Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers – Week 10
Welcome back to another edition of the weekly risers and fallers for fantasy baseball. In this series, I cover some of baseball’s biggest movers up or down the rankings. I’ll perform semi-deep dives to explain why each one of these players is on the rise or is likely to remain in free-fall. Last week I covered Max Kepler, Justin Smoak, Lucas Giolito, and Renato Nunez, who have all remained hot. All of them but Nunez have staying power, so go out and acquire them if you can. Feel free to express your thoughts on the players I cover below for this week’s article.
Austin Meadows (OF – TB)
The former top prospect from the Pirates’ system has finally found a home and is showing off his five tools in Tampa Bay. Meadows is batting .486 (17-for-35) with three home runs, three steals, and 13 RBIs over the last eight days. Now, I understand that his .357 batting average on the season isn’t fully sustainable given his .404 BABIP. That said, his expected batting average, per BaseballSavant, is still a very strong .321. His quality of contact has consistently been at an elite level this season, and his 115.4-mph maximum exit velocity ranks as the 12th-hardest hit ball this year. We have to keep in mind that his 12 homers and seven steals have come in just 41 games due to missing time with a thumb sprain in May. Meadows has a legitimate shot at 30 home runs in this current environment while chipping in 15 to 18 steals. Nothing in his profile shows major regression.
Xander Bogaerts (SS – BOS)
Bogaerts has been smoking the ball of late with a .462 batting average (12-for-25), three home runs, and 10 runs over the last seven days. I was very high on him coming into 2019, and he’s really turned it on after a sluggish start. He’s on pace for 32 home runs, 129 runs, and 107 RBIs for the Red Sox, who haven’t yet clicked on all cylinders offensively. Bogaerts has been more selective at the plate and is capitalizing on pitches inside the zone.
The improved patience has increased his walk rate and, as you can see, the trend over the last two seasons has him entering into stud territory if he can maintain it. Unfortunately, he isn’t running much with just one steal on two attempts, but with his power spike, I think he’s still a top 30-35 asset going forward.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF – MIA)
The Marlins are currently one of the most unexciting teams in the league. However, they have had a few hitters come up and make an immediate impact. Cooper is one of them, as he’s hit four home runs over his first 23 games, including one Sunday night. His .256 average is lacking a bit, but his expected metrics show that he’s deserved better results. His expected wOBA (xwOBA) is .360 compared to his .319 wOBA. The Marlins provide a less than optimal supporting cast, and Cooper hits a few too many ground balls to make a significant impact in shallow leagues, but he can contribute moderately in batting average, power, and RBIs. He is definitely a player to grab in 15-team leagues and deeper.
Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
I was a huge fan of Heaney as a fantasy starter with some upside this offseason. The elbow injury he suffered late in spring training kept him out until late-May. Upon his return, his 4.09 ERA in two starts doesn’t scream elite-level performance, but the rest of his numbers do. His WHIP is a sparkling 0.73, and his strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%) is an insane 41.5%. His crazy-high strikeout rate is backed by a 19.8% swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) and a 38.9% called strikes plus SwStr rate (CSW). He’s not going to strand 100% of runners or maintain a .167 BABIP, so those numbers will obviously come back to earth.
Heaney is throwing his changeup less often and utilizing his fantastic curveball more. I hope he doesn’t completely abandon the changeup, as it’s provided some value in the past. SIERA and xFIP believe his actual ERA should be between 1.50 and 2.00 lower than his current 4.09 ERA, but I want to see him suppress the long ball before we jump too far ahead. Although he’s always an injury risk, he could be a massive asset if he can stay healthy the rest of the year.
Lance Lynn (SP – TEX)
Am I really serious right now with Lynn? The 32-year-old has had a well-decorated career with many ups and downs. In his last three starts, he’s struck out 28 batters in just 19.2 innings pitched. Now do I have your attention? Lynn is very reliable, going at least six innings nine times in his 12 starts while striking out at least eight batters in five of them. He’s done this while lowering his walk rate and curbing the long ball. Home run suppression has been a skill of Lynn’s over his career (0.79 HR/9), save for 2017 with the Cardinals (1.30 HR/9). It remains to be seen if he can do it throughout the summer months in Texas and given the reduced drag on the baseball. I have my skepticisms, but Lynn has some staying power given his bump in first-pitch strike and zone rates, both of which are up at least five percent from last year. I would scoop him up in 12-team leagues if he’s available because his 4.50 ERA looks to be inflated by a .344 BABIP.
Michael Chavis (2B/3B – BOS)
Rookies can play the hero if they perform at a high level immediately, but they can also break your heart. While Chavis came up looking like the next stud prospect, I suggested caution back in early-May. I discussed how his extreme fly-ball approach and slow foot speed would likely drop his BABIP at least 40 points off his current (at the time) .344 BABIP. It hasn’t come down quite that far yet, but he’s also hitting fewer fly balls. His approach and plate discipline remains a mess with just a 65.1% contact rate and a 17.9% SwStr rate. Those metrics have started to show up in his strikeout rate that’s ballooned to 36.8% in the last two weeks. Chavis’ power is real, and Dustin Pedroia may no longer be a hindrance for Chavis in terms of playing time. However, I’d look to flip him in redrafts while his surface numbers are still strong.
Willson Contreras (C – CHC)
Contreras went all of last week without a hit and struck out 11 times in 21 plate appearances. His blazing start to the season has somewhat masked his struggles of late. He’s still riding an impressive .944 OPS — which is especially phenomenal for a catcher — and has already surpassed his home run total from 2018 with 12. Contreras’ approach at the plate has changed though. He’s more patient, which has been good and bad. He’s walking more often, but his strikeout rate has inflated while making less contact. Catcher is not only the most physically demanding position on the field, but they have to manage an entire pitching staff. Struggles such as the ones Contreras is currently dealing with are not all that uncommon. He’s streaky, so he will have several hot weeks this summer, but he’ll fall behind J.T. Realmuto in the catcher rankings by season’s end.
Chris Archer (SP – PIT)
It’s safe to say the Pirates lost the trade receiving Archer for Meadows and Tyler Glasnow. Archer has given up at least four earned runs in four of his last five outings. Since coming off the IL, he’s walked nearly as many batters as he’s struck out (14 BB vs. 18 K). In a year when pitchers are striking batters out at a record rate, Archer has seen his strikeout rate drop for the third straight season. Here are his strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) the last three years: 11.15, 9.83, 8.87. For reference, MLB’s average K/9 is 8.84. Backers may point to a still-strong 12.2% SwStr rate, but his 28.7% CSW rate is near league-average. His velocity is down a tick, which isn’t doing him any favors. All of the ERA-estimators (FIP, xFIP, and SIERA) have him pegged for an ERA over 5.00. Unfortunately, Archer is going to continue to struggle in this current home run environment no matter where he plays. He’s an obvious cut in shallow leagues but in NL-only and 15-team leagues, you may need to hold and hope something eventually clicks.