20 Things to Watch For in Week 12 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
First things first. A huge THANK YOU to Mario Mergola for filling in for me last Saturday. You can read Mario’s “20 Things” article by clicking that hyperlink. Even a full week later it’s filled with useful information.
The biggest story in MLB this week has been the league’s new rule regarding foreign substances. Um, I mean, actually the rule has always been in place but now they’re just enforcing it. In addition to falling spin rates around the league we’ve already seen some major push back from players, which has caused quite the media stir.
First Tyler Glasnow speculated that his elbow injury was caused by gripping a ball without a substance for the first time in forever. Then Garrett Richards threw zero curveballs (and hit two batters) in his start on Wednesday, citing a lack of control due to the ban of sunscreen and rosin.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so this week’s 20 things will begin with a heavy serving of “sticky stuff” talk before getting into some player and schedule notes. Remember to reach out on Twitter with questions anytime @toomuchtuma.
1. Offense is coming
Since we know the rule is coming into effect on Monday, it’s tempting to try and get ahead of this from a fantasy baseball perspective — to try and begin making trades and transactions that will give us a leg up before everyone else realizes what’s going on. For example, back when it looked like offense was in serious trouble in late-April, this process of “getting ahead of things” is what led me to the idea of trading mid-tier SPs for offense, which is a process I stand behind six weeks later.
So what can we do to get ahead? Well, we know offense is about to blow up. The question is how much? Will it be like 2019, the height of the juiced ball era? I’ll get to this in a bit, but I first want to note that we need to remember offense was about to improve anyways, so any increase in scoring cannot be entirely chalked up to the recently enforced ban of foreign substances. This leads us to the aces question..
So when we combine the rule changes with warmer weather PLUS (likely) pitcher attrition due to injuries from the shortened season last year, it's undeniable that more offense is coming
But let's note there are other factors in play in addition to spin rates
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) June 16, 2021
2. How aces fare
The first thought I’ve seen many folks have is that now is the time to deal superstar aces, especially ones who we know have relied on sticky stuff like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Here’s the thing, though — aces haven’t been the only ones using this stuff. They’re just the most high-profile names that we hear about. If pitching as a whole is about to get a lot worse, then does it make sense to deal away our SP1s? I’d say no.
3. How low-spin pitchers fare
Well, if high-spin aces aren’t the move, what about low-spin arms? Shouldn’t they become even worse now? I struggle to answer this definitively, because on one hand these guys aren’t used to needing high-spin to be effective, which we could then make the argument that they’re suddenly more valuable in a world without spider tack. But what if these guys have been using the stuff and are only going to have worse spin rates moving forward? I think this would be making too much of a leap, and I’m not evaluating any of these pitchers differently until we have some data to work with. Low-spin pitchers to monitor these next few weeks include Aaron Nola, Kyle Hendricks, Ian Anderson, and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
4. How mid-tier SPs fare
So far I’ve talked myself off the ledge when it pertains to shopping aces and effective low-spin hurlers. And in doing so, I’m thinking that we just need some actual data before reacting to the changing environment.
However, if there is a recommendation I can make it would be to continue dealing away mid-tier SPs, who have been the easiest assets to find in fantasy baseball this year. If an increase in offense is going to hurt pitching as a whole, then it stands to reason that the best of the bunch will begin separating themselves from the pack. This is what happened in 2019, when there just weren’t enough good starters to go around. Mid-tier arms were already devalued due to how many there were on waiver wires across the industry, but now we need to question how usable they’ll be moving forward.
I mentioned in No. 1 that I want to try and get ahead of things but it’s really hard to forecast what’s about to happen. Ultimately a wait-and-see approach is advised until we get a handle on another new environment. If forced to take early action I’d move SP3/4s for under performing hitters, but I also understand wanting to hold onto as much pitching as possible given the (likely) attrition we’re about to see as well.
2019: mega-juiced ball
2020: COVID shortened season, no minors
2021: deadened ball and a midseason change in foreign substance policy
The past few years have been quite the journey when it comes to figuring out the MLB/fantasy baseball environment
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) June 16, 2021
5. Matt Olson moving up the rankings
Phew. With spin rate talk behind us, let’s move ahead to some more granular analysis. I’ll start by stating that Olson is now my No. 3 first baseman, rest of season. The lefty slugger was a screaming bounce back candidate entering ’21 due to a wildly unsustainable BABIP during the shortened season. He always hit the ball hard, but I don’t think anyone saw a 16.5% strikeout rate coming, especially given his 24.8% career mark. Olson is simply whiffing less than ever before, which combined with strong batted ball data, has created a star fantasy player. Oakland plays seven games in Week 12.
6. Michael Brantley‘s heater
In 36 plate appearances since returning from the injured list (entering Friday), Brantley is batting .531 with six runs scored and nine RBI. For the season he has a .359 xBA (!!), which is first in all of baseball, well ahead of Kyle Tucker (.330) and Aaron Judge (.325) for the next closest leaders. Oh, and Houston has one of the best hitting matchups in Week 12 — playing a full seven games, including three against Baltimore.
8. Mets and Braves each play eight games
In weekly lineup leagues we always want to take advantage of scheduled doubleheaders, which is why Week 12 is a great time to get our Mets and Braves hitters into our lineups. Of course we’re playing our studs, but I’d recommend taking a look at Jonathan Villar, Dominic Smith, Dansby Swanson, and (in deeper leagues) Abraham Almonte.
9. Wil Myers moving down the rankings
It appears as if Myers is someone we overrated based on 2020. He mostly posted career-highs last summer, but so far this season the pendulum has swung in the exact opposite direction en route to career-worst Statcast numbers. He’s slugging .370 with a .302 wOBA, and Baseball Savant suggests he has actually over performed. It hurts worse because he got off to a hot start this spring too. Alas, it might be time for fantasy managers to move on in standard 12-team leagues with three outfield spots.
10. Bobby Bradley in deeper leagues
Bradley came up for a disastrous 15-game sample back in 2019, but he has always hit in the minors. Seemingly left out of Cleveland’s plans the past couple of seasons, the 25-year-old is back in the majors while already making an impact. Entering Friday Bradley is batting .375 with four homers in just 10 games. Questions remain about the batting average and his ability to hit lefties, but Cleveland needs his bat right now. He should be added in any leagues that utilize a corner infield spot. Bradley has two games against the Cubs and four games against the Twins in Week 12.
11. Amed Rosario‘s must-start status
Another Cleveland hitter we need to talk about is the hot-hitting Rosario. In 162 PAs since April 28th, Rosario is batting .336 with a 134 wRC+, three homers, and seven stolen bases. The 25-year-old has gone through hot streaks like this before, but the key this time seems to be chasing less than ever. If the plate discipline sticks then we could have a very useful fantasy option here. He’s must-roster in all roto and categories leagues.
It’s… AMED ROSARIO!
Another good game so far tonight. And yes, must-roster in roto and category leagues pic.twitter.com/OEZt193FIy
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) June 17, 2021
12. Jesus Sanchez‘s spot in the batting order
A newly anointed top-100 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Sanchez got off to an absolutely torrid start in Triple-A this season. He cooled a bit before receiving the promotion to the majors earlier this week, but he was still hitting .349 with nