a few guys I’m ready to trade in include Bobby Dalbec, Joey Votto, and Frank Schwindel. All three could obviously turn things around, but Schwindel has lost playing time and has yet to significantly pull a ball for a hit. Votto has been an absolute disaster at the plate, and Dalbec is back to swinging and missing at everything. He is already losing starts to Franchy Cordero, and with the Red Sox struggling to keep pace in the AL East, they could bring up Triston Casas at any moment to replace him.

For this week’s piece, I discovered so many great players that qualify for this list (rostered in less than 50% of Yahoo Leagues that can help you in at least one major category) that I will be spotlighting at least two players per stat. One who is a must-add in all leagues and at least one other who is better suited for deeper ones. There seem to be more and more managers playing in deeper leagues this year, so players who are rostered in even 25% of leagues may not be available to them. This list should also help those managers because here at FantasyPros, we aim to please!

Every player highlighted deserves attention in all league types. Consider how your league is formatted before making any final decisions (a 10-team league with a standard 26 or 27 roster spots can probably pass on the 3% rostered player).

RBI

Austin Hays (OF – BAL): 47%

Hays is hitting in the middle of the lineup and has already registered 12 RBIs with a .287 average and 10 extra-base hits. While Baltimore’s stadium may not play host to a nightly home run derby session anymore (because of the dimensional change), there is more room for base hits and doubles to fall which has helped boost Hays’ average and RBIs. That’s not to say the athletic Hays won’t hit home runs anymore; it just means he’ll likely produce a more balanced stat line which is a good thing. Add Hays to help add to your RBI total.

Alex Kirilloff (1B, OF – MIN): 31%

Kirilloff has been out for a while, but with his return should come a starting role. The Twins have embraced their young players, and Kirilloff could be the best of them. A highly prized sleeper in many circles entering this year’s fantasy drafts, Kirilloff was projected to deliver this season. With so many talented youngsters, it’ll be hard to find playing time for everyone (especially with Carlos Correa‘s finger NOT being broken). Still, if Kirilloff is healthy, then his upside is enough that he should find himself starting more often than not. The 24-year-old may be more of a stash and hold at this point, but you’ll need to add him now if you want him. Claim the former first-rounder now.

Juan Yepez (1B, 3B – STL): 12%

This season, Yepez was tearing it up in Triple-A, which earned him his first taste of the Big Leagues last week. He’s been primarily dispatched as the Cardinals’ DH but can play the infield and outfield corners. Albert Pujols has done well against southpaws but is hitting under .100 against righties, and Corey Dickerson hasn’t done anything to warrant much playing time either. Yepez has already collected seven hits in just four games and has an excellent chance to become one of the Cardinals’ better hitters.

He launched nine homers to begin the year in the Minors and crushed 27 last season. He’ll strike out a bit but is hitting fifth behind the Cardinals trio of mashers. You have to believe Yepez will be a solid source for RBIs if he keeps hitting.

Runs

AJ Pollock (OF – CWS): 35%

I’m ready to move on from plenty of slumping veterans, but not AJ Pollock. Since his return from the IL, the ex-Dodger has been just missing at the plate. His contact quality has not been great, repeatedly hitting just under the ball or on top of it. His fly-ball rate is the highest it’s ever been but caught up in the Chicago wind, and with just medium velocity, Pollock has been hitting into a lot of outs.

History says he’ll figure it out before long, and while he hasn’t been good, Pollock has only been active for 14 games. His hits have been spread all over the field, and he has been batting second regularly in Tony La Russa’s lineup. It’s only a matter of time until the Pale Hose starts to rake, so now is the time to add Pollock while he’s still available. You know the old saying of buy low and sell high; AJ Pollock is the perfect example.

Brandon Drury (2B, 3B, OF – CIN): 4%

Drury’s not on anyone’s radar, but he should be. Just one glance at his Statcast profile was enough for me to add him to most of my teams earlier in the week. His hitting profile is surprisingly full of red, where he ranks in the top 10 or 15 percent in most categories.

The Reds have been dismal this year, but Drury has been one of the few bright spots. The 29-year-old is entrenched in the two-hole, where he went five for eight yesterday with four runs scored and five RBIs. He now has 10 RBIs and 10 runs scored over his last nine games.

Ironically, I was already planning on including Drury on this list before he went off in Saturday’s double-header. Now he may have peaked a few others’ interests, so it may be best to add him sooner than later. Last year, he hit well for the Mets in limited duty and even crushed it in Spring Training this year. With little competition to lose playing time and an excellent contact profile quality, I fully expect Drury to be a valuable contributor this year.

