We are officially in the stretch run of the fantasy baseball season, as we have approximately two weeks to go. Which, when you think of it, is a whole bundle of emotions wrapped into one potentially explosive box. It’s sad that baseball is almost done, happy that we made it this far with minimal cancellations, confusing in dynasty leagues because we don’t know what to believe, ruthless in redraft leagues because almost nobody is safe. Needless to say, it’s been a wide array of feelings this year, which is essentially 2020 in a nutshell.
That said, instead of crying about it, let’s play the cards that we’ve been dealt. We can and need to move forward with our lives and make the most of what’s left. Sure it’s been crazy but, we can still make it great. So, with two weeks or so to go, let’s look at those players who are in the midst of a hot streak AND see if they’re worth keeping for the rest of the season to help you out during the stretch run.
Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot
For months and months in the offseason, Mondesi was proclaimed as the fantasy baseball saint of steals, as he was being drafted incredibly high due to the fact that he was going to win you your category in steals. Then the season began and he stunk….badly. In fact, as of September 3, he found himself batting .179, with no home runs, eight stolen bases and hitting from the 8th spot in the order. It was an ugly period for him. And then something happened. Maybe he saw that he was a cold streaker, just right here, during Week 6, and thought to himself, “hey, I don’t want to disappoint Dave Funnell of RotoFanatic”. Hardly likely, but something clicked since that point in time because he’s been hot hot hot!
What’s changed? Not a heck of a lot actually. He’s still swinging and missing at around the same rate as he was before this streak, and has actually chased and missed more than he has previously. Looking at that whiff rate too, he’s still striking out a ton, which is concerning. That said, the only positive I can say is that he’s showing a bit more patience at the plate as the total number of pitches seen during a game are up slightly. So then, why is this all of a sudden happening? Other than a slightly higher Launch Angle, which is important, I would say that he’s now positively regressing into the player we all knew that he’d be coming into 2020. We all knew his approach at the plate was awful, that his patience was thin and that he was recovering from shoulder surgery. Yet, despite all of that, we all bought in and drafted him anyways. He may not finish the year with the stats we expected, but he will help you dominate in the steals category.
Ranked number one in baseball through running splits, Mondesi is a speed demon. He leads the majors in stolen bases. Lately, he’s been more aggressive. Last week he hit three home runs and stole four bases during those games (with at least one in each game).
Redraft: should be rostered and started in all leagues. Keep in mind, this would be around the end of May over a regular 162-game season, and he would be rightly labelled as a “slow starter”. This year, however, he’ll be considered a bust. Keeper/Dynasty: should be rostered and is a nice buy low for 2021 since the bust label will stick with him over the winter and he’ll probably drop down a few rounds in the drafts. I worry there’s a Mallex Smith vibe hanging around him, but I’m willing to take a chance on him rebounding next year and maintaining some sense of consistency.
Coming off a roller coaster month of August, Duvall entered the final month of the season batting .241 with a modest five home runs, en route to another disappointing year, which has been the story of his life. And then, as we found ourselves turning the pages of the calendar, Adam Duvall brought back his 2017 self and started mashing. He broke team records by becoming the first Brave ever to have multiple three homer games within a season. He also recorded nine runs batted in within a game, which puts him near the top of the all-time single game record books. He’s hitting primarily extra base hits, as twelve of his first fourteen hits this month have been doubles or home runs. And finally, much like my favourite weekly podcast, it’s all about the Launch Angle, as he raised it significantly this month:
Redraft: continue to roster and play him until this streak runs dry. At age 32, he’s a career .235 hitter, yet this year he stands almost 30 points higher than that (though his xBA puts him at lower than his career marks). I don’t see this lasting long term, so play him, but have a short leash with him. He will strike out a lot, but as long as he contributes with some power, he should be safely placed in your outfield. Dynasty/Keeper: unless he finishes off the year with career high (162-game projected) marks, I’d only look at him late in drafts in 2021.
The year 2020 has been a bust for everything Boston Red Sox, as it’s clear that they’re not contending at all this season. What better way to prepare for a healthy 2021 season by having some of your prized prospects get the call to the Major League club to see if they can handle MLB pitching and learn from any mistakes they might make? Enter Bobby Dalbec, the number three prospect within their system, who comes with first base and third base eligibility. Since his arrival, he’s breaking team records as well, as his power potential has been on full display for all to see.
Dalbec came into the majors with an interesting profile. He brings an interesting combination of patience and power, albeit with a high K%-BB% rate after every promotion. Since coming up to Boston, he’s certainly mashed, but his strikeout rate of 46.5% is ridiculously high, though unsustainable. Give him time to adjust and, like many times before, he should show added patience.
Redraft: if you need the power like Snap!, you can do worse than riding with Dalbec. He’s someone who, as seen above, hit 27 home runs in 2019, and can definitely continue here. I see him finishing the year with double digit home runs. Don’t expect much else from him though, as there is minimal speed there with a handful of opportunities available. Dynasty/Keeper: much more intriguing option here as he’s an upgrade for the Red Sox over Michael Chavis. That said, he (Dalbec) may find himself in a similar platoon situation with Chavis, or, even more, competing for at-bats with him (depending on what the Red Sox do in the offseason). I like Dalbec a lot actually, and if he can gain third base eligibility for (or during) next year, he gains value in my opinion, as third base is rather thin. If you are out of it for this season, pick him up and give him a shot for 2021.
