Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is OBP sleepers and underrated catchers. OBP can be a harsh mistress, a lesson I learned in a league I joined there I only realized it was an OBP format after the draft (oops), and have been trying to claw my way out of last place. Still, if you’re paying attention, you can work your way back more easily than in batting average leagues which are far more random. Honorable mentions for buys that I wanted to include here include Andrés Giménez, Christian Walker, and Franchy Cordero, with Javier Báez as a sell, and maybe I’ll include them next week. On to the list!
Tommy Pham (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
Believe it or not, Pham is going ham… the P stands for peripherals! While his .240/.357/.380 line with 4 HR is not exactly eye-popping, he deserves far better with an xBA of .291 and xSLG of .528. Now I know expected stats aren’t so reliable with the new dead ball, but it’s still somewhat cancelled out by the fact that’s not even factoring that he’s in an amazing hitter’s park, and it’s backed by everything else.
His 94th percentile exit velocity is 98th percentile in baseball, with a great 10% Barrel rate. Although his contact rate is a career-worst 72%, he’s actually improved his Z-Contact% to 87%, ensuring that when he makes contact, it will be quality. He’s still owned in just 43% of leagues but even on a pathetic Reds team will do everything he can to pad his stats for moolah, and I think he could even threaten 20/20 with an elite OBP. Add in all 10-team formats, especially OBP.
Jonah Heim (C, Texas Rangers)
Jonah has turned into a whale of a hitter. No, he’s not the .350 guy he looked like a few weeks ago, but just being a regular catcher who can hit at all is valuable enough. He’s hitting .277/.373/.523 with 4 HR in 75 PA, making him one of the most valuable catchers already despite partial playing time. I think it’s more than just a fluke too, as his 13% BB% is excellent and so is his 10% BB%, even if he weren’t a catcher. He’s also hitting the ball harder, with a career-best 111 mph exit velocity and career-best 44% Hard Hit%.
Granted, it’s true that there could be a bit of a logjam coming as Garver’s IL stint is not expected to be long, and Sam Huff has also acquitted himself well and tore up Triple-A. However Heim has one big advantage over them even if the bat doesn’t get going, and that is that he actually knows how to play the position well. He’s among the best framers in the league, so he should continue to play fairly regularly as a catcher who helps in both power and AVG (and especially OBP). Just based on the skills he’s worth scooping and holding in 10-team OBP formats and most AVG leagues as well, since catcher is a position where so many hitters are choking that you could use the Heim switch maneuver.
MJ Melendez (C, Kansas City Royals)
Melendez just popped his first homer of the year, and I believe it will be the first of many. Thus far he’s been a rather frustrating player to hold as he’s seemingly only played every other game despite getting a hit nearly every game he’s played. But now with the Perez injury (although it may not be long), Melendez should finally get the playing time he’s deserved.
Given the tendency for many power-hitting prospects to struggle with plate skills, I love how Melendez has a 12% BB% and 24% K%, and it’s supported by his solid 25% Chase Rate and 77% Contact% in his small 34-PA sample. And the contact he’s made has been loud, with an elite 95 mph average exit velocity and 59% HardHit%. Given that, it’s a bit disappointing that he only has 1 barrel and a 107 mph exit velocity so far, but I expect that to improve. If he can properly capitalize on this opportunity, he should play nearly every day even when Perez comes back and be a threat for 15-20 home runs the rest of the way with a solid average and OBP. Add in all 12-team formats, because he’s swinging a big hammer and this time (Cam) Gallagher will be smashed by waterMelendez.
Mike Yastrzemski (OF, San Francisco Giants)
As a classic Red Sox fan, I just can’t quit bloodline players like Yaz #2. Now that he’s overlooked again, he’s surpassed expectations, hitting .281/.371/.438 with 3 HR in 105 PA, and I think this year he’ll improve on that and will no longer be a “fluke”.
Not only is he sporting the best hard-hit rate of his career (44%), but where he’s really shined is in mastering his plate skills. His 22% chase rate is elite and a career-best, but even more impressive is his massive improvement in contact, which has led to a career-best 17% strikeout rate. If you raise an eyebrow, his contact rate has jumped from 78% to 84%, and you should become an eyebrow when you see it came entirely on in-zone contact, where his 94% mark is 9% better than his previous career-best set last year. When you get a power hitter with a 6% Swinging Strike%, I’m happy to arrive early to the breakout party. Add in 12-team OBP formats, though I think I’d also consider in 12-team AVG leagues and 10-team OBP.
