MLB: Six Underrated Players for the Final Weeks

MLB: Six Underrated Players for the Final Weeks

Like many, I'm shifting part of my focus to fantasy football but need to maintain an emphasis on baseball. It's a grind to manage pitchers in the final weeks of a long season or to continue to notice overlooked hitters who have been performing well, but the margins can be thin enough at this point of the year that every edge counts. I won't forget Logan Webb's start causing my TGFBI team to lose its lead on the last day of the season last year. 

We'll look at three hitters and three relievers here in search of some hidden gems or hand hands to turn to down the stretch. While this article caters toward 15-team leagues, a similar premise applies in most leagues, where you'll find more usable hitters available than viable starting pitchers. In many cases, it's better to go with relievers to avoid risky streamers in the final weeks. 

Elvis Andrus (SS, CHW)

With the Athletics, Elvis Andrus managed an uninspiring eight home runs, 41 runs, 30 RBI, seven stolen bases and a .237 batting average in 386 plate appearances. Oakland released Andrus on August 17, and the White Sox scooped up the veteran shortstop. Sneakily, Andrus has batted leadoff in 10 straight games with a triple slash of .333/.366/.692, adding four home runs, nine runs, and 11 RBI. His .310 BABIP (higher than any mark he's finished with since 2017) fueled part of the success, though he also posted a 9.1 percent barrel rate, nearly three

Like many, I'm shifting part of my focus to fantasy football but need to maintain an emphasis on baseball. It's a grind to manage pitchers in the final weeks of a long season or to continue to notice overlooked hitters who have been performing well, but the margins can be thin enough at this point of the year that every edge counts. I won't forget Logan Webb's start causing my TGFBI team to lose its lead on the last day of the season last year. 

We'll look at three hitters and three relievers here in search of some hidden gems or hand hands to turn to down the stretch. While this article caters toward 15-team leagues, a similar premise applies in most leagues, where you'll find more usable hitters available than viable starting pitchers. In many cases, it's better to go with relievers to avoid risky streamers in the final weeks. 

Elvis Andrus (SS, CHW)

With the Athletics, Elvis Andrus managed an uninspiring eight home runs, 41 runs, 30 RBI, seven stolen bases and a .237 batting average in 386 plate appearances. Oakland released Andrus on August 17, and the White Sox scooped up the veteran shortstop. Sneakily, Andrus has batted leadoff in 10 straight games with a triple slash of .333/.366/.692, adding four home runs, nine runs, and 11 RBI. His .310 BABIP (higher than any mark he's finished with since 2017) fueled part of the success, though he also posted a 9.1 percent barrel rate, nearly three times his career rate of 3.1 percent. 

We know about Andrus as someone with a contact-based profile who adds minimal power and whose speed isn't what it once was. He's generally not much of a fantasy asset now that he only chips in with a few steals instead of 20 or more like he used to, but fantasy managers might want to ride the hot streak as he continues to bat in the leadoff spot. 

Albert Pujols (1B, STL)

If you're like me, you shook your head at the idea of rostering Albert Pujols, but he's been providing fantasy value. Although Pujols doesn't play daily at 42 years of age, he produces on a per-plate-appearance basis. Pujols reminds me of Frank Gore in fantasy football, in that he just doesn't go away. It's fun for real-life entertainment value but frustrating in fantasy unless he lines up against lefties.

Against southpaws in 2022, Pujols has a triple slash of .366/.409/.782, good for a .487 wOBA and 221 wRC+ in 115 plate appearances. Meanwhile, he's slashing .184/.284/.305 against right-handed hitters in 162 trips to the plate. Since July 1, Pujols has 12 home runs, 18 runs, and 26 RBI in 141 plate appearances overall, slashing .317/.376/.659. That comes with a 12.6 percent barrel rate and a 49.5 percent hard-hit rate. Overall this season, his 10.5 percent barrel rate is a personal Statcast-era career high. 

While Pujols doesn't exclusively start against lefties, that's where he does his damage. Since August 1, 11 of Pujols' 18 starts have come against southpaws. Pujols should be on the streaming hitter radar whenever the Cardinals face a run of lefties, especially for teams in search of home runs. 

