One of the most satisfying things in fantasy baseball is looking at your players’ results at the end of the day and seeing a combo meal. For the uninitiated, a combo meal occurs when a player hits a home run and steals a base in the same game (Note from Donkey: AKA the Slam and Legs). Although the following belies real baseball, I’m ordinarily more excited by a 1/4 combo meal with one run and one RBI than a 4/5 two-run, 3-RBI performance.
Unfortunately, however, the players most likely to yield a combo meal are often selected in the early rounds of drafts. With stolen bases becoming ever more infrequent, an excellent way to gain an edge over your competitors is to select cheap stolen base targets who also won’t set you back in the power categories. If you can’t get Christian Yelich, rather than later drafting Dee Gordon, you should take a combo meal sleeper. To that end, I’ve identified a few names for you.
Combo Meal Sleepers
To receive this honorary title, a player had to satisfy four criteria based on the 2019 season:
- National Fantasy Baseball Championship ADP (since April 1) of 200+
- Minimum 100 PAs
- Barrel the ball in 6% of plate appearances
- Steal a base in 3% of plate appearances
You may be wondering why I used SB/PA% and Brls/PA%, which will penalize players who strikeout frequently, for example. Ultimately, this list isn’t meant to capture the fastest and strongest hitters, otherwise I would have used sprint speed or stolen bases/opportunities, as well as Brls/BBE% or raw exit velocity. We care about fantasy contributors, and using PAs as the denominator illustrates how often hitters steal or barrel the ball as an absolute proposition–instead of as a function of times they are on base or put the ball in play. That, in turn, is most relevant to our bottom line, even if it’s not a perfect measure given that not every PA lends itself to a stolen base (e.g., hitting a triple, getting on base only to be homered-in on the next pitch, etc.).
I also used 3% and 6% thresholds for stolen base and barrel rate, respectively, because they were clean dividing lines between players who steal enough and hit for sufficient power to be fantasy contributors in those categories. So, you ask, who made the list?
At first blush, these guys are all flawed. The highest-drafted is, indeed, not on a team. The next two will have to fight for playing time. The last two won’t get drafted in most leagues. Setting the 200+ ADP criterion ensured us some deep sleepers. Still, I’m quite excited about all of these players, albeit for different reasons and to varying degrees.
Of course, Yasiel Puig needs a job for any discussion of his fantasy value to be worthwhile. Although that risk is baked into his 220.7 ADP, the risk is real. With a measly 3.0 fWAR over the last two seasons, it’s no wonder teams aren’t willing to fork over more to acquire his services. Yet, Puig has been heavily linked to the Giants, and the advent of the 2020 universal DH will open up more roster spots for NL teams considering signing the Wild Horse.
Bear in mind that much of Puig’s low WAR comes from his substandard defense: -3.6 UZR and -5 outs above average in 2018, -0.7 UZR and 0 outs above average in 2019. (Though also note that he had a meager 101 wRC+ in 2019.) Perhaps a team would be more likely to sign Puig to a DH role. Notably, some teams arguably would have signed him already but, due to current roster freezes, they can’t until either the players and owners strike a new deal or Spring Training resumes.
Should he find a home, Puig is a much better fantasy baseball hitter than his real-world contributions let on. He has stolen at least 15 bases and hit 23 home runs in three straight seasons. After finally leaving the Dodgers to earn regular playing time last year, Puig pushed a 20/20 season (24 home runs, 19 stolen bases), with exactly 160 combined runs and RBI. His batting average is the definition of consistency, never deviating from .263 or .267 in each of the last four seasons. Early in the offseason when I ran my own numbers, it’s no wonder that Puig came out as a value even around pick 120. With playing time, he projects quite nicely.
Oft forgotten, Wil Myers is still a recurring character in our lovely game. You may remember him from such films as, “28 home runs and stolen bases apiece” in 2016, and “30/20” in 2017. All kidding aside, there’s substance here, as many once considered Myers the Padres’ best hitter: he was an All-Star in 2016 and top-100 fantasy pick in both 2017 and 2018. Quickly, however, Myers found himself riding the bench, playing in 155 games last year but only appearing at the plate 490 times. Although he doesn’t exhibit platoon splits, he simply strikes out far too often for comfort.
