Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is… refridgerated coffee in the microwave! Like, bats are heating up, but given they were ice cold before, it’s technically room temperature, but in reality it’s hot and cold at the same time. Also, Adley Rutschman was finally called up, which would be relevant here if he wasn’t already rostered in just about every league. Still, we’ve had quite a few slugfests and players with multi-homer games that refuse to be ignored, and I’m not counting Josh Rojas who made a backroom deal with a Wind Deity. As long as you’re ready to be impulsive as I am with waiver wire moves, let’s move on to the list!
Joc Pederson (OF, San Francisco Giants)
Joc is an all-or-nothing kind of player, so you need to play big and take your losses on most days so that one day you hit the Jocpot. He cashed in big with his three-tater Tuesday torrent, bringing him up to 10 big blasts on the year. I had rostered him in most leagues and made the mistake of doubting my earlier support of him after cooling off and injury, but now I’m trying to run back. You may say I’m just setting myself up to be hurt again, but I really think his season will make the other Giants look like Dwarves.
He’s flat-out destroying the ball this year, with a 57% HardHit% that far exceeds anything he’s done in his hard-hitting career, with also a career-best 18% Barrel% and 95 mph exit velocity. While the sample is still small at 102 PA, all of those rates are 98th or 99th percentile among qualified MLB hitters. But what’s crazier is that he’s 99th percentile in expected slugging. Okay, but what’s even crazier than that is that he’s also 99th percentile in expected batting average. That’s right, his .578 SLG% and .255 AVG have been great, but his xSLG% is a whopping .716 and his xBA a gargantuan .335. Bananas.
Yes, I know expected stats aren’t as reliable this year, and no, I don’t think his numbers will approach that level. But this breakout is backed by an approach change, as he’s swinging more at strikes than ever (74%) without swinging more at balls and is also making more contact on strikes, with a career-high 87% Z-Contact%. While he won’t keep this pace up, I think that not only will he hit 30+ homers easily, but he’ll also be a batting average asset and is a far better bet right now to deliver than higher-drafted sluggers like Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Franmil Reyes. I may be alone in that camp, but I’m happy to be president of the sovereign nation of Pedetoria.
Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays)
I think it’s time we get a panel of choreography judges for Jansen with the Stars. I was the OG Jansen fan from his prospect days, and I had even at one point lost the faith, forgetting that catching prospects take a long time to develop, but now I think he’s arrived. This could look bad as he’s historically streaky, and obviously he won’t maintain a 32% HR/FB rate, so don’t go dropping Will Smith for him. But Yasmani Grandal? Yeah, I did that.
Why? Because he’s here to stay and I think he can be an asset in power and batting average this year. Sure, his 32 PA sample is so small it’s harder to glean much from the data, but what’s there is encouraging. For one, he already has 4 barrels on the year, and so far hitting the ball hard at a 48% Hard Hit%. But in a sample this small, I look more at contact rate, since per-pitch metrics stabilize much faster. And there, something amazing is happening.
Do you know who’s #1 in ALL OF BASEBALL in hitter CSW% (minimum 30 PA)? It’s Jeff McNeil. Good for you, Jeff. But number 2 is Danny Jansen. A catcher! How? His contact rate has skyrocketed from 76% last year to 91% so far this year. He’s continued his excellent plate discipline, so his 4% Swinging Strike Rate is less than half his 12% SwStr% from 2021. This WILL regress because it’s crazy not to. But I do think it’s too big of an outlier for it to not be meaningful, especially as a 27-year old catcher who was always supposed to hit for average and power. His playing time is secure as he’s a far better defender than Kirk and has already outproduced him in a single week of at-bats. While everyone else is fawning over Rutschman (I mean, I am too) I’m buying Jansen high in 10-team OBP and AVG formats.
William Contreras (C, Atlanta Braves)
The other Will Contreras, and he’s not Willson’s father. So, compared to Jansen, Contreras is younger but never had the same level of prospect pedigree. But there are some things apparent immediately that I love. For one, his raw power is elite, with a 113 mph max eV this year, and I doubt that’s a fluke as he hit 114 mph last year, which is Rowdy Tellez-level pop. Honestly, I don’t get why he was cast aside last year as his overall hitting was solid (for a catcher) hitting .215 but with 8 HR in 185 AB as a 23-year-old. Yet on draft day, we went for 32-year-old Kyle Higashioka instead (me included), thinking we were smart.
