Each week we’ll look at a handful of different players who fantasy managers in deeper leagues should consider picking up. Many of these players will have the most value in larger leagues where waiver wire options aren’t as plentiful. Still, they could also occasionally be useful additions in other, more standard-sized leagues depending on your options at their position. This week it’s Griffin Jax, Michael King, Connor Joe, and Joey Lucchesi who are worth your time as potential additions in deep leagues.
All roster percentages mentioned in this column are via Yahoo fantasy leagues as of Friday afternoon.
Griffin Jax – 5%
One of baseball’s most utilized high-leverage relievers so far this season, Jax has amassed six high-leverage appearances so far for Rocco Baldelli’s Minnesota Twins, tied for the third-most in the league behind only David Bednar, James Karinchak, and Matt Brash. It’s not hard to see why either.
The 28-year-old has logged a 2.16 ERA and a 1.90 FIP in 8.1 innings so far, striking out nine batters compared to just two walks allowed. Since the start of the 2022 campaign, the right-hander owns a 3.24 ERA and a 3.04 FIP in 80.2 relief innings while registering a 13.1% swinging strike percentage.
Able to generate swinging strikes with his sweeper, four-seamer, and changeup alike, his stuff has been particularly excellent this season. So far, Jax has generated a whiff rate of 30% or higher with both his sweeper (32.5%) and his four-seamer (33.3%). Last season, both his sweeper (36.8% and changeup (31.7%) topped the 30% mark in terms of whiff rate. What’s more, entering play Friday, just three qualified relievers have a higher overall Stuff+ number than Jax, whose stuff grades out among some of the league’s best relievers.
*All Stuff+ data via FanGraphs
Jax has also been particularly good at generating swings and misses, especially outside of the zone. His 41.4% chase rate so far sits in the 98th percentile league-wide, while his 31.4% whiff rate is in the 80th percentile. To make a long story short, the Twins reliever is adept at missing bats and has the stuff to do so at an elite level. If anything, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his strikeouts per nine-inning rate rise as the season progresses.
Obviously, the strikeouts and minuscule run-prevention numbers play well from a fantasy standpoint for managers looking to lower their weekly ERA or WHIP, but with his ability to miss bats, Jax would have league-winning, or at the very least, game-changing upside for fantasy managers if injuries or ineffectiveness struck Twins closer Jhoan Duran.
Michael King – 9%
Sticking with non-closing relievers who could make an impact in fantasy leagues, particularly saves+holds leagues, we arrive at Michael King, who’s flown a bit under the radar so far in 2023.
King enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, pitching to a 2.29 ERA and a 2.23 FIP in 51 innings while logging 66 strikeouts compared to just six walks and three home runs allowed. The right-hander made 34 appearances in 2022, often recording more than three outs in an appearance. Overall, he logged 16 holds and a save. However, his season was cut short in July due to a fractured right elbow.
Back healthy this season, King has seemingly picked up right where he left off. Averaging two innings per outing, the 28-year-old has registered a 1.50 ERA and a 2.01 FIP in 12 innings of work so far. He’s also struck out 14 batters while allowing only two walks.
And while King doesn’t quite have the ninth-inning potential that Jax does in the sense that the Yankees may prefer to keep him in a multi-inning role, although that’s purely speculative. In terms of potentially being next in line for saves, it’s only a matter of time before he starts logging more holds and becomes a fantasy force in saves+holds leagues again.
The veteran is clearly a trusted member of Aaron Boone’s bullpen. He’s tied with four other relievers for the team lead in high-leverage appearances so far and should only see more as the summer progresses, even with Ron Marinaccio, Ian Hamilton, and Wandy Peralta also thriving in setup roles ahead of Clay Holmes.
Connor Joe – 7%
Off to a strong start in his first season in the majors with the Pirates, Joe is batting .340 with a .421 on-base percentage, two home runs, and a stolen base in 57 plate appearances so far for the National League Central franchise.
A .417 BABIP on the young season likely points to some statistical regression coming. So too does a nearly .100 point gap between his wOBA (.451) and xwOBA (.364). Still, this isn’t a situation where Joe is hitting a bunch of weak singles and his production is going to fall off a cliff.
His numbers might dip a bit, but if his quality of contact metrics are anything to go by, they shouldn’t drop too much. Because if anything, the veteran’s metrics look like that of an impact player at the plate, both in real life and in fantasy.
And this type of overall production isn’t tremendously new for the outfielder and first baseman either. He hit .285 with a .379 on-base percentage and eight home runs in 211 plate appearances for Colorado during the 2021 season, logging nearly identical xwOBA and xwOBAcon, not to mention walk and strikeout rates, to his metrics this season.
The biggest key difference is the last column in the table. The one to the right end. Hard-hit rate.
Joe is making much more loud contact this season. In 2022, he registered 52 batted balls with an exit velocity of 100 MPH or greater. He’s already collected 12 batted balls with an exit velocity north of 100 MPH, or about 43% of last season’s total, already after just a handful of weeks.
It makes for some intriguing fantasy upside for a player like Joe when combined with his elite ability to lay off pitches outside the zone.
What’s more, due to Oneil Cruz’s ankle injury, Joe has found himself hitting further up the lineup, which will only help his counting stat upside, especially considering the amount of quality contact he’s making.
Prior to the Cruz injury, Joe was predominantly batting sixth or seventh. Since then, he’s largely hit in the third, fourth, and fifth range. And while the Pirates shouldn’t be confused with an elite run-scoring team, the more plate appearances the outfielder and first baseman receives, the better. It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll be hitting behind some combination of Ke’Bryan Hayes ( 50% hard-hit rate, 8.3 K%, .285 xBA), Bryan Reynolds (.858 OPS), Andrew McCutchen (.943 OPS) and Carlos Santana (.346 on-base percentage).
Joey Lucchesi – 4%
Sometimes, in the right scenarios depending on roster construction, it makes sense to add a player purely to have them contribute in one category. Often times that’s stolen bases or saves, but with starters qualifying for pitcher wins less often nowadays, pitcher wins are slowly starting to fall into a similar category.
Furthermore, finding starters on the waiver wire, especially in deeper leagues, in fantasy-friendly situations with solid pitcher win potential isn’t exactly a common occurrence.
With that in mind, it all makes Lucchesi worth a look here. The right-hander hasn’t pitched in the majors this season but was sold at the Triple-A level for the Mets’ top minor league affiliate, turning in a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings while collecting 16 strikeouts compared to seven walks allowed.
He’s certainly not short on major league experience either, with plenty of early-career starts and innings while with the San Diego Padres.
What’s more, Lucchesi registered a combined 18 games in those seasons.
All things considered, he’s probably in a better spot to win games this time in New York on a high-scoring Mets team, provided he can stick in the rotation, something that’s certainly possible, at least in the short term with Justin Verlander, José Quintana, Elieser Hernandez and Carlos Carrasco all on the injured list.
The former Padre is set to make his Mets 2023 debut on Friday against the San Francisco Giants. If he can stick in the rotation for the next four turns through said rotation, he’d be lined up to face the Washington Nationals twice, once at home and once on the road, a road game in Detroit against the Tigers and a home matchup with the Colorado Rockies.
As of the beginning of play on Friday, all three teams were amongst the six-lowest scoring teams in the Majors.
The Mets, it should be noted, were behind just seven teams in the league in terms of total runs scored. Perhaps most crucially, New York’s rotation has accumulated nine pitcher wins so far, the third-most in baseball.
Graphic adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)
Excellent call on Lucchesi’s schedule. That shouldn’t be ignored.