29 days. As I write this, that’s how many days of fantasy baseball have transpired in 2017. Sure, in a way it feels like we just started, but at the same time, I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted and it feels like the season has been going on as long as the movie Boyhood. Which doesn’t really make sense, I realize, because that movie was less than three hours long, but it felt like it lasted for about twelve years, and when it comes to some of my leagues, that’s about how long it feels like 2017 has been dragging on. Maybe this happens every year and I block it out, but I just don’t remember a season where so many fantasy teams appeared to be dead in the water due to catastrophic injuries just as the calendar was hitting May. And this year, it’s the NL-only teams that appear to be hardest hit… at least those that feature some combination of Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndegaard, Rich Hill, Jon Gray, Shelby Miller, Starling Marte, Adam Eaton, and David Dahl. Some of these names were first-round picks in an NL-only draft, and even guys like Gray and Eaton could legitimately have been a team’s number one starter or outfielder in very deep leagues.
Do you have an NL-only team that you sadly have had to give up on already? Or perhaps you’re a single-league team owner who has managed to dodge all of the worst injury/suspension bullets this year and are sitting comfortably in the catbird seat at the top of your league standings. Either way, every draft pick or auction purchase you made this year was magnified by the fact that you knew, should trouble strike, you wouldn’t be able to just run to the waiver wire and grab Jerad Eickhoff or Manny Margot off waivers. These players, and all the others like them whom you might actually expect some positive production out of, have been on a team since draft day (if not before). Personally, the Eaton injury pushed me a bit over the edge, because I invested so heavily in him, Marte, Gray, and Dahl, that I feel completely helpless watching a few of my teams unsuccessfully struggling to stay out of the bottom third of the standings, with little available in the way of free agent lifelines to save them.
Don’t get me wrong; this season is not going to be enough to keep me from playing in my crazy deep leagues – they will always be my favorite fantasy format. But it will probably encourage me to enter the relatively calm world of the shallow 10 or 12-team mixed league more often next year… I’ve always felt like these leagues didn’t require enough strategy, but now I’m suddenly chomping at the bit to prove my worth by being the owner to pick up Avisail Garcia or Scott Schebler or Jason Vargas at exactly the right time. In the meantime, I will try not to completely ignore my hardest-hit NL-only teams, as painful as it may be to tend to them. The deep-league owner club can be a weird and obscure one, but it’s a group I’m proud and happy to be a part of. I look forward to my NL and AL-only live drafts each April as much as I look forward to anything, partly because it’s comforting sitting in a room full of people (okay, men; maybe it wouldn’t be as fun for me if they weren’t all men, but that’s a different article), who have the same bizarrely specific hobby that I do. I mean, who doesn’t want to feel, at least one day a year, like everyone in the room “gets” you? We may not make up a majority of the fantasy sports world, but least I know that there are a few others out there who know both the pain and the joy of needing to know who’s pitching the seventh inning for the Rockies or who the Mariners’ fifth outfielder is.
Hey, on that very topic, how about some guys who might be of use in NL or AL only leagues – we’re going super duper deep this week (feel free to add your own highly inappropriate joke here; I’m too busy destroying my hand-crocheted “I Heart Starling Marte” slanket, fiber by fiber), as all of these players are owned in just 8% or fewer of CBS leagues. (In fact, some of these names are obscure enough that I’m starting a new feature where I mention the player’s primary position and team, so everyone can follow along).
Andrew Knapp (C, PHI). Cameron Rupp has already had one good and one decent game since I decided to mention Knapp this week, so if nothing else, if Rupp continues to hit I will take full credit for turning him around. Knapp is not known as a great defender, so it is theoretically his (switch-hitting) bat that got him to the majors. While he was a decent hitter in the minors (.276 career average with a high of 13 homers in 2015), he’s already 25 and has the “poor plate coverage” label attached to him, so being the Phillies back up catcher may be his ceiling. If Rupp does continue to struggle though, Knapp could see more playing time and have a bit of value. And even without more plate appearances, if you’re in a 2-catcher NL-only league and have a completely dead spot at C, Knapp might be better than nothing, and/or better than a guy who plays more and drains your average. In one of my leagues that fits the above description and allows daily changes, I’ve been trying to Frankencatcher the second spot, chasing at bats with whatever random backup catcher is starting each day. It’s been a solid reminder of why strategies like this, so brilliantly effective in shallow leagues, can be utterly disastrous in those of the deeper variety, as I think I’ve literally taken a clean 0-3 or 0-4 at that spot over 90% of the time so far this year. I finally decided to just put Knapp there and check back in a month or so.
Jordy Mercer (SS, PIT). He’s only hitting .209, but in a way that makes it even more impressive that he has 9 runs scored and 9 RBI going into Tuesday’s games. That’s more RBI than Aledmys Diaz or Eduardo Nuñez, and Mercer is also outproducing the likes of pre-season darlings Jose Peraza and Dansby Swanson. I’m not saying Mercer will end the year as one of the most valuable NL shortstops, but he’s been playing every day, often at or near the top of the lineup. That could be a good place to be if the Pirates ever get their collective act together and a bunch of their bats get hot at the same time.
