Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers: Week 22
Welcome back to the weekly edition of fantasy baseball risers and fallers! You know the deal: I cover some of baseball’s hottest and coldest players over the last week. I’ll provide some reasoning behind the success or struggles and what fantasy managers should do with them going forward. I can’t believe the month turns over to September before this week is out. It’s now or never for fantasy owners seeking championships.
Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX)
After a forgettable 2018 season, Calhoun is back and showing off his offensive skills in the second half. Over the last week, he batted .303 (10-for-33) with four home runs and seven RBIs. He combines a rare combination of skills that includes high-end power and near-elite contact rates. Per FanGraphs, he’s graded with a 65 out of 80 for raw power, so the pop is real. His strikeout rate is a solid 17.1%, and his contact rate inside the zone is over 90%. His zone contact rate would rank inside the top 25 if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
Unfortunately, he’s extremely one-dimensional. He doesn’t provide any speed, and his aggressiveness limits free passes. That said, he should continue to combine a high batting average with elevated power numbers given the properties of the ball. Calhoun is strictly on the rise for this season. I’m a bit skeptical of him long term, but ride him while he’s hot.
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS – BAL)
Villar has hit .367 (11-for-30) with five home runs and two steals in his last eight games. During the offseason, he was often the consolation prize for drafters not willing to pay up for Adalberto Mondesi. He’s ended earning a ton of value, as his ADP sat around 75-90. Playing every day for Baltimore, he’s compiled 20 home runs and 28 steals to date. His walk rate is back up to 9.3%, which has helped increase his stolen base opportunities.
Baltimore is the perfect place for Villar, as the Orioles are letting him run wild. In addition, Camden Yards is a hitter’s haven, especially in the summer. Villar is essentially the same player he’s always been, but the ball has boosted his power output. I won’t project him for similar numbers next year, but the 28-year-old shouldn’t see too much negative regression in 2020.
Kyle Seager (3B – SEA)
After starting the season on the injured list, Seager looked cooked upon his return. However, since the calendar turned over the August, he’s been a monster, batting .347 with eight homers and 23 RBIs. I’ll be honest: I thought his career was nearing the end after showing signs of decline in both strikeout and barrel rate in 2018, but he’s proven me wrong. He’s cut his strikeout rate by two percent, and his barrel rate is back up to 8.7%. His batted-ball distribution is better as well, as he’s smoking more line drives while hitting fewer pop-ups.
Is this production sustainable? I’m not so sure because he’s done most of his damage this season against the fastball. He’s hit 15 of his 17 homers against the heater. Its possible pitchers will adjust by throwing more breaking balls and offspeed pitches, but I’d still ride his hot hand until he’s figured out. At this time of year, skills sometimes can take a back seat to streaks.
Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
Over his last two starts since returning from the IL, Heaney has stuck out 20 batters across 15 innings with a 2.40 ERA. Much of what he has done this season will be lost on fantasy owners because of his lengthy IL stints. He’s only made 12 starts all season but has shown some very impressive skills growth. Let’s have a look.
You can see some of the skills improvements began at the end of last season in terms of swings outside the zone (O-Swing%), but nowhere else. This season, he’s increased his curveball usage, and for good reason. His curve is nasty. It has a 21.6% SwStr rate backed up a 45.9% strikeout rate! He’s also improved the results on his sinker for the second straight season. Health is the main concern, especially with the Angels out of playoff contention, so beware of how they handle him. Continue to ride him while he’s healthy, and go get him if he’s still somehow available in your league.
Liam Hendriks (RP – OAK)
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in baseball, especially when it comes to late-inning pitchers. Coming into 2019, Blake Treinen was a consensus top-three closer, but he has completely fallen out of favor in Oakland. Hendriks, who took over the closer role nearly two months ago, has been nails over the last few weeks. He’s compiled six saves, 17 strikeouts, and no walks over his last 9.2 innings in August.
With the Athletics still competing for a wild-card spot, there’s no reason to think they will back off his usage down the stretch. He has all the makings of a great closer with high-end velocity (96.5 mph on his four-seam fastball), great command, and an elite whiff rate. His 15.9% swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) ranks inside the top 20 among qualified relievers. Those lucky enough to snag him in late June are reaping the benefits.
Hunter Renfroe (OF – SD)
When the Padres traded Franmil Reyes to the Indians, everyday playing time opened up for Renfroe. The outfielder has done anything but take advantage of the opportunity. He hit just .111 (2-for-18) with zero home runs, zero RBIs, and 12 strikeouts last week. Ouch, that’s awful. Earlier this season, Renfroe was significantly outperforming his expected statistics and, to some extent, his numbers have caught up with his skills. His barrel and hard-hit rates remain strong, but the whiffs have gone through the roof. His strikeout rate has reached 30.2%, which is 5.5% higher than last season.
Renfroe is not known for his approach. Yet his plate discipline matches 2018, so I actually see a positive correction going forward. He’s just stuck in a rut at the moment. Unless he heats up, avoid him given his streaky profile. However, at the first sign of improved contact rates, I’d look to scoop him for the stretch run given his immense power.
Cavan Biggio (2B/OF – TOR)
Biggio batted .118 (2-for-17) with no home runs or steals last week. He’s been a solid surprise with 10 homers and nine steals for the Blue Jays this season, but his batting average continues to flirt with the Mendoza Line. He’s ultra-patient at the plate with a 35.5% swing rate, which ranks as the fourth-lowest among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Patience has allowed him to earn an elite 16.0% walk rate, which is great for an elevated on-base percentage. On the flip side, he’s also working several deep counts, increasing his strikeout rate.
On the surface, his 8.4% swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) is fantastic, but he also sports a 26% whiff rate that is nearly two percent worse than league-average. This shows that his contact skills are not great, and the elevated strikeout rate is warranted. His batting average also suffers due to the shift. Nearly 94% of his ground balls are hit to the pull side or up the middle. His BABIP is .140 on ground balls compared to the league-average .236 mark. Biggio has talent, but he needs to make adjustments such as being more aggressive and spraying balls to all fields before he becomes a consistent fantasy contributor.
Zack Wheeler (SP – NYM)
After a huge turnaround from a poor first half, Wheeler has fallen on hard times once again. Over his last three starts, he has a 6.75 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, and just seven punchouts across 16 innings. The lack of strikeouts is concerning, but his velocity looks just fine; he’s maintaining 96-97 mph on his fastball. He has also walked more batters (seven) over these three starts. Again, checking his plate discipline, his zone rate and first-pitch strike rates are just fine. The problem is, he’s been unable to generate many swings outside the zone. Check out the swing rate on his fastball through July (top) and in August (bottom).
Wheeler generated more swings up and out of the zone through the first four months, but the biggest change is busting right-handed batters in on the hands. Hitters aren’t biting on those up and inside 96-97 mph fastballs, which generate either weak contact or swings and misses. Checking in on Brooks Baseball, the only difference with his fastball is it’s getting more vertical drop. Although more drop means fewer whiffs up in the zone, it doesn’t explain the fewer swings in on righties. As far as I can tell, nothing major is wrong with Wheeler. Hitters simply aren’t chasing. He utilizes his four-seam fastball almost 60% of the time, so I’d monitor how hitters attack it in his next outing.
Brad Hand (RP – CLE)
Hand has somehow earned two wins and two saves over the last two weeks despite a soul-crushing 11.12 ERA and 2.82 WHIP. He lucked his way into a couple of victories by blowing three saves over that span. With the Indians in a tight race against the Twins for the AL Central, they cannot afford to lose games late. They just lost Jose Ramirez (most likely for the rest of the regular season) and both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are unlikely to join the Indians’ rotation upon return. I could see them going with the hot hand (not literally) in late-inning situations. Both Nick Wittgren and Nick Goody have performed very well this season, and Wittgreen has already earned three saves on the season. He would be my first choice to receive save opportunities if Hand continues to struggle.