The Fantasy Baseball Numbers Do Lie: Still hope for Josh Hader and struggling Astros?

Josh Hader and the Astros have gotten off to a terrible start, but there's still plenty of reason for optimism after a closer look at the numbers. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

A simple look at a box score or a study of fantasy baseball categories doesn't always tell the whole story of how a player is performing. Dalton Del Don attempts to identify misleading numbers that are worth a closer look.

Yes ... The Numbers Do Lie.

Hader is another player off to a poor start on a new team, but his 8.38 ERA comes with a 2.39 SIERA. His K-BB% (25.6) is better than last season’s (23.8%), when he recorded a 1.28 ERA. Few pitchers have a bigger difference between ERA and expected ERA than Hader to open 2024. Hader’s .476 BABIP is one of the highest among relievers and .221 points higher than his career mark (.255). Some of that has to do with a career-high (by far) 54.5 GB%, but Hader’s BABIP should drop precipitously behind a Houston defense with above-average range.

Nearly 120 relievers have reached 10.0 innings this season, but Hader isn’t one of them. The Astros entered the year as heavy favorites to win the AL West, but only the lowly White Sox have fewer wins in the American League. The Astros have recorded the fewest saves (two) in baseball, while the Yankees already have 13. FanGraphs projects Houston to win more games than any AL team over the rest of the season, so save opportunities are certain to rise significantly.

Consider Hader a top-three fantasy closer still.

King has struggled with control during his transition to full-time starter, but he’s also dealt with an incredibly tough schedule. Five of his six starts have come on the road, including three against offenses (LADx2, Mil) that rank top-five in wRC+ and another in Coors Field (where King still produced the highest SwStr% among starters on Monday). King is admittedly fortunate his ERA isn’t higher, given his .244 BABIP, but other underlying stats suggest some strong performances are coming once the schedule starts regressing.

Petco Park remains one of the league’s most extreme pitcher’s parks, and King has somehow thrown just 13% of his innings in San Diego this season. Moreover, he ranks top-five among starters in CSW (31.6), tied with Tarik Skubal; no other SP in that group has a BB% worse than 6.1. King’s BB rate (13.1%) is likely to regress closer to his career level (8.6), and his ERA and WHIP should both improve when he isn't facing so many difficult matchups.

Soler hasn’t been hitting the ball quite as hard as last season, but he should still have far more RBI. He’s batting .308/.413/.667 with the bases empty but just .170/.262/.208 with runners on base. All four of his home runs have been solo shots, and he has driven in just two teammates in 52 at-bats with runners on base. Soler is batting .095 with runners in scoring position, and his rate of scoring baserunners is by far the lowest in MLB (among 104 qualified hitters). He’d have more than twice as many RBI with the average rate (14.4%), which is not far off Soler’s career mark (13.4%). His OPS has risen with RISP throughout his career, so his start sure seems like a fluke.

There’s a narrative that players joining a different team/city are more prone to slow starts, and Soler is certainly struggling at his new park. He has a 174 wRC+ (.996 OPS) on the road this season but a 43 wRC+ (.465 OPS) at home; he had a career .929 OPS hitting in San Francisco before he was traded to the Giants. Oracle Park is a hurdle, but Soler’s power shouldn’t be overly affected, as all his home runs since 2019 would’ve left San Francisco’s yard.

Soler is a buy-low candidate in fantasy leagues.

Stephenson somehow entered Wednesday with a career-low 84 wRC+ despite a career-high BB% (12.9), an improved K% (22.9) and a Barrel% in the top 1% of the league. Only Shohei Ohtani has a better Barrel% than Stephenson this season. His average exit velocity is in the top 10% of the league, yet his BABIP is a lowly .238 — well below his career mark of .331. His underlying stats join elite company and strongly suggest better production is coming.

Stephenson posted a 118 wRC+ from 2021 to '22, sandwiched between JT Realmuto and Salvador Pérez among catchers. He has one of the biggest differences between his wOBA and expected wOBA, and Great American Ballpark has boosted home runs for righties by 19% over the past three seasons.

Stephenson is available in 90% of Yahoo leagues.

Muncy is on pace to record 93 RBI this season, but it could be much more. His slugging% has dropped from .567 with the bases empty to .294 with runners in scoring position. Muncy has left the most RISP and the most runners on base this season. This issue hasn’t been a theme throughout his career, and it’s supposed to be harder while pitching out of the stretch. Muncy won’t keep up this extreme pace of RBI opportunities, but he’ll continue to see plenty on a loaded Dodgers offense that features a team .350 OBP.

Muncy needs to get his K-rate (32.4%) back under control, but he produced 105 RBI last season in just 135 games. He’s capable of easily topping that number in 2024 with the help of Los Angeles’ lineup.