The 40-percent ownership area for fantasy pickups is basically Last Call Saloon. Those players are long gone in the more competitive leagues. For a productive player to be standing in this corridor, we’re talking about leagues with low transaction limits, or very modest roster requirements.
Be that as it may, it’s last call on Philadelphia outfielder Aaron Altherr. And if you picked him up weeks ago, you may downshift to victory lap mode.
The Phillies added some ordinary outfield veterans over the winter, but the answer was in their own backyard the entire time. Altherr currently stands as the No. 14 outfielder in the Yahoo game, with a juicy .351-19-7-21-3 line. He ripped two homers in Wednesday’s victory over Seattle, giving him four in three days.
The 26-year-old Altherr cuts an imposing figure at the plate — 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. There’s a broad set of tools in the toolbox. I compared Altherr to Jayson Werth, a former Philly outfielder, in this space a week ago. The real Werth made the same comp a few days later.
It’s convenient to laugh off Spring Training as a meaningless exercise, but sometimes breakout players are morphing — and improving — before our eyes. Consider what Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Altherr in late March, as told to David Lauria of Fangraphs.
A guy who jumps out to me is Aaron Altherr. He’s adjusted his setup and his swing path. He’s gone from a long swing to a shorter swing, and he’s getting good results because of it. [Hitting coach] Matt Stairs changed him. You have to give Aaron credit, too. A lot of guys aren’t really receptive to making a change from how they’ve swung the bat their whole life. He was willing to do it, so I tip my hat to Aaron.
“The key is to go directly to the ball from your launch position. Instead of A to B to C, what you’re looking for is A to C. [Altherr] has his bat on his shoulder now. He had been starting with his hands up high, and it looked uncomfortable. I always felt his swing looked a little too long. He made the correction.
If you want Altherr’s breakout validated in the secondary numbers, you’ll have no trouble. He’s trimmed his strikeouts, nudged forward his walks. His hard-hit rate has spiked from 29.5 percent to 43.4 percent. He’s swinging at less pitches out of the strike zone.
If you want help buying high, I can offer some ideas. I’d trade Jose Bautista for Altherr, zero hesitation. The Hunter Pence apologists should make this swap. Ben Zobrist might be starting to show his age, don’t you think? Yasiel Puig has slowed down significantly after a slow start. (If it’s pronunciation help you need: ALL-tair.)
Perhaps some of those trade ideas would be dismissed out of hand. You know your league members better than I do. But Altherr is less owned than everyone in the above paragraph, and it’s time to fix that for good. For once, it’s sunny in the Philadelphia outfield.
• We’ve seen plenty of long-forgotten veterans get back on course in 2017. The Yonder Alonso story is something. Ryan Zimmerman is the NL MVP to this point. Mark Reynolds is crushing in Colorado.
Dropping down a level from those guys, maybe Logan Morrison is another fantasy commodity, back from the dead. Perhaps he’ll turn into the poor-man’s Alonso.
Morrison made the majors at age 22, seen as a promising, pure hitter. He posted an impressive .283/.390/.447 slash in his first 62 games with the Marlins, and clocked 23 homers (in 123 games) the next year. Alas, Morrison took a step back over the next five years; a .239/.314/.398 line doesn’t play in mixed leagues. No one targeted him in March.
Morrison isn’t on a ballistic tear with Tampa this year, but a .250/.344/.528 line is respectable, especially in OBP leagues. He’s cranked nine home runs — four in the last week — and he’s locked in the cleanup spot. A nifty BB/K rate and an increase in fly balls are reasons to believe in this story, on some level.
If you’re a little thin at the corner, Morrison is owned in just 13 percent of Yahoo leagues. And give him a modest bump forward in OBP formats.
• With Zach Britton out indefinitely, the Orioles need some answers in the ninth inning. Maybe Brad Brach is that guy, and maybe he isn’t. Brach has four saves over his last nine appearances, but it’s been a white-knuckle ride: 9 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 2 HR. He had a messy blown save (and loss) Wednesday against the Nationals (small solace to the DC area, soul-crushed over the Capitals Game 7 no-show against the Penguins).
Darren O’Day was terrible to open the year, but he’s turned things around over his last 12 outings (2.31 ERA, 3 BB, 11 K). In leagues where you need to be an early speculator to possible save turnover, O’Day is worth investigating. He’s owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo leagues.
• For one night at least, the Marlins and the Rangers got it right. You want high-OBP hitters at the top of the order, and you want the OBP-drains at the bottom, but sometimes silly things (like short-term samples and age-old strategy considerations) rule the day.
Shin-Soo Choo is Texas’s best on-base man by far, and yet he’s only hit leadoff three times this year. Contrast that to the 13 starts Choo’s logged in the bottom third of the order. But Choo might be in the leadoff spot for a while, after reaching base four times on Wednesday. He’s slashing .269/.383/.426 for the year. (Don’t get me started on Jeff Banister, International Man of Superstition. His favorite player tends to be any guy who played well yesterday.)
Dee Gordon usually bats first for Miami because he’s fast, not because he fits the job’s other responsibilities. Gordon dropped to ninth two games ago. Perhaps the move sparked him — Gordon had two hits, a walk, and two steals in Wednesday’s loss. He’s now up to 11 bags, and his OBP improved to .326.
If Gordon has to move down, the No. 9 slot is better than the No. 8 spot. You don’t want the pitcher in back of him, where occasional bunting will take away from Gordon’s stolen-base opportunities. I suspect Gordon is going to be back at leadoff soon enough, but at least Don Mattingly was thinking outside the box for a moment.