- Houston Astros
Altuve managed to post a .298/.353/.550 slash line last season, but his 33 ADP is nearly 20 picks later than it was last season. While Altuve may not be as good as he was in 2017 when he led the league in batting average and stole 32 bases, the 29-year-old is still a very strong hitter. In terms of contact quality, in 2019 Altuve's .383 xwOBA on contact, 34.5% hard-hit rate, and 8.1% barrel rate all topped his career averages. Although his strong contact quality numbers aren't enough to support his uncharacteristically high 17.4% HR/FB ratio, Altuve's ability to hit the ball well and speed makes his .303 BABIP from last year likely to jump back up towards his .337 career average this year. Altuve's ability to make contact at a high clip dipped a bit last year, but was still strong with an 80.8% contact rate, supporting an impressive 15% strikeout rate. Altuve may no longer be the threat to steal 30+ bases that he once was, but he's still one of the safest options at second base and should comfortably provide fantasy owners with a near .300 average, a slugging percentage north of .800, and double-digit steals (health providing).
Carlos Correa boasts plus power, solid plate discipline skills, makes contact often, but the 25-year-old is the 15th shortstop off the board in drafts this year. Injuries aside, Correa was an extremely impressive hitter last year. Correa's .481 xwOBA on contact ranked near the top of the league among hitters with at least 250 PA, as did his 13.5% barrel rate. In terms of plate discipline, Correa was largely the hitter he always has been, with a solid 31.1% o-swing rate and 77.1% contact rate. Injuries are really the only obstacle keeping Correa from being a premier fantasy shortstop, as he hasn't played in more than 110 games since 2016. A back injury has nagged at Correa in each of the past two seasons, but Correa's relatively low draft price and elite production when healthy make him well worth the risk.
2019 marked Grienke's third consecutive season with more than 200 innings pitched and a sub-3.50 ERA, and the 36-year-old is once again likely to be a solid fantasy option. If there's any reason for fantasy owners to be wary of Grienke in 2020, it's his velocity; Grienke's average fastball velocity sat below 90 mph for the second consecutive season last year. There are two primary reasons not to be concerned about Grienke's velocity though. For one, Grienke hasn't relied on his fastball to generate whiffs lately, so declining velocity shouldn't have too big of an impact on his performance. More importantly, Grienke began increasing his slider usage with the Astros, a move that should help increase his strikeout rate due to its high chase and whiff rates relative to his fastball. Considering that most of Grienke's core metrics relating to his pitch usage and outcomes haven't changed much over the past three years, expect another sub-3.50 ERA campaign with a strikeout rate of around 23% in 2020.
- Seattle Mariners
Graveman lost all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the 29-year-old owns a decent career 4.38 ERA and has a chance to be fantasy relevant this season. Graveman relies heavily on his sinker with a 65% usage rate in 2017, but his secondary offerings are quietly solid pitchers. Indeed, Graveman's curveball and changeup were the best pitches in his arsenal by both slugging percentage allowed and swinging-strike rate. Although neither pitch is significantly above average at generating whiffs, increasing their usage at the expense of the sinker should help Graveman get his strikeout rate up over 20% without having a significant negative impact on his contact quality. It was a small sample size, but in 2018 (34 innings), Graveman decreased his sinker usage in favor of his changeup, curveball, and slider. If that trend continues into 2020, then Graveman could very well post an ERA around 4.20 with a strikeout rate of around 20%. Those numbers aren't eye-popping, but give Graveman value in deeper leagues and make him a strong value at his effectively undrafted 726 ADP.
Fresh off of signing an early a six-year with the Mariners this offseason, White is expected to slot in as Seattle's everyday first baseman in 2020. White is a strong contact hitter (.296 career minor league batting average) who worked on adding power over the past couple of seasons, and the 23-year-old hit a career-high 18 home runs in just 92 games last year. Based on his minor league numbers and scouting reports, White figures to be a player who hits the ball relatively frequently with solid power, making a .270+ batting average with 20+ home runs a largely reasonable expectation.
