Hello, again. It’s nice to be back in the saddle, writing up some fantasy baseball tidbits. I took a little hiatus after my COVID-19 Bargains series, but I’m kicking off a new one for yinz. If what’s on the grapevine is true, then we’ll finally get what I hope all of you have been waiting for: a DH for National League teams! I know you old-schoolers out there hate the idea – and trust me, I consider myself pretty old school in a lot of respects – but I don’t give two soggy turds about watching a pitcher try to hit a baseball. Some can do it okay, but the overwhelming majority cannot. It’s largely a meaningless at-bat, as far as I’m concerned. And let’s not even talk about pitchers running bases.
The 2020 fantasy baseball season is going to be a strange one, no doubt. I keep seeing this whole thing about 100 games and only three divisions total. Will these games be played in Spring Training parks? Regular parks? No one knows for sure. Are we gonna get doubleheaders like crazy? *shrug emoji* The latest proposal suggests regular home parks without fans, but we’ll see. For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to treat this series as if we’re gonna get regular home parks, and I’m going to categorize each team in their regular divisions, since that’s what we’re (read “I’m”) used to. Yes, Cardinals hitters facing more aces than just what the Cubs, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates would throw at them certainly changes things, but that’s true for every lineup if this proposal comes to fruition. I’m not going to sit here and analyze how Tyler O’Neill might fare against Matthew Boyd. I’m just going to point out some NL bats you might want to pay attention to since they may become regular instead of platooning. Capeesh? Obviously, if this division re-alignment happens, there has to be a universal DH. Either that or make the AL teams use a pitcher in the lineup. Who wants that? I sure as hell don’t.
Bear in mind, I’m not necessarily focusing on each team’s potential DH. This series is more about which NL bat benefits the most on each squad due to said DH. Could be because said bat might be said DH, or could be because said bat might be a better defensive option for another bat who could be said DH. Capeesh?
So, without further ado, here are my biggest risers were we to indeed get the lovely universal DH:
The name that stands out to me the most is Jake Lamb. Wasn’t long ago he had a 29 and 30 HR back-to-back-season thing going on, making him a sneaky value pick for power at third base. The past couple seasons have been far less productive thanks to injuries – he’s only played 134 games combined since the end of 2017. As I dug deeper, I was more than a little surprised to see his Statcast numbers last year were actually rather good, and some of the best of his career. Small sample size, sure, but still impressive (and encouraging). Historically, he’s been atrocious against lefties. Somehow he managed a .304/.429/.739 slash line against them last season. Only 28 PAs, but three of his six homers were against lefties. He was as bad against righties last season as he had been against lefties his whole career.
Lamb’s average exit velocity sat at 90.4 MPH in 2019, which is the second-highest of his career. That’s the same number Anthony Rendon managed, and would put Lamb at #65 in the majors if he qualified to be among leaders. His launch angle was the highest it’s ever been, and his hard-hit percentage was the second-highest. Look, Lamb is never going to help your batting average, and if strikeouts count in your leagues, he’s gonna hurt you more there, too (career 25.1% strikeout rate). But the dude draws walks and can mash dingers. In OBP leagues, he’s a very nice value. In 2017, his 13.7% walk rate was in the 93rd percentile. Last season, his walk rate climbed to 14.2%.
He’s still only 29 years old, so there should be plenty left in the tank if he can avoid injury. Lamb usually crushes righties, so he should at least see DH time when a righty is on the hill. But who knows, maybe his new thing is crushing lefties too and he just rakes it up in 2020.
Man, fantasy owners sure hope the Rockies play at Coors, amirite? The big names like Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado are gonna be good no matter what, but you can’t deny there’s going to be some impact if the Rox don’t get to blast juiced balls into the Denver atmosphere. My bet for the biggest increase in value with a DH in Colorado would be Garrett Hampson. His path to playing time entering 2020 was the…Rockiest. Lol. So, maybe not for the power, but that boy can fly. Sprint speed is 99th percentile, y’all. Hampson came on strong in September last season, slashing .318/.368/.534 with five homers and nine steals. I can’t say I’m overly impressed by what I’ve seen from him before that point, but it’s nice to see him finally find his groove. Throughout his brief minors career, he always managed to make good contact, draw walks, and steal a whole lotta bases. I’m not writing off his bat just yet, especially after how he capped of the 2019 campaign.
The Statcast numbers really aren’t impressive, though, so I’m not going to spend much time talking about them. He has, like, the lowest exit velocity ever (not really, but you know) and never barrels the ball. His hard-hit rate is well below league average. It’s a bummer to see his BB% go from 14.6 in 2018 to being slashed perfectly in half in 2019 (that would be 7.3%, if you needed it spelled out). But as 2019 wore on, he got better at that, at least. And another thing, he’s a Jack-of-all-trades utility man. He can play anywhere. So maybe Story needs some rest and just wants to swing the bat – insert Hampson. I dunno, maybe that’s a little whacky, but I’m sticking to it.
I like Hampson. I really, really liked him helping me win a back-to-back title in my keeper league. I think he’s got it in him. And again, dude’s eligible for 2B/SS/OF in Yahoo (2B/OF elsewhere). Top of the order on a lineup like Colorado’s, coupled with that speed…my oh my. Sign me all the way up.
