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Gregory Soto and A.J. Pollock: Buying and Selling the Latest Offseason News for Fantasy Baseball

Even though the Winter Meetings are now behind us, there’s still plenty of offseason left when it comes to baseball news and rumors – especially with a number of the offseason’s top free agents still without a team. And that’s all without mentioning potential trades as there hasn’t been an overabundance of deals made so far. The reports and rumors of free agent interest and trade interest, combined with actual free agent signings and trades, will continue to have significant ramifications for fantasy managers ahead of drafts this Spring.

The aim of this column is to provide you with the latest fantasy analysis on both rumors and reports, as well as official signings and trades, and how it pertains to redraft fantasy baseball leagues this Spring. Moves, or rumors and reports, tabbed as “Buying” are obviously good moves or potentially good moves from a fantasy standpoint. Moves or potential moves and reported interest that are filed under “Selling?” Not so great.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the news.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Selling For Fantasy Baseball

Gregory Soto Being Traded To The Phillies

Soto has been a solid option for fantasy managers in search of saves over the past two years. He finished with the ninth-most save conversions in the sport in 2022 and has had 48 saves since the start of the 2021 season, more than Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, Camilo Doval, and Aroldis Chapman during the same span.

The former Tiger pitched to a 3.28 ERA and a 3.59 FIP in 64 appearances spanning 60.1 innings for Detroit last season, notching 60 strikeouts compared to 34 walks.

Elsewhere, the hurler utilized his slider far less often, seeing it drop from a 37.6% usage rate in 2021 to a 21.6% usage rate this past season. Opponents hit .138 with a 43% whiff rate against the pitch in 2021, while in 2022 they were far more successful, batting .262 with a .296 xwOBA and just a 36.2% whiff rate.

The slider was still reasonably effective at times, but the decrease in the effectiveness of the pitch – combined with more of a reliance on his sinker and four-seam fastball, led to more hard contact by the 27-year-old. Soto’s hard-hit rate jumped from 35.8% (which finished in the 71st percentile in 2021) to 43.2% (which finished in the 13th percentile in 2022). Hardly ideal, especially with the reliever’s tendency to walk batters.

Although dominant when he’s on form, Soto has also struggled for consistency at times with Detroit, as evidenced by his 12.9% walk rate.

Oftentimes, the hard-throwing left-hander’s inconsistent form surfaced in non-save situations when A.J. Hinch utilized him as a high-leverage option in a key, non-save spot.

  • Gregory Soto In Save Situations: 33.1 IP, 1.89 ERA, 35 strikeouts, 15 walks, 1.110 WHIP, zero home runs allowed
  • Gregory Soto In Non-Save Situations: 26.2 IP, 5.06 ERA, 25 strikeouts, 17 walks, 1.613 WHIP, two home runs allowed

If Soto were stepping into the closer’s role in Philadelphia, it would be a much different story for fantasy managers. In fact, the case could be made for him once again finishing in the top-10 in saves league-wide with the Phillies.

However, it’s not entirely clear who the Phillies' primary save option will be. Or rather, which pitcher will log the most saves this season for the National League East club.

It’s not as if they’re hurting for options. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Seranthony Dominguez posted nine saves and a 3.09 FIP in 51 innings of work last year while striking out 10.76 batters per nine frames and registering more high-leverage appearances than any other Phillies reliever. Jose Alvarado was arguably the team’s best reliever full stop with a 1.7 fWAR and a 1.92 FIP in 51 innings, and while he only logged a pair of saves in the regular season, he logged a save in the NLCS against the San Diego Padres and could (speculatively speaking) be in line for more ninth-inning work. Then there’s Kimbrel, who has the second-most saves in baseball in the last 10 years. Matt Strahm, who like Kimbrel and Soto saw some ninth-inning work last season, is another offseason addition.

In short, it’s hard to sort out the Phillies bullpen at the moment, and while Soto might retain some fantasy value in saves+holds leagues, it’s hard to see him claiming the ninth-inning role outright in Philadelphia. For fantasy managers in standard scoring leagues, that’s hardly ideal given the current state of bullpen utilization in the sport with so many teams not using a set closer.


Selling For Fantasy Baseball

A.J. Pollock Reportedly Agreeing To Terms With The Mariners

Pollock is reportedly joining the Seattle Mariners on a one-year deal, per a tweet from ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Saturday. Passan tweeted the following:

“Outfielder A.J. Pollock and the Seattle Mariners are in agreement on a one-year, $7 million contract, pending physical, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.

Pollock, 35, crushes left-handed pitching and joins new acquisitions Teoscar Hernandez and Kolten Wong in M’s lineup.”

On the surface, Pollock joining one of last season’s playoff teams would be a positive for his fantasy prospects heading into the 2023 season. However, Seattle wasn’t quite as productive as their playoff counterparts in Los Angeles or New York from a run-scoring standpoint. All told, 17 teams scored more than the M’s last year. As Passan noted in his tweet, the American League West club did add Teoscar Hernandez and Kolten Wong this winter, but this isn’t exactly akin to if Pollock was stepping into a regular role in the Dodgers or Yankees lineups.

And the veteran outfielder might not have a regular role in Seattle. Of course, that’s entirely speculative, but for as well as Pollock hit left-handed pitching last year – he had a 161 wRC+ against lefties that was 61% higher than the league average – his struggles against right-handed pitching were similarly pronounced.

The former White Sox hitter logged just a 69 wRC+ against right-handers or 31% below the league average. There was also nearly a .350 point chasm between his OPS against left-handers (.935) and his OPS against right-handers (.593) and a similarly large divide between his ISO against lefties (.333) and his ISO against righties (.077). And while none of that is relevant to fantasy scoring formats, it could be relevant to how he might be utilized as a member of the franchise he’s reportedly joining. In other words, there’s platoon potential here, platoon potential that could sink Pollock’s fantasy upside in the form of limited plate appearances.

And that’s all without mentioning Pollock’s decline in quality contact. Because while his barrel rate and hard-hit rate remained reasonably similar to his past norms in the categories, Pollock's sudden upswing in grounders and infield fly balls may have had a hand in his declining quality of contact metrics.

A.J. Pollock’s Barrel Rate and Hard-Hit Rate By Season

  • 2018: 10.0% barrel rate, 40.6% hard-hit rate
  • 2019: 8.0% barrel rate, 39.9% hard-hit rate
  • 2020: 10.5% barrel rate, 43.1% hard-hit rate
  • 2021: 11.1% barrel rate, 47.4% hard-hit rate
  • 2022: 9.4% barrel rate, 42.0% hard-hit rate

Pollock’s ground ball rate jumped to 45.2% in 2022, the highest it’s been since 2015. His infield fly ball rate jumped to 17.7% in 2022, the highest it’s been in, well, ever at the Major League level. And while the infield fly ball rate might have been slightly on the anomaly side of things given that the outfielder had never seen his infield fly ball rate finish above 13% in a season, it made for an unideal combination.

Unsurprisingly, with all those grounders and infield fly balls, Pollock’s xwOBA finished at just .317 while his .364 xwOBAcon was the lowest it’s been since the 2016 campaign. He also hit just .245 with a .292 on-base percentage last season, adding 14 home runs and three stolen bases.

All told, fantasy managers are probably better off looking elsewhere for outfield options later in drafts this spring. There’s just too much risk here with Pollock considering the platoon potential and the potential that all those grounders and infield fly balls continue at a similar rate.

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