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Top Hitter Streamers and Starts for Fantasy Baseball - Week 3

taylor ward fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers waiver wire pickups

We may be early into the MLB season, but that doesn't make each day not equally as important as the stretch run for fantasy baseball. Do I recommend checking your standings everyday for updates if you're in a roto league? No, although I must concede that I fall into this trap. Still, every extra boost in either a category or in your head-to-head matchup is critical, regardless of the time of the year.

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 to accumulate as much 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 a favorable matchups, but what about doing the same for hitters? Outside of batting average, the other four traditional 5x5 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 off the most valuable as streaming assets off 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?

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

What Teams Offer The Most Streaming Value?

When it comes to streaming hitters, outside of overall talent, there are three factors to pay attention to:

  1. How many games is that team playing this week? Obviously, 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

I find this to be a very interesting week for streaming hitters. Why? Well, most of the teams offering the best streaming value play six games, rather than seven games. Generally, you want to target players with seven-game weeks to get the most "bang for your buck" in terms of counting statistics, but sometimes, the matchups don't work out well.

Teams such as the Blue Jays, Astros, Cardinals, Guardians, Diamondbacks, and Rangers will play seven games this week, but either are facing a difficult slate of pitchers, play in pitcher-friendly ballparks, or a combination of both. Nevertheless, based on the teams that are at the top of the list, there are plenty of strong streaming options this week, which wasn't the case last week.

That's despite the fact that the Royals, Cubs, and Marlins each have strong matchups, yet don't offer a lot of streaming value based on the personnel of their lineup. Yes, we want to chase the matchups, but you want to be targeting hitters who have both the matchups AND the underlying skills in their favor. That's exactly what these hitters have.

 

Enrique Hernandez, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox

40% rostered

When streaming hitters, it can be difficult to trust a player that is currently struggling. However, it is a long season, and there is no reason to lose hope in players after just two weeks into the season.

Thus, I am asking to look past Enrique Hernandez's 68 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+) and .157/.246/.333 slash line. Rather, remember that this is a player projected universally to hit at least 20 home runs this season while scoring plenty of runs leading off for one of the better lineups in baseball. Add in his positional flexibility, and there is a reason he gained buzz as a draft sleeper this offseason.

For what it's worth, there is nothing to suggest Hernandez's struggles are legitimate. His 12.8% barrel rate and 21.1% strikeout rate are both above-average marks, while his plate discipline gains from last year in terms of fewer chases out of the zone have stuck this year (24.2%). Really, it just comes down to a 28.2% pop-up rate that is dooming him, but there is practically no chance that number continues to be so high. As the pop-up rate comes down, the batting average will get a major boost, allowing to get on base and score more runs.

Hernandez is also boosted by the fact that the Red Sox are playing seven games this upcoming week. While facing the top of the Blue Jays' rotation won't be easy, Boston finishes off in Baltimore, where they will face three pitchers with an average projected ERA from Fangraphs Depth Charts' projections of 5.65. Sign me up for that! Based on his slow start, I'd expect Hernandez to become even more available in leagues soon. In this case, you'll want to buy the dip.

 

Tommy Pham, OF, Cincinnati Reds

30% rostered

Coming into this fantasy baseball draft season, Tommy Pham was a very interesting player to evaluate. Yes, his overall numbers were poor last season, but his batted-ball luck was quite poor; especially considering his quality of contact numbers (10% barrel, 47.6% hard-hit) were quite strong. Especially once he signed with the Reds, who would let him hit in the middle of the lineup and play in an extremely hitter-friendly stadium, it was easy to get excited about him as an undervalued asset in drafts.

This season, like with Hernandez, the results have not been there. At the moment, Pham possesses just a .158/.259/.342 slash line, leading to a poor  71 wRC+. Yet, all the reasons that one would have been optimistic about Pham heading into the season are still here. He still is barreling the ball up (10.3%), hitting the ball with authority (48.3% hard-hit), and controlling the zone really well (8.7% swinging-strike rate). Unless you think a 10.3% line-drive rate or .148 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), you should be ready for the overall results to make a major step forward too.

