At the beginning of the year, a couple of the things I’m keeping close tabs on for hitters are lineup spot and platoon situation. If a player hits in a better lineup spot than expected, they immediately get a value bump. That concept isn’t Earth shattering, and Mike Podhorzer discussed some players whose value changed due to batting order here and here.
A player who shares less playing time than expected gets a value boost, too — under most circumstances. If you’re in a league that allows daily lineup changes, there’s zero downside for a player playing more than expected since you can conceivably still sit them in their weaker split situation. If, however, that player makes strides against the handedness of pitcher they typically struggle against, the additional playing time can pay off in the form of more counting stats. Having kept tabs on those things during the opening week of the season, a trio of players stand out as better options than I expected entering the year.
Andrew Toles (LAD – OF): CBS – 18%, ESPN – 3.7%, Yahoo! – 4%
Mike strongly endorsed adding Toles in the second of the linked articles above, and I’ll second the endorsement. As he noted, Toles has hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers out of the gate. The run scoring potential is great hitting atop the order for the Dodgers, and that’s the primary motivation for suggesting adding him in all but the shallowest of leagues.
However, it’s also worth pointing out he’s a .323/.382/.495 hitter through his first 110 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers in the majors, and he hit .316/.357/.515 in 249 plate appearances in the upper minors. The lefty is a speedster, but his .199 ISO in the upper minors and .172 ISO against right-handers in the bigs are good indicators he can sting the ball a bit. Getting back to his speed, Toles stole 13 bases in 16 attempts in 43 games at the Double-A level last year year before stealing only two bases in seven attempts in 65 games in Triple-A and the majors combined. Toles’ skill set is intriguing and worth speculating on while he’s leading off for the Dodgers.
Josh Reddick (HOU – OF): CBS – 33%, ESPN – 15.6%, Yahoo! – 11%
Reddick has hit higher in the lineup thus far than I expected. He’s slotted sixth in two starts against right-handed pitchers, hitting higher than the likes of Evan Gattis, Brian McCann and Yulieski Gurriel. In addition to claiming a more favorable lineup spot than I expected, he’s also started against one of two southpaws the Astros have faced. Now, that doesn’t mean gamers should start Reddick against lefties. For his career, Reddick is a .217/.279/.358 hitter against southpaws with a .142 ISO and 77 wRC+. The left-handed hitting Reddick probably won’t help fantasy bottom lines when he faces lefties, but he flashed competence against them back in 2012. If he plays semi-regularly against lefties this year and doesn’t embarrass himself, gamers will have the option to use him in search of more counting stats but at the expense of batting average.
Let’s get back to Reddick hitting sixth against righties, though, since that’s really why I’m highlighting him in this piece. The three hitters who’ve slotted in front of him are Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran, in that order. Since 2015, Altuve owns a .373 OBP, Correa’s OBP is .354 and Beltran’s checks in at .335. The collective on-base skills of that trio of hitters should provide Reddick with plenty of RBI opportunities. The 30-year-old chips in steals (18 in 23 attempts the last two years combined), has some pop (30 homers in 1,021 plate appearances the last two seasons) and owns a .298/.355/.492 versus right-handed pitchers since 2014. He brings a well-rounded stat line to the table and should be owned in 12-team mixers or larger.
Steve Pearce (TOR – 1B/2B(Y!)/OF(Y!)): CBS – 16%, ESPN – 8.2%, Yahoo! – 16%
Pearce is my favorite player of the three in this piece. At Yahoo!, he has valuable position eligibility. At other sites with stiffer eligibility requirements, that’s not the case. He’s slated to see regular time in the outfield, so he should pick up eligibility there soon at sites where he’s not already outfield eligible. He’s started in all three games of the year for the Blue Jays, two hitting seventh against right-handed pitchers and one leading off against a southpaw.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old appears in line to play a near everyday role for the Blue Jays. Toronto has the pieces to once again be an elite offense, and his home digs north of the border are hitter-friendly, too. In addition to having excellent external variables enhancing his value, Pearce is a pretty damn good hitter. The right-handed hitter is a lefty killer. Since 2014, he’s hit .276/.355/.548 with a .272 ISO, 146 wRC+ and 20 homers in 332 plate appearances against lefties. He’s no slouch against righties, though. In that same time frame, he’s hit .264/.342/.465 with a .201 ISO, 124 wRC+ and 29 homers in 687 plate appearances against righties. I love his pop, and he’s not a drag on batting average with a .267 average overall since 2014. Pearce has struck out in under 20% of his plate appearances in that time frame (19.5%, to be exact) while earning free passes regularly (9.5% BB%). He does enough to warrant ownership in 12-team mixed leagues or larger.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.