By The Numbers: Yu Darvish, Kyle Tucker, Salvador Perez
Numbers often tell captivating tales that are far less complete than we imagine.
Player development doesn’t follow a clear linear path. Whether caused by poor results, a lack of opportunity, or a mixture of both, an anticipated breakout may take longer than expected. After that, there will still be bumps along the road.
A veteran’s decline also doesn’t always shoot down like a roller coaster drop. In a fascinating case study examined below, a faltering pitcher went from displaying untenable wildness to impeccable control late in a career affected by injuries. He has now firmly cemented himself atop of his craft.
It’s also imperative to dive deeper into a player whose profile might not represent a pretty path to success. Sometimes a player succeeds in unconventional ways. Patterns that should alarm in a small sample size might not be problematic if a player has a track record of making it work.
Let’s take a look at some noteworthy numbers attached to three MLB standouts.
Yu Darvish (SP – SD): 4.0% BB since 2019 All-Star Break
It seems like another century ago, but fantasy managers were panic-dropping Darvish early in 2019. Struggling mightily for three months, he entered July 4 with a 5.04 ERA and an unseemly 49 walks in 18 starts. Considering he suffered a season-ending elbow injury the prior year, many onlookers wondered if he’d ever pitch at a high level again.
He’s been one of baseball’s premier aces ever since.
Darvish has dominated in his last 35 starts dating back to 2019’s All-Star break, posting a 2.22 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 219.1 innings. His 29.6% K-BB rate ranks third behind Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom.
The control turnaround is particularly resounding. Never much of a precision pitcher before losing the strike zone entirely in early 2019, Darvish has the second-lowest walk rate to Kyle Hendricks among all qualified starters during this timeframe. With 34 total walks, he hasn’t issued more than three free passes in a start since May 9, 2019, when he exceeded that tally for the sixth time in eight starts with six walks.
Since this date range constitutes half of 2019, a condensed 2020, and part of 2021, it’s important to note that Darvish has now performed at an elite level for a sample size befitting a full season. Some drafters — slowly raises hand — still feared investing a second-round pick on a 34-year-old who hasn’t cleared 190 innings or recorded an ERA below 3.00 in a season since doing both in 2013. Those fears have not materialized, as he’s boasting a 1.75 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 13 walks in 10 superb starts this season.
If drafting now, Darvish would give Shane Bieber a run for his money as the No. 3 starting pitcher behind deGrom and Cole.
Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU): .397 xwOBA
Hopefully you didn’t sell Tucker for pennies after he batted .181 in April. The rising star has fared much better this month, batting .295/.389/.564 with 20 runs in 22 games. His wOBA has jumped from .263 to .325, which is a bit lower than both last year’s .349 and a lot lower than his .397 expected wOBA in 2021.
Looking at his quality of contact, one would find no evidence of his downtrodden April. Tucker has maintained a similar average exit velocity (91.9) from his breakout 2020 while amassing one more barrel (16) in 10 fewer games. The 24-year-old has even made more contact inside and outside the strike zone, leading to a diminished 16.7% K rate.
Combine those improved skills with authoritative hitting, as Statcast appraises his expected batting average at .308, as of Wednesday evening. His actual batting average is .235. The only three hitters with a higher discrepancy between xBA and actual BA still have nothing to brag about if rebounding from historically terrible to bad.
Batters can often make their own fortune on balls in play, but this seems like a clear case of an unjustifiably low .164 BABIP derailing Tucker in April. He's recovered, but not enough to repair his overall numbers yet. Perhaps the buy-low window remains slightly open, though potential investors would likely need to pay far closer to full market value for a potential five-category stud.
Salvador Perez (C - KC): 51.0% Outside Swing Rate
Pérez is chasing more than half of pitches seen outside the strike zone. He's drawn five walks all season, two more than last year, and a once-strong contact rate has dropped for the third consecutive season to a personal low of 69.7%.
It hasn't mattered for fantasy managers playing in a standard five-by-five league.
Aggressive swinging aside, Pérez is hitting a healthy .275 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs. He leads all catchers (minimum 150 plate appearances) in homers (20), RBIs (60), batting average (.301), and slugging (.548) since the start of 2020.
Should fantasy managers care about his eager approach? Yes and no, but mostly the latter. We saw the downside of this devil-may-care swinging when he hit .235 in 2018. Pérez is exposing himself to extra risk of a prolonged slump.
But he's a career .269 hitter consistently near the top of his position in plate appearances and home runs. While his strikeout rate continues to rise, now up to a career-high 25.5%, that's far from an untenable tally in 2021. Pérez swings a lot, but he's hardly Javier Báez or Keston Hiura.
His Statcast numbers are also through the roof since returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2019. Pérez has registered barrel rates of 13.9% and 13.6% in the past two seasons, fueling a .618 xSLG in 2020 and .579 xSLG this season. His 74 batted balls hit at least 95.0 mph this season are not only the most among catchers, but tie Paul Goldschmidt for second behind Ronald Acuña Jr.'s MLB-best 75.
As long as you're not in an OBP league, Pérez is the second-best fantasy catcher behind only a healthy J.T. Realmuto.
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