There’s a tipping point when the majority of fantasy baseball managers agree during the season that a player must be picked up from the wire in all leagues. It happens when said player has performed at an acceptable level for a significant period. I use the term “significant period” because it’s both ambiguous and obtuse.
Sadly, the player’s performance isn’t the only thing dictating when the critical mass of managers finally decides to pick up a player. It can be slowed—but usually not accelerated—by meaningless factors. An unusual name can be enough to make managers balk. Take Scooter Gennett as an example. Despite being one of the best-hitting second basemen in 2017, Gennett had a 2018 ADP of 221 the following year. Some just thought it was a fluke that a guy named Scooter hit 27 home runs in a season. If your name is Matt Chapman, however, and you do the same thing, the next year your ADP is 100.
Another factor is reliever status. In most leagues, there’s a bias against non-closing relievers—a topic that I have railed against multiple times this offseason. That is why despite being incredibly valuable, Dellin Betances isn’t drafted before pick No. 200 in most leagues, even when healthy. Similarly, when a pitcher is supposed to be a starter but does not make the rotation, there’s a corresponding drop in his perceived value—so much so that we forget about how talented that pitcher is, and he’s universally left on the wire just waiting for some lucky guy to pick up. This happened with Josh Hader in 2018, and it’s happening to Josh James now.
Let me be clear: If you don’t pick up James now, you might not get to him. James is owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues and 12% of ESPN leagues. Fantasy managers now know how valuable Hader was in 2018. Even as a non-closer, Hader has an ADP that hovers around 100. James may not be as good as Hader—since nobody really is—but he has the potential to be close for at least a few months. He demonstrated as much Sunday. At Tropicana Field, James carved up the Rays to the tune of four strikeouts in two no-hit innings, using only 23 pitches.
What made James’ performance impressive wasn’t his velocity, despite its elite status. It was his control—something he has been criticized for in the past. James lived on the edges of the strike zone, using all his pitches, and had a clear, effective plan of attack against both lefties and righties. Take a look at James’ pitch chart below. Fastballs are in red, sliders are in blue, and changeups are in green. Each circle is where a pitch crossed the plate. Each is accompanied by two numbers: the one inside the circle is the number in his pitch sequence, and the number outside, down, and to the right is that pitch’s velocity.
You’ll notice that James left just one pitch in the middle of the plate (No. 3), which was fouled off. He faced five consecutive right-handed batters, which counted for pitch Nos. 1-20. Each of those pitches was located either on the black, just off the plate, or up-and-in. It takes real control to be able to hammer the strike zone that close to the hitter without either plunking the batter or leaving a pitch a little too much over the plate.
The fastball was dominant, averaging 96.6 mph and accounting for 16 of his 23 pitches. James was able to pound away up-and-in while throwing just enough on the outside corner to keep hitters off balance. The result was a whiff rate of 60%. His fastball also accounted for three out of his four strikeouts. James manhandled Willy Adames, Yandy Diaz, Tommy Pham, Daniel Robertson and Avisail Garcia—all righties—with the hard stuff. When lefty Austin Meadows came up, James gave him three straight offspeed pitches away for the easiest of his K’s.
Overall, James had a whiff rate of 52% on the night and only seemed to be getting stronger as he got more comfortable. I wrote in my 10 semi-bold dynasty predictions that James will become the next Hader, and James’ easy Sunday outing only furthers this belief. He has the talent and is in the role to give you four to five innings per week of elite ERA/WHIP/K while putting out fires for the Astros. And if he’s too good at this role and gets promoted to be a starter, what do you have to lose?
You might be thinking it’s too early to make this move—and if you are, I’m guessing you missed out on Hader a year ago as well. Trust me: You do not want to be late to this party. Pick him up now and thank me later.
(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
Great write up on James. I had high hopes for him going into the year and I can see how he could potentially be amazing in a Josh Hader type role. How would you rank him going forward? Any starters you would drop for him (*cough* Strahm *cough*)?
Thanks! It’s hard for me to give general SP advice over James without knowing who is on your roster and what your league categories are.
12 team mixed head to head. Normal scoring except for Quality starts (instead of W) and saves+holds (instead of saves). Have the ultimate PL staff of Snell, glasnow, clev, wheeler, and Strahm. Thanks!
I’d drop Strahm for him. Who are your other relievers?
Ottavino, Chad Green, David Robertson, Taylor Rogers
In 10 team H2H,would you drop Strahm or Urias for him?
My other SPs are Snell, Bauer, Pivetta, Paddock, Musgrove. Striping, and Castillo.
My RPs are only Leclerc and Colome.
Hey Eric — For some reason I’m not able to respond to your message, so I’m responding on this thread (sorry Kyle). I wouldn’t drop Urias for him, but I would drop Strahm.
I dont know who to drop in favor of him. Guys like E Rod, Chirinos, German, Rodgers (twins closer (?), Lauer. Im leaning more towards Lauer or E Rod. H2H: QS, ERA, WHIP, K’s, Saves
Thanks for reading! I’d say you won’t regret dropping either of Lauer or ERod for James by the end of the year.
