New Everyday Starters — May 24, 2021

I’m sure I’m not the only fantasy owner ravaged by injuries this year. With multiple injuries seemingly occurring every day, new players are getting opportunities for regular playing time. Of course, poor play by the incumbent may be another reason for new opportunities. Let’s discuss a bunch of these new everyday starters and determine whether they are worthy of your attention.

Nico Hoerner

Hoerner failed to make the Cubs out of spring training but was recalled on Apr 22 before hitting the IL on May 4. He returned on May 16 and has started every game since. Hoerner skipped Triple-A, so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to see him struggle initially in 2019 and 2020 while in the Majors. But it looks like he could be ready to hit at the highest level now. His walk rate has jumped into double digits, while he has cut his strikeout rate down from last year’s spike. Hoerner always posted low strikeout rates during his short minor league career and that was one of the most appealing skills of his. He also hits lots of line drives and grounders, which should be a positive for his BABIP.

Finally, his maxEV has jumped again, while both his HardHit% and overall EV have increased to career bests as well. His power has been the biggest question as he only posted a .116 ISO during his longest stint in the minors, which came at Double-A in 2019. He owns some speed, but you’re not going to get 20 steals from him, so he’ll need to deliver some semblance of power to earn positive fantasy value. His profile reminds me a bit of Placido Polanco, who was routinely undervalued in fantasy circles because he did a touch of everything, without standing out anywhere. It’s a boring skill set that you feel like you always want to improve on, but he does just enough of everything to be above replacement level, even in shallow mixed leagues. That could be Hoerner, except he has batted eighth in the lineup most of the time and that’s going to hold back his counting stats.

Jose Rojas

The Angels have dealt with a litany of injuries, the latest being the best baseball player on the planet, Mike Trout. That has led to Rojas starting the majority of games in recent weeks, bouncing between the infield and outfield. Rojas has shown pretty good power in his last two minor league stops in 2018 and 2019, posting ISO marks well over .200 at both Double-A in 2018 and Triple-A in 2019. That power came with good plate discipline metrics too, with double digit walk rates and strikeout rates just over 20%. He was also a fly ball hitter, which made the most out of that power.

That success hasn’t yet translated to the Majors, as both his walk and strikeout rates have slipped, while his ISO has declined to below .200 and HR/FB rate is stuck in the mid-single digits. But the 110.0 maxEV tells us there really is power in his bat, so the homers should come. That the Angels didn’t recall top prospects Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh when Trout went down means the team clearly wants to continue giving Rojas near regular at-bats. For as long as the playing time keeps up, he’s worthy of your attention.

Ji-Man Choi

Choi would have entered the season on the strong side of a platoon at first base, but a knee injury kept him out until he was activated from the IL on May 15. Since returning, he has started against all right-handers as planned and initially sat against two left-handed starters. However, Choi is off to an excellent start with the bat, which apparently was enough to start two games in a row over the weekend against a lefty. That’s seriously noteworthy as time versus lefties would considerably add to his counting stat potential.

Choi finally played a full season in 2019 at the age of 28 and performed admirably at the plate, which is exactly what his minor league record would have suggested. Last year, the home run power disappeared and his wOBA fell, so it was understandable if he wasn’t exactly top of mind as a corner option in deeper leagues. Obviously his quick start so far is pretty meaningless given the tiny sample, but at least it will give him a longer leash for playing time. After last year’s down year, a slow first 25 plate appearances could have quickly relegated him to only sometime starter and mostly bench bat.

It’s true, Choi is far from exciting and not exactly a shallow mixed leaguer. But he hits in the middle of the order and has usually shown pretty good power, so he definitely has value. Finally, his value is dramatically boosted in OBP leagues as he has posted a double digit walk rate every year in the Majors, with a career 12.9% mark.

Seth Brown

Oh Seth Brown, how I love thee. Sometimes you just luck out. In my AL-Only keeper league, I had to replace several injured hitters and Brown was one of my few options. I didn’t need to perform any deep research to bid on him. I had no choice! It was either him or a couple of other scrubs who weren’t expected to play much. Luckily, my bid that week nearly a month and a half ago was uncontested and I landed a part-timer with power I hoped would just hit me a couple of homers until my team got healthier.

Instead, Brown has moved into a strong side platoon role with Stephen Piscotty, as the latter has struggled to a .282 wOBA after posting just a .273 mark last year. Brown has taken advantage, posting a .329 wOBA, .273 ISO, and 28% HR/FB rate. Statcast thinks he could be even better as it calculates a .356 xwOBA, but as a left-hander who has pulled 74% of his grounders, it’s likely his BABIP is being pushed down by the shift and Statcast isn’t accounting for that.

Brown has twice homered at least 30 times in the minors and even posted an insane .337 ISO at Triple-A in 2019. So this power display is absolutely not out of nowhere. He has already posted a 113.7 maxEV, which ranks 45th out of 292 among hitters with at least 50 batted ball events. His avg FB/LD EV of 97.3 ranks 26th and his Barrels/BBE% of 14.3% ranks 35th. However you want to prove it, it’s clear that Brown owns excellent power and it has appeared in games.

The good news about his power is that it hasn’t come at the expense of contact. His 26% strikeout rate and 12.1% SwStk% are only slightly higher than the league average, but his .273 ISO blows the .159 league average out of the water. Obviously a .216 batting average is ugly and while he’s not going to be a big BABIP guy because of his IFFB% and tendency to ground into the shift, he’s certainly deserving of better than a .214 mark. He posted marks above .300 at every minor league stop of his career since his 2015 Rookie league debut, so he’s shown decent BABIP skills before.

I see no reason to think Brown’s performance is a fluke and he should continue to see strong side platoon at-bats. He has hit second in the order during his last four starts which is another positive for his fantasy value moving forward.

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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Bless You Boys
1 year ago

everything considered, I’d say Mookie is the best baseball player on the planet in 2021. does everything all game long.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

This got me curious, and there is actually no period of longer than a year where Betts ever beats Trout in WAR. That includes 2020-2021 so far, where Trout has a 0.5 WAR lead for now.

In fact, the only time periods of a year or more where Betts ever bests Trout is 2018 and 2020. And despite that, Trout still beats him in 2018-2020.

To me, the fact that the the clear second best player of this generation is behind in almost all time periods is one of the most amazing stats that show Trout’s dominance. Betts could end up with 70+ WAR in his career, be a top 50 player of all time, and still be barely ever as good as Trout in any given time period, no matter how short.