We aren’t talking enough about how drastically the fantasy baseball landscape has changed this year. Yes, it’s only been a little over a month of action, but a lot of what has happened so far is the continuation (conclusion?) of trends that have been gaining momentum for years.
The league-wide batting average is the lowest it has ever been. I repeat — the lowest it has ever been. The only two seasons that come close are 1968 (a year in which MLB had to lower the mound after) and 1888 (which was before Cy Young’s debut). And it isn’t only batting average that is trending this way. The league-wide strikeout rate is at an all-time high. League-wide BABIP is way down too. BABIP! That’s supposed to be a near constant.
Baseball Savant has already had to do an update for their expected stats. We’ve known that the game has been trending towards the three true outcomes for years, but so far this is different. Perhaps the new ball is playing a bigger factor than we imagined it would. Regardless, it’s time to adjust our fantasy strategies. Let’s dive in.
Remember to reach out on Twitter with questions anytime @toomuchtuma
1. Trading for proven hitters
It’s important not to overreact to six weeks of action, but as I noted above the trends we’re seeing in MLB right now have been taking place for years. That’s why I’m interested in getting ahead of the curve on this, before the rest of the community starts realizing there’s an imbalance of usable starting pitchers and proven hitters to go around. Arms such as Madison Bumgarner, JT Brubaker, and Dylan Cease continue to pop up. Aces are still aces, but in most of my leagues there are so many useful pitching options but not many hitters who are performing well in this new environment.
Therefore, my action item right now is to trade mid-tier starting pitchers for bats who we know can hit in 2021. I’ve identified Jared Walsh and Jesse Winker as two players I’m willing to buy high on. In a competitive H2H categories league I’m in I actually had to move Lucas Giolito for Winker. SPs are de-emphasized in this league and I just had too many other arms without enough offense. Hopefully you don’t need to do anything that drastic, but the time to start shopping is now.
A fresh set of fully updated rest-of-season ranks are live at @FantasyPros
🔥 Jared Walsh
🔥 Jesse Winker
Oh, and Jarred Kelenic is a top-20 OF the rest of the way
Full ranks: https://t.co/foD2tBazAX
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) May 13, 2021
2. Luis Castillo‘s two-start week
Ugh. In a roto league there’s just no way you can trust Castillo despite the two-start week with favorable matchups (vs Giants, vs Brewers). To me, Castillo’s Week 7 is more about his role on fantasy rosters moving forward. If he absolutely tanks these two starts then we’ll seriously need to consider dropping him. The high cost it took to acquire him this offseason in addition to his history of being a slow starter means I’m not there just yet. Bench him in Week 7. We’ll consider our next move after these two games.
3. Logan Gilbert versus the Tigers
The 24-year-old is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball. His MLB debut was okay — four runs on five hits in four innings. He certainly didn’t light it up but then again that has never been Gilbert’s game. He’s an advanced pitcher, though not necessarily a flashy one. The good news from Thursday’s outing is that his control was as advertised. Gilbert posted a 5:0 K:BB despite the struggles. He simply left a couple of pitches over the plate to hitters you can’t do that to. It happens with rookies. In Week 7 Gilbert draws the Tigers, who are the best possible matchup one can have these days. I’m starting him wherever I have him.
4. Yasmani Grandal‘s aggressiveness
Chicago’s backstop is currently sporting an absurd .130/.384/.333 triple slash at the time of this writing. A 29% walk rate is quite ridiculous and it’s more than 10% higher than Carlos Santana‘s, who ranks third in baseball. This has likely led many fantasy managers to wonder whether or not Grandal is worth rostering. He’s been a lot more valuable in OBP/points formats, so don’t drop him there. The recommendation is to hold in traditional roto as well. Unless you were able to snag Carson Kelly or Buster Posey off of waivers early on, Grandal might still be your best option. His 25.5% swing rate is the lowest of his career. His 51% ground ball rate is the highest of his career. There’s enough of a track record to think a rebound is coming.
5. Royals play only five games
Last week we discussed how Andrew Benintendi had a favorable schedule coming up. While he has compiled some solid production, next week won’t be so kind. Not only does Kansas City play just five games, but they’ll have to face Matthew Boyd, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes. Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez are the only must-start Royals.
6. Julio Urias‘ ascension in a two-start week
The Dodgers’ 24-year-old southpaw has officially ascended into a top-20 starting pitcher for the rest of the season. I entered 2021 with some concerns over his workload, both on a per-start basis and for the year as a whole. So far, however, there have been no shenanigans from the Dodgers. Urias has already made four starts of at least seven innings. He’s done this by being highly efficient, highlighted by a 94th percentile walk rate. Only Jacob deGrom throws less pitches per inning. There isn’t necessarily anything actionable to take away from this other than that this isn’t a sell-high situation. Abandoning his slider has done wonders for Urias, who draws the Diamondbacks and Giants in Week 7.
Alright folks, time for a game of..
WHO’S THAT PITCHER?
⚾️ 3.26 ERA + 0.91 WHIP
⚾️ Elite 94th percentile BB%
⚾️ Four starts of 7 IP
⚾️ Top-20 SP moving forward pic.twitter.com/3AkgxCZgXS
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) May 14, 2021
7. Blake Snell‘s value in fantasy baseball as a whole
San Diego’s top southpaw is going to test my willingness to attack the Rockies away from Coors, but I’m ultimately still going to advocate for starting him. Presently, Snell owns a 4.19 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP through eight starts. He’s getting strikeouts, but the walks are a major issue. We thought the Padres would let him pitch deeper into games than the Rays did, but Snell just isn’t efficient enough to even have a chance at a quality start. He still hasn’t completed six innings in a start since July 21st, 2019. In a QS league he’s a nightmare. Drawing the Rockies at home is a good matchup, but I’ve moved Snell outside my top-30 starters for the rest of ’21.
