George Kottaras (ESPN: 0.3 percent owned; Yahoo!: 2 percent owned)
Catching is a dangerous occupation, that much is certain, but it certainly seems as though the backstops are falling down at an incredible rate. The Cubs have had three catchers go on the disabled list already this year, the Nationals and Mariners have both had a pair go down, and yet neither Joe Mauer nor Ryan Doumit has been placed on the DL yet this season. Unless someone else got hurt overnight, there have been 19 DL stints for catchers in the season’s first two months — spring training and preseason inclusive — which has made life exceptionally difficult for those playing in two catcher leagues.
Losing Jonathan Lucroy for the month is a brutal blow for the Brewers, but it’s no picnic for fantasy owners either, especially given how thin waiver wires are getting. If Jarrod Saltalamacchia (ESPN: 14 percent owned; Yahoo!: 34 percent owned) is an option to replace either Lucroy or Carlos Santana — who shouldn’t be out anywhere near as long as Lucroy — he’s a better option than Kottaras is, but I suspect that he’s out of play in most two-catcher leagues and probably a fair number of deeper leagues.
With Lucroy out of the picture, Kottaras stands to gain a ton of playing time, making him one of perilously few options owned in less than five percent of leagues that stands to get consistent PAs. While his recent performance hasn’t been particularly…compelling, I’m willing to look past 13 bad PAs, even if that does constitute two weeks of performance for him. His line drive rate is still strong and while I think he’ll derive the vast majority of his value from his average or OBP, he does have power to right field.
Those in OBP leagues should think about grabbing Kottaras whether it’s a two-catcher league or not. While he may not be the most inspiring option out there, he draws walks at the highest rate of anyone in baseball (min. 50 PAs). When he was splitting time with Lucroy, he wasn’t getting enough PAs to make that walk rate play, but a month’s worth of consistent playing time, that barrier is no longer a concern.
Dexter Fowler (ESPN: 14 percent owned; Yahoo!: 41 percent owned)
During the offseason, I wrote about Fowler’s potential and why I liked him as a sleeper option this year. He had an ok start to the year, hitting a livable .239/.316/.465 with 4 HR and 2 SB, but he’s been even better in May, hitting .233/.377/.535 with 3 HR but just one steal. Fowler’s history is a streaky one, and if I have any reservation about recommending him for a pick up it’s that the other shoe is almost sure to fall.
While Fowler’s speed should make him a plug and play candidate, he just hasn’t been running much this season. He has yet to be caught in his three attempts, so it isn’t as though he’s been given the chance and has been inefficient with them; the decrease in attempts is probably due to his move down in the order. Somewhat unfortunately, the move has been so good for Fowler’s OBP and slugging that it seems unlikely that Jim Tracy would move him back up in the order to give him more of a chance to run.
Since the speed won’t be playing much of a role in Fowler’s value in the near future, it may be best to work with Fowler in a platoon, since he hits .275/.390/.609 at home compared with just .178/.260/.311 on the road. Alternatively, a platoon based on handedness could also help to maximize Fowler’s value as he’s hitting .264/.361/.597 with all six of his home runs and all three of his steals off of right-handed pitchers compared to just .190/.306/.310 with little in the way of counting stats off of lefties.
If Fowler isn’t running as much, that means he’s deriving his value from his power, since he isn’t exactly filling up the average category. Fowler has already set a career high in home runs, which means everything that happens after this point qualifies as unprecedented. He never showed a ton of power in the minors, though he also didn’t spend terribly long in any one place, with his max coming in 2008 when he played 108 games at Double-A Tulsa. His 25 percent HR/FB rate is high and it is going to come down, but it’s not so unconscionably high as to invalidate what we’ve seen from Fowler so far. He’s crushing righties and he’s crushing the ball at home, which makes it a bit hard to look at his overall line and deduce whether he’s going to continue to do so. The initial ZiPS projections had him at six home runs for the season, which he passed Monday night, and the updated ZiPS have him down for 13, which starts to push him in the direction of usability even in mixed leagues.
I can’t blame anyone who waits to pick up Fowler because of the uncertainty surrounding him. He’s producing value, but not in the ways we expected and maybe not in ways that are sustainable. However, they aren’t necessarily unsustainable; he just can’t slump when the Rockies play at home. I like Fowler, I’d be willing to pick up him if I didn’t already own him in most of my leagues, but I also recognize that what he’s doing now won’t be what he does for the rest of the season.