Fantasy Baseball: Taylor Ward's graduation day

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It’s Graduation Day for Taylor Ward, Anaheim outfielder. He’s over 50 percent rostered in fantasy now, the generally-accepted line of demarcation for pickup discussions. He’s been added in the competitive groups.

You can take your victory lap.

I just wish I saw this coming. Or maybe I wish I watched more Angels baseball in the early weeks. Regular sleep patterns are overrated — or at least a nuisance to fantasy glory.

Ward was a useful if unspectacular contributor to the Angels last year — .250/.332/.438, with eight homers in 208 at-bats. Remember to recalibrate that slash into today’s pitching-dominated world — his OPS+ was 109, making him slightly above a league-average offensive player. It was good enough to work Ward into the team’s plans for 2022.

But Ward wasn’t content to be a lesser cog in this offense; he’s jumped ahead with the big kids. He’s ripped off a 15-for-38 start with four homers. He’s scored 13 runs, knocked in nine and for the last three games, Joe Maddon has slotted him leadoff. Ward’s never been lower than fifth in the lineup.

He's also the hottest hitter in baseball this week, homering twice on Monday and adding one more Wednesday. The Guardians can’t find a way to get this guy out. The latest boxscore was a thing of beauty: 4-4-3-4, with a walk. Ward’s up to .395/.531/.816 for the year.

Ward has 11 walks against nine strikeouts, and that’s always a reliable marker of success, especially when you mix it with the power. And the Statcast page backs up Ward’s sizzling start. His expected batting average (.371) is just an eyelash below his actual average, and his expected slugging percentage is a robust .726. Most of Ward’s key stats are pinned to the right. And good luck getting him to swing at a bad pitch; he’s in the top seven percent in non-chase rate. Keep spitting on those borderline pitches, Taylor.

Los Angeles Angels right fielder Taylor Ward (3) is becoming a fantasy star
Taylor Ward, surprising slugger and fantasy sleeper in Anaheim. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe it’s another case of a hitter taking off once his defensive spot became solidified. Ward was a catcher when he entered Fresno State as a freshman, and as a pro he’s bounced around from first base to third base, and all the outfield spots. So far in 2022, it’s been right field and right field, only.

No fantasy player is untradable, and I’d be the first to sign off if some competitor came to you with a silly, FOMO-laced trade offer targeting Ward. But when players break out in a surprise way, they usually become forced holds. Trading partners are unlikely to pay an expectant price right off the bat, but you can’t automatically assume these guys turn into pumpkins, either.

Especially when the under-the-hood stats look as good as Ward’s do.

Enjoy your Angel in the outfield, gamers. It will be fun to watch Ward and Lucas Giolito match up Friday in Chicago.

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