Now, Contreras has 6 homers to Jansen’s 5 (granted, in 10 more PA), but being a young catcher, there’s a lot of room for renovation. For one, his plate skills leave a lot to be desired, with a lousy 65% strikeout rate. The good news is he’s at least swung at fewer balls, though fewer pitches in general, which could help him have a decent OBP. But the real reason he’s worth mentioning is the barrels, where he currently is at 21% Barrel% with his 6 barrels already reaching half of his total from last year. It’s a bit weird that he’s managed that despite a launch angle of 3, meaning that over a third of his 15 total flyballs + line drives have been barrelled. Nice.
While normally I’d worry about D’Arnaud despite the fact Willson has already outproduced him, the recent playing of William in left field renews my hope. Spoiler alert: Duvall is a sell, and Contreras taking over at-bats in the OF and at DH will guarantee his playing time. Not only that, he’s in a great fantasy situation as he’ll be the vaunted Varsho-esque catcher-eligible player who can thrive without the wear-and-tear (and playing time/injury risk) of being the backstop. I think he’s viable already in 15-team formats and worth streaming/speculating in 12-team OBP. Some would say I’m overreacting to a small sample, but on the William Contrary, I think they’re underreacting.
Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)
He’s snapping bats on his knee and snapping and letting it eat like Ozzy Osborne. He’s coming off a year that was so bad that I saw him get cut in an AL-only, but I wrote him up in my preseason article Surpring Statcast Similarity Sleepers that his top Statcast comps for the year were Bogaerts, Story, and Cron as a reason to keep the faith. And so far, with a .256/.365/.436 line with 6 HR and 3 SB, his production has been cromulent, though not quite Cron-ulent.
However, there are signs that he may be tapping into another level and the real breakout is upon us. For one, he set a new max exit velocity at 114 mph, a level he hasn’t hit since he reached 115 mph back in 2016. He’s also made a notable change in his batted ball distribution, with his FB% rate declining from 44% to 36%, something I consider a positive given his previous tendency to tank his batting average with cans of German corn. Maybe that’s why he’s sporting surprisingly excellent expected stats, with a xBA of .318 and xSLG of .561. With a BABIP that’s still .267 despite the change, he could always be a bit unlucky, but I doubt he’ll hit below .260 with a 16% K%.
He’s always had great plate discipline, but his 24% O-Swing% is narrowly a career-best and makes him a quiet beast in OBP leagues. Given he’s reasonably fast, he can be similar in many ways to Tommy Pham given his OBP, power, and speed, though Kepler’s age of 29 makes him the arguably safer pick health-wise. He may not be on your wire in 12-team formats, but he’s a great trade “throw-in” who can pay big dividends in OBP formats.
Tyler Naquin (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
When it comes to late-career breakouts, he’s the Naquintessential example. While I admittedly overlooked him last week, he’s stuffed the stat sheets the past two weeks, hitting .372 with 3 HR and 2 SB in 43 AB. On a team whose offense is desperate enough that one-time firecracker turned dud Aristedes Aquino is getting reps, Naquin deserves to play and to hit in the heart of the lineup. Naquin’s 2021 breakout turned him into a solid second-division regular, hitting .270 with 19 HR and 5 SB, and so far, he’s pacing to replicate those dandy digits.
Granted, while the surface numbers are nice, I do have some concerns. For one, his contact rate is down from its surge last season, from 79% to just 74%. So this time around, his batting average has thus far mostly been kept afloat by BABIP. The good news is that he’s upped his FB% from 35% to 41%, which may hurt his batting average but also he plays half his games in a bandbox, so he’ll score some extra taters. With the handful of stolen bases, he’s kind of like a Max Kepler lite that also can’t draw walks, but that is certainly helpful still in 15-team batting average leagues. Don’t sleep on him as he’s Naquin, not ZZZQuin.
Evan Longoria (3B, San Francisco Giants)
He’s finally back, and I hope he’ll stay with us for a Longo time. I boldly predicted pre-season that Longoria would be a Top 20 third baseman, which, well, he’d have a lot of catching up to do. But there are reasons to not typecast the 36-year-old vet. Despite the ugly .194/.194/.250 line with 0 HR in his first 36 PA, he should have better days ahead (including 2 HRs yesterday). The team certainly thinks so, or else they wouldn’t be entrusting him with a spot in the heart of the lineup. The Giants are a smart team, so when they trust, I listen. Hey, worked for me with the Angels and Taylor Ward, why not try again?
After all, despite the bad surface stat sample, he’s already barrelled up 4 balls, and it’s been frustrating to see him hit so many line drives that have found their way into gloves. Given this early sample was essentially extended spring training for him and he’s already hitting barrels, those balls should soon be leaving the park soon. Despite his age, in the past few years he’s quietly reinvented himself with a recent track record for above-average barrel rate and hard contact rate with above-average contact. Essentially, he could be a poor man’s Josh Donaldson without his poor judgment. I’d buy that for a dollar in 15-team average leagues.