Michael Taylor (OF, KC)

The peak 2017 and 2018 seasons for Michael Taylor, in which he compiled a combined 25 homers and 41 steals, seem so long ago. Last season, Taylor finished with a modest 12 homers, 14 swipes and a .244/.297/.356 triple slash, but his defensive prowess kept him in the lineup. 

Since August 1 of this year, Taylor has slashed .259/.293/.379 with three home runs and two stolen bases. While it isn't the most exciting profile, Taylor seems like Victor Robles with more power, as seen in his 8.2 percent barrel rate over that stretch and a career mark of 7.5 percent. With a 45 percent roster rate in NFBC leagues, scoop up Taylor as a cheap source of power and speed if you missed out on the likes of Nick Gordon or Jake McCarthy, who I referenced as underrated hitters a month ago. 

Jimmy Lambert (RP, CHW)

We often forget about names like Jimmy Lambert, who aren't closers or even high-leverage relievers. Among relief pitchers with 10 innings since August 1, Lambert has the 14th highest difference between his actual ERA (3.29) and FIP (1.51). He's been unlucky, with a .441 BABIP and 68.4 percent strand rate over that stretch. Lambert boasts a strong 30.9 percent strikeout rate and 7.3 percent walk rate during that run, plus a 14 percent swinging-strike rate. 

It's not the sexiest profile, but Lambert's four-seamer elicits a 12 percent swinging-strike rate, with his slider coming in at 13.1 percent. Lambert mixes in a changeup 16.4 percent of the time. Batters have a .199 wOBA against it, but its 7.5 percent swinging strike remains unexciting. Although Lambert won't provide saves or many wins, he escaped without allowing an earned run in 21 of his 23 outings since July 1. Keep Lambert's name in mind, especially during the final week or two, when the reliability of projected starting pitchers can dip. 

Jason Adam (RP, TB)

The Rays' lack of interest in a traditional closer sometimes makes fantasy managers squirm when thinking about rostering someone like Jason Adam. Adam's skills look legitimate, however, as he owns a a 26.7 percent K-BB rate and a swinging-strike rate of 18.1 percent. Adam boasts three pitches with a swinging-strike rate of 17 percent or higher in his slider (20.3 percent), changeup (17 percent) and four-seamer (17.1 percent). His slider and changeup are his best pitches judging by opposing hitters' wOBA against them, which comes in at .137 and .198, respectively. He also has eight saves in nine chances, with four of his saves coming in August and September.

Adam adjusted his pitch mix this year after relying on his four-seamer 57.3 percent of the time last season. His changeup and slider usage jumped about 20 percentage points compared to 2021. He has above-average movement profiles on his four-seamer, slider and changeup this season. Adam qualifies as a skilled reliever that could be helpful in the final weeks. 

Erik Swanson (RP, SEA)

The Mariners' relievers have been quite good, with a 3.24 ERA (ranking seventh in the league), 1.09 WHIP (second) and an 18 percent K-BB rate (third). Erik Swanson has pitched effectively for Seattle over the past two seasons, with a 1.02 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 29.3 percent K-BB rate. While Swanson only has three saves and two wins, those elite marks make him someone to consider in the final weeks. 

Swanson boasts three pitches with double-digit swinging-strike rates: his four-seamer (16 percent), splitter (17.2 percent) and slider (17.1 percent). Although he doesn't have one elite swing and miss pitch, it's rare for a pitcher to possess three pitches with a swinging-strike rate over 16 percent. 

Swanson's four-seamer and splitter have resulted in elite batted-ball outcomes, with a .213 wOBA on the four-seamer and a .104 wOBA via the splitter. His slider hasn't fared well, with a .353 batting average against, .559 SLG and .401 wOBA in 2022. However, his slider had elite results in 2021, with a .103 batting average against, .276 SLG and .204 wOBA. The movement profile looks identical this year compared to last, but he's lost a tick of velocity on the pitch. Even with the regression in his slider, Swanson checks a several boxes we look for such as quality team context, strikeout skills and movement profiles that aligning with his stuff metrics. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Corbin Young
Corbin Young loves fantasy baseball and football. Recently, he received an FSWA nomination for a Fantasy Football Ongoing Series. Corbin loves diving into and learning about advanced metrics. He is a Mariners and Seahawks fan living in the Pacific Northwest. Corbin's other hobbies include lifting weights, cooking, and listening to fantasy sports podcasts.
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