Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers Week 8
Welcome back to another article from my series where I cover players who have gained or lost value this year. You know the deal. I highlight baseball’s risers and fallers over the course of this past week. Last week I discussed Josh Bell, George Springer, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Both Bell and Springer have continued to absolutely rake, and Ryu continues to look like an ace. Let’s see what we have in store from this past week.
Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC)
After a disappointing first month of 2019, owners were wondering if Bryant could recapture his success from his 2016 MVP season. A three-homer game on Friday night will do wonders for your bottom line, but Bryant has actually been crushing for the last two and a half weeks. Since May 3, he’s hitting .350 with a whopping eight home runs, 18 runs, and 18 RBIs. He’s also walked more than he’s struck out over that stretch. I think it’s safe to say his shoulder is healthy.
In addition to the power returning, he’s managing career lows in swinging strikes and swings on pitches outside the zone. These improvements in plate discipline look a lot more like his 2017 season when he set career bests in batting average (.295) and OBP (.409). Bryant’s pull power remains intact, but he looks to have improved his power to right field as well. He’s already hit two opposite-field homers this year after just one in all of 2018 and has risen his hard-hit rate on fly balls to right field. While his stolen bases have dwindled, I think he can provide second-round value by the time the season concludes.
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
Buxton has performed well over the past nine games, hitting .364 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Has he finally arrived, or is this another blip? With four home runs and eight steals on the season, he’s on pace for 16 home runs and 32 stolen bases. Those numbers would nearly match his 2017 season, but he’s actually cut his strikeout rate by seven percent thus far in 2019. That’s huge for Buxton. He’s also muscled up, hitting the ball at higher exit velocities and in the air. Although I’m a little concerned about his increased pop-up rate, his line-drive and fly-ball rates have also improved. I’d like to see Buxton walk more to give him more stolen base opportunities, but beggars can’t be choosers. Buxton is still stuck at the bottom of the order for now and his expected K% is closer to 25%, so I’ll keep my expectations in check. Still, given his modest gains, he looks like a top-150 player for the rest of the season.
Austin Riley (3B – ATL)
The rookie made his major league debut last week and has done nothing but prove he belongs up with the big club. Riley has eight hits and two home runs in five games since his call-up. Let’s take a look at his spray chart over his minor league career.
Right away, you notice that Riley is a pretty heavy pull hitter. He does have a few homers to right field, but his power is clearly directed to left and center field. His power to left field is impressive, as a few of those balls were absolute bombs. Riley has struggled with strikeouts in the past and I think he’ll fall between 25-30% in the big leagues. Primarily a third baseman in the minors, he’s been put in left field with a healthy Josh Donaldson manning the hot corner. As long as Riley performs, he shouldn’t be benched or sent back down. In re-draft leagues, he was likely recently picked up off waivers, so owners should be content with his production.
Tyler Mahle (SP – CIN)
I decided to go a little deeper with a starting pitcher on the rise. Mahle has 13 strikeouts with a 2.91 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in his last two starts. It might surprise you to know that he has a 3.51 ERA with the ERA estimators backing up his success. His swinging-strike rate (9.3%) is below-average, but his called-strikes plus swinging strikes rate (CSW%) is an impressive 31.5% (league average is approximately 27.5%). He’s getting ahead of hitters over 67% of the time, which is a bump of five percent from last year.
He’s also added a curveball to his arsenal in place of the slider. While the slider had an opposing 132 wRC+ last year, the curve is better than average with a 92 wRC+. But it’s his changeup that has really boosted the strikeouts and overall success. It has a 25% K-BB rate and gets ground balls at a 55% clip. He’s increased its usage by seven percent from the start of the season. As a result, his ERA has plummeted. He’s not a finished product, and the home run rate will continue to be an issue, especially at home. Mahle will take some maintenance but should be owned in 12-team and deeper leagues.
Andrew Benintendi (OF – BOS)
Benintendi is hitting just .154 with three runs and zero homers, RBI, and steals over Boston’s last seven games. He was given a day off against a lefty on Sunday to try and get right. I had high hopes for the 24-year-old coming into his third full season, but he’s struggling in a couple of areas. Many hitters are sacrificing high contact rates for better quality of contact. Benintendi is sacrificing contact rates, but his quality of contact has not improved much. His swinging-strike rate is up over three percent and as a result, his strikeout rate has jumped 7.7% from 2018.
Increasing his launch angle is another aspect that hasn’t shown many gains. He’s hitting more pop-ups and fewer line drives, which has decreased his batting average. The final aspect of note is his stolen bases. Benintendi has only three steals and is on pace for 12 this season. The Red Sox are running less and are on pace for 21 fewer steals this year than in 2018. If the team philosophy is to run less often, Benintendi is more of a 20 HR/12 SB-type of a hitter rather than a potential 20-20 stud.
David Dahl (OF – COL)
Dahl hit .133 with no home runs or steals with one run and one RBI last week. What really lands Dahl in the fallers list is his 50% strikeout rate over his last seven games. Dahl has carried an elevated BABIP all year, currently sitting at an unsustainable .443. For reference, only twice since 2000 has a qualified hitter finished the season with a BABIP over .400 (Jose Hernandez .404 in 2002, Manny Ramirez .403 in 2000). Coors Field does inflate BABIP, but to say the odds are stacked against Dahl is an understatement. Despite the high BABIP, he’s still hitting just .297 with three home runs and one stolen base. Let’s check his 20-game rolling average graph since 2018.
Offering at pitches outside the zone 38.1% of the time has plummeted his contact rate to 64.6%. His barrel rate is strong, but his overall quality of contact is average at best. While Coors Field can cure many ills, Dahl is going to be a tough bet to recoup his inflated preseason ADP.
Trevor Bauer (SP – CLE)
I’m dropping Bauer from my personal rankings. I originally had him as a top-five starting pitcher coming into the season. He started off really well but has fallen off of late. Over his last three starts, he has a 7.41 ERA with eight walks, 17 hits, and four homers in 17 innings. His strikeout rate is still strong, but let’s look at where Bauer is struggling. After spending the majority of 2018 with a first-pitch strike rate around 65%, he’s down to 55.1% in 2019. That’s been a huge factor in his increased walk rate because his contact and zone rates against have been very similar to 2018. His zone rate on his four-seam fastball is good, but just about all of his secondary pitches — including his sinker — have dipped. I’m not sure what’s causing his lack of control, but this issue has me more concerned than the item I’ll discuss next.
Bauer is a huge Driveline guy who likes to tinker with his pitches and mechanics to find an edge. His biggest change this year is doubling the usage of his changeup and reducing his curveball usage. Unfortunately, his curve is still his best secondary (-19 wRC+) and the change has been one of his worst to date (80 wRC+). I think he’s smart enough to make an adjustment, and it would be a minor one since he’s still sporting a near-elite 31.2% CSW rate. I’m still modifying my projections on Bauer this year. Although he’s still going to have an elite strikeout total, his ERA may be closer to 3.50 than sub-3.00. That’s more of a top-15 starter than a top five, but I’m still hopeful he falls somewhere in between.