MLB: Five Underrated Hitters For The Stretch Run

MLB: Five Underrated Hitters For The Stretch Run

With roughly eight scoring periods left in most fantasy baseball leagues, many teams are in a position to target specific hitting or pitching categories to gain ground in the standings or to win weekly matchups. Based on their skills and production over the past month, the following five underrated hitters should contribute in home runs, stolen bases, or batting average. In shallower mixed leagues, these players should be readily available to contribute as at least streaming hitters and potentially as consistent producers down the stretch. Can they sustain their skills?

Victor Robles (OF, WAS)

One of the top waiver wire pickups in NFBC leagues this past weekend was Victor Robles. With the Nationals trading away Juan Soto and Josh Bell, Robles should be firmly entrenched in the leadoff spot, a role he's occupied since July 25. His plate discipline (27 percent strikeout rate and zero percent walk rate) and batting average (.220) over that stretch still stink, but we're chasing his leadoff opportunity and stolen base potential. Since July 25, Robles has one home run and two stolen bases but is slashing just .220/.250/.320 in 52 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Robles isn't hitting the ball hard, with a 33.3 percent hard-hit rate and 2.8 percent barrel rate during that stretch. His rolling xwOBA below confirms that Robles remains a below-average hitter whose fantasy value has to come via steals.

Theoretically, Robles should steal more in the leadoff spot, though 32 of his career 56 stolen bases came came as

With roughly eight scoring periods left in most fantasy baseball leagues, many teams are in a position to target specific hitting or pitching categories to gain ground in the standings or to win weekly matchups. Based on their skills and production over the past month, the following five underrated hitters should contribute in home runs, stolen bases, or batting average. In shallower mixed leagues, these players should be readily available to contribute as at least streaming hitters and potentially as consistent producers down the stretch. Can they sustain their skills?

Victor Robles (OF, WAS)

One of the top waiver wire pickups in NFBC leagues this past weekend was Victor Robles. With the Nationals trading away Juan Soto and Josh Bell, Robles should be firmly entrenched in the leadoff spot, a role he's occupied since July 25. His plate discipline (27 percent strikeout rate and zero percent walk rate) and batting average (.220) over that stretch still stink, but we're chasing his leadoff opportunity and stolen base potential. Since July 25, Robles has one home run and two stolen bases but is slashing just .220/.250/.320 in 52 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Robles isn't hitting the ball hard, with a 33.3 percent hard-hit rate and 2.8 percent barrel rate during that stretch. His rolling xwOBA below confirms that Robles remains a below-average hitter whose fantasy value has to come via steals.

Theoretically, Robles should steal more in the leadoff spot, though 32 of his career 56 stolen bases came came as an eighth or ninth hitter. We know he possesses the sprint speed and athleticism to rack up swipes, however. The Nationals have a 73 percent stolen base success rate, slightly below the league average of 75 percent. Go back to the well on Robles if you need stolen bases and treat any other category value as a bonus, though he could lose playing time again if his brutal plate discipline and on-base skills show no signs of improvement. 

Jose Iglesias (SS, COL)

The league batting average in 2022 has crept back up to .243, in line with the overall .244 average we saw last season but still the lowest we've seen since 1968. That makes hitters like Jose Iglesias useful for a batting-average boost. Interestingly, Iglesias has a better BA away from Coors (.358) than at home (.262). In July and August, his .404 BABIP boosted his .342 average, with both numbers beating his season-long .354 BABIP and .312 average. Iglesias continues the high contact (95.2 percent Z-Contact%) and aggressive approach (45.8 percent O-Swing%) over the past month plus, with BABIP luck boosting his fantasy production over a stretch in which he's provided minimal power (two homers) and zero stolen bases. 

That empty batting average has been the story of Iglesias' season, as he has just three home runs, two stolen bases, and a modest 42 runs and 41 RBI to go with a season-long triple slash of .312/.354/.414. Steven Kwan has a similar profile, with a near-identical amount of runs plus RBI to pair with two home runs, nine stolen bases and a slash line of .298/.371/.381. In the NFBC, Iglesias and Kwan are both rostered in 97 percent of leagues. However, Iglesias is on 21 percent of Yahoo rosters versus Kwan's 53 percent. Look to Iglesias for batting average and OBP help for the rest of the season, especially in shallower formats.

Nick Gordon (SS/OF, MIN)

We covered two players who could provide speed or batting average above. Next we have a hitter with both power and speed skills in Nick Gordon. He's gradually earned more playing time with several Twins hitters (Miguel Sano, Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach) on the injured list. In 262 plate appearances, Gordon has five home runs, 30 runs, 20 RBI and five stolen bases alongside a slash line of .278/.327/.430. Across a full season of 600 plate appearances, that would translate to double-digit homers and steals to go with a solid batting average.

Hopefully, Gordon keeps up the stolen base opportunities, but the Twins rank dead last in stolen base success rate at 61 percent. Gordon's modest five steals are tied with Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco for the team lead. 

Although a .359 BABIP boosts his batting average, Gordon posted elevated BABIPs in the minors, and his solid 24.6 percent line drive line drive rate in the majors suggests he should be able to continue to do so. He has an aggressive approach, evidenced by his 42.4 percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone and his 58.3 percent swing rate overall, both of which come in 10 percentage points higher than the league average. That could hint at more batting average risk if Gordon's BABIP and line drive rate drop. Thankfully, Gordon crushes the baseball, with his rolling hard-hit rate remaining consistently above league average, as seen in the visual below. 

With Gordon's aggressive approach, his power metrics jump off the page. Gordon has an 11.9% barrel rate (82nd percentile) and a 95.3 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, a mark similar to that produced by Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Trout. We could witness another level for Gordon's fantasy value if his plate discipline improves with continued regular playing time. Erik Siegrist mentioned Gordon as an AL FAAB pickup last week, so scoop up Gordon if you're chasing power and speed.

Lars Nootbaar (OF, STL)

In addition to having one of the sweetest names in baseball, Lars Nootbaar deserves our attention due to regular at-bats he's received with Harrison Bader first injured and then traded away at the deadline. In July and August, Nootbaar has hit .317/.411/.517 with three home runs and 24 runs plus RBI. Nootbaar rocks near-elite plate discipline skills, with a 15.1 percent walk rate, a 16.4 percent strikeout rate and a 23.9 percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone since July 1. He's combined that plate discipline with power, posting a 12 percent barrel rate in July and August to raise his season-long mark to 8.3 percent. 

Look past Nootbar's season-long slash line of .225/.313/.380 in 150 plate appearances if you want his potential batting average and power. Although Nootbaar doesn't qualify for a percentile ranking on Statcast, his barrel rate is above the league average (6.7 percent). Furthermore, Nootbaar has a 94.4 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, similar to hitters like Rowdy Tellez and Alejandro Kirk. Expect Nootbar to provide power, runs, and RBI while batting in the middle of a Cardinals lineup that ranks seventh in wRC+, and he could add batting average as a bonus even if he cools down from his recent hot streak. 

Jake McCarthy (OF, ARI)

The final hitter that could help fantasy managers down the stretch is outfielder Jake McCarthy, who should have regular playing time with David Peralta now a Tampa Bay Ray. Although McCarthy doesn't bat leadoff, he could provide similar fantasy production to Victor Robles with slightly better plate discipline skills, evidenced by his 27.8 percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone, a number which comes in more than four points better than league average. In 155 plate appearances, McCarthy has three home runs, six stolen bases and a .254/.312/.394 slash line. Despite batting left-handed, he has a .777 OPS versus lefties and a .676 OPS against righties, though both samples are quite small.

McCarthy ranks in the 99th percentile in sprint speed, but that's only one element of stolen base potential. The Diamondbacks have a 74 percent stolen base success rate, near the league average (75 percent), with Josh Rojas (13) and Daulton Varsho (7) leading the team. McCarthy won't provide much power since he hits too many groundballs (48.5 percent) and has an 89.8 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives (in the realm of Joey Wendle and Isiah Kiner-Falefa), leading to a below-average 4.9 percent barrel rate. Look at McCarthy as a cheaper alternative to Robles for stolen bases, though he may also produce a better batting average.

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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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