Alfonso Soriano (ESPN: 32 percent owned; Yahoo!: 29 percent owned)
Let’s make one thing clear: Alfonso Soriano isn’t a very good baseball player anymore. However, the things that make him ungood don’t so much translate to fantasy; he’s the perfect example of a player who gets undervalued in fantasy because he’s so disliked in real life. He does strike out a lot, that is true, his defense is bad and his contract is even worse, but he hasn’t hit fewer than 20 home runs since 2001.
He got off to a wretched start this season, which is a large part of the reason that he’s so widely available. I can’t blame owners too much for giving up on him after a.237/.250/.429 line in April that included more stolen bases (1) than home runs (0). Still, things are already looking better for the month of May, as he has hit .298/.365/.532 in 12 games so far including home runs in back-to-back games this week. I firmly expect the home runs to continue to flow from Soriano for a pair of reasons.
First, his 2.9 HR/FB rate is unsustainably low. He’s hitting fewer flyballs in general, which isn’t the best sign as far as a rising home run rate is concerned, but his 22.3 percent line drive rate tells me that he’s seeing the ball relatively well and making solid contact, just not quite the lift-and-separate move that produces home runs. Still, there’s just no way he finishes the year with a 3 percent HR/FB rate when he’s not also having trouble hitting pitches generally.
Second, there may be no better park for cheap home runs than Wrigley Field in the summer when the wind is blowing out. It’s not something that will show up in the park factor, but for the next 14 weeks or so, if the Cubs are playing at home, there’s a good chance that it will take no more than a 300-foot flyball to make it into the outfield basket. It is a mortal lock that Soriano will get at least 4-5 of these incredibly cheap home runs — though to be fair, he’ll probably lose at least a few to the wall of wind on the days when the wind is coming in off of Lake Michigan — meaning he needs to hit a mere 15 more home runs to keep his streak of 20-HR seasons alive.
Soriano, to me, is the type of player who makes a great roster filler — especially in deep OF leagues — but who can easily be dropped back on the wire when Michael Morse comes off the DL in June or if Jayson Werth were to come off the DL earlier than expected. I suspect he’ll finish the season with a wRC+ right around the league average of 100, but for plenty of deep leagues, that’s real upside available on the wire.
Danny Espinosa (ESPN: 47 percent owned; Yahoo!: 30 percent owned)
There are weird player pages and then there’s Danny Espinosa’s player page, which makes just slightly less sense than The Room. On one hand, he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone than average, makes contact at a far below average rate, has a SwStr rate of almost double league average, and yet, has a walk rate of 11 percent. He’s putting up a generally terrible line, yet has almost the exact same peripherals as last year when he was a solid Rookie of the Year Candidate. Heck, all three of his stolen bases have come off of a left-handed pitcher!
Espinosa was taken in the late 190s or early 200s in most ESPN drafts, but his ownership rate is now down below 50 percent on both ESPN and Yahoo!, and while he’s exactly the type of player I typically love to pounce on when he hits the wire, I’m coming up a little dry looking for reasons to do so.
So much of his trouble comes from his excessive strikeouts, but those are always going to be part of his game. A 3-4 percent reduction in strikeouts would make a world of difference for him, but still leave him with an over 20 percent strikeout rate. On one hand, this makes it somewhat more likely that he’d be able to make the changes needed, on the other, it’s odd to tell a player “hey, we know bad strikeouts are kind of your thing, but if you can take 2-3 fewer per week, that’d be great!” His best split is home/away, as he’s posting a downright decent .735 OPS outside the Beltway compared to just .478 at home, which isn’t exactly a great split to be emphasizing considering the Nats aren’t moving any time soon. Yes, he’s playing a little better in May than he was in April, but a .671 OPS isn’t exactly an upside play.
If there’s anything I see in Espinosa that gives me hope that this isn’t a permanent sophomore slump, it’s in the way his BABIP is allocated. His overall BABIP isn’t particularly remarkable at .290, but his flyball BABIP is .063, and while flyballs do have a lower BABIP overall than groundballs or liners, .063 is too low. Be that as it may, I’d feel pretty irresponsible for recommending a pick up based on a component BABIP probably rising over the course of the season.
His last few games have been better, which is why I think current owners are better off holding on to him for at least the next few weeks and hoping that he comes back around. For non-owners who are staring at him on the wire, if he fills a need, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t make a speculative grab on him. I don’t see enough certainty of recovery to make him a can’t-miss option. If he bounces back, it will be in spite of his peripherals, not because of them.
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