Fantasy Baseball Advice: Digging Deeper into Fringe Outfield Options, an Underowned Closer

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Chris Hawkins - RotoBaller

Michael Saunders 2012As a rule of thumb, if you’re able to stock your team with 20/20 candidates, things will usually work out. That said, finding 20/20 calibre players on your waiver wire is oftentimes easier said than done, although earlier this week I tweet-predicted (@roto_hawk) a combined 35 SB/HRs ROS for Seattle's Michael Saunders who just returned from a brief DL stint. A 2 HR game Saturday night increased his ownership 5%, but fortunately for Rotoballers he has still gone under the radar in most leagues (75% available). In five games this week since returning to the lineup, he’s posted a .318/.375/.682 line with 6R, 3HR and a SB. Last year, Saunders hit 19 HR,  his best performance at any level of his career. He will turn 27 later this year, which gives some credence to the spike in power he displayed starting last season.  It’s not a lock, but maintaining even a similar rate HR/FB rate and staying healthy should put him near 15 more HRs the rest of the season. From a speed perspective, he displayed 20+ steal potential at a couple of different levels in the minors and has been very efficient on the basepaths since joining the big-league club, as evidenced by an 80.3% success rate. Already a perfect 4/4 on the year, another 20+ SB season would not be a surprise. Typically hitting atop a respectable Mariners’ batting order, he should get driven in enough to matter in the runs department, too.

Striking out in 25.9% of his at bats will keep him from winning any batting titles, but he is displaying a significant improvement in his plate discipline by drastically cutting back on his swings out of the zone, and there’s actually enough sample data to start to validate that some of the changes will stick. Don’t be fooled by the above triple slash as his BA will likely hover around .250, but the improvements in place discipline should give him more opportunities to get on base to run and score. If you’re looking for an impact player and have some cushion in your BA/OBP, Saunders is definitely worth a look.

Daniel Nava on July 15, 2010Need a batting average boost? Give Daniel Nava a shot.  This former Santa Clara Bronco is another interesting, low-profile outfielder. Nava’s minor league triple slash was an impressive .306/.402/473 over 1,620 PAs; however, his major league experience prior to 2013 yielded only a .243/.352/.378 line over 505 PAs. Fortunately for Nava and Rotoballers, it appears he has turned the corner in his third major league season. Currently batting .299/.394/.529 over 104 PAs, Nava is putting the ball on the ground less often and has improved his LD% for the third consecutive year. His BB% has been below 10% only once since 2008 and his K% is just about in line with the league average. These facts considered in conjunction with his minor league numbers support his ability to produce a useful triple slash. His current .313 BABIP suggests he’s not getting unusually lucky either.

Unlike Saunders, power and speed historically have not been Nava’s strengths as he has never hit more than 11 HR in a year and has swiped only 23 bags at a 63.8% success rate in 5+ years across all levels. It’s worth noting he has 5 HR on the year, but the sample size is too small to determine if it’s anything more than luck or if he’s actually made some changes in his approach at the plate. We’ll have a better idea of that sometime in June,but Nava  should provide a stable BA and produce enough runs and RBI in the Red Sox lineup to garner your attention and any additional contributions in the power department are a bonus.

Looking for saves?  Hail to the Chief!  This is more an endorsement of opportunity than pure skill as Edward “Chief” Mujica has never shown elite stuff, but the best closers aren’t always the best relievers. Since joining the Cardinals late in 2012, Mujica has posted very solid numbers, and in 2013 seems to have found his groove using his split finger which has baffled hitters (sub .200 BAA). If you’re in one of the 30% of leagues where he’s still unowned, stop what you’re doing right now and go pick him up.

After a clean 9th inning Saturday night, Mujica recorded his 8th save in the Cardinals’ last 16 games. In the current year, he’s cut his LD% by almost 7.5 points to 9.7%, improved his GB% to 45.2% and is sporting a K/9 of 9 and K/BB of 13.0. The good news is the plate discipline and swing statistics support these improvements, but the sample sizes are too small to validate how much of the changes in his performance are due to luck (BABIP .188 and LOB 96.8%) compared to a new approach; he hasn’t entirely reinvented himself so the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Still, 12-for-12 in save/hold opportunities on the season, Mujica has pitched surprisingly well in high-leverage situations. The Cardinals actually have one of the best young bullpens in the majors with several high-power arms (Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal), but news that Jason Motte will undergo Tommy John surgery soon and Mitchell Boggs being sent down to AAA should give Mujica a little more leash. As long as he owns the 9th-inning duties for the Redbirds who should continue generating plenty of save opportunities, The Chief should not be sitting on any waiver wires.

IMG 9661 Dee GordonNeed some speed? Grab Flash Jr. before he’s gone. Called up to replace the injured Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon went 2-4 with a 3B Saturday night. He also walked once, scored twice and was 2/2 on the stolen base attempts. With an MLB ISO of .080 and OBP of .301 over 568 PAs, he’s been overmatched at the big-league level before, but in 25 games for AAA Albuquerque this year, he’s hit .314/.397/.431 with 19 runs scored and stolen 14 bases in 16 attempts. He has the potential to a nuisance on the basepaths for the opposition, so if he performs well while Hanley is injured, the Dodgers will find a way to keep Gordon around. Averaging a SB attempt once every 7.8 ABs and having a 76.6% career success rate (80.8% since 2011), you own Flash Jr. for one reason: speed. Aggressive owners lacking in this department should take note of this call-up as Gordon has the potential to lead the league in SBs if he’s figured out his on-base woes, and he’ll contribute well in the runs department, too.

This week’s flash in the pan, Ryan Raburn, posted one of the best three-games stretches you’ll see all season.  Raburn went 11-for-13 with 5 R, 4 HR, and 9 RBI, and improved his BA by .150 and his SLG by .369.  But before you go racing to pick up the hot-hitting second sacker, it should be noted this nice run appears to have been fueled more by luck than anything else. On the season, his swing metrics are actually slightly worse than his career averages and he’s striking out more than usual at 27.1%. His BABIP (.457), ISO (.291) and HR/FB% (23.5%) all scream "regression," too. If you have an open slot on your bench or are looking to fill an empty 2B/OF on a day where there are only a few teams playing, there’s no harm in riding the hot streak. It's just probably a little early to make any moves which would require you to rely on him as a regular for the rest of the season as there will be many more 0-5 nights like he posted Friday than there will be multi-HR games.


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