Fantasy Baseball season is coming. With the fantasy football season well over and most casual fans being resigned to watch teams they couldn’t care less about, the focus in the next month should turn to Baseball, and for quite a few, Fantasy Baseball. Before the frenzy of rankings, mock drafts, and keepers begins, I thought I could give some fantasy junkies a head start, so every week till the season starts, I’ll start giving my two cents on who you should target and who you should pass on this year. Without further adieu, my first sleeper for the 2016 season is Wei-Yin Chen.
Chen changed addresses this offseason, moving from the hitter friendly Camden Yards to the homer suppressing Marlins Park. He will serve as No.2 behind Jose Fernandez and scored himself an $80 million dollar deal in the process. This move to the NL and especially to this ballpark will open the door for him to improve upon his laudable 2015, in which he produced a 3.34 ERA, 11 wins, and provided his fantasy owners with a solid middle rotation starter for a second consecutive year. But, despite this past success and positive change of scenery, Chen is still being slept on in most preseason projections and mock drafts, being ranked as low as the 60th best Starting Pitcher, this mistake is one owners must take advantage of, as he is a bargain to be had for the 2016 season.
Reasons why Chen may be down in the mid 60s despite his 35th place finish in starting pitcher scoring last season could be highlighted by his “unsustainable” left on base percentage last season. This high mark of 80.5% of runners left on base undoubtedly helped Chen, and assisted him in reaching a career best ERA. But, while this might be the high water mark for this stat in Chen’s career, there’s no reason to worry about it hurting him next season. This is due to the fact Chen won’t have to worry about giving up multiple runs on homers due to the expansive Marlins Park. He struggled significantly during his time in Baltimore at keeping the ball in the park and surrendered 28 home runs with 19 coming at Camden Yard. A move away will serve him well and make his left on base percentage almost irrelevant in terms of home runs. Another reason may be the fact that Chen lacks serious upside in terms of strikeouts and wins, and while this is somewhat true, he is among the safest fantasy choices in the game due to his ability to get through innings and keep runs off the board. This consistency outplays the upsides of some pitchers ranked ahead of him like; Aaron Nola, Andrew Cashner, and Jimmy Nelson.
A move to the NL with definitely help Chen’s performance as well. Facing weaker lineups and a pitcher should provide a nice bump in strikeouts and he could move up towards 8-8.5 Ks/9. This paired with the fact that not a single NL East offense ranked in the top 10 in the sport will help Chen, who is coming from a division with the No. 1, 2, and 4 ranked offenses in Baseball. The last fruit Chen will bear from his move will be the help he’ll receive from his spacious new park. As he moves from the second most homer friendly park in the majors to the third worst. This along with Marlins Park’s ability to suppress offense should allow Chen to exhibit top 30 upside while also providing fantasy owners a safe investment as the park factors give the lefty a boost in effectiveness. Finally, in Chen’s small sample size versus two NL East opponents last season he posted a 9 Ks per 9 innings as well as 2 earned runs in 16 innings of work, showing what kind of upside he possesses in the 2016 season.
Altogether, Chen is one to target. He’s available near the back end of drafts and will provide you with a cheap serviceable 4-5 starter that could flash top 30 upside in matchups against weaker lineups (PHI, ATL). And in a commodity as risky as starting pitching, Chen is almost certain to provide you a steady value you can count on for 30 starts, 190 innings, and 140 strikeouts, so go get him quick before others catch on.