Sam Huff (C, Texas Rangers)
Why yes, I am advocating to take two catchers on the Rangers, and neither of them are Mitch Garver. Why? Because catcher stinks and sometimes you need to take risks. You may remember Huff as the powerful prospect who had a breakout cup of coffee who then got hurt for a year and was mostly forgotten about. Well he’s still just 24 and was mashing in Triple-A with a .260 AVG and 7 HR, and hit .300 with 5 over those homers from April 20th. Nice.
In the majors, he’s been great when he’s played, with a simply repetitive .444/.444/.444 line in PA since being called up, though I bet you didn’t expect him to get a stolen base before a homer. Under the surface he’s been a bit more erratic, with a launch angle of -3 and a dangerously low contact rate of 64% and a CSW% of 37%. Still, I believe he’ll fix that in short order, and is already probably their best DH option. When Garver gets back, he may get sent down, but maybe he can pretend to play another position and spell the ice-cold Nathaniel Lowe at first base if not a hostile takeover. He did after all play 44 games at the position last year.
Ha-Seong Kim (2B/SS/3B, San Diego Padres)
He doesn’t need to be a cheerleader/superhero to still be Kim Passable. The Padres big pre-2021 signee is showing why international players deserve more time to get acclimated, even though it may not be apparent in his season line of .216/.327/.423 with 4 HR and 1 SB in 113 PA. I think better times are ahead as he’s improved his contact abilities with a 4% jump in contact rate up to 84%, with most of it coming from an excellent 90% Z-contact%.
But the reason I’m really intrigued is a significant jump in his barrel rate, which is up to 12% this year that is more than double his 5% mark from last year. What’s interesting is his hard-hit rate and exit velocity are actually slightly down, so I’d consider this a fluke if not for the fact he’s changed his launch angle. The 49% FB% could potentially hurt his batting average, but what’s most important is he has playing time for the foreseeable future, and I don’t see the (weird) Robinson Canó signing to be a major threat to him given his versatility. Add in 15-team OBP formats.
Tommy La Stella (2B/3B, San Francisco Giants)
Tommy Gun is back and is ready to not swing at anything. I boldly predicted he would be the best hitter on the Giants last year (which was boldly wrong) but I still think he can be great in this lineup with his high-contact, low chase-rate approach playing up quite well. So far he has yet to swing at a single ball and has an 100% contact rate%, reminding me of the good ol’ days of Steven Kwan in April.
Now that he’s back from the IL, he’s off to a fine start, hitting .500 with a homer in his first 8 PA. He has a very Arraez-esque skill-set, but may still have the ability to provide spurts of power to set him apart, as he at least did it once. It’s not sexy amid a bunch of shinier prospects, but I’d certainly rather have him now than a Jose Miranda type and he could get scooped up quickly in deeper leagues. He should be owned in all NL-only formats and 18-team OBP leagues.
Brendan Donovan (3B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals)
Thanks to the competition-turned-trainwreck of Edmundo Sosa and Paul DeJong, we might be seeing quite a bit of Brendan Donovan. The 25-year-old has certainly acquitted himself well in the early going, hitting a splendid .323/.488/.548 with a homer and a stolen base in 41 PA. Is it sustainable? Of course not! After all, his contact rate of 85% is good but not otherworldly. He also has a 58% GB% and a 4% barrel% and 105 mph max eV that all point to being more of a single-digit power guy, and his xBA of .254 confirms it.
Still, like I said before, he’s playing, and given how bad Sosa and DeJong were, he may be here awhile. Yes, Nolan Gorman is mashing in Double-A, but given Gorman’s high strikeout rate and the fact that neither him or Edman can really play shortstop, his position should be safe for now, especially given the recent hot streak. I’d ride it out for now as he can basically be a slightly better version of what we hoped Bryson Stott would be for the Phillies.
Franmil Reyes (UT/OF, Cleveland Guardians)
Reyes has been cartoonishly crushing fantasy teams like a falling Franvil. He’s hitting just .207/.264/.293 with 3 HR in 125 PA, and people who were excited by his mini-hot streak got crushed by another slump. What’s worse is that it’s come with a hideous 6% BB% and 41% K%. I know well the logic behind not giving up on streaky players like him, as you risk him going on a heater once you drop him and never looking back while you’re looking stupid.