Franchy Cordero (1B/OF, Boston Red Sox)
Franchy is off the schneid! He’s hit his first homer of the year and is hitting a solid .313 this week. He’s likely here to supplant Jackie Bradley Jr. who was worn out his welcome as a fan favorite as his bat has literally become a paper fan. I ate crow (no relation to the Ozzy mention earlier) for predicting a breakout in 2021 giving his quietly excellent small sample in 2020, but I don’t think it’s outlandish to point out that he did get Covid pre-vaccines and we don’t know how that may have affected him. Well, it seems maybe I wasn’t so stupid after all!
See, I argued that his improvements in plate discipline and contact in 2020 were so extreme that he probably will maintain some level of that skill, and a year later he’s suggested I might be right. His 27% O-Swing% is an improvement, but more notable is the 81% Z-Contact%, an improvement over his 75% career mark. While his O-Contact% is a horrible 47%, he’s managed to stuff it in a dark corner by laying off balls but swinging at a ton of strikes with a 79% Z-Swing%. As a result, he’s made quality contact with a 11% Barrel% and 47% HardHit%. With dual eligibility to boot, maybe it’s not too late for the Red Sox to save face on that Franchy for Beni deal. Maybe. Add in AL-only formats.
Jack Suwinski (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
The Pirates were desperate enough to call him up, but if you’re in a five-outfielder NL-only league, you’re also desperate enough to consider him. He’s actually acquitted himself rather well in his age-23 cup of coffee, despite hitting below the Mendoza line. In total, he’s hitting .182 with 4 HRs over 82 PA, with 2 of those homers coming in the past week. He’s available almost everywhere and was playing every day even before Vogey went down, which already makes him pretty valuable, but there’s a bit more to him than just milktoast playing time.
For one, his 5% walk rate is a mirage and should improve. He racked up walk rates in the minors well into the double digits, and his solid 27% O-Swing% indicates he’s maintained most of those skills. He also has displayed some solid pop, hitting 19 HR with 11 SB in Triple-A to boot, signaling he could provide a handful of stolen bases. As for the pop, it’s at least moderate with a 9% Barrel% and a surprisingly decent 109 max eV. I also think the average should improve some as his 76% Contact% and 11% SwStr% are pretty close to league average. In short, you could certainly do worse with his current production, and if he improves on that, Youwinski.
Kyle Garlick (OF, Minnesota Twins)
He doesn’t play every day, but in DFS leagues, Garlick will make you bread. I could probably end this here. When he faces lefties, he mashes, with a career-best 110 max eV, 15% Barrel%, and 57% HardHit%. While Larnach has the nicer surface numbers, I actually find Garlick the more intriguing bat as he’s basically been bizarro world Joc Pederson against lefties, with a Joc-esque .335 xBA and .794 xSLG in his small sample, which doesn’t mean much but supports the argument that he’s got something going.
While his contact rate isn’t so great at just 70%, I do like that he’s become more aggressive this year, swinging at strikes 77% of the time. Given his pop, we want him to swing, and his reduced looking strike rate leaves him with an above-average (and career-best) 26% CSW%. One could argue he should stay a lefty only masher because he’s hit just .152 against righties in 12 ABs this year, but that’s a hilariously small sample and he did pop a homer. While the lineup is full now, maybe at some point he’ll get a chance at regular reps at which I think he’ll be more than just a DFS play and becomes 18-team viable. In the meantime, why not make some Garlicky greens.
Matt Chapman (3B, Toronto Blue Jays)
I’m conflicted on him, as Statcast says I’m wrong here, and ooh those red and blue dots are shiny. Given how disappointing his .192/.283/.356 line with 6 HR, the fact that he has an xBA of .254 and xSLG of .518 should mean he’s a classic buy-low! But my gut (and nerdnalysis indicates that he simply does more harm than good in 10-team average formats. I mean, this is a player who has not even hit above .250 more than once in his six-year career, and he’s also hit more than 27 homers just once. Still, third base is a tough position, so why don’t I think he’s a buy-low?
For one, while his 55% HardHit% is actually a career-best, his 11% Barrel% is actually his lowest since 2018. It’s only down a little, but given that power is literally his calling card, it’s not enough. See, in terms of hard contact and contact rate, he’s not really worse than last year. The problem is, he was really really bad last year. While he’s in a better hitter’s park outside of Oakland, he’s still hitting 49% flyballs in a hitting environment where flyballs are not flying like they used to, especially when not barrelled. And while it’s good to see that his in-zone contact has gone up, his O-contact% has plummeted to just 50%, and his passivity at the plate has led to a career-high 32% CSW%.
