UPDATE: This column was published prior to the news of the two positive COVID-19 tests on the Mets involving one player and one coach. Thursday's game against the Marlins and Friday's game against the Yankees have been postponed while testing and contact tracing is conducted.
In this unusual truncated season, sometimes it’s helpful to think about context. Going into play on Thursday, the Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Giants, and Mets all had played 26 games already, tied for the most in MLB. Almost halfway home, folks. That would be roughly 70 games in for a normal 162-game season.
Here’s where everyone else stands in regard to games played:
25 - Rays, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Royals, Athletics, Angels, Braves, Diamondbacks
24 - Yankees, Cubs, Rockies, Orioles, Astros, Indians
23 - Rangers
22 - Tigers, Brewers, Reds
21 - Nationals, Blue Jays
20 - Pirates
19 - Phillies
18 - Marlins
13 - Cardinals
Obviously a lot of COVID-19 impacted teams are at the bottom here, with some weather postponements also necessitating some adjustments. It’s still unclear if all of these postponed games will be made up, but we’ve already seen the Cardinals trying to play catch-up in the form of multiple doubleheaders. There’s value to be found in these make-up games, so keep that in mind as you begin to play for the stretch run and prioritize waiver wire targets. Maximizing your roster is going to be more important than ever with folks bunched together in categories.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, August 20th
Joey Bart C, Giants (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
I wasn’t expecting to include Bart in this week’s column, but he jumps to the top of the priority list with news of his promotion on Thursday. Selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 draft, the 23-year-old has produced a .284/.343/.532 batting line with 29 homers through 130 games in the minors. He missed some time last year due to injuries with both of his hands, but he showed good power despite that. There’s some question about where the batting average will settle after he struck out 24.1 percent of the time in Double-A last year, but his ability behind the plate should give him plenty of leash. Let’s have some fun here.
Robinson Cano 2B, Mets (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
Cano finished strong after returning from a hamstring tear and he’s kept that going so far this year with a .373/.415/.644 batting line along with four homers and 13 RBI through 17 games. It looked like he should be sidelined for a while with a Grade 2 adductor strain, but he ended up missing just 10 days, confirming that he’s likely the real-life Wolverine. The sweet-swinging 37-year-old had a two-homer game Monday against the Marlins and his hard-hit rate is once again among the game’s best. This year has been a tough one for a lot of the top fantasy second basemen, so it’s time for Cano to be added again in most competitive formats.
Randal Grichuk OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)
Recommending a dude who has put up six homers and 14 RBI over his last six games might sound bold, but hear me out. You mostly know what you are going to get with Grichuk; specifically, a good amount of pop with plenty of strikeouts and a low batting average. There’s value in that consistency, as he’s slugged at least 22 homers in each of the last four seasons. However, the lack of progress with his approach has made him go overlooked in a lot of leagues, understandably so. I’m not convinced that’s changed, but so far this year he’s stuck out in just 20 percent of the time while walking in 8.6 percent of his plate appearances. He was at 26 percent and 5.6 percent respectively last year. We’re only talking about another month, so maybe he can really keep this going. And if not, chances are his pop will still be useful.
Dylan Carlson OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 38 percent rostered)
Eight games into Carlson’s major league career and so far he’s just 4-for-27 (.148) with a double and a 7/2 K/BB ratio. Plenty of folks have already cast him aside in hopes of finding more reliable production, which is understandable in this shortened season, but it could pay off to have some patience. His early numbers also need some context, as Eno Sarris of The Athletic pointed out on Wednesday that no major league regular has seen fewer fastballs than Carlson. There’s obviously a couple of different ways to look at this, but now it’s up to Carlson to adjust to this new reality. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but he’s not striking out an obscene rate and his xBA (.319) suggests that he’s deserved better than what we’ve seen so far. If you lost Yordan Alvarez this week, maybe take a shot.
Kevin Gausman SP, Giants (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
One of these years, I’m not going to be fooled by Gausman. This isn’t that year. In fact, Gausman has looked downright intriguing so far with the Giants, posting a 34/5 K/BB ratio over 25 2/3 innings despite an underwhelming 4.21 ERA. Pumping mid-to-high 90s heat and his standard nasty split-change, he struck out a season-high 11 (along with 18 swinging strikes) in his most recent start against the Athletics. The bulk of his whiffs have come on his split-change and there’s always been the question about the lack of a quality third pitch, but he’s a bit more interesting this year with his velocity up and an extreme pitcher-friendly home ballpark as the backdrop. I’m in, at least when the matchups are favorable. Up next is a start against the Angels on Thursday night.
Sean Murphy C, Athletics (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
Murphy was part of the new hope at the catcher position this spring along with folks like Will Smith and Carson Kelly. All three have disappointed so far, though there are some really positive signs with Murphy. Among players with at least 25 batted ball events this season, only Fernando Tatis Jr. has a higher hard-hit percentage. Thanks to Baseball Savant for that tidbit. Additionally, Murphy is in the 85th percentile in terms of barrel percentage and the 95th percentile in average exit velocity. Simply stating someone’s exit velocity doesn’t tell the full story, but take all of these things together, and it’s easy to see where this could be headed. The 24-year-old has excellent power - he slugged 10 homers in just 31 games in Triple-A last year — and it’s mostly been a matter of his ability to stay healthy. I see a case to adding him in most formats.
