Every team that has won a World Series in the last 20 years has done it in a similar way. Sure, some have been dominant regular season teams that coasted to a series win. Some others have been hot at the right time and outplayed teams that, record-wise, were better throughout the season. And yet others have been the solid teams top-to-bottom and throughout the season that put it all together with the perfect mix of players to win it all. On all of those teams though, there was the same roster construction for the most part and everyone had their roles to do.
While all of the stars get the notoriety and get known for being the guys who contribute in multiple ways, the teams don’t win if they don’t have players who fill in the holes elsewhere and do so very well. Think back to the last few years with the teams that have advanced to the World Series and just how well they mix-and-match pieces for certain reasons and how they all seem to work out. The same approach can be, and should be, used in fantasy baseball as you build your rosters to compete. Sure, the Mike Trout’s, Shohei Ohtani’s, and José Ramírez’s of the world get all the love early in drafts and are always taken to be the stalwarts of your roster throughout the year. But that doesn’t mean that every player on your team will be, or can be, players that contribute in three categories or more.
Targeting players that help in one specific category, on offense and for pitching, aside from saves, can allow you to fill out your roster with high quality players that can win you categories, or provide boosts in points that will make all the difference for your championship. A word of caution though that not all of your players should be single-category types because if for whatever reason they don’t perform, you will be in quite a hole in your league standings, regardless of format. So with that in mind, let’s see who some of the best players to target for single-category contributions are for this upcoming season.
Michael Brantley, OF HOU - Brantley is known as a professional hitter, and for good reason. In every full season, he’s played, since 2014, he’s hit .299 or better. However, since turning 28, he’s only topped 20 home runs or steals once and last year he didn’t top ten in either category. Brantley continues to see full playing time in the Astros’ outfield and that won’t change, nor will his spot in the lineup, so the full allotment of at-bats is coming his way which gives his high batting average more value in rotisserie leagues. He goes late in drafts but with average being hard to find these days, he’s more than worth his draft spot.
Adam Frazier, 2B SEA - Frazier has been on a few different teams in the last couple of years and now is joining the Mariners in 2022. He’s a guy that’s been a bit of a household name in fantasy circles for the last few years even though he’s only been in the league for six years. Of those six years, he’s played at least 70-percent of games in the last five and in all but one of those he’s hit .276 or higher including .305 last year. What indicates that he can keep this run going is that his K-rate has dropped from 15.1-percent to 10.8-percent in that time while the BB-rate has hovered between 7.5-8.0-percent. Frazier has never had a season with more than 10 homers or steals and Seattle’s home park isn’t known for boosting power.
Santiago Espinal, 3B TOR - Espinal was a guy that coming into last season was simply a depth piece in the Blue Jays’ farm system who’d gotten some run in the shortened 2020 season. However, over 92 games, mostly at the hot corner, he proved he could man the position and could perhaps take the gig from Biggio. In that span, Espinal hit .311 but only posted two homers and six steals and not much in the way of runs or RBI either. If he gets the gig out of spring training, or he’s on the big side of a platoon, his .301 average (.353 BABIP, .331 wOBA) in 282 at-bats is more than helpful.
Bryan De La Cruz, OF MIA - The Marlins were a bit of a mishmash offense last year and De La Cruz was part of that in the outfield and did well in his 58-game run. He hit .296 with a 113 OPS+ in just under 200 at-bats but not much else on the stat line. Five homers, one steal, and less than 20 each of runs and RBI in a third of a season isn’t much to write home about, but the average is more than solid. To add to that, he’s had a history of providing better average as he moved up through the minors, in the Houston system, posting a .289 BA in 119 games at two levels of A-ball in 2018, then a .280 BA in 105 games between High-A and Double-A, then in 2021 a .324 mark in a 66-game stint at Triple-A. That’s a trend we love to see in a youngster and why he should be a starting candidate for Miami to begin 2022 and a great late round flier in fantasy drafts.
D.J. LeMahieu, 1B/2B NYY - It was a rough year for LeMahieu and those that drafted him coming off a spectacular two-year run in the Bronx. He was still good in one category though, OBP. The .349 mark he posted in 2021 was his worst since 2018 and fourth-worst of his career in a full season but it was still a pretty helpful mark for fantasy managers. The power and steals weren’t there and the .268 average wasn’t great which makes the OBP a one-category help, but his .349 mark was similar to that of players like Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, José Abreu, Jose Altuve, and J.D. Martinez. His draft stock will take a hit this year, and even if the counting stats don’t bounce back, his ability to post a .349 OBP and still rank in the top-third of qualified hitters and top-fifth of hitters with 200 PA last year is impressive.
