Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers – Week 5
Now that we are just over one month into the 2019 season, I want to start recapping some of the past risers and fallers to check in on their progress. Of course, Christian Yelich has continued his torrid start. He’s on pace for 84 home runs and 36 steals. He also left yesterday’s game with lower back discomfort. Let’s hope he only misses a game or two. I forecasted Bryce Harper as a potential faller given his declining contact rates. Since then, he’s hitting just .125 with one home run and 10 strikeouts. We know he will go on some hot binges, but owners are going to have to suffer through some of the extended lows given the contact rates. Also, Jesus Aguilar has all but been replaced by Eric Thames, as Aguilar made just one start (against a lefty) last week.
Enough negative talk, let’s get into some hot players from this past week.
Luke Voit (1B – NYY)
Voit has followed up his impressive second-half performance with big-time power numbers to start 2019. He hit .433 (13-for-30) with four home runs and 10 RBIs this past week. Can we talk about how impressive his stint with the Yankees has been? I don’t see any way Voit loses playing time to the likes of Greg Bird even when/if he is healthy. Voit’s batted-ball metrics, via Statcast, are right in line with his second-half breakout from 2018. We do need to temper expectations, as his contact rates remain well below-average. The good news is that his in-zone contact has improved some from last season. I think owners can expect a .260-.270 average with 30 home runs and a high volume of RBIs, especially once Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return. Owners who snagged him around pick 170 overall should be happy with the profit.
Jose Abreu (1B – CHW)
Owners may not be ecstatic about Abreu’s start to 2019, but he hit .571 (12-for-21) with two home runs and a whopping 12 RBIs last week. He’s a notorious slow starter, as evidenced by his career 124 wRC+ in the first half compared to a 148 wRC+ in the second half. But there are some positive signs from Abreu early this season. He’s changed his approach and is now more patient at the plate.
You can see his swing rate is dropping, and he’s offering outside the zone a lot less frequently while his swing rate inside the zone has gone up. What this means is he’s improved his pitch recognition, which has allowed him to raise his barrel rate. He’s currently seventh with a 20.5% barrel per batted ball event (BRL/BBE). Abreu is about to go off, and I’d look to acquire him anywhere I can.
Eric Sogard (2B/SS – TOR)
Everyone and their mother saw Sogard take Mike Fiers deep in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s debut. He’s batting .415/.478/.732 with three homers and six runs in 10 games and has been hitting leadoff for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s lineup received a much-needed boost with the addition of Vlad Jr., and the group seems energized. Look, Sogard isn’t going to keep hitting .400, but he’s a patient hitter currently riding an insane 96.1% contact rate. It’s not all slap-hitting either. Per FanGraphs, his hard-hit rate is at an impressive 48.6%. Sogard is only an obvious add in deep leagues, but he should be owned while he’s hot and leading off for the Blue Jays. It helps that he’s eligible at second base and shortstop.
Jerad Eickhoff (SP- PHI)
I thought about covering Reynaldo Lopez or Mike Minor coming off their 14 and 13-strikeout performances, respectively, but both are too erratic. There will be quite a bit of up and downs from each pitcher. Back to Eickhoff. He was actually sent to the minors to start the season, and all he’s done since the recall is compile 20 strikeouts in 17 innings with a clean 2.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.
He is a different pitcher now than he was back in 2016 and 2017 when he last threw over 100 innings. He dumped his sinker and slider and began throwing a cutter that has led to his success. He’s allowed some of the weakest contact in the game with just an expected batting average of .140 and an expected wOBA of .190. Both would be the best in baseball if he qualified. Oh, and his curveball is getting strikeouts 53% of the time. He has two plus breaking pitches that he throws in different speed bands. As long as he can limit damage off his fastball, he should be a successful rotation piece going forward.
Carlos Santana (1B/3B – CLE)
Santana has gone ice cold with just two hits in his last seven games. He’s still hitting .300 but is stuck on just two home runs this season. There’s nothing wrong with his approach, as his walk and strikeout rates are identical. His hard contact rate is over 50%, and his average exit velocity is in MLB’s top-five percent. Where he’s struggled is getting the ball in the air. His average launch angle is down over 10 degrees (4.7), and his ground-ball rate is a career-high 55.6%. A high contact hitter with good exit velocity who hits the ball on the ground typically hits for a high average. Santana’s career high in batting average is .268 back in 2012.
Owners are probably growing tired of his lack of power, but the tradeoff is an improved batting average. Sometimes an elevated ground-ball rate can mean a player is harboring an injury, but this isn’t the first time Santana has gone through such a phase. Looking back at his 2018, Santana had two short periods where he spiked his ground-ball rate. They were brief and dropped back below 40%. He should be fine given his hard contact rate. It’s only a matter of time and as the weather heats up, so will Santana’s power.
Right on cue, he homered as I finished this blurb on Sunday. Stay the course.
Khris Davis (OF/DH – OAK)
After pacing the majors in home runs, Davis has failed to homer in his last 11 games. During that stretch, he’s hitting .154 with a 31% strikeout rate. Only once last year did Davis have a home-run drought longer than 11 games. So while this homerless stretch is rare, it’s not unprecedented. Should we just ignore any noise with Davis and just assume he’ll hit .247 with approximately 45 homers like he always does? Well, there are a few concerning signs.
His hard contact is down nearly nine percent and even more worrisome, his average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls (EV LD/FB) has declined nearly three mph. His fly-ball rate has gone the extreme at 50% and his overall contact rate is down. He’s going to have a hard time maintaining even a .247 batting average given those metrics. While I think Davis still manages to hit 38-40 homers this year, it may come with a batting average drain around .225-.230. That is unless he improves his overall and quality of contact.
Noah Syndergaard (SP – NYM)
What is wrong with Thor? He’s given up 10 runs (nine earned) in his last two outings and only one time in his six starts has he allowed fewer than four earned runs. It’s not his velocity; he’s pumping 98-99 mph with regularity. Based on the metrics, he’s just been one of the most unlucky starters in the game. His 0.072 differential between wOBA and expected wOBA, per Baseball Savant, is the highest among starting pitchers. He underperformed his expected wOBA in 2018 as well and carries an elevated BABIP for his career.
His sinker is one of the main culprits. It’s getting absolutely crushed to the tune of a 1.121 OPS. The sinker has always been hit hard, but it typically generates a ton of ground balls. This year, hitters are elevating his sinker, as the ground-ball rate is down 15% from previous seasons. Syndergaard seems completely healthy, so he just needs to drop his sinker usage. It doesn’t generate swings and misses, it doesn’t get ground balls, and therefore, serves no purpose. I’m buying, but for 90 cents on the dollar.