Going Deep: Fixing First Base for The Playoffs
Welcome to crunch time. I often find this to be the most grueling stretch of the fantasy baseball season. You’ve just emerged from the dog days of the year and the wire is pretty barren of the long shot, game-changing players it was littered with a month ago. There are no real sexy players to choose from. Sure, there will be September callups and the occasional exciting rookie that goes nuts after the rosters expand but other than that we’re well past the point of speculation. Now is the time to fix any holes you have in your roster and hunker down for the playoffs. It’s my opinion that if you effectively manage your bench in the playoffs to both capitalize on your opponent’s weakness and cover your own shortcomings you greatly increase your chances of hanging that flag that flies forever. Sometimes this involves taking the safe player over the long shot or focusing on a less well-rounded player to address a particular need or format. Most of the regular season is about increasing your team’s ceiling. These guys are about raising your team’s floor. For each player I mention I’m going to list what formats I like them in, how to use them and how they boost your teams chances.
Mark Canha – Baseball’s Canha-Canha Dance
Like the Can-Can Mark Cahna is often too often dismissed as old, unhelpful and uninteresting. Our own Matt Wallach recently covered the late blooming Canha and absolutely crushed it, showing all of us why were are foolish to dismiss Canha. Definitely check it out if you want the full rundown on the improvements that he’s made this season but Canha might the sort of hitter that can fill in for you at 1B and more. Matt pointed out the huge bump in BB% (13.5% in 2019, up from the 6.6 BB% he had put together in his career prior to 2019) which immediately makes me want him in every points league I can get my hands on him. It doesn’t hurt that again as Matt expertly point (check out the article, trust me it’s well worth checking out) that all the plate discipline numbers back up the BB% increase. He’s genuinely seeing the ball better this year and has made deliberate changes in both his plate discipline approach AND his batted ball approach. While his FB%, GB% and LD% have stayed relatively consistent this year the data saws that he has greatly increased his Pull%. This change is huge. Check out Cahna’s barrel numbers for 2019 and 2015 (his MLB debut) through 2018.
|Year||Total BBLs||Pulled BBLs||% of Pulled BBLs||HRs on Pulled BBLs||2Bs on Pulled BBLs|
It’s clear that when Cahna pulls a ball and barrels it up good things happen. He literally did not get out on a single pulled barrel from 2015 – 2018. Every single one of them resulted in an extra base hit. Think about it this way. From 2015 to 2018 Canha hit 41 HRs. 26 of them came on pulled barrels. In other words we want Canha to pull the ball more and we want a greater number of his barrels to be pulled hits, which is exactly what has happened in 2019. Note that every single one of 2019 pulled barrels resulted in 61.0% of his 18 HRs this season. Combine this with the increased BB% and he’s a sure bet to produce for you at first base if you need it.
In daily leagues there aren’t huge splits as he has been a 128 wRC+ against lefties and 140 wRC+ against righties but it’s worth noting that Canha has hit 13 of his 18 HRs against right-handed pitchers while hitting 25 points higher in terms of AVG and 40 points higher in SLG. If you’re looking for someone to plug in at UTL, 1B or OF you could do way worse in daily leagues than plugging in Canha when you know he’s going to be facing a rightie starter. With that being said he’s still really solid against lefties with a .233 ISO against lefties so I’d be perfectly happy playing him everyday.
Formats to Target In: All leagues but especially Points and OBP leagues.
Helps in: HR, RBI (20 since July 1st), Runs (18 since July 1st) and might not hurt you in AVG (.288 since July 1st)
Marwin Gonzalez – A Jack of All (or Three) Trades
Marwin Gonzalez has three major things going for him. First, he’s going to be a positive contributor in AVG, which is often absent amongst First Baseman once you get past the elite guys. You might be asking why would I be touting a player with .267 AVG in 2019 and a .264 career AVG as an asset in that category? Check this out:
Notice that one of these months doesn’t look like the others? If you take away that godawful first month what would his stats look like?
|May – August||304||.293||113||.345|
That’s more like it. As you can see Gonzalez has been really solid since May and has been red hot in August to boot. Is it a fluke? We’ll get there in a moment. First let’s look at his month by month numbers from 2012 – 2018.
