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Closing Time: Max Stassi makes his move

Houston AstrosMax Stassi hits an RBI double during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees in a baseball game Wednesday, May 30, 2018, in New York. The Yankees won 5-3. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

I first started to get excited about Max Stassi when I saw how he’s crushing left-handed pitching — and I noted a bunch of left-handed opponents on the upcoming Houston schedule. Some of those southpaws are stars, but no matter. Catching is a wasteland in 2018. Let’s jump into a fun story when we can.

And Max Stassi is fun in 2018.

I can see why Stassi’s ownership lags at nine percent in Yahoo leagues. We require most leagues to start just one catcher. Stassi wasn’t on anyone’s radar this spring, a 27-year-old backstop who had just 79 MLB at-bats. The Astros already had Brian McCann and (when push comes to shove) Evan Gattis to catch, so what else is there to see?

Let’s start with the stats. Short sample as it may be, Stassi is rocking a .303/.367/.562 slash with five homers in 89 at-bats. He had a double and homer in Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees, and they didn’t come off hacks — he got them off Luis Severino and Aroldis Chapman.

Stassi’s OPS is over 1.300 against lefties, which is obscene. He’s got four homers against righties, but an ordinary .708 OPS and an average under the Mendoza. I suspect this could be a guy who crushes the southpaws and merely hangs in against righties, hits the occasional homer. But the Astros are going to need him. McCann is currently on the disabled list with a knee injury. Gattis is a defensive liability. 

I could tell you to play Stassi in two-catcher leagues (mmm, low-hanging fruit), but I know some of my Yahoo teams don’t even have a good first catcher. I think it’s time for Stassi to get the add in medium mixers, too. The position is crazy-thin. His OPS+ is 159, where 100 is league average. Even with Stassi’s limited playing time, he’s already the No. 14 catcher in Yahoo production — and now his workload is going to increase, at least while McCann is out. Get to work on those adds. Let’s improve today. We’ll worry about next week next week. 

And enjoy this fluky bit of schedule luck — seven of Houston’s next 10 opponents are left-handed. Chris Sale and James Paxton are in there, sure. But the other names aren’t any near as imposing. Stassi’s platoon stats speak for themselves. Get in on the liftoff. 

• I wasn’t on the CT beat the previous night, but I hope you saw Dan Winkler breathing fire against the Mets (we had the usual Twitter discussion). Winkler allowed a couple of cheap baserunners — scratch single, HPB on an 0-2 pitch — and then blew the Mets away nonetheless, turning Asdrubal Cabrera into a pretzel and striking out Michael Conforto. The ratios speak for themselves: 0.81 ERA, 0.72 WHIP. He’s collected 32 whiffs, just six walks, over 22.1 innings.

A heck of a breakout story from a Rule 5 pick, and someone who was a Tommy John patient four years ago.

Maybe the Braves will never take the closing gig away from Arodys Vizcaino, and lefty A.J. Minter also has nasty stuff, though his numbers are a little messy at the moment. Bottom line, I think Winkler makes sense simply as a ratio-smoothing play, and he could grow into a bigger role. He also could be a sneaky wins source — he has two, maybe more on the way — as the team starts to lean on him in close games, late. The Fonz is owned in a modest 22 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Ross Stripling has his graduation papers, over the 50-percent line, so I won’t try to act like he’s a pickup. Now we have to try to decide just how much we value him on our rosters.

Some might look at Stripling’s overall seasonal stats — 1.68 ERA, 59 strikeouts versus 11 walks over 48.1 innings, a 2.16 FIP — and discount them somewhat, given that he’s pitched in relief half the year. Knockout ratios are far easier to come by when you pitch one inning and go max effort all the time. But Stripling has started to amp up his endurance in the starting role — a move he made five appearances ago — and the overall numbers in that gig are delicious.

Stripling’s stats since getting a rotation spot on May 6: 1.24 ERA, 4 BB, 40 K.

Striping’s stats since getting stretched out enough to work past 80 pitches (three starts): 3-0, 19.2 IP, 14 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 28 K, 0.92 ERA, 0.82 WHIP.

Obviously those are peak-Kershaw numbers, and we know Stripling can’t be that good. We’re not going to drop regression and run away, though. I think it’s plausible Stripling is a useful starter all year, a set-and-forget guy. And he’s almost a forced hold, because your league mates might be looking at this out-of-nowhere story with skepticism. If I were doing a pitcher Shuffle Up right now, Stripling would be in the $13-16 range.

• The Mets did an interesting thing in their win at Atlanta, using Jeurys Familia in the eighth inning and gifting Robert Gsellman a cookie save in the ninth. Familiar was protecting a slim lead in the eighth and the Braves had the meat of the order up. This kind of aggressive, leverage-based managing is smart, and it’s encouraging to see the save rule not driving every dugout call.

Gsellman’s numbers (3.38/1.33) are nowhere near Familia’s and I doubt there’s a sea change here. But Gsellman might be good enough in mixers as a set-up guy, since the Mets clearly think he’s their second-best late reliever. He’s already grabbed five wins and two rogue saves. Good work if you can get it.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski