2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2015 Fantasy Baseball: Making a Case For Omar Infante (Seriously)

What makes a fantasy baseball team successful?

“Good pitching, good hitting, making good trades.”

That’s the casual (and boring) owner’s answer. Sure, those things are inherently correct. You can’t argue them. But the ingredients that make up a winning fantasy team are a lot more intricate than that. If I cooked you two steaks — one seasoned, and one not — and asked you to tell me which one was better, you’d say the seasoned one. That’s the short answer. If I then asked you to tell me why, you’d probably cite the specific flavors, saltiness or even pinpoint the marinade I had used.

If you’re in a league with 14 or more owners, there’s a good chance that 10 of them would just tell you that Player A is better than Player B. The other four would tell you why Player A is better than Player B. Look at your league standings right now. The latter four owners are most likely in the top six or so in the standings. It’s no coincidence that fantasy baseball is a game where the more detail-oriented owners in your league win the title more often than not.

A big way to put that knowledge to use is when you’re adding players off the waiver wire. Anyone can add the “big name” guy, or one who hit a pinch-hit homer yesterday. Player pools are easily sorted to see who has performed well over the past seven, 14 or 30 days. They make it easy for the “unseasoned steak owners.” Reading between the lines will set you apart from the lazy owners and put you in a good position to win your league.

The following players are available in more than 90 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues and can inch you closer to your league championships all season long, not just help you for one day and then subsequently get dropped.

(All stats and ownership percentages through Sunday’s games)

Omar Infante, 2B, Royals (3.0% owned)

I’ll wait for the laughing and booing to die down before I start…

I’m being serious here when I tell you that Omar Infante should be added in deep leagues. While he’s not a must-own player, he offers decent value at a position that is thinner than most. Of course, Infante has been the talk of baseball in recent weeks, and not for good reasons.

If you’ve been following the All-Star Game balloting, you’re probably aware that, as of last week, the Kansas City Royals’ veteran is leading all American League second basemen in voting. If Infante were having a decent year, and if there weren’t already six other Royals leading their positions in voting (Miguel Cabrera has passed Eric Hosmer at 1B), this probably wouldn’t be a big issue, but those things aren’t happening. There are seven Royals currently set to start the Midsummer Classic, including Infante, who is batting .229 with 0 HR and 18 RBI. If Infante does indeed make it (Jose Altuve is around 300,000 votes behind), he’ll be in the conversation for the worst player ever selected to play in the game.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t roster him on your fantasy team.

All the negativity surrounding him has seemingly sparked his game. While the overall numbers are still ugly, he’s now put together a seven-game hitting streak in which he’s batted .407 with a .519 slugging percentage. Included in his 11 hits are three doubles and eight runs scored, and his current streak has pushed his average up from .204, to the previously mentioned .229.

Infante isn’t going to win you a championship alone, but his history shows he’s a .275 hitter, not a .230 hitter. The remaining $23 million on his contract leaves him with zero competition for his job (though it would be nice to see Christian Colon get some playing time), and the Royals need him if they want to snap out of their current hitting funk. Given that he plays every day and is more capable than what we’ve seen, he’s a much better middle infield bet than guys like Freddy Galvis and Yangervis Solarte, both of whom are owned in more leagues than Infante. He’s hot right now, and that’s the best time to scoop a player up.

Owning him may go against your personal morals, but it’s not like he’s the one accountable for those four million votes.

Ben Paulsen, 1B, Rockies (5.2% owned)

Paulsen was called up to replace Justin Morneau back in mid-May, and all he’s done is hit .309 with five homers and 14 RBI in 33 games since. The 27-year-old has been playing on the favorable side of a first base platoon with Wilin Rosario, and that’s really allowed him to take advantage of right-handed pitchers; he only has eight at-bats against southpaws, and expect it to remain that way. Why mess with a positive scenario? It’s not like the Rockies have many good things to boast about these days.

Paulsen will get three home matchups against Arizona this week, and the D-Backs will trot out righties Chase Anderson, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, so expect the first baseman to be in the lineup for all three games. It doesn’t look like Morneau will be making a comeback any time soon, and with his long history of concussions, that’s probably best when considering his long-term health. Paulsen will be a mainstay in this Rockies’ lineup for the rest of the season, and as a bonus, he only needs two more games in the outfield to qualify there as well!

Will Venable, OF, Padres (4.9% owned)

Remember Will Venable’s 2013 season? Twenty-two home runs, 53 RBI, 22 stolen bases and a .796 OPS landed the now 32-year-old a two-year, $8.5 million contract. Anyone who took a good look at his numbers that year knew it was an anomaly. He had a .216 ISO, .032 higher than any previous season, and he sported an astronomical 19.8 percent HR/FB rate. Regression was coming, and boy did it.

Venable followed up his career year with a paltry eight dingers, 33 RBI and a .613 OPS. Those numbers weren’t all that surprising given his previous out-of-nowhere campaign. What was a bit disturbing were his measly 11 stolen bases. Venable was always known more for his speed than his power — that’s why 2013’s home run display was so shocking. From 2010-2013, the Princeton product stole 29, 26, 24 and 22 bases, respectively, so following that up with just 11 swipes completely ruined his fantasy value.

2015 was supposed to be a season of redemption for Venable, and a contract year as well. But the Padres went out and traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, leaving Venable to fight for at-bats off the bench. Unfortunately for the Padres, Myers went down with a wrist injury that has since required surgery, and he won’t be returning till August at the earliest. This hole in the lineup has given Venable the opportunity to start nearly every day of the week (he often sits vagainst lefties), and he’s made the best of it.

Since Myers initially went down on May 10 (he did return for three games recently, only to go back on the DL), Venable has slashed .281/.333/.398 with two home runs, 12 RBI, 16 runs and five stolen bases. Those are very good numbers, especially if you’re owning him in deeper leagues. At this point in the season, getting stolen bases off the wire is becoming increasingly more difficult, but getting speed and some power? Well, that’s nearly unheard of.

Venable’s less-than-five-percent ownership is a travesty when you consider that someone like the Twins’ Danny Santana — who is in the minors — is owned in 7.6 percent of leagues. Grab Will Venable now and watch those counting stats pile up.

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