In the offseason, I wrote about the Orioles offence and how there was potential there for some late round sneakiness. While I was wrong about some things (*cough* Austin Hays *cough*), I did talk a bit about DJ Stewart. To quote myself:
He will face a lot of right-handed pitchers and will play a lot of games where his approach at the plate can be positively emphasized and used to his advantage. I expect him, with health and playing time on his side, to outperform his Steamer projections and to give fantasy owners everywhere a positive return.
Let’s see how he did:
Overall, I think Stewart has had a good season, despite missing most of August, and should finish the year with some nice counting numbers. A lot of it has to do with his recent surge in power where he hammered six combined home runs against both New York teams. That said, there are some concerning trends in 2020 that need to be addressed. He possesses a .173 xBA, which coincides with his high swing and miss and chase swing rates. However, when we dig a bit deeper, we find that it’s not all doom and gloom.
The overall numbers appear to be a bit skewed since they don’t reflect the gains Stewart has made. He’s swinging and missing in the strike zone less often than before, he’s actually chasing and missing less often and his expected batting average is significantly higher. This is all after his extended time on the IL.
Redraft: roll with this free source of power from the waiver wire and ride your way to fantasy success! Use a short leash as it could come to an end. It’s a small sample, and Stewart is still building his resumé. This could be the start of something bigger and better. Dynasty/Keeper: he’s definitely an interesting name to monitor. As someone who knows how to take a pitch and doesn’t always strike out a lot, he could be taking the next step forward. If I were a betting man, I’d say he’ll regress a bit to start next season, but he’ll catch back on and actually be fantasy relevant over a longer period of time than we’ve seen in 2020.
Earlier this year I also wrote about Josh Bell, as he was struggling to do much of anything. I went so far as to say that I’d replace him as my starter at first base and even listed others I’d rather have at that position going forward. Well, he must have gotten wind of it (alongside Mondesi) and decided that enough was enough. A few days into September, he began showing more plate discipline, stopped chasing and started getting locked in at the plate. Since those adjustments, the results have been astonishing.
The right side of the data, aka the September side, shows a much harder hitting profile which is similar to his early 2019 performance. In fact, his overall hard hit rate in 2020 is eerily close to that of last season. Since September 6, Bell has produced a 2:3 K:BB rate while hitting two home runs and knocking in three runs. While he will jokingly tell you his success is due to regularly skipping batting practice, it ultimately is because he exercised patience and forced pitchers to pitch to him. He’s raised his batting average up forty points, which also shows how small a sample this really is.
Redraft: honestly, you need to ride this out. He’s done it before, so maybe he’s figured it all out. If you still have him on your roster, what more do you have to lose? Dynasty/Keeper: if he can finish the year strong and in similar form, he’s worth another look after a long offseason with proper planning and training. With so many pitchers well ahead of the batters, it’s been a year of catching up with the bat. Maybe I was wrong about him.
While it may seem like the season just started, we are in the final two weeks of the regular season, thus the end of the fantasy season. For those of you who are in positions to win your leagues congratulations. You have successfully navigated a slog of a season and no one can take that away from you. However, you cannot sit still, while there is not a ton of season left, ratios can still fluctuate much more than usual due to the shortened season. While I usually leave the intro for some overall discussion of pitching or some guys I’ve mentioned I’ll discuss some more strategy here this week.
No player (with exceptions) is an automatic start right now.
Winning a category by 20 does not give you any more points than winning by 1.
Every single lineup decision we are making right now should be made with the standing in mind. Make sure you understand this context and you adjust accordingly.
Know not only what you need to move up or down in categories but also know where your top competition is.
If you have FAAB money left, use it, get your guy, block your competition, but make sure you use it, you can’t take it with you
These are just some quick bullet point ideas but obviously feel free to reach out with any other questions you may have and best of luck the rest of the way.
Last Friday on the Morning Relay, podcast host extraordinaire Michael Govier and I were discussing Gerrit Cole and his “struggles”. By no means has Cole been the problem with the Yankees so far in 2020, but the team and fans expected more from him when he was signed this offseason. I decided that Cole would be the next subject of this article as I was curious about what exactly is going wrong with the Yankee ace. As always I began on Cole’s Baseball Savant page hoping to see something on there that triggers me to dive deeper. Overall, no much looks different from Cole the main things that I typically look at all seem to fall into normal levels of fluctuation. His pitch mix is similar, his movement profile has not changed much, and the spin rates on his pitches all seem to be the same. However, it appears that his fastball is being hit much harder than in recent memory.
This then led me to look into the pitch and how it is being used. Among all pitchers with over 300 fastballs thrown on the season, the location-based xwoba on Cole’s fastball is middle of the pack. He comes in around 45th on the list. This number actually compares extremely similar to his 2019 results. So based on this, the difference does not seem to be in Cole’s location with the fastball. So this means that it is tied to how hitters are reacting to the pitch. For me, this usually leads to me to look into the movement on the pitch. As I stated earlier in this article, there does not seem to be any meaningful difference in the movement profile of the pitch. So what are some of the other factors that would cause hitters to react to a pitch differently than before? In my opinion, outside of the pitch characteristics changing, the main factor that could impact how hitters interact with a pitch is usage/predictability.
