By Fred Zinkie
Special to Yahoo Sports
With the 2019 regular season nearing its midpoint, we are far past where we could dismiss surprising performances as the result of a small sample size. Still, there are some players who have been flying under the fantasy radar despite being among the best assets so far.
The following 11 men have all been Top-100 producers and remain on waivers in at least 30 percent of leagues.
Hunter Pence, OF (64 percent rostered)
Set to soon return from a short IL stint, Pence is the highest ranked hitter who is rostered in less than 79 percent of leagues. Sure, his 28.3 percent HR/FB rate is a little bloated, but he is crushing the baseball (46.3 percent hard contact rate) and plays half his games in a park that induces offense. Just 11 players are outperforming Pence in both homers (15) and batting average (.294).
Marcus Semien, SS (67 percent rostered)
Hitting .283 with 10 homers, 51 runs scored, 37 RBIs and five steals, Semien has become a true five-category asset. His plate discipline has really improved this year (0.89 BB:K ratio), and he has not benefited from obscene batted-ball luck. Overall, this seems like sustainable production from someone who has also improved his defensive skills enough to ensure that he is never out of the lineup for that reason.
Dansby Swanson, SS (68 percent rostered)
From an advanced-stats perspective, Swanson seems legit. He is one of several players to see their hard contact rate balloon this year (43.6 percent), and his line drive rate is also way up (26.8 percent). And he has been consistent from a fantasy perspective, collecting 3-5 homers and 1-3 steals in each month. His combined R+RBI are also steady, with 31 in April, 27 in May and 26 to this point in June. Shallow-league gamers who are dealing with an unproductive middle infielder need to give Swanson a chance.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF (67 percent rostered)
Choo seems to be one of the most underrated assets every year, and 2019 is no exception. The 36 year old regularly occupies the leadoff spot for a productive Rangers lineup, and he is on pace for 26 homers, 112 runs scored and 11 swipes. And unlike many of this year’s hard-contact leaders, Choo is over 40 percent for the third time in four seasons. My guess is that Choo hovers among the Top-100 assets all season.
Hunter Renfroe, OF (68 percent rostered)
Renfroe is doing everything a slugger should, posting lofty rates of fly balls (46.8 percent) and hard contact (51.3 percent). Still, his eye-popping 31.9 percent HR/FB rate is an unsustainable mark, especially for someone who doesn’t regularly play in a bandbox. Homers are everywhere in baseball right now, but there are still just three players who can match Renfroe’s total of 23. And the pressure to keep up with the competition in that category makes Renfroe a must-add in virtually every league.
Howie Kendrick, 1B/2B/3B/OF (66 percent rostered)
Howie ... Kendrick? Really? I mean, the 35 year old can hit for average, but where did all this power come from? Kendrick has pushed his hard contact rate to 43.3 percent, but his 34.0 percent fly ball rate doesn’t scream “home run hitter”. His 23.5 percent HR/FB rate isn’t sustainable, making his power skills a bit of a mirage. But the batting average is rock solid, supported by his elite 13.5 percent strikeout rate. In most fantasy formats, Kendrick’s four eligible positions make him the perfect utility player.
John Gant, SP/RP (57 percent rostered)
Although Gant has pitched well (4.1 K:BB ratio, 30.9 percent hard contact rate, 20.7 perfect infield fly ball rate), he has also been fairly fortunate thus far. The 26 year old has enjoyed the fruits of a .181 BABIP and an 88.7 percent strand rate while also being in the right place at the right time often enough to pick up seven victories. Gant can be used as a streaming arm in daily transaction leagues but is not in must-roster territory.
Chris Paddack, SP (70 percent rostered)
Gamers who dropped Paddack since his minor league demotion made a mistake. The rookie is expected to return this weekend, and his 3.15 ERA and 0.93 WHIP make him a set-and-forget starter when he is in the majors. Paddack gives up a concerning blend of hard contact (44.5 percent) and fly balls (40.2 percent) but he dominates opposing hitters to such a great degree (5.5 K:BB ratio) that he should remain dominant all summer.
Brandon Workman, RP (27 percent rostered)
Like Gant, Workman has been timely enough to get more than his share of victories (five). But this reliever is not as strong as his St. Louis counterpart from a skills perspective, as he has given up walks (17.4 percent) and hard contact (36.9 percent) at unimpressive rates. Of the two bullpen arms discussed so far, Gant is the preferable option.
Marcus Walden, RP (23 percent rostered)
Walden more closely resembles Gant than Workman, as he has benefited from good fortune (six wins) while also showing solid skills (4.4 K:BB ratio, 30.5 percent hard contact rate). He keeps the ball on the ground (51.4 percent ground ball rate), which should minimize the frequency of any disastrous outings. Overall, Walden is among the best setup men to have.
Ryan Pressly, RP (49 percent rostered)
In my eyes, Pressly is the most desirable setup man to have. After all, the right-hander has produced a 0.65 ERA and a matching 0.65 WHIP across 55.2 innings since joining the Astros near the 2018 trade deadline. Since arriving in Houston, he collects many whiffs (11.0 K/9 rate) and rarely allows a walk (1.1 BB/9 rate) or a round-tripper (0.3 HR/9 rate).