Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers: Week 12
Welcome back to another edition of the fantasy baseball risers and fallers. While I’m not highlighting him below, I want to mention how crazy Charlie Blackmon was last week. Following a three-hit Sunday, he totaled four home runs among his 15 hits in a four-game series at home against the Padres. That’s amazing, and he’s great, but I’d temper expectations. Blackmon has hit .452 with a .452 BABIP at home this year. Coors Field certainly inflates BABIP, but that has to come down. He’s given owners first-round value to date when healthy, but I’d flip him right now for another first-round talent as he heads on the road. Let’s get into this week’s risers and fallers, starting with some talented hitters under the age of 26.
Scott Kingery (3B/SS/OF – PHI)
Prior to the start of 2018, Kingery was everyone’s rookie crush. However, he completely flopped, hitting just .226 with eight home runs and 10 steals. He’s not running all that much this year but has already reached his home run total from a year ago in 354 fewer plate appearances. He’s been on fire in the month of June with a .481 weighted on-base average (wOBA) to go with five home runs and 11 RBIs. In part, Kingery struggled in 2018 due to his elevated strikeout rate. He has maintained a high strikeout rate, but his quality of contact has elevated to new heights. He’s doubled his barrel rate from five percent to 10 percent and has boosted his average exit velocity by nearly five miles per hour. I will preach caution given his inflated .420 BABIP that’s sure to come down. Still, his improved quality of contact and speed should provide power and a batting average far superior to what we saw in 2018.
Ketel Marte (2B/SS/OF – ARI)
Is there anybody hotter than Ketel Marte right now? OK, maybe Blackmon. Marte hit his 20th home run of the season Sunday after totaling just 14 (then a career high) last year. He’s been on fire with a .425 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) over the last two weeks with just an 8.3% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. While no one saw this coming (not even myself, one of his biggest fanboys), he showed signs of improved quality of contact in 2018. Marte increased his average exit velocity by two mph and smoked 26 doubles and 12 triples. At age 25, the emphasis on getting stronger this offseason has paid off. He’s inside the top 10 in total barrels (30), and only 10 players in all of baseball have hit a ball harder. I’m a huge fan of Marte going forward; we are in the midst of his breakout.
Ramon Laureano (OF – OAK)
Through April of this year, Laureano was starting to look like a bust. He’s really turned in on since May 13 with a .289 batting average to go with six home runs and five steals.
Overall, those numbers don’t appear to be all that impressive on the surface, until you realize that’s he’s a clear candidate to hit over 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. In 2018, only 10 players accomplished that feat and in 2019, stolen bases are on the decline for the fourth straight season. Laureano has improved his contact rate on pitches inside the zone, which has cut down his strikeout rate. He’s also elevating the ball more, so now that the weather is heating up, we should see a spike in his power production. We still need to temper expectations with his batting average, but I could very easily see a 25-homer, 20-steal season from him.
Yordan Alvarez (OF – HOU)
How could I not include the most talked-about players over this past week? Alvarez took the league by storm by smacking four home runs in his first week of action. He’s crushing the ball, averaging a 101.6 mph exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, and nine of his 14 batted balls have gone over 95 mph. It’s very clear that his bat will play at the major league level. While strikeouts will be a concern going forward given his career 20.9% strikeout rates in the minors, he’s not one-dimensional. He’s earned walks at over 10% clips at every level, with the exception of High-A in 2017. So while he’s going to provide even more value for OBP leagues, he’s still a must-own in the shallowest of leagues. Take a look at his minor league spray chart.
If the name was taken away, you might think this is a switch-hitter. Alvarez bats only from the left side and has hit more home runs to left and left-center than right field. He’s also going to avoid the shift, which is an issue for many left-handed batting sluggers such as Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo. He’s going to generate high BABIPs and hit for a ton of power. If he stays up with the big club, he could hit .275 with 20+ homers relatively easily the rest of the way.