Batting Average

Yadiel Hernandez (OF – WAS): 29%

Hernandez has been on fire lately and is arguably the Nationals’ third-best player this season. A throw-back of sorts who aims to hit line drives instead of home runs, the thirty-four-year-old Cuban has, as the Nationals’ Twitter account puts it…

Hernandez is hitting .370 with a .401 wOBA. He hit .273 last year in limited action and always hit well in the Minor Leagues. He also has two home runs to his credit this season, and he deserves a roster spot in most leagues.

Jose Miranda (3B – MIN): 12%

The Twins are letting their youth play, and it’s been exciting to watch. After crushing it last season in the Minors (30 homers, .344 average), Miranda earned the title of Top 100 Prospect entering this season. He was off to a mediocre start before receiving the call this year but has looked extremely comfortable at the dish.

Generating a ton of pop from his lower half, the young corner infielder launched his first big league home run on Friday in just his fifth game. He has put the ball in play with some solid contact (only one K in 24 plate appearances) and has an xwOBA that is 115 points higher than his current OBP. The hits will eventually fall if you drive the ball with solid contact to all fields and rarely strike out. Miranda is worth a spot in deeper leagues.

Edward Olivares (OF – KC): 5%

Olivares has been leading off for the Royals, and he seems to be the perfect man for the job. Possessing the rare combination of power and speed, Olivares can fill up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. He also rarely strikes out and regularly makes solid contact. His batting average and OBP are up to .364 and .417, respectively, and perhaps even more impressive is his .423 xwOBA. He hit five homers, stole two bags last year in limited playing time, and was on pace for nearly a 30/30 season in Triple-A.

Fantasy managers will take it whether he’s hitting for average, launching home runs, or stealing bases atop the Royals’ lineup. He deserves a waiver claim in deeper leagues.

Home Runs

Max Kepler (OF – MIN): 48%

Kepler missed a bit of time with an illness but is back now and driving baseballs. The lefty-hitting outfielder already has five home runs to go along with 12 RBIs in the young season. He also sports a sparkling 0.71 BB/K rate and will even steal the occasional base. Kepler’s even more valuable in OPS leagues but still has enough power to warrant a roster spot in standard ones.

MJ Melendez (C – KC): 20%

Melendez may not earn enough playing time to be valid in fantasy leagues, but there’s no ignoring what he was able to accomplish last season in the Minors. Forty-one homers over 123 games scattered between Double-A and Triple-A as a catcher should draw managers’ eyes everywhere. The Royals started him two out of the four games since his call-up, and he is someone worth monitoring at the weak catcher position.

Kyle Lewis (OF – SEA): 18%

Lewis is on a rehab assignment and hit a dinger in his first game back. Thought to possibly be ready by the start of the season, the Mariners pushed his rehab back a bit just to err on the side of caution. With Mitch Haniger out for the next six weeks and Jarred Kelenic not doing much at the plate again (although that pinch-hit home run was nice), Lewis is a candidate to step right back into a starting role once he is activated. He can be streaky at times, but the home runs could come in bunches if you can roster him while he is hot.

He’ll need at least another week to ramp up, but he may no longer be available if you wait that long. Add Lewis now if you need a boost in power or RBIs.

Stolen Bases

Brandon Marsh (OF – LAA): 43%

Marsh was hitting near the top of the lineup for a few days, but after a bad stretch of games last week, he was sent back down towards the bottom of the lineup. He did rebound nicely with a two-hit game, including a home run on Thursday, and then hit another homer last night against Washington, but he may still sit occasionally versus some lefties.

Marsh strikes out a ton but has a knack for getting hits when he does put the ball in play. He’s also been great with runners in scoring position, already racking up 18 runs batted in.

A line-drive hitter with speed and decent pop definitely has a place in deeper leagues. The speedy outfielder already has three stolen bags to his credit and is a candidate to earn much more. The Angels have been raking for the most part, which should continue to pad his counting stats all season long. Add Marsh anywhere you are desperate for speed.

Ramon Laureano (OF – OAK): 36%

Laureano just came off the suspended list and is an immediate add everywhere. It’s not every day a 20/20 guy appears suddenly on the waiver wire, ready to play every day. The speedy Oakland outfielder is an obvious add and won’t qualify for this list next week.

Royce Lewis (SS – MIN): 25%

I’m not sure what the plan is for Lewis once Carlos Correa returns, but someone in one of my leagues just spent nearly a third of his waive budget on him. While I wouldn’t go that far, Mr. Lewis has been quite productive in Triple-A St. Paul. Through 107 plate appearances, the 22-year-old produced nearly a 1.000 OPS, with almost as many walks as strikeouts. He also hit three home runs and stole eight bags. The former number one overall pick may struggle against his first taste of Major League pitching, but his speed alone warrants a roster spot if you have the space. He’d be a must-add if Correa were to be out for a while, but the latest projection has him coming back in a few days.

