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The Watchlist: Mike Soroka, Yandy Diaz, Jake Fraley, Ross Stripling (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

The Watchlist: Mike Soroka, Yandy Diaz, Jake Fraley, Ross Stripling (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

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.

Mike Soroka (SP – ATL)

Soroka has already completed his first rehab outing, more on that in a moment, so this might be the last chance to pick him up before fantasy managers everywhere start adding him off the waiver wire en masse.

One of the best injured-list stashes at the moment, Soroka hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2020 because of two torn Achilles injuries. It’s probably easy to forget just how effective he was prior to that injury.

In 2019, the right-hander made 29 starts for Atlanta, pitching to a 2.68 ERA and a 3.45 FIP in 174.2 innings. He finished with 13 wins, tied for the ninth-most in the league that year among starters, and allowed just 41 walks and 14 home runs while striking out 142 batters.

And while the strikeout total wasn’t the gaudiest of metrics, Soroka did register a whiff rate north of 38% on both is slider (38.1%) and changeup (38.9%) that season, complimenting his sinker and four-seam fastball.

Thanks in part to the slider, which opposing batters managed just a .342% hard-hit rate, a .252 xwOBA and one home run against, Soroka was able to limit quality contact. Which, when paired with low walk totals, certainly makes up for the modest strikeout numbers.

Soroka was one of just 12 pitchers – and only seven starters – to finish in the 80th percentile or better in xISO, barrel rate and walk rate during the 2019 season. The other six starters? Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Frankie Montas, Mike Clevinger and Hyun Jin Ryu.

Fast forward to 2020, and Soroka was Atlanta’s Opening Day starter. However, he only made three starts before having his season cut short due to injury.

Fast forward even further to this year, and the 25-year-old is nearing a return to the Majors.

He threw four innings in his first rehab outing for Atlanta’s Advanced-A affiliate and struck out eight of the 14 batters he faced while giving up just one hit in four shutout innings. And while it was just one effective start in the low minors, it was encouraging nonetheless.

Soroka probably won’t reach 13 wins as he did a few years ago. There simply isn’t time left in the regular season. But upon his return, he’ll be one of the best candidates for pitcher wins for the rest of the season, given the team he pitches for.

Dating back to that 2019 campaign, Atlanta has the third-most pitcher wins from their rotation in the league. This season alone, they rank fourth with 49 pitcher wins entering play on Thursday. Of those 49 victories, 38 have come solely from Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Ian Anderson, who have all reached the double-digit win mark.

Yandy Diaz (1B, 3B – TB)

Diaz does just about everything a fantasy manager would want out of a position player who isn’t a stolen base threat.

Hits for a high average? Check.

Draws walks at an elite rate and walks more than he strikes out? Check.

How about hitting the ball hard? Diaz does that too.

Is he entrenched at the top of or near the top of his team’s lineup? That, too, is the case with Diaz.

Well, ok, almost everything. About the only thing that Diaz isn’t doing besides stealing bases – he has just one this season and six for his career – is hitting the ball over the fence on a consistent basis. The 31-year-old has six home runs this season, and his 4.1% barrel rate is in the 15th percentile league-wide.

But, if you can overlook all that or have a roster teaming with home run threats, Diaz is an ideal addition for most fantasy rosters. As of now, he’s rostered in just 27% of Yahoo leagues. Or, in other words, there’s a fairly decent chance none of your league mates have added Diaz off the waiver wire.

Now’s the time to pick up the corner infielder, who is hitting .272 with a .384 on-base percentage, a 14.3% walk rate, and a 10.8% strikeout rate this season. He’s sporting a 45.7% hard-hit rate and has collected 237 of his 427 plate appearances hitting leadoff for the Rays ahead of the likes of Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe, and, when healthy, Wander Franco.

He also ranks in the 86th percentile or better league-wide in xwOBA, xBA, whiff rate, K%, and chase rate, and as an added bonus is eligible at both third base and first base in Yahoo leagues.

Jake Fraley (OF – CIN)

Fraley was an immensely useful waiver wire addition in leagues where the on-base percentage was part of the scoring last season, hitting .210 with a .352 on-base percentage, nine home runs, and 10 stolen bases in 265 plate appearances for the Mariners.

Then Seattle traded him to Cincinnati in the Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez deal. Considering that and the exodus of talent from the Reds Major League roster last season, Fraley was an intriguing fantasy option heading into the new season in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

Initially, the outfielder didn’t find much success with the Reds. He hit just .116 with an identical .116 ISO and just one home run and stolen base apiece in his first 48 plate appearances for the Reds through April 30. He later missed time due to injury and didn’t return to Cincinnati’s lineup until a July 30 matchup with the Baltimore Orioles.

Since then, he’s been much more productive, hitting .370 with a .423 on-base percentage and four home runs in 52 plate appearances. Perhaps most crucially, he has five multi-hit games already since the end of July. Last year with Seattle, he only eight of those games all season. And while he’s yet to steal a base since returning to the Reds, he was caught stealing on Tuesday.

To be fair, we’re still dealing with a small sample size here. But it’s that small sample size that is keeping Fraley under the radar in most leagues right now. He’s certainly more valuable in leagues where on-base percentage is used instead of batting average. Still, he’s shown he can contribute in multiple fantasy categories before with his ability to rack up homers and steals. Plus, the outfielder should continue to get plenty of plate appearances on a rebuilding Reds club down the stretch.

Ross Stripling (SP – TOR)

Stripling returned to the Blue Jays rotation on Wednesday, allowing a hit while striking out seven batters on 72 pitches in 6.1 shoutout frames. The right-hander posted a 35% CSW rate in his first start back from the injured list and logged 13 swinging strikes on the day, including six with his changeup.

A solid rotation option for the Blue Jays and fantasy managers, the former Dodger has made 16 appearances so far this season, 10 of which have been starts. He’s thrown 89 innings and logged a 2.93 ERA and a nearly identical 2.87 FIP while striking out 74 batters. He’s given up just 15 walks as well. If you’re counting along at home, that checks out as a 4.2% walk rate, a walk rate that currently sits in the 97th percentile league-wide.

Much like Fraley and, to an extent, Soroka, Stripling’s recent injury probably has him rostered in far fewer leagues than he should be. His rostered rate in Yahoo leagues is just 34% as of Thursday, opening the door for fantasy managers to beat their league mates to the punch in adding Stripling.

To say nothing of his ability to keep runs off the board this season, the 32-year-old has logged five pitcher wins in 10 starts this season and should continue to be a quality option for wins moving forward. That’s especially true for a 16-game stretch from the end of August through the middle of September. From August 26 through September 11, 12 of Toronto’s 16 games are against the Angels, Cubs, Pirates and Rangers. All four teams entered play Thursday in the bottom half of the league in scoring, with Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh making up a third of the league’s nine lowest-scoring ballclubs.

The only team the Blue Jays play during that stretch that isn’t called the Angels, Cubs, Pirates or Rangers? That would be the Baltimore Orioles, the team Stripling just held to one hit in 6.1 innings.

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