Fantasy Baseball Category Analysis: Steven Matz, Bruce Zimmerman, Ha-Seong Kim (2022)
Many of MLB’s biggest stars are happy to close the book on a miserable April. It has been a frigid month in many parts of the country, and while a few have thrived, plenty have yet to find their footing. It’s led to a frustrating beginning for more than a few fantasy managers, as many of their top players struggle to hit above the dreaded Mendoza line.
Plus, there’s been a ton of injuries. That sure doesn’t make it easier, especially the more devastating ones. Adalberto Mondesi?! Say it isn’t so! You have to feel for the guy. His body won’t hold up, and the Royals will likely non-tender him after the season. Eloy Jimenez is out for a few months again, Teoscar Hernandez still isn’t back, J.D. Martinez can’t seem to get right, and now Mitch Haniger is in a walking boot. Not to mention Kris Bryant‘s back is acting up again (as it has in the past), and all the guys are constantly going to the Covid list.
While it’s best not to panic and pull off any rash roster decisions just yet, luckily for those who do roster some of these guys (or ones who have yet to get things going), there are still many standout players available in the majority of leagues.
Hopefully, you all listened to my advice from the last few weeks (and my colleagues), as most of those previously highlighted players are now in the top 100 and well beyond 50% rostered. Did you see the week Taylor Ward and Eric Lauer had? That’s how you go from a 10% rostered player to nearly 80% in just a matter of days.
Continuing with our weekly breakdown, here are twelve more players that can help pick up the slack in at least one major category. I do my best not to repeat myself from the previous week’s pickups, although some of those guys are still widely available where they shouldn’t be. These new studs are all rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues and are categorized by their strengths. Many will offer solid production across the board, but their primary contributions will come in the heading under which they are listed.
Santiago Espinal (2B/3B – TOR): 22%
Espinal has taken over as the everyday second baseman in Toronto. The Blue Jays lineup has so much firepower at times it feels like anyone in their starting nine deserves a spot on fantasy rosters.
The 27-year-old out of the Dominican Republic has been a five-category contributor throughout the young season. He’s already knocked out two home runs with three steals, 10 RBIs, and seven runs scored. While these numbers are helpful, they should be considered even more valuable by a player who qualifies at second and third base.
When batting near the bottom of the order with Toronto’s mashers at the top, Espinal should score many runs. His OBP currently sits at .325, and while that’s hardly an eye-popping number, Espinal has a knack for filling up a stat sheet on a nightly basis and should hit for a decent average. With his dual eligibility, Espinal deserves a roster spot in most leagues.
Avisail Garcia (OF – MIA): 49%
Garcia was awful in April, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 6-foot-4 outfielder is notoriously a slow starter, and the dude hates hitting in cold weather and is usually mashing by summertime. Miami is a warm venue, but Garcia has only played seven home games and has an OPS 301 points higher there. He has also hit lefties better throughout his career but has only faced off 13 times against them this season.
He may take a few more weeks to get going, but with nothing but warm weather venues on tap for the next month, and plenty of lefties projected to start, I fully expect Garcia to start knocking in runs sooner than later. Take advantage in the leagues where he was dropped and add the Venezuelan slugger as a prime candidate to boost your RBI total all season long.
Josh Naylor (1B/OF – CLE): 8%
If you don’t like Garcia and would rather wait until he breaks out (although that will likely be too late), add Naylor instead. Naylor will bat regularly behind the Guardians’ powerful core and should be an excellent source for RBIs. The club has looked electric at times this year, and adding Naylor to the mix should only help. Target the still only 24-year-old (I was surprised too) in deeper leagues.
Mark Canha (OF – NYM): 44%
Mark Canha is hitting baseballs. The newly acquired Mets outfielder has become an OBP machine, no longer trying to launch the ball 450 feet with every swing. Canha has always been a patient hitter at the dish, but with his new approach and willingness to trade power for base hits, he has registered a .333 batting average.