Charlie Blackmon, OF COL - Blackmon posted 29 or more homers and at least a .291 average in each of the four seasons from 2016-2019 and then 2021 happened and the counting stats and average all slipped. The on-base percentage didn’t though, at least not much. Since 2018 he’s posted a .351 or higher OBP with the .351 mark happening last year. In those same years, league average OBP has been between .317 and .323 with the .317 mark happening last year. He is getting older, but he can still draw walks at a great clip, in fact, his 9.3-percent walk rate last year was the highest of his career and the large outfield at Coors boosts his chances for base hits.
Brandon Nimmo, OF NYM - The thing with Nimmo has always been whether or not he can stay healthy enough to produce, right? Well, that’s overlooking one thing… his OBP. There have only been two seasons in his career in which he’s played 85-percent or more of games and in both of those he posted a .404 OBP. Heck, last year in 92 games he posted a .401 mark and aside from his rookie season, he’s been over .375 every year. While he’s only topped ten homers once and only topped 50 runs twice, the on-base percentage is a huge check mark in his favor. The injury concerns are evident, but among 362 hitters to reach 200 plate appearances last year, only FIVE topped a .400 OBP and he was one, for the third time in his career. His nearly 15-percent career walk rate should ensure he’s close to that mark again in 2022.
Tony Kemp, 2B/OF OAK - Kemp gets overlooked in the A’s lineup given the big boppers they have and some of the guys who produce more elsewhere, but in OBP leagues, Kemp shouldn’t be getting overlooked. Among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances last year, his .382 mark ranked 16th in the league and only two hitters with fewer PA’s were ahead of him. Since 2018, he’s topped a .350 OBP three of four years and has back-to-back seasons with a 13-percent walk rate. In fact, those walk rates are so good they actually are higher than his K-rate. The average has always been hit-or-miss and the counting stats have never been in his favor, but the on-base percentage should easily make him a later-round value in an OBP league.
Joey Gallo, DH/OF NYY - Ah Mr. Gallo. It’s long been a running joke that you’ll need basically the rest of your team to carry your batting average if you roster Gallo, but the power is too hard to look past. In the last three years in which he’s played more than 70 games, he’s hit 38 or more home runs regardless of how low his batting average has sunk. Now in fairness, if you play in an OBP league, Gallo doesn’t kill you there as much as in an AVG-based league but he’s still not great. With him set to play another full season in New York and the AL East as a whole, it’s going to be another power-filled stat line with not much hope of much else, aside from RBI which naturally come from homers.
Adam Duvall, OF ATL - Duvall is still slated to play for the Braves again in 2022 after being re-acquired by then mid-season last year. The reason he keeps getting jobs is because of the power that is in his bat no matter where he plays. In four of the last six years he’s posted a better than 40-percent hard hit rate, a barrel rate over 11.3-percent in four seasons in that span and three straight years of a HR/FB rate over 20-percent. Hitting balls hard and barreling them up is a recipe for producing a ton of homers. In the last three years he’s played over 140 games, he’s topped 30 home runs and while RBI come with that, the rest of the stats and average don’t show up for him and he’s always a late-round type bat for cheap power production.
Matt Chapman, 3B OAK - Chapman is hailed as a Gold Glove third baseman, as he should be, but defense doesn’t count in fantasy. The offense that does count doesn’t favor Chapman that much either, except in home runs. The big corner infielder has a lot of power in that stroke, when he makes contact with the ball that is. His career hard-hit rate is 45.5-percent with an 11.2-percent barrel rate. So what’s the problem here? His career strikeout rate of nearly 27-percent including a 35.5 and 32.5 percent mark in the last two years respectively. That limits the average and on-base percentage as he’s the quintessential swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it guy. The shot at 30 homers is real in 2022 but so is a sub-.220 average and limited counting stats making him a later-round power bat once again.
Miguel Sanó, 1B/DH MIN - Any year the large-bodied first baseman/designated hitter has played 100 or more games he’s topped 25 home runs, including 30 or more in the last two such seasons. The issues come everywhere else where his .238 career average, which was .204 and .224 the last two years, and the fact that he hasn’t topped 80 RBI or runs in any season of his career and clearly he’s not stealing unless no one else is on the field. If you thought Chapman’s K-rate was bad, Sano achieved his career-best mark in 2021 at 34.4-percent. Nope, that's not a typo. That being said, he’s also posted a hard-hit rate of 55-percent or better the last three seasons. First base is the type of position where you’re either reaching for the top options or you’re closing your eyes and picking a dart throw like Sano just to get the power opportunity.
