12-Team Mixed Leagues
I’ll once again bang the drum for Doobie Herrera, who is off to a spectacular .290/.451/.420 start in his first 91 plate appearances of the year. The 24-year-old former Rule 5 darling, who hit .297/.344/.418 in 147 games as a rookie, has made major strides with his plate discipline in the season’s first month, upping his walk rate from 5.2 percent as a rookie to 23.1 percent in 2016. He’s also shaved a touch over five percentage points off of his strikeout rate in the early going. After seeing 4.01 pitches per plate appearance in 2015, Herrera, who has hit in the first three spots atop the Phillies order in each contest this year, has seen an average of 4.82 pitches per plate appearance in 2016. Herrera has cut down on his swing percentage outside of the zone as well, from 35.1 percent as a rookie to 28.5 percent this season, along with swinging less in general. He offered at 48.9 percent of the pitches he saw in 2015, which has dropped to 42.8 percent so far this season. The plate discipline is certainly encouraging to see and has obviously contributed to his .451 OBP (sixth in baseball), but I’m also heartened that Herrera has been running; he’s attempted five steals, successfully swiping four, in Philadelphia’s first 22 games of the year. Herrera attempted 24 steals over the entirety of the 2015 season, and if he keeps utilizing his wheels, “El Torito” should blow past the 16 swipes that he had in 2015, when he was a top-40 performer among outfielders on ESPN’s Player Rater. If Herrera continues the steps forward that he’s made with his plate discipline, he looks like a strong bet to exceed his rookie performance in 2016.
Do I think Chris Carter, a lifetime .220 hitter, will continue to hit for a .297 AVG (as he has in his first 19 games as a Brewer) over the entirety of the season? Or continue to hit for a .375 isolated power mark, after hitting for a .240 ISO in his almost-2,100 career plate appearances? I most certainly do not. I also believe that Carter’s .341 BABIP will creep much closer to his lifetime .277 BABIP number as the season progresses, but the reason why I’m buying Carter in standard mixed leagues is a combination of opportunity and his improved plate discipline. Fantasy team member (and former BP Milwaukee editor-in-chief) J.P. Breen and BP Milwaukee’s Travis Sarandos have talked about Milwaukee’s newly patient approach regarding pitch selection since new GM David Stearns has come into the fold, and Carter is no exception. After swinging at 28 percent of pitches outside of the zone prior to 2016, Carter has improved that number to under 19 percent in his 76 plate appearances to start the year. Swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone is also a good way to lower one’s strikeout rate, and Carter has trimmed just under six points off of his career 28 percent strikeout rate in his first season as a Brewer. Carter has knocked in 15 runs in 19 games while hitting fourth or fifth in the Brewer order in every one of his games started this season, and hitting behind Jonathan Villar (.377 OBP), Ryan Braun (.425 OBP), and Jonathan Lucroy (.364 OBP) should continue to provide plenty more RBI opportunities for Carter this season. Yes, Carter’s batting average will regress, but his power has never been in question, and hitting at Miller Park behind a productive top of the Milwaukee lineup could propel Carter into the top 10 among first basemen by season’s end. —J.J. Jansons
The 27-year-old’s ownership rates have soared over past week as a result of a stellar four-start stretch to open up the 2016 campaign. In addition to winning each of his first four outings, Porcello owns a 3.51 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 30 strikeouts and just five walks over 25 2/3 innings. He hasn’t feasted exclusively on cupcake matchups either. While he’s taken care of business against the offensively challenged Braves and Rays lineups, he’s already shut down the high-powered Blue Jays juggernaut twice this season.
Porcello was utterly abysmal (4.92 ERA over 28 starts) during his first season in Boston last year. By Deserved Run Average (DRA), his 4.69 mark ranked 105th out of 141 starters to eclipse the 100-inning plateau. Several variables have changed so far in 2016. The addition of defensive wizard Christian Vazquez behind the plate has an undeniably positive impact, but Porcello deserves the majority of the credit for his hot start. Not only is he pitching with renewed confidence, attacking opposing hitters (resulting in a career-high strikeout rate so far), but he’s also ramped up his sinker usage this April. According to Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x data, he’s now throwing a sinker nearly 54 percent of the time, up from just 39 percent a year ago, helping to drive a sterling 51 percent ground-ball rate. Those two factors working in tandem will ensure his mixed-league relevance going forward.
