Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Mitch Haniger, Aaron Judge, Luis Castillo
Welcome to the Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers article for Week 6 (5/10-5/16). 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 featured players’ success and/or struggles. 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 hold, sell high, buy low, or simply 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.
Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU)
Tucker was rocking a hideous .175/.242/.342 batting line with five home runs and 16 RBI back on May 8. Entering play on Sunday, May 16, the 24-year-old outfielder was slashing .230/.299/.475 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. Over his last seven games, he’s put up an absurd .480/.552/1.080 batting line with one double, one triple, four home runs, and 11 RBI with a 3:4 K/BB ratio.
Tucker’s early-season struggles seemed to just be poor luck as he has an expected batting average of .290 with a .383 xwOBA and .557 xSLG. He’s posting career-bests in strikeout rate (17.7%), walk rate (8.9%), and z-contact rate (84.8%). Even after the recent hot streak, he still has a .219 BABIP, which is likely to continue to rise. In addition to that, Tucker has already matched last season’s home run total in 40 games, while it took him 58 games to reach that mark in the shortened-2020 season. What’s remarkable is that Tucker started this hot streak while batting seventh in the lineup. He should start to move up in the batting order and will continue to rake. All is good here.
Max Muncy (1B – LAD)
Muncy has been getting on base at an absurdly high clip all season. Entering Sunday, his .447 OBP led the National League. What he hadn’t been doing all season was hitting until the last week or so. From April 17 to May 4 (14 games), Muncy hit .049 with a .339 OBP and .049 slugging percentage. He’s a career .238 hitter, so a high batting average has never been in play for the 30-year-old, but fantasy managers expected better than .207, which was his season batting average after Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Cubs on May 4.
Ever since Game 2 of that same doubleheader, he’s been one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Over his last nine games, he’s slashing .406/.525/.906 with five home runs and 12 RBI. His pièce de rèsistance occurred on May 11-14 when he homered in three straight games. Muncy has an elite 22.6% Walk rate, which ranks in the 100th percentile, 15% Barrel rate (92nd percentile), and .416 xwOBA (95th percentile). He should continue to reach base at an elite level and is on pace for 35 home runs, making him a fantasy force, especially in OBP leagues, from here on out.
Mitch Haniger (OF – SEA)
There’s a four-way tie for the Major League lead in home runs as of Monday morning: Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani, and Mitch Haniger. He inserted himself into the home run race after smacking four over the last week. In his last seven games, Haniger is slashing a cool .346/.414/.885 with four home runs and six RBI (26 at-bats). That’s a great week, to be sure, but in reality, he’s been having a great year from the jump. He’s looked like an All-Star through the first month and a half of the season with a .268/.320/.575 batting line to go along with 30 runs scored, nine doubles, one triple, 12 home runs, and 30 RBI over 153 at-bats.
He was clutch in the Mariners’ weekend series with Cleveland as they took 3-of-4 games from the Tribe. On Sunday, he went 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles off of reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. This is just a great story as Haniger has worked his way back from some brutal injuries to regain his old form. Before the start of the 2021 season, Haniger had not played since early June 2019 due to injures/rehab. He’s unlikely to keep up the home run pace, and at 30-years-old he doesn’t really fit into the Mariners’ long-term plans, but it’s been a fun ride so far. Whether he ends up being traded this summer or not, he’s someone you should root for.
Tied at the top!
Mitch Haniger now leads the league with 12 HR. 💪 pic.twitter.com/5b9AEWAopE
— MLB (@MLB) May 16, 2021
Aaron Judge (OF – NYY)
Judge is in the middle of a six-game hitting streak in which he’s slashed .571/.654/1.333 with five home runs and six RBI (21 at-bats). He’s also homered in three-straight games as well. Judge is striking out a fair amount with a 26.8% K rate, but that’s a career-low. He’s somewhat balanced out the strikeouts with a 13.4% BB rate. For the season, Judge is rocking a .298/.399/.611 batting line to go along with 12 home runs and 24 RBI. The 12 long balls are tied for the Major League lead.
Entering play on Monday, he’s ranked in the 98th percentile or better in the following statistics: Average Exit Velocity (96.9 mph), Max Exit Velocity (116.2 mph), Hard Hit rate (59.5%), xwOBA (.453), xBA (.335), xSLG (.652), and Barrel rate (20.5%). Judge’s recent play has helped the Yankees turn their season around in the early going. They’ve won 10-of-14 games and are now 22-18, good for third place in the AL East. When Judge is healthy, he’s one of the very best in the business.
Freddy Peralta (SP – MIL)
Back on May 5, Peralta had his worst start of the season when he surrendered five earned runs over four innings against the Phillies. He’s more than bounced back since then. In his last two starts against the Cardinals and the Braves, he’s pitched 13 scoreless innings while only allowing three hits with 16 strikeouts and two walks. The stellar efforts lowered his season ERA to 2.40 to go along with a 0.89 WHIP and a 69:19 K/BB ratio over 45 innings (nine appearances, eight starts).