Cole Hamels (SP – CHC)
Hamels has not given up a run in his last three starts, covering 22 innings and an outing in Colorado. His current HR/FB rate of 10.4% is the lowest its been since 2009. He’s done this in a year where Major League Baseball is on pace to break the 2017 record for most home runs in a season. How is he doing this? For starters, he’s increased his ground-ball rate by nearly eight percent. A changeup is the key to his success. I’ll try not to bore you with the metrics on the pitch (but they are amazing), so let’s just look at the results. Opponents are slashing .122/.183/.149, and batters are striking out almost 37% of the time against his changeup. Those are elite figures. Oh, and going back to those ground balls I mentioned, the changeup has generated them on 67% of his batted balls. I think his strategy can work this season. Owners who snagged him relatively late in drafts should be ecstatic.
Kyle Gibson (SP – MIN)
Sometimes the old boring veterans are the ones that help win championships. Not all young players and prospects are going to perform for your fantasy team. Gibson is on a nice run with a 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched His metrics are off the charts over that four-start span. His swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) is a robust 17.1% (league-average is 11%) and has gotten hitters to chase outside the zone 42% of the time. While his 3.70 ERA doesn’t reflect it, he’s been better than a season ago, when he posted a 3.62 ERA. In addition, his 31% called strikes plus swinging strikes rate (CSW%) is approaching elite status right near fellow starters Luis Castillo and Noah Syndergaard. He’s also curbed the walks with a career-low 5.5% walk rate thanks to increasing his first-pitch strike rate by a whopping 10% this year. In terms of regression, I don’t see it. He’s prone to the long ball, allowing three multi-homer games this year, but he should be able to limit the damage given his improved control.
Ryan Braun (1B/OF – MIL)
Age is undefeated. Now 35 years old, Braun’s skills have started to erode over the last few seasons. In his last 14 games played, he has hit .246 with two home runs while carrying 14 strikeouts and one walk. He’s only attempted five stolen bases this year, which puts him on pace for his fewest attempts since an injury-shortened 2013 season. He’s trending in the wrong direction, which is understandable given his age. Let’s take a look at his 50-game rolling average graph.
You can see that his strikeout and ground-ball rates are near three-year highs. His walk rate remains low, and he’s making less contact. Given Braun’s age, injury history, and the depth the Brewers have at first base, his value will continue to dwindle with his slow and steady skills decline. Owners can drop him in shallow 10-team leagues. Luckily, he was not heavily sought after on draft day.
Derek Dietrich (1B/2B/OF – CIN)
You didn’t really think Dietrich was going to keep up his blistering home run pace, did you? Over the last two weeks, he’s hitting just .067 (2-for-30) with no home runs and nine strikeouts. His SwStr rate currently sits at a career-high 13.1% while his contact rate is unsurprisingly a career-low at 72.7%. While his barrel rate remains strong, his expected metrics show that he’s due some more regression. His hard-hit rate is just 33.3%, which puts him in the bottom 25% of the league among hitters with at least 100 batted balls. He’s selling out for power and as a result, his strikeout rate continues to rise. Even his contact rate on pitches inside the zone has plummeted. He’s especially poor against breaking balls, batting just .143 with a 43.2% strikeout rate against curveballs and sliders. Since the end of May, Dietrich has seen a five-percent increase in breaking pitches. If he starts to lose playing time, owners can safely drop him.
Jack Flaherty (SP – STL)
Captain Jack has struggled recently with a 6.43 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over his last three starts. None of the metrics point to his results as unlucky. Flaherty has actually improved his velocity a tick, which I typically love to see from starting pitchers, and his fastball has been a successful pitch. However, his curveball, which he throws just 12.3% of the time, has given him problems. It’s lost some vertical downward movement and as a result, hitters aren’t chasing it outside the zone as often. After netting an insane 50% strikeout rate on his curve last season, he’s currently struck out just 19% on the pitch this season. In addition, batters have made contact with it inside the zone at a 95% clip. His curveball has gone from an elite putaway pitch to one of the worst in his arsenal. He still has a good fastball and slider, so if Flaherty figures out his curve, he’s going to be great. I’m just a little skeptical and am in wait-and-see mode going forward.