As noted in the latest edition of ESPN’s Forecaster, fantasy baseball’s Week 2 gets off to a much earlier than normal start, as the Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox game has a scheduled first pitch of 11:10 am ET, due to it being Patriots Day in Boston. Set your lineups now!
Managers in leagues with daily transactions, as is our game’s standard, have more time to set the remainder of their lineups, as the second game of the day does not begin until 6:10 pm ET. Either way, the three players profiled below can provide you with plenty of help, whether your league locks lineups weekly or daily.
Connor Joe, OF / 1B, Colorado Rockies: This is my prime pickup for the week who, as of publishing time, remains available in 49.0% of ESPN leagues, which is still far too many. Thanks in large part to his disciplined approach at the plate, he has emerged as the Rockies’ regular leadoff man, playing in all nine of their games thus far –including all but one inning of them – leading off in each of the past seven. It was not a lefty / righty thing, either, as four of those games were against right-handed starters, including two of their last three. Joe also led off in each of his final 23 games played last season, before a hamstring injury ended his year prematurely at the beginning of September.
To illustrate his plate discipline, since Joe’s July 20, 2021 recall by the Rockies (and among hitters with at least as many as the 191 plate appearances that he has) his 17.9% chase rate – that’s the rate of a hitter’s swings at pitches thrown outside of the rulebook strike zone – ranked ninth-best among 213 players. During that time, his walk rate was 12.0%, well in line with his minor-league rates. Joe, meanwhile, has done a good job generating hard contact, with a 42.9% Statcast hard-contact rate and 15 Barrels, resulting in a better-than-average 11.9% Barrel rate.
All of that, too, ignores the fact that he’s a player doing all of this at Coors Field, while leading off his team’s lineup. With three games there to begin his week, Joe is a must for your fantasy lineups.
Seth Brown, OF, Oakland Athletics: The Athletics get one of the more favorable hitters’ lineups of Week 2, first facing the back end of a thin Baltimore Orioles rotation that just lost its ace, John Means, to a forearm injury, then hosting a Texas Rangers staff with a shaky bullpen that, after the first fantasy scoring period, has a major league-worst 5.66 ERA and a whopping 11 home runs allowed. Someone from this lineup is going to step up with “better than you think” numbers and, thus far, it appears that manager Mark Kotsay most prefers to get Tony Kemp, Sean Murphy, Brown, Chad Pinder and Jed Lowrie into the upper half of his lineups, probably in that order of preference. Brown gets my endorsement today, however, because he’s both left-handed and the most powerful bat of that bunch, in a week where his Athletics are scheduled to face either five or six right-handed starters.
Brown has a 13.4% career big-league Statcast Barrel rate – that’s the percentage of a hitter’s batted balls that come with optimal launch angle and exit velocity, generally turning into home runs or extra-base hits – which is roughly the same as what Matt Olson had last season, and 9-of-19 batted balls he has hit this season have been judged as “hard hit” (95-plus mph exit velocity). He’s a hitter who is available in 91.3% of ESPN leagues and he’s plenty handy for plugging in lineup holes this week.
Alex Cobb, SP, San Francisco Giants: Consider this one a last-call endorsement, that these are probably the final days for you to acquire this right-hander either on the cheap via trade or as a free agent in the 47.0% of ESPN leagues in which he’s still out there for the taking. When Cobb has his best stuff – and that has historically been when his hybrid splitter / changeup called “The Thing” has been at its peak effectiveness – he’s a high-floor pitcher with a potential 9.0 K / 9 and a 24-25 % K-rate. He struck out 10 San Diego Padres in his first start of 2022 on April 12, largely because he threw said pitch 43.4% of the time, resulting in five of those whiffs, not to mention 8-of-14 swinging strikes in total. I’d say that qualifies as “back.”
The Giants have been one of the league’s most effective organizations at identifying hidden value in other teams’ pitchers, then extracting the most of said talent from their arms once acquired, and Cobb looks like the next in line. I’d be more concerned about his injury history than any statistical regression, as between the restoration of his strikeout rate and the pitching-friendly ballpark he now calls home, he probably has a top-25 fantasy starter’s ceiling in the healthy games he gives you.
One of the pitchers profiled in my column last Wednesday, Garrett Whitlock might soon be needed to slot into the Boston rotation in the next 10 days, especially with the Red Sox in the midst of a 17-day span without a day off (as well as the news that Tanner Houck is unlikely to be eligible to pitch during the team’s upcoming April 25-28 series in Toronto). As of Monday morning, Whitlock is one out shy of ERA title qualification with his 1.04 number.
MacKenzie Gore, who delivered 5 1/3 innings of two-run, three-hit baseball in his major-league debut on Friday, has been announced as the starter for the San Diego Padres in Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. It’s a more favorable matchup for him than this past one, as the Reds lineup has more strikeouts in it – the Forecaster grades it nearly 2% better in terms of raw strikeout rates – and might be without Jonathan India, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.