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Fantasy Baseball: Chase the batters who don't chase

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Monday wasn’t the most satisfying slate of the young season. We lost three games to inclement weather — come on weather, get clement — and five of the eight games played fell under their respective totals. Offense is generally the slow starter in April, but the problems go deeper. It’s really freaking hard to hit the fire-breathing stuff that pitchers throw these days, and the current version of the baseball apparently has been designed to carry shorter distances.

Hitting has never been more difficult, man.

(I read Joe Sheehan’s excellent Newsletter this morning on the current shape of a baseball, and as smart as it was and as reasonable as it was, it also depressed me a little. I don’t know how baseball gets the toothpaste back in the tube, how you force that genie back into a bottle. Or maybe I’m just in a snit because I had to clean snow off my car on April 18. Let me know when spring arrives in The D. I still haven’t hit a golf ball this month.)

[Vote for ‘Yahoo Fantasy Football Live’ in the 2022 Webby Awards!]

I spent some time auditing the Yahoo Friends & Family standing page this morning, trying to figure out where things lie. We’re a 15-manager league with daily moves available and a 70-transaction cap for the season. If you like to tinker, this league will allow it.

The median batting average in the league is .234. The four lowest team averages are .219, .216, .213 and .180.

Wins and saves are as striated as ever, which means we need fewer of them to compete. Teams with a modest four wins in the F&F, they rate middle of the pack. Three saves will get you the same mileage. (And as you’d expect, the Jordan Romano team — my buddy Scott Jenstad, in this case — already has 12 handshakes. I suspect a lot of Romano managers will be looking to trade him later this year, working from a surplus and aiming to shore up other areas. While Romano has run well in the opening weeks, his stuff and his team and his setup give him an easy path to 40-plus saves, and heck, I said on a recent podcast that I wouldn’t be surprised if Romano made a run at 50.)

So what’s a fantasy manager to do when hitting is this difficult and the ball is this power-unfriendly? Me, I come back to strikeouts and walks, the water of fantasy stats. I want to see who’s making contact. I want to see who excels at pitch recognition.

It also helps that K/BB ratio is one of the stats that stabilizes quickest in a new season — we can take it seriously long before so many other metrics. So it’s a logical place to start poking around.

I can show you, I can show you, some of the people in my life:

Is the timing finally right for Jurickson Profar?

Jurickson Profar is on my radar, and maybe he should be on yours too. The Padres are viewing him as a regular (he’s started nine of 11 games) and he’s already hit three homers and collected seven walks against eight strikeouts. It feels like a generation since Profar was baseball’s top-rated prospect, but he’s still a modest 29 years old. Maybe there’s a breakthrough possible.

San Diego Padres' Jurickson Profar is someone worth monitoring in fantasy leagues
Is Jurickson Profar about to break out in fantasy? (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

The .219 average is a deal-breaker for many, even if it obscures the .366 OBP and .531 slugging. I trust the Padres understand that an OPS-plus of 161 is outstanding, no matter if the batting average is below the mean. And Profar’s average is a near-lock to rise, anyway; he’s been unlucky on batted balls. Statcast data suggests his average should be 48 points higher.

Profar has always been versatile — he qualifies at first, second, and the outfield for Yahoo managers. His rostership tag is 44 percent.

Ji-Man Choi, platooner of interest

I hope the Rays will commit to giving Ji-Man Choi an auto-start against every right-handed opponent. Perhaps this goes against the team’s ethos, the idea that you need 162 unique lineups for 162 games. But Choi has pushed his walk rate up to 25.7 percent while trimming his strikeout rate slightly, and that’s where the gold is buried.

Sure, his .423 average is an outlier, and that .600 BABIP flashes like a pawn-shop sign. But anyone who’s commanding their at-bats this well is set for success. Also of interest — Choi has the highest pull percentage in the American League, and his line-drive rate is at a career-high. Recognize a hittable pitch, and then mash it.

If you play in a format that’s friendly to daily moves, Choi makes a lot of sense. He’s currently rostered in about one-quarter of Yahoo leagues. The Rays draw a left-hander Tuesday, then it’s a right-handed opponent for 8-of-10 games.

Trends still positive with Steven Kwan

Steven Kwan’s buzz has died down in the last week, as the BABIP cratered and he’s struck out a couple of times. But whenever I see a batter with four times as many walks as strikeouts, I’m likely to favor that guy — and the Guardians seem committed to Kwan as their No. 2 hitter.

Kwan could be light in the category-juice areas — a full season might mean something close to 9-12 homers and 6-10 steals — but the average should be plus-plus and there’s no reason he can’t score 85-90 runs. If you had Kwan FOMO after his electric first week, now is a better time to perhaps inquire about a trade.

Chasing the non-chasers

Although hitters can be effective swinging at pitches out of the strike zone — Luis Robert and Rafael Devers are the two most active chasers thus far this year, and we’d love them on all of our rosters — I’m still going to gravitate towards the batters who spit on bad pitches. And if you consider the top seven in lowest chase rate, you meet an interesting group: Seiya Suzuki, Gavin Lux, Juan Soto, Choi, Mitch Garver, Christian Yelich, and Myles Straw.

I’m still not sure what to do with Yelich, although early signs have been encouraging. And Choi, as mentioned above, does have to beat a platoon and the Rays' daily tinkering. But the other five guys, I wish I had them on the majority of my rosters, if not all of them. Heck, I have some shares of Suzuki, and yet I still have Suzuki FOMO. He looks like one of the obvious right answers for 2022.

Although Lux is buried in his lineup, at least he’s tied to the best lineup in baseball, the loaded Dodgers mix. And without a pitcher slot to sully things, Lux is getting better pitches to hit. The Dodgers are also one of the 2022 teams that’s proactive about stealing bases. Trea Turner already has three bags, while Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor and Lux all have two.

Garver was one of the best catcher values in the spring season, a mashing catcher who picks up valuable DH time when he’s not asked to don the bulky equipment. He’ll easily outkick his ADP coverage.

What’s particularly exciting about Straw is that he’s slugging .444 to go along with those pretty four steals, .333 average and .455 OBP. We don’t need him to be a thumper, we just don’t want him to be a punchless bat. That doesn’t look like a problem, for whatever two weeks mean to you.

A positive harbinger for Tuesday — it was 37 this morning in Detroit. I don’t know where the weather is headed the rest of the day, but at least it’s not going to snow. We have 17 games on the schedule, including a couple of doubleheaders. Bring it on.