Ji-Man Choi & Jim Johnson: Deep League Wire

As our much needed baseball break comes to an end, it’s time once again to explore the free agent pool and search for hidden treasures.

Ji-Man Choi | 1B LAA | CBS 0% Owned

Over the weekend, C.J. Cron owners were dealt a tough blow, as their hot-hitting first baseman went down with a broken hand, which is expected to sideline him for six-to-eight weeks. The team’s corresponding roster move was to recall Choi, who had been with the club earlier in the season and did little at the plate. Given his non-existent ownership rate, it’s clear that fantasy owners are either taking a break from baseball like the players are and aren’t paying attention, or they don’t expect Choi to receive much playing time.

But I disagree. He has started both games since his recall, surprisingly his second game coming in left field. That’s obviously a good sign if the team is willing to be flexible and could get him multi-position eligibility. The thing is, who else does the team have as an alternative? RosterResource suggests that the left-handed hitting Choi will fall into a platoon with the right-handed Jefry Marte, which makes sense, as I cannot imagine that Marte suddenly deserves a full-time role.

So if Choi does garner strong side platoon at-bats, that certainly makes him worthy of a roster spot in a deep league. Although he hasn’t shown a whole lot of fantasy attractive skills in terms of power or speed, he has shown excellent plate discipline. His walk rates have typically sat in the double digits, while his strikeout rates have been respectable in the mid-to-high teen range. While we don’t technically count walk and strikeout rates in fantasy leagues, a strong walk rate should keep him in the lineup and increase his runs scored, while a decent strikeout rate should help his batting average. His value gets a major boost in OBP leagues.

Jim Johnson | RP ATL | 2% Owned

With the Braves going nowhere as expected, the assumption is that closer Arodys Vizcaino may be on his way out by the trade deadline. My leaguemates have been scrambling to speculate on his replacement over the last couple of weeks, picking up Johnson, along with candidates such as Mauricio Cabrera and Dario Alvarez. I think it’ll be Johnson’s job for two reasons — his historical experience in the role and because there is no other clear alternative.

Cabrera throws hard. Like, really hard. His average fastball velocity is a ridiculous 100.5 mph at the moment. That’s right, he averages over 100 mph right now! Though curiously even with that gas, he hasn’t actually missed bats, as he sports just a 5.6% SwStk% and has struck out just one of the 25 batters he has faced. His minor league control has been horrible, as he has walked more than 10% of the batters he has faced at every stop except one. But his performance is kind of meaningless. The real reason he won’t be closing is because he has all of six innings on his Major League resume. He skipped Triple-A. He’s a 22-year-old rookie. He’s not going to suddenly vault into closerdom so quickly.

Alvarez is in a similar boat, but actually has the performance right now over a tiny sample size, unlike Cabrera. He doesn’t throw anywhere close to as hard, but has generated a crazy 20.2% SwStk% in his 9.2 innings and struck out an insane 22 of the 40 batters he has faced. But he’s a lefty and has just 14.2 MLB innings to his name. He was also DFA’d by the Mets in late May! How many times has a pitcher claimed off waivers during the season turned into a closer that same year?

So that leaves Johnson. You’re familiar with him and no doubt bored of his skill set. Lots of grounders, 70% fastballs, below average strikeout rates, and decent control. It’s not exciting. He hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 since 2013. But with some neutral luck, he should be able to get the job done. And he’ll probably be given the first opportunity to get that job done.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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You’re crazy if you don’t think Jim Johnson will be traded