Hello again. I’m back to remind you that baseball is still indefinitely delayed. While you’re likely still sequestered like myself (remember when I said I’d bet my next check? Bingo bango, no school for a week at least, plus Spring Break), why not take the time to read up on fantasy baseball stuff? Get some more names on your radar you may have neglected because of injury.
Last week, I talked about a bunch of Yankees and mostly some household ace names like Max Scherzer, Mike Clevinger, Justin Verlander, etc. Those guys were some big names whose stock slipped some in the ADP department thanks to their various ailments. I promised some more, so I won’t dilly dally any longer. This week’s crop isn’t necessarily superstars (though I guess that’s arguable), but they’re definitely some names you want to keep in mind.
Current ailment: recovery from Tommy John surgery
ETA: can hit full-time, but mid-May for pitching
I know, I know; I just said these aren’t superstars and I go and drop a name like Shohei Ohtani. The Los Angeles Angels are relatively healthy entering 2020, but Ohtani is dealing with the dreaded Tommy John recovery. He’s a perplexing fantasy entity given his pitching and hitting prowess, yet his bat – as good as it is in real life – is limited thanks to not playing all the time. That’s because, as we all know, he also happens to be a kickass starter. Have you seen the dude lately? More like Swolehei Ohtani (I didn’t come up with that; I saw it in a tweet somewhere).
The Japanese phenom is cleared to hit, which should be just about every day as the DH until he’s cleared to pitch, and that’s when his playing time gets weird. Plus, fantasy leagues separate the hitter/pitcher versions of him – so for my money he’s more valuable as a pitcher assuming he gets regular starts. According to MLB.com, Swolehei is scheduled to be ready to pitch again sometime in mid-May. Averaging his career stats to a 162-game season (which you won’t get if he’s hitting and pitching), he has slashed .286/.351/.532, with 31 HR, 95 RBI, and 17 SB.
Now, remember, he’ll probably never get there unless he just goes completely off in the limited games where he hits, but it still gives you an idea of the kind of bat we’re talking about here. Not bad for a guy who also pitches to the tune of 63 K in 51.2 IP, with a 6.6 H/9 and 3.57 FIP. Granted, that’s from only 10 starts in 2018, but damn! Plus some rando named Anthony Rendon is in town to help beef up the lineup.
Current ailment: right elbow stiffness
ETA: TBD – would have begun the season on IL
Another Halo is on the mend – sophomore starter Griffin Canning. Though his 5-6 record and 4.57 ERA in 2019 may not look great on the surface, the underlying numbers are better. Call me old school, but I like to start with H/9, BB/9, and K/9. I understand they don’t paint the full picture, but it’s my starting point. Canning had an 8.0 H/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 9.6 K/9. If you ask me, I like those numbers. Especially across almost 90.1 innings from a rookie.
Canning, only 23 years old, began his pro career in A+ ball in 2018. By 2019, he’s a major leaguer. That right there kind of tells you enough. But if you still aren’t convinced by this somewhat surface-level analysis, let’s go to my favorite metrics site, Baseball Savant. Search him up there, and you’ll find his percentile ranks aren’t too shabby for a rookie. His xBA and xwOBA are on the better side of things, while the hard-hit percentage is 83rd percentile. His worst pitch in terms of whiff percentage is his four-seamer, which is still a respectable 23%. The slider is filthy (45.2%). Almost half the time someone bothers to swing at that thing, they’re coming up empty.
What maybe stands out most to me is the fact he almost evenly across the board puts batters away with his entire arsenal. Of his four pitches (four-seamer, slider, change, curve), none was below 20.2% and none was above 25.3% on put-aways. Canning’s ADP is at No. 288 on NFBC. In case you’ve forgotten, he pitches for a rather loaded Angels lineup. Um, yes, please, sign me up. I’ll take the chance even with the lack of clarity on when he’ll return.
Current ailment: flexor tendon
ETA: mid-April or so
Well, good news for the St. Louis Cardinals, I suppose. Miles Mikolas should be right on track to be in the starting rotation once baseball resumes. I mean, are we talking June at this point? I’m seeing it tossed around quite a bit. I’m finding it harder and harder to believe baseball is back before May at the very earliest. We’ll see. I shall maintain hope! But in the meantime, Mikolas probably doesn’t miss much, if any, playing time. Two years ago he came [back] outta nowhere, shocking the baseball world with an All-Star season after pitching a few years in Japan. Then 2019 happened, and it wasn’t nearly as pretty.
2018 gave us 18 wins, 200 innings, a 2.83 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP. Then stupid ole 2019 gave us half the wins, almost double the ERA, and blah blah blah. It was practically night and day. Mikolas wasn’t super bad or anything, but he was definitely below-average in my humble estimation. Maybe being a Cards fan plays into it. But look at the metrics and you’ll see! You’ll see! In 2018: 77th percentile xwOBA, 90th percentile hard-hit, 92nd percentile exit velocity. In 2018: 32nd percentile xwOBA, 50th percentile hard-hit, 54th percentile exit velocity.
Maybe 2020 Mikolas isn’t quite the 2018 version, but I’m willing to bet he can get closer to that than he does to repeating last season. Don’t underplay the sexy-as-hell defense behind him, with legitimate Gold Glove-caliber guys at short, second, and first. And the whole outfield is fast (if we can pretend Dexter Fowler won’t be out there, which could very well be the case). The St. Louis lineup is no slouch, either – just forget all about that NLCS showing. Mikolas can be had around No. 281 overall. That’s a fine price for what you might get.
Current ailment: right elbow inflammation
Probably all of you remember Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco missing a huge chunk of time last season battling leukemia. Awesome news that he’s back playing ball, but the bad news is we don’t know for sure when it will be. Good news again, though! The delay will help him get back. Oh, bad news again, there’s still a delay. I’m sorry, I get so up and down about it. Let’s just press on.
Carrasco was a fantasy baseball pimp in 2017 and 2018, winning 18 games and 17 games, respectively. He posted double-digit K/9 ratios in both seasons, providing his owners with well over 200 Ks each time. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2015, his ERA has never been worse than 3.63. Well, except if you count last season. I don’t.
Last season, he still had some sexy spin on his curveball, but batters blasted everything with hard hit after hard hit (Carrasco was literally, like, the worst in the league last season with that). Back in 2018, however, xBA, xwOBA, and xSLG looked tasty. Why don’t we just assume 2020 will look more like 2018, like we did with Mikolas, yes? If that’s the case, you’re gonna nab yourself a top-end SP for the price of 113th overall. Some leagues have been even more scared than that, letting him fall outside the top 200.
Current ailment: sprained wrist
Finally, someone who doesn’t pitch. Indians outfielder Oscar Mercado done went and sprained his wrist being a sweaty try-hard in a Spring Training game. Okay, that’s probably a bit harsh, but you just hate to see it happen in a meaningless game. Kudos for the competitive flair, I guess. But like everyone else on this list, he has plenty of time to get ready.
Mercado had a pretty all right rookie season in 2019, slashing .269/.318/.443. He hit 15 HR and stole 15 bases in 115 games. So we’re looking at a real 20/20 threat who will likely bat second on a DOPE lineup. Daddy likes it. Daddy hates that he used to be in the Cardinals system and isn’t anymore. You probably hate that I just called myself Daddy. Anyway, the point is the boy can ball. In 30 AAA games last season, he hit four more homers and stole another 14 bags. So that 20/20 potential is looking more like 20/30 at least. Mercado’s Statcast sprint speed put him in the 97th percentile. Insert *eyes* emoji here.
Can you tell I’m high on Mercado? And again very low on the fact he’s not a Cardinal while Fowler is? Mercado hit second pretty much every game last season. That means he’ll have Francisco Lindor ahead of him (who will straight crush this year, book it) and three Bomb Daddies after him (Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Franmil Reyes). Ain’t getting any better than that, folks. No sir, no ma’am. The primo two-spot hitter in the whole league as far as I’m concerned. And you can get him at No. 117-ish overall. Maybe this guy will be the Byron Buxton we’ve all been waiting for.