As a Yankee fan, I have wanted a good amount of Cole’s starts, and anecdotally, I saw something that I never remembered from Cole. When he was dominating for the Astros it seemed like he never fell behind in the count. As a hitter you seemingly had no chance if he got ahead as his offspeed pitches are almost unhittable. However, this season it appears that he was falling behind more often. While this is not exactly groundbreaking, Cole does seem to be pitching from behind in the count more often. In both 2018 and 2019, only 23% of all of Cole’s pitches thrown were with the hitter ahead in the count. This season he is up over 25% which is more in line with his pre-2018 numbers. While this is not exactly a massive adjustment for a pitcher like Cole, he has some expected predictability that comes with falling behind in the count. Baseball Savant has a cool Plinko like graphic that shows his usage in various different counts.
The above chart is from 2019, but what you can see is that when Cole falls behind in the count, he becomes even more fastball heavy. He becomes ever so slightly more predictable. So I decided to take a look at his fastball locations in all counts.
As we can see looking over the above charts, the issues with Cole may in fact be when he falls behind. Typically, Cole locates his fastball up in the zone, in 2020 among pitchers with 300 fastballs, he has the 14th highest average location. Looking over the chart, however, he seems to locate more towards the middle with his fastball once he falls behind. This has led to the 10th highest xwoba on fastballs when behind in the count in all of baseball. So the answer for Gerrit Cole so fan in 2020: get ahead. When he gets ahead he allows himself to utilize all of his pitches and avoid being forced to come down in the zone with his fastball. This is not a groundbreaking finding but is one that is playing itself out when looking into the numbers for Gerrit Cole.
While many celebrate the start of the NFL, this writer is still mining for vulture wins, saves and ratio controls as we head into the last two weeks of the abbreviated MLB season. While it’s been an odd ride, finish the season strongly. My fantasy football teams will likely be woeful; I paid little attention to drafts this year and it will likely show. I have been too busy following the Kevin Ginkels and Yimi Garcias of the world for the weekly “Closing Remarks” series @Roto_Fanatic.
Here are the happenings this week in MLB bullpens around the country:
The St. Louis Cardinals lost Giovanny Gallegos to the IL this week with a groin strain. Also this week, they activated lefty Andrew Miller and the enigmatic Carlos Martinez. Who gets opportunities here this week? Read on; we may have a sleeper for you, too.
In other big news, Toronto welcomes back closer Ken Giles, who only made two appearances this year before a forearm strain. If healthy he will definitely solidify the back end of their pen. They need him as they contend for a playoff spot.
Sean Doolittle of the Washington Nationals heads back to the IL this week with an oblique strain, which may end his season, allowing Daniel Hudson to further cement himself into the ninth inning role. Doolittle had pitched well in a limited sample since returning from his knee injury two weeks ago,
The San Francisco Giants are said to be considering a move of Jeff Samardzija to their beleaguered bullpen. Would he have any value there? We will look into it and tell you.
Felix Pena appears to have entered a committee situation with Ty Buttrey for the Los Angeles Angels.
Detroit looks to be full-blown committee right now too. Who to target, if anyone?
Looks like a committee of mediocrity in Arizona as well. We thought Kevin GInkel last week, but Stephan Crichton earned a save on Friday night.
As a reminder, here is our rubric to grade the closers if you need to refresh your memory:
Mastery: the best. Nothing else to be learned here. Move forward with confidence.
Distinguished: just a notch below mastery, excellent work, but still some room for improvement.
Proficient: is average. Think of this as a solid “C” on your term paper.
Marginal: poorly constructed, issues with organization, and unclear what is happening.
Unacceptable: failure due to lack of planning or execution.
Hader remains the best in the business. Hader is stuck on nine saves but earned a win this week while also maintaining a 14.2 K/9 rate. Deploy with total confidence. Hader was beaten on Saturday night, giving up four runs to the Chicago Cubs. Still, he would be my top choice and would use him in every league as my number one option.
Jansen is still at 10 saves with a 12.3 K/9 rate, He looked human against Arizona last week, giving up three hits and two earned runs while earning his third win in the process. You still need to use him regularly.
Hand has been great in 2020, with 12 saves, an 11.7 K/9 and a 2.45 ERA and .89 WHIP. He leads MLB in saves (along with Hendriks) and has been solid for Cleveland. James Karinchak is a great addition if you need holds (he has six now) and strikeouts (a staggering 42 in 21 innings), but will not get saves.
Colome quietly has 10 saves for the surging Chicago White Sox, who are 18-5 in the last three weeks. A low K/9 of 7.6 has not hut him much this year. Great ratios with a 1.08 ERA and a matching 1.08 WHIP.
Melancon would have to qualify as a pleasant surprise in 2020. He has ten saves, a 2.16 ERA and .90 WHIP, with a paltry 4.9 K/9 percentage. He’s not going to give you anything with strikeouts, but he continues to nail down saves. The competition with Will Smith et al has just never materialized this year.
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros: teetering
Pressly has chipped in with nine saves but took a tough loss to Oakland this past week. His ERA is 5.40 over the last seven days. I still love the arm but if you are looking for more consistency, you might want to look elsewhere. It’s not helping matters that the Astros are 22-23 and struggling to stay afloat in the AL West. Pressly did come out and earn his ninth save Saturday night. He should hold on to the job but it’s been a rocky road.
Trevor Rosenthal, San Diego Padres
Rosenthal continues to sparkle with nine saves, a 13.8 K/9 rate and a 2.55 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Run him out there in all of your lineups.
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Chapman is still rounding into shape from his Covid-19 illness. He stuck out the side in his one outing this week, but still has a bloated 6.00 ERA, but a closer look shows him with a 2.25 ERA in September. Still only has one save. I’ve been wavering on deploying him based on the fact that the Yankees have struggled up to this last weekend, and he has not looked 100%. I am still starting him but have added depth to my bench.He has just one save. The stuff is still elite and he should be fine.
Jeffress hammered down the role and earned his seventh save this week. Jeffress has excelled with a .98 ERA and .80 WHIP. There is no reason for manager David Ross to use anyone else. The job is his as the Cubs continue to scrap to stay in first place in the NL Central. However, adding intrigue was the fact that Craig KImbrel closed the door on the Milwaukee Brewers Saturday night. Kimbrel, true to form this year, gave up two hits before earning his second save? Something to watch here?
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets: moving up
As @mattwi77iams pointed out this weekend, Diaz has 39 strikeouts in 19 innings. That is not a misprint. I know people love to hate on this guy, but he’s got the ERA down to 1.89 and has three saves. The talent is too good to pass up. Looks at these insane K percentages:
Montero quietly has eight saves for a poor Texas team. But he has only earned two in September as the season runs away from Texas. He has a 2.13 ERA and 0.77 WHIP, both very good numbers, but doesn’t help much with Ks, with only 14. He also only pitched once this last week as Texas sinks like a stone to the bottom of Moribund Ocean. I would pass on him right now based on the low volume of usage.
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
The roller coaster ride continues for the lefty. He threw well in a non-save situation midweek, striking out the side against Detroit. He then pitched in a save situation Friday night, and earned the save, but not before giving up a home run to Jose Ramirez. Chances are if you are using him you may not be in the running for your league title. If you are, consider someone else if you can, unless you have the stomach for the tightrope. He does have 19 strikeouts in 15 innings, but also sports a 4.11 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. That may hurt you more than it helps.
Kintzler remains on nine saves after a tough week of two blemished outings. Miami used Yimi Garcia to get a save on Friday, which is intriguing since in that game, manager Don Mattingly used Kintzler in the sixth inning (only a seven inning game due to a doubleheader), allowing Garcia to earn the save despite giving up a run. What do we know about Yimi Garcia? Well he’s been nasty this year and hard to hit:
Diego Castillo/Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
I love Tampa Bay. I really do; I love how they go about their business, but as a fantasy owner, I hate how they run their bullpen. Have they no respect for my fantasy needs? Just being silly, but the question remains in week ten: who do we target to close? Ten relievers have earned at least one save for the Rays this year. This is a tough one. It should usually come down to matchups, which means Diego Castillo or Nick Anderson. Anderson has four saves and Castillo three. Neither has pitched this week until the weekend. John Curtiss has also been excellent, and could vulture a save or two. Oliver Drake is also throwing to live hitters and could be back shortly.
Who knows what to expect? I like Anderson the most but I am not in charge. If you are desperate for stats, you might want to look elsewhere. Anderson pitched the eighth and Castillo the ninth on Saturday. Both have value in deeper leagues.
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Who doesn’t love this story? Bard has been a revelation in Colorado. Bard now has six saves and has a 3.72 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 19 innings. Colorado has been middling all season, so do not expect a ton of chances for Bard down the stretch.
Committee, but Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
I think way too much about Kansas City’s bullpen. Greg Holland? Scott Barlow? What about Josh Staumont? It looks like Holland right now, earning his fifth save on Saturday night, but I would bet that Staumont has the job in 2021. That doesn’t help you right now. Staumont and Barlow have been in setup roles and could be next up; Jesse Hahn also lurks and could vulture one or two, especially on back ends of doubleheaders. Mike Matheny could mix-and-match down the stretch here.
Iglesias continues to underwhelm; six saves with a 4.11 ERA with an 11.2 K/9 rate, which is good. He’s also got three losses. I have learned my lesson with him; unfortunately you cannot win fantasy titles with him as one of your top two closers. Bench role only. Take my advice on this one to avoid feeling ill the last two weeks of the season.
Gallegos was looking great with four saves over the last two weeks before a strained groin shut him down for the Cards. Luckily for the Cardinals, Andrew Miller is back and so is Carlos Martinez, who will start for now. The nod should go to Miller, but with his fragility and injury history, others may get opportunities. I would not be surprised if John Gant received an opportunity or two. Some analysts might lean Genesis Cabrera or Alex Reyes too, but I am not one of them. Let’s take a quick look at Gant:
Gant is throwing well this year despite diminished velocity. The K percentage is up on all of his pitches with the exception of his four-seamer. Gant has 18 strikeouts in 14 innings. Maybe stash him on your bench if you have room, and see what happens.
Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals: moving down
Hudson is tied for fifth in MLB with nine saves, but at what cost to your team? The 11.9 K/9 is great, but the 7.02 ERA and 1.20 WHIP are worse stats than the Batavia Youth Baseball Mets team I help coach. Saves are not worth the potential implosions to your roster. He got one save this week but then got shellacked on Friday night. Pass.