8. Alek Manoah and Toronto’s pitching plans
Whereas Gilbert doesn’t pop off the screen when watching him pitch, Manoah has more of that “it” factor. It has been on full display during two Triple-A starts as Manoah now owns a 17:2 K:BB ratio through 12 scoreless frames. The 23-year-old didn’t enter 2021 as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but the results (plus the eye test) are already impossible to argue against. It’s no secret the Blue Jays need help in their rotation. They’ve already tried Nate Pearson and that didn’t go well. Manoah’s timeline is tough to project until we start seeing some reasons that his arrival could be imminent. As of this writing it’s tough to say whether his callup is coming in Week 7 or in Week 14. A former first-rounder, Manoah needs to be rostered in every dynasty league right now. For redraft leagues he continues to be a name to monitor.
9. Coors check
There isn’t a ton to take away from the Rockies’ schedule in Week 7. They play three games in San Diego followed by three at home against Arizona. The Padres pitchers are worth starting as they draw the Rockies away from Coors, but otherwise there isn’t a lot to take advantage of this week.
10. League-wide BABIP
Entering Friday MLB has a league-wide batting average on balls in play of .286, which is the first time it has been this low since 1992. It’s a development that is still flying a bit under the radar, and it gives me pause when banking on hitters as a whole to bounce back from their slow starts. For comparison, league-wide BABIP was .298 back in 2019. That’s a major difference. As noted above, Baseball Savant has already made one adjustment to their expected stats.
11 – 14: Hitters to stream
Bobby Dalbec (1B – BOS)
The rookie slugger is finally heating up at the plate, going 7-for-21 with three homers, a double, and two walks over his past six games. Boston has plus matchups against the Blue Jays and the Phillies in Week 7, so Dalbec should be added for anyone seeking a boost in the power department.
Gavin Lux (2B – LAD)
The former top prospect has now started 15 of the Dodgers’ past 16 games. Over his last 41 PAs Lux is hitting .333 with a 127 wRC+. This hasn’t been accompanied by any crazy counting stats, but it’s a step in the right direction for a player who has disappointed fantasy managers for a couple of years now. LA having a full slate of seven games next week is enough of a reason to roll with Lux if you need middle infield help.
Austin Riley (3B – ATL)
Riley was hot in early-May before letting us down with four straight hitless. However, he has once again rebounded by hitting .350 over the past week. The 24-year-old has fully fixed the strikeout issues that plagued him as a rookie in 2019. He just isn’t hitting for the same amount of power anymore. The rest of his hitting profile is greatly improved, so I’m optimistic the homers will come. The Braves have seven games in Week 7, including four against the lowly Pirates.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF – CWS)
Hopefully you were able to hold onto Vaughn this whole time — or at least pick him back up once we began seeing signs of a turnaround. Not only has the rookie secured more playing time as of late, but he’s finally heating up a bit. He homered again on Friday night, which gives him two round-trippers in his past four games. He hasn’t erupted just yet, but he’s once again worth starting in fantasy leagues of all sizes, and he’s more available than you’d think.
Andrew Vaughn has been in Chicago's starting lineup for 14 of their past 15 games. He's hitting:
First two HRs in past four games
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) May 15, 2021
15. Stream of the week: Rich Hill (@BAL)
It took the 41-year-old a few starts to figure it out this year, but Hill has quietly been on a roll as of late. He spun 6 2/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against the Yankees this week. He has now given up just two earned runs over his past 21 2/3 innings, a span in which he has 27 strikeouts. He’s most likely available in your league and draws a road matchup against the Orioles in Week 7. Giddy up.
16. Two-start stream of the week: James Taillon (@TEX, vs CWS)
Taillon is a good reminder not to completely abandon hope when the first few starts of a season don’t go as planned. His season-long numbers aren’t good — 5.40 ERA and 1.20 WHIP — but he’s quietly impressing when you take a look under the hood. Taillon has never been a high K/9 guy, but he currently has 43 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. He’s done this while maintaining his trademark control, having allowed just eight walks on the year. Homers have been the issue, but we can reasonably expect that to normalize as the season rolls along. These matchups are good enough to consider Taillon as a two-start option.
17. Eight-game weeks: Angels and Twins
Both Minnesota and LA play eight games in Week 6 thanks to a Thursday doubleheader. If you need to play catchup in any counting stats, consider starting players from both squads. Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, and Justin Upton come to mind.
18. Christian Yelich‘s rehab assignment
The former MVP is currently in Triple-A on a minor league rehab assignment for his injured back. He went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts in his first game on Friday, and I can’t say I’m overly optimistic about his chances at returning to full strength right now. Yelich went on the 10-day IL back on May 4th and it sounded like he really needed to give his back a rest, so the fact that he’s already playing less than two weeks later is confusing. Milwaukee is also mixing in off days and shorter appearances on this rehab assignment, so it doesn’t sound as if he’s a full-go just yet. Hopefully I’m wrong and Yelich can start living up to his first-round ADP as early as next week. I’m just worried.
19. Hitters heating up
For this week’s Statcast deep dive we’ll look at the hitters who have increased their xwOBA the most over their past 50 plate appearances. This is a good way to see who might be heating up before others in your league catch on. I included the names I found most interesting:
20. Jarred Kelenic Breakout Party
I had to include a note on Kelenic. I recently ranked him as a top-20 outfielder for the rest of the season. He rewarded me on Friday night by going 3-for-4 with a homer and two doubles. Hopefully it’s just the beginning for him.
JARRED KELENIC !!! pic.twitter.com/TcEHXh7Mkw
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) May 15, 2021
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