Current ailment: recovery from a torn ACL
ETA: Probably certainly by whenever the season starts
Andrew McCutchen’s first season in Philly was a big ole bummer. Torn ACLs are always a shame, thus Cutch only managed 59 games in 2019. If Opening Day were to start on time, there’s pretty much zero chance we see Cutch for a little while. It’s a totally different story now, though. I’d wager he’s ready by May, but if we have to wait until June or July then just bank on it.
Cutch hit from the leadoff spot every game for the Phils, so it’s safe to assume that’s where we’ll see him. The Phils lineup is a good one, especially with the addition of slugging shortstop Didi Gregorius. Leading off with guys like Gregorius, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Jean Segura trying to bring you home is a pretty nice position to be in. Even more so from a fantasy standpoint.
Of course, the MVP Pirate version of McCutchen is long gone. He hasn’t approached .300 since 2015, and 2014 was the last time he actually did it. As far as OBP is concerned, the man can still contribute. I know some of you love your OBP leagues, so he’s got some extra value there. And at any rate, he’s still good for 20-something homers and potentially a lot of runs. Cutch has been drafted anywhere from 145th to 400th (!) overall. I like the return value on that kind of spread.
A couple other guys I don’t have too much to say about
Yoenis Cespedes and Mitch Haniger. Let’s start with Haniger. You know you’re gonna get a good number of dingers with Haniger. In 2018, he hit 26 in 157 games. But in 2019, his season was cut short, yet he still ripped 15 in just 63 games (a pace of 39 or so). There’s not enough Statcast data to work with from last season, but 2018 sure looks good. Very nice xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA (like high-80s percentile nice). Hard-hit rates were nice, too. I want to do the obvious, which is to couple last season’s power outburst with the 2018 metrics and declare 2020 as a full-on breakout. Experience tells me to fall somewhere in the middle, but you never know. He very well could hit for average and smash 35 or more bombs. It’d help if he had a half-decent lineup around him; alas, he does not. And to top it off, he’s recovering from hernia and back surgeries. That’s a bit worrisome, but I still would take a shot given the recovery time he has and the No. 392 overall price tag.
Now let’s talk good old Cespedes. Remember him? The guy who fell into a hole and broke the hell out of his ankle thanks to a wild boar on his own ranch? It’s hard to gauge what we’ll get in 2020. Cespedes played 159 games back in 2015. He’s combined for just 251 since, and he missed all of 2019. The last time we got almost a full season out of him was 2016, when he hit .280 and launched 31 HR in 132 games. In 2017, he hit 17 HR in 81 games (34-HR pace). In 2018, he hit nine in 38 games (38-HR pace). Given that trajectory, we’re looking at well over 30-something HR in a full season. But will he still have it? Will he be the same hitter after multiple heel/ankle surgeries? I’d like to think he’d do better in the American League where he could DH full time and not have to stand around the outfield on those glass heels. Yet again, he’s shown in the past he’s a truly elite power hitter. The Statcast numbers from 2015 and 2016 are mouth-watering. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see how he reacclimates to baseball. His ADP is No. 471 or so overall. I suppose that’s about as low-risk, high-reward as it gets.
That about does it for this week. Any names I forgot? Comment below and enlighten me. I’m sure you can think of someone, but don’t say Adalberto Mondesi. He’s not showing on any injury reports anymore.
There’s a Part 3 coming, hooray! I’ll look solely at pitchers who were likely to have innings caps heading into 2020. You can kiss that malarky goodbye! Not gonna be any 200-IP guys this season. Is 175 the new standard? 150? Depends on when we get crackin’. There are a bunch of young guns whom you can treat like a full-fledged starter now that they’ll pretty much pitch the same amount as any true ace you can hang a hat on. Stay tuned! Until then, please continue to stay safe out there. Wash your hands! Is that booger still bothering you?