Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: John Means, Charlie Blackmon, Willie Calhoun
Welcome to the Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers article for Week 6 (5/3-5/9). I will cover some of baseball’s hottest and coldest players in baseball over the last week. This weekly column aims to provide insight into the players’ success and/or struggles mentioned below. We’ll discover if their recent performances have any staying power or if it was just a flash in the pan.
It’s still early(ish) in the season, but we’ve reached the point where you need to decide whether to sell high, buy low, or cut bait on some of these risers and fallers. This upcoming week, as always, is big for some of the fallers mentioned below. It should also shed light on the sustainability of some of the risers. With that said, let’s get into it.
John Means (SP – BAL)
Means only had one start last week, but it sure was a memorable one. He threw the third no-hitter of the season — at the time, and not counting Madison Bumgarner’s in seven innings — on May 5 against the Mariners. He was just about perfect in the outing, punching out 12 over nine innings with zero walks.
Unfortunately, catcher Pedro Severino was not perfect, as he let a breaking ball get away on strike three to Sam Haggerty in the bottom of the third inning, allowing the batter to reach first base. Haggerty was caught stealing during the next at-bat, so Means still faced the minimum 27 hitters. As a result, it was the closest any no-hitter has come to a perfect game in recent memory. It was also the Orioles’ first individual no-no since Jim Palmer in 1969! The franchise threw a combined no-hitter in 1991.
Means had been on a hot streak, which he extended by throwing six scoreless innings Wednesday night against the Mets. He has now notched five straight quality starts, going 3-0 over that span. On the season, he’s 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 53 strikeouts, and 10 walks. It’s still early, but Means is having a career year. He’s done an excellent job mixing in his changeup, which has limited hard contact and led to a career-best 33% CSW. The following Statcast percentile rankings do not include his recent start at New York, a test the 28-year-old passed with flying colors.
Wade Miley (SP – CIN)
Not to be outdone by Means, Wade Miley threw the fourth no-hitter of the season two days later. The 34-year-old struck out eight with one walk over nine innings against Cleveland. The superb outing lowered his season ERA to 2.00 to go along with a 0.75 WHIP, 27 strikeouts, and eight walks over 36 innings (six starts).
Miley has put up those impressive numbers despite throwing none of his pitches at an average velocity above 90 mph. His four-seam fastball has averaged 89.6 mph this year. His cutter, which he throws 49.3% of the time, and changeup used in 32.3% of his pitches have been unhittable this season. Opponents are batting just .175 with a .241 wOBA off of the cutter and .136 with a .188 wOBA against the changeup.
In 2013, Wade Miley was a sinkerball pitcher who threw his sinker 41.9% of the time. As recently as 2017, his sinker was still his primary pitch (28.3%).
In 2021, he's only throwing his sinker approximately 2% of the time. It has been mostly cutter/changeup.
— mike Maher. (@mikeMaher) May 8, 2021
Those pitches are a big reason why Miley ranks in the 97th percentile in average exit velocity and 89th percentile in hard-hit rate. He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, so his recent success feels less sustainable than Means’, but anyone capable of throwing a no-hitter is worthy of a roster spot.
Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)
Blackmon got off to a dreadful start this season. At the end of April, he was slashing a horrible .184/.303/.303 with one home run and 12 RBIs. But since the calendar flipped to May, he’s picked it up at the dish. In six games last week, he hit .348/.400/.522 with one home run and seven RBIs over 25 plate appearances. He’s now batting .231 with a .695 OPS across 121 plate appearances this season, which is a far cry from the type of numbers we expect, but an improvement on his April slash line.
Despite the struggles he experienced, Blackmon still has a .299 xBA (91st percentile), 13.2% K rate (92nd percentile), and solid 11.6% BB rate. He’s currently working on a five-game hitting streak, and we should expect to see his numbers continue to tick up as the weather warms up in Colorado. He’s a perfect buy-low candidate right now, as the Rockies play at home the rest of the week.
Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX)
Calhoun has quietly raked since the Rangers activated him from the IL on April 17. He’s collected at least one hit in 17 of 21 games and slashed an impressive .350/.435/.550 in 23 plate appearances (five games) last week. On the year, he’s rocking a .308/.372/.449 batting line with three home runs, eight RBIs, seven walks, and 11 strikeouts ratio over 78 at-bats. His 12.8% K rate is ranked in the 95th percentile, while his career-high 8.1% walk rate is also solid.
His 88% z-contact rate and 44.4% hard-hit rate — combined with his low strikeout rate — make Calhoun an excellent leadoff hitter, which he’s doing against right-handed pitchers. Calhoun has always been an intriguing player, but he’s had poor injury luck early in his career. He’s currently rostered in just 21% of Yahoo leagues and should be prioritized as a waiver add.
Adolis García (OF – TEX)
García is in the midst of a full-fledged breakout for the Rangers this season. He’s got a .292/.333/.585 batting line to go along with nine home runs, 26 RBIs, and two stolen bases over 114 plate appearances. He’s an impressive athlete who is finally getting a shot to play every day, and fantasy managers who picked him up are reaping the rewards. Garcia ranks in the 90th percentile or better in barrel rate (96th), hard-hit rate (93), wOBA (92), and xwOBAcon (90). He’s also in the 84th percentile in sprint speed.
García is coming off an absurdly hot week in which he slashed .469/.500/.929 with four home runs and 12 RBIs over 28 at-bats. The outfielder smashed a homer and drove in five runs in the series finale against the Mariners on Mother’s Day.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 9, 2021
It’s hard to trust him moving forward considering his limited major league track record (24 games) prior to 2021, but the expected stats back up his numbers. He’s nevertheless an interesting sell high candidate.
Jose Quintana (SP – LAA)
Quintana wasn’t expected to light the world on fire when he signed with the Angels, but some of us hoped a change of scenery and reunion with former manager Joe Maddon would do him some good. That hasn’t been the case so far, though. The 32-year-old southpaw surrendered six earned runs over 7.2 innings in two home starts last week against the Rays and Dodgers. He has been racking up the strikeouts all season, posting a career-high 31.2% K rate. However, a career-worst 17.4% BB rate takes some of the shine away from those strikeouts.
Quintana owns a 9.00 ERA and 2.14 WHIP over just 21 innings pitched in six starts. He’s only lasted until the fifth inning once, as his pitch count is usually too inflated to last longer. The lefty has been a letdown for the Angels, and it’s pretty clear that Quintana’s best days are behind him.
Steven Matz (SP – TOR)
Matz is having a Jekyll and Hyde season with four solid outings and three poor ones. He was an early-season fantasy darling after allowing just three earned runs over his first three starts (18.1 innings). He had a sparkling 2.31 ERA and a perfect 4-0 record on April 23, but it’s been downhill ever since. The southpaw has surrendered 14 runs over his last three starts, increasing his season ERA to a mediocre 4.86 to go along with a 1.27 WHIP and 3.7 K/BB ratio.
His 4.22 xERA and 4.26 FIP aren’t too far off his 4.38 career ERA. Consider Matz more of a safe floor pitcher than a high ceiling one, as he doesn’t excel in any particular aspect of the game. While he should be fine moving forward, his early-season numbers were an exception to the rule.
Gavin Lux (2B – LAD)
Lux has not come close to living up to his preseason hype. Through 86 at-bats, he’s slashing a lackluster .209/.247/.267 with no home runs, eight RBIs, and one stolen base. He started the year hitting toward the top of the lineup before a wrist injury sent him to the injured list on April 15. Since his activation 11 days later, he’s mostly batted eighth. Lux ranks in the 20th percentile or worse in hard-hit rate (31.3%), barrel rate (1.6%), xSLG (.332), BB rate (5.4%), and xwOBA (.223).
He’s just 23-years-old, so it’s way too early to throw in the towel. There’s a chance his wrist issue is still bothering him and he’s playing hurt. That’s pure speculation, but it’s hard to find another logical reason for why Lux has struggled so much to begin the year. You have to wonder if the Dodgers would have already sent him down to the minors if they weren’t so banged up.
Miguel Sanó (1B/3B – MIN)
Sanó could have made this list at any point this season, but it seems appropriate now that he’s off the injured list and seeing regular plate appearances. Since returning to the lineup on May 5, he’s hit a paltry .176/.263/.176 with one RBI in 19 plate appearances. His season slash line is not much better at .129/.299/.226 to go along with two home runs and five RBIs. Sanó’s 19.5% BB rate, which ranks in the 99th percentile, is about the only positive stat he has going for him, and that’s mitigated by his 37.7% K rate (1st percentile).
The expected stats don’t suggest that he’s been getting unlucky either. He’s got a .151 xBA, .274 xwOBA, and .257 xSLG.
At this point, the supposed power upside is not worth the headache he can cause in terms of batting average and strikeouts. He has a small window of opportunity to prove he’s still a capable hitter, but it’s shrinking every day.
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