Fantasy Baseball: It's not too late to fly with the Orioles

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One of the biggest stories across MLB lately is how the Baltimore Orioles — who have long been the laughingstock of an otherwise extremely tough AL East — have been red-hot since July started, winning 10 straight and moving above .500. They've won series against the Rangers, Angels and Cubs in the process. Recall, the Orioles only won 52 games total in 2021; they now have 45 as of this writing.

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Things are changing in Baltimore. So, how can fantasy baseball managers take advantage?

Orioles to consider off the waiver wire and in the trade market

Well, the Orioles sport one of the most interesting teams in MLB — interesting in that, there's no clear star leading them on either side of the ball. Cedric Mullins is their highest rostered player in fantasy, and he just has a .714 OPS, but he's providing the category juice with 18 stolen bases and seven home runs. That speed-power blend makes it hard to pry Mullins from another fantasy manager in your league, but there's some talent hitting under him that's available out there.

-Anthony Santander (42 percent rostered) has some solid expected numbers according to Statcast and his .181 ISO is playable any day of the week; he's even been a bit unlucky, so there's a chance he puts up the highest home run total of his career this season. He's also a great option if seeking power when the Orioles are away from their newly pitcher-friendly home park.

Anthony Santander #25 of the Baltimore Orioles has fantasy intrigue
Consider Anthony Santander in your fantasy league. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

-Jorge Mateo (24%) is probably the only stolen-base savant this highly available in leagues. Of course, he's such a drain in all the other categories that it's not hard to see why he's on the waiver. But if you're doing well in batting average and lagging in SBs, Mateo should be on your team. After all, he will likely end the year with something like 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases, health permitting.

Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle are also Baltimore hitters whom fantasy managers should consider trading for; if you look at their respective Statcast pages, you might start drooling over all the red.

On the pitching side, the Orioles sport an intriguing young group of arms to consider:

-Spenser Watkins (13%), Tyler Wells (46%) and Dean Kremer (22%) have all been riding high during this win streak, lowering their season ratios and picking up victories in the process. None of them have the elite strikeout skills we usually look for in our fantasy pitchers, but they're all officially stream-worthy in the right matchups. Kremer might be the best of the bunch, the most likely to be a season-long option in the second half.

-We know the Orioles long considered Jorge Lopez to be their closer, and his rostered percentage in fantasy reflects that. But don't sleep on Felix Bautista (10%). Bautista has been just as good, if not better, than Lopez in terms of his ratios and raw ability. He's worth, at the very least, an addition to your watch list, especially if the Orioles give him more save chances — or if they decide to trade Lopez before the deadline.

Is Juan Soto becoming the next great (and patient) slugger?

At some point in the past 10 or so years, there was a shift in MLB amongst the hitting landscape. Suddenly, it wasn't such a big deal for batters to strike out as long as they made up for it with home runs. Some of it can be blamed on the evolution of pitching, and how it's become so difficult to hit some of these (as Scott Pianowski likes to call them) fire-breathing dragons.

But in the days of advanced analytics, of ISO and OPS and the like, strikeouts matter less if you're delivering in other departments. An emphasis on batting average has been greatly reduced, both in fantasy and reality.

Of course, most of us remember the sluggers of the (relatively recent) past who not only delivered elite power numbers but who also knew the value of taking a walk — of NOT striking out. Names like Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, and Frank Thomas come to mind as home-run hitters who made a living taking a free pass to first base, and who rarely struck out more than 80 times in a season, let alone reaching the common triple digits we see today.

Juan Soto looks to be the latest in that elite class of slugger.

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals
Juan Soto showed off the power on Wednesday. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Of course, you could make the case that Soto has already been that rare, patient slugger; he does have a 34-home run season to his name, but he struck out more than he walked that year.

For the last three seasons, however (including this one), Soto has had a higher base-on-balls percentage than a strikeout one. Those veteran superstars in that group above also fit that bill during their prime years.

Soto hit two home runs on Wednesday; coincidentally, both came in the ninth inning of Washington's doubleheader against Seattle. He's now up to 19 on the year, tied for seventh in the National League.

This got me thinking: Could it be that Soto is swapping one patient approach for another? Could it be that he's sacrificing batting average (his current mark stands at less than .250, low by his standards) in favor of OPS (the two-homer game Wednesday raised his season OPS to .886)? Fantasy managers have been worried about Soto this season after a slow start, but it could just be that he's less interested in singles and more interested in home runs (he hit 106 singles in 654 plate appearances last year; he has just 38 in 367 this season).

And with him still walking more than he's striking out, it's hard to be too upset with this hypothetical new approach at the plate. Who wouldn't be happy with more power? And in this era of MLB, a .280 or higher batting average is a luxury, not the norm.

Just a few weeks ago, a window opened in which Soto was someone you could actually trade for in fantasy leagues without giving up a king's ransom in the process. That window might have just slammed shut on Wednesday.

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