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The weather is warming up, overreactions and underreactions are plentiful, and it’s clear that we are in the midst of the fantasy grind. For some, transitioning from the 2020 sample size to a full season this year hasn’t been smooth sailing. Some players who are usually solid fantasy contributors have had trouble living up to expectations early on, for whatever reason. And at the same time, other players have been over performing and will likely regress as the season progresses.
In the 2020 sample size, if a player was performing well, they were usually considered a must add. If they weren’t performing, opting to drop them for someone who was a much easier decision. Well, that mindset needs to be put to rest. We’re back to a full 162-game season this year and knowing which players to be patient with is a crucial aspect of becoming a fantasy champion.
More than that, knowing which players you want to be heavily targeting on the waiver wire in points leagues will give you a significant advantage over your leaguemates. Points leagues and category leagues are completely different animals. In category leagues, the goal is to accumulate the most stats in each category. In points, the goal is to simply score more than your opponent on a weekly basis.
Additionally, not every points league awards points in the same ways, so if your league favors pitchers more, stacking high-end arms is ideal. Similarly, if your league has a premium on stolen bases, targeting batters who steal a lot is ideal. Knowing your league settings and building your roster around these settings--starting on draft day--will give you an advantage over those who overlooked the settings. In all, you want to do whatever it takes to make sure you’re able to score more than your opponent on a weekly basis from day one.
There’s almost always value to be had off the waiver wire, specifically in 12-team leagues and below. Whether they’re a SPARP (starting pitchers as relief pitchers), an overlooked power hitter or an underrated starting pitcher, there’ll always be some type of value sitting on your wire that could potentially help you score more points than your opponent that week, and in the weeks to come. Every week, I’m going to highlight a handful of players that I think are worth targeting in your points leagues. Without further ado, let’s highlight these potentially valuable pickups.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)
Odubel Herrera OF, Phillies (23 percent rostered)
Herrera dealt with some off the field issues in Spring 2019 that ultimately led to him missing the 2020 sample size. Many never wanted to see him on a baseball field again, but after a long process, it appears he’s regained the trust of his teammates and the Phillies’ organization. When on the field, Herrera has always been a sneaky good fantasy asset. In arguably the best season of his career (2016), he hit 15 home runs, stole 25 bases and earned a .286 batting average over 583 at-bats. Per FantasyData, he finished as the OF20 in points leagues in 2016.
So far in 2021, he’s hit 4 home runs, stole 4 bases and is batting .275 over 138 at-bats, putting him on pace to reach double digit home runs and steals. His average sprint speed has been above the 60th percentile this year for the first time since 2016. So if your league amply rewards stolen bases, he becomes an even more enticing pickup. More than that, he knows how to hit the ball to all fields, which should help him maintain a solid batting average. He doesn’t strike out too much, which helps his upside in points leagues, and he’s seemingly taken hold of the CF job in Philadelphia, which will allot him regular opportunities going forward. In all, Herrera has the upside to be a solid fantasy contributor for the rest of the season and he’s only owned in 23% of ESPN leagues. If you need cheap OF help, don’t overlook Herrera if you see him out there.
Tucker Davidson SP, Braves (18 percent rostered)
The young lefty was drafted in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB Draft and he’s finally getting the chance to showcase his skills at the highest level as a result of Huascar Ynoa’s fractured hand. He’s been throwing primarily a four-seam fastball that has sat low-mid 90s and a slider that can reach 90 mph, but he also has a solid curveball and a still developing changeup. The development of his changeup could dictate whether or not he is a starter or a relief pitcher long-term.
As a minor leaguer, he had a high ground ball on an annual basis, thanks mostly to reportedly high spin rates on his offerings. So far in 2021, his spin rates haven’t been eye-popping, but it’s worth noting that the sample size is extremely small. More than that, the spin rates on all of his pitches have increased from his even smaller 2020 sample size. So in all, we likely have yet to see everything Davidson has to offer.
Davidson still has to make improvements to his command, but the tools are there for him to be a relevant fantasy asset. Through three starts (17.2 innings pitched), he’s yet to have a negative fantasy outing and has allowed just 10 hits while not allowing too much hard contact. As long as Davidson continues to perform well, he’ll likely provide 8-15 points a start, with a ceiling of around 20-25. This type of starting pitching depth is nothing to sneeze at, as every point matters.
Christian Walker 1B, Diamondbacks (32 percent rostered)
Walker’s right oblique has not been kind to him so far in 2021. He initially went on the IL on April 12th due to oblique pain and he then returned on May 3rd. However, he apparently re-aggravated the injury and was placed on the IL on May 12th. He returned on May 29th and is now reportedly healthy. He’s missed around 100 at-bats, and who knows how this injury has affected his overall numbers, so it’s hard to look at his .196 batting average and conclude he’s that bad of a hitter.
