5 Low-Usage Players Who Could Have Value in Fantasy Baseball
Fantasy baseball is all about that volume, boss. It doesn't care about your silly rate stats or efficiency. In some formats, a guy that goes 1-6 with a bomb is the same as a guy who does the same in one plate appearance.
The problem with this is that volume changes from year to year. Once the team realizes it's sub-Gucci to have a bro with a .167 on-base percentage, his volume will probably go in the pooper. The high-efficiency guy, on the other hand, will gallop in on his white horse and snatch up those lost plate appearances.
The other great thing about efficiency is that it can help in daily leagues. If you can predict when that player's volume will increase, then you can exploit a lower price. For these reasons, it might be good to see which players were low in volume but high in fantasy efficiency last year.
Let's take a peak at the guys who did more with less last year. Specifically, these are the guys who recorded between 200 and 400 plate appearances that went a little bonkers when they were out there from a fantasy perspective.
I took the number of points that these respective players scored in this format and divided it by those plate appearances. While this is respective to one site, that doesn't mean that it is exclusive to that site as the scoring is similar enough to ESPN standard scoring and other systems to make it applicable. So let's get to it.
Steve Pearce, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles
Plate Appearances: 383 | DraftKings Points: 809 | Points per Plate Appearance: 2.11
When it comes to efficiency, Steve Pearce was a beast last year. He ranked 13th in points per plate appearance among all players with at least 200 plate appearances and third among those with 200 to 400 plate appearances. The only ones higher in that range were Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer, both of whom were only in this range because of injury.
The Orioles basically had no reason to expect Pearce going unconscious at the plate. He had never recorded more than 188 plate appearances in a single major league season, and he had 17 career home runs. That doesn't exactly translate to 383 plate appearances and 21 jacks.
This could easily mean a regression for Pearce as it strays so drastically from what previous results would suggest. But, that doesn't mean he can't be productive with an increase in volume.
Steamer projects Pearce to hit 23 homers this year in 586 plate appearances, as he's listed as the team's starter in right field for Opening Day. His .358 wOBA would indicate that 2014 was not entirely a fluke but an indication of legit progress on the part of Pearce.
On Tristan Cockcroft's pre-season rankings for ESPN, Pearce is listed outside of the top 250 for all players and top 30 for first basemen while ranking 75th among outfielders. If he even comes close to the points he posted per plate appearance last year, he will out-score those rankings by June.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Plate Appearances: 287 | DraftKings Points: 593 | Points per Plate Appearance: 2.07
Prior to his injury at the end of May, A.J. Pollock had gone completely ign'ant. He had a .400 wOBA with a .316/.366/.554 slash while swiping eight bases. That works.
After he came back in September, things didn't go quite as well. He had a .317 wOBA while only slugging .386, but he still managed to steal six separate times. But, even with that rough return, Pollock was one of the top guys in points per plate appearance.
Pollock ranked fourth in points per plate appearance among the low-volume guys, right behind Pearce. His high steal and extra base totals were the main reasons behind this, but can he do it again in 2015?
Steamer doesn't see that happening. Instead, it sees Pollock as a .262/.313/.395 hitter with a .313 wOBA, all below the career totals he has established over 862 plate appearances. This is partially because his .344 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is bound to come down, but I wouldn't be shocked if Pollock out-performed this.
Like Pearce, Pollock is listed as the starter for Opening Day. If he can re-kindle any of that early-season illitude, Pollock could be a decent season-long option for 2015. Considering he's listed as the 77th-ranked outfielder on ESPN, he may be worth a gamble in later rounds based on his high upside.
Scott Van Slyke, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Plate Appearances: 246 | DraftKings Points: 499 | Points per Plate Appearance: 2.03
Whereas Pearce and Pollock were late-round options for season-long re-drafts, Scott Van Slyke is not. He most likely will not see an increase in his volume, thus making him a bad re-draft candidate. But when it comes to daily fantasy baseball, brudduh is a must-start when the Dodgers face left-handed pitching.
Against lefties, Van Slyke became a .315/.415/.630 hitter with a .447 wOBA. That .630 slugging percentage ranked sixth among players with at least 75 plate appearances against left-handed pitching (Pearce was second, by the way). He's totally dope in the right situations.
The interesting thing about Van Slyke is that he could totally be an average hitter as an every-day guy, too. In just over 100 plate appearances against righties, Van Slyke hit .279/.353/.413 with a .343 wOBA (the league average wOBA for outfielders was .319 last year). This doesn't mean that I'd start him in daily leagues against right-handers, but it's food for thought.
Because of this, although Van Slyke is not a guy you should draft, he's a guy you should at least keep an eye on. If he starts receiving starts over Carl Crawford against right-handers, then you would be wise to put in a waiver claim. An increase in volume for Van Slyke equates to an increase in happiness for fans of value and efficiency.
Michael Saunders, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Plate Appearances: 263 | DraftKings Points: 488 | Points per Plate Appearance: 1.86
Michael Saunders was similar to Pollock in that he missed two months of the season. But when he was in there, Saunders produced.
After a down 2013 year in which he had a .315 wOBA, Saunders jacked that up to .346 while hitting for a slash of .273/.341/.450. His BABIP also increased to .327 despite fairly consistent batted ball stats, so he could be in store for a regression, but even with that, Saunders is an attractive option.
In going from Safeco Field to the Rogers Centre, Saunders should receive a bump in his production during home games. Safeco is 30th in ESPN's Park Factor, meaning it has the largest negative discrepancy between how teams play there and how they play elsewhere. The Rogers Centre is ninth on that list. Although Saunders did not have crazy home/road splits, this should give him a nice little boost.
Saunders, like the other guys, is outside of the top 250 players on ESPN, and he is slotted as the 86th outfielder. Once you get to the point where you're deciding between Nick Markakis and Saunders, I, personally, would be going with the guy that has higher upside based on his efficiency last year.
Kennys Vargas, DH, Minnesota Twins
Plate Appearances: 234 | DraftKings Points: 423 | Points per Plate Appearance: 1.81
Kennys Vargas is different from all of the dudes above because of the reason for his limited volume. He didn't sustain an injury, and he wasn't platooned like crazy. Vargas wasn't called up - from Double-A, mind you - until August 1st.
There are two reasons Vargas did well with the DraftKings algorithm: he has a crazy amount of power, and they don't penalize for strikeouts. There were plenty of both.
In 639 plate appearances between Double-A and the majors, Vargas hit 26 home runs last year. Steamer projects him to hit 20 this year in 526 while hitting .250/.311/.427 with a .324 wOBA. It also projects a decline in his strikeout percentage to be back down where it generally was while he was in the minors.
The big restriction for Vargas right now is his position flexibility. In ESPN leagues, he is only qualified at designated hitter. He was working with former Twins manager Tom Kelly on his defense at first base last year, and you'd assume new skipper Paul Molitor will do the same in spring training. He still has a long way to go to reach the cusp for qualifying at first base, but he should eventually get there whenever the Twins rest Joe Mauer.
Vargas is similar to Van Slyke in that I wouldn't draft him in season-long redraft, unless you're in a league which has a position specifically for the designated hitter. But he does have value in daily leagues because of his power, and he's definitely a guy I'd be monitoring if he's on the waiver wire a month into the season.