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Top Hitter Streamers and Starts for Fantasy Baseball - Week 9

Christian Walker - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, MLB Injury News, Draft Sleepers

It is hard to believe that June is already here! We are approaching the part of the season where the weather will warm up, and hopefully, more offense will come. Meanwhile, team's playoff hopes are becoming more clear, while we are starting to get a better idea of what to expect from specific players for the rest of the season.

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 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 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 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? 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!

After the masterpiece that was last week, not only does no team play eight games, but only eight teams play seven games. To be fair, between the Reds, Royals, and Diamondbacks, there are teams with seven-game weeks and exciting matchups. However, compared to normal, this is a difficult week for finding hitting streamers.

That being said, this won't stop us from identifying the hitters who will boost your fantasy team this week! So, who is ready to thrive? Let's find out.

Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs

 

Hunter Dozier and MJ Melendez, Royals

Dozier: 35% rostered
Melendez: 35% rostered

It's been another rough season for the Royals, who are in last place in the AL Central with a 16-33 record and are at the bottom of the league in run differential. On the bright side, they haven't been completely barren of productive players. Top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. is coming into his own, Andrew Benintendi is having a nice season, and perhaps young starter Brady Singer is taking the next step forward. Plus, Hunter Dozier and MJ Melendez have been very nice surprises.

Let's start with Dozier, who seemingly had a breakout season with a 128 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+) in 2019, but after struggling mightily (82 wRC+) in 2021, he fell off the fantasy baseball radar; based on his NFBC Main Event average draft position (ADP), he would have been a 25th-round pick in 15-team leagues, and a 31st-round pick in 12-team leagues. In other words, expectations weren't high for him this season.

Well, here were are, and the former top-ten pick has been phenomenal with a 131 wRC+ so far this season. Notably, the 30-year-old is showing a lot of power with a 11% barrel rate, while he's making the most contact (26.9% whiff) of his career. With his quality of contact, he profiles as someone who can hit for average and power while also being eligible at three different positions.

The more exciting name of this duo has to be MJ Melendez, who has probably been the most pleasant surprise for the Royals this season. After shredding the minor leagues with a 162 wRC+ and .337 isolated power (ISO), he earned the call-up to the Major League level, where has been terrific. We're past the point of stabilization in terms of barrel rate, so the fact that he's shown great power (10.8% barrel) is very encouraging, especially since he hits the ball in the air (33.8%) and pulls it (44.1%) often.

The most encouraging part? After there were some concerns about his contact skills as a prospect, he is making above-average contact in the zone (84.1%), leading to a very reasonable 11.3% swinging-strike rate and 21.5% strikeout rate. In the end, you're looking at a .240 hitter with plus power, which more than gets the job done given his catcher eligibility despite being the team's full-time designated hitter.

The Royals play seven games this week, including four against the Orioles. Both of these hitters bring a lot of player, as well as intriguing positional eligibility, but also aren't liabilities at all in the batting average department. Even if the Royals haven't been the most entertaining team to watch, perhaps these two players can help with that.

 

Christian Walker and Alek Thomas, Diamondbacks

Walker: 35% rostered
Thomas: 25% rostered

Don't look now, but the Diamondbacks have been a very fun team to watch. Not only have they played around .500 baseball, they had the 11th-best wRC+ in May and are getting some nice performances from individual players.

The most impressive of them all? You wouldn't think it's Christian Walker by his 111 wRC+, but he's actually been one of the most surprising producers of the 2022 season. With a .266 ISO and 16.1% barrel rate, his power is well-documented, but he's also making plenty of contact with a 10.5% swinging-strike rate and a 20% strikeout rate. As his .185 BABIP and 18.2% line-drive rate normalize, he could easily settle in as at least a .260 hitter with tremendous power, while hitting in the middle of the lineup for an underrated offense. In the current run environment, that is incredibly useful.

What makes the Diamondbacks such a fun team is some of the young talent they have coming up, and Alek Thomas will be asked to be an anchor of their next contending team. At a time where so many top prospects are struggling mightily in their first taste of the big leagues, the 22-year-old is performing well, posting a 104 wRC+ and .247/.301/.429 slash line. In spite of a 59.7% ground-ball rate, he's been able to muster a reasonable 6.5% barrel rate, while any increase in strikeouts (18.1% K rate with 10.1% swinging-strike rate) should be met with a subsequent increase in BABIP.