Erick Aybar (SS, SD). Staying in Shortstopland (the thrill rides here tend to be quick, but don’t pack an exciting punch as often as you might like!), here’s another player who, like Mercer, is 4% owned in CBS leagues, has an atrocious average (.220), but is producing just enough in terms of counting stats (2 HR and 3 SB) that he could actually warrant a roster spot in the deepest of leagues. If he ends up providing any value in 2017 it will be with his speed, in leagues where a stolen base or two could make a difference in the standings come October. He had a disastrous 2016 in Detroit (only 3 steals total in 126 games), but he stole 15 in 2016 and 16 in 2015 with the Angels, so his current pace (which would put him at 18) isn’t completely crazy, even though he’s 33 years old now. His career average is .273, so maybe there is even a chance at bluer skies ahead on that front.
Luis Perdomo (SP, SD). I was mildly intrigued by him when the Padres promoted him last year, but his 2016 was downright ugly (5.71 ERA, 1.59 WHIP). That’s not a tiny sample either, he was left to sink or swim on his own for 147 innings and, as the numbers show, he chose sink. I was mildly intrigued once again when the Padres stuck him right back into their rotation this year – yes, they’re desperate as hell for starters, but so am I in a couple of my NL-only leagues. I didn’t do anything crazy like actually draft him, but I did pick him up over the weekend in one league and put him on my bench – he may see my starting lineup before long if he doesn’t look too terrible and the matchup seems right. His WHIP is at 1.29 this year, which certainly isn’t good, but qualifies as improved, at least, and in his first 16 innings he has 13 Ks and 4 BBs.
Franklin Gutierrez (OF, LAD). Came off the DL Tuesday, sending Scott Van Slyke back to the minors. The Dodgers’ outfield picture has changed a bit since Gutierrez went down with a bad hammy; namely, Andrew Toles is hot, and some kid named Cody Bellinger is up, playing for Joc Pederson while he’s out with a groin injury. Man, it will be interesting to see if Bellinger really gets sent back down as soon as Pederson comes off the DL… (hmm, a new twist, as Bellinger is playing first for Adrian Gonzalez Tuesday…but I suppose we should get back to the matter at hand). Gutierrez should start against most lefties regardless of who else is in the lineup, and could help those desperate for a little pop in the deepest NL-onlys — Gutierrez has averaged just 78 games played over the last three years, but has averaged 14 home runs per year over that same period. (Note: checking Tuesday lineups just after I wrote this, and in addition to that Bellinger playing first thing, danged if Gutierrez isn’t batting cleanup.)
Justin Smoak (1B, TOR). Smoak claims he’s been watching video and making adjustments to his swing in an attempt to make more contact and worry less about home runs. Whatever the reason, he’s off to a strong start, hitting .272 (his career average is a hideous .225). Funnily enough, he also happens to have hit 4 homers, putting him on pace for 25, which would be 5 more than he’s ever hit in a big-league season. He’s been in the lineup pretty much every day for Toronto, so if he keeps doing what’s he doing he could be a nice asset in a deep league.
Eddie Rosario (OF, MIN). As of Tuesday morning he was in the middle of a career-high 11-game hitting streak, which is more than I can say for a few of the stiffs who’ve been playing outfield for my AL-only teams (and I don’t even own Buxton anywhere!). Rosario may not be a young, upside-filled prospect, but he’s a major leaguer with playing time and what I assume is an increased sense of confidence given his recent success. Those two things can combine to lead to at least a smattering of fantasy production, and can you really expect much more than a smattering from a player who’s 2% owned in Yahoo leagues?
Ben Gamel (OF, SEA). Dan Pants mentioned Gamel in one of his wrapups over the weekend, and I own him in my deepest AL-only, where I needed a replacement for Mitch Haniger (hey, it’s fantasy baseball imitating real-life baseball!) In my league, there was nothing but 0%-%1 owned outfielders available on waivers so to say there wasn’t much to choose from is a bit of an understatement. (Meanwhile, Gamel’s up to a whopping 2% owned in CBS leagues now). Gamel’s not a power guy (6 homers in AAA last year, a career-high 10 the year before) but he swiped 19 AAA bases in 2016, so there’s that. Taylor Motter seems to found a home in the Seattle outfield with Jean Segura back, but Gamel has already had a couple of nice games for the Mariners and hopefully will get a few more chances while Haniger is out.
Christian Vazquez (C, BOS). I own Sandy Leon in one of my 2-catcher AL-only leagues, but have been so worried about more pressing fantasy baseball issues, that I didn’t notice Leon has been pretty much unplayable over the last few weeks and is now on the bad side of a catching timeshare. The Providence Journal recentlly reported that Vazquez would catch Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez, with Leon getting Rick Porcello and Chris Sale. Now Wright might be hurt, but whatever happens, it appears Vazquez will be behind the plate more than was expected. He was scooped up in my league before I realized what was going on — he’s hitting .412 in the early-going (and even has a stolen base!)
Tyler Collins (OF, DET). He’s off to a great start and has been hitting second for the Tigers while Miguel Cabrera has been out. Including a huge game on Monday, he’s batting .304 with 2 homers, 12 runs scored, and 8 RBI. He’s dropped down to sixth in the lineup with Miggy back but should have a secure spot in the lineup even when JaCoby Jones returns. Jones was hitting .150 before he hit the DL, and if Collins can keep producing he’ll make a case for more playing time even after the return of J.D. Martinez.