While a .447 BABIP is hardly sustainable, and a few home runs from time to time would be nice, there’s no denying the 16 hits Canha has already put together and the 24 times he has reached base. He’ll likely trend back towards his career norms as the season progresses, but as long as he and Mets management are content with what he’s doing, the hits should continue to pile up. Add Canha now if you need help raising your batting average.
Ha-Seong Kim (2B/3B/SS – SD): 13%
(This one is long, so if you want the short version, skip it and read this: Kim is good and will hit dingers while playing nearly every day. Done!)
Kim took advantage of some mediocre pitching this week but don’t let that deter you from targeting him. It’s easy to forget how highly he was sought after in 2021 since he was such a disappointment last year. He struggled to hit for power or average and rarely put together a solid stretch of games.
While it’s easy to dismiss a player after such an uninspiring season, it would behoove fantasy players to try and remember just how difficult it can be adjusting to a whole new way of life. Not only are you away from family and friends, but everything around you is different. From the culture to the food to your routine, it can throw you through a loop and often takes some getting used to.
Yes, all foreign players must adjust, but most are given ample time to prepare in the Minor Leagues away from the spotlight. Asian players, on the other hand, are often signed to the Big League club right off the bat and are expected to produce from day one. And yes, they are a bit older, and some have no problem with it, but that doesn’t make them immune to all the immediate changes.
Besides the culture shock, what may have played an even more significant role in Kim’s lack of success last year was the absence of a set position. The Padres were stacked in the infield, and the NL DH wasn’t a part of baseball yet. Bouncing around the diamond playing three or four days a week didn’t help Kim’s production.
However, this season, with Fernando Tatis going down for half the year and C.J. Abrams often looking overmatched, Kim has received nearly every day at-bats. He and Abrams were splitting platoon duty earlier in April, but with Kim riding a hot streak and Abrams continuing to slump, Kim has begun to start against righties. Thursday night, the writing was on the wall when the Padres were facing RHP Zach Thompson and his 10+ ERA, and the Friars still started Kim over Abrams at second base. It would have been a great game to help boost Abrams’s confidence, but it seems the team has moved on in the short term. (Abrams is a strong candidate to be sent down after this week’s rosters.)
The thing I like the most about Kim’s game this season is his production against right-handed pitchers. Last year he was halfway decent again southpaws but struggled against righties. This year, he’s been raking against right-handers to the tune of .345/.387/.690. He clubbed three homers and drove in eight runs over the last ten days. Most of the production did come against the Reds and Pirates, but even against more formidable opponents, Kim has put together quality at-bats and put the ball in play.
He produced a .921 OPS in his final year in KBO (2020) and knocked in over 100 runs for the third time in his career (impressive for KBO as they only play 144 game’s a season). Kim also possesses good speed and will add a few stolen bases to your total.
There are a few holes in his hitting profile, but the Padres’ second baseman is pulling the ball in most of his at-bats and has rarely hit the ball on the ground this season. While he does hit his fair share of popups, more than a few balls have been crushed, and I expect more offerings to make it into the stands as the season progresses.
With an everyday role, Kim should be targeted no matter what category you’re looking to improve upon, but for this exercise, we’ll go with homers. Add the Padres infielder now in all leagues and brag to other managers later about how you got him when most managers barely rostered him.
Harrison Bader (OF – STL): 20%
If you’re after speed, then Bader makes for a solid target. He has yet to hit a homer and only has two RBI, but the speedy outfielder has already racked up six stolen bases. He ranks in the league’s 93rd percentile of sprint speed and has looked ready to run nearly every time he has reached base. He is six for six on-base attempts and judging by last year’s breakout, it’s only a matter of time until he starts hitting for some power as well. At least he’s not hitting under .200 like so many other players are (after today’s game, he’s hitting .246 – not terrible!). Add Bader everywhere you need speed.
Steven Matz (SP – STL): 44%
Matz was atrocious in his opening start and then bad again this week against his former club, the Mets. However, both games came home, where he was a much different pitcher than on the road. Matz shut down the Brewers and handled the Reds in his two road starts, leading to dual victories. He was fantastic last season for the Jays and pitched well on the road against most of his AL opponents. He faces off with the Royals this Tuesday, who he dominated last season, giving up just two hits and one run over six innings. Matz is then scheduled to combat the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday against a badly bruised and battered lineup.
