Don’t look now, but the offense is starting to pick back up! After a barren start to the year in terms of run scorings, hitters over the past 14 days have been hitting 6% better than they had been over the rest of the year, with power production specifically being on the upswing. Hopefully, this is a sign of what is to come.
Fantasy baseball teams are built through the draft, but an argument can be made that leagues are won through in-season management. Being able to leverage your lineups appropriately so that you are starting the players who are a) playing in the most games and b) are in the most favorable matchups will allow accumulating as many statistics as possible, regardless of league format.
One common way to create the optimal lineup is streaming hitters off of the fantasy baseball waiver wire. It is very common to pick up pitchers who have favorable matchups, but what about doing the same for hitters? Outside of batting average, the other four traditional 5×5 hitter categories are counting statistics, meaning that you can gain a legitimate edge by targeting undervalued hitters on the waiver wire you have the best opportunity to produce. That is the focus of this column. Every week, we will be taking a look at which hitters are the most valuable streaming assets off of the waiver wire. All of these players are under 50% owned in yahoo leagues, yet could be premium contributors for the upcoming week. Who are these intriguing fantasy baseball streamers? Let us dive right into it!
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What Teams Offers The Most Streaming Value?
When it comes to streaming hitters, outside of overall talent, there are three factors to pay attention to:
- How many games is that team playing this week? Playing in the most games gives you the most opportunity to rack up the counting statistics we are looking for. Six games are the standard for a week, with anything above that very enticing and anything below that worrisome.
- What parks are they playing at? There is a major difference between playing your games in Colorado and playing your games in Oakland when it comes to offensive success. Targeting players who will benefit from playing in hitter-friendly targets is a great way to gain an edge over your opponents. For this study, we will be using Baseball Savant‘s park factors to rank the friendliness of the stadiums each team is playing at for this upcoming week.
- Which pitchers are they facing? To calculate the strength of the opponent, we will be using Fangraphs Depth Chart‘s ERA projections for each starting pitcher they will face.
By taking the average park factor and projected opposing starting pitcher ERA for each of their games, and then adding a boost based on the game played, we can accurately measure the “friendliness” of each team’s upcoming matchups. Speaking of which, it is time for the great reveal!
Well, this isn’t the best week in terms of the number of games. Not only do no teams play eight games this week, but only one-third of the league plays seven games. Even then, a lot of teams with seven-game weeks (Yankees, Pirates, Padres, Cardinals, Cubs, Braves) do not have ideal matchups, either from a ballpark or opponent standpoint.
Regardless, this is going to be the case for everyone; the bar is slightly lower to find a quality hitter streamer this week. Plus, with multiple teams offering a plethora of streaming options, there are more players to target than you may think. So, who is in a position to thrive this week? Let’s take a closer look!
Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs
The captain is back! It has been a turbulent season for Brandon Belt, who has dealt with multiple injured list stints, but he’s now healthy and ready to contribute to a surging Giants team, which should pique the interest of fantasy managers of all types of leagues.
When we talk about the elite first baseman in the game, Belt’s name doesn’t often get mentioned, but it should be. Since the start of the 2020 season, the 34-year-old has an absurd 155 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), along with a .275/.385/.562 slash line and .400 weighted on-base average . Even though this season hasn’t been quite as dominant for him, he still possesses a 122 wRC+, while those numbers are likely impacted by him trying to play through a knee injury.
No hitter in baseball is better at combining swings in the zone with takes outside the zone quite like Belt; he’s an easy hitter to trust in terms of getting on base and hitting for power. He’s been bit by slightly poor batted-ball luck so far, but you should be getting a .250 hitter with tremendous power, while also hitting in the middle of the lineup for the offense scoring the fourth-most runs per game this season. San Francisco plays seven games this week, making San Francisco hitters stand out, but Belt can easily be a long-term addition to your fantasy team. When healthy, this is legitimately a top-ten first baseman (both fantasy and real-life), and he has no business being under 50% rostered. Let’s change that!
2B/3B/OF Jon Berti, Miami Marlins
Cooper: 36% rostered
Berti: 34% rostered
When you think about the Marlins, it’s easy to see them as a rebuilding team relying a lot on pitching, which you’d expect to do when your top two pitchers are Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez. However, Miami has a positive run differential (+22) this season, and a lot of it has to do with an offense in the top-12 in runs scored this season.
