We have previously seen that both West Coast teams and bad teams are great places to mine for fantasy gold because nobody is keeping up with their games. There is a third category that also goes underappreciated: the Tampa Bay Rays. The team isn't projected to be bad (80-82 projection by Steamer) and they're not out west, yet they never seem to escape the shadows of New York and Boston.
The national media paid attention to the Rays for a couple of minutes this offseason to pan the Evan Longoria trade, but then the team faded back into obscurity. As I argued here, Longoria will not be much of a loss at age 32.
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The Fantasy Jury is Out
Christian Arroyo (3B/SS, TB)
Arroyo was dreadful in 135 MLB PAs last season, slashing .192/.244/.304 with three dingers. He was too good at Triple-A before his debut, slashing .396/.461/.604 with four big flies over 102 PAs on the back of a .427 BABIP. His full season Double-A statistics in 2016 (.274/.316/.373, three HR in 517 PAs) also inspire little excitement, rendering Arroyo to a fantasy afterthought at best.
The underlying metrics suggest that Arroyo is much better than you might think he is. While his Triple-A BABIP was unsustainable, the .231 mark he posted with the Giants is due for significant positive regression. In fact, his batted ball profile actually supports a plus BABIP. First, his 18.1% LD% at the MLB level was considerably lower than his 26.9% mark at Triple-A and his 22.4% mark at Double-A. There is every reason to believe Arroyo is at least a league average LD% guy moving forward.
Next, he hits a ton of ground balls (60.6% GB% in MLB sample, 48.8% in full Double-A campaign). This would normally boost a player's BABIP, but Arroyo hit only .140 on grounders last year. He hit them reasonably hard (average exit velocity of 84.8 mph), is completely shift-proof (45.6% Pull% on ground balls), and has slightly above average footspeed (27.1 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed). He should have no problem hitting .250 on grounders in 2018 despite last year's results.
Arroyo's overall BABIP at Double-A was .313, a reasonable expectation for this year. He should make the most of his favorable BABIP by seldom striking out as well. His 23.7% MLB K% last year wasn't special, but the underlying 9.1% SwStr% and 31.3% chase rate suggest he deserved better. He was reasonably aggressive (52.3% Swing%), suggesting that he was not watching too many third strikes go by. He also struck out only 13.9% of the time at Double-A (5.6% BB%), so he has a history of controlling the zone. Arroyo's plate discipline is well beyond his 22 years of age.
Arroyo hit 10 total HR in the past two seasons combined, making him initially appear as nothing more than a batting average play. However, his average airborne exit velocity (93.2 mph) was in the top third of the league (minimum 50 BBE). He also pulled an impressive 30% of his fly balls. This produced a HR/FB of 15% to follow up a 22.2% rate at Triple-A. His launch angle could use some work (3.2% Brls/BBE), but he seems just one adjustment away from hitting 15-20 bombs if the ball remains juiced.
Obviously, escaping San Francisco would help anybody's power game. AT&T Park's 86 HR factor for RHB was the lowest in MLB last year, while Tampa Bay had a roughly average mark of 101. The move isn't as good for Arroyo's batting average (103 vs. 99 in favor of San Francisco), but the increased power output should be more than worth it in fantasy.
Finally, Arroyo has dual positional eligibility in many leagues with 21 games at third base and 10 at SS, a combination that allows you to slot him in at CI and MI as well. Arroyo is an excellent complement to any draft with low-average power studs taken before him and an ideal bench piece in daily leagues thanks to his positional versatility. Best of all, his 2017 line should make him free to acquire.
Denard Span (OF, TB)
Span did a little of everything without excelling at anything in 2017, slashing .272/.329/.427 with 12 homers and 12 swipes (seven CS). That makes him a boring fantasy selection, but he's useful roster glue in short bursts or deeper formats.
Let's start with his average. Span never strikes out (12.7% K%, 4.7% SwStr%) and works his fair share of walks (7.4% BB%, 26.4% chase rate), so he rarely gives away PAs. His BABIP was down last year relative to his career total (.295 vs. .314), but it looks like a blip. Span hit just .232 on ground balls vs. .251 career despite no significant change in average exit velocity (82 mph vs. 82.5) or Statcast sprint speed (27.9 ft./sec vs. 28.0 ft./sec) relative to 2016. He doesn't pull enough ground balls to care about the shift (56.8% GB Pull% last year), so it's reasonable to expect a full rebound.
Span replicated his career LD% almost perfectly last season (21.3% vs. 21.7%), but they were less productive (.622 vs. .660). Considering his improved airborne contact quality, this also seems due for a full rebound.
Span hurt his BABIP projection a little by hitting more fly balls last year (33.6% FB% vs. 24.7% in 2016), but this is a positive development for his power. His 8.5% HR/FB was better than his career 5.4% mark, backed by a higher Pull% on fly balls (28.2% vs. 22.3% career) and Statcast Era bests in both average airborne exit velocity (89.3 mph) and rate of Brls/BBE (3.3%). It's worth pointing out that neither of the Statcast metrics are actually good, but at least they're trending in the right direction.
Span also puts so many balls into play that a lot end up in the air even if his FB% isn't that high. This sets him up to benefit tremendously from leaving San Francisco's 75 HR factor for LHB behind him. Tampa Bay also suppresses left-handed power (89 HR factor last year), but it's still a dramatic improvement compared to what Span is accustomed to.
Unlike Arroyo, the park switch for Span could boost his average a little as well (98 vs. 100). Span's home park really seemed to hurt him last year, as he slashed .254/.313/.398 at home vs. .292/.348/.459 on the road.
Finally, Span is projected to hit leadoff, a lineup slot likely to produce enough runs scored to justify his price tag alone. He might be heading into his age 34 season, but he could hit .280 with 15 HR, 20 SB, and a bunch of runs scored for his new team. Not terribly exciting, but nothing to sneeze at either.
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