Fantasy Baseball Hot Takes: Best Shape of His Life
"Best shape of his life" is the most overused cliche in all of sports. Greg Jewett takes a look at which players are being branded by the cliche and whether or not you should believe in it.
With baseball mired in controversy with wires, trash cans and how to handle a tainted World Series, spring training camps open across the sport with eyes on the future, not a murky past. Reports continue to surface in regards to player’s reporting in the best shape of their life, or at least intimating them. In order to sort out the noise, and to accrue them all in one place, Howard Bender invited me to partake in a little fun with this venture.
When discerning if a player can improve upon his results from the season prior by getting into shape, society usually takes a side eye approach to this matter. Deluged with Peloton commercials and knowing many abandoned their New Year’s resolutions already, can a quick fix change a player’s trajectory? On the heels of Valentine’s Day, it’s time to determine if the love of being the best shape of their life can translate to fantasy relevancy in accordance to the timeline of discovery via Twitter reports.
Jeurys Familia , New York Mets
- Lost 30 pounds, believes weight affected his delivery in 2019
- Link: https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/ny-jeurys-familia-weight-20200210-3bll7xoocffuvo24ultygs7nvu-story.html
Well, there’s nowhere to go but up if his weight went down, right? Familia not only killed buffets last year, he obliterated his fantasy owner’s ratios with a bloated 5.70 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. Strikeouts disappeared like donuts and Family issued more free passes resulting in sunk cost. If the Mets bullpen rebounds, a productive Familia will be necessary as a part of the high leverage bridge.
Luke Voit , New York Yankees
- Core surgery in 2019, rehab focused on self-improvement
Not sure Voit appeared out of shape last year, but representing a lightning rod of controversy last draft season he could not breakout fully due to his injury. Voit finished with 21 home runs in 118 games and a .263/.378/.464 slash line. Playing time concerns cap his upside this year but with first base depth at an all-time low, Voit could be a bargain at his present price point. However, pay close attention to how the Yankees view Mike Ford and if Miguel Andújar gets work at first base in the spring.
Franmil Reyes , Cleveland Indians
- Lost 18 pounds to play corner outfield for Cleveland
- Link: https://www.si.com/mlb/indians/news/swing-isnt-among-sweet-things-franmil-reyes-cut-out-this-winter
Make no mistake about this, Reyes owns light tower power. However, he recognizes fastballs much better as a hitter than seeing a fly ball off the bat as an outfielder. No truth to the rumor a cadaver gets a better break on fielding a fly ball, but the “Franimal” could be a poor man’s Nelson Cruz this year with outfield eligibility. Reyes launched 37 home runs in 150 games between San Diego and Cleveland last year with a .249/.310/.512 slash. However, over his last 31 contests, he hit eight doubles and eight home runs with a .287 average over 108 at-bats driving in 28 runs. In case clicking the link cuts into your own best shape plans, Reyes finished in the 99th percentile in exit velocity, the 98th percentile of hard hit percentage and the 89th percentile in expected slugging according to Statcast.
Yonny Chirinos , Tampa Bay Rays
- Enters camp having lost 15 pounds
#Rays RHP Yonny Chirinos was noticeably in "the best shape of his life,'' having dropped 15 pounds while working out at home in Venezuela. Also, by changing his diet. His keys? Less rice and fewer arepas. "One, not two,'' he said.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 12, 2020
Already a sleeper candidate to target on a potential playoff team with a spot in the rotation, Chirinos begins the year in his best shape. Chirinos won nine of his 14 decisions last year with a 3.85 ERA, 4.10 xFIP and 1.05 WHIP in 133.1 innings. Armed with a split-fingered fastball and slider which own a chase rate over 40 percent, keep him in mind as drafts progress for a starting pitcher with upside.
Robbie Ray , Arizona Diamondbacks
- Cut dairy from his diet, lost 15 pounds
There’s no truth the rumor dairy products reduce walk percentages, but one can hope, right? Robbie Ray represents a frustrating fantasy commodity. He’s one of 23 pitchers with at least 200 strikeouts last season and did not need to stay in a blowout to achieve it, looking at you Mike Minor . Anyways, Ray won 12 games with a 4.34 ERA, 3.76 xFIP and 1.34 WHIP while maintaining a 20.2 strikeouts minus walks percentage despite issuing 84 walks. If his ERA in 2020 migrates towards his xFIP from last year and he can throw more strikes than shade at dairy products, a career year? Too cheesy?