Jarren Duran (OF – BOS): 16%

Durran was almost given a chance with Enrique Hernandez being placed on the Covid list, but then it turned out his illness wasn’t Covid related. However, Jackie Bradley Jr. has done little to keep his spot in the starting lineup, even with Hernandez back. Duran could be called upon in the next few weeks as his production in AAA will likely force the Red Sox’s hand.

He’s off to a fantastic start registering a .370/.460/.574 stat line over 63 plate appearances in Triple-A Worcester. He also has two home runs and seven stolen bases to his credit. He struggled during his big league call-up last season but could be a valuable asset before long. Stash Duran now if you have the space.

ERA

Chris Paddack (SP – MIN): 43%

Paddack has shut down some of the weaker offenses in the league, but it shouldn’t take away from what he’s accomplished. He’s been using his breaking pitches more often, keeping hitters off-balance. In the past, hitters have been able to sit on either his fastball or changeup, but now, he presents a much more difficult matchup with four different offerings. Paddack is a solid piece to roster in all leagues until he proves otherwise.

Max Meyer (SP – MIA): 15%

Elieser Hernandez‘s ERA is up to 6.6, with the Marlins’ other top young arms on the shelf or rehabbing. It should be Meyer who eventually gets the first call. He’s arguably the most rosterable pitcher not in the Major Leagues and could be a significant difference-maker sooner than later. If your league has NA/Minor League slots, he should have been on your roster yesterday. In Triple-A this season, Meyer’s given up five runs over five starts, with six walks allowed and 33 strikeouts. That’ll do!

Martin Perez (SP, RP – TEX): 6%

Martin Perez? Seriously? Yes, seriously. Perez has been a ground ball specialist while impressively limiting hard contact. Perhaps he’s more comfortable playing for his former team or possibly playing for a non-contender, but whatever the case, Perez has been incredible over his first five starts.

Perez has yet to allow a home run through five games, including matchups against the Angels, Astros, Rockies, and Phillies.

His barrels allowed rate him in the top 9% of the league, while his xwOBA, xSLG, and xERA all rank in the top 23%. He has shown impeccable control over his sinker and changeup, keeping the majority of them just over the plate’s black. His ground-ball rate is 54%, while his line-drive rate sits at a low 15%. The veteran right-hander is scheduled to take on the Royals his next time out, making him a solid pickup, at least in the short term.

WHIP

Josh Winder (SP – MIN): 22%

The Twins don’t have room for Winder once Bailey Ober returns from a groin injury or Dylan Bundy returns from the Covid list, but with the way he has been pitching, Minnesota would be hard-pressed to pull him from the starting rotation. Winder has been glorious, allowing just three runs over four starts (21.1 innings) while allowing just 14 base runners to reach.

What makes him so difficult to hit is that Winder throws his slider as often as his fastball while mixing in a curveball and changeup. Plus, he has impeccable control. Opposing offenses have yet to figure him out, just as they couldn’t last year in Double-A, where Winder produced a 1.98 ERA over 10 starts.

I watched him pitch on Friday and what struck me was how calm he looked on the bump. If something didn’t go his way, it looked as though he would take a slow breath and just “clear the mechanism” before offering the next 95-mile-per-hour fastball right at the corner of the zone.

I had originally added him up just for the two starts last week, figuring he would be moved back to the bullpen after Sonny Gray returned. But now I’ve decided to hold onto him a bit longer. Even if Winder is moved back to the pen, it won’t be long until he’s starting again. Add Winder now if he’s still available in your league.

Dillon Peters (SP, RP – PIT): 14%

Peters may not be pitching deep into games, but anyone who allows just two hits and no runs over 16.2 innings of work deserves at least a spot on your bench. The Pirates could continue to stretch him out, and if he eventually reaches five innings, he should be a mixed league contender. He pitched well over six starts (3.71 ERA, 26.2 IP) last year for the Bucco’s, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him succeed. The Pirates tweaked his repertoire a bit, and so far, it has worked. Even while he’s not pitching deep in the games, he can still help your ERA and WHIP totals. Take a flier on Peters in deeper leagues.

James Kaprielian (SP – OAK): 7%

Kap looked sharp in his second start of the season yesterday against the top-of-the-division Twins. He was wild in his first start returning from injury, but he seems to have found his way again. You know how they say batters can look hitterish? Well, Kaprielian just appears pitcher-ish. He exudes confidence on the mound and looks capable of winning every time out. Last year he struck out better than a batter per inning and regularly pitched deep into games. He threw nearly 100 pitches on Saturday and could be a valuable source for all starting pitching stats throughout the season.