Bradley Zimmer OF CLE - For those who have followed Zimmer since he was a prospect might know that his scouting grades have long since had him as a multi-tool player, however that hasn’t really born out to be true throughout the minors and his brief MLB career. Since hitting 16 homers in 2015 in two levels of the minors, his power has decreased each year down to nine last year between Triple-A and MLB but the steals have been a consistent part of his game. The 19 last year were a low for him while he’s hit 27 or more three times. He’ll continue to get the full allotment of at-bats in the lackluster Guardians outfield and that should let his speed be an impact once again this year despite a relatively low average and no real help in the other counting stat categories.
Dylan Moore, 2B/OF SEA - Moore might not be thought of as a guy who is the traditional speed guy but his 21 steals last year ranks 13th-highest among players with at least 200 plate appearances while his ten homers are nothing to write home about. He also managed that with a weak .188 average. In his seven pro seasons, he’s topped 15 steals four times and has topped a dozen six times. In an era where steals are hard to come by and only 19 of the 362 players last year with 200 PA’s topped 20 steals, Moore’s ability to be a sneaky speed guy means you can grab him later than perhaps the others in the 20-plus steals club.
Raimel Tapia, OF COL - When Tapia was coming up through the Rockies system and through his first couple of years of full-time play with the big club, he’s been known as a leadoff type guy which suggests he has speed. In the seven full seasons between 2014 and 2021, he’s topped 20 steals five times and 17 steals in six years including the 20 he posted last year. Like Moore, he fits in the 19 players with 20 steals out of the 362 hitters topping 200 PA’s which puts him in the top-five-percent of base stealers. When pop isn’t involved in Colorado, the Rockies other players tend to go late in drafts like Tapia who’s going in the 270-range according to NFBC.
David Fletcher, 2B/SS LAA - Fletcher may have come out of nowhere a bit last year with his 15 steals and solid average but in the seven years he’s been a pro, he’s bested 15 steals in a year four times and the reason why his 2021 year in LA was better, was due to him not being moved around defensively everyday as he played 142 games at second and 20 games at shortstop. That kind of defensive consistency can help the offense shine as can getting a contract extension like he did last year as well. With Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon slated to be healthy next year, he’ll be in an even better spot, not to mention the speed of Jared Walsh will also help Fletcher. Just don’t expect much in the other categories as he’s never topped seven homers in a single year and his average isn’t anything to write home about.
Elvis Andrus, 2B/SS OAK - Last year was a down year for him to be sure as he had between 20-42 steals a season for ten of his first 11 years. The 12 steals weren’t great, but he still ranked 55th in the league with that tally which means he was still in the top-15-percent of the players with at least 200 plate appearances. Defensively, the Athletics aren’t likely to replace him which means he should see a full-time role in 2022 even at 33 and if he can find his groove on the bases again, the speed is there to steal 20-plus bags as the 26.7 ft/sec sprint speed according to Baseball Savant was his best mark since 2018. He’s basically free in drafts at this point with decent upside for steals and nothing else.
Blake Snell, SP SD - The guy everyone was up in arms about taking out of the World Series game early and then trading away is on this list? Yep, your eyes do not deceive you. In his Cy Young winning year of 2018, he had 21 wins and has combined for 17 in the next three years combined but he’s had a streak of four straight years of topping 11.00 K/9 and 30-percent K-rate. In fact, if we look at his career and take out the Cy Young campaign, we start to get a better picture of his ratios and rates. Snell’s career ERA, FIP, SIERA, WHIP (including 2018) are 3.42, 3.57, 3.93, and 1.25 respectively. If we take out 2018, those numbers change to 3.97, 3.79, 4.15, and 1.35 but even with the ratios tumbling, the whiffs kept coming. His career K/9 and K% for all seasons are 10.75 and 28.8 respectively and if we remove 2018 what happens? They become 10.66 and 27.9. Not a big fall off by any means. It would be a shock if 2022 was any different in terms of innings per start and ratios at this point but the strikeouts will hold steady making him an SP5 or SP6 candidate.