Andrew Benintendi , Boston Red Sox
- Bulked up in 2019, back to lean and mean in 2020
Roenicke said Benintendi is lighter upon arrival in spring training this year, in better shape.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) February 13, 2020
Not only will Benintendi potentially hit atop the lineup for Boston, he’s in his best shape returning to a leaner self. In 2018, when slimmer, Benintendi appeared in 148 games with 190 runs plus RBI, 16 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Last year, with added muscle, he logged 138 games with 140 runs plus RBI, 13 home runs and 10 steals. It’s apparent if Benintendi leads off, his runs will spike towards triple digits. Pay for 15 home runs and 18-to-20 steals. If the “lean cuisine” version of Benintendi heats up, a career year could ensue? This would make a tasty entree at his current price point.
Corbin Burnes , Milwaukee Brewers
Entering camp without a defined role, Burnes could win a spot in the rotation, though it seems like a long shot. Keying on 3.37 xFIP, 17.2 swinging strike percentage and 65 contact rate allowed from last year. If his arsenal allows him to regress towards his xFIP in 2020, Burnes could be a worthy target as a starter or reliever with upside. Monitor his spring closely.
Johan Camargo , Atlanta Braves
- Reduced his weight from 215 pounds in 2019 to 187 at the onset of camp
Arriving at camp in great shape, Camargo will battle Austin Riley for the third base job in Atlanta. However, Camargo’s positional flexibility could work against him. In 2018, Camargo showed promise with 139 runs plus RBI, 19 home runs and a .272 average in 134 games. Last year, he cratered to 63 runs plus RBI with seven home runs in 98 contests. Possibly a late dart, but more likely league-only fodder.
Gary Sánchez , New York Yankees
Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez is in the best-shape of-his-life club. Looks very different than two years ago.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 14, 2020
It’s easy to identify Sanchez in a weakened catching pool for fantasy. However, will he be a great white shark launching 30 or more home runs? Odds seem high seeing he’s accomplished this feat in two of the last three seasons. As his fly ball percentage continues to climb, it deflates his average and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) but if it’s power one seeks, Sanchez makes sense at his current cost. Health will determine his ceiling.
Josh Naylor , San Diego Padres
- Shed between 20-to-30 pounds
- Link: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/story/2020-02-14/padres-josh-naylor-weight-loss-juan-lagares-mackenzie-gore-manny-machado
No longer chubby, like when I ran track in eighth grade losing 25 pounds losing my nickname of “Spanky” in the process, Naylor enters camp eying a spot on the roster. A 53.2 ground ball rate caps his power, but if he nudges his way into a platoon at first base with Eric Hosmer , it affects this roster.
Daniel Norris , Detroit Tigers
Surfer turned workout fiend, can continual fantasy tease Norris reach his potential? Hope lies in his stuff translating to a full season with a respectable ERA. Norris projects to be a home stream option in leagues this year, but with some luck and if he’s truly in his best shape, a new level could be attained.
Forrest Whitley , Houston Astros
- Added muscle weight for endurance this year
- Link: https://www.mlb.com/news/forrest-whitley-trying-more-weight-less-offseason-work
Putting on 40 pounds seems risky. It’s been noted weight gains can affect mechanics, so owners will need to track Whitley’s K:BB in spring outings. Of more concern, Whitley’s innings over the last three years: 2017 (92 IP), 2018 (26.1 IP) and 2019 (60.2 IP). Yes, he needs to stay on the mound, but will he?
Vlad Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
- Worked on strength, conditioning, agility and flexibility this off-season
"He’s able to keep his legs underneath him which allows him to stay behind the ball better. And the effort level when he attacks the baseball, it’s just a lot easier." How being in "way better shape" should help Vladimir Guerrero Jr at the plate: https://t.co/qx3tb8hLk5 #BlueJays— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 17, 2020
Guerrero Jr. arrived to the majors with a pedigree of being a line drive machine akin to J.D. Martinez driving the ball to all fields. However, Guerrero Jr. drove the ball into the turf with a 49.6 ground ball percentage during his rookie campaign. Still, he hit 15 home runs with a .272/.339/.433 slash line in 123 games. Over his last 56 contests, Guerrero Jr. notched a .310 average with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI his last 216 at-bats. If his new health regimen benefits an approach to improve his launch angle, Guerrero Jr. could hit 30 home runs as soon as this year. Bet on talent here.
