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Fantasy Baseball's All-Underrated Team

Dan KuklaCorrespondent IIIOctober 12, 2016

Fantasy Baseball's All-Underrated Team

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    Some of the best fantasy baseball players are still available on waiver wires.

    Why? Because fantasy baseball managers are victims of the media.

    Everyone knows fantasy baseball is played by numbers, not names. Yet all too often it proves far too hard for us to part ways with an underperforming player we drafted for a no-name stud dominating as a free agent.

    Different players receive different levels of attention based on what team they play for (see New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox). Others are just ignored for that same reason. Admit it. We've all passed on Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs players simply because of the jersey they put on before each game.

    "Small sample size" becomes a crutch phrase for owners making the disastrous decision to stick with a familiar struggling player over an unknown surging player.

    Whatever the reason may be, fantasy studs go unnoticed every year.

    We would all be better off if we removed the names from every stat line we see. Since that is not a realistic option, let's instead highlight some under-appreciated names you need to know.

    In the spirit of All-Star voting season, here is the All-Star lineup of unsung fantasy studs.

Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox

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    After all that fuss about players on certain teams receiving more attention than others, let's start this list with some good old-fashioned East Coast bias and pick Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher.

    He belongs to another breed of underrated players that play for hype machines like the Boston Red Sox and get lost in the shuffle.

    Saltalamacchia may not be Adrian Gonzalez. He may not have a catchy nickname like "Big Papi" or "The Laser Show." He definitely didn't appear on any preseason top-10 catcher lists.

    But right now this 52-percent-owned backstop ranks No. 7 on the Yahoo! player rater, ahead of media darlings Buster Posey, Matt Wieters and Carlos Santana. He has four home runs in his last nine games for a total of 11 this season. His current triple-slash line of .279/.325/.593 plays in any league. Hitting in the Boston lineup will keep his other counting stats robust as well.

    Saltalamacchia doesn't steal bases, but contributors in that category are rare at catcher. Do be careful if you play in a league that penalizes strikeouts because he already has 40 in 140 at-bats. This trend makes him prone to long, devastating slumps, so play him while he is hot.

    Alternates: A.J. Pierzynski, A.J. Ellis and Wilin Rosario

First Base: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

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    Chris Davis is the Jarrod Saltalamacchia of fantasy baseball first basemen.

    That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but if you check the numbers you will like what you see. He has three home runs in his last eight games for a total of nine this season. His triple-slash line of .295/.333/.497 plays in any league.

    Sound familiar? Like Saltalamacchia, Davis plays in a good (better than you think) Baltimore Orioles offense to support his counting numbers.

    Likewise, Davis doesn't steal bases at a position where that category is hard to fill. He also strikes out a ton and is prone to long, devastating slumps.

    But the power for both players is legit. Ride the hot streaks. Sit the slumps.

    Alternates: Lucas Duda, Adam LaRoche and Luke Scott

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

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    I interrupt the regular waiver-wire programming for a brief public service announcement.

    Jason Kipnis has arrived.

    You probably can't pick him up (91 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues), and you have to overpay to trade for him. He is still included on this list, however, because this breakout stud was picked late in many drafts and most non-owners don't realize just how how well he is playing.

    Step aside Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Dan Uggla. Kipnis is currently the top-ranked second baseman on the Yahoo! player rater.

    He comes as a highly-coveted stat stuffer with nine home runs and 13 steals this season. The Cleveland Indians continue to mash, helping his runs and RBI totals into the mid to upper 30s. His slash line of .275/.333/.445 is average for a stud, but it certainly plays. He recently finished a stretch in which he produced multiple hits in seven of 10 games.

    Kipnis showed signs of potential in his rookie season last year. Any fears of a sophomore slump are now long gone. If you own him, don't listen to .38 Special and hang on tightly. If you don't, at least kick the tires to see if your opponent wants to sell high.

    Alternates: Jose Altuve, Kyle Seager and Kelly Johnson

Third Base: Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

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    Did you know that the Seattle Mariners offense ranks 11th in the major leagues for run production? That's a far cry from the basement, where many expected this group to be dwelling all season.

    Kyle Seager is one reason for this turnaround. He has shown surprising power himself, more than doubling his home run total from last year in two fewer games.

    Two of those blasts came during his last four contests. He also provides some speed with five steals this season.

    There wasn't much hype surrounding Seager after his mediocre 53-game rookie campaign, but he's playing much better as a sophomore. He won't carry your fantasy team, but he can certainly help it. Carrying a 68 percent ownership rate in Yahoo! leagues, he may still be available.

    Act accordingly.

    Alternates: Mike Aviles, Chris Johnson and Mike Moustakas

Shortstop: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros

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    Did you know that the Houston Astros offense ranks 14th in the major leagues for run production? That's not quite as impressive as the Seattle Mariners, but it too is well above expectations.

    Formerly powered by the "Killer B's," the Astros are no longer a collection of who's who. Now it's more like "who's that?"

    Meet Jed Lowrie.

    He played well for the Boston Red Sox in 2010 during limited action. His time on the field increased in 2011, but his production went the other way. Now holding down a full-time gig in Houston, Lowrie's numbers are back on par with his breakout season.

    He hit six home runs in May and boasts a .288/.367/.497 slash line for the year. With 22 walks, he is especially valuable in leagues that count on-base percentage.

    Lowrie is currently available in 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues and ranks just outside the top 10 shortstops while qualifying at both corner and middle infield.

    Alternates: Ian Desmond, Zack Cozart and Alcides Escobar

Left Field: Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians

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    Need a cheap source of steals?

    Meet Michael Brantley. He stole seven bases in the second half of May.

    Unlike so many other waiver-wire speedsters, Brantley won't tank your other categories either. He currently rides a 13-game hitting streak. His slash line now stands at .283/.323/.390 and continues to rise. He doesn't bring power, but runs and RBI aren't hard to find these days in Cleveland. A low strikeout rate keeps him on base enough to use his legs.

    Brantley is owned in only 27 percent of Yahoo! leagues, making him widely available. If you have a need for speed, go get him now before someone else runs off with this steal.

    Alternates: Dayan Viciedo, Gerardo Parra and Michael Saunders

Center Field: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies

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    Outfield is often viewed by fantasy owners as the grocery store of stats. During both the draft and season you can go shopping here for specific categories your team needs. Everything is for sale at this position.

    If that's the case, Dexter Fowler can be found in every aisle. He contributes across the board.

    So why don't we hear more about this guy? Aren't stat-stuffers supposed to be the most coveted commodity in all of fantasy baseball?

    Fowler's numbers won't blow you away in any one category, but he helps out everywhere. Eight home runs, 33 runs, 28 RBI and six steals so far this season are all playable in any league. A .289/.391/.570 slash line really sticks out, especially in leagues that count OBP.

    That slugging percentage may be a tad inflated by the Coors Field bump. Fowler owns home/road splits heavily slanted toward Denver. But it's not like the Rockies will stop playing there anytime soon.

    Fowler just finished up a nine-game hitting streak that included three triples, three home runs and three steals.

    People seem to be catching on. He is flying off the shelves as the most added player in ESPN leagues. Grab him quick if you still can.

    Alternates: Alejandro De Aza, Jordan Schafer, and Scott Hairston

Right Field: Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics

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    Where did this come from?

    In 87 games for the Boston Red Sox last year, Josh Reddick hit seven home runs and stole one base. Now playing for the Oakland Athletics in a supposedly pitcher-friendly park, he has 14 home runs and six stolen bases in 54 games this season.

    Reddick's batting average is below average for fantasy purposes, but he does walk plenty for OBP leagues. Even on a team ranked third to last in the major leagues for run production, Reddick has crossed home 34 times this season. He's also driven in 29 runs.

    If you were quick enough to scoop this rising star up before anyone else in your league, enjoy. Obviously there are concerns about sustaining this pace or anything close to it. His high strikeout rate won't help. But so far Reddick's breakout campaign looks legit.

    Alternates: Angel Pagan, Will Venable and Allen Craig

Starting Pitcher: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

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    It's knuckleball time.

    If you want to win a bar bet, ask someone to name the most consistent MLB pitcher since July 25, 2011. Give them 20 guesses and they likely won't name R.A. Dickey.

    But here are some surprising stats from ESPN's Matthew Berry to wow your friends. Dickey has made a quality start in 10 of his 11 trips to the mound this season and at the time of Berry's column had quality starts in 21 of his 22 starts since July 25, 2011—four more than any other player in the majors.

    In addition to his consistency, Dickey's strikeout rate is soaring. He fanned a total of 38 batters over his last four starts. And now that the New York Mets are competing at a high level, all those quality starts are turning into wins. He is 8-1 this season with six wins and no losses in his last eight starts.

    Dickey is no longer just a preferred streamer on days with a good matchup. He just pitched a complete-game shutout against the top offense in the National League. If you can still manage to get your hands on him, Dickey needs to be kept and started every time out.

    Alternates: James McDonald, Jarrod Parker and Jeff Samardzija

Relief Pitcher: Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Most fantasy baseball leagues don't count holds. Most fantasy baseball players thus don't even consider setup men for their roster unless there is some reasonable chance at saves.

    Allow me to introduce you to Jason Grilli.

    He's probably long gone in leagues that do count holds. However, this may be your first encounter if all you care about is saves. He's only owned in nine percent of Yahoo! leagues.

    Grilli is stuck behind Joel Hanrahan in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen pecking order. Again, this is not a hedge for saves. The reason you want Grilli is that he boosts all of your other stats.

    In 21 innings pitched this season, Grilli has struck out 35 batters. Three times he has struck out all three batters he faced in an outing. Nine other times he returned to the dugout after one inning of work with two strikeouts.

    If you do the math, Grilli only needs to pitch in two or three games a week to give you an average strikeout total produced by a starter. An extra inning or two then puts his K production into an elite level—compared to starting pitchers, not just relievers—for the week.

    Now consider his surface ratios. In the year of the blown save, a 1.71 ERA and 1.14 WHIP seem even more remarkable. Grilli has been one of the few relief pitchers that consistently does his job without blemish. That's a breed that seems to be growing closer to extinction as the late-game meltdowns pile up across the majors.

    Grilli now has 10 consecutive appearances without giving up an earned run. He's the antidote to a league-wide epidemic of back-end shoddiness.

    Alternates: Ernesto Frieri, Pedro Strop and Ryan Cook

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