G’day, Thursday crowd! I’m venturing beyond my usual Saturday DFS territory to bring you a brand-new series that straddles DFS and roto and, well, pretty much every category in between. Dr. Easy — my partner in fantasy baseball crime — and I will be taking a look at some differences in fantasy baseballers’ (Grey’s mom’s term) perception versus reality when it comes to the value of players, with the help of the Razzball Player Rater.

There are a few reasons for doing this. In no particular order other than the one they’re in: one, to help you out with trade targets — where to buy low and sell high (trade deadline is six weeks away, kids!). Two, to point you to some overlooked players that may even be able off the waiver wire, whether in the Razzball Commenter Leagues or others. (OKAY, let’s face it — more likely in other leagues.) Three, to highlight the value of the Player Rater — which is FREE! — and why you should be using it more than you likely are; trust me when I say that just combing through it for this post has been an enlightening experience, so much so that I want to sit cross-legged, light some incense and dust off my mantras. And four, for a little DFS action, we hope to throw you some ideas on zigging where others zag: to do well in DFS, you want to start players who are going to play well, but whom your competitors may not have thought of (e.g., if 50% of people start a player, 50% of you are going to get the same number of points for that player). Every week, we plan to look at one surprising player in each position. Feel free to hit us up with requests or questions in the comments — about specific players, trade ideas, anything you like.

Jason Vargas – [Editor’s Note: This post was written before last night’s start.] In Razzball’s pre-season rankings, Jason Vargas was ranked 559th. In the season-to-date Player Rater, he’s currently ranked 6th out of SPs (36th out of all players. All players. Overall). That’s one spot above Dallas Keuchel; two above Stephen Strasburg. His ERA is a mere 2.2, behind only Max Scherzer. He’s beating his FIP (3.48) by far, which leads to the theory that his solid changeup is still confounding hitters, with lots of soft contact, and will keep on doing so until and unless they figure it out. He’s certainly not striking them out: his K/9 is 6.57. Also interestingly, in Player Rater stats, Vargas is as high on $W (wins) as Clayton Kershaw, at $10.4; does this show that he’s (finally?) getting support from the rest of the Royals? Wins are fluky, of course, don’t grab him for wins, but if you can get your hands on him, enjoy him for the low ERA and the high Ws — if not the Ks.

Jim Johnson – Sure, Craig Kimbrel has been the top RP overall for 2017, followed by Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, and Roberto Osuna. Sure, ya, whatever. But you know who’s been the 5th most valuable, season to date? Jim Johnson. When did Jim Johnson last cross your mind, huh? (Unless you own him; then I bet you’re thanking your lucky stars for him.) I bet you thought Wade Davis was more valuable than Johnson. Davis is 8th overall. Johnson has been quietly getting it done in Atlanta (one of the top 10 most hitter-friendly parks in MLB so far this season, too). Possibly interesting sidebar: Johnson is the joint leader — with Mychal Givens — in wins for relievers, which seems to account for a big chunk of his value ($W 7.4, to be exact). He’s fairly decent on saves (ranked 8th), but he’s actually in the negative when you wander over to the $ERA and $WHIP columns (in stats terms: 3.68 and 1.12, respectively). So if you’re a Jim Johnson owner, count your blessings for the wins he’s getting and the overall production he gives you, and be happy you’re deriving so much value from someone you probably drafted many rounds after Davis went. SAGNOF, baby!

Miguel Cabrera – We are not getting Miggy with it in 2017: the hitter whose average never dipped below .313 is sitting at a sad .262 with 10 home runs so far this year. Player Rater ranks him 36th out of all 1B; he’s valued 286th overall. And yet, he’s 100% owned; he’s still an undroppable in ESPN leagues… does that mean he’s still perceived as a first- to second-round pick? You could trade him if you can — or you could ride it out to see if he gets over whatever’s ailing him: maybe injury, given he just went down again on Tuesday with a hip thing. This year he’s hitting slower than he ever has: his average exit velocity is 92.2 mph (21st in MLB), down from last year’s 93.6 (4th in MLB), which was down again from 2015: 94.5 (3rd in MLB). But his average launch angle hasn’t changed overly, ranging from 12.9 degrees in 2015 to 12.4 degrees last year to 13.2 this year.  Essentially, he’s hitting in the sweet spot, if you look at this here lovely graph. His BABIP is the lowest it’s ever been — .304. So is he just getting unlucky, and can he turn that around rest of season? Or should we just be worried about the decrease in velocity?  Is it slower because he’s weaker (bad!), or because he’s not squaring them up (this could be fluke, or it could be a problem)?