This is one of those situations where two people can look at the same set of numbers and find two completely different narratives. But still, in a ten-team batting average format, the batting average downside makes him too much like Joey Gallo (who is also having a terrible year, alongside many similar players), and you simply can’t afford that weighing you down, especially in roto formats. I’d try to trade him for another buy-low to a team that knows about Statcast and thinks they’re fleecing you, while you’re the wolf in sheep’s clothing. But a wolf that knows better than to send 3-for-1 trade offers.
Steven Kwan (OF, Cleveland Guardians)
Yeah, you know when you have a crazy end of your planet apocalypse party and then you find out your planet was actually spared and now you have to live with yourself? Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel for being so gung-ho about Kwan in that first week. I may have used the phrase “Kwan Soto” only semi-ironically. Yeugh. For a player we all consider a batting average king, you probably don’t want to look at what his batting average has been from the third week of the season on.
I mean, he still is a contact king. His 2% Swinging Strike rate is still the best in baseball, with an insane 94% Contact%. See the problem is, you actually need to hit the ball past the fielders. The 84 mph average eV with a HardHit% of 27% and 3% Barrel% means that a lot of this contact doesn’t become strikeouts, but still becomes easy outs. With the expected stolen bases not happening either, it’s time we move in all 12-team formats, and it might be time to consider cutting him in 15-leagues too. I assumed early on that the power punch would come eventually, but I’m tired of waiting for TaeKwanGodot.
Adam Duvall (OF, Atlanta Braves)
I think it’s the end of the show, the walls are closing in and I hear Porky Pig shouting “That’s Duvall, Folks!” In my preseason article, Surprising Statcast Similarity Busts, I noted that Duvall’s top comps for his shockingly good (and RBI-packed) 2021 season were Seth Brown, Eugenio Suárez, Miguel Sanó, Kyle Higashioka, and Eric Haase. It might surprise you that it’s usually not good to compare to a bunch of people who hit below .200 and a couple of platoon catchers. Still, I don’t think I expected this kind of dropoff, with a .196/.262/.284 line with just 2 homers in 184 AB. TWO! Contreras hit that many on his first day up!
It’s looking like it’s more than just bad luck too, as his Z-contact rate has dropped 5%, combined with a career-worst 39% O-Swing%. Still, who cares about his average, where is the 35 Homer power? Well… it’s gone. Kinda. His barrel% of 7% is less than half of his rates for the past 3 years, and the last time he had a max eV this low of 109 mph, he hit .195 with 15 homers on the season. At this point, most projections have adjusted and predict he at best will reach 20 homers on the year, and I think that may be too generous as he could soon be replaced. After all, Contreras can actually field positions and has youth, and while that may not push him out, a midseason acquisition certainly would. That makes it all the funnier (and sad) that he’s played all of his outfield games in center field… and surprisingly hasn’t been terrible!
While it’s tough to do given the amazing 2021 he just had, I’d cut him in 15-team OBP leagues, and I’d at least consider options in AVG formats but perhaps would wait a bit. After all, he could have a 3 homer game once you drop him. But so could Josh Rojas, apparently.
Eric Haase (C/OF, Detroit Tigers)
He looked like such a fun player. Just spend the summer with him as my late-round catcher… and then the guest house carnage started. Because it’s Haastel. Early on, I was intrigued by him cutting his K% significantly, backed by an improvement in contact%. But it seems he may have sold his slugging soul in the process. This year, his average eV is down to just 85 mph (close to Stephen Kwan) with a 31% HardHit% and 6% Barrel% that seems nothing like 2021… and a lot like the rest of his very mediocre career.
I don’t like Tucker Barnhart as someone who has value in fantasy, but he can actually play the position, and Haase seems to be playing less and less. While the team will always need a backup catcher, if he’s not playing even with Baddoo demoted and Riley Greene still hurt, it’s pretty clear he’s not part of the team’s plans, and he shouldn’t be part of yours either, regardless of format. Unless it’s a Double-A league, where he’s a top player along with Noah Syndergaard and Lars Nootbaar.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Nick Wosika & Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
You are a good writer, and a very funny man. I’d say the same if I didn’t like baseball. I’ve read this twice and laughed out loud numerous times. My wife could care less about baseball, and she smiled as I shared excerpts. I could get lucky tonight because of you……, on the waiver wire of course.
Hey, thanks so much Joe! I’ll keep ’em coming!