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 Christian Bethancourt, Jordan Hicks, Carlos Santana, and J.P. Crawford 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.
Christian Bethancourt – 13%
As of the beginning of play on Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays led baseball with 210 runs scored, 15 more than the next team on the list.
Unsurprisingly, nearly every member of Tampa Bay’s lineup is off to a strong start this season. Wander Franco, Yandy Díaz and Josh Lowe are having bounce-back years at the plate. Brandon Lowe is in the midst of an excellent bounce-back campaign.
Basically, everywhere you look there’s a Tampa Bay hitter who is doing well, or rather extremely well, at the plate.
Bethancourt is one of those hitters for the Rays too, he just doesn’t have the surface-level metrics to back it up. Or at least in places he doesn’t.
The catcher is batting .224 with a .274 on-base percentage this season, but he has connected on five home runs already in 73 plate appearances.
Digging past the batting average and the on-base percentage, there’s a .238 BABIP that is the first and perhaps most obvious indicator of positive regression coming soon, though there’s more to it than that. More too than a .366 xwOBA that looms large over a decidedly not as great .328 wOBA.
It’s both the BABIP and the xwOBA, but it’s also Bethancourt’s ability to make loud contact this season, something that the 31-year-old has been very much elite at.
Entering play on Friday, the veteran ranks in the 92nd percentile or better in xSLG (92nd, .561), average exit velocity (92nd, 92.9 MPH), barrel rate (95th, 19.1%), and hard-hit rate (97th, 57.4%).
Admittedly, he hasn’t been quite so elite in terms of swinging and missing at pitches, with some less-than-stellar plate discipline-related metrics.
Those metrics might curtail his batting average a bit moving forward, but the backstop is making more than enough quality contact to help assuage those concerns. Bethancourt is sporting a higher hard-hit rate than the likes of Willson Contreras, Will Smith, and Sean Murphy this season. In actuality, his hard-hit rate is higher than that of any qualified catcher so far in 2023. And only Murphy is sporting a higher barrel rate.
Once the eventual positive regression kicks in and Bethancourt’s BABIP and wOBA start to even out and move toward the mean, his counting stats will only improve. And with a regular role in the league’s best lineup, the positive regression will be even more fantasy-relevant
Jordan Hicks – 2%
Sticking with players whose surface-level stats don’t tell the whole story, Jordan Hicks has pitched to a 5.84 ERA and a 4.99 FIP in 12.1 innings this season. He’s chipped in with two holds and has added 21 strikeouts and eight walks during that span.
If you’re doing the math at home, you’d know that checks out to 15.32 strikeouts per nine innings and 8.76 walks allowed per nine frames.
In short, plenty of missed bats, but plenty of free passes too. With his surface-level metrics in mind, it should come as no surprise that the 26-year-old ranks in the 84th percentile or better in whiff rate and strikeout rate, while sitting in the third percentile in walk rate.
Still, it’s looking at the stats below the surface here that make Hicks a more than worthwhile pickup for fantasy managers in saves+holds leagues. Of the eight earned runs, 12 walks and two home runs that the Cardinals reliever has allowed this season, six of those runs, six of the walks and one of the home runs came in his first four appearances of the season from March 30 to April 7.
Since that April 7 appearance, in which he allowed two hits, a walk, and a home run in an inning against the Brewers in Milwaukee, Hicks has allowed just two earned runs in his last eight innings while striking out 17 of the 39 batters he’s faced, good for a 2.25 ERA, a 2.99 FIP and 19.13 strikeout per nine frames.
Now, the flip side is that Hicks is still walking batters at a less-than-ideal rate. Even in his recent run of form, the reliever surrendered 6.75 walks per nine frames.
But, his ability to miss bats and limit runs at elite rates make him a worthwhile fantasy addition.
He’s unlikely to unseat Ryan Helsley as the primary ninth-inning option in St. Louis, nor is he likely to overtake Giovanny Gallegoes as the top setup option and next reliever in line for saves, but if Hicks keeps pitching like this he’s going to see more high-leverage work, and eventually more holds.
Similar to Matt Brash, Bryan Abreu, and José Alvarado before he started getting ninth-inning work, Hicks can be a difference maker with strikeouts in weekly head-to-head or Roto formats. You just might have to live with a few walks here and there along the way.
Carlos Santana – 12%
One of the key players in Pittsburgh’s strong start this season, Santana is more or less doing what he’s always done, draw walks, not strikeout out all that much, and contribute solid power numbers.
The biggest difference this season is that it seems that the BABIP is playing nice.
Santana turned in quality underlying metrics for the vast majority of the last three seasons, but his BABIP dropped below the .230 mark in each of the previous three campaigns. Prior to the 2020 season, Santana’s BABIP had fallen below the .249 mark just once in his career.
Now, with his BABIP a bit more production-friendly and a regular role-hitting cleanup for the suddenly resurgent Pirates, Santana looks like a quality fantasy addition for managers in search of RBI, on-base percentage, or some added home run production.
The slugger has hit fourth every game he’s played in for Pittsburgh so far, batting in the heart of a lineup that is ninth in runs scored and wRC+ and tied for fifth in walk rate. Only four other teams, Texas, Atlanta, Baltimore, and the Dodgers, rank in the top 10 in all three categories.
J.P. Crawford – 5%
J.P. Crawford has always had good plate discipline in terms of not offering at pitches outside the zone. His chase rate has never risen above 23% and has finished in the 85th percentile or better in four of the last five years.
His whiff rate metrics too have been generally strong. Crawford has had a whiff rate below 20% in each of his last three campaigns and is on track to do so again this year with a 17.1% whiff rate.
However, despite all those quality numbers, he’s never hit the ball particularly hard on a regular basis. Prior to this season, Crawford’s career-best in terms of hard-hit rate was just 34.1%. What’s more, his hard-hit rate finished below 31% in each of the last two full seasons.
And while the veteran shortstop’s hard-hit rate hasn’t jumped all that significantly so far, it’s sitting at 36.6% entering play Friday, he’s been able to do serious damage against four-seamers so far, which is significant.
The ability to do more damage against four-seamers also likely has a hand in Crawford’s xwOBA (.348) and xwOBAcon (.351) taking considerable steps forward this year. If the season ended today, both would be career-highs by a significant margin for the shortstop.
As long as Crawford can continue to do damage against four-seamers while maintaining his quality plate discipline – he’s also walking at a career-best rate so far with a 19.7% walk rate – he’ll make for a quality fantasy shortstop option in both standard-scoring leagues and leagues where on-base percentage is part of the scoring.
And while the longtime Mariner is batting just .226 so far this season, like with Bethancourt, there’s some positive regression on the horizon. His aforementioned .348 xwOBA is close to .020 points higher than his actual .329 wOBA, with a similar-sized gap between his .226 average and .253 xBA.
Graphic adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)