On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much about Jesse Hahn that should inspire a trip to the waiver wire. He is a below-average strikeout pitcher with ordinary control. His one standout skill entering this season was his ability to induce grounders. Hahn’s career ground ball rate was 51 percent, which was good, though not extreme. So far in 2017, he is getting grounders on 46 percent of hit balls.
Despite all of this, in points leagues or any format that rewards quality starts and innings, you should go out of your way to add Hahn. Even owners in Roto leagues should think about picking him up.
If you decide to wade through Hahn’s stats to find out what’s so special about the Athletics’ righty, it could take you awhile to come across it. He excels in two esoteric but important ways. They have been vital to Hahn’s ability to post quality starts in five of six attempts, posting a 2.74 ERA.
First, he has been extraordinary at inducing soft contact on fly balls. Only four pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched on fly balls this season have a higher soft contact rate on flies than Hahn’s 28.6-percent clip. Second, he leads the same group of pitchers with the lowest percentage of pulled flies, at 4.8. That’s well below any other pitcher, and only Kendall Graveman and Mike Leake join him in having a rate below 10 percent.
These two trends combined, along with Hahn pitching his home games in spacious Oakland Coliseum, have allowed him to limit opponents to one home run over 42 2/3 innings. Hahn has been stingy with extra-base hits in general, allowing only eight, and six of those have been doubles. Of pitchers who have allowed at least 100 batted balls, Hahn has the 22nd-lowest barrels-per-plate appearance rate, which stands at 3.3 percent.
Hahn has never previously excelled at limiting the damage done by fly balls to this degree, so owners should be prepared for some regression. Yet he has been so extreme in this regard that even with regression, we should expect that he will continue to do a good job of avoiding extra-base hits. His home park, as well as the others in the American League West, will help Hahn avoid homers. With Angel Stadium being tough to homer in and Safeco Field, Minute Maid Park, and Globe Life Park all being neutral, there is not a single good home run venue in the division.
Other Under-Owned Players
- Keon Broxton, OF, Brewers
Broxton has reached base in each of his last 14 games, and over that span, he has hit .385 with 3 home runs, 5 doubles, 1 triple and 4 stolen bases. He has also struck out 19 times in 56 plate appearances, and that may have something to do with why Broxton is still available in some 12-team mixed leagues. He has made up for it with a .567 BABIP which is nothing short of ridiculous.
No one should expect Broxton to sustain that mark, but take a peek at how he has done it — with a 33-percent line drive rate, 30-percent pull rate and 46-percent hard contact rate. All of those rates should normalize, but since the second half of 2016, Broxton’s “normal” has been far above average for each of those three indicators.
In short, Broxton has the batted-ball profile to overcome a high strikeout rate, and he owns power and speed as well. He should be added in all but the shallowest formats.
- Zack Godley, SP, Diamondbacks
Godley showed promise in his 2015 major league debut, compiling a 3.19 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings, but he fell flat with a 6.39 ERA last season. If his first two starts of 2017 are any indication, it looks like Zack is back. It’s not just that Godley has a 2.25 ERA with a strikeout per inning; it’s how he has snuffed out both the Padres’ and Tigers’ offenses: with a sinker that has netted an 85-percent ground ball rate and a curveball that has induced whiffs at a 25-percent rate.
Even if you are too late to get Godley for his two starts in Week 7 (versus the Mets, at the Padres), he is still worth a claim for his potentially lethal arsenal.
- Justin Wilson, RP, Tigers
Though Wilson became the Tigers’ closer less than a week ago, he has been pitching like an elite ninth-inning option all season long. His 1.74 xFIP is the sixth-lowest among qualifying relievers, and he is getting swinging strikes at a 15-percent rate. In ESPN and CBS leagues, Wilson has a lower ownership percentage than Tony Watson, Brad Brach and Brandon Kintzler, who have lesser skill sets. You may be happy with your current relievers, but it’s at least worth a look to see if Wilson might be an upgrade.
- Justin Smoak, 1B, Blue Jays
For years, Smoak has been on the fringe of being relevant even in deep leagues, but he has looked like a different hitter in his age-30 season. He is on pace for a career-high swing rate, and yet he is striking out far less than he has in recent seasons. Smoak is just not missing good pitches. His 96-percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone is the second-highest in the majors. With all of that extra contact has come extra power. Smoak is batting .274 and slugging .500. His previous career bests were, respectively, .238 and .470.
With first base looking like a deeper position than it did on draft day, you don’t have to take a chance on Smoak in a 12-team mixed league. However, he may be arriving as a top-20 first baseman who should be starting in all deeper formats.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Baseball-Reference.