Injuries are really starting to pile up this year, and while it remains to be seen whether this year will end up being demonstrably worse than last year was, it certainly seems as though there are more fantasy-relevant players landing on the DL. Here are a pair of outfielders who are getting added in a lot of leagues by players looking to replace anyone from Lance Berkman to Allen Craig to Emilio Bonifacio.
Dayan Viciedo (ESPN: 19 percent owned; Yahoo!: 21 percent owned)
Looking at Viciedo’s incredibly good last week — since May 14, he has hit .444/.444/.889 with 4 HR and 10 RBI — I was concerned that he had simply worn the Cubs out and wasn’t doing the same to American League foes, but thankfully that was not the case. Vicideo was one of my favorite outfield sleepers heading into this year, but he fell off the majority of draft boards, which gives owners with high waiver priority a second chance to grab the young Cuban.
At 23, Viciedo is still getting better and is already showing a better understanding of major league pitches than he did in previous exposures. While I don’t think Viciedo will carry his exemplary week through the rest of the season or even the rest of the month — which is to say, I don’t think Viciedo is the Cuban Ted Williams — it wouldn’t surprise me a bit for him to have another week or two like this, this season for a pair of reasons.
First, the pitching that Viciedo will face in the AL Central just isn’t great. Justin Verlander is the king of the heap, Derek Lowe and Max Scherzer have been pretty good so far, and beyond that, the bottom starts falling out quickly. Second, his home park is as hitter friendly as they come and if May has been any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer in Chicago.
Now, it’s entirely worthwhile to note that what both of these things amount to is opportunity. A bad pitcher pitching in US Cellular Field on a hot summer night with the wind blowing out doesn’t mean Viciedo will go 3-for-4 with a long home run, but he’ll get the chance to make the most of that set up in a consistent way that he just hasn’t had so far in his career.
I don’t see much in his profile that shows up as a major red flag to me, but there are a couple of things I don’t love about him. His HR/FB is quite high at 23 percent, but my hunch is that he’ll end up being the type of player who just has a high HR/FB rate for most of his career. A 5-8 percent decline would put him in the same neighborhood that Mark Reynolds has been in for most of his career; Viciedo’s teammate Adam Dunn has been consistently over 20 percent for his career and it seems to me that Viciedo will end up somewhere between the two.
The biggest thing that I really dislike about Viciedo is his nonexistent walk rate, especially in light of his high strikeout rate. On its own, the fact that he’s striking out in about a quarter of his PAs doesn’t give me pause — sluggers strike out; it was ever thus — but when he has almost as many doubles (2) as he has free passes (3), I start worrying about pitch recognition or holes in his swing. In the short term, pitchers will try to pound him low and away, which will be as effective as their execution of their pitches; mistakes will be punished with prejudice. In the long term, if he continues to post a double digit swinging strike rate, pitchers will simply stop throwing him strikes until he proves he knows that he doesn’t have to swing every time the pitcher’s arm moves.
The updated ZiPS projections have Viciedo hitting 23 HR and driving in what strikes me as a commensurate amount of runs given that type of power production. A few hot weeks could make that projection seem low, but for the time being, I think it’s right on. 20-25 home runs is solid production, but in leagues where strikeouts are a negative category or where OBP has replaced AVG, Viciedo should be rostered with care. The upside is real, but the cost to K or OBP is a virtual certainty.
Rajai Davis (ESPN: 3 percent owned; Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
With his two bomb game last Friday, Davis is already at his fourth best season as far as home runs are concerned and it took him a mere 50 PAs to do it. If he hits three more, that’ll be gravy for owners, but it’s relatively unlikely that he’ll actually tie his career high of five home runs, so why does his improbable outburst matter?
Playing time has been an issue for Davis since he arrived in Toronto, so anything — whether it’s repeatable or not — that makes it harder to take him out of the lineup is good for owners. Davis has been pretty consistently the same type of player for the last few seasons: He’s a base stealer who won’t kill a team’s average. He’s part of the class of thieves that don’t walk much, which limits his value, but he’s still never stolen fewer than 29 bases in a season where he had 200 PAs or more. Getting him to that plateau was expected to be the big issue, but with the way the Blue Jays outfield has played so far this year, it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll actually get a few starts a week.
Even if he were to show an inexplicable burst of power to go with the undeniable speed, Davis would still have to compete for playing time to a certain extent. Adam Lind’s departure opens up some playing time, as does Eric Thames’ disappointing start, so while I don’t think Davis is ever going to be a plug-and-play, I think he’ll get enough playing time to steal the bases necessary to be a fantasy asset. The updated ZiPS projections have him swiping 31 bases, but the reality is that if he plays consistently, he’ll probably get more than that. If he rides the pine, he’ll struggle to get there, and that’s the main reason why a player with Davis’ history of thievery is available in 95 percent of leagues.