Signing with the Tampa Bay Rays can immediately boost a player’s stock. Because the Rays have had success with free-agent additions in recent years, and are considered one of the game’s smarter franchises, fantasy owners tend to take notice when they bring a player to town. The track record of success does justify the excitement. In recent seasons, the Rays have turned around Kyle Farnsworth, Casey Kotchman, Fernando Rodney, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist, to name a few. Guys who had little to no fantasy value in the past have been key contributors on fantasy rosters with the Rays. This offseason was no different. Roberto Hernandez received some Rays’ buzz immediately after he signed, and has shown some signs of life recently. While Kelly Johnson rightfully avoided that excitement, he may also deserve a look in fantasy leagues.
SP Roberto Hernandez 13% owned in CBSSports.com leagues
Picking up Hernandez only makes sense if you think he will reduce his home run rate going forward. At 20.6%, his HR/FB rate seems destined to drop at least a little bit. But home runs have been an issue for Hernandez the past few years. Even with that being the case, Hernandez has hovered around a 13% HR/FB rate during his bad years. The home runs are a major reason why Hernandez has a 4.42 FIP, which is in line with his 4.43 ERA. Both his 3.44 xFIP and 3.43 SIERA indicate what he’s capable of doing moving forward.
He’s also managed to dramatically increase his strikeout rate. Over his career, Hernandez has averaged a 14.1% strikeout rate. It’s jumped to 22.3% this year. Some of that is due to an increased reliance on his change-up, which has been his best strikeout pitch in the past. It’s also been his best weapon against right-handed hitters, and he’s been using it much more against them in 2013. Hernandez is widely available in leagues at the moment, and will need to turn in a few more strong starts before he’s on the radar. Owners can probably wait another start or two before taking the plunge on him. He’ll be an asset if the home run rate falls.
2B Kelly Johnson 68% owned in CBSSports.com leagues
Much of Johnson’s inclusion here has to do with his improved contact rate, which Mike Podhorzer covered a week ago. Podhorzer also mentioned that this “looks like the same Johnson as always.” That line is important, because aside from a decline in contact rate the past two years, he’s basically shown the same skill set. That’s why his current contact rate surge is so important. If Johnson can keep making contact at an acceptable rate, he could return close to his 2010 glory days. That year, Johnson managed to be effective with a 76.9 Contact% At 78.6%, it’s even higher this season. The past two seasons, Johnson only made contact 71% of the time.
It’s premature to call Johnson a top-10 option at his position, but he’s capable of that type of upside. If owners need a temporary Rickie Weeks replacement, or is looking for an upgrade at second, Johnson could be a surprisingly effective option. Even through his slump the last two years, the home runs and steals have been acceptable. If a better contact rate improves his slash line, he’s going to be a useful fantasy option in mixed leagues.