(Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)
Another week of April baseball is in the books, and while most players’ rate stats aren’t worth believing just yet, there’s still plenty of production happening to which we can ascribe fantasy relevance. The league leaders in RBI and BB have already amassed 15 and 16, respectively, while you’ve got four studs tied with seven doubles at this point in the young season. If this is your first time encountering this column, it bears mentioning that the primary focus here is viability in points leagues, as opposed to roto or H2H 5×5 categories. Extra-base hits, net stolen bases, and high OBPs whose constituent makeup of high BB/K ratios in hitters are all things that will earn a guy favor for PL purposes. As far as pitchers, an innings hog who can rack up quality starts will get attention here even if a mediocre ERA or unimpressive WHIP might deter prospective owners in categories leagues. As always, chime in below the article with comments or questions about points league competition.
Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s player breakdowns:
Jed Lowrie (2B, OAK) — What’s not to like? 22 hits, 37 total bases, and a trio of doubles so far for Lowrie in 2018. In the words of reader Stu last week, he’s a “vastly underowned…points league stud.” Couldn’t agree more. He sits at 42% ownership in Yahoo leagues and 40.8% for ESPN leagues, which are still surprisingly low numbers given his performance at the plate thus far. Add rates do indicate that people are catching on, however: Lowrie’s ownership percentages were in the low 30s on both websites as recently as Friday. The only guy to hit more doubles than Oakland’s keystone man in 2017 happened to be a 2B-eligible switch-hitter just like Lowrie, and that was All-Star Cleveland Indian Jose Ramírez. I’m not sure what’s scaring people off, honestly. He’s especially caught fire of late, hitting his four homers and nine of his 14 RBI in the last seven games. Lowrie is admittedly been toying with a strikeout rate of 20% to start the year, but a couple of multi-hit efforts at Safeco this weekend and a hard-hit rate north of 40% on the year are the sort of thing that can convince a prospective fantasy owner to be very forgiving of some Ks. Simply put, you are really screwing up if you don’t roster an available Lowrie immediately. Oakland draws the White Sox and Red Sox in upcoming series this week. I know you’re wondering, even if they’re irrelevant numbers for the current year: Lowrie hit .308 and .423 against those respective clubs in 2017. I’m getting my hopes up for a big fantasy week from him, and I won’t be convinced otherwise.
Ivan Nova (SP, PIT) — Nova is probably going to make a lot of categories managers stress out over whether to sign up for his WHIP of 1.17 or to shy away from his ERA of 4.88. The upshot of an ERA that high for Nova’s PL viability? He’s just barely squeaking by within the minimum IP/maximum ER requirements for his quality starts thus far, as he’s allowed precisely three runs in two straight outings. Fanning 15 batters across the 13 2/3 innings during those QS showings definitely helped, as did the fact that the Pirates were able to help Nova garner the bonus point boost of a win each time. But it’s a tenuous tightrope Nova is walking. If his .290 BABIP starts to regress, and if the defense of his fellow Pirates experiences a decline (keep apprised of the Josh Harrison diagnosis early this week for this reason) and then Nova’s FIP of 4.14 suddenly isn’t enough to go the distance, then he could end up being a dicey option at SP for all formats. Until that happens, however, he’s probably not a bad streamer to have on hand. Nova has been particularly good against LHB and at home thus far, and I’m monitoring those splits very closely if I want to trust and utilize Nova once the time arrives in May or early June where I can really place serious stock in some of the rate stats he’s posting. Drawing the Phillies for his next start means a benching is probably in order even if you do scoop him.
Ketel Marte (2B/SS, ARI) — Marte’s case is one that is among my favorite types to identify: a guy who’s understandably getting no love in traditional 5×5 circles who has sneaky value in points formats. The lack of power and steals are immediate deterrents for people managing rosters in a categories world, which I totally get, especially when he lacks a .300-caliber batting average that might make those huge sacrifices worth it. But a .270 bat with four doubles, two triples, and just a dozen strikeouts through 63 AB is a far cry from dealbreaker territory for me in PL. Marte had scored in five consecutive games before Sunday’s contest against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, but even without scoring he did extend his current streak of games with at least one hit to 10 consecutive. By no means am I suggesting that Marte has the chops to be a bona fide set-and-forget fantasy play, but he has an established spot in Arizona’s batting order as their No. 2 guy sandwiched in between the likes of David Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt, and A.J. Pollock so his potential to generate offense is definitely worth noting especially if he can keep clubbing XBH. Marte’s walk rate is unfortunately quite low, so that bears paying attention to, relative to his Ks. His ability to fill needs or positional voids is worth a look in points formats, even if only as depth or temporary help to you during the DL stints of Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus, or Jonathan Schoop.