Hope for Myers remains, however, and makes him more than worthy of his late ADP. First, like Puig, Myers will benefit enormously from a universal DH, which will help him find regular PAs amidst the Padres’ outfield logjam. Second, his strikeout rate ballooned last year because he was too patient, but his pitch recognition actually improved. He swung at slightly fewer pitches in the zone (an already low 65.5% dropped to 64.7%), but far fewer out of the zone (33.8 O-Swing% in 2018, 28.7% in 2019). Perhaps his timing was simply off considering his contact rate dropped almost ten points. He’s still only 29-years-old, so age likely isn’t the cause. It could just be bad luck in a relatively small sample because he never ran a strikeout rate over 30% before.
Don’t forget that Myers also has the raw tools to be a star–he doesn’t have to be a lost cause. Of course, he can run. In fewer than 500 plate appearances, he managed to steal 16 bases last year. But his raw power is also impressive as, in that time, he hit 18 home runs. Compare that to, for example, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s 15 home runs in 514 PAs. You should not be surprised that Myers can still do this:
That home run that reached the concourse was the longest in Myers’s career, and he hit it just last year. Although his barrel rate doesn’t exactly support the notion that he’s an elite slugger, Myers does have the 16th-best average exit velocity on flies and liners among qualified hitters. He hits them harder than Pete Alonso, Yordan Alvarez, Rafael Devers, and Eloy Jimenez, among others, but he puts the ball on the ground more frequently, thereby nullifying some of his raw power in terms of results. A swing change would do wonders.
In sum, Myers is a tweak or a hot streak away from rediscovering stardom, and this is the cheapest he’s been in four years. Don’t sleep on him.
Everyone remembers what Aristides Aquino did last season. He actually hit more homers (19) than Myers in less than half the PAs (225). He also stole seven bases to boot, which projects to 18.7 steals in a 600 PA season. As an aside, I recognize that neither Aquino nor any other hitter will reach 600 PAs in this abridged season, I just use 600 as a frame of reference for a standard MLB season. Nevertheless, in light of Aquino’s minor league track record, that stolen base rate likely won’t continue. His stolen base totals and SB/PA rates in his last four minor league seasons: 5 & 1.5% (AAA 2019), 4 & 0.9% (AA 2018), 9 & 1.8% (AA 2017), 11 & 2.1% (High A 2016). He’s also, surprisingly, already 26-years-old.
So, Aquino’s the one on this list that arguably isn’t much of a combo meal sleeper. Instead, you’re likely drafting the Punisher for his power prowess. Let me pause for a moment to explain the derivation of the man’s nickname.
Need I say more? Aquino made waves for tying Trevor Story’s record of seven home runs in his first ten games and holds the record for most home runs in a month for an NL rookie. His raw power is no fluke either. Filtering the Statcast barrels leaderboard for those with a minimum of 100 BBEs, Aquino’s barrel rate is 25th-best.
One foreseeable flaw of Aquino’s is his career 27 K% and his projected 30 K% according to most projection systems. Still, an even larger fly in the ointment is playing time. The Reds made so many additions that he’s likely either sixth or seventh on the outfield depth chart after Nicholas Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel (who himself narrowly missed the combo meal sleeper list), Josh VanMeter, and possibly even Phillip Ervin. As with Puig and Myers, Aquino will undoubtedly benefit from the universal DH. He’ll also benefit from expanded rosters because, before the league’s latest proposal, Aquino wasn’t even projected to make the Reds’ bench.
At one point, Aquino was a top-200 pick. And, his upside makes him worthy of the 441.8 ADP, but with so many other outfielders sparring for playing time, I wouldn’t hold my breath for Aquino to realize that upside in 2020. Instead, read on.
A former first-round pick, Cameron Maybin spent over ten years in the Majors as a speedy slap-hitter, with no more than ten home runs in a season. That is, until his relative power explosion last year in which he hit 11 homers in just 269 plate appearances–a 24.5 HR pace over 600 PAs. Maybin’s barrel rate jumped to 6.3% too, better than Starling Marte‘s, Charlie Blackmon‘s, Jose Altuve‘s, J.T. Realmuto‘s, and Bo Bichette‘s.
If you’re wondering how Maybin dramatically changed his plate approach, he answered that question and more in a wide-ranging interview with the Athletic in which he also managed to squeeze in the phrase “testicular fortitude.” In short, he attributes the aforementioned barrel rate increase, his launch angle increase from 7.5° to 11.1°, and his xSLG increase from .374 to .455 to his work with Mitch Haniger’s private hitting instructor at the end of the 2018 season and his subsequent stint with the Yankees:
For a long time, I went to the cage and thought if I felt good, things got to be good. I didn’t understand the swing and how it truly works. It was, for me, “hit line drives” and “everything gotta be good.” When I went to this new hitting guy out in California, I tell people: It’s like cakes. I like cake, but I have to wait for you to make it. That’s no fun. I like to have the ingredients so I can make it myself. I feel like they gave me the ingredients to understand: If something is off, maybe this ingredient is the ingredient that’s missing.
