Fantasy Baseball Takeaways: Cedric Mullins, entertainer

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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 29: Cedric Mullins #31 of the Baltimore Orioles runs the bases against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 29, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
It's been a good run for Cedric Mullins thus far in 2021. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

We’re constantly searching for reasons in life, for attribution, for why things are the way are. And we have to accept that it’s an error-loaded exercise; so many truths in this world, we’re never going to fully understand. But we keep looking for plausible reasons anyway.

That’s my meandering path to Cedric Mullins. He’s having a breakout year for the Orioles — for whatever 29 games qualifies as to you — and there could be a simple reason for it.

He decided to ditch switch-hitting into this season. He’s only a left-handed batter now.

First, let’s examine the surface stats, the back-of-card numbers, the digits that pay the fantasy rent. Mullins is slashing a useful .333/.389/.553, with five homers and two stolen bases. He leads the majors in hits and doubles. He’s parked at the top of Baltimore’s lineup, and every dedicated leadoff man belongs on someone’s fantasy roster.

Understand that Mullins isn’t a platoon player, he’s in the lineup daily — and he’s earned that right. Again, the small sample light flashes, but note he’s actually been better in the assumed platoon disadvantage, slashing .395/.447/.605 against lefties over 47 plate appearances. Sure, it’s a tiny sample, but you love that he’s making contact against southpaws (just eight strikeouts) and quickly announcing to the club that he’s a full-time player.

His eighth-inning homer Monday was the difference in the victory at Seattle. Sure, it was a wall-scraper. But it counts in our games, just the same. 

No wonder they call this guy The Entertainer. Get out the page of Whit Merrifield All-Stars, those late-blooming major leaguers. Mullins, age 26, deserves a fresh entry.

There’s plenty of goodness on Mullins’s Statcast page; again, whatever you make of a month. He’s well above average in whiff percentage, he’s not swinging at out-of-zone offerings, and he has a zesty 86 percent number on sprint speed. That last stat could be the difference between Mullins being a low-return fantasy player and a set-and-forget type. He’s only 2-for-4 on the bases this year, after stealing 7-of-9 last year. Here’s hoping the next couple of attempts go his way.

For the moment, Mullins is the No. 17 outfielder in Yahoo 5x5 value. He’s unlikely to keep that pretty batting average, but I give him a fair chance to hold a Top 40 spot when the season is complete. And heck, there’s still time to jump on board in the shallower formats — Baltimore’s No. 31 is currently unrostered in 31 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Using Statcast to find undervalued hitters 

Now that we’re a month into the new season, I like to start looking for players I might be able to acquire at a sneaky discount. The Statscast data gives us an interesting window into some batters who have been unlucky; the new-age metrics suggest rate stats that are often far below what the player has returned thus far.

Cesar Hernandez checks this box. Despite a K/BB ratio of almost one, he’s batting just .194. Statcast suggests his average should be 89 points higher. He should be a usable middle infielder for medium and deeper leagues.

Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman are both lagging in average, but the Statcast data suggests they’re 80 points to the unlucky side. Freeman is never an easy player to acquire — coming off an MVP, no less — and Albies has always been highly regarded, but you can at least try.

We don’t have to limit this query to batting average. Note some of the batters unlucky with their slugging percentages. Tommy Pham’s front-door slugging is .213; his expected is .462. Yasmani Grandal shows up on both the unlucky average and unlucky slugging lists. Dominic Smith (72 batting-average points in arrears, 180 slugging points owed) is one of several Mets I’d be kicking tires on.

Keep in mind, the Mets fired hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater on Monday. Maybe a new voice will help some of these scuffling New York bats, or perhaps a placebo effect will take place. Look over that roster, it’s the perfect time to quietly take the temperature of the managers in your league.

Lots of bagels in the San Diego bullpen

The depth of the San Diego pitching staff is unfair. The Padres are first in ERA, third in starter ERA, and fifth in ERA. And that final ranking sets up some fantasy opportunities.

Mind you, I’m all for rostering San Diego starters where you can, but most of those guys are already claimed in your pool. But the bullpen has underserved fantasy assets, guys you can land at the lowest point of exchange.

If you solved the closing spot before the year and landed on Mark Melancon, congratulations. Melancon and the Infinite Gladness. Take those lottery numbers to the local bodega.

But non-closing options are also valuable commodities, especially on playoff-contending teams. Wins will often filter down to these players, they’ll occasionally get a save chance, and ratio-smoothing arms are always welcome on a mixed-league roster.

Let’s run out three of the widely-available options in San Diego, news you can use right now. 

Tim Hill has a 1.32 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, with 19 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. He’s also scored five holds, if your hybrid format incorporates that stat.

Craig Stammen has an ordinary career path, but he’s off to a 2.33/0.98 push, with better than a strikeout per inning. He'll often be the first man out of the bullpen, in the middle of a game. 

Austin Adams might be the latest unknown reliever who figures it out. He’s whiffed 19 batters in 9.1 innings, and that pretty 1.07 WHIP doesn’t jive with the 4.82 ERA (when these numbers conflict, trust the WHIP). Adams was a mess in his early turns but he’s been nails over his last seven appearances: 6.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 14 K. Anytime I see that type of short-term dominance, I’m winning to apply the rules of Signature Significance.

Hill is rostered in five percent of Yahoo leagues, Stammen trades at two percent, and Adams is a mere one percent. These guys aren’t for the shallow formats, but I’d posit all of them are under appreciated and under rostered at the moment.