(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire)
The Detroit Tigers are no longer the offensive powerhouse that they once were. But even without sluggers J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler, the team still boasts a handful of formidable hitters. Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos and Victor Martinez still pack some punch, and anyone who can get on base in front of those three should have no problems scoring runs and racking up fantasy value.
The Tigers, however, have had trouble finding someone who can get on in front of their big bats. Leonys Martin, Mikie Mahtook and Jose Iglesias all possess at least decent speed but have showed little in the way of on-base prowess. Without Ian Kinsler, the Tigers needed to find someone who could routinely get on base and allow Cabrera and co. a chance to drive in some runs. A midseason trade brought them their answer, a plate discipline guru in 24-year-old third baseman Jeimer Candelario.
Candelario’s propensity for drawing a walk, and his spot hitting second in the Tigers lineup, gives him fantasy value in nearly all fantasy formats, and particularly those that count OBP.
The Dominican God of Walks
I set out just before Opening Day to write an article about how Jeimer Candelario is an OBP machine. Candelario helped the cause, drawing three walks in Detroit’s first game and serving as an excellent table setter for sluggers Cabrera and Castellanos.
Candelario is no stranger to free passes, having posted strong ratios throughout the minor leagues. He posted a 12.3% walk rate in 309 plate appearances for the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in 2016, and a nearly identical 12.4% rate with them last year. However, Candelario struggled mightily to draw a walk when the Cubs gave him the call in 2017. In an 11 game sample, Candelario only posted a minuscule 2.8% walk rate. That was accompanied by a .152 average and a 33.3% strikeout rate.
That all changed when the Candy-Man got to Detroit. He finished the season in the Motor City, playing in 27 games and boasting an 11.3% walk rate, a .330 average and a 17.0% strikeout rate. The biggest reason for Candelario’s turnaround was an improved ability to lay off pitches outside of the zone. Check out this graph showing Candelario’s wRC+ compared to his O-swing rate:
The date on the chart that the graphs change direction is 9/2/2017, Candelario’s first game in Detroit. Maybe it was a change within Candelario himself, maybe the Tigers coaches had an impact on him, or maybe it was not being teammates with Javier Baez. Either way, Candelario suddenly improved his plate discipline and his hitting profile improved dramatically.
Candelario carried over his exceptional plate discipline to spring training with the Tigers, where he posted 11 walks and only seven strikeouts in 22 games. That led to new manager and sabermetrics darling Ron Gardenhire deciding to bat him second.
You don’t need me to tell you that a player who can draw walks is a strong play in on-base percentage leagues. However, Candelario’s new spot batting second will help his value even more.
Bear with me, as this sample is Jose Altuve-sized. Prior to this season, in 26 big league at-bats hitting second, Candelario slashed .385/.484/.654 with a 204 wRC+. Obviously his .450 BABIP is unsustainable, but Candelario also posted a 16.1% walk rate and an equal 16.1% strikeout rate. Candelario seems to have taken to heart the ‘table-setter’ mentality that often comes with hitting second.
Corner infielders with 15-20 home run power and limited speed are not exactly fantasy gold, but Candelario has a chance to hit his way onto mixed-league rosters. At the very least, he should post an OBP north of .330 and score over 75 runs. Something like 75|18|65|.275|.350 is completely reasonable to expect from Candelario, as long as he remains near the top of Detroit’s lineup.
While the Candy-Man can contribute in OBP leagues (sorry, couldn’t resist) he is probably best left on the waiver wire in 10-team non-OBP leagues, at least for now. However, he should absolutely be added to watch lists in any league where he is available. It’s not often a high-OBP guy who plays every day and hits in front of a future Hall of Famer is available on waivers, so Candelario will get discovered sooner rather than later.