4 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)
The dog days of summer, and the baseball season for that matter, are hot. So are many MLB players. In a year where home runs are flying and runs are being thrown about like hot dogs and beers in the bleachers, unexpected players have really made the difference in fantasy matchups. If you anticipated Gio Urshela hitting five home runs last week or Pete Alonso having 38 home runs at this point of the season, go to Vegas. The MLB season has been beyond unpredictable, but Burning Questions is here this week to try and solve the puzzle. As always, best of luck and enjoy.
In a season full of sizzling stretches from unexpected players, who else is poised to get hot?
Scooter Gennett (2B – SF)
Lost in Gennett’s very weird season — most players don’t get traded from one fringe contender to another when they’ve been hurt all year — is the fact that he had become one of baseball’s most consistent players over the last couple of years. Now fully recovered from the groin injury that previously plagued him, Gennett seems poised to hit a hot stretch.
His BABIP is 37 points lower than his career average, but he’s hitting the ball as hard as ever. And with the way the ball has flown this year for everyone else, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Gennett hit a few more home runs than expected. If he can cut down his 26.2 strikeout percentage to his career average (19.4%), San Francisco’s new second baseman could be in for a great finish. A free agent at the end of the season, Gennett surely would like to see that happen.
Josh Bell (1B – PIT)
To say Bell has been streaky this year would be a bit of an understatement. He drastically overachieved at the start of the season, no doubt. Bell also, however, unarguably underachieved the last two months. Even after the unbelievable cold stretch he weathered in June and July, his hard-hit rates remain great. Bell’s HR/FB% and BABIP, which were both astronomically high, are back down to sustainable rates. When sluggers go through tough stretches, sometimes one good game is all they need to recover. Bell did exactly that on Sunday, cranking his first two home runs in over a month. He went deep once more Monday night. Look for Bell to get back on track in a big way in the coming weeks.
Raimel Tapia (OF – COL)
A full week of Coors Field can do wonders. Be sure to get all the Rockies action you can into your lineups this week. Tapia has been sneaky good this season; he just hasn’t offered enough to be fully relevant in standard fantasy leagues in limited playing time. On Sunday, the Rockies inserted Tapia into their leadoff spot, and the move paid off when he went 2-for-5 with an RBI and run scored. The following day, he went 3-for-5 with two runs to commence a six-game homestand. If Tapia plays nearly every day this week, which he should with David Dahl injured, he could provide terrific fantasy value.
Speaking of sizzling stretches from unexpected players, can Gio Urshela continue his torrid streak?
Why not? Seriously though, let’s look at factors which would show he potentially couldn’t.
HR/FB%: Definitely nothing fluky here. His rate of 18.9% puts him squarely in a sustainable spot.
BABIP: Urshela’s .352 BABIP might be a smidge high. Regardless, it isn’t an unheard of mark for a high-contact hitter. To put it this way, he’s tied for 42nd among players with at least 100 plate appearances. Odds say he’s getting a bit lucky, but not so lucky that it couldn’t continue throughout the year.
Hard-Hit Rates: I’ll save you the time and tell you what you probably already know; Urshela is crushing the ball. No worries here.
K%: Again saving time here, Urshela’s 15.7 K% puts him right with some of the league’s better players. It helps proves his run is sustainable.
So, the question remains: Why can’t Urshela continue being as good as he’s been? No one expects him to hit another 10 home runs over the next 30 days, but don’t expect him to simply fall off the map. Urshela has been a stud for the Yankees, and he should continue to be for your fantasy team.
Are these injured stars worth picking up or keeping?
Blake Snell (SP – TB): Yes
Snell is beginning to make some tangible progress from the elbow surgery he had in July. He played catch on Monday for the first time and shouldn’t be incredibly far off from beginning what could be a short rehab assignment. If you can handle occupying a roster spot until just before the fantasy postseason, Snell is definitely worth holding.
Carlos Carrasco (SP – CLE): No
Unfortunately, the issues Carrasco are dealing with are much larger than baseball. Yes, he has begun mound work, but with how long his leukemia has forced him to be out, it would be surprising if he contributes much. We’re all pulling for Carlos, but don’t count on him for fantasy purposes.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B – NYY): No
Encarnacion has been incredibly optimistic about the timeline in which he’ll be able to return from his fractured wrist. Here’s the problem: Even if Encarnacion returns in the three-to-five week window he’s discussed, that could already be during the fantasy playoffs in some head-to-head leagues. Plus, this wouldn’t be the first time a player has been too optimistic about his recovery. The most likely scenario is that Encarnacion returns at about 85% with a week or two of the regular season left. That doesn’t seem worthy of a roster spot.
Corey Kluber (SP – CLE): Yes
While Kluber may still have at least two more rehab starts left, he’s well on his way back to the Indians’ rotation. Kluber was dropped in many leagues earlier this season when he suffered a fractured arm. If still available in your league, scoop him up immediately. If you’ve held onto Kluber all year long, your reward is close.
Giancarlo Stanton (OF – NYY): Yes
I have to disclose, I have no shares of Stanton this season. With that said, I can only imagine how frustrating he has been to roster. For goodness sake, he’s only had 31 at-bats all year. Not only that, but the news on Stanton has been few and far between. We do know that he has recently started baseball activities, and he shouldn’t be too far off from beginning a rehab assignment. Obviously it’s a big if, but if Stanton can remain healthy upon returning, he might be the only player on this list who could truly alter leagues down the stretch. Stanton has proven before that he can come back from injury and succeed. If you drafted him and have the opportunity to make the playoffs in spite of it, now is not the time to give up. Stanton may very well make up for his lost season when it matters most.
Looking way too forward to next season, who should be picked number one overall?
Why is this such an interesting debate already? Mike Trout has been the consensus number one pick for years now. While Trout has never once underwhelmed, Christian Yelich has actually been the best offensive player in baseball since the beginning of last season. With that said, Yelich — whose numbers are unreal — hasn’t run away with the NL MVP in 2019. Cody Bellinger has been right beside him all year. And don’t look now, but Ronald Acuna Jr.’s push over the last month has been nothing short of spectacular. Acuna Jr. might even just be the most talented player of all. Yes, maybe even more so than Trout.
Whew, take a deep breath after all that! The only player who probably deserves to be left out of the conversation is Bellinger. Trout has the track record, Yelich has the numbers, and Acuna Jr. has the talent. Let’s be honest, no wrong answers exist here. The first pick of 2020 will probably be determined by each individual’s personality. Like safety? Go with Trout. Are you a results-driven person? Take Yelich. Gambler? Acuna Jr.’s your guy. But Trout and Yelich really deserve it. Track record and performance are what make you deserve something, and those two guys have that on Acuna. Yet if I had the first pick of a 2020 draft right now, I’d take Acuna. A potential 40-40 player with even more upside at just 22 years old, he would be too mouthwatering to pass up. But that’s just me, and I’m a gambler. Either way, the discussion of who should be picked first overall next season will be a blast. What a fun time for baseball.