Coming into the season, it wasn’t a given that either of these players would receive everyday plate appearances, but that’s what they are getting now. Let’s start with Cooper, the player of the two that was actually in the opening day lineup for Miami. What’s not to like with the 31-year-old? With a 10.3% barrel rate, the power is clearly there, and he’s also someone who has demonstrated the consistent ability to hit the ball hard (43.5%) and on the line (28.1% line-drive rate). Hence, why he’s been able to run a career .369 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for his career, with ZIPs going as far as to assign him with a .355 projected BABIP and .277 batting average.
In essence, Cooper is a plus for batting average, hits second or third for a productive lineup, has strong power potential, and also has positional versatility. That almost sounds too good to be true, as does Jon Berti’s fantasy profile. As someone who has consistently ranked at the top of the league in sprint speed, the 32-year-old has always been a fascinating player, but he’s now getting everyday plate appearances, and is making the most of it. Although his current .365 BABIP is quite high, leading to a 132 wRC+, he is going to run a higher BABIP just based on his batted-ball sprays and elite speed. Plus, we’re also seeing him hit more fly balls (22.2%), leading to more power (6.6% barrel), while his plate discipline (career 11.4% BB) also helps him get on base.
Considering Berti has already stolen 14 bases this season, that’s notable; it’s rare to be able to secure a player off the waiver wire that can be a major asset in terms of stolen bases while not being a liability elsewhere. As long as he continues to perform, he’ll get everyday at bats for as long as Joey Wendle is out, giving him the opportunity to shine at two positions (second base, third base) where any sort of production is hard to come by . The Marlins play seven games this week, including three against a poor Rockies pitching staff, and are a prime team to stream. These two hitters stand out as the premium options, and, hopefully, should be productive contributors for your fantasy team beyond this week. Something is clearly brewing in the Magic City, and it’s time to capitalize on it.
What restaurant has the best burger? As a California man myself, I could be biased and say In’N’Out, though honestly, the best burgers generally come at the places you know less about. We could get into discussions on hamburgers versus cheeseburgers, but let’s not start another civil war.
Rather, let’s sing the praises of Jake Burger! As a first-round pick in the 2017 draft, expectations were high for Burger coming out of Missouri State and making his MLB debut in a hurry. Instead, injuries essentially wiped out his chances of playing between 2018 and 2020, meaning that he entered 2021 as a 25-year-old with only 200 plate appearances above Rookie Ball. Regardless, he performed well enough to earn his MLB debut, and he’s now solidified himself in the White Sox lineup for the foreseeable future.
With a very high 35.1% chase rate, 17.5% swinging-strike rate, and 29.2% strikeout rate, Burger isn’t a hitter that is going to wow you with quality plate discipline and contact skills. However, when you hit the ball as hard as he does, that matters a lot less. For his career, nearly half (48.7%) of his batted balls have been hit 95 MPH or harder, while he has demolished the baseball with a 16.3% barrel rate this season, leading to a 135 wRC+.
The strikeout rate may seem to be a concern in terms of his batting average, but Burger’s quality of contact gives him some leeway in that regard, as he should run a high enough BABIP to be a .250 hitter in similar fashion to Garrett Cooper. When you factor in the power he brigs to the table at a weak offensive position, as well as his lineup spot (5th), this profile suddenly becomes very intriguing. The White Sox not only have seven games this week, but they all come at home, with four against the Orioles, who will run out starting pitchers with a projected FIP from Fangraphs Depth Chart projections of 4.65 or higher. We’ve been waiting for the South Siders to break out all season long, and it can happen here. At the very least, you should be satisfied with the Burger you get this week.
Anytime you can get a player with a career .364 weighted on-base average off the waiver wire, you have to do it, even if they’re 54-years-old, right? I’m now being informed that this is not Diamondbacks World Series hero Luis Gonzalez, but a completely unrelated Luis Gonzalez. Oh well!
To be fair to this Luis Gonzalez, he does have a 128 career wRC+ through 179 plate appearances, so he’s clearly the better player. All kidding aside, the Giants aren’t a team filled with superstar talent, but rather, undervalued players that president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi continues to acquire through small trades, signings, or waiver claims. Case in point Luis Gonzalez, who was a waiver claim last August and is now an everyday outfielder for San Francisco.
Now, Gonzalez’s 125 wRC+ is boosted by a .364 BABIP, which his quality of contact numbers do not back up. Nevertheless, because of his recent success, Gonzalez has found himself as the top of the Giants lineup against right-handed pitchers, who San Francisco will face five of seven games this week. In a very productive offense, that means a lot of runs scored, while he also has already attempted seven steals in just 44 games. Sometimes, not all production needs to be sexy, and in this case, you’ll be getting a player who’ll score runs and potentially steal a base or two. In 15-team leagues, that has to sound quite appealing. He may not have a walkout World Series hit yet, but don’t let that sway you!
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