Matz is not for the faint of heart as he is prone to get shelled now and then, but if you can somehow avoid those few blowups, he is a solid fantasy piece. He has an excellent chance at two victories this week and is a definite add in all leagues.
Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARZ): 34%
Mad Bum is pitching like the Mad Bum of old. Through five games against top competition, he has put together a sterling 1.17 ERA to go along with a low and a 1.13 WHIP. His fastball velo is back to what it was in 2019 (91 MPH – it was down to 88 in 2020), and he is finally back to limiting home runs. Last season, Bumgarner finished the year with a solid 1.18 WHIP, but his nearly 1.5 home runs per nine and a bit of bad luck ballooned his ERA up to an unsightly 4.67.
This year, he has only given up two long balls (his only two barrels allowed) in five starts and has pitched like an ace since Opening Day. He has yet to go beyond five innings and is walking a few guys, but he is still one of the safest bets off the waiver wire when it comes to lowering your WHIP (below 1.2 three of the last four years). He’s got a nice matchup on tap for Wednesday morning against the Marlins, so add him now before it’s too late.
Chris Flexen (SP – SEA): 27%
Flexen had me a little worried with all the home runs he gave up in Spring Training, but it just shows you how little Spring numbers mean once again. Flexen has picked up right where he left off last season, and he is still limiting walks and long balls while pitching deep into games. His pitches have a decent amount of lateral movement producing a heavy amount of medium-speed exit-velocity-outs. He won’t grant you a ton of strikeouts, but he does give you a chance at victory every time out. His ERA currently sits at 3.38, which is right around where he’ll be all season (maybe a bit higher). Pitching in Houston scares me this week, but long term, he should be a steady source of quality production across the board.
Bruce Zimmermann (SP – BAL): 13%
Bruce Zimmermann!? That’s right, Bruce Zimmermann. This man may have been one of the biggest surprises over the season’s first month. The Yankees couldn’t touch him when they faced him; he shut down the hot-hitting Angels and even beat the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. That’s four starts (19.1 IP) against four first-place teams where he struck out 21 batters and only allowed two earned runs.
A big part of Zimmermann’s success and his ultra-low 17% hard-hit rate is that he only throws a fastball a third of the time. The southpaw, whose heater barely reaches 90, consistently keeps hitters off-balance with three heavy-breaking off-speed pitches. His chase rate is ranked in the 83rd percentile according to Statcast, and his slider and curveball have yet to result in a hit.
Zimmermann may not be the flashiest name on the market, but he has done enough to draw a fantasy manager’s attention in just four games. He’s probably better left for deeper leagues as he won’t obtain many wins pitching for the Orioles, but he could be worth a spot in deeper leagues, especially while his confidence is sky-high. Take a flyer on the 27-year-old southpaw if you have the room on your roster.
James Kaprielian (SP – OAK): 10%
Kaprielian is returning from his month-long stay on the IL and is finally ready to make his 2022 debut today. They’ll likely limit his innings for a while, and I’d like to see him perform a little better than he did during his Minor League tune-up, but he did strike out 123 batters last year over 119.1 innings. He is someone to keep an eye on over the next few weeks, and if you’re in a deeper league, it’s probably better to snag him now if you have the room on your bench.
Anthony Bender (RP – MIA): 43%
Those who gave up on Bender after his loss to the Cardinals missed out on a four save week. That’s right. This week, Bender closed out four games, a perfect four-for-four in save opportunities without giving up a run. Don Mattingly and company are high on the young right-hander, and I can’t see them making a change anytime soon, even with Dylan Floro coming back from injury.
The Marlins should win about half their games, with most of them being close-fought battles. There will be plenty of save opportunities to go around, and Bender will likely continue to be first in line. Now is probably your last chance to add the flame-throwing closer, and add him everywhere while you still can.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.