Workman is stuck on nine saves this week with a 4.24 ERA and a nightmarish 2.2 WHIP. He has surrendered 24 hits and 12 walks this year. My stomach hurts. Move on. Word on the street this week is that manager Joe Girardi was mulling a flip of Workman and former closer Hector Neris. In a game against Boston midweek, Neris got the save. In another game against the Mets, Workman worked the ninth in a tie game and Neris earned the save in the tenth. Could we have a changing of the guard here? Watch and see; the Phillies are battling for a playoff spot, and Girardi will play the hot hand. Neris appears to be hitting his stride with a 1.69 ERA and two saves in September. The following shows the uptick in velocity the past few weeks:
Yohan Ramirez, Seattle Mariners
Ramirez has converted three saves, Yoshi Hirano one. This situation appears fluid, but Ramirez is 25 and should get the opportunity ahead of the veteran Hirano. Hirano has not pitched in a week. Read the tea leaves; go Ramirez if you need relief help.
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kevin Ginkel got the first opportunity after the Archie Bradley trade, but was sent down Friday after struggling with his fastball command. Manager Torey Lovullo went with Stefan Crichton on Friday night. Lefty Travis Bergen and veteran Junior Guerra could also be used, but I would guide you to avoid this bullpen. This swing-and-miss percentage does not bode well for continued success friends:
Yikes. Move along.
Committee, leaning Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers
This is awful especially for the diehard Tigers fans that I know and respect, but Bryan Garcia provided a glimmer of hope with two saves this week.
Garcia is essentially a two-pitch guy, with a sinker and a slider, mixing in a change-up at times as well. He’s 25 and considered a prospect, so he should get some chances for the Tigers. Interestingly, analysts are split on whether the sinker (listed as such here) is actually a fastball or a sinker. Regardless, he is getting results thus far with this mix, getting groundouts and popups. He is not a strikeout artist but rather relies on his defense to help him out. He may be intriguing but I am tentative right now. Detroit eats closers in 2020.
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Barnes is adequate for a moribund Boston team, but he should not be on your team right now if you are contending.
Buttrey was annihilated on Friday night. He is stuck on five saves with an ERA over 6.00. Say no.
Meanwhile Felix Pena has not been much better and only pitched once this week. This team continues to waste the talents of Mike Trout and also Anthony Rendon now. You want none of this. Journeyman Matt Andriese earned the save Saturday night.
Committee, but leaning Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles
Harvey took the loss against the Yankees on Saturday in a tight 2-1 game. He also lost on Wednesday against the Mets. Yet Harvey is their best option and Baltimore may take these last two weeks to see what they really have in him. I would pick Harvey of this bunch of relievers in Baltimore. Harvey throws a hard four-seamer an astounding 79% of the time:
Rodriguez has the role for a team that is 14-28. Pass.
Committee, San Francisco Giants
Tyler Rogers has three saves this season but an ERA of 5.73. If you are looking for anything here, my advice is to look elsewhere. Many will smirk at this, but there is rumor that Jeff Samardzija could move to the bullpen when he comes back in the coming days. Could he reinvent himself there? Time will tell.
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Giles is back. Can he be effective? The Blue Jays desperately need him to recapture his 2019 form in a hurry. The velocity is down; can he regain it? See below. Here is hoping for health and a return to dominance. Rafael Dolis has chipped in with four saves and kept the bullpen afloat, but this job belongs to Giles provided he is healthy.
We are reaching somewhat of a breaking point in fantasy leagues. Owners are scrambling to make those last major moves to ensure victory or they are taking chances with their roster looking to chase down the top spot. As I have done all season I am once again taking a look at the state of pitching with the help of ERA estimator Stuff-ERA. The model has helped guide many of my pitching decisions this season and has been a big part of my success For the first time since the initial run of this article, we have a new leader. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out who has unseated Shane Bieber.
Quite frankly, the Brewers have been a massive disappointment. Their offense has struggled much of the season and their starting rotation has been overall dreadful. However, there has been one massive bright spot for the team and that is the emergence of Corbin Burnes. Burnes who once won the teams Minor League Pitcher of the Year award has had an uneven start to his MLB career. He has looked at times like a future ace but has yet to put it all together at the Big League Level. However, 2020 has been a different story. Burnes has been electric all year posting an ERA of 1.99 across his six starts. This includes an absolute dismantling of the Tigers yesterday. He allowed one hit and struck out 11 in seven innings. As many pitchers I have discussed have proven, a breakout like this usually comes with a pitch mix change.
As you can clearly see from the chart above Burnes changed his mix drastically. He has almost completely abandoned the fastball and replaced it with two pitches, a sinker, and a cutter. The interesting thing about this is that while the fastball was hit extremely hard in the past, 0.460 xwoba; the two new pitches are world beaters, 0.420 for the sinker, and 0.342 for the cutter. However, looking it over Burnes has been locating the two pitches exceptionally well. Among all pitchers with at least 300 Fastballs (Sinkers, Cutters, 4 and 2 Seams) thrown this season, Burnes has the 4th lowest location-based xwoba. The chart below shows how he’s been avoiding the danger zones extremely well with the pitch.
What you can see is that Burnes has expertly located his fastballs missing the heart of the zone frequently. He’s been attacking the bottom of the zone extremely well as well as locating the cutter to the corners. Compare the above chart to Kevin Gausman, the pitcher with the highest location-based xwoba on fastballs.
As you can see many of Gausman’s fastballs are being located near the heart of the zone. The change seems to be impacting Burnes positively overall as his secondary pitches have all seen improvements in xwoba from 2019. Stuff-ERA is a huge fan as he is fourth-best in baseball according to the metric (minimum 600 pitches thrown). If Burnes can continue to locate his sinker and cutter extremely well, he should continue to get great results from his entire arsenal and he may be the Brewer starter who we consider among the ace tier in 2021, not Brandon Woodruff. I am fully buying into the Burnes breakout and am kicking myself for not drafting more of him this offseason.
