When the Yankees signed Chase Headley after his strong finish in 2014 with the team, it seemed like he would be an under the radar fantasy baseball option. He was playing in a favorable home park, after all, and his career year in 2012 two years removed. However, the shift, perhaps trying to justify the contract or simple regression to the mean, befell Headley in 2015 and 2016 with his OBP falling along with the counting statistics never approaching projections.
Just when fantasy baseball owners thought it may be safe to ignore Headley, he once again may merit attention. With the caveat of a small sample size alert, after 15 games, he’s slashing .396/.500/.646 with 14 runs, three home runs, six RBI and three stolen bases. While many will see the hot start as an outlier, could there be more than meets the eye?
Headley’s only recorded an ISO above .200 in the harrowed 2012 season, but it’s at .250 with May approaching. His identical 17.2 walk and strikeout percentages provide some hope and indicate he may be seeing the ball really well right now.
Most important is the change in his approach. During his career, Headley’s pulled the ball 44.6 percent of the time and at Yankee Stadium, it makes total sense. But, this year, his pull and opposite field percentage of 34.2 each provide a teaser to Headley using all fields to combat the shift. Add in the fact Headley’s cut his O-swing (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) almost in half from 25.7 percent to 13.8 only reinforces improved discipline.
Fantasy baseball owners will need to discern how valuable Headley will be moving forward. His blend of power with speed at the onset of the season could be a mirage or a return to glory akin to his career year in 2012 when he hit 31 home runs with 17 stolen bases. Many forget Headley stole double digit bases from 2009-12. More fly balls, fewer ground balls with less aggression at the plate and more walks could make Headley a worthy flier in 12-team mixed leagues at corner infield. Why not find out?
Also Underowned in 12-team Mixed Leagues
- Mitch Moreland, Boston
During research in the preseason, Mitch Moreland’s power to left-center seemed perfectly suited to Fenway Park. After an 0-for-12 start to the year, Moreland’s settled in and after 15 games leads the majors with 10 doubles along with the highest hard contact rate (60 percent). An inflated BABIP of .487 will not be sustainable so his .351/.431/.579 slash line will regress, but his power will play well in Boston despite only one home run to start the year.
Like Headley above, Moreland’s opposite field percentage (27.5 percent) exceeds his average just below 22 percent the last two seasons. He’s been more aggressive in terms of swinging strike percentage but decreased his O-swing by five percent as well. Hitting fifth in a strong lineup will only enhance Moreland’s counting stats in regards to runs and RBI moving forward. Those looking for a boost at corner infield could do worse than Moreland.
- Max Kepler, Minnesota
There’s a theme with the three hitting targets in this waiver column. Max Kepler’s on the verge of breaking out and this year, he’s hitting more fly balls (up just under 10 percent), fewer ground balls (down 17 percent) and using the opposite field more (12 percent increase). On the surface, his seven runs, one home run and seven RBI do not jump off the page, but Kepler’s slashing .294/.351/.490 to open the season with a .359 wOBA and 37.5 percent hard contact rate.
During his 113 games last year, Kepler finished with 17 home runs and six stolen bases. He’s yet to steal a base this year, but in the marathon which fantasy baseball represents, there’s plenty of time. Use his underlying data as a baseline along with the 23 home runs plus stolen bases from last season to justify taking a chance on Kepler. Especially for those needing an outfielder off the waiver wire. If he reached 20 home runs with 8 to 10 steals this year, it would not be a surprise.
- Brad Brach, Baltimore
Discerning how much FAAB to gamble on Brad Brach if he’s still available will be determined by Zach Britton’s pending MRI on his forearm. While the team maintains a positive front, taking a chance on Brach may not be a bad idea. He’s off to a strong start with a 33.3 strikeout minus walk percentage with 11 strikeouts in seven innings of work. Over the prior two seasons, Brach struck out a combined 181 in just over 158 innings of work.
This could be just a flier for the short term, or a reward for owners who take a chance on the talented Orioles reliever. Stay tuned.
- Shawn Kelley, Washington
Although the team announced Shawn Kelley will share the ninth inning with Koda Glover, consider him closer 1A in this scenario. Due to workload concerns, Kelley did not win the job during the spring despite a strong showing. If he reaches 60 innings pitched this season, it would represent the first time he’s done so in the majors. So, be cautiously optimistic.
Kelley’s 19.2 swinging strike percentage to start the year should encourage owners along with his 9:2 strikeout to walk rate to start the season. He may not work too many back-to-back games and owns clouded injury history due to elbow concerns, but in the near term, he’s should garner the majority of the saves opportunities.
- Koda Glover, Washington
For those taking the long view, adding Koda Glover makes more sense if he’s available in keeper or deeper formats. Despite being a rookie, his moxie along with slider could translate to success in the ninth inning over the course of time. In 5.2 innings this year, he’s struck out four with a 3.18 ERA, 2.04 FIP and 1.06 WHIP. Speculate.
Worth owning in deeper formats
- Robbie Grossman, Minnesota
While Robbie Grossman’s much better against left-handed pitching, since joining the Twins he’s slashing .285/.397/.451 with 57 runs, 12 home runs, 42 RBI and two stolen bases in 111 games. Grossman hits second or fifth in the lineup and provides sneaky OBP upside along with some counting stats for those in deeper leagues with little fanfare.
- Taylor Motter, Seattle
With the return of Jean Segura pending, taking a flier on Taylor Motter may seem shortsighted. He’s hitting .257/.333/.629 with a whopping .371 ISO and nice .339 wOBA. Motter will not stay at shortstop when Segura returns but he could shift to first base where Danny Valencia’s hitting .154/.224/.231 with a .077 ISO and .206 wOBA. Less than ideal for a first baseman.
- Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis
It’s a small sample, but watching Trevor Rosenthal save his first game since June of last year on Wednesday proved impressive. His delivery looked crisper and Rosenthal hit or exceeded 100 MPH on the gun all inning. He struck out two with a hit allowed in the save. As for his competition, Seung-Hwan Oh’s allowed runs in four of his six outings while working with reduced velocities across the board.
- Justin Wilson and Joe Jimenez, Detroit
Speaking of struggling closers, Francisco Rodriguez blew a save last night, though his defense did him no favors, and he’s allowed earned runs in four of his seven appearances this season. Justin Wilson looms in the bullpen with a save and four holds to start the year. He’s struck out 11 in 7.1 innings of work with zero runs allowed, a 1.15 FIP and a 0.41 FIP.
For keeper league players or those looking to stash saves, Joe Jimenez appeared once with the Tigers with a strikeout in a clean inning. His reward, a demotion the same night with the team needing a long reliever for their pending road trip. He’s saved two games with Toledo so far with seven strikeouts against 16 total batters faced. Jimenez may need more time to develop, but when he returns could ascend to the ninth inning in the second half.
Just missing the cut are Aaron Hicks and Albert Almora, but both deserve a look in deep leagues if they receive more at-bats. Adam Frazier should do will hitting atop the Pirates lineup as well.
Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, BaseballSavant.com