Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers – Week 6
Welcome back to the risers and fallers series where I discuss some of last week’s hottest and coldest players. We are nearly a week into May, and the weather will hopefully start to heat up soon (for those of us in the midwest). Let’s dive into the hottest and coldest players from this past week.
Michael Chavis (2B/3B – BOS)
Welcome to the show, Mr. Chavis! Michael Chavis has started his major league career with a bang, actually, six of them to be accurate. In just 15 games, in addition to those six home runs, he’s also hitting .333 with a .460 on-base percentage. Early on, his power appears to play in the majors, as he’s barreled 22.9% of his batted balls (currently fifth in MLB) since the call-up. Prior to Chavis, the Red Sox had a hole at second base, so I don’t see any reason he doesn’t stick there all season. Dustin Pedroia was a great player for a long time, but he should not take playing time away from Chavis when (if) he’s finally healthy. Chavis does have a tendency to swing and miss and his fly-ball approach, while great for homers, should suppress his batting average a bit. I think we will see a batting average closer to .250-.260, but at this point 25 to 30 home runs is not an illusion.
Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)
How many owners were concerned about Rizzo four weeks into the season? He’s become a bit of a slow starter but over the last two weeks, he’s hit .385 with five homers (with four coming this past week). Looking back at his April in 2018, he hit just .149 with one home run and still finished the season hitting .283 with 25 homers. I’ve discussed Rizzo’s approach at the plate and his extremely low strikeout rate, which has allowed him to maintain higher batting averages. Nothing has changed this year, as he’s sporting a 14.2% strikeout rate. His expected metrics show that he’s been a little bit unlucky, as his barrel and hard-hit rates are both at career-highs. Rizzo is as solid and steady as they come and should provide a .275-.285 batting average with 30 homers in 2019, putting him back into the top 30 overall. Lock and load.
Franmil Reyes (OF – SD)
Franmil Reyes is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak and has raised his batting average up to .252. He’s managed to blast nine home runs despite playing only four to five games a week through April. His expected statistics, via Baseball Savant, are off the charts. He’s carrying a .421 xwOBA and is in the 95th percentile or higher in exit velocity, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage.
The power is real; we saw Reyes blast 16 home runs in 87 games in 2018. Now, given the current environment, there’s no reason Reyes can’t reach 35+ homers this year if given steady playing time. Previously in a platoon with the likes of Hunter Renfroe, Wil Myers, and Manuel Margot, Reyes has now started each of the last seven games. That’s a great sign for him and his owners. He needs to be owned in all leagues and please do yourself a favor and watch him hit dingers.
Mike Minor (SP – TEX)
Mike Minor has been unbelievable in his last two outings, punching out 22 batters while giving up just one earned run in his 15 innings pitched. The 31-year-old journeyman was pitching out of the bullpen as recently as 2017 with the Royals. What has changed? In his 13-strikeout performance, he threw a changeup nearly 30% of the time. That pitch has allowed just a .140 batting average against with a 30.3% strikeout rate. He’s had similar success with his fastball, but a sub-.200 BABIP will not stick. I would temper expectations with Minor because he is a fly-ball pitcher. That’s great for suppressing BABIP and maintaining a low WHIP with his solid walk rate. However, given the elevated home run rate and his home park in Texas, balls could start flying out at alarming rates. If he can keep his changeup usage near 30% to counter hitters sitting on the fastball, he will continue to succeed.
Travis Shaw (2B/3B – MIL)
Yeah, so one of my value picks has completely fallen flat on his face. As my mom always used to say, “he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.” After back-to-back 30-homer seasons, Shaw is hitting just .172 with four home runs through the first five weeks. He’s currently dead-last in contact on pitches inside the zone (Z-Contact). As a result, his strikeout rate has ballooned to 30.8% after a career-best 18.4% in 2018.
Using a 30-game rolling average to capture the start of 2019, Shaw has never had a stretch this bad over the last two-plus seasons. I don’t believe he’s dealing with a nagging injury because his Statcast metrics are solid when he actually makes contact. Shaw, however, cannot succeed with a contact rate this low. He doesn’t possess elite power like Joey Gallo. The Brewers are in win-now mode, so Shaw could start seeing the bench if this continues. The Brewers have the luxury of moving Mike Moustakas back to third base and could call up prospect Keston Hiura to fill in at second base. Keep an eye on Shaw’s contact and playing time going forward.
Corey Seager (SS – LAD)
After undergoing Tommy John Surgery nearly one year ago, Seager is off to a slow start, hitting .232 with just two home runs. He has just four hits in his last 40 plate appearances, and that includes a two-hit performance on Sunday. We’ve seen his barrel and hard-hit rates decline this season while his strikeout rate is on the rise. His contact rate is down three percent from his career average, and his swinging-strike rate is up almost one percent, so the metrics back up his elevated strikeout rate. It’s not a surprise, as he’s seeing more sliders, which generate higher whiff rates.
The other issue for Seager is his increased launch angle. In many cases, this is a boost to a hitter’s power, but it’s hurting Seager’s batting average. Not only is his pop-up rate at a career high of 7.1%, but he’s also hitting nearly 91% of his fly balls to center field and left field (opposite field for the left-handed Seager) with the majority going to left (58.5%). That’s not good for his power. Seager’s career HR/FB rate to the pull side (right field) is 42.3%. His career HR/FB rate to left field is just 5.4%. Now, some of his inability to pull fly balls could be a residual effect from the surgery and would explain the slow start. Given his lack of speed and moderate power, Seager is not a player who is likely to return value on his preseason ADP of 89.
Kyle Freeland (SP – COL)
Very few pitchers can succeed in Colorado, we all know this. Even fewer can do it two years in a row. Freeland has seen his ratios balloon capped off by giving up 13 earned runs over his last two starts. What happened? I’ve got one word for you: regression. Yup, at it’s finest. His strikeout rate, walk, rate, pitch mix, and batted-ball profile are nearly identical to 2018. The only outlier is his home run rate.
Using a five-game rolling average, Freeland is currently running the highest HR/FB and hard contact rates since basically his first two starts in 2018. He is going to have a hard time providing any value in standard mixed leagues since his K/9 rate remains well below average at 7.7. I don’t think he will continue to give up home runs at nearly two per nine innings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up near 1.3 HR/9. That increase would net 12 additional home runs given up by Freeland this year compared to 2018. Owners in shallow leagues can and should move on.