Los Angeles Dodgers
My bet is Joc Pederson slots into the DH role because he’s not exactly the best defensive outfielder out there. He ranked in the 12th percentile for outs above average. Not gonna lie, I don’t fully know what that means (cuz defense DON’T win championships in fantasy), but Baseball Savant has that number in a dark blue bubble, which is very bad. His outfielder jump number ain’t great, either. But this section isn’t gonna be about Pederson. You know what you’re getting with him. Homers, OBP, and that’s about it. I’m gonna talk instead about A.J. Pollock, whom I see getting more playing time if Pederson does DH.
Pollock isn’t a great fielder either by Statcast measures, but he’s better than Pederson. And he’s faster, so in my expert opinion that means he’s got better range. Seriously, I don’t know much about outfield defense. I’m not here for that. You wanted a Dodger bat to look at for 2020 fantasy baseball, and I’m here to tell you that you might as well look at A.J. Pollock. One good thing about a shortened season is there are less chances for Pollock to get hurt. The guy is a walking Injured List wearing a baseball uniform. He played 157 games in 2015. Since then, he hasn’t managed more than 113 in a season. He played twelve in 2016 and only 86 last year.
Don’t ignore the fact the man can still hit a baseball, though. He popped 15 homers in only 308 at-bats last year and had 21 dingers in 2018. His speed is still above average, and he knows how to swipe a bag. For the most part, he makes consistent hard contact. Hell, maybe with the injury history, he’s the DH. Maybe that’s what I’d do if I were Dave Roberts.
San Diego Padres
My thinking here is Wil Myers finally gets back to living up to that hype. Small disclosure: I live a stone’s throw from Arvest Ballpark, where the Northwest Arkansas Naturals play (Kansas Royals Double-A affiliate). Even was on the grounds crew for a season. I got to see Myers in person, and he was one of the first real stars to make it the bigs having gone through the system. Remember when he was a #4 overall prospect? So maybe there’s a tiny part of me that just hopes this comes true so I can see him succeed again, but I think he’s in for a rebound year.
First things first, Myers has got to stop striking out. He was in the bottom one percent of the MLB in strikeout rate in 2019 (34.2%…wow). Couple bits of somewhat encouraging news: 1) that’s by far the worst of his career, so it’s not like he’s always been up near the mid-30s, and 2) his walk rate is at least in the double-digits. Despite the bad average and comical strikeout rate, he still showcased his pop and speed and was one of the few people in the league to hit 15 home runs and steal 15 bases. Myers has also always hit the ball hard – only once in his career has he failed to do so 40% of the time, and that was when he did it 39% of the time in 2016. I don’t know about you, but I like a guy who can hit hard and run fast. The walk rate helps mitigate the damage done by the strikeouts, so his OBP isn’t too bad really. There really just aren’t many guys anymore who offer both good power and good speed, but Myers has done so consistently since he came into the league. Combining 2016 and 2017, he hit 58 bombs and stole 48 bases. He played half a season in 2018 and still managed double-digits in both categories.
Wouldn’t expect an All-Star season, but I do expect Myers to be a big fantasy bargain this year. Even if somehow we don’t get the NL DH, I’m interested in what he can offer. But we’re gonna get it, guys, and Myers becomes even that more valuable because of it.
San Francisco Giants
I almost don’t even want to bother here. The Giants are crap. They don’t even have Madison Bumgarner anymore to make their team look even a little fantasy relevant. Buster Posey isn’t very good anymore. Mike Yastrzemski is the most exciting player on the whole team, and that’s not saying much. He could maybe hit 30 HR in a full season, but his average is bad and you know damn well the RBIs won’t be there. You want 30 solo homers on your fantasy team?
Who knows, maybe the Giants will surprise me. I’ll give a little fantasy hockey plug here – when I was writing for Last Word on Hockey, I talked all offseason about how there ain’t a single player on the Minnesota Wild I’m touching in fantasy. Lo and behold they’ve got some really valuable players. Maybe the fact I’m bashing the Giants right now means they’ll be laden with fantasy gems. I’m not seeing it, but someone is gonna be better off with a DH slot. That someone is most likely Wilmer Flores. Mr. Flores had a very fine 2019 in limited appearances, slashing .317/.361/.487 across 285 PAs. His xBA was .287, so expect some regression, but that’s still pretty good in my book. He doesn’t hit the ball especially hard (league average, basically), but he doesn’t strike out much. I mean, really there’s not a lot to get excited about. Flores could help you in the AVG/OBP departments, maybe some decent home run value given his tendency to hit fly balls. He’s sure to get his shot after his strong showing in 2019, but he’s just on a poopy team. Probably only useful in deep leagues. I said I’d pick someone on every team, so dadblabbit I’m gonna do it. Doesn’t mean you have to draft them. I’m certainly only going after this guy if he gets hot – a cool 1% of fantasy baseballers even own him, according to FantasyPros.
Next up: the Central!
Tune in next week (or maybe two) for another crop of bats that should see a spike in usage thanks to the DH. Spoiler alert: expect some Tyler O’Neill love. He’s got a chance to be the biggest beneficiary of them all. Captain Canada can launch.