This is the culmination of the series of articles on players worth owning. To review, the thesis is that through streaming of freely available players, astute owners can take advantage of more at-bats and better matchups, surpassing the production of all but the most elite hitters in standard leagues. Unless you have a .300-hitting, 34-home run bat in every spot in your lineup or a .300-hitting, 18-home run catcher to date, you can dramatically improve your lineup by streaming.
This is not to say that you should never roster a player full time who isn’t on this list. Such players have value, of course, and you cannot stream an entire lineup unless you have far more time on your hands than is healthy. But you should never hesitate to consolidate value by trading two or three or more of the players not listed below for one player listed. This is particularly true at second base and shortstop.
Among the players you will not find on the list of players worth owning: Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rodriguez, Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Mark Trumbo, Martin Prado and roughly three hundred other Major League hitters. I haven’t forgotten them, and this is the point. You can get more value more reliably from free agency in standard leagues.
Hitters Worth Owning
1-10: Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, David Wright, Ian Kinsler, Matt Kemp.
11-20: Jason Kipnis, Pablo Sandoval, Edwin Encarnacion, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Allen Craig, Jacoby Ellsbury, Edwin Encarnacion, Hunter Pence.
21-30: Joey Votto, Adam Jones, Michael Bourn, Brett Lawrie, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Matt Holliday, Josh Hamilton.
The rest: Billy Butler, Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Jose Altuve, Carlos Beltran, Bryce Harper, Lance Berkman, Matt Wieters, Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Carlos Ruiz, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Curtis Granderson, Anthony Rizzo.
Acknowledging that Rizzo does not belong as anything other than a lottery ticket and that Harper is mostly an upside play; that Hosmer is here purely on potential, youth, and skills rather than any sort of production; that I won’t own any of Mauer, Ruiz, and Molina because catchers get hurt and the position is strangely deep in streaming candidates; that Goldschmidt and Moustakas have serious platoon issues; that A.Gonzalez offers no reason to expect a return to form; and that Berkman has no bat speed and Granderson and Hamilton have far more value in trade than in production, we realistically don’t have more than 35 or 40 hitters who must be owned.
I am more enthusiastic than consensus rankings on some players – Kipnis, Craig, and Sandoval being three of the biggest discrepancies – and ambivalent about some well regarded players – Fielder, Hamilton, Granderson – but the top 40 or so players are pretty clear.
Among this group, we’re basically equivocating to move players one or two or 10 or 20 spots. There are two crucial skills that effect my valuation that don’t show up directly in your stat line: the first is health and the second is variance. If we look at preseason projections, we see players like Tulowitzki, Pedroia, Bautista, Kemp, and so forth. Within the tiers of production, it matters far more that a player is actually in the lineup and productive than it does which player you actually choose. Likewise, a player like Granderson could be a top-ten hitter, or, in a bad year, he could single-handedly destroy your batting average. I am biased against players who hurt rate stats. So for now, these are the 40 productive fantasy hitters. Everyone else is contingent on categorical need and should be dropped outright if you have a means to more at-bats.
There is a pool of players, however, who will easily outproduce the bottom of this list, who will give you better numbers than players like Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, who are clearly flawed in one particular area, and it’s worthwhile after asserting this for two weeks to actually examine some of the options. What follows is a set of players available in more than half of standard ESPN leagues as of this writing, most of whom are available in more than 90 percent, and a brief account of how best to use them.
Andruw Jones (1.4 percent ESPN ownership) – Jones is no longer a full-time player in reality or in fantasy, but properly employed, he can be an asset in both. Start him as the Yankees do, against left-handed pitching. His line this year is .247/.338/.552 with eight home runs in ninety-seven at bats for a .372 wOBA and 132 wRC+. Play him at home for added benefit, as his total season line at Yankee Stadium produces 132 wRC+. Don’t expect help in batting average, but as a power source, he is beyond elite. Compare him to Mark Teixeira, for instance. This version of Jones is the better option.
Jim Thome (0.3) – Thome is old and can’t bend over any more, but you don’t need him to play the field any more than Baltimore does. He may be injured in any at-bat, but at no investment to acquire him, you don’t need to worry about that. Stream him against right-handed pitching, against which he’s hit .267 with a 113 wRC+ this year. Home runs will come.
Brandon Moss (9.7) – Oakland plays him in a platoon, and you should too. After several years at Sacramento, Moss is finally giving Oakland some return on the Dan Haren trade with a .278/.366/.708 line, nine home runs in 72 at bats, a .446 wOBA and 188 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. He’ll slow down some, but he plays in the strong side of a platoon for a team than knows how to utilize him.
John Jaso (0.1) – You won’t see many recommendations of Seattle hitters, particularly ones that don’t depend on home/away splits, but as half a catcher, Jaso can help your team. Start him against right handed pitching (away from Safeco for further benefit). His line to date is .319/.421/.555 for a .976 OPS, 418 wOBA, and 170 wRC+. I guarantee you don’t get that line from your catcher, and between Jaso, Doumit, and the 50-100% owned catchers who may or may not available in your league, there’s no need for you to own a top-ten catcher this year.
Eric Chavez (0.1) – Chavez effectively shares time with Jones, though they play different positions, and the Yankees have a very underrated rotating hitter between the two of them. As with Jones, don’t look for stolen bases, but unlike Jones, Chavez can help you in batting average. Throw in three categories of production as a power source with on base skills in a strong lineup, and you have an asset. Against right handed pitching, Chavez has hit .300/.357/.546 with eight home runs in 130 at bats for a .382 wOBA and 139 wRC+. Chavez is putrid against left-handers, but you’ll never play him against one. (Ed. note: Alex Rodriguez’s injury came after the submission of this article.)