On the season, he’s batting .196 (.228 BABIP) with 2 home runs and as a whole, his profile looks similar to past seasons. More than that, as of late, he seems to be approaching mid-season form. Since May 15th (38 at-bats), he has a 84.4% Z-Swing, 87.0% Z-Contact, 81.6% Contact, 13.2% strikeout rate, and 45.5% hard. What this all means is that he’s been an extremely aggressive hitter against pitches in the zone, he’s been making a lot of contact, and a lot of the contact he’s made have been hard hit balls. This type of approach should eventually lead to quality production. As long as he remains healthy, Walker appears ready for a productive final few months of the season.
Vladimir Gutierrez SP, Reds (9.5 percent rostered)
With Sonny Gray recently going on the IL with a right groin strain and Jeff Hoffman recovering from a shoulder injury, Gutiérrez has been given the opportunity to show what he can do as a starter. And from a results standpoint, he’s been very solid. He’s made three starts (17.0 innings pitched) and he hasn’t allowed more than 2 earned runs in any of them. Before his call up, he had a 20.9% K-BB and 2.65 ERA (4.66 FIP) over 17.0 innings pitching for Triple-A this year. As a prospect, his resume is middling (4.88 ERA and 377:112 K:BB over 404.0 innings pitched), but he’s been making the most of his opportunity so far.
In his latest start, he completed 7.0 innings pitched, allowed 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks and struck out 7. The righty is armed with a four-seam fastball that has sat low-mid 90s, a curveball, a slider (some call it his 2nd curveball that just has more sweeping action), and a changeup. In his last start, he induced at least one whiff on each of his offerings and he displayed improved command, especially with his breaking pitches. More than that, his four-seam fastball has some late horizontal action to it. This will help Gutierrez occasionally miss bats with his four-seamer as well as limit hard contact (26.5% hard over 49 batted ball events). I don’t see him becoming a stud starting pitcher anytime soon. However, as long as he remains in the rotation, he has the potential to get 5-15 points a start, with a ceiling around 20 points. In points, anything over zero should be looked at as positive and if you desperately need starting pitching help, Gutierrez could be a solid--albeit unspectacular--pick up.
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Deep Points League Options
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)
Brendan Rodgers 2B/SS, Rockies (8 percent rostered)
At one point, Rodgers was one of the more popular prospects in all of baseball. A quick bat and above average raw power were his main calling cards as a prospect. Then, when you added in the fact that he’ll be calling Coors home, his upside became even more enticing. As a minor leaguer, his production was very solid. Over 1,541 career minor league at-bats, he hit 66 home runs (178 extra base hits) with a .298 batting average, a .858 on-base plus slugging percentage, a 6.5% walk rate, and a 19.3% strikeout rate. That’s a very impressive minor league resume.
Then, over his first 97 MLB at-bats, he failed to live up to expectations. It’s fair to assume that his injury history and lack of having a guaranteed role when up hurt his production as a whole. It’s also important to note that these 97 at-bats came between May 17th, 2019 and August 29, 2020--well over a year--so his struggles appeared to last longer than they did. More than that, there are always new prospects that catch our eye, so many began to unfairly overlook Rodgers.
Well now he is healthy, he’s been able to find regular playing time at 2nd base and shortstop, and the stars are aligned for Rodgers to have a career best campaign in 2021. He hit zero home runs over his first 97 MLB at-bats, but has already hit 3 home runs over 57 at-bats to start 2021. Furthermore, he hasn’t been striking out at a high rate and some of his plate discipline metrics look promising. It’s still a very small sample size overall, but at such a low ownership%, it may be smart to bet on Rodgers this time around.
Sammy Long SP, Giants (6 percent rostered)
In points leagues, finding hidden starting pitcher gems could significantly help your week-to-week points totals. If you’re looking for dirt cheap starting pitching upside, Sammy Long could be your guy. With Aaron Sanchez and Logan Webb still on the IL, it appears the Giants are willing to see what Long can do on the mound as a starter. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to stick in the rotation long-term, but there could be some cheap short-term value here.
Long was ranked as the 11th-best Giants prospect this past offseason. As a prospect, Long always had high strikeout numbers. In fact, he had a career 29.1% strikeout rate over 178.1 innings pitched (213:60 K:BB) pitching for three different organizations. In his first MLB appearance, he followed an opener and completed 4.0 innings pitched, allowing one hit, one earned run, and he struck out seven. He throws primarily a curveball that has late bite to it, a four-seam fastball that sits mid 90s, a solid changeup, and a slider. He threw his curveball the most in this first MLB outing, a good sign that the strikeouts may be here to stay.
However, maybe the most impressive thing about his first MLB outing was the command he demonstrated at the bottom of the zone. Some pitches did get away from him at times, but he was able to locate all of his pitches at one point or another. This seemingly solid command matched with solid strikeout upside points towards a potential waiver wire value in points leagues, or in any format. We still need more sample size to properly evaluate his upside, but as long as he’s in the rotation, he could be solid starting pitching depth for your fantasy squads.