Miguel Sanó , Minnesota Twins
Rocco Baldelli on Miguel Sanó , Best Shape of His Life candidate: "He looks great. It's a couple years in a row now where he's really done this and made a point to invest in himself, to dedicate his offseason to his preparation and body. I think he looks like a supreme athlete."— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) February 16, 2020
Referencing a Heavy D song for Sano feels so right, “I got nothing but love for you baby…” applies well this year. Not only will Sano’s shift to first base enhance his stock, taking into account his ranks in the American League following his debut on May 16th last year looks better than his future eligibility at both corner infield spots:
- Tied for fourth in home runs (34)
- 11th in RBI (79)
- 15th in on-base plus slugging (.923)
- Fourth in isolated power (.329)
Calling this now, with health, Sano’s this season’s Pete Alonso .
Jean Segura , Philadelphia Phillies
Where was this advice my senior year of college? Segura’s turned in consecutive years of 144 games with differing results. Last year, Segura recorded 12 home runs with only 10 stolen bases while his runs plus RBI fell by 15. Early reports center on Segura playing third base and Scott Kingery taking over at second base. This proves to be important with Alec Bohm looming in the minor leagues. It’s now or never for Segura, and who gets his whiskey?
Alex Bregman , Houston Astros
Alex Bregman focused on mobility this offseason and came in at 195 pounds. Last year, he was at 215. His goal is to finally get off to a good start.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) February 17, 2020
No team will draw more ire on the road than Houston this year. Perhaps Bregman getting more agile will make him a harder target to hit for angry pitchers trying to prove a point. No one really knows how to assess Bregman and his teammates from a fantasy standpoint, but owning multi-positional eligibility along with 122 runs, 41 home runs, 112 RBI and five stolen bases makes him a first round target. Perhaps the added mobility will yield a return to double digit steals.
Chris Davis , Baltimore Orioles
- Added 25 pounds this off-season
Chris Davis talked for 10 minutes before workouts today. Said he is about 25 pounds heavier/stronger. Says he understands the importance of this year and that he still wants to be a full-time player. That's his goal. Not to be a "well-below-average player" as he has been.— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) February 17, 2020
It remains to be seen if Davis can record a higher batting average than his current weight, but time will tell. Just when it seemed like Davis could not crater further from his 2018 season, he only hit 12 home runs with 36 RBI in 105 games last year. With a contact rate hovering near 60 percent, more weight sounds nice but if one owns him, they may be wondering where’s the beef?
Nate Lowe , Tampa Bay Rays
A couple notes: #Rays Nate Lowe came into camp in significantly better shape, lost approximately 20 pounds in off-season.— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) February 17, 2020
Hadn't mentioned but Chaz Roe gained 12 pounds (remember he got sick right before spring training last yr), and also did Driveline program in the offseason.
This report gives speculators a warm fuzzy viewing Lowe as an upside power play. However, trying to figure out how playing time and plate appearances will be dispersed by the Rays will be tougher than trying to figure out Jose Altuve ’s tattoo. Lowe hit seven home runs in his 50 game sample with Tampa Bay but with a 29.6 strikeout percentage. At Triple-A, Lowe owned a 17.7 walk percentage versus a 20.2 strikeout rate with 16 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances. There’s upside here, but will there be a path to playing time?
When compiling the best shape season tweets and articles, I chose 18 as the over/under number. Of course, this number remains near and dear to my heart since it’s my son’s hockey number, but as of this writing, the best shape season tweets results in a push. I could cheat and use Chaz Roe in the Nate Lowe tweet, but taking the high road. Be sure to follow along at the hashtag, #bestshapeSZN for any more 2020 potential targets. Here’s to Guerrero Jr. reaching his potential and Franimal crushing 40 home runs.