Fantasy Baseball Digest: Struggling stars and surviving early injuries

Welcome to theScore’s Fantasy Baseball Digest.

With two full weeks in the books, the fantasy landscape is starting to get a little clearer. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could soon find himself in the majors and fellow stud rookie Eloy Jimenez finally broke out in a big way with a pair of home runs Friday night.

We’ll look at a few potential two-start pitchers worth streaming this week and provide roster replacements for those infielders you’ve lost to injuries (outfielders and pitchers to follow in subsequent editions).

But first, let’s take a look at a few players who have thus far failed to live up to their billing and whether or not it’s worth worrying about.

Ownership percentages courtesy: Yahoo Fantasy Sports
Stats as of Saturday, April 13

Wait or worry

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  • Nolan Arenado – 3B, Charlie Blackmon – OF, Rockies: Colorado has the worst record in baseball and it’s largely due to injuries and a collective lack of pop from Arenado and Blackmon. The two combined for 67 home runs in 2018 and, so far, neither has sent one into the stands through 14 games. Blackmon is more concerning, as he’s 32 years old and appeared to enter his decline last season, though it was still a productive campaign. He’s not hitting the ball as hard as he used to, and 10 percent of his contact has resulted in an infield fly ball. Arenado similarly has seen his soft-contact rate balloon, though he’s not striking out and his line-drive rate is actually a tick better than last year. On the bright side, the Rockies haven’t had the opportunity to truly feast on home cooking yet, playing just five of their first 15 games at Coors Field. Don’t quit on Arenado. If you can find a reasonable taker for Blackmon, he might be a good trade candidate.
  • Jose Ramirez – 2B/3B, Indians: Through 13 games, Ramirez is hitting .146/.192/.208 with no home runs. His three stolen bases have been the lone bright spot. Also, consider his 3.8 percent walk rate a year after he walked in 15.2 percent of his plate appearances. He’s mired by 32.5 percent soft contact and may be trying to do too much in an underwhelming lineup, as he’s seen his ground-ball rate decrease as his fly-ball rate has jumped a bit. He can’t get any worse, but his situation may not get much better even when Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis offer some lineup protection. Cleveland’s offense is very bad beyond Ramirez, Lindor, and Carlos Santana. Pitchers won’t give Ramirez anything to hit if they can help it. If you drafted him in the first round, you might be stuck unless you want to sell low. At this point, there’s nothing you can really do other than bite your lip and hold on unless someone is desperate for steals.
  • Kris Bryant – 3B/OF, Cubs: Offense has not been the problem in Chicago, and yet Bryant has not been a key contributor. After hitting a home run and driving in three on Opening Day, he hasn’t gone yard again and he’s only doubled his run production over the ensuing 12 games. There’s a distinct possibility the 27-year-old simply isn’t the major power threat his 39-homer 2016 campaign appeared to suggest. The problem appears not to be how hard he’s hitting the ball (8.1 percent soft contact) but where he’s hitting it. He’s hitting ground balls at a 51.4 percent clip, which would be much higher than normal. If Bryant can tweak his contact a bit, the results should improve. He’s got a high floor in fantasy but Bryant may enter next year’s draft further down the board if he doesn’t adjust his approach at the plate.

World of hurt waiver options

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  • Who’s hurt: Gary Sanchez – C, Yankees
  • Best waiver option: Jorge Alfaro – C, Marlins (25 percent owned)
  • Analysis: No catcher will bring power comparable to Sanchez, and Alfaro’s propensity to go down swinging (39.5 percent strikeout rate) will provide uneven results. But only three catchers – Sanchez being one – have hit more homers than Alfaro’s three so far. It’s a weak position, but Alfaro is a touted prospect with playing time and some serious pop if he can harness it.
  • Who’s hurt: Daniel Murphy – 1B/2B, Rockies
  • Best waiver option: Brandon Belt – 1B/OF, Giants (22 percent owned)
  • Analysis: Belt will likely never be the fantasy performer we expected in his early years, but despite his cavernous home park, he still hits the ball hard enough to pique interest. The Giants are going on an eight-game road trip that culminates in a visit to hitter-friendly Toronto. He’s a solid flier at a position that has become weaker en masse in recent seasons.
  • Who’s hurt: Rougned Odor – 2B, Rangers
  • Best waiver option: Willy Adames – 2B/SS, Rays (25 percent owned)
  • Analysis: Adames got off to an atrocious start, which is why he’s still hitting only .250, but he’s been one of Tampa’s top batters over the last week. After going 0-for-13 over a three-game stretch, Adames has gone 12-for-25 (.480) with a homer and four RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak. He’s tattooing the ball so far, too, as his soft contact sits at 3.3 percent.
  • Who’s hurt: Miguel Andujar – 3B, Yankees
  • Best waiver option: Jeff McNeil – 2B/3B/OF, Mets (25 percent owned)
  • Analysis: McNeil isn’t the most reliable option, as his playing time feels tenuous on a crowded Mets roster, especially with Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie – and, theoretically, Yoenis Cespedes – inching closer toward returns. But McNeil has shown a knack for getting on base. Through 75 career games, he’s hitting .333/.391/.473. He stole seven bases last year, too. His position eligibility is also promising, but be ready to cut bait if he tapers off or the Mets stop riding the hot hand when reinforcements arrive.
  • Who’s hurt: Trea Turner & Francisco Lindor – SS, Nationals & Indians
  • Best waiver option: Jorge Polanco – SS, Twins (28 percent owned)
  • Analysis: Alternately, you could try banking on Freddy Galvis to continue his tear with Toronto, but that bubble is doomed to pop considering how poor the rest of the lineup has fared and how he’s outperforming his career numbers at an unsustainable pace. So, we repeat Polanco (who was mentioned a week ago). He should be owned in more leagues. He hits second, occasionally third, in the Twins’ lineup and is a fantastic contact hitter. His relative lack of power and steals hurts his overall value, but he’s a perfectly fine stopgap.

Potential 2-start pitchers

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The matchups aren’t favorable, as both the Cubs and Nationals are in the top 12 in home runs and hitting to this point in the season, so proceed with some caution. If Richards can find the strike zone with greater regularity, he is in a position to become one of the best-kept secrets in fantasy. He’s gone exactly six innings in each of his starts and has averaged a strikeout per inning while holding opponents to a .161 batting average. The fact he’s on the Marlins shouldn’t keep you away, as Richards should still provide ample strikeouts against challenging opponents, even if the wins aren’t there.

  • Kyle Gibson, Twins (vs. Blue Jays, at Orioles): 15 percent owned

Gibson hasn’t earned a spot on fantasy rosters with a 7.71 ERA through two unfortunate starts, but if there’s a week to try your luck with him, this is the one. The Blue Jays and Orioles feature two of the weakest offenses in baseball to start the season, with Toronto owning a 28 percent strikeout rate as a unit. The veteran righty had a solid 2018, too, posting a 3.62 ERA and 8.19 K/9 over 196 2/3 innings. Even if you elect to dump him after the week, take advantage of Gibson while you can.

  • Mike Leake, Mariners (vs. Indians, at Angels): 21 percent owned

Like Gibson, Leake has not historically been a strikeout pitcher with a career K/9 of 6.12. He’s punching out nearly a batter per inning through three starts this year and is in a position to build on that against Cleveland on Tuesday. The Indians are awful offensively and have struck out more frequently than any other team. The Angels are slightly trickier, especially if Mike Trout is back in the lineup, and they generally aren’t striking out a lot as a team. But that doesn’t mean contact translates to results, as L.A. is collectively slashing .211/.293/.351.