Whit Merrifield – Chalk this one up to the “pleasant surprise” column. If you drafted Merrifield, you were doing some real deep diving and you’re possibly also psychic: pre-season, he was ranked a grand 1176 among 2Bs. Currently, he’s 20th. That’s higher than Jonathan Villar (100% owned) and Ian Kinsler (99% owned — hmm, guess the shine’s wearing off him a tiny bit). And Merrifield is probably out there on the waiver wire: in RCLs, he’s only 51% owned. His value lies in his steals (11; $SB 7.6) and average (.286; $AVG 3.6: sure, that doesn’t look like much compared with, say, Daniel Murphy [$AVG 10.7] and Jose Altuve [$AVG 9.7], but it’s better than Trea Turner’s $AVG 2.4).

Elvis Andrus – If, before the season started, you’d have told me that Elvis Andrus would be currently sitting 2nd out of all shortstops (behind only the mighty Trea Turner), 10th overall in MLB per the Player Rater, I’d have called you a bald-faced liar (yes, even if you had a beard — or a mustache, as the case may be). He was ranked 11th in SS pre-season, which was still nothing to sneeze at, but he was looking up at Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa… the list goes on. Now he’s left them all in the dust. Elvis is having a season. He’s 100% owned — so you’ll have to trade for him, if you want him. His primary value lies in his steals ($SB 15.8; 20 steals), and his average is carrying him: at .302, or $AVG 6.5, he’s 5th, behind only Segura, Correa, Bogaerts and Cozart. But even more surprising is the uptick in home runs — 11 already, compared with only 8 all last season, so he’s no longer a negative in that department (as well as in RBIs, which follows). So the question is: is it sustainable? Home runs are up all over the league (stick a straw in this ball and call it a juice box!), so maybe it is.

Jake Lamb – I bet if you asked the man on the street (or maybe The Onion’s Area Man) who’s better, Kris Bryant or Jake Lamb, he’s going to say “Kris Bryant”. But no, son. Somehow, Jake Lamb is sitting 2nd in the 3B rankings ($2 behind Jose Ramirez) in the Player Rater, 18th overall (ranked 179 pre-season). When did this happen?! (Alternative title for this column. Other titles we considered: “WTF?!”, “Seriously?”, and “Huh, No Kidding”.) Lamb has been killing it (When Lambs Go Bad: Movie at 11) in the RBI category ($RBI 11.6) and isn’t too shabby in runs, either: $R 6.6, tied with Nolan Arenado. That’s the only category where Bryant comes close ($R 5.8); otherwise, he’s 9th in the 3B rankings (even Mike Moustakas is 7th!), and he actually has a negative value in RBI ($RBI -0.9). Just to diverge a little further into Bryant territory: this is the interesting thing — some of the decrease in Bryant’s Player Rater value is due to that very $RBI, which is team-dependent. So, is the team going to continue to slump? Certainly Arizona’s offense seems for real, so this comparison shows just why the Player Rater is so valuable. We see where a guy like Lamb provides value and Bryant doesn’t. People may still perceive (Perception!) the Cubs’ offense to be good, whereas (Versus!) it may not be (Reality!), and vice versa for Arizona. Anyway, once again we stare into our très cloudy crystal ball (it didn’t work for us for Whitfield, that’s for sure) and wonder if any of these surprises are sustainable; over 2014-2016, Kris Bryant consistently turned it around after the All-Star break, whereas Jake Lamb has tailed off.

Marcell Ozuna – Ozuna is one of those guys you never seem to hear much about, and yet he’s currently the 16th-rated player overall on the Player Rater. In the OF rankings, he’s 8th, sandwiched nicely between George Springer and Cody Bellinger. He’s 13th overall in average ($AVG 8.2, comparable with Charlie Blackmon; Justin Turner is running away with that category, with $AVG 13.2). He’s also 7th overall in home runs, 22 of ’em, with $HR 9.9. OZUNA have all the feels. Dr. Easy has the Razzball corporate memory in our house, and he recalled a post from the Big Magoo a couple of years back on how Ozuna was doomed to hit ground balls. Now he’s (Ozuna, not Big Magoo or Dr. Easy) hitting all these damn homers. We were wondering what has changed, so we took a look at his home run per fly ball (HR/FB) percentage: it’s literally double from last year, at 28.9%; the previous high in the majors was 16.8%, all the way back in 2014. Meanwhile, his ground ball percentage is 47%, which is not far off the highest it’s ever been (48.6%; his low was 43.9%). So he doesn’t seem to be doing anything differently; maybe he’s just getting lucky and will regress? Could be nice to ride it out while you can, though — alas, he’s 100% owned in RCL, so you’re not going to be scooping him up off the waiver wire in roto leagues, but he could make a nice trade target.