Long has claimed the Mariners' starting second base job for 2020, and fantasy owners should keep an eye on the 24-year-old this year. Long only played in 42 major league games last season, but fantasy owners should be encouraged by his performance. Long displayed an advanced plate approach with a 27.3% o-swing rate and a 68% z-swing rate. Combined with his solid contact skills (76.3% contact rate), Long owns a relatively high floor and should post a strikeout rate around or better than the league average mark (23% last year) with an above-average walk rate. Long's contact quality was less than desirable with a poor .307 xwOBA on contact, but his solid .186 ISO in his last minor league season suggests that it should improve in 2020. Long struggled enough with his contact quality in the majors last year that fantasy owners in shallower leagues should leave him on waivers to start the year, but keep an eye on him, and if Long's contact quality improves then he should be a solid fantasy option with a .730+ OPS and double-digit stolen bases.
- Around the League
Mike Soroka (ATL) - The Braves announced that Mike Soroka will make his spring training debut on Friday. Soroka missed his first scheduled spring start with a groin issue, but the injury will only sideline him for the one start. Soroka impressed in his rookie year last season with a 2.68 ERA and a top-five finish in NL Cy Young Award voting, but he should be expected to take a step back in 2020. With a 10.2% swinging strike-rate and a 20.3% strikeout rate, Soroka relies on soft contact to keep his ERA down. Considering that Soroka got a little lucky last year with a .282 BABIP and a .272 wOBA (.304 xwOBA), Soroka's ERA will likely jump back around at least 3.20 in 2020. Still, Soroka isn't a bad option at his 104 ADP for fantasy owners comfortable with his lower than average strikeout potential.
Joc Pederson (LAD) - After being diagnosed with a strain in his right side earlier this month, Pederson has still not been cleared to resume hitting. When healthy, Pederson will look to build off of a strong 2019 season that saw him rebound in his contact quality metrics. Pederson's barrel (10.3%) and hard-hit (43.5%) rates were each higher than they have been in either of the past two seasons, helping fuel him to a strong .398 xwOBA on contact. Pederson also made contact at a solid 77.7% clip with a 10.1% swinging strike rate last year, keeping his strikeout rate down to a solid 21.6%. Pederson's heavy platoon split (.415 OPS split in favor of righties last season) and injury make him better suited for daily fantasy players this year, but the 27-year-old is also a solid asset in full-season leagues if he's healthy coming into the year. Fantasy owners should expect an OPS north of .800 with a better than average strikeout rate this year, but be wary of drafting Pederson without a more concrete timeline for his return.
Chris Sale (BOS) - Chris Sale is progressing nicely and threw a bullpen session on Wednesday for the Red Sox. Sale was one of the best pitchers in the league between 2012 and 2018 but struggled last season, posting a 4.40 ERA over 147.1 innings. Sale was as dominant as ever at racking up strikeouts as he owned an impressive 35.6% strikeout rate, but hitters crushed him when they made contact to the tune of a .407 xwOBA on contact. Declining velocity likely played a role in Sale's struggles last season, so his health will be key coming into 2020. Sale's average fastball velocity was down nearly 2 mph last season as he battled an elbow injury, be he appears to be in line for a spot on the Opening Day roster and should be expected to rebound if healthy this year.
Salvador Perez (KC) - Perez missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the veteran catcher is expected to make his spring training debut on Thursday. Perez became more of a power hitter in 2018, pushing his average exit velocity up to 91.2 mph (88.9 mph career average) while getting his hard-hit rate up to an impressive 47.5% (38.7% career average). Perez sacrificed some contact in the process as his swinging-strike rate jumped up to 12.8% (9.3% career average) and his contact rate fell to 77.5%. If Perez picks up where he left off, then he'll likely hit for an OPS north of .750 with a strikeout rate around 24%, making him an upper-middle tier fantasy option at catcher.
Justin Verlander (HOU) - Verlander will miss his scheduled spring training start on Thursday due to groin discomfort. Last season, Verlander owned a stellar 2.58 ERA over 223 innings, striking out batters at an impressive 35.4% clip while allowing a solid .357 xwOBA on contact. Verlander bumped up his slider usage last season at the expense of his fastball, and his pitch mix adjustment resulted in a career-best 16.1% swinging-strike rate. The Astros are likely just being cautious with their ace for now, but the injury bears monitoring as the season approaches. Even so, Verlander should be an ace once again this year, and fantasy owners should feel confident drafting the 37-year-old.
