New Everyday Starters — May 12, 2021

Injury and poor performance results in a constant stream of new everyday starters in team lineups. It could be difficult to keep up and notice these changes unless you own the guy who no longer has a starting job. So let’s dive into some of the hitters who are now getting an opportunity to play every day and figure out whether that playing time will continue and whether there’s potential positive fantasy impact.

Mike Tauchman

At the end of April, the Giants acquired Tauchman from the Yankees, as it was clear that he simply wouldn’t get any sort of extended opportunity with the latter given their plethora of outfield and DH options. A half-season breakout back in 2019 showed us the upside and the Giants, who are seemingly always in need of offensive help, pounced. Since his first game in a Giants uniform on April 28, Tauchman has now started every game, even against left-handed starters. He has even led off in six of his 11 starts, and all six of those starts atop the lineup have come in the last seven games, with the only time at the bottom of the order against a lefty. That gives Tauchman real fantasy potential as he’s not even being platooned at the moment.

We have about a full season’s worth of plate appearances over Tauchman’s career, split up over parts of five years going back to 2017. A strong line drive rate and low IFFB% has helped drive an above average career BABIP of .324, which he’ll need to offset a bit of a high strikeout rate to maintain a batting average that doesn’t kill your team. What’s interesting about his power is that he’s posted a solid maxEV of 111.8 over his career, but he doesn’t consistently hit the ball hard and his Barrel% is relatively low. It seems to me that he has that power potential in his bat, but has struggled to get to that power consistently. That might be why he’s on his third organization in four years, each team hoping to tap that power. Oracle Park used to be the worst home run park for lefties…by far. But this year, it has actually boosted left-handed home runs. It might be a small sample fluke, or the effects of the changes they made to the dimensions last year.

Tauchman also possesses some speed as he has posted better than average HP to 1B marks. Better yet, he could actually use that speed to swipe bases, as he has stolen 16 bases throughout his career, while being caught just twice. That speed also has no doubt helped boost his BABIP.

Overall, Tauchman is a potential three-category contributor, with positive contributions in home runs, stolen bases, and runs scored. While the hope is he doesn’t hurt your batting average, it’s unlikely he provides much, if any, positive value in the category. Batting leadoff will make it difficult for him to earn positive value in RBI, unless you’re in a deep mixed or NL-Only league. For as long as he’s playing every day, he is a chance to make a fantasy impact in shallower leagues.

Josh Harrison

The Nationals opened the season with a mishmash at second base. It wasn’t until a week in, on April 12, that Harrison took over the starting second base job. He’s made the vast majority of his starts there, with a couple of games in the outfield mixed in. The 33-year-old hasn’t recorded more than 500 plate appearances since 2017, but he’s shown the potential to be a fantasy contributor in the past.

From 2016-2019, his SwStk% and strikeout rate had been moving in the wrong direction — up. Those marks climbed each year before reversing in 2020, and that reversal has continued this year. For a guy with below average power, you don’t want to see an increasing strikeout rate. While Harrison only holds a career 6% HR/FB rate, he’s reached double digits during one full season and hit it twice over small sample partial seasons. This year, he has already set a new maxEV personal high, while his HardHit%, EV, and Barrel% are all also at career bests. Perhaps he’ll notch his second double digit HR/FB rate over a full season as a result.

Harrison has stolen as many as 19 bases and had four straight double digit marks from 2014-2017 while he was still earning playing time. As he has aged and the playing time has gone, the steals have mostly disappeared and he now ranks middle of the pack in Sprint Speed. He might still be good for a handful of steals, bumping up his fantasy value by a couple of bucks, but I wouldn’t count on a double digit pace any longer.

Harrison has hit second or third over his last 10 games and in the top three in 15 of his his last 16 games, which is a good spot to accrue fantasy value on any team, especially one with a potential solid offense when everyone is healthy. While he’s not going to standout in any particular category, respectable contributions across the board means he should be appealing to fantasy owners. The only real playing time concerns relate to when/if they want to give Carter Kieboom another chance and if/when they deem prospect Luis Garcia ready to return to the Majors and stay up for good.

Charlie Culberson

For a team no one expected to fight for a playoff spot, it’s kind of hilarious that journeyman Charlie Culberson and his career .299 wOBA is the Rangers’ starting third baseman. Of course, his .371 wOBA means he isn’t forcing them to decide on a change, but that wOBA is significantly higher than his .296 xwOBA. Clearly, Statcast doesn’t deem his .392 BABIP legit, I guess even with the inflated 27.3% line drive rate.

Culberson does possess some home run power, holding a career 12.9% HR/FB rate, though a 30.7% career FB% means he doesn’t take advantage of it that often. Then again, that lower FB% has likely boosted his BABIP over his career, which sits well above the league average. While I haven’t calculated my xK%, a 17.3% SwStk% is concerning and suggests that perhaps he’s deserving of a higher strikeout rate. He has swung more than the average, so it’s possible he’s putting the ball in play before he gets to strike three, despite all the whiffs.

Culberson continues to find himself toward the bottom of the Rangers lineup, even with his .371 wOBA. That’s already not a great place to be. Then combine that with serious potential for regression, as he’s vastly outperforming his career wOBA and xwOBA, and you get a guy that there’s no real reason to roster unless you’re super desperate.

Jonathan Villar

Villar has been the beneficiary of J.D. Davis‘ trip to the IL, with no word yet on when the latter might return. Villar is a former fantasy darling with his combination of power and speed, as he’s hit as many as 24 home runs, while swiping as many as 62 bags. Last year was a big disappointment and it cost him the opportunity for a starting job entering the season.

Strikeouts have always been an issue, especially considering he owns just a .141 ISO through his career, so it’s inexcusable to be striking out 26.7% of the time. But he’s offset those strikeouts with a high BABIP as he hits a lot of grounders and his speed helps him amass infield hits.

This year, Villar has only attempted two steals so far despite reaching first via a single or walk 18 times already. His Sprint Speed surprisingly ranks just 195th in baseball at the moment, which is middle of the pack, but essentially unchanged from last year. Compared to 2019, he has lost a full foot per second in Sprint Speed, as it’s declined from 28.0 to 27.0 this season. That’s significant, and suggests the steals are clearly not returning. However, it doesn’t mean he won’t contribute in the category.

For as long as Davis is out, Villar is worth gambling on, but his production might be closer to Josh Harrison-esque than the Villar we’ve been used to in prior years. That said, it’s still a small sample size so you never know if/when he’ll erupt for five steals in a week.

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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1 year ago

Something like this has potential to be the next “Mining The News”. Good stuff, Mike.

Urban Shocker
1 year ago
Reply to  Rotoholic

Agreed, great article Mike.