Todd Frazier (4.6) – Frazier’s ownership rate will skyrocket in the next week, as he now has a clear path to at bats with Votto out for a month. Stream him while you can as a half-and-a-bit player, against right-handed pitching (.891 OPS) and at home (.846), sitting him against stronger pitching. Expect his numbers against lefties to decline, as they’ve come in limited at bats.
Cody Ross (46.6) – Ross’s playing time could be questionable with both Ellsbury and Crawford back, but he should be on the weak side of a platoon playing exclusively against left-handed pitching. Ross has hit .328/.410/.836 for a .500 wOBA and .217 wRC+ against lefties, and as strong as Boston’s outfield/DH mix is, Ross will continue to participate in a de facto platoon, particularly with Ortiz on the DL for the next two weeks. No offense is so good it will fail to find room for that sort of production.
Mark Ellis (2.3) – There are few outstanding streaming options among middle infielders, so Ellis works best if you carry two active players for one position or if you stream three players for two spots. Against lefties, he’s hit .355/.429/.565. Start him on the road for added benefit.
Dayan Viciedo (27) – After a mid-season slump and some tarnishing of his strong start, Viciedo is available in roughly three quarters of leagues. Against left-handers, though, he’s hit .343/.387/.614 with five home runs in only seventy at-bats (compared to 10 in more than 250 against same-side pitching).
Scott Hairston (1.2) – Hairston has hit .303/.339/.624 with nine home runs in 109 at-bats against left-handed pitching. Start him on the road for an additional bonus.
Wilin Rosario (15.3) – Rosario won’t help your batting average, but again, as the weak side of a platoon and in Coors Field he will help in three categories. Once Colorado trades Hernandez, Rosario will have a clear path to full at-bats. For now, take advantage of his line against lefties (.917 OPS, 133 wRC+) and absorb the batting average loss.
Ryan Doumit (9.7) – Doumit can be the strong half of a streamed catcher platoon. If you start Jaso against lefties, Rosario against lefties, and Doumit against righties, you have a full catcher. Doumit’s contribution: .298/.360/.466 for a 118 wRC+. With half your line from Doumit, a third from Jaso and Rosario, and a smattering of Yasmani Grandal or whoever fills in the rest of the days for you, you have fantasy’s top catcher. For free.
Coco Crisp (31.9), Juan Pierre (28.2), Rajai Davis (12.4), Jordan Schafer (14), Tony Gwynn (0.3) – At least two or three are available in your league. Steals are easy to find. Start Crisp (.247), Schafer (.257), Davis (.262), and Pierre (.341) against right-handers, starting whoever plays the team least equipped to stop the running game, mix in Gwynn (.253) when his hamstrings are in working order, again, against righties with an emphasis on road games, and you won’t need to chase steals. By platooning them, you minimize the batting average hit, as you can absorb the .250-.260 average through favorable splits in your other streaming spots.
Seth Smith (1.5) – Like Moss, Smith is in the strong half of an effective platoon in Oakland. Against right-handed pitching, Smith is now batting .254/.365/.457 for a 126 wRC+. Don’t play him against all righties, but spot him away from Oakland. On the road, his 129 wRC+ includes lefties as well.
Taking the players mentioned, you could, for example, trade your catcher and two of your outfielders for one elite bat, consolidating value at one position. You set out to acquire Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout or Ian Kinsler from an owner who sees strong production at three positions as an advantage. You find a reasonable trade which, superficially, your trading partner wins, keeping him happy to trade with you another day. Having done this, you set out to platoon your catcher and one utility slot.
At catcher, you stream effectively, watching lineups and getting all of John Jaso’s at bats against righties. You start Rosario against lefties and fill in with Doumit. Figure that sometimes matchups overlap and dock Doumit by half. So you have Jaso (.319/.421/.555, 4 HRs over 119 at-bats), Rosario (.254/.290/.627, 7 HRs over 59 at-bats), and Doumit (.298/.360/.466, 5 HRs in 203 at-bats, prorated to 101-at bats due to conflicts in favorable matchups). Because matchups overlap, you’re also forced to use Yasmani Grandal (6.8% ownership) for 52 at bats at a line of .288/.288/.588 and four HRs. That gives a composite line of 331 at bats, which is fairly conservative, as aggressive streaming will result in at bats commensurate with the league leaders. With this platoon, your catching position produces at a rate of .299/.362/.551 with 18 home runs in just over half a season.
In your utility slot, you platoon the freely available and less-than-ten-percent-owned bats of Eric Chavez and Brandon Moss. You carry Cody Ross and Dayan Viciedo, and fill in with Scott Hairston. Because you stream aggressively, you are able to gain at-bats commensurate with league leaders, and you have 375 at-bats from that spot to date. For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll assume you get all the at bats of Moss (72), Ross (67), Viciedo (70) and Chavez (130) for a total of 339, leaving a prorated 36 at-bats from Hairston. Obviously, many of the favorable matchups will overlap, but there are other similarly productive players we could plug in, and this is just a shorthand to demonstrate possibilities. Your composite utility player thus bats .312/.359/.655 with 34 home runs in 375 at bats. That’s a top-five overall hitter, if not the top hitter in the game. Even assuming you make copious mistakes and do the job poorly, you can still outproduce the second half of the top 50 with no difficulty.
You should notice a pattern here. There are dozens of players with pronounced platoon splits, particularly players on the weak side of a platoon. These players will kill a team in a full time role, so they have no place on most rosters, but stream them daily and you can have Matt Holliday or Hunter Pence in your lineup three times over with minimal investment and effort. Do it well and you could have the production of a first-round or second-round pick.
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