It’s a mindset of, “I’m trying to drive the ball now.” That’s what I appreciate about the Yankees. They were like: “This is the game. OPS. You’re 6-foot-4, 210 pounds; we want to see you drive the ball out of the park and drive the ball to the gap.” It was like, “OK! You guys told me to hit the ball on the ground before, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Beyond slugging, it’s obvious Maybin will steal plenty of bases if he can finally get a regular starting gig. Over his long career, he has never had more than 568 PAs in a season, which is a function of both injury and performance. Notwithstanding his demonstrated lack of durability, Maybin finally has guaranteed playing time, and where else but in Detroit? (Well, I could actually think of a few other places, but I’ll spare the fans of those teams.) Roster Resource projects Maybin to lead off and play right field, and there isn’t exactly stiff competition on the Tigers’ bench either.
Although Comerica is the worst park to convert barrels into home runs to centerfield, it actually plays decently for righties like Maybin (for more, check out my article on barrels and ballpark factors). With SB/PA rates of 3.4%, 2.6%, 7.3%, 3.8%, and 4.2% over the last five years, Maybin has demonstrated his proclivity to continue stealing bases even as he ages. He also might be the most underappreciated relative to his combo meal sleeper peers:
For my next @Razzball article, who do you like more at their April-May NFBC ADP?
— Dan Richards (@Fantasy_Esquire) May 25, 2020
Leading off with newfound power and augmented playing time makes me excited about Maybin for 2020, and you should be too.
I do love a good post-hype sleeper, and nobody better embodies that than Derek Fisher. Already nearly 27-years-old, the 37th-overall 2014 pick has had three cups of coffee in the Majors, generated 0.0 fWAR, and his best slash of the three was .212/.307/.356 with an 82 wRC+. In 167 PAs last year, Fisher struck out 34.1% of the time and hit .185. Worse yet, you may only know Fisher from the following play, which is definitely not at all a microcosm of his career to date:
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) August 3, 2019
Notwithstanding this lack of success at the Major League level, Fisher has been much better in the Minor Leagues. In AAA last year, he hit .286/.401/.522 with 14 home runs and eight stolen bases in just 281 PAs. In fact, in his various stints at AAA dating back to 2016, Fisher has posted the following wRC+ marks: 125 in 2019, 113 in 2018, 147 in 2017, 124 in 2016. There’s clearly potential here for more than what Fisher has shown.
Perhaps all he needs is time and more exposure to Major League pitching. Fortunately, Fisher moved to the Blue Jays last year and might be their starting DH, as projected Roster Resource. As with Maybin, there isn’t much in Toronto to push Fisher for playing time other than Billy McKinney or Anthony Alford. And, considering (1) Fisher’s out of Minor League options, (2) his pedigree, and (3) the haul Toronto yielded to get him (Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and Cal Stevenson), it’s unlikely the team will outright him for the waiver process. Instead, it’s probable they’ll give him a good look with the Major League team. But, even if he doesn’t DH every day, if he does, in fact, hit well, he can force the team’s hand and become the regular DH or even earn a spot in the outfield. He’s currently blocked there only by Teoscar Hernandez.
Fisher has shown his inclination to run at each stop in his career and is the 52nd-fastest player in MLB (out of 568 qualifying players) according to Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard. What’s more, Fisher has repeatedly demonstrated that he can hit for power. Even in his three terrible MLB stints, his ISOs were .144, .228, and .185. His seven home runs in 167 PAs last year projects to 25 over 600 PAs. His 6.6% barrel rate last year was better than Nate Lowe‘s, Hunter Dozier‘s, Ramon Laureano‘s, and Khris Davis‘s. And, notably, his maximum exit velocity (MEV) of 114.1 last year — and four total BIPS over 113 mph — was nothing short of impressive in such a small sample. If you read my recent article on identifying prospects using MEV, you’d know that those marks put him in elite prospect territory with the likes of Sam Hilliard and Kevin Cron.
So, at pick 730.3, what do you have to lose by drafting Fisher? Be like the Blue Jays and take a chance on a post-hype sleeper with both power and speed.