Sonny Gray (CIN) - Gray threw a pair of scoreless innings with three strikeouts against the Mariners on Wednesday. After struggling with the Yankees in 2018, Gray bounced back in a big way last season with a 2.87 ERA and a career-high 29% strikeout rate. The Reds reshaped Gray's arsenal, and the 30-year-old saw his sinker usage decline from 30.5% in 2018 to 19.6% last year while his slider usage rose from 14.7% to 21.1%. Not only was the pitch mix adjustment successful because Gray's slider is more effective at generating whiffs than his sinker is, but Gray's lower sinker usage resulted in the pitch being significantly more effective. Gray's sinker became an extremely effective putaway pitch last year, ending at-bats with two-strike counts at a 30.7% rate, the second-highest rate of any pitch in Gray's arsenal. Gray's .259 BABIP and 9.5% HR/FB ratio (given his home ballpark) suggest that he may be in line for a little regression in 2020, but Gray's new pitch mix should have fantasy owners excited -- especially at his 102 ADP.
Blake Snell (TB) - Snell made his spring training debut on Wednesday, throwing one inning with no baserunners against the Twins. Injuries tainted Snell's 2019 season as the pitcher followed up his Cy Young Award winning season with a 4.29 ERA, but he appears in line to bounce back in 2020. Snell still managed to strike hitters out at an impressive 33.3% rate last year (31.6% in 2018), so strikeouts remain a non-issue. Contact quality wasn't even a real issue for Snell last year, as his .350 xwOBA on contact was six points better than his 2018 mark. Now fully healthy and hopefully with better luck on batted balls, Snell should be an ace again this year with an elite strikeout rate and solid contact results.
Freddy Galvis (CIN) - Galvis continues to battle shoulder soreness but could return to spring training games as soon as next week for the Reds. Galvis enjoyed a (relative) power surge last year, seeing his hard-hit rate rise nearly eight points to a respectable 36.1% and his average exit velocity jump to 88.2 mph. Galvis' contact rate dropped two points to a still decent 73.9% and his swinging strike rate rose to 14.1% in his quest for power, and the tradeoff likely isn't enough to warrant interest from fantasy owners in shallow leagues. Fantasy owners in deeper leagues should consider Galvis though, who appears likely to post an OPS north of .700 with a strikeout rate near 30% in a hitter-friendly ballpark surrounded by a solid offense.
Eugenio Suarez (CIN) - The Reds have still not provided a timetable for when Suarez will return to game action as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Suarez saw his OPS increase for the third consecutive season last year, and the 28-year-old posted an impressive .271/.358/.572 slash line in 2019. After owning a contact rate between 77% and 78% in each of the past five seasons though, Suarez's contact rate fell to 73.1% last year, resulting in a career-worst 28.6% strikeout rate. Suarez's drop in contact rate appears to be related to his swing, as his plate approach held steady last season. If Suarez is healthy this year, he should be expected to take a slight step back due to his 26 wOBA-xwOBA, but he should still comfortably post an OPS north of .850.
Matt Chapman (OAK) - Chapman hit his first spring training home run of the year on Wednesday with a two-run blast against the Diamondbacks. Chapman may be better known for his defensive prowess, but the third baseman owns a career .841 OPS and ranks near the top of the league in hard-hit rate (48.7%) and average exit velocity (92.6 mph). The only reason to expect Chapman's performance to deviate significantly from the past two seasons is his strikeout rate. Despite no significant changes in his o- and z-swing and contact rates, Chapman has seen his strikeout rate fall in consecutive years, and it got down to 21.9% last year. It's possible that Chapman changed his approach with two strikes, and he was getting ahead in the count more frequently than usual in 2019, but fantasy owners should not expect Chapman's strikeout rate to continue declining. Still, Chapman is a strong hitter with elite power and solid contact skills, so expect another season with an OPS around .850 and a strikeout rate below 25%.
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