However, in 10-team formats, I think it’s worth taking that risk. For one, he’s not barreling the ball as well this year, with a merely good 11% barrel rate and 111 mph max eV that’s well under his 115 mph max eV from previous years. But what’s more concerning is the plate skills, where his 35% CSW% is his career-worst by a fair margin. Some of this is driven by a decline in contact rate, and he’s also allowed a lot more called strikes as his Z-Swing% is at a career-low at just 64%. There’s no reason to hope he fixes this when there’s plenty of other less problematic power guys on the wire.
Bryan Reynolds (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
His bat has been so lifeless that I can’t feel my extremities. He must be Bryan Raynaud’s. He’s hitting .203/.300/.341 with 4 HR and 1 SB in 140 PA, and has been even worse this week, hitting just .045 with a single single in 22 AB. This is why I don’t trust batting-average-forward players with elevated strikeout rates. While I’ve preached caution with Merrifield and even Justin Turner (somewhat) as their peripherals indicate a bounceback is possible, I don’t see it happening with Reynolds.
He’s declined in almost every aspect of his game, especially in his contact skills, where his 33% chase rate and 71% contact rate are career worsts and indicate he’s likely overperforming in his K/BB. If that weren’t bad enough, his hard contact is also way down, with just a 107 mph max eV down from 113 mph last year and a 6% barrel% that’s nearly half of his rate last year. I think you’re much better off in 12-teams rolling with hot bats on the wire than holding him for name value, and I’d cut him comfortably in all 12-team formats and some 15-team formats, and if you can’t pull yourself to do that, I would try to sell low on him in a trade.
Nicky Lopez (2B/SS, Kansas City Royals)
In the spring, I made a prediction for four shortstop busts at their ADP: Witt, Taylor, Rojas and Nicky, and was the most negative on Little Nicky. Still I thought at least he’d steal a few bases. Although he had a decent game recently, his overall line of .215/.306/.252 with 0 HR and 1 SB is probably not what you expected when you used a top 250 pick for him. I warned that the peripherals didn’t support his high 2021 batting average and that his .239 xBA was closer to reality.
This year, he’s managed to hit the ball even more poorly, with an even lower 22% Hard Hit%. Not only that, but his in-zone contact has dropped from a strong 93% to a very pedestrian 85%. When you hit the ball with a wet noodle like he does, that’s not going to land many hits, especially in this batted ball economy. While he’s continuing to play for now just because of his defense, he could get pushed out by Melendez and/or Emmanuel Rivera pushing Witt Jr. to take over shortstop. It’s not like he’s stealing bases, but if you’re holding him because you need speed that badly, you might be better of betting on… Sam Huff. Drop in all 15-team leagues and AL-only OBP formats.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Boston Red Sox)
Why did they do this to themselves? But more so, why did anyone in a fantasy league (even an AL-only) do this to themselves? He was easily one of baseball’s worst regulars last year to earn 400 PA, hitting just .163 with 6 HR and 7 SB in 428 PA. Yet this year he couldn’t even manage to have a dead cat bounceback, as he’s hit a microscopic .189 with 0 HR and 1 SB in 117 PA. While he had a great small sample season in 2020, it was mostly fueled by a .383 BABIP mirage, and he’s continuing his decline.
His 3% barrel rate is awful and just half of his barrel rate last year. And if you think that’s okay because you fancy him a contact hitter, note that his zone contact has also declined from last year and his 32% Swinging Strike Rate, which is below average, is the same as it was in 2021. I don’t know why the Red Sox haven’t cut bait, but you certainly shouldn’t wait around if you’re still holding him in an AL-only for some reason. I’m much more intrigued by Franchy Cordero and his improved contact rate, and when JBJ is gone I’ll eat a celebratory PB&J.
Photography by Frank Jansky & John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)
In a 12 team AVG league, I was contemplating last night dropping either Franmil or Bohm to pick up Yas. Would you do the switch for either of them?
I think I’d pick him up for either, especially if it’s an OBP format. Bohm still doesn’t have the launch angle to provide reliable power and Franmil could have a season resembling Renfroe’s worse years
“so lifeless that I can’t feel my extremities. He must be Bryan Raynaud’s”
Hahahahahaha this pun is *chefkiss*