Ah September! The temperatures start to drop, the kids go back to school, TV shows (usually) begin to return with new seasons and episodes and baseball starts to round third base onto its way home. This year, however, as we hit September, we’re actually just rounding second base on our way to third, since we still have about 40% of the regular season left to go. During this stretch run, it’s important to stay on top of things and not lose sight of the end. And being here with RotoFanatic, we’ve got you covered right up until you cross that finish line. You also have another advantage: Football. This is the time when other teams in your league may switch focus towards their fantasy football teams, especially if they’re out of contention. Therefore, there will be less activity in your fantasy baseball leagues with more access to free agents on a hot streak.
Now, onto the main event. Grab some KFC, because we’re all going streaking! Stats down below are from the time period of Wednesday September 2 – Tuesday September 8
Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot
Ronald Acuña Jr.
5 of 19, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 3 K, 6 BB (1 IBB), 2 SB
Coming back from a minor injury, Ronald Acuña reminded everyone why he was drafted first overall in many leagues: the kid can pretty much do everything when it comes to baseball. Blessed with supreme power and blazing speed, he possesses a unique combination of talents that can give fantasy owners everything needed in multiple categories to help win you your leagues. Coming back on September 4, while playing in both games of a double header, Acuña homered a total of three times. What’s been important for him too, as he continues to ascend back into his elite status, is his ability to take pitches and walk to get on base. He began the year with a 17:3 K/BB ratio in July, but has since gone 17:18 and proven his worth.
I realize that the above is an abundance of data, but what I’m trying to show is that, for the most part, he’s seeing the ball better than before, he’s being patient at the plate (career high walk rate) and thus his expected production is rising at an incredible rate. He’s closer to being back to his old self, and any doubters of his elite production should feel a lot better knowing that one of the game’s best players is living up to expectations.
Outlook: Acuña can obviously be counted on to lead your fantasy team. He provides everything that you’ll need down the stretch run. As the Braves and their loaded lineup finish up the season, they play favorable road matchups (@ Nationals, @ Orioles and @ Mets) while also playing at home to the Marlins and Red Sox to finish the year. One last thing to consider. Acuña this year is seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone as pitchers are trying to pitch around him. They know what he’s capable of and are trying avoid catastrophe. He’s also seeing fewer fastballs and more pitches with movement.
Both the American League East and National League East are home to some of the best pitchers on baseball. Time may not be on his side this year, as he’s only now, midway through the season, making adjustments. Had this happened over a 162 game season, he would be making said adjustments in the month of May and would subsequently have four months of elite production ready to roll. My advice is this: don’t let his struggles from July and early August sway you. Acuña’s overall final numbers will not look elite. What you need to do is remember next year that he has adjusted to seeing fewer pitches that he likes, he’s grown in his ability to be patient and he’s capitalizing when needed on pitches he wants to mash. Remember the talent, the smarts and the potential.
9 of 26, 2 HR, 7 RBI
To say that Ozuna has made the most of this shortened season would be an understatement. He’s helped the Braves elevate themselves to the top of the National League East, and kept them competitive (especially as of late) during a time where the Braves’ rotation wasn’t at the level that was expected of them. Overall, he’s been chasing fewer pitches and making less contact on those pitches. As a result, while his Ground Ball Rate has gone down, his Barrel Rate has also gone up as well as his Launch Angle.
Since August 18, which was when he had his 100th plate appearance within the above data, Ozuna has owned a 14:8 K:BB ratio. It’s not coincidental that his xWOBA and production have gone up since that point. Finally, he just recently won the title of being the National League’s Player of the Week.
Outlook: For years, Ozuna has possessed the talent to be producing that this level, but hasn’t necessarily lived up to these lofty expectations. As a player who some think may have peaked during his All-Star season of 2017, his projections show that he is already outproducing some of those numbers in this shortened season. All of the metrics point towards him, over a 162 season, eclipsing those career high stats. That said, with only a few weeks left, it’s pretty safe to say that Ozuna will finish the season with a high level of production and should be started with confidence. During this contract year for him, it’ll be interesting to see if he remains a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2021.
11 of 27, 2 HR, 6 RBI
There’s a lot of red there, which means that the player in question is doing something right. In the case of Victor Reyes, that means the following, which was summed perfectly on Twitter last week:
In fact, everything about him is trending upwards here. His Launch Angle is substantially up from 9.2 to 11.8 degrees, his batting average against Breaking Balls is significantly better at .279 (vs .194 in 2019), and his xBA is in line to show that he’s hitting right around where he should, which is healthily above .300 on the season. He’s been one of the go-to players for the Tigers as they try to make it to the expanded playoffs of 2020.
Outlook: While Reyes is a feel-good story for the feel-good Tigers, there comes some trepidation before anointing him the next elite hitter. Reyes has a worrisome walk rate of 4.3% that shows some immaturity and a lack of patience.
With a corresponding increased Chase Rate of 43.8% on the season, there is a bit of a worry that pitchers could adjust to Reyes’ approach at the plate and pitch around him. That’s why I’m holding off for now on leveling him up too much, until he can prove to me that he can lay off the pitches outside the strike zone and wait for those that are hittable. That said, he has leveled up to become a better hitter in 2020 and should be treated as a pretty reliable source of batting average with above average power. Still, in my opinion, he has a ways to go to grow.
