The delayed start to the season is going to have a significant impact on player values. If you originally expected a player to miss the first two months of the season, now that player is looking like he’ll be ready for opening day. We all know the big names that gain value with the later start date — Justin Verlander, Aaron Judge, James Paxton, etc. Let’s ignore them and discuss some of the less expensive players expected to have a smaller impact. Though the impact is certainly smaller, that doesn’t mean there isn’t profit to be had.
Griffin Canning was ranked as one of the top prospects in the Angels system heading into the 2019 season. He flew through the minors in 2018 and needed just three more Triple-A starts in 2019 before being promoted to the big club. While the surface ERA of 4.58 was not very appealing, he posted a 25% strikeout rate, backed by a strong 13.8% SwStk%. He featured a superb four-pitch mix, with whiffs coming from everything. In fact, all of his non-fastballs sported double digit SwStk% marks. That’s impressive.
Unfortunately, Canning’s season ended early due to elbow inflammation, and that elbow issue cropped back in during Spring Training this year. An MRI revealed that Canning had “chronic changes to the UCL as well as acute joint irritation in his right elbow”. That sounds ominous! Apparently, though, it’s just normal wear and tear with no expectation of needing TJ surgery.
He received injections in hopes of him feeling better, but we won’t know for another couple of weeks. With the start of the season delayed, he’ll have a lot more time to recover and test out that elbow. It’s still possible there’s something more serious here and he misses the entire season, but that was on the table originally as well. Now, he could conceivably miss no time and be ready when the season eventually starts. Don’t forget about this former top prospect with excellent strikeout potential, pitching in front of a strong defense, and an offense boosted by its acquisition of Anthony Rendon.
Admit it, even before the injury, you weren’t exactly hoping to roster Stephen Piscotty, right? He’s the type you settle for, not the type you target. After injury limited him to just 393 plate appearances last year, the injury bug is back at it again. This time it’s a strained intercostal muscle that was apparently worse than initially expected. We haven’t heard an update since the end of February, but you had to figure Piscotty would have missed the first couple of weeks of the season. Now, he’ll have time to heal and be ready to go for Opening Day. A healthy Piscotty could be decent enough in three categories that he’s worth buying at a discount if he goes for his injured, pre-delay price.
Even though they already had youngster Orlando Arcia, the Brewers went out and traded for Luis Urías over the offseason. Clearly, the Brew Crew has all but given on Arcia, given his .279 career wOBA. Assuming the job was going to be Urías’, the ballpark switch represented a big boost for his value. Unfortunately, he hurt his wrist while playing winter ball and ultimately underwent surgery in late January to repair a fractured left hamate bone. That surgery was expected to sideline him for 6-8 weeks, which would have made it extremely difficult for him to be ready for Opening Day.
Now that he should be ready to go at the start, don’t forget that his power spiked in conjunction with a surge in fly ball rate at Triple-A before his promotion. For a 22-year-old to experience such a change in performance, it makes me think it was pretty real. He won’t steal much, but I think there’s real upside in his power versus the projections. Though you never know how the recovery from his wrist surgery affects his power.
DJ Stewart was a favorite sleeper heading into last season as he was expected to lock up a starting outfield job and contribute some power and speed. That never happened. He’s now recovering from the microfacture surgery on his right ankle he underwent last October and so was already behind everyone else during Spring Training. Because of the suspension of games, he ended up never getting to the plate. The Orioles outfield is actually crowded, but with the additional time to recover, Stewart now has a much better chance to earn significant playing time.
His 650 plate appearance pace at Triple-A in 2018 put him at 28 homers and nearly 12 steals. He also doesn’t strike out too often, so he shouldn’t be a drain to your batting average unless his BABIP fails to cooperate (which is actually a distinct possibility given his pedestrian minor league marks).
Rich Hill lives! I am still amazed at how he has turned around his career. He was solid in his early career back in 2006 and 2007. Then he dealt with injuries so often that he ended up barely pitching from 2008 to 2014. The Red Sox took a chance on him in 2015 and in four starts, magic happened. Since that four start triumphant return, he has posted a shocking 2.91 ERA with a 29.3% strikeout rate! His career turn has to be one of the most incredible stories in recent times.
Hill signed with the Twins this season, but wasn’t expected to actually pitch for them until June after undergoing elbow surgery. Perfect, that’s basically Opening Day now! Yes, he’s now 40 years old and returns to the American League. But his skills have been super consistent, as his SIERA marks have ranged narrowly between 3.57 and 3.64 over the last three seasons. There are absolutely no signs of impending doom, so if he’s healthy, he’s a prime cheap pitching target.
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.