Maikel Franco (3B, PHI) — For me, Franco is a watchlist candidate at the moment. He’s amassed a league-leading 15 RBI so it probably appears strange to be hesitant on him in the fantasy world. But it is still so early, and ultimately, I’m seeing the forest for the trees and acknowledging that a grand slam in a 20-1 blowout of Miami accounts for almost a third of his RBI. I don’t dislike Franco…yet. Caution with the add button is advised, though, until some more concrete reliability develops. I’m pleased to see he’s striking out less and earning more walks this season than ever before in his majors career, but we’re still dealing with a small sample, so one can’t treat that as a permanent improvement just yet. In a weird pro-versus-con quandary, both his soft- and hard-hit rates are at four-year lows, so I’m torn as to which nadir I should believe. Most owners across formats will have done one of two things at this point: they either pounced immediately after his two best games last week and want to believe power will start flooding in regularly along with the ribbies, or they are hesitating since two bombs at a .237 average clip is back-end production for a starting fantasy 3B, especially when that’s largely buoyed by the slam-fueled outings against a rebuilding Marlins franchise. Ultimately, I think it’s good news that his BABIP is .219 because one would think that just HAS to get better, even though Franco’s had almost unconscionably bad BABIP luck over his career (.234 last year). He’s already got a double and a triple to his credit, as well as two sac flies, but the current TB count of 18 is ultimately a little lacking in the PL world. We’re at that delicate juncture where it’s either cause for concern that he’s started just 11 of 15 games or too early to penalize him since the production has been serviceable regardless. It’s an important rotation of playing time to monitor, however, since the red-hot Scott Kingery will push Franco for chances at third and could limit the latter’s fantasy contributions.
Bartolo Colón (SP, TEX) — This is going to seem way more reactionary than it should, since Big Sexy was off to a solid start this year even before he took a perfect game bid into the eighth inning against Houston on Sunday evening. Gems like the one he pitched at Minute Maid Park can sometimes end up being the type of outings that are arguably more valuable in PL; squaring off against Justin Verlander in a low-scoring pitcher’s duel that went to extras meant that Colón’s singular earned run contextually cost him a shot at the win. Thankfully for the small minority of fantasy managers who own Colón at all, those who have him in a points league will have benefited from his awesome quality start. His ERA of 1.45 and WHIP of 0.70 will likely attract some 5×5 enthusiasts as well, but I think people will largely still be gunshy on adding the veteran because they a) don’t like that he’s 44 years old, b) think Sunday’s clinic was a one-off fluke that can never be replicated, or c) are unsure of his rotation spot remaining secure once Doug Fister gets healthy. Colón had another excellent start two weeks ago and had made a couple relief appearances, but his utility is obvious and needed on this beleaguered Texas team if he can stay sharp. His rate of innings consumption only stand to go up in his current situation, which clearly bodes well for PL play that tracks IP, and it makes sense to harvest an unreal K/BB of 8.50 while you can if you have the space for him. If you’re able to pull this off, I’d recommend letting the wave of knee-jerk adds wash past this week, and then try and surreptitiously snag him Friday night from free agency before his scheduled start against the Mariners for Saturday.
Andrew Cashner (SP, BAL) — As far as amassing those quality starts goes, Cashner owners could be in store for a third consecutive when he pitches Tuesday. After a Sunday that saw six postponements, many of which drastically affected a ton of H2H matchups in their final hours, some good fantasy news coming from bad weather is probably welcome as the new week starts. Cashner was supposed to start Monday’s series finale versus Boston, but with that game now being pushed back in a pre-emptive strike, he gets a less daunting task in facing Detroit tomorrow instead. Cashner hasn’t allowed the 6 BB he’s issued over his last two starts to sour the outcomes of those outings, as just one total ER has come across his last 13 IP combined against Toronto and the Yankees. He’s never going to be a high-strikeout guy but he’s already doing better this year in that regard with a K/9 that sits at 8.0 for now, which is an encouraging start even if only because it’s a welcome improvement over his troubling 4.64 mark from last year. Cashner also does rely a lot on the defense of induced groundballs to get the job done, so I would say don’t look at his FIP if you don’t want to be stressed out. But, ultimately, there is value in what Cashner brings to the mound if you are of the mind to stream a decent righty against the right competition. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to be a source of QS moving forward, even when the other Orioles on the field can’t necessarily get him a win.
Christian Villanueva (3B, SDP) — He’s been the epitome of hot-and-cold, so this is a situation in which I’d recommend seeing how he fares against the Dodgers to really gauge whether he’s really found a consistent groove at the plate. Not to take away from his fantastic 5-for-11 chunk of work in the series against the Giants, but it just makes sense to remain skeptical of a guy who’s just beginning his MLB career. Having said that, he has fared decently against LHP and has homered off Alex Wood before, so take that tidbit for what it’s worth. I’m digging the 31 total bases, but what really intrigued me was that of all the available FA bats in my Yahoo points league, Villanueva is tied for most XBH alongside the aforementioned Kingery and also fellow Padre Jose Pirela. Furthermore, his five homers are tied with the also-available Matt Davidson, whose sudden Opening Day explosion of three bombs is looking more and more suspect as we begin the second half of April. You could do much worse for depth at 3B than Villanueva right now, at a time when Josh Donaldson, Eugenio Suarez, and Jake Lamb are all sidelined with injuries.