THE BAT X, normally conservative with prospects, projects Thomas to post a .270+ batting average for the rest of the season, and he is shown reasonable power to this point. The Diamondbacks will play seven games this week, which will take place in two-very hitter ballparks in Cincinnati and Philly. Particularly for Walker, there will be plenty of chances for him to damage, yet both of these players should be in line for strong weeks. As the Snakes continue to surprise, it's time to get on the train.

 

Tommy Pham, Cincinnati Reds

33% rostered

You would think that being in fantasy leagues would be all fun and games, but as we saw with Tommy Pham slapping Joc Pederson over an argument in a fantasy football group chat, sometimes that isn't the case. I mean, Pederson did send a screenshot of the rules, right? Folks, this is why you need to make sure everyone is aware of what is and not allowed in your league; the smoother sailing it is, the better.

Due to his lapse in judgment, Pham was suspended for three games over the weekend, and as a result, his rostership rate dropped significantly. Once upon a time, I wasn't sure he'd be eligible for this list for much longer, but now you can pick him up in 2/3 of fantasy baseball leagues.

After all, at the end of the day, Pham is still a very good baseball player, even if his surface-level statistics wouldn't suggest that. For the year, he's hitting the ball 95 MPH or higher on more than half of his batted balls and has a 10% barrel rate. Add that together, and his current .286 BABIP and 11.9% home run/fly ball rate seem quite low. He could easily settle as the .271/.363/.449, 125 wRC+ hitter that THE BAT X projects him to be for the rest of the season.

The Reds not only have a seven-game week, but four of them will be in Cincinnati against the four non-Zac Gallen Diamondbacks starting pitchers. In fact, both Arizona and the Cardinals, their other opponent, have bottom-ten bullpens, and Pham doesn't face one starting pitcher with a projected ERA by Fangraphs Depth Charts projections under 4.19. At some point, his process stats are going to start matching up with his actual numbers, and what better time to start than this week. He may not be the ideal fantasy football league mate, but that doesn't mean he isn't perfect for your fantasy team this week!

 

Amed Rosario and Oscar Gonzalez, Guardians

Rosario: 31% rostered
Gonzalez: 2% rostered

It's easy to fall into the narrative that the Guardians don't have a lot of offensive talent, but surprisingly, they rank 12th in wRC+ this season and are in the top-ten in runs scored. Ironically, after years of having an elite pitching staff, that's actually what is holding them back this year.

The best part for Cleveland? More is to come with their offense. For instance, it's only a matter of time before Amed Rosario gets back on track. One of the most prized pieces in the Francisco Lindor trade, Rosario was roughly a league-average hitter (99 wRC+) last season, which combined with plus base-running and versatility at premium positions, made him a valuable player.

Unfortunately, Rosario has regressed to a 72 wRC+and .241/.284/.307 slash line this season. As a result, fantasy baseball managers have been quick to cut bait, but I'm here to tell that this would be a fool's errand. Given his elite speed and trajectory of contact, Rosario's .286 BABIP, compared to his career .324 BABIP, stands out like a massively sore thumb, pointing to very positive regression in the batting average department. He's making more contact (9.3% swinging-strike rate) and striking out less (14.8%) than ever before, giving him a very reasonable .280 batting average projection from THE BAT X. Combine that with plus speed and runs scored hitting near the top of Cleveland's productive lineup, and you get a very useful fantasy asset.

The Guardians have been on a roll as of late churning out unknown but productive hitters, and Oscar Gonzalez appears to be the next in line. After punishing Triple-A pitching with  a .224 ISO and just a 14.3% strikeout rate, the 24-year-old was called upon to replace the injured Franmil Reyes, is generally hitting 5th, and is already demonstrating the combination of power and contact that he possesses. All projections available on Fangraphs peg him to be an above-average with a plus batting average, while ZiPs (.177 ISO) and Steamer (.200 ISO) are also optimistic about his power upside as well.

Cleveland plays seven games this week, all at home against a favorable slate of pitching staffs in the Rangers and A's. With the way they are performing as a lineup, you certainly want to get in on the fun. These two players, depending on your league size, are a great way to do so. It is still hard to remember that they're the Guardians, but perhaps watching these two players shine this week will help with that.



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