Three Deep League Fantasy Free Agents

The 2017 MLB season will have already begun, you’ve drafted your fantasy squad, and like the cat that ate the canary, you’re feeling fat, sassy & proud of your impeccable fantasy knowledge. As far as you’re concerned, a championship for you is as good as guaranteed, in the bag, checks in the mail, turn out the lgihts the party is over, or whatever cliche you prefer. Then all of the sudden, a black cloud opened up and rained all over your post-draft parade. You found out that your mid-round pitching target will be missing two months with a soggy arm or you realize you only drafted one first basemen, you find out your league commissioner didn’t set IR spots, all things that sudden have you not as confident as before. All of these things can deflate a fantasy owner before the first regular season pitch is even thrown. This is especially true in deep leagues, where it may seem like all the “good players” or household names are owned out of the gate.

Let this article point you to a few players owned in less than 20% of Yahoo Leagues who you might consider adding as an injury replacement or flat out rostering. I’ve included their Steamer Projected Stats, made up of their projected HR/RBI/R/SB/AVG for the season. They could help you eek out some head-to-head wins in the interim, and possibly even long term payoffs in season long leagues.

Justin Bour, 1B, Miami Marlins

Steamer Projections: 19/55/65/1/.265

Yahoo Ownership: 11%

A former power hitting prospect within both the Cubs and Marlins organizations, Bour came on strong in 2015, belting 23 HR’s, earning rookie of the month that September, and making himself an intriguing sleeper in the 2016 fantasy preseason. Many would then consider Bour’s 2016 output a disappointment, as he finished with only 15 home runs. When you consider he missed nearly half a season’s worth of games, it softens the blow. Looking at his slash line,  you’ll see he  hit close to his expectations, posting a mark of .264/.349/.475, which is almost identical to his career averages. Other metrics that were right along with his career averages:

                Category           2016 Performance          Career Average
                  OPS                   .824                   .802
       Home Run/Fly Ball %                  19.2%                  19.3%
    ISO Power (SLG-AVG)                   .211                     .202

He also improved upon his walk percentage by nearly 5%, while cutting the same total off of his K% from the year before. His BABIP was also roughly 20 points lower in 2016 than his career average. So consider that bit of bad luck with the bat, and with injuries, and the fact that he’ll largely be batting 5th in this powerful lineup between Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. You could do much worse while scouring the waiver wire.

Mitch Haniger,  OF, Seattle Mariners

Steamer Projections:  15/52/55/6/.249

Yahoo Ownership: 15%

Let me start by saying, that this is likely far from the first any of you have read about Mitch Haniger. Throughout the minors, he was a power hitter who could also get on base and hit for average. He even showed some speed, compiling double digit stolen base seasons at various minor league levels in both 2015 and 2016. Haniger is one of the more talked about prospects to have earned a spot in Opening Day lineups.

So why the low ownership? Frankly, if I were to speculate, it would largely be due to his performance during his 34 game stint with the D-Backs last year. The numbers he finished with in ’16  do deviate from his career averages. Though it’s a small sample size, let’s compare:

Season         On Base %             SLG %          BABIP
2014 (AA)             .375              .437            .324
2015 (A+/AA)             .307              .499            .347
2016 (AA/AAA)             .418              .983            .357
2016 (Diamondbacks)             .309              .404            .256

During his time in the majors, most of Haniger’s power peripherals weren’t that far off from his typical career numbers (that astronomical minor league 2016 OPS aside), and the true glaring drop was his BABIP, which suggests he may have had beginner’s un-luck. For those who value the late season surge, I would point out that all 5 of his home runs came after September 12th of last year. I’ll add that, for what it’s worth, of Mariners players with 30 or more AB’s this spring, only catcher Mike Zunino and  Nelson Cruz have a higher OPS than Haniger’s 1.057. So while I’m not speculating you don’t know Haniger, the numbers would suggest 85% of Yahoo Fantasy Baseball owners simply aren’t believers yet, and if this information changes that, you’d likely be able to add him in your league. He just might stay there for the duration of the season.

Sean Doolittle, RP, Oakland Athletics

Steamer Projections: 3-3/76 K’s/ 3.26 ERA, 11 SV , 11 HLD (holds)

Yahoo Ownership: 6%

OK, let me get myself comfortable after publishing this, because I’m sure many will feel this one is a stretch, and stretches are usually met with vehement disagreement. It absolutely could be one, and it’s speculative. So I’ll just go ahead and say it now: I believe that by season’s end, Sean Doolittle will have led the A’s in saves and will be more worthy of fantasy rostering than any other Oakland reliever.

I say this not only because he’s done it before, and done it well (see: 2014, 22 SVs, 12.78 K/9 vs 1.15 BB/9). I say this because he genuinely could be the most efficient of the bunch. His primary competition is Ryan Madson and Santiago Casilla. All three throw similar velocity, but history shows managers seek out efficient K/BB ratios.

Some of you, my fellow fantasy baseball enthusiasts, will agree that one of the best ways to predict success is to look at how the most recent seasons’ stats line up against the career averages and try to spot consistency v.s. irregularity, so let’s look at how the three compare. We’ll look at each of their K/9, BB/9, and WHIP, three areas you need from your closer, and weigh them against their career averages:

     Pitcher     2016  K/9                          2016         BB/9    2016 WHIP Career Avg. (3)
Ryan Madson         6.82          2.78         1.28   7.77/2.67/1.27
Santiago Casilla        10.09          2.95         1.19   8.17/3.81/1.28
Sean Doolittle        10.38          1.85         1.05   10.45/1.75/.95

Of the three, Doolittle seems to be the best at doing what you’d expect your closer to do best. So why isn’t he already the closer? This table doesn’t take into consideration the injury history of Doolittle (or Madson, for that matter), and the fact is I would never try to downplay the concerns for reoccurring injury to Doolittle. He’s had repeat shoulder issues, which contributed to him forfeiting the closer role to Madson in the first place.

With this uncertainty, it becomes clear why the low ownership on Doolittle, and to complicate it even further, as of April 1st, Bob Melvin is still telling reporters he is refusing to name an official closer. Madson had the job last year, but has had soreness of his own in his throwing arm, walked too many batters and matched his career high in blown saves last year. Casilla has always been up & down with his K/BB ratios, struggled late last year (and into this spring), and blew even more saves than Madson.

For a post draft free agent add, or IR replacement, in 94% of Yahoo Leagues you’d be able to take a flier on a guy who could easily provide 15+ saves, good K/BB numbers, and could even take the closer job outright IF he stays healthy. What’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re like most fantasy owners and you’re already checking the wire to shore up any post-draft weak spots, consider these 3 players with very low ownership percentages among your potential targets.

Follow/Argue With Me on Twitter!