Mind the fantasy gap: The case for Jose Peraza

Jose Peraza gets a fresh chance in Boston. (Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Jose Peraza gets a fresh chance in Boston. (Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

One key skill fantasy managers need is the ability to mind the gap between the real sport and the fantasy objective. Generally speaking, good ballplayers are good fantasy contributors, and the converse is true. But there will always be some middle ground to navigate. 

That’s my meandering pitch for a possible Jose Peraza comeback. 

Peraza, you might recall, was one of the worst offensive players in baseball last year. If you run the fWAR leaderboard for offensive contributions only, Peraza checks in at -21.2 — eighth-worst in the majors. WAR is a cumulative stat, so he was partly prominent on this list because the Reds still ran him out for 141 games. But no baseball fan with even a modest amount of sophistication can miss this — a .239/.285/.346 slash line is a problem. 

But Peraza was a helpful fantasy guy in 2018, when he batted .288 with 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases. Category juice, that’s nectar of the fantasy gods. That .288 average is especially useful, and even if Peraza landed around his .275 career mark, he’d be helping you. If you run the 5×5 values for the 2018 season, Peraza was No. 17 middle infielder, an eyelash behind Jose Altuve. He finished slightly ahead of some prominent names — Max Muncy, Tim Anderson, Cesar Hernandez, DJ LeMahieu. (Part of that is volume speaking, though Anderson and Hernandez had essentially full seasons, too.)

Again, it’s about minding the gap. Peraza’s OBP was a modest .326 that year, and his OPS plus (where 100 is league average) was an ordinary 98. He wasn’t a great real-life player. But we’re just looking to collect numbers. 

Peraza’s getting a fresh start in 2020, checking in with the Red Sox. Fenway Park is a well-known hitter’s park, and although the team traded Mookie Betts in the offseason, the lineup remains one of the deepest in baseball. Any spot on this card is a good place to be. 

Peraza was one of the stars in Friday’s 13-run, 17-hit parade, rocking a 5-2-4-2 line from the No. 9 slot. He picked up the start at second base, where manager Ron Roenicke considers him the primary starter. Peraza can also play shortstop and third base, and the outfield if needed. Peraza moved up to the fifth spot in Saturday’s lineup, surely a temporary assignment with a nicked-up Xander Bogaerts getting a rest.

The waiver wire has a different shape in every league, and you know your format better than an outsider ever could. But I can tell you this — in most of my deeper mixed leagues, the wire is full of possible pitching additions but barren of interesting offensive help. If you see any bat with a plausible upside case, you have to consider it. 

If you play in similar formats, take note of Peraza. His roster tag is still a modest 10 percent. And if he’s still keen to run, that’s a rare commodity in 2020. Only three players stole a base over Friday’s 14-game slate.

Kike Hernandez versatile in Los Angeles

If you want the more obvious version of Peraza, Kike Hernandez has some valuable real estate with the Dodgers. He homered in Thursday’s opener, then scored two more runs in Friday’s laugher, slotting in the middle of a superb lineup. The Giants are going to be a punching bag for a lot of teams. Hernandez carries three positions of eligibility (second, short, outfield) and still waits for a fantasy call in about two-thirds of leagues. 

Eventually the arrival of Gavin Lux will complicate matters, but let’s play for today; when the landscape changes later, we can adjust. Remember, this fantasy baseball season is going to be like a fantasy football season. Be proactive. 

Yoenis Cespedes, Joey Votto start quickly

Maybe Yoenis Cespedes or Joey Votto are ready for comeback seasons. Cespedes went deep for the only run in New York’s 1-0 victory over Atlanta, and Votto also had a homer as the Reds stormed Detroit. Even if you’re not thrilled about Votto in a vacuum, look at the surrounding pieces in that Cincinnati lineup — this team is the NL Central favorite for a reason. Cespedes and Votto are both rostered in slightly more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. 

The Mariners could be the AL’s version of the Giants, overmatched and somewhat anonymous. But someone has to bat cleanup in every city, and right now Kyle Lewis is getting the Seattle assignment. He’s shown power in his limited MLB experience — seven home runs in 75 at-bats, .613 slugging percentage — and he connected against Justin Verlander on Friday. Another one for the deep-league crowd, as Lewis currently rosters at 16 percent.