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By The Numbers: Byron Buxton, Mike Yastrezmski, Jake Cronenworth (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Apr 15, 2021

Byron Buxton has opened the 2021 season on another power tear.

Byron Buxton has a .575 slugging percentage since the start of 2019.

That marks ranks eighth — sandwiched between Cody Bellinger and Fernando Tatis Jr. — among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. Of course, the oft-injured outfielder didn’t clear that barometer by much, recording just 466 plate appearances. Still, we’re finally seeing his sky-high ceiling materialize.

After hitting his way out of the majors with a minus-2 wRC+ in 2018, Buxton now has 28 homers and 17 stolen bases over those last 135 games. The steals tally is actually a bit underwhelming, as the 27-year-old remains one of MLB’s fastest players.

It was easy to dismiss last year’s 13 homers in 39 games as a small-sample oddity. After all, he recorded three other extra-base hits (all doubles) and just two walks. Yet he’s started even hotter, amassing five home runs and five doubles in his first nine games.

While it’s indeed early, Buxton’s Statcast page is currently a sea of red. The former top-shelf prospect ranks in the upper top-three percentile of average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrels along with eye-popping expected rates.

It took Buxton’s power a while to surface, but he was once deified as a future five-tool superstar bound to follow in Mike Trout’s footsteps. Although he’ll likely never reach that lofty Hall-of-Fame ceiling, he might turn into a major draft steal for anyone lucky enough to get him in the double-digit rounds.

Health now looks Buxton’s only obstacle to a 30-homer, 15-20-steal breakout campaign. That’s still a major hurdle; he missed both games of Wednesday’s doubleheader with a tight hamstring. Since he’s only once topped 100 games played in one season, that durability risk may be significant enough to sell to the moon if able in re-draft leagues.

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Mike Yastrezmski: -5.1 Launch Angle
Yastrezmski has taken a far different path than Buxton. After spending over six seasons in the minors, he made his MLB debut to little fanfare at age 28. Few fantasy players cared about his .272/.334/.518 slash line in 2019, but they had no choice but to notice last year’s glorious .297/.400/.568 production.

Those who paid for the (shortened) career year are now demanding a refund and wondering if it’s too early to drop him.

Yastrezmski is hitting .154/.283/.333 with 16 strikeouts (34.8%) through 12 troubling games. Checking beyond the surface stats won’t alleviate any concerns. A potent fly-ball hitter during his breakout is suddenly hitting everything into the dirt. He has the lowest launch angle of any hitter. Making matters worse, he’s making weak contact on those grounders.

He’s also yet to record a hit on any offspeed or breaking pitch.

Shortly before the season began, Yastrezmski suffered a contusion after getting hit by a pitch on his hand. While he avoided a more serious injury, this incident may have affected his swing. Or maybe he’s just in a terrible slump.

He was far too good in 2019 and 2020 to dismiss in five-outfielder formats because of two bad weeks. However, it’s a tougher decision in standard Yahoo leagues with three starting outfielders and small benches. He homered on Tuesday, so managers should give Yastrezmski more time before making a rash decision.

Jake Cronenworth: 98.8% Contact Rate
Cronenworth tumbled down draft boards due to fears of scarce playing time, but he currently leads Major League Baseball in plate appearances (58). While he has yet to offer a home run or stolen base this season, last year’s breakout performer sported the game’s highest contact rate as of Wednesday.

Thirteen games into the season, Cronenworth has tallied 17 hits (13 singles, three doubles, one triple) with five walks and just four strikeouts. Only Nick Madrigal and Francisco Lindor a lower strikeout rate than Cronenworth’s 6.9.

This now gives Cronenworth a career .296/.365/.466 slash line in 67 games. However, fantasy investors will still crave more power and speed from the 6’0″, 178-pound infielder. Is he another David Fletcher, or can Cronenworth find an extra power gear a la Jeff McNeil in 2019?

Cronenworth has spent most of the season at second base, and he’s proven too valuable to sit if Tatis returns from the IL. If the former Tampa Bay farmhand continues to play every day, often batting atop a stacked Padres lineup, a 10/10 tally would do the trick. He should keep hitting for a strong batting average, which will yield plenty of runs and/or RBIs depending on his lineup positioning.

Kudos to anyone who overlooked the playing-time concerns and found a valuable contributor late in drafts.

46: Relief Pitchers with At Least One Save
That’s right. A whopping 46 different pitchers have already tallied a save this season. Only six have three or more, and most of them weren’t exactly high draft picks.

Keep in mind that this extensive list excludes Ryan Pressly and Edwin Diaz, who have yet to receive a save opportunity. It does, however, feature Matt Andriese, Sean Newcomb, Paul Fry, Wandy Peralta, and Jesse Hahn among the 26 players with exactly one save.

Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal are already out for the season. James Karinchak was drafted as a top-10 closer, and he might not even be Cleveland’s closer.

The fickleness of saves is nothing new. We all knew this was an issue, and everyone paying attention to leaguewide trends braced for even wilder breaks in conventional ninth-inning usage. Now it’s messier than ever.

When it comes to snagging the right closer, luck might be the biggest factor. Diverting draft capital from the fickle position may be the way to go, but the cream should eventually rise to the top once Liam Hendriks, Josh Hader, and Aroldis Chapman start getting more chances.

The real takeaway might be to petition your league to expand the saves category to “saves plus holds” next year. Life is already hectic enough before turning our fun diversion into such a massive headache.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.