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And you get a no-hitter. And you get a no-hitter. And you get a no-hitter. And you, well, you get the point. Looking back to spring training, we knew about an altered baseball, but it was impossible to predict what the consequences would be. The approach of many fantasy managers was to prioritize trusted aces early on, with many expecting waves of injuries to pitchers due to the difference in workload compared to 2020. Perhaps that will still happen in time, but so far, pitching has been relatively easy to find in fantasy leagues as hitters struggle at a level we haven’t seen in decades.
So far this year, the league ERA sits at 4.06, the lowest such mark since 2015. This comes with a strikeout rate of 24.1 percent, up from 23.4 in 2020 and 23 percent in 2019. It’s going up with no end in sight. The league batting average sits at .236, the lowest in the majors since “The Year of the Pitcher” in 1968. And we all know what happened after that.
So far, the lack of offense has been a perfect storm. The altered baseball is part of it, but we’re also seeing big-name hitters go down at an alarming rate, many with soft tissue injuries. Couple that with pitchers who clearly have an edge due to velocity and movement and you can see why the game is out of whack right now. Yes, warm weather should help some hitters, but whatever mindset you had when drafting your team in the spring should be thrown out the window. Adjusting to this new (and hopefully temporary) reality will be the key to winning leagues this year. I’m trying to do my part with this column.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, May 20th
J.D. Davis 3B/OF, Mets (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
The Mets’ “Bench Mob” has been a pleasant surprise amid the team’s avalanche of injuries this month, but that’s probably not built to last. That’s why it’s so important that they get a bat like Davis back in the lineup. With a .390/.479/.610 batting line over 14 games, Davis was the team’s most potent bat before going down with a left hand sprain at the start of the month. He also missed some time with a finger injury in April. Fortunately, he’s played a couple of rehab games in Triple-A and should return this weekend against the Marlins in Miami. Pick him anywhere he’s still available, but don’t think about dropping Jonathan Villar, who will now likely slide over to second base with Jeff McNeil sidelined. It’s even possible Villar could make some starts in the outfield.
Brady Singer SP, Royals (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
Singer was a favorite late-round selection for me in the spring and he held up his end of the bargain through his first few starts before getting hit in the foot by a comebacker in a start on April 30. He allowed seven runs in nine innings over his next two starts, but he bounced back against a talented White Sox lineup this past Sunday with two runs allowed and seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. Singer isn’t a big whiff guy, but he’s proven to be the king of called strikes during his brief major league career. He’s a strong option to round out standard mixed league staffs, so make sure he’s rostered for his start against the Tigers this weekend.
Nico Hoerner 2B/3B/SS, Cubs (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)
Hoerner got off to a red-hot start at the plate before suffering a left forearm strain in a collision with teammate Ian Happ at the start of the month, but fortunately he was able to return last weekend. After showing some initial rust, he’s hit safely in three straight games, giving him a .345 batting average through 16 games. He probably shouldn’t have begun the year at the alternate site. While the 24-year-old yet to homer this season (and didn’t homer in 126 plate appearances last year), he’s racked up six doubles while showing off his excellent sprint speed with three steals. His approach has also been a strength thus far. With all the injuries in the game right now, adding a versatile player like Hoerner is a valuable thing, indeed.
Austin Hays OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 20 percent rostered)
Locked in as the Orioles’ primary No. 2 hitter, Hays has hit safely in seven straight games while continuing to make tons of hard contact. He’s blowing away anything he’s ever done before in terms of barrel percentage. In fact, he has 11 barrels so far this year after amassing just eight of them through his first 272 major league plate appearances coming into 2021. He’s boosted his fly ball rate this year, which bodes well for him taking advantage of Camden Yards and the other hitter-friendly ballparks in the American League East. Hays has had some fits and starts so far in his career, but he’s hoping he’s finally ready to take off.
Elieser Hernandez SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 42 percent rostered)
It feels like everybody is hurt right now, but if you have some flexibility with your IL spots, it’s a good idea to stash Hernandez. The 26-year-old showed diminished velocity in his season debut before going down with right biceps inflammation, but he tossed three scoreless innings with four strikeouts in his first minor league rehab appearance Tuesday with Triple-A Jacksonville. Odds are he’ll need a couple more tune-up outings, but a return in early June is realistic if he can avoid setbacks. Armed with a nasty slider, Hernandez put up a 3.16 ERA and 34/5 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings through six starts with the Marlins last season. Hopefully he’s ready to pick up from where he left off.
Donovan Solano 2B/3B/SS, Giants (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
Solano obviously has his limitations as a fantasy option, but he’s done nothing but hit during his time with the Giants. Going back to 2019, he has slashed an impressive .322/.356/.447 over 153 games. Granted, he’s only hit seven homers in that time while benefiting from a BABIP approaching the .400 mark, but his xBA has mostly backed up the batting average. Solano just returned from a right calf strain and playing time shouldn’t be an issue with Tommy La Stella and Wilmer Flores both sidelined. He batted sixth in his return on Wednesday, but it’s possible he’ll end up in a more prominent spot before long. Sort like the Hoerner recommendation, these multi-position eligible players need to be a part of fantasy rosters right now.
