We’re going to run the Dalton Del Don style of Closing Time today — no cute lead, no boutique sign. Just collect a bunch of players and talk about them. Go time.
Miguel Rojas, Marlins
Although Rojas has a lovely OBP profile, Don Mattingly buried him in the No. 8 slot to begin the year. OBP wasn’t a big thing in Donny Baseball’s day, perhaps. I’d still argue Rickey Henderson deserves the 1985 MVP that Mattingly won.
But life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans, and a series of slumps and injuries have pushed Rojas into the leadoff spot. He’s filling the spot nicely with a .283 average, .359 OBP, and 25 runs in 36 games. He’s even homered twice, stolen three bases, knocked in 14 runs. Rojas is probably the most underrated offensive shortstop in baseball at the moment (he's the No. 14 shortstop-eligible in 5x5), and he’s still free to add in about 57 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Harrison Bader, Cardinals
We have to keep our feet on the ground with Bader; he’s only 49 plate appearances into his season. But he already has three homers and a couple of steals, and category juice will always play in our 5x5 world. And what if Bader has finally learned how to make contact? His career strikeout rate is a messy 28.6 percent (it was 32 percent last year), but he’s worked that down to 16.3 percent this year. And he’s always had a quality walk rate.
Yes, the small sample sign is flashing. But keep in mind, plate discipline stats stabilize quickly. Bader’s current rate of contact isn’t bankable yet, but it at least represents plausible upside, and that’s the key to our games. You can’t wait for proof and win competitive leagues.
The San Diego Padres
I’ve long been a sympathizer to this franchise. The lovely city. The chicken. The Kid From Left Field. Winfield and Gwynn and all that great food. The 2021 Padres are a blast, too, especially in subtle ways — on the bases and in the bullpen.
The Friars are the runaway leader in stolen bases, at 41 — 13 clear of the second-place Rangers. The stolen base has a bad rap in today’s game; anyone who can get over the 75 percent threshold of success is probably justified to running. Everyone scoots on this team. Play aggressive baseball, put the pressure on the other guys.
The Padres have the best ERA in baseball and the bullpen ERA is the second-best. Mark Melancon (and his infinite gladness) is long gone in any awake and aware league, but you can find ratio-massaging help with several of his teammates. Craig Stammen (1.99/0.88) trades at three percent, Tim Hill (2.65/1.18) is an eight-percenter, and even known commodity Emilio Pagan (three wins, juicy strikeout rate) is free in about two-thirds of Yahoo. Austin Adams has 23 strikeouts in 11.2 innings.
If they’re wearing the San Diego brown, gold, and white, I’ll look for excuses to roster them.
Dansby Swanson, Braves
I’ve been trying to acquire Swanson cheaply in a league or two, with no success. Maybe you can negotiate better than I.
Although he’s stuck on a .213 average and dealing with a strikeout problem, we’re still talking about a high-pedigree player who struck his fifth homer Thursday. And Swanson’s been on the bad side of luck; although he’s bumped his line drive rate up to 28.3 percent, he’s dealing with the worst BABIP (.276) of his career. Statcast data doesn’t fully excuse Swanson for his poor average, but it does suggest a .247 number — and that’s actually above the league mean.
Swanson had a monster 2020, but it was shielded by the shorter season. A .274-49-10-35-5 line projects to a ridiculous full season — 132 runs, 27 homers, 94.5 RBIs, 13.5 steals.
It’s Swanson’s age-27 season. I’m still excited about his upside.
Trevor Rogers, Marlins
Back in the mid-2000s, the Mets debuted a stable of pitchers, with Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard getting top billing. Ultimately, we found out Jacob deGrom was the gem of the class.
I wonder if Rogers might turn that trick with the Marlins.
Rogers was a lawnmower Thursday (6 IP, 1 R, 7 K), like he always is. This guy hides the ball, throws hard. The control could be better — 17 walks in 44 innings — but he’s struck out 57 batters, and the league is hitting .197 against him. The fastball is a plus pitch and a dandy change helps get the righties out. Heck, he’s already beaten deGrom, too.
Outlier ERAs are generally distrusted with under-the-hood stats, but Rogers still has an expected 2.73 ERA on Baseball Savant. He’s good at getting chases and outstanding at limiting hard contact. There are soft landings in the NL East. Maybe he’s the real ace in Miami. If I were doing a starting pitcher shuffle this minute, Rogers would be in the $17-20 range.