By The Numbers: Jesse Winker, Freddy Peralta, Kenley Jansen
Numbers are supposed to never lie, but they often lead fantasy managers astray early in the season.
Certain numbers can deceive in a short sample size. In the wrong hands, any stat can get misconstrued or manipulated to fit a narrative. There’s no magic number to solve all of our answered mysteries, but it’s still fun to dive deep into the data for distinguishable trends and noteworthy nuggets.
And since the analysis can never stop at one number, each headlined stat is used as a launching point to dig more into a player’s full story. Here’s the latest look at four players with interesting developments to monitor.
Slashing .304/.403/.596 in those 82 games, the Reds outfielder falls just short of joining Trout as the only other member of the .300/.400/.600 club. He’s nevertheless offered substantial power, belting 19 home runs in 305 plate appearances.
Winker has always been a strong hitter with a refined approach. In fact, he’s a career .290/.386/.501 hitter with the same wRC+ (134) as George Springer. Yet the 27-year-old has sacrificed some contact to take undeniable leaps in hard contact over the last calendar year.
It’s unlikely Winker keeps MLB’s second-highest BABIP (.430) behind Trout and vies for a batting title all season. His .369 batting average is bound to regress, but the left-handed masher flourished while hitting .255 last season. He’ll find some common ground while pushing for 25-30 homers atop the Reds’ lineup. This is a legitimate breakout.
Freddy Peralta (SP/RP – MIL): 1.96 xERA
We know about Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, but the Brewers now have another ace. Peralta’s return to the starting rotation has gone as great as anyone could have imagined. The 24-year-old has registered a 2.77 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a resounding 61 strikeouts in 39 innings.
Given his high walk rate (11.6%), low BABIP (.217), and a volatile first foray as a starter, it’s fair to wonder if this is a mirage. Statcast’s expected ERA (xERA) metric answers with a resounding no. He’s in an elite group of starters boasting an xERA under 2.00. (Carlos Rodón is next at 2.30).
Nearly untouchable this season, Peralta has yielded just one hit in three of seven starts. He ranks fourth among qualified starters in strikeout and contact rate, and James Karinchak is the only pitcher with a lower xBA than his .125. Even when they make contact, they’re popping up at a higher rate (26.3%) than any other starter.
He tallied gaudy strikeout rates in 2018 and 2019, but Peralta was a two-pitch starter with fleeting command. This year, he’s still relying almost entirely on new offerings. However, the curveball is no longer the main complement to his four-seam fastball. Peralta has introduced a slider that has garnered a dazzling .181 wOBA and a strikeout on 38.8% of the time on two-strike usage.
Freddy Peralta, Nasty 80mph Breaking Ball…and K Strut. pic.twitter.com/vchEzQfHzV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 24, 2021
This new weapon has unlocked Peralta’s potential, transforming him from the ultimate fantasy tease into a top-30 starting option. It might not always be smooth sailing, but the dizzying strikeout upside will make him well worth any rough patches that arise.
Kenley Jansen (RP – LAD): 14 Walks
Jansen averaged 11.8 walks per season from 2015 to 2019. He has already surpassed that mark with more free passes issued than all of 2015, 2016, or 2017. In only 15.1 innings (as of Wednesday), he’s more than halfway to surpassing his season-high 26 walks allowed 10 years ago in his first full season.
Three are intentional, but taking those away doesn’t erase the issue. Jansen has thrown a strike on 148 of 247 pitches, amounting to a 59.9% clip far below his career 68.7% strike rate. He’s opened just 53.2% of plate appearances with a first-pitch strike after topping 63.5% in each of the last eight seasons.
Despite struggling to find the strike zone, Jansen has maintained a 1.76 ERA with help from a .083 opposing batting average. At least the Dodgers closer is as unhittable as ever, right? Not so fast. His 32.3% hard-hit rate is up from an elite 24.8% career norm and the highest since Statcast began tracking batted-ball data in 2015. Jansen’s swinging-strike rate is also lower than usual, so the 33-year-old owes immense gratitude to a microscopic .100 BABIP that not even a dominant reliever can sustain.
Jansen has earned more leeway than just about every other closer in baseball. His job isn’t in jeopardy, but the righty could eventually damage your ERA and WHIP if he continues to go down this road. And if he stumbles substantially, the Dodgers have alternatives in Blake Treinen and Victor Gonzalez.
The few fantasy managers with a surplus of reliable saves sources should test the trade market.
Cavan Biggio (2B – TOR): Two Barrels
Biggio was never a proverbial “Statcast darling.” Although he hit a passable .250 with eight homers, six steals, and a .375 OBP last season, it came with just five barrels and a .214 xBA. Those metrics made last year’s batting average an enviable goal rather than a probable 2021 projection.
Regression has wreaked havoc in the early weeks; he’s hitting .196 in 123 plate appearances. If that was the only issue, managers who invested a premium pick could stay calm. However, that’s far from Biggio’s only problem.
He’s slugging .320, as the Statcast data doesn’t offer any consolation. The 26-year-old has a .192 xBA and .290 xBA with the fewest hard hits (19 batted balls over 95.0 mph) among qualified hitters.
Biggio is also swinging (and missing) at more pitches off the plate, resulting in a 29.3% strikeout rate. These struggles have given the Blue Jays ample justification to move him down the batting order. In addition to mitigating his RBI (eight) and run (12) tallies, Biggio stole his first base of the season Wednesday night.
Without the potential for 20-plus steals, Biggio quickly declines into an unappealing fantasy option in leagues that don’t directly reward walks. Hindsight reveals that drafters would have been better off waiting a few rounds for Blue Jays teammate Marcus Semien. Those who didn’t have little recourse but to hold and hope that Biggio quickly turns the corner.
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