I’m grouping these guys together because we’re all just speculating here. Robles remains a threat for saves with the Twins, though Trevor Rogers has looked good in his last two appearances. Jordan Romano has been as effective and efficient as he was last year, so Dolis should be in the mix for saves now that he’s back from a calf strain. Fulmer might be the most intriguing name of the bunch here, as he’s dominated with a 2.00 ERA and 22/3 K/BB ratio in 18 innings in a relief role this year. He’s notched each of the last two save chances for the Tigers and should have the edge over Gregory Soto at this point. Of course, the better Fulmer pitches, the more interesting he becomes on the trade front. But he’s a fine pickup for now.
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(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Brendan Rodgers 2B/SS, Rockies (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)
Rodgers has been out all season with a hamstring strain, but he began a minor league rehab assignment last week and has been tearing the cover off the ball with seven hits (including two doubles) in 15 at-bats. Nothing is official yet, but he could be tracking toward joining the Rockies as soon as this weekend. The 24-year-old has had all sorts of injury issues in his career and has hit just .196 through 102 plate appearances in the majors over the past two seasons, but he’s found himself on prospect lists for years due to his potential to hit for average and power in the game’s best backdrop for offense. Hopefully he finally sticks this time.
Brandon Marsh OF, Angels (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Mike Trout is hurt. That stinks. There’s no replacing him. We know that much. The Angels might try some stopgaps first — Juan Lagares, Jose Rojas, Taylor Ward, and Scott Schebler are in that group — but don’t overlook Marsh making an impact. While many are asking about Jo Adell’s chances of breaking through, he’s struggled to begin the year in Triple-A. Meanwhile, Marsh has started the year with a .273/.448/.545 batting line through six games at Salt Lake. Most importantly, he’s healthy. Marsh’s strikeout rate is worth watching, but he has excellent speed with developing power and the defensive ability to stick in center field. Marsh isn’t a recommended pickup in shallow formats, but if you are playing the long game, there are worse gambles.
James Kaprielian SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
While Kaprielian doesn’t grab as much attention as other recent call-ups like Logan Gilbert or Daniel Lynch, it’s easy to forget that he was a pretty interesting prospect before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for two seasons. Now 27 years old, the former Yankees farmhand held the Red Sox to one run over five innings with six strikeouts and three walks last Wednesday. He collected 15 whiffs in his 95 pitches, including nine between his slider and changeup. He had a 3.18 ERA and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 68 innings over three levels in his return to action in 2019, so there’s reason for intrigue here. Kaprielian currently lines up for a start against the Angels on Friday, which isn’t nearly as intimidating without Mike Trout in the lineup.
Kris Bubic SP, Royals (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
With Daniel Lynch in the minors and Danny Duffy out indefinitely with a Grade 1 flexor strain, Bubic should get a chance to run away with a rotation spot. The 23-year-old should have probably had a spot to begin with after posting a respectable 4.32 ERA over 10 starts as a rookie last year. He’s allowed just two runs in 18 2/3 innings so far this year, though the control has been lacking. I need to see some improvement to rely on him more regularly in mixed leagues, but a matchup against the Tigers on Sunday comes recommended.
Ji-Man Choi 1B, Rays (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Choi was forced to begin the year on the injured list after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on right knee in March, but he finally made his return over the weekend and has gone 6-for-10 (.600) with one homer and one double over his first three games. The 30-year-old struggled last year, but he slugged 19 homers in 127 games in 2019 and is hitting exclusively from the left side of the plate these days. Look for a bounceback on the power front.
Scott Schebler OF, Angels (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
I mentioned Brandon Marsh as a shoot-for-the-moon option in the Angels’ outfield in our “Deeper Dandies” this week, but Schebler could be one of the most realistic call-ups. The 30-year-old went just 4-for-27 (.148) in his previous stint with the Angels this season, but he’s put up a 1.228 OPS through nine games in Triple-A, including a three-homer game this past Sunday. It’s been a couple of years since he’s really done anything of note in the majors, but maybe he can surprise.
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Cameron Maybin OF, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Acquired from the Cubs for one dollar this week, Maybin was immediately moved into the No. 3 spot in the Mets’ lineup for his debut on Wednesday against the Braves. While the 34-year-old went 0-for-4, he showed that he still has his wheels by stealing a base. Maybin posted a weak .694 OPS over 32 games between the Tigers and Cubs last year, but he was a lifesaver while the Yankees dealt with a bunch of injuries in 2019, putting up 11 home runs and nine steals with an .858 OPS over 82 games. With Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Kevin Pillar all sidelined with injuries, Maybin should get plenty of chances to see if lightning can strike twice.
Tucker Davidson SP, Braves (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
The Braves sent Davidson down on Wednesday, but he looked pretty good in his first start in place of Huascar Ynoa on Tuesday against the Mets, allowing three runs over six innings with five strikeouts and one walk. He collected 15 swinging strikes in his 72 pitches, including eight on his slider. He’s an unheralded pitching prospect and could get more chances to stick with Ynoa and Mike Soroka both sidelined. Mets right-hander Sean-Reid Foley (0.96 ERA, 14/0 K/BB ratio in 9 1/3 innings) is also worth stashing with Marcus Stroman and David Peterson as the only healthy pitchers in the team’s rotation.