Wins

Chad Kuhl (SP, RP – COL): 49%

You know it’s coming… Chad Kuhl has been Kuhl’ing bats all season long. The former Pirate, unlike Peters, was happy to leave Pittsburgh, settling into his new favorable home in Colorado no less. After five mediocre and injury-plagued seasons in the Northeast, Kuhl has been an ace of sorts for the Rockies over the first month of baseball. Averaging nearly six innings per start, the veteran right-hander has allowed just six runs over five games while keeping his WHIP below 0.85. Granted, Kuhl has only pitched two games at home, and one of them resulted in half the runs he’s given up on the season, but there’s no denying what he has been able to accomplish.

Many will point to the low BABIP and strikeout rate, but it would be foolish to ignore the swings and misses he is getting on his slider and the plethora of ground balls Kuhl has produced with his two-seam fastball. He is someone I’d have a hard time starting at home against more formidable opponents, but on the road against anyone but the elite, Kuhl is worth trotting out in your active roster.

Michael Wacha (SP, RP – BOS): 39%

Wacha is the only one on this week’s list that I have mentioned before, but I just can’t get over how great he has been. Wacha is pitching like it’s 2015 again, and while he’s not striking out hitters, he is producing weak contact.

Hopefully, he doesn’t get rocked by Chicago today, or I might just ask my editor to immediately take this section out of the article. Still, it’s impossible not to pay attention to what he is doing. A 3-0 record with a .148 opponent batting average and just two home runs allowed? His last three games (all victories) came against the Angels, the Blue Jays, and the Rays. And before that, he one-hit the first place Twins over five innings.

I guess it didn’t take a genius to figure out how exactly to fix Wacha. It seems they simply lowered the number of cutters (notoriously Wacha’s worst pitch) he throws and increased his sinker/fastball usage, arguably his best pitch. The change has been nothing short of glorious and has put Wacha back on the fantasy map for all leagues.

Strikeouts

George Kirby (SP – SEA): 21%

Matt Brash‘s demotion will likely bring on one of the game’s top pitching prospects. Kirby has been lights out this season pitching in Double-A, just as he was last year. He was considered a possible rotation piece to start the season, but Brash had much better numbers in Spring Training, causing the organization to go with the former Padre. Kirby possesses a high 90s fastball and exhibits excellent control. He could be a massive asset, similar to Logan Gilbert or Shane McClanahan last year. He deserves an immediate add in all leagues.

Austin Gomber (SP – COL): 10%

I’ve had my eye on Gomber since he went off in the shortened 2020 season. That year was an outlier for many, but Gomber thrived under the shortened conditions, piquing my interest. The Rockies must have also been impressed as they traded a possible future Hall-of-Famer (Nolan Arenado) to St. Louis and a ton of cash for some low-level prospects and Gomber. While many trashed the trade for the Rockies, and for good reason, Gomber provided at least some sort of reasonable return.

Strangely enough, in his first season for the Rockies, Gomber was an absolute stud at home, earning a 2.09 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP over nine games. Surely, if he can do that well in Colorado’s conditions, he can learn to pitch a little better on the road this season. Gomber has produced a 2.70 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts in three road starts so far. His last three games, including his latest coming at home, have resulted in just for runs allowed in 18.2 innings. He also struck out 20 batters.

The Rockies are off to a surprisingly strong start, and perhaps some of the credit should fall on their new pitching coach Daryl Scott for getting the most out of their two newest starters. Gomber will pitch next in San Francisco and then at home versus Kansas City, and he’s worth a speculative add in most leagues.

Dane Dunning (SP – TEX): 8%

Dunning is scheduled to take on the Yankees this morning, and while I likely wouldn’t start him in the Bronx, he does deserve some mixed-league consideration. He was at one point a highly regarded prospect who the Rangers were willing to part with Lance Lynn to get.

Dunning has a deep arsenal, and his FIP and SIERA have been quite low over the first two years of his career, yet his traditional numbers haven’t been as kind. Dunning limits walks and homers, has a respectable ground ball rate, and even strikes out a batter per inning, so what gives? Well, his fastball tops out at 91 (but it has ticked up over his last two starts), and he tends to hang his breaking pitches on occasion resulting in a lot of hard-hit line drives.

Dunning may not be at the top of anyone’s list, but he could be a viable piece for fantasy managers with a bit more luck. His schedule has been horrific, yet he still maintains a 3.81 ERA and 26 strikeouts. He lasted nearly eight innings his last time out against Atlanta, limiting them to just four hits, with no walks and no runs. You’re probably better off waiting for a favorable matchup in shallow leagues, but in deeper ones, he is worth an add now while you can still get him for next to nothing.

Saves

Ryan Helsley (RP – STL): 45%

Helsley is so good I’m not writing about any other closers, and I even had to check again before I wrote this to make sure he was still available in 50% of leagues. The secret is out on the Cardinals reliever and his blazing fastball. His stuff is off the charts, and suddenly he’s one of the hardest pitchers to square up the baseball against. Just look at this…

Or this.

He is better than Giovanny Gallegos. Go add Helsley ASAP.


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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.

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