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The Watchlist: Joey Gallo, Alex Vesia, Cole Irvin, Josh Rojas (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Ben Rosener
Aug 12, 2022
Joey Gallo

This is “The Watchlist”.

“The Watchlist” is a weekly column designed to help you monitor and pick up players in the coming weeks. Whether 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.

Joey Gallo (DH, LF, RF – LAD)

Gallo traded in one elite lineup for another when he was dealt from the New York Yankees to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

He’s certainly struggled this season, but there’s no denying the upside of the slugger, who’s posted at least 38 home runs and three steals in three of the last five seasons entering the 2022 campaign.

It’s very much been a case of “so far, so good” from a results standpoint early in his Dodgers tenure. Gallo has four hits, a home run, a barrel, three runs batted in, a pair of runs scored, plus a 57.1% hard-hit rate in his first 15 plate appearances with Los Angeles. It’s the epitome of a small sample size, and the veteran does have eight strikeouts over the same span, highlighting the swing-and-miss issues that have often been a constant in his career.

But if Gallo can continue to produce with the Dodgers, he should immediately be on every fantasy manager’s radar, regardless of league size.

Los Angeles’ lineup is a perfect fit for the outfielder, not just in the sense that they’ve scored the second-most runs in the league, but because they should provide him with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, something he didn’t necessarily have in New York.

While with the Yankees, the slugger registered just 63 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. From the start of the season through the day before the trade deadline, that was the ninth most on the team.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers currently lead Major League Baseball in total plate appearances with runners in scoring position by a considerable margin with 1,117 such plate appearances, 30 more than the next team. Gallo already has six plate appearances with runners in scoring position in only four games with Los Angeles and should only continue to get more as the season moves along.

Alex Vesia (RP – LAD)

Staying in Los Angeles with the Dodgers, Vesia has begun to carve out a prominent role in Dave Roberts’ bullpen.

The owner of a 2.97 ERA and a 2.62 FIP in 36.1 innings this season, Vesia has struck out 49 batters so far while surrendering 16 walks. Perhaps most importantly for fantasy managers, he’s logged 13 holds (and a save) this season, already topping his previous career high of nine holds.

The right-hander has seemingly earned the trust of Roberts in key situations, especially as of late. Six of his 13 holds have come since June 30, including four in his last five outings. What’s more, Vesia is tied with Evan Phillips for the most high-leverage appearances among Los Angeles relief pitchers during that span with seven such appearances.

On track to finish with a strikeouts per nine innings rate north of 12.00 for the second straight year, the 27-year-old has done most of his bat-missing damage with his four-seamer and slider. Both are sporting whiff rates north of 33% at 34.0% and 39.3%, respectively. When opposing hitters have made contact, they’ve struggled to do too much with it either.

Batters have managed just a .288 xwOBA and a 39.7% hard-hit rate against the left-hander’s four-seamer. They own just a .269 xwOBA and a 31% hard-hit rate against his slider.

Overall, Vesia is one of just 11 relievers who rank in the 80th percentile or better in whiff rate, strikeout rate, and barrel rate. And while Blake Treinen‘s eventual return could potentially change things in the bullpen, Vesia is a quality addition in saves+holds leagues at the moment.

Cole Irvin (SP – OAK)

Irvin isn’t going to make significant contributions to the weekly strikeout or pitcher win totals of fantasy teams, but he’s going to help out elsewhere.

Adept at limiting walks, Irvin has a minuscule 4.7% walk rate this season, and while his 3.84 FIP and 4.20 xERA point to some regression coming in terms of his 2.92 ERA, he’s also been similarly adept at keeping runs off the board, especially as of late.

The left-hander has given up two earned runs or less in each of his last seven starts. Furthermore, he’s thrown at least six innings in all seven of those outings, twice reaching the eight-inning mark.

During that span, Irvin has only struck out 32 batters, but he’s also allowed just five walks and three home runs.

The lack of walks and home runs certainly help offset the low strikeout totals from a fantasy perspective, as does Irvin’s home park and division.

The left-hander has pitched to a 1.66 ERA in 70.1 innings at home this season, holding batters to a .194 average, a .221 wOBA, a 2.68 FIP, and a 0.87 WHIP at Oakland Coliseum.

So that certainly helps, as do regular matchups against divisional foes.

Irvin has, rather predictably, seen most of his starts against teams in the American League West. To be exact, half of his 20 starts have come inside the division.

What’s not so predictable is that the left-hander has yet to face the Seattle Mariners, but he’s been decidedly effective against the division’s other three teams.

Against the scuffling Los Angeles Angels, a team that has scored the fewest runs in the league since the beginning of June, Irvin owns a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings this season. Against the Texas Rangers, he owns a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings of work. Against the high-scoring Houston Astros, a team that Irvin has seemingly figured out, the left-hander has posted a 2.19 ERA in 24.2 innings.

Starting with a series on Friday in Houston, the A’s will play 21 of their last 50 games against American League West teams.

Josh Rojas (2B, 3B, SS, LF, RF – ARI)

One of fantasy baseball’s most versatile players, Rojas is currently eligible at second base, third base, shortstop, and in the outfield in Yahoo leagues. He was mentioned here in a previous Watchlist back in late April as an injury stash who could eventually provide quality production in a number of categories, namely on-base percentage, home runs, and stolen bases.

Fast forward to mid-August and Rojas is doing just that, batting .273 with a .344 on-base percentage, six home runs, and 13 stolen bases in 320 plate appearances.

He’s been even more productive as of late, with a .308 average, a .386 on-base percentage, a pair of home runs, and eight stolen bases in his last 134 plate appearances dating back to the beginning of July.

The eight stolen bases are the third most in the league during that span, but it’s what Rojas is doing at the plate that is different and particularly encouraging.

Most notably, he’s hitting the ball much harder much more often. After registering hard-hit rates of 27.7% and 31.1% in the last two seasons, Rojas is up to a 40.1% hard-hit rate this season. Since the start of July, his hard-hit rate is even better and more encouraging at 49.5% in those 134 plate appearances.

In fact, among qualified hitters during that span, just 18 have a better hard-hit rate than the versatile Diamondbacks starter.

Unsurprisingly, the increase in hard-hit rate has seen Rojas’ production improve across the board. As long as he continues to register an elevated hard-hit rate, he’ll be someone fantasy managers will want to roster.

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