It’s staggering that he’s available in so many leagues right now. I touted Hill extensively in this space two weeks ago. In a pair of starts on the road versus the Yankees and Tigers since that piece went up, the 36-year-old southpaw has allowed just two runs, one earned (0.69 ERA), on seven hits, while striking out 18, and issuing just four walks over 13 innings of work.
Dating back to last September when he resurfaced with the Red Sox, Hill has struck out 10 or more batters in five of his last eight starts. Only 10 major-league starters have more 10-strikeout games over the past two years combined. Of those 10, Stephen Strasburg and Noah Syndergaard have accomplished that feat in fewer than 30 starts. If he’s still available in shallow formats as a result of a pair of rocky outings earlier this month, in which he struggled to command his dynamic fastball/curveball combination, this is likely your last opportunity to pick him up off the waiver wire.
15-Team Mixed Leagues
Danny Santana, SS, Minnesota Twins (Ownership: 4 percent CBS, 1 percent ESPN, 1 percent Yahoo!)
Nunez and Santana look to have secured themselves regular roles for the Twins in the first month of the season, and both have been running plenty in the first month of the season. Nunez, owner of the sterling .392/.439/.471 line in 57 plate appearances, has stolen five bases in seven attempts in his 16 games played, after stealing eight bags in 72 games last season. Santana, who looks to have secured the everyday center-field job with Byron Buxton being dispatched to Triple-A Rochester, has attempted four steals in his seven games of action, successfully swiping two bases. Santana deploying his speed is encouraging to see, particularly after he only attempted 12 steals in 91 games last season. Both Nunez (.465 BABIP) and Santana (.429 BABIP) will assuredly see their batting averages dip as their good fortune on balls in play evens out, but if these guys both are running, they both should be rostered in deeper leagues. —J.J. Jansons
Prospects like Jose Berrios, Blake Snell and Sean Manaea may steal all of the headlines and rank among the most popular pickups in fantasy leagues this week, but let’s not forget about Gausman, who is still only 25 years old. After missing most of April with a shoulder issue, he finally made his 2016 debut earlier this week. While he held the Rays lackluster offense to just one run on three hits with seven strikeouts, it was the right-hander’s pitch usage that stood out more than anything.
Gausman still leans primarily on a fastball that’s averaging a career-high 97 mph so far this season, but he used his curveball nearly 30 percent of the time against Tampa Bay. That type of pitch mix is something he’s never come close to doing in the past, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering he talked about adding the curveball to his repertoire this offseason. We know the value adding a new pitch can provide, which is why Gausman should be a target in deeper formats moving forward.
Steven Wright, SP, Boston Red Sox (Available in 82% of ESPN.com leagues)
The knuckleballer has struck out five or more batters in each of his first four starts and despite struggling with his command at times (pretty much a given for any knuckleball specialist), he owns a pristine 1.37 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 26.1 innings. With dynamic young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez slated to return in the near future, Wright will need to continue to pitch well in order to hold off Joe Kelly for the final spot in the Red Sox rotation. The 31-year-old doesn’t possess a high ceiling, but in deeper formats, quality innings and strikeouts can be hard to find and Wright should provide both over the next few months. —George Bissell
Hear me out. If you’re desperate at catcher, Zunino is an excellent stash candidate if you have the roster space or at the very least, someone to keep on your radar. He’s currently hitting .413/.449/.825 (1.275 OPS) with 12 extra-base hits (seven home runs) in just 69 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma. Even for the PCL, those numbers are impressive so far. The previous Mariners front office rushed him to the big leagues when he wasn’t ready. Based on their actions so far, the Dipoto regime won’t make that same mistake. When does arrive later this summer, it’s looking like the power bat we all envisioned when he was drafted will be ready. —George Bissell
After pitching exclusively as a reliever in the Yankees minor -eague system over the last three years, Vargas was signed to a major-league deal this winter. After an arm injury to lefty Robbie Erlin sent him to the disabled list last week, the 24-year-old Vargas was summoned from Double-A San Antonio to make his first major-league start against the Cardinals. Vargas allowed a solo shot to Stephen Piscotty as his only run of the evening in five innings pitched, striking out three and walking a trio. Vargas struck out 14 batters over 12 2/3 innings in his first two Double-A starts of the year and will start again against the Dodgers today. If Vargas impresses again in his start against the Dodgers, he could relegate Erlin to the bullpen when he returns and could emerge as a solid rotation option for the Padres throughout the year. He’d have even more staying power should they choose to deal any of James Shields, Tyson Ross, or Andrew Cashner at some point. —J.J. Jansons
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