Peralta has always had a knack for racking up strikeouts, and he’s got a 39.4% K rate so far, which ranks in the 96th percentile. Opponents have registered a .101 xBA and .160 xSLG off of his slider, which also carries a 45.4% Whiff rate. Walks have been an issue in the past for Peralta, but he’s only issued seven free passes over his last five starts. He gets the Reds on the road in his next turn, which should be a great test for the 24-year-old hurler.
Freddy Peralta, Dirty 81mph Slider. 😨 pic.twitter.com/RqNwifDLhz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 16, 2021
Josh Fuentes (3B – COL)
Josh Fuentes has looked like his cousin, Nolan Arenado, over the last week. He hit .414/.433/.724 with two home runs and 13 RBI over 29 at-bats. He came up with multiple clutch hits in the Rockies’ weekend series split with the Cincinnati Reds. It’s been quite the turnaround for Fuentes, who was hitting a lowly .195/.192/.286 back on April 30. Since the calendar flipped to May, he’s slashed .359/.405/.590 (29 at-bats).
He got off to such a poor start this season that the recent hot streak has only raised his batting line to .250/.267/.388 with four home runs and 23 RBI over 116 at-bats. There’s not much to suggest that he can keep this going, but he’s provided a nice spark for the Rockies, who could sure use it.
Luis Castillo (SP – CIN)
Castillo only had one start last week, but that was bad enough to make the Fallers list. He allowed eight earned runs vs. the Rockies on Thursday, which was the second time this season that he’s allowed at least eight runs in a start. His 7.71 ERA, 1.795 WHIP, and 29:12 K/BB ratio over 37 1/3 innings (eight starts) is flat-out ugly. His 32 earned runs lead all of baseball, while his 55 hits allowed are second, right behind Kyle Hendricks (56). His 1.4 HR/9, 7.0 K/9, and 16.3% K rate are all career lows. He has just one quality start on the year.
His struggles don’t seem to be velocity-related, even though it’s dipped a bit this year. His fastball averaged 96.2 mph vs. 97.4 mph in 2020. His changeup velocity dipped as well to an average of 86.9 mph vs. 88.2 mph last season. The glaring issue is the lack of strikeouts. His Whiff rates on all four of his offerings are down significantly from last year, and his 26.4% CSW is also a career-worst. To cap it all off, opponents have registered a .377 BABIP against him. That was a whole lot of negative, but there’s not much to hang your hat on at the moment. He’s definitely been the victim of some bad luck with that high BABIP, and his .478 FIP and 4.77 ERA offer a little bit of hope, but we expected those types of numbers to be his floor at this point in the season, not a best-case scenario. He gets the pesky Giants at home in his next turn, and fantasy managers would be hard-pressed to start with confidence in that one.
Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA)
Bundy’s last two starts have not gone well. He allowed 13 earned runs over 7 1/3 innings in two starts against the Dodgers and the Red Sox. The recent cool streak put him at 0-5 with a 6.02 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 46:12 K/BB ratio over 43 1/3 innings (eight starts). He’s been a letdown to fantasy managers that were hoping his 2020 breakout (3.29 ERA, 1.036 WHIP) was for real.
On the bright side, he’s got a .408 FIP and 3.53 xERA. His 24.7% K rate is not far off his 27% rate from last year’s breakout. He also has a 33.5% CSW compared to 34.1% from the year before. While the last two starts have been ugly, there should be brighter days ahead for the Angels’ ace.
David Fletcher (2B – LAA)
Fletcher has been struggling at the plate all season, but the last week was brutal for the 26-year-old utilityman. He put up a putrid .095/.095/.095 batting line in 21 plate appearances over five games. This lowered his season batting line to .250/.271/.275 with zero home runs, 13 RBI, and 20:5 K/BB over 160 at-bats. Despite his issues at the plate, Flethcer had hit leadoff in every game he played in until Saturday when he dropped to ninth in the batting order.
To make matters worse for Fletcher, he’s now dealing with a minor groin issue. He does have a solid 11.9% K rate, which ranks in the 96th percentile, and his contact rates aren’t too far off his career marks. Taking a few games off to rest his injured groin may not be the worst thing, but it could take a little time for him to get back on track.
Kenta Maeda (SP – MIN)
After finishing in the top three in the AL Cy Young voting last season, Maeda has been a massive disappointment. He’s got a 5.26 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and 33:10 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings (eight starts). He labored through four innings in his start on Saturday, allowing five runs (three earned) over four innings in a 7-6 loss to the A’s. It was later revealed that Maeda was dealing with a groin issue during the game. He’s dealing with career-lows in strikeout rate (20.5%), HR/FB rate (23.5%), HR/9 (1.9), and K/9 (7.9).
He’s allowed eight home runs total, but six of them came in two consecutive starts against the A’s and the Indians. He also only has one quality start in eight games. It feels like nothing has gone well for Maeda, and if this groin issue lingers, it could get worse. He’s been the victim of some bad luck, though, as he’s got a 4.90 xERA and 3.99 xFIP. He’s got a chance to get back on the right track in his next turn against the Indians if the groin issue is behind him. Stay tuned.
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