Andrew Heaney, SP LAD - The hype on Heaney was big last year as people fell in love with his stuff and the tantalizing upside he possessed. It didn’t work out. There have been five seasons in which Heaney has made at least 12 starts and in the last four, his ERA has gone up from 4.15 to 5.83 and he’s never posted double-digit wins in a season either. Over the last four years in which he’s topped 12 starts all four years, Heaney has posted a combined 9.88 K/9 and has struck out nearly 26-percent of the batters he’s faced. He’s now a Dodger and will likely be a number five starter or a swingman given how they use pitchers, and while Dodger Stadium and the rest of the NL West aren’t great for pitchers, Heaney’s ability to strike hitters out shouldn’t change and going to the NL should help as well, at least a bit.
Sonny Gray, SP CIN - Since his move to Cincinnati we’ve seen Gray post ERA’s from 2.87 to 4.19 and win totals between five and 11, and WHIP marks squarely in the 1.20 range. There’s one thing he’s been solid at though and that’s striking folks out. In all three seasons as a Red he topped 10.31 K/9 and topped a 27-percent K-rate each year as well. The 27-percent K-rate last year put him in the top-20-percent of starters pitching at least 30 innings on the year. The Reds are in a bit of a rebuilding mode but Gray will still be on the bump striking batters out at a good clip regardless of what his peripheral stats are.
Lucas Sims, RP CIN - After washing out in Atlanta, Sims has been in Cincy for the last three years and change, but he has certainly found a gig with the Reds. In the last three years he’s floated between low-leverage and high-leverage situations and regardless of what his ratios have been in those spots, the strikeouts have continued to pile up. Sims has two years of ERA marks over four and has a handful of wins but the real attractions are his rising strikeout numbers each year. He’s gone from 32.2 to 33 to 39-percent K-rate in that span but the question is what’s led to that improvement and is it sustainable? Over the last three years he’s dropped his fastball percentage from 50.6 to 41.5-percent while adding 1.5 mph to the average velocity and he’s started throwing his slider 2.5 times more often and actually threw the slider more than his fastball last year. Sims will be back in the upper 30-percent range this year.
Rex Brothers, RP MIL - 2014-2021 saw Brothers post only one season with an ERA below 5.00 and he has a 1.49 career WHIP. So what’s the appeal here? He strikes a lot of hitters out and does it consistently. In the seven years he’s played in the majors, not including his 2018 and 2019 seasons with a combined four games played, he’s topped a 27-percent K-rate five times and better than 31-percent three times. He’ll get plenty of run for the Brewers’ pen given how they use relievers.
Jake Cousins, RP MIL - Another Brewers’ pen arm is Cousins, though he’s easily the player in this piece with the least amount of major league time. He came up last year and pitched 30 innings down the stretch as they locked up a playoff spot. While his ERA was quite good, his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA were all nearly a run higher and at 30 innings, he’s not making much of a difference in your team’s ratios, but will help in strikeouts. At every level since becoming a Brewer in 2019, he’s posted at least an 11.3 K/9 and 35-percent K-rate. He’s expected to be in the Brewers’ pen from the start of the year this year and while he won’t have a definitive role, the strikeouts will continue to pile up regardless of what inning he’s used in.
Austin Adams, RP SD - The Padres reliever has been a major strikeout king in his last two full seasons of relief in the majors. Over those 84.2 innings, he’s posted a combined 13.72 K/9 and 35-percent K-rate while his ERA has been 4.00 and his barrel rate of 5.7-percent last year puts him in the middle of the pack according to Baseball Savant. The main reason for the uptick in his strikeout rates from earlier in his career is the fact that he’s throwing way more sliders and less fastballs the last two years and his slider has some of the best movement in terms of horizontal break in the league. He’s going to be in middle relief again this year but clearly he’s found what’s worked in that role to strike out the opponents and that’s all we need him for in fantasy.
Darwinzon Hernandez, RP BOS - Hernandez has now pitched nearly 80 innings in the majors over the last three seasons and while parts of his stat line aren’t great, a 3.66 career ERA, 4.25 career SIERA, 7.44 career BB/9, and 1.60 career WHIP, there is a part of his stat line that is quite good. He’s posted a career 14.19 K/9 and 33.6-percent K-rate in that same span and consistently gets around a 33-percent Whiff% on his pitches. With the rest of the stat line being what it is and his inability not to walk people, he’s not going to be anything other than a middle reliever and won’t have the best ratios, but if you need a freebie for strikeouts, Hernandez has the history and pitches to get you those in spades.