It doesn’t exactly follow the pattern and he certainly struggled in March/April more than usual but none the less he tends to struggle early in the season before performing better once the weather warms up. This year though he’s done a little more than just get better in the summer. Note that typically Gonzalez struggles in August but not this year. Has he done anything differently this month to overcome his usual dog day doldrums? This sounds like a problem for Statcast! Here’s 2015 – 2018 info for August with some Statcast numbers added in.
|Year||AB||Launch Angle||Exit Velocity||BBL%||HR/FB%||ISO||AVG||wRC+||wOBA|
2018 was Gonzalez’s breakout year and while he hasn’t quite reached the pinnacles of last year’s number’s in August it’s still a huge improvement over 2015 – 2017. Given his track record in Sept/October we should expect him to continue to produce at an above average level, especially when it comes to batting average.
This brings me to the second thing to like about Gonzalez, that is the team he plays for. While he has typically been batting somewhere between 5th and 8th in the Twins lineup it is still one of the best offenses in baseball. The Minnesota hitters rank 3rd in runs scored, 1st in ISO, 4th in AVG, 3rd in wRC+, and 2nd in wOBA! Even batting that far back in the lineup, if he keeps getting on base at his current rate (.349 OBP since une 1st) you have to imagine that he will compile plenty of RBIs and Runs to help your fantasy team in the playoffs if you have to play him at First Base. That should play up heavily in points leagues and will contribute in three of the five roto categories. That’ll do in pinch for sure.
Now for the third reason to pick up Marwin Gonzalez and that’s his positional eligibility. Here’s his eligibility this currently at the three major sites:
|Yahoo||1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF|
|ESPN||1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF|
|CBS||1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF|
While it’s universal across fantasy his versatility is pretty impressive. In general eligibility is overrated during the regular season but that all changes in the playoffs. An injury can derail a team’s chance at the ‘chip before it can even get started and having that versatility on your team allows you to really fill in any gap that might come up at the last minute at really any position. If nothing comes up you’re set with a really solid player at First Base but if another player goes down you can pick up any one of the other players I’m mentioning here in this article and plug Gonzalez in at that position. It can make or break a playoff run. It’s also incredibly valuable in daily leagues. Oftentimes the secret to winning counting stats like Runs, RBIs and even HRs are about amassing ABs and Gonzalez’ position availability allow to plug him at any position on a given day and never miss out on potential ABs and potential counting stats, even if he’s just on your bench.
Formats to Target In: All leagues but especially Points, Daily, and AVG leagues
Helps in: AVG, RBI (18 since July 1st), Runs (21 since July 1st) and AVG (.296 since July 1st)
Sam Travis – Everybody’s Got To Die Sometime, Red
That’s right, I went with a Platoon reference. Oh wait that’s because we’re going to talk about platoon players! That’s how we do it here in the industry. This one matters mostly for those of us in daily leagues or those who are desperate to get any kind of production for First Base. Sam Travis is the quintessential fantasy platoon player. Much like position eligibility, a player with strong platoon splits doesn’t help as much as you think during the regular season but in the playoffs it can be essential. Now Travis is sadly on the short end of the a platoon but he absolutely mashes lefties. Look at these numbers when he faces southpaws this year.
Several of those numbers pop out at you right away but mainly I want to focus on the elevated AVG, BB%, ISO and HR/FB% against lefties. That AVG will play everywhere and the walks will definitely help boost his points league value. That power though, it’s hard not to notice. A 29.4 HR/FB% would be the 4th highest in the league between Peter Alonso and Franmil Reyes and the .283 ISO would be 9th in the league between Anthony Rendon and Charlie Blackmon. You should want every single AB this guy gets against lefties. The Statcast numbers lend themselves to believing in the offensive production against lefties. Here’s his Statcast numbers against southpaws.
|Handedness||Launch Angle||Exit Velocity||Balls In Play||BBL||BBL%|
And here is the Launch Angle Chart.