I'm not sure a team could ever set up to have a better schedule in terms of park factors than what the Reds have this week. According to Baseball Savant, Colorado (first) and Cincinnati (third) each rank in the top three in terms of being hitter-friendly stadiums. Well, this week, the Reds will get three games at home before going on the road to play in Colorado. Talk about a favorable schedule! Heck, both Blake Snell and Nick Martinez, two of the pitchers that Pham is projected to face, are vertical pitchers who struggle with the long ball, and facing the Rockies pitching staff is always a gift for hitters.

There is no player I'd be trying to pick up right now to start this week more than Pham. Every indication is that he's on the verge of a major breakout, and the schedule is immensely in his favor this week. If it doesn't happen now, when will it? Let's not worry about that; it's going to happen this week, and hopefully, it's for your fantasy team!

 

Brandon Marsh, OF, Los Angeles Angels

15% rostered

It's always fun to try to buy into a young player on the rise, and that is exactly where we find ourselves with Brandon Marsh. With Jo Adell coming up to the majors alongside him as a flashier young player, this is a player who tended to go under the radar. Yet, it's time to know his name now.

As opposed to the first two players on this list, Marsh is off to a great start this season with a 177 wRC+ and .323/.425/.516 slash line. Clearly, he's the next Mike Trout! Well, not exactly. Still, there is a lot to be excited about here.

Through the minors, Marsh was generally seen as a player who gets on base at a high level. Initially, with a 35% strikeout last season in the majors, there was some concern about that translating to the MLB. In his 40 plate appearances, his swinging-strike rate is down to 9.6%, while he has continued to make gains with his plate discipline (18.4% chase). There hasn't been enough time for these numbers to stabilize, but it is quite encouraging to see him make key improvements thus far.

His 44% line drive won't sustain, but Marsh is someone projected for a BABIP above .330 by all main projections, including .352 from ZiPs projections. If his strikeout gains persist, he can be a plus in batting average, while he at least offers runs/RBI potential hitting fifth or sixth in the Angels' lineup versus right-handed pitching, along with some speed.

The Angels not only play seven games this week, but six are against righties. Playing at home and against the White Sox also means they'll be playing in favorable parks, nor is he facing strikeout-heavy pitchers, for the most part. Heck, this could be a case where he truly is breaking out, and you hold on to him for longer! Take that chance.

 

Taylor Ward, OF, Los Angeles Angels

13% rostered

Coming into the season, many expected the Angels to round out their outfield alongside Mike Trout with Marsh and Jo Adell. Instead, they had different plans:

Ward missed the beginning of the season with a groin injury, but he was activated from the injured list on Saturday, where he was immediately placed in the middle of the lineup. Clearly, Maddon wasn't kidding when it came to Ward being an everyday player, but it's easy to see what they like in him.

Last season, the 28-year-old posted a 10.3% barrel rate, in addition to a 111 wRC+ last season. Plus, he's also an above-average athlete (79th percentile sprint speed) who has already attempted three stolen bases in five games. The power-speed combination you're getting there is enticing, especially since it will come at the middle of the Angels lineup in a week where they should be in a good spot to score runs. The best predictor of future stolen bases is stolen base attempts, and right now, there's a reasonable chance Ward's power and speed carries on for the rest of the season. A popular free-agent pickup last week, make sure to not miss out now!

 

Aaron Hicks, OF, New York Yankees

8% rostered

I just can't help myself with the outfielders this week! If you are in need of outfield help this week, there are no excuses; there are so many intriguing streaming options available!

The Yankees haven't lived up to expectations so far with a league-average offense (99 wRC+), but don't tell that to Aaron Hicks. So far, the 32-year-old has a 144 wRC+ and has been the best offensive producer for New York. Although most of that production has come through getting on base and walks, it's been enough to get him to the top of the lineup, where he honestly has a strong chance to stick given the makeup of the lineup.

Here are the pitchers New York is expected to face this week, along with the projected ERA, via Fangraphs Depth Chart projections:

Looking for the Yankees' time to breakout offensively? This is the week. I'd expect plenty of run production, and no player is in a position to benefit from that more than Hicks. It'll be rare to find a softer schedule of opposing pitchers for the entire season than this, making it the ultimate time to capitalize. It's not likely he provides much power for you, but runs scored may be the most overlooked category out there. In a points league, meanwhile, the walks are a major plus! He's not a flashy option, but who said that was a qualifier? Not me!



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