Hello Darkness My Old Friend
2 of 23, 12 K, 3 BB
Wow, how the tables have turned on Meadows, who shot out of a cannon in 2019. After 27 games in 2019, he found himself batting .340 with nine home runs and 24 runs batted in alongside four stolen bases. This season is the polar opposite as he’s batting .202 with only three home runs and nine runs batted in and one stolen base. The difference? He’s striking out at an all-time high rate (minor leagues included). What’s worse is that, despite a small uptick in pitches outside of the strike zone, he’s swinging and missing on pitches inside the strike zone, which is somewhat concerning.
And here’s the difference: looking at the corresponding zones below, in between 2019 (top) and 2020 (bottom) are the percent of pitches seen within and outside the strike zone. There isn’t much of a difference here in how he’s being attacked at the plate.
Outlook: Unfortunately for him, it looks like Meadows might struggle all season. One thing that people forget is that Meadows was one of the many that have missed time due to the Coronavirus. Back in mid July, he felt some of the symptoms and thus, wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day. As others who have missed time, he is struggling to get back to his winning ways. Look at Scott Kingery, for example, who has been struggling since the start of the season to the tune of cutting his batting average in half from last season!
Getting back to Meadows though, he goes from being a perennial MVP candidate last year to possibly riding the bench late in the season in 2020, and there’s really nothing else you can do about it. It’s hard to imagine that he turns everything around by season’s end, but if he does, you can slot him in there and hope he’s back to his old self. As someone who made consistent contact throughout his minor league career with a low strikeout rate, patience is the one thing you’ll need to maintain until he figures this thing out and gets back to full health.
3 of 19, 3 BB, 3 SB
Full disclosure, I liked Cody Bellinger a lot coming into the season. He mashed last year, he ran last year, he was elite last year, and I bought in. Case in point, in my own personal points league, with a $300 budget, I bid $100 on him, and lost out. I needed a first baseman, organized my keepers accordingly and bid 40% of my remaining budget on him and still lost out. Ultimately I wound up with Matt Olson and have received arguably better results. That being said, I know I wasn’t alone in my belief that Bellinger would be one of the league’s bets players in 2020, and, well….he hasn’t.
But the problem stems farther back beyond just a shortened 2020 season. In the following graphs, I want you to look specifically at the right side where his 2019 and 2020 stats have been. After flying out of the gate over the first two months of the season last year, Bellinger became a slightly above average hitter the rest of the way. What happened was that pitchers started to pitch around him and he would chase them. He tweaked his mechanics, swing and approach last year to try and fix this, but ultimately nothing really mattered.
Outlook: I’m not exactly sure what to make of Cody Bellinger going forward, but I do know that once he figures this out, he will be elevated even higher within the realms of baseball. It’s promising that he only struck out once within the timeframe of this past week, which could be a sign of an increased patience. And while you may argue to me that one week is a small sample….so is a 60 game season. Even still, it’s not all doom and gloom.
It can take awhile to fully change one’s mentality, especially where in-game video scouting for adjustments aren’t there like they once were, due to the new norm. In redraft leagues, you have to believe in his underlying talent and play him daily. In dynasty formats, you may be able to buy low on some impatient owners. He’s a young player with massive potential that needs to adjust. Give him time, and the talent will take over.
4 of 31, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K
We started the fantasy baseball season at RotoFanatic by offering potential bust picks for the 2020 season, and one name particularly stands out. No, it’s not my glorious (ha!) pick of Mike Soroka, but rather the very first pick on the page by Matt Williams. There are some very compelling reasons why Whit would be a bust this year. Let’s fast forward to earlier this season. Whit Merrifield is batting over .300, is stealing bases at a rate not seen in years, and is producing with both power and contact. People were taking victory laps after two weeks of games played. In fact, as of games played on August 15, the Royals were 9-12, Merrifield was batting .305, and everyone was turning around and running backwards on the race track of victory. Then reality hit. The Royals have since gone 5-13, Merrifield has seen his batting average drop almost 70 points, and now those owners are as quiet as ever.
As Matt pointed out, his ability to hit the offspeed pitches has been deteriorating over the past few seasons. This season as a whole, he finds himself batting .143 against them and is progressively seeing more of them as pitchers adjust.
Outlook: What really stood out to me last season was not just Merrifield’s lack of running, but his admittance that he stopped because his team was losing and he wanted to preserve his body. While I can respect one wanting to focus on other parts of the game to improve, this still struck me the wrong way, as speed was one of his strengths, and he stopped using it to save up for the future. I wonder if in a lost, shortened season, he will stop running in 2020 altogether. With one of the worst records in all of baseball, will Merrifield give up and save up for the future yet again? Either way, he needs to figure out how to hit and/or lay off pitches outside of the zone or else his current career low strikeout rate will find its way back to the ways of his past.
With an improved Launch Angle and Barrel Rate over last season, he may yet be able to come back from this and help you to finish the season. With multiple series against the Tigers as well as other series against the Pirates and Cardinals, there’s a chance that he turns this slump around and finishes off strong. Let’s just hope that he hasn’t given up already and will do what needs to be done to help his team win some baseball games.
