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 Trevor Larnach, Jake Burger, Bryan Baker, and Blake Sabol 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.
Trevor Larnach – 7%
In many cases, a player who’s a staple in the middle of the order of a club is worth picking up in most fantasy formats.
In even more cases, a staple in the middle of a club’s lineup who also has strong batted ball and solid plate discipline metrics is certainly worth picking up in most fantasy formats.
Which is, the long way of saying that Trevor Larnach should be added right now, or yesterday, in pretty much all leagues.
The outfielder has hit first, third or fourth in 19 of his 25 starts for the Twins this season.
Oftentimes, he’s hit behind some combination of Max Kepler, Carlos Correa, and Joey Gallo. Moving forward, with Jorge Polanco back from the injured list, some combination of those players and Byron Buxton seem likely to hit in the top third of the order ahead of Larnach, which should provide the 26-year-old with even more RBI opportunities
Larnach has already accumulated 18 RBI this season, tied for the 10th-most in the league. The RBI should continue with regularity, especially if the slugger keeps making the type of contact that he has so far.
Entering play Friday, the Oregon State product owned a 13.0% barrel rate, a .461 xwOBAcon, and a 42.6% hard-hit rate through 101 plate appearances and 54 batted ball events. He’s also hitting line drives more often (Larnach owns a 29.6% line drive rate, up from 18.1% last year) and has cut his grounder ball rate considerably from 41.9% last year to 29.6% this year. That pairing is always helpful where hitters are concerned.
And while he’s striking out 31.7% percent of the time, a number that is in the 11th percentile league-wide, much of Larnach’s swing-and-miss issues might be tied to missing on pitches in the zone.
As of Friday, the 26-year-old isn’t offering at a ton of pitches outside the zone, with a decidedly above-average 23.5% chase rate. For context, that metric sits in the 75th percentile league-wide.
What’s not decidedly above average is Larnach’s 76.9% contact rate, which is the 10th-lowest in the sport among batters with at least 100 plate appearances this season.
Of course, having a low in-zone contact rate isn’t the end of the world for some batters where considering fantasy production, just look at some of the names with a lower in-zone contact rate than Larnach. However, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on for a player like Larnach, who has the fewest in-zone swings among players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances so far.
Clearly, swinging at all pitches inside the zone isn’t going to provide the same result. Not all pitches in the zone are obviously the same. However, given Larnach’s .351 xwOBA so far, if he can make a bit more contact in the zone, it should lead to improved production across the board.
Even with a low in-zone contact rate, Larnach is someone to add in fantasy leagues given his current production and placement within the Twins lineup. But if he can improve his ability to make contact with pitches in the zone, his fantasy upside will skyrocket.
Jake Burger – 7%
Another American League Central hitter rostered in far too few leagues is Jake Burger.
His .240 average and .339 on-base percentage don’t exactly show it, but he’s been tearing the cover off the baseball.
Ok, so his 1.019 OPS somewhat hints at the infielder’s production so far, but he’s generally been elite in terms of making contact with the ball.
Looking for a third baseman with an xwOBA in the 98th percentile? That’d be Jake Burger.
Want a hitter who’s ranked in an even higher percentile in terms of barrel rate and xSLG? That’d also be Jake Burger.
His 32.2% strikeout rate is hardly ideal, as is his 30.3% whiff rate and 40.5% chase rate. Still, Burger is offsetting those to a degree with a 10.2% walk rate. A walk rate certainly helps increase his value in leagues where on-base percentage is part of the scoring.
Regardless of the scoring format, though, Burger is making so much loud contact when he does hit the ball that it all but assuages any concerns about strikeouts potentially taking the air out of his overall fantasy production.
And while he doesn’t have a stolen base yet, the infielder does rank in the 82nd percentile in Statcast’s sprint speed metric so far. If he can add anywhere between five to 10 stolen bases over the course of the season to go with his loud contact, Burger should have no problem being a decidedly above-average fantasy option from here on out.
Bryan Baker – 4%
Félix Bautista probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon when it comes to closing games in Baltimore. The 28-year-old has turned in a 1.42 ERA and a 2.25 FIP in 12.2 innings so far to go along with six saves in eight chances.
And that’s all without mentioning striking out 24 of 55 batters he’s faced in those 12.2 innings.
Still, if he were to get injured or suddenly struggle mightily – Bautista has allowed five base runners in his last two innings, though both innings ended up being scoreless outings – Bryan Baker looks like the reliever to roster as the next in line for saves and potential ancillary save option.
Of course, Cionel Pérez has Baltimorie’s most high-leverage relief appearances and Yennier Cano has the O’s only save not belonging to Bautista so far, but Baker is the name to watch (and add) here.
Clearly a trusted member of Brandon Hyde’s bullpen, Baker has the most holds on the team with five, as well as the second-most high-leverage appearances on the team after Perez (who has logged a 5.40 ERA and a 4.25 FIP so far) and Bautista.
In part thanks to some excellent stuff, Baker’s overall Stuff+ is tied for the eighth-best in the league among qualified relievers, the right-hander has registered a 1.98 ERA, a 2.25 FIP, 18 strikeouts, and just six walks in 13.2 innings.
Crucially, he’s been equally adept at missing bats and limiting hard contact. Baker sits in the 94th percentile or better in both strikeout rate (35.3%) and hard-hit rate (23.1%). In fact, he’s given up just five batted balls with an exit velocity north of 100 MPH, and one of those five was a ground ball double play.
At worst, Baker looks like a strong option in saves+holds leagues, with the potential to be a league winner in standard leagues if Bautista were to miss an extended period of time due to injury.
Blake Sabol – 7%
With new rules introduced to help increase stolen bases around the league, the amount of said stolen bases has predictably gone up rather significantly. In March and April last season, there were 303 stolen bases.
So far, as of the beginning of play on April 28, there have been 537 stolen bases this season.
And while those increased numbers have negatively impacted the fantasy value of some players with higher stolen base totals given the vast increase in steals league-wide, it’s still relatively difficult to get stolen bases on a regular basis from the catcher position on your fantasy team.
Of the 303 stolen bases in March and April last year, 13 came via catchers. Of the 537 so far this season, just 16 have come from hitters who play the catcher position.
Enter Blake Sabol.
Sabol has two stolen bases already in 19 games this season, making him one of just four catchers with multiple stolen bases so far.
Realmuto and Contreras are obviously going to be fairly difficult to acquire via trade given the lack of fantasy depth at the position, while Barnes isn’t likely to see regular starts once Will Smith returns from the injured list.
In short, it makes Sabol a worthwhile addition for catcher-needy teams, especially considering he’s outfield eligible as well in Yahoo leagues.
Not just a stolen base threat at catcher with multi-position eligibility, Sabol could also contribute where power production is concerned as well.
The former Pirates prospect has collected four home runs, a 13.8% barrel rate, and a .492 xwOBAcon so far in 60 plate appearances.
Admittedly, there is a fair bit of swing and miss to his game so far. The rookie has struck out in 45% of his plate appearances and only has a 3.3% walk rate so far. With those metrics in mind, it’s probably not a surprise that he’s hitting just .232 with a .283 on-base percentage.
Still, despite the strikeouts, Sabol brings more than enough to the table to warrant an add in most sized fantasy leagues, not just deeper ones, either as a catching solution or as a key, versatile bench option.
Graphic adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)
Baker has been solid, but Cano is clearly next man up for the Orioles – he has their two non-Bautista saves so far and has been getting the eighth inning regularly while Baker has been seeing the seventh.