Robbie Grossman OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
Among players with at least 80 plate appearances, only nine have walked more than they have struck out so far this season. There’s some expected names in this group (Joey Votto, Carlos Santana, and Anthony Rendon), but you might be surprised to see Grossman here. Still, strong plate discipline has always been part of his game. He’s walked 12.8 percent of the time in his career and he’s all the way up at 17.9 percent so far this season. Meanwhile, he’s hitting the ball plenty hard too. In fact, he’s already amassed five barrels in 50 batted balls this season after having just eight for all of last season. You can’t fake that. Grossman might not have the same upside as a young tools outfielder, but there’s value in his skill set too.
Brad Miller 2B/3B/OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Every time I see Miller, I think back to the fantasy stud many of us thought that he could be. Hey, you can’t win them all. Still, he’s managed to hang around and has actually been an above average hitter (104 OPS+) during his career. After slugging 12 homers with a .941 OPS over 130 plate appearance with the Phillies last year, he’s gone 7-for-16 (.438) with two homers, two doubles, and nine RBI through his first seven games with the Cardinals. He’s been hitting fifth of late and should continue to see starts against right-handers, at least until Paul DeJong is ready to return. Think of him as a short-term play.
Travis Shaw 3B, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
It all came crashing down for Shaw last year, as he batted just .157 with seven homers and a .551 OPS over 86 games and even saw himself demoted to the minors. The Brewers non-tendered him after the season before he settled for a one-year, $4 million deal with the Blue Jays. So far we’ve seen a mixed bag in terms of his production. While he’s hitting the ball harder than ever before, he’s struck out in 32.8 percent of his plate appearances, right in line with his 33-percent mark from his nightmare 2019 campaign. Keep in mind that Shaw was at 18.4 percent in 2018 and 22.8 percent in 2017. It’s a bit concerning. Shaw is still relevant in deeper mixed leagues as long as he’s playing regularly in the middle of this lineup, but be prepared to pivot if his batting average crashes again.
Brandon Nimmo OF, Mets (Yahoo: 20 percent rostered)
Nimmo can be a tricky case for fantasy players. Getting on base isn’t an issue. He’s got a .391 on-base percentage for his career, tied for sixth-highest (min. 1000 PA) dating back to 2016. Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto, Joey Votto, and Mike Trout are above him. Not bad, not bad at all. The challenging part with Nimmo is what he can realistically provide from a fantasy perspective. He’s not a power or speed standout and he’s a .255 career hitter. Still, I think we should look at him a little bit differently this year. Not only is he healthy again after his uneven 2019 campaign, but his strikeout rate is all the way down to 19.3 percent so far this year. And with his presence at the top of the Mets’ lineup, he’s tied for ninth in the league with 19 runs scored. If he can maintain these contact gains, look out.
Starting Pitchers to Monitor/Consider
Tarik Skubal SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 19 percent rostered)
Dane Dunning SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
Tony Gonsolin SP/RP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 36 percent rostered)
Of these three, Skubal is the only one still in the majors right now. And he had the roughest outing of the bunch in his major league debut Tuesday against the White Sox, as he was tagged for four runs on seven hits (including a homer) and a walk over just two innings. Still, the stuff is great and he draws a nice matchup against the light-hitting Indians this weekend. Prospect pitchers are inherently tricky, but he deserves another chance.
As for Dunning and Gonsolin, it’s just a matter of time before they get their next opportunity in the big leagues. Gonsolin fired six scoreless frames against the Mariners on Tuesday and now holds a 2.14 ERA over 54 2/3 innings. Ross Stripling has been a huge disappointment and Alex Wood is still working his way back, so there could be an opening here soon. Dunning ran out of steam in the fifth inning while opposing Tigers rookie Casey Mize in his major league debut Wednesday, but he was impressive for the most part, striking out seven and walking just one while inducing 17 swinging strikes in his 73 pitches. The White Sox have some off-days coming up, so Dunning will stay at the team’s alternate site for now. Of course, picking up either Dunning or Gonsolin will depend on roster space, but you don’t want to get caught flat-footed when they inevitably return. They are exciting.
Chad Kuhl (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered) vs. Brewers on Friday
Josh Lindblom (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered) at Pirates on Saturday
Pablo Lopez (Yahoo: 38 percent rostered) at Nationals on Sunday
Tyler Mahle (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered) at Cardinals on Sunday
And Because We Have To, Here Are Some Relievers
Tanner Rainey RP, Nationals (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
The Rockies’ situation is wide open, with Jairo Diaz seemingly on the outs and Wade Davis and Scott Berg both injured. Estevez got hurt himself when he was hit by a comebacker while securing his first save of the season on Sunday, but fortunately X-rays came back negative. He should get some more chances, but don’t overlook Bard seeing some chances here too. The 35-year-old has been a great story of resilience this year, posting a 3.75 ERA and 14/1 K/BB ratio over 12 innings. How can you not root for him?
Moving over to the Nationals, we know Sean Doolittle is trying to get himself right, but Hudson has been a bit spotty lately while serving as the primary closer. It’s worth nothing that he had a clean appearance last time out, but it could be worth stashing Rainey just in case. The hard-throwing 27-year-old has allowed just one run (a solo homer) with a 17/4 K/BB ratio through 10 1/3 innings this season. Control has always been the question here, but he’s been better in that area during this small sample of action.
Karinchak and Williams have shown themselves capable of providing value even outside of a closer role. We sort of knew what we were getting from Karinchak after his amazing numbers in the minors, but Williams has been the real surprise. His changeup is making hitters look silly on the regular right now. Tiny circles, Devin. And finally, with the Cardinals playing so many doubleheaders, Miller has to be in the conversation for saves along with Giovanny Gallegos, at least in certain matchups. His stuff isn’t what it once was, so this recommendation doesn’t come with a ton of confidence.