Do you think he will get holds? He hasn’t got any yet and has only pitched when they were losing. He qualifies at sp so he would be able to help me in my format with k, ratio, and holds if he can get them. Houston’s bullpen is deep. Thanks
Unless Saves and Holds are separate categories in your league, I don’t think it matters. He’s likely only getting innings when they’re losing now because he’s coming back from injury and didn’t have much of a spring. One or two more showings like Sunday and he’ll be getting high leverage appearances. I think you answered your own question though with the SP eligibility and how useful that can be for a multi-inning reliever.
Saves + holds is the category. Would you drop Chad green for him? I love green but he only qualifies at rp and doesn’t get as many holds as my other 3 rp due to his role in a deep pen. Green I thought may get sp status if used an opener (needs 3 starts) to qualify. Yankees were considering this while Sabathia and severino are out. Thanks
Drop Dozier for JJames? The low guys on my staff are Skaggs, Burnes and Urias. Thanks!
I’d say Drop Dozier or Skaggs for him. If you think about it, Skaggs has such a high WHIP that he’s not likely to get you more than 14 QS anyway because he won’t last long enough in games. If your league does not do QS but W’s, we’re also talking about the Angels. How many wins could he get?
Great write up. You sold me. I picked him up.
Thanks for reading!
I put this same question on your Reddit post but I’ll throw it in here for visibility for other people too.
Who would be droppable to snag him out of this for H2H holds and saves?
z. britton, a. vizcaino, r. iglesias, a. ottavino — maybe britton?
E Diaz. is my other closer that I won’t be touching for obvious reasons.
I would definitely drop Britton for James
No reason to roster Britton IMO. Too many mouths too feed in NYY bullpen.
Drop G.Holland for James?
I’m not sure. I didn’t see Holland’s only outing so far, but the stats say he was pretty good. He has the potential to be a top closer. Who else you got?
Morton, Musgrove, Stripling, Kikuchi?
You have deep pitching. Out of those four I’d say Musgrove. Who are your other relievers?
Other reliever is Hand
Follow up from question… Saves + holds is the category. Would you drop Chad green for him? I love green but he only qualifies at rp and doesn’t get as many holds as my other 3 rp due to his role in a deep pen. Green I thought may get sp status if used an opener (needs 3 starts) to qualify. Yankees were considering this while Sabathia and severino are out. Thanks
That’s an interesting take on Green. I didn’t hear that about him being used as an opener. I also like Green, but I don’t think he’ll ever return to the 13 k/9 days that made him so appealing. Let’s just put it this way: If I had Green and somebody offered me James straight up in a trade, I would do that trade.
I only have 36 more adds for the year. Going to drop Newcomb most likely.
Is he worth one of me adds?
Have Sale, Mikolas, Porcelo, Newcomb, Burnes, Trienen, Givens
Yes. Drop Newcomb for him.
Do you favor James over Betances?
That is the hardest question I have gotten so far! I consider them roughly the same. Basically Betances is a step below Hader, which is where I see James landing. I favor both over Newcomb though.
Well done. I’ve been watching James, but I had to take action today and cut Sonny Gray for him before any of my league-mates read your article!
Great article, Travis! I just added James to my roster (dropped Gibson for him). Wanted another good RP as my league has Saves+Holds as a category. But now, I need to drop a SP to add a Util player. Current options for Util are: C. Frazier, Pederson, C. Stewart, C. Walker, Healy, A. Jones, Schoop, A. Frazier, Bruce & DeShields. I’m in a 10 team, roto, 6×6, keeper league with Runs, RBIs, HRs, AVG, OPS, SBs, Wins, Ks, ERA, WHIP, K/BB & Saves+Holds. My keepers are: Acuna, Andujar, Treinen & Trout.
C – Mejia
1B – Rizzo
2B – McNeil
SS – Tatis
3B – Machado
CI – Y. Diaz
MI – K. Marte
OF – Trout, Acuna, Dahl & Eloy
U – Shaw & ???
DL – Murphy, Wendle & Andujar
SP – Bieber, Burnes, Lucchesi, Mikolas, Strahm, Stripling & Woodruff
RP – Colome, Pressly, J.James, W. Smith, Stammen & Treinen
NA – F. Whitley
Any advice that you provide will be MUCH appreciated!
P.S. I’m the ONLY female in my league!
Thanks for reading!
I’d drop Strahm. And out of the options you mentioned above, I’d go with Healy or A. Frazier.
Glad to see more women in leagues!
Bradley has been fairly solid thus far, drop him for James? My other closers are Doolittle and Leclerc.
I would rather have James than Bradley
Someone offered me Josh James for my Corbin Burnes…make the trade?
I’m not sure I’d go that far. I love James but Burnes looked pretty good in his first start. I like James more, but I’m not going to go crazy and tell you he’s going to be worth more than a top 30 SP, which Burnes could be if everything goes right.
Drop Strop, Dominguez or Pressly for James?
…or Trevor May
Strop or May…my preference is drop Strop
Any thoughts on this article now that we are in July. He just went out for 2 innings yesterday. Considering picking him up.
Hey Zach — I am on the fence on James for the rest of the season. I still believe that he’ll be a very good reliever in the future, he’s just been so streaky so far. He was what I thought he’d be in May, and not quite as good so it appears that he might be figuring it out. I guess it really depends on who you are dropping him for, and who else is on the wire.