Welcome to the Post-Malone Labor Day edition of the Starting Pitcher Barometer! Hopefully, all went well if you went into labor. It’s also the post-trade deadline edition, so there is a lot to cover. Since the deadline deals have been pretty well covered by now, I’ll touch only very briefly on their impact before moving on to the analysis of the list.
Mike Clevinger to San Diego – The back-end of the Padres rotation wasn’t full of Top 100 options, anyway. This is a fairly lateral move for Clev, who has struggled to replicate his 2019 success. He tumbles to 19 this week, but my patience is running short. I’m less optimistic by the week that he’ll get back to anywhere close to those ace-like numbers.
Robbie Ray to Buffalo – Ray has an 8.22 BB/9 and 7.51 ERA through 38.1 IP. It’s questionable whether he should even be on the list at this point. Moving to the AL East only moves the needle further down for him. In general, he’ll face tougher lineups in more hitter-friendly ballparks.
Ross Stripling to Buffalo – Now known to me as the Buffalo Chicken Strip (yeah, it’s a stretch, but there’s something clever in there somewhere), Stripling also heads to Buffalo to buoy the Jays rotation. It’s a downgrade for Strip, like Ray. He’s been trending down in the rankings as well. He isn’t missing as many bats this year and sits with a 5.68 ERA and 5.05 SIERA.
Caleb Smith to Arizona – He’s still out due to COVID and we’ll be lucky at this point to see him for more than a start or two before the end of the season. The Marlins have actually been very successful in developing arms, so it’s actually not a guaranteed positive move to leave Miami. It’s also a park downgrade. He’s still intriguing, but he has to stay healthy (COVID aside).
Mike Minor to Oakland – Pitching in Oakland should help Minor lower his 19.6% HR/FB. Even with an HR/FB rate regressed to the mean, he still gets an xFIP of 4.79. He’s not more than a risky streamer in mixed leagues.
The Starting Pitcher Barometer
The Old Newcomers
Michael Pineda, MIN (SP47) – Big Mike has a shiny 2.77 ERA, 8.31 K/9, and 2.08 BB/9 through his first two starts. Even better is that he has gone six and seven innings in those two starts. Coming into the season ready to roll 6+ innings when many are struggling to even get to six gives him the edge over some of the streaming crowd. His slider has been on point, although his changeup has been a work in progress. He failed to get a single whiff or called strike on the changeup in his latest start against the Tigers. Still, this is a guy who put up a 3.10 ERA over his final 87 IP last year.
Tony Gonsolin, LAD (SP53) – With the Buffalo Chicken Strip shipped out of town, Gonsolin has a rotation spot to call home. Through five starts this year (23.2 IP) Gonsolin has a 0.76 ERA, 9.51 K/9, and 1.90 BB/9. His velocity is actually up nearly two ticks to 95 MPH, and his splitter usage is up 11.5% so far. It’s a heavy ground ball pitch that also earns whiffs, but also has a .346 xwOBA. Even if hitters catch up to the splitter, however, he still has an effective slider and curveball to turn to. He’s a streamer who could work his way into full mixed-league ownership before long.
Jose Urquidy, HOU (SP61) – Urquidy is finally back after missing the first month-plus of the season due to undisclosed reasons. It was a rough debut against the Angels, going 3.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K. He posted a sturdy 3.95 ERA over 41 innings for the ‘Stros last year and was stellar in the playoffs, as you might recall. He should shake off the rust quickly and garner streaming consideration every time out.
The Rookie Newcomers
JT Brubaker, PIT (SP77) – Brubaker is Brubaking up some tasty fantasy pies for us to enjoy! Brubaker wasn’t a particularly highly touted prospect, nor did he put up impressive minor league stats. What he has shown with the Buccos over 25 innings has turned my head, however. He’s been a bit erratic with a 3.96 BB/9 but has been missing bats (9.72 K/9) and he’s been successful, with a 3.96 ERA (4.39 SIERA). His curve has 86th percentile spin at 2,857 RPM with a .071 BAA and .062 wOBA (.217 xwOBA). His slider is another strong offspeed pitch, with a 2,646 RPM spin rate, .237 wOBA (.314 xwOBA), and a 33.3% whiff rate. The fastball is…not great. Increasing his offspeed stuff would go a long way towards keeping the success oven baking away.
Trevor Rogers, MIA (SP79) – Rogers hasn’t debuted to a tremendous amount of fanfare despite being a former 13th overall pick. That’s probably just what happens when you play for the Marlins. The tall lefties’ results have been stellar in spite of fanfare levels. Through three starts he has totaled 15 innings, posting a 3.00 ERA (3.91 SIERA), 12.6 K/9, and 4.80 BB/9. He has a pungent fastball/slider/changeup mix that can miss bats. The command can come and go, which is why he’s debuting towards the back-end of the list.
Deivi Garcia, NYY (SP81) – I’ve always been on the pessimistic side of the Deivi Garcia: Starting Pitcher debate. A 5’9″ righty with huge control problems leads me to believe he’s a reliever long-term. Terrific stuff is why some consider him a dynamic starting candidate. A mix of the stuff, results, and a rotation spot (for the time being, at least) have him debuting on the list this week. Through two starts (10.2 IP) he has a 3.38 ERA (3.57 SIERA), and 12:2 K:BB ratio. If the control remains as good as it has been…look out. He could be a true impact starter. I’ll have to see more of this control to be totally sold, but if you’re in a competitive league, it’s probably best to buy now.