With nearly a third of the MLB season in the books, fantasy owners and MLB teams alike have started to get a sense of where they sit moving forward. As always, owners will be scrambling to find buy-low acquisitions and betting on various early-season performances. Today, an outfielder was given a chance to play regularly due to a teammate’s suspension and a young pitcher whose early-season results have been stellar, but whose peripherals and lackluster stuff suggest some regression will be forthcoming.
Guillermo Heredia, Seattle Mariners
A suspension to Robinson Cano gives Heredia a chance at everyday playing time for the first time in his career. He’s not the most exciting player, but he’s worth an add in deeper leagues. Heredia has always had a strong ability to control the strike zone. His contact rate on pitches in the zone is above-average, while his swing rate at pitches out of the strike zone has always been below-average. Combine those skills, and it is unsurprising that Heredia has one of the stronger strikeout-walk profiles in baseball.
However, that does little to address concerns about his ability to impact the ball when he does put it in play. His early-season batted ball data offer some hope, though. Heredia won’t ever show eye-popping exit velocities, maxing out at a relatively modest 105.6 MPH. Even so, his Statcast data have been much stronger this year than in seasons prior. Consider his respective expected slugging percentages from his three MLB seasons: .304, .314, .461. Heredia’s batted balls have been much stronger this season, even though he’s not hitting the ball much harder. So what’s changed? Heredia is pulling the ball much more this year, having increased his pull rate nearly 20 percentage points from last season. Over the course of his career, Heredia’s overall offensive productivity has generally mapped with his pull rate; when Heredia is taking the ball to left field, he tends to find more success at the plate, and he has done that this year.
It’s not clear that this approach is sustainable, of course. Heredia has had stretches where he has been this pull-centric before, and he has never managed to sustain that approach long-term. Even with some regression in his batted ball results, though, Heredia offers a solid floor given the bat-to-ball skills. Even his Steamer projection, which is generally conservative, forecasts a .259/.340/.370 line moving forward. That’s not world-beating, but for a deep-league outfielder on a solid offensive team, it works. If Heredia proves able to continue to catch the ball out in front, as he has thus far in 2018, there might be double-digit power here too. A claim of Heredia won’t be anyone’s most exciting move of the season, but it is a worthwhile one.
Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels
A quick glance at Barria’s 2.13 ERA and 3.23 FIP could lead one to believe that he might be a budding ace. Such a conclusion would be misleading. Barria has stranded 83.3% of baserunners this year, an unsustainably high number, while his HR/FB rate of 4% is extremely low. As the weather warms, some of those batted balls currently dying in the outfield will undoubtedly clear the fences. Even with some ball-in-play regression, though, Barria looks like a competent fantasy option, a low WHIP, low strikeout option worth deploying particularly against favorable matchups.
The projections aren’t big fans of Barria, but he’s acquitted himself well to the majors in his first go at it. Continuing a trend throughout his minor-league career, Barria has been a volume strike-thrower in his first five MLB starts. Perhaps more surprising is that, despite mediocre pure stuff, he has held his own inducing swings and misses. His 11.5% swinging strike this year is above league-average, largely because he has induced a ton of swings at pitches out of the strike zone. His changeup seems conducive to keeping opposing hitters off balance. With an above-average 8.5 MPH velocity differential off his fastball, Barria has a chance to be a strong contact manipulator. Couple that with a strong offense supporting him and a somewhat pitcher-friendly home park, and Barria has a chance to be a passable mid-rotation fantasy option moving forward.