It’s obviously an incredibly small sample but you can see that he absolutely clobbers lefties. A 17.0 BBL% is absolutely insane. If you’re playing in a daily league, pairing Travis with another 1B or UTL and playing him when he faces lefties could create huge dividends for you team. Especially when you pair him with our next hitter.
Now I understand the question. What is the point of carrying a bench player that you might only use once or twice a week? Again I think it’s important to remember that how we use out roster spots in the playoffs are different than in the regular season. Early on in the season you focus on rostering long shots or potential breakouts. Now we’re talking about maximizing each and every day to it’s full possible potential. So if you have the roster spot to spare in a daily league, you could do a lot worse than Sam Travis if he can keep this level of production going against left handed pitchers. It’s also worth noting that he also qualifies in the OF there’s actually 3 – 6 spots you can actually utilize to take advantage of Travis’ playing time against lefties. Again so much of winning counting stats is about getting every last AB you can get and even if it’s only 6 – 10 ABs a week filling in the gaps they can be the difference, especially when they are ABs at the level of production Travis puts up against lefties it’s even more valuable and well worth the roster spot.
Formats to Target In: Daily Leagues
Helps in: HR (6 since July 1st), RBI (13 since July 1st), Runs (14 since July 1st) and AVG (.294 since July 1st)
Mitch Moreland – As The Other Side Of The Pillow
Come on 90s kids, we all loved it whenever Stewart Scott said those sweet words. We talked about the weak side of the Red Sox First Base platoon but let me make the argument for why you should also carry the strong-side hitter as well even if he only qualifies at 1B. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but once you get to the playoffs you can’t get precious with your roster spots. If you have to spend two roster spots to shore up your 1B position then that’s what you have to do. It’s true utilitarianism at it’s finest. So does Mitch Moreland fit that bill? Let’s dive into his splits.
So obviously Moreland is much better against righties but the thing is, he’s a whole lot better against righties than most hitters. In fact he’s 25% better than the average hitter against RHP. His excellent Statcast data against righties backs up the results as well.
|Year||Launch Angle||Exit Velocity||Balls In Play||BBL||BBL%|
So what would it look like in a daily league if you spent the dual roster spots to carry both Moreland and Sam Travis and used them to make sure you had the starting 1B for every Red Sox game? Here’s the combined numbers since July 1st.
It’s not perfect but if you experienced an injury to your normal 1B or haven’t been getting the production your looking for, being able to replace him with two players who would produce elite AVG, power and counting stats every single day certainly seems like it’s well worth using two roster spots in order to eliminate a trouble spot for your playoff team. Either Moreland or Travis could help shore up your 1B position on their own (and well worth your consideration) but putting both together could create an elite player for you.
Formats to Target In: Daily Leagues
Helps in: RBI (10 since July 1st), Runs (7 since July 1st) and AVG (.296 since July 1st)
These are four players who can truly help shore up the 1B position for you as we head into the playoffs. It certainly seems like most of the potential 1B gains to be had are oriented towards AVG and the counting stats. You might need them in a desperate times, call for desperate measures sense or you’re just looking to make sure that you have all your bases covered (see what I did there) for the playoffs these are all players that can help make sure you go as far in the playoffs as your team can take you. Getting to a championship is about raising your floor not your ceiling and each and every one of these guys can help do exactly that. I specifically chose these players because they are owned in less than 60% of leagues so you can go out and get them and start formulating a strategy around them now if you have to. If you have a different 1B you are curious about please don’t hesitate to ask about them in the comments and I’ll give you my take on them and if they can help you in true crunch time when all the chips are on the table.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)