A pair of speedy outfielders have caught my eye this week as being under owned across fantasy providers. One of the duo ranks within the top-15 in stolen bases this year, but inconsistency and a recent injury are almost certainly to blame for his availability. The other has been inefficient on the bases this year and isn’t a sure thing to be a major asset on the bases, but his speed is elite and the rest of the profile is excellent.
Byron Buxton (MIN): CBS – 32%, ESPN – 10.8%, Yahoo! – 22%
A groin injury sent Buxton to the disabled list right after the All-Star break, and a migraine kept him on the shelf longer than the minimum stint. Ultimately, the extra days out with the migraine resulted in three rehab games for Triple-A Rochester. Buxton thoroughly annihilated minor-league pitching in those three games hitting .417/.462/.917 with two homers, a 7.7% BB% and 23.1% K% in 13 plate appearances. Three games is a tiny sample, but it serves to illustrate the migraine and groin injury weren’t hampering his production.
The 23-year-old’s season has hardly been the breakout his biggest supporters hoped for or expected this year. Overall, he’s hitting .217/.290/.308 with only five homers, a 8.9% BB% and 30.7% K%. The ugly strikeout is supported by swing-and-miss issues fueling an ugly SwStr%. The month prior to hitting the disabled list, though, Buxton seemed to be figuring things out.
From June 14 to July 14, he hit only .256/.337/.354 with two homers, but he was busy on the bases with six stolen bases, and his 10.9% BB% ad 25.0% K% were huge improvements over his full-season numbers. A look under the hood at his plate discipline numbers is even more promising. During that time span, he sported a 26.0% O-Swing%, 70.4% Z-Swing%, 86.8% Z-Contact% and 9.3% SwStr% compared to this year’s league averages of 30.4%, 66.8%, 85.5% and 10.4%, respectively. In addition to chasing less pitches out of the strike zone and being more aggressive against pitches in the zone, Buxton cut back on his empty swings substantially. The improved contact rate was needed desperately, but the improved approach is huge for sustainable success, too. His slash line hardly screams success, but it’s a step in the right direction, and a .337 OBP plays in OBP leagues. It also means he’s on base plenty to help fantasy gamers in the category he moves the needle in the most, stolen bases. Gamers in need of speed should give Buxton a look. And if you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, Buxton’s just the type of player I’d target as a deal sweetener in a larger scale trade.
Derek Fisher (HOU): CBS – 36%, ESPN – 9.1%, Yahoo! – 17%
The Francisco Liriano trade might not have seemed like a big deal on the surface, but Houston cleared a path for Fisher to play by moving Nori Aoki. Fisher earned plus raw power and a 70 run tool grade from Eric Longenhagen in April, but he also noted Fisher’s high-ish strikeout rates. The 23-year-old has done an excellent job of cutting back on punch outs. The left-handed hitting outfielder went down via strikeout in 27.2% of his plate appearances at the Double-A and Triple-A levels combined last year and hit just .255/.367/.448. This year, he whittled his strikeout rate down to 19.3% in 384 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, and his slash line exploded to .318/.384/.583 with 21 homers and 16 stolen bases (he wasn’t efficient, though, getting caught stealing 10 times).
He’s hit the ground running in the Majors with three homers and two stolen bases as well as a .282/.382/.542 slash line in his first 55 plate appearances. He’s long been a patient hitter, and that’s carried over to The Show with a 12.7% BB% and an elite 19.7% O-Swing%. His O-Swing% is more than 10% below the league average of 29.8%. He has been a bit passive in the strike zone with a 62.4% Z-Swing% compared to a league average of 66.8%, and that probably helps explain why he has a 25.5% K% despite just a 8.0% SwStr% (league average of 10.4%).
Again, the sample size is extremely small, but Fisher is squaring the ball up in a big way with a 33.3% LD%, 47.1% Hard% and just an 11.8% Soft%. He’s not going to continue to hit liners on a third of his balls in play, but he hasn’t been over matched at the highest level. Fisher’s home run output could be hampered by low fly-ball rates with a 23.7% FB% in Double-A in 2016, a 30.0% FB% in Triple-A that year, a 28.1% FB% repeating the minor’s highest level this year and just a 18.2% FB% in the Majors thus far, but he’s done a great job of reaching the seats when he does take to the air with gaudy HR/FB percentages.
Fisher has been leading off against righties in the absence of George Springer. When Springer returns, the rookie could slide down in the order. However, I think there’s a nonzero chance Springer could hit cleanup when he returns since Carlos Correa is out, and that would allow Houston to continue to alternate lefties and righties throughout their lineup. It’s possible that the performances of Fisher and Yulieski Gurriel — who has been hitting cleanup against righties — while Springer remains out will dictate what the lineup looks like when the superstar center fielder returns. Regardless of where Fisher hits, he can fill up the stat sheet and should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues — and it’s possible he plays himself into being rosterable universally.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.