Welcome to Is It Legit, where each Tuesday I’ll be doing what every fantasy analyst tells owners not to do and recklessly diving into small sample sizes from the previous week to make a rash judgment on how useful a player will be rest of season. We’re still technically not even one week into the 2019 season, but weekly waiver claims have been processed for most leagues, and the five batters below each saw nice jumps in ownership percentages. Let’s grab our gavel and lay the judgment down.
Domingo Santana, OF Seattle Mariners
Case for Legitness: 36 PA, 3 HR, 2 SB, 1.144 OPS
Argument: It’s barely April, and Domingo Santana is already halfway to his 2018 marks in home runs and RBI. There really wasn’t anywhere to go but up after a pitifully bad 2018 that saw Santana go from a starter for the Brewers, to a bench bat, to the minors, to traded out of Milwaukee. He’s clearly out to put last season behind him, knocking a grand slam in the opening series and adding two more taters and stolen bases since then. Santana’s always had a high propensity for the swing-and-miss, but so far he’s managed to lower his strikeout rate to an acceptable 25%, supported by a six-point drop in his swinging strike rate. But perhaps the best sign of an emerging breakout is that Santana’s actually getting the ball in the air. After hitting nearly twice as many grounders as flies over the past two seasons, he’s currently hitting just 16% of his batted balls on the ground. I wouldn’t expect him to rock a 60% fly ball rate all season, but there are early signs here of a mechanical adjustment or launch angle shift. I’ll be Going Deep on Friday to see if we can identify what those changes may be, but for now I’m simply buying.
Joc Pederson, OF Los Angeles Dodgers
Case for Legitness: 22 PAs, 3 HR, 8 R
Argument: As the ever-eloquent George W. Bush once said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.” If you’ve played fantasy baseball for more than two seasons, it’s easy to see where I’m going with this: Pederson has had some hot March/April streaks in the past, most notably in 2015 and 2016. In the end though, Joc always ends up being Joc. So far, he’s off to a vintage start by blasting three yaks into the grandstands and adding a double across 21 PAs. It’s nice to see, but a hot streak in the beginning of a season is the same as a hot streak in the dog days of August. Pederson’s batted ball profile isn’t looking much different than it always does, and his 60% HR/FB rate shows he’s clearly just had a few good hits that went yard. The Dodgers get a lot of grief for platooning guys, but with Pederson’s career .581 OPS against southpaws there’s really no reason he should start against lefties. In the end, I think 2019 Joc will look a lot like every other version of Joc. So, should you rush to the wire and risk getting fooled a third time, or load the chopper and make it rain?
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
Tim Beckham, SS Seattle Mariners
Case for Legitness: 31 PAs, 3 HR, 11 H, 8 R
Argument: Every fantasy season has its guys who go gangbusters for a week or two before settling into who we expected them to be. Usually they fly up the “Most Added” lists before inevitably crashing back to earth once they eventually become themselves again. Beckham is on course to be one of this year’s crop, riding a wave of six extra-base hits and a silly small-sample-juiced 319 wRC+to bump his ownership percentage by 53% in ESPN leagues. I don’t have to state the obvious that Beckham’s current streak isn’t sustainable, but there are some slightly encouraging signs. He’s showing some discipline at the plate, swinging at just 40% of pitches and just 22% of pitches outside the zone, down from the 30+% through his career. Still, he’s swinging and missing at a lot of pitches and there doesn’t seem to be any change in his batted ball profile from his 2018 and 2017 seasons. He didn’t hit the ball particularly hard in 2018, with a below-average exit velocity, so it’s hard to say he’s due for a breakout. Ultimately, I’m passing on Beckham as a waiver wire add for now, but I’ll be keeping any eye to see if there are indications that the plate discipline changes stick. If that’s the case, he’ll be interesting in the second-third of an improved Mariners lineup. It’s not that he’ll be bad otherwise, but he’s not someone who needs to be owned in over 50% of leagues.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
Kolten Wong, 2B St. Louis Cardinals
Case for Legitness: 20 PAs, 3 HR, 2 SB
Argument: Any player who has multiple swipes and long balls in less than a one-week span deserves a look, so consider this due diligence. Wong hit his third home run of the season as I’m writing this, so maybe he’s sensing some of the bad juju I’m about to put in the air—but despite the hot start there’s not a ton to like about the Cardinals’ 28-year-old second baseman. His career triple-slash of .257/.327/.385 says more than any advanced analysis would, but Wong’s Statcast page is the analytics equivalent of a sad trombone noise. In 2018, he ranked well below the rest of the league in average exit velocity, and his expected slugging that season just bums me out too much to actually type. Even the stolen bases this season seem fluky, as Wong ranked in the bottom third of the league in average sprint speed last year and was caught stealing five times in just 11 attempts. So far this season, he’s hitting extra fly balls and gotten lucky with a few that have cleared the yard, but even this hot streak comes in spite of a 50% soft contact rate. Sad trombone indeed.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
Ryon Healy, 1B Seattle Mariners
Case for Legitness: 31 PA, 2 HR, 8 2B
Argument: Healy has averaged about 25 homers and 75 RBI over the past two seasons, yet has still managed to disappoint fantasy owners. Most of that disappointment rides on his inability to get on base, with a miniscule walk rate and mediocre strikeout rate conspiring to limit Healy’s contributions to counting stats and batting average. Essentially, he’s been a one-and-a-half category player, capable of contributing in homers and kind of contributing in RBI—not exactly 100% ownership material. That said, there’s some intrigue here. First, Healy’s expected stats show he was extremely unlucky last season, with the differential between his xwOBA of .320 and actual wOBA of .296 ranking him among the 30 unluckiest batters in the league last year. Last season’s .257 BABIP was well below his career .303, supporting the theory that bad luck may have factored into his .235 average. With the Mariners currently rocking over seven runs per game in the season’s early going, there should be plenty of opportunities for Healy to generate runs if he hangs in the top two-thirds of the order. There’s potential here for a 65/30/85/.270 line, which is roster-worthy in leagues where guys like C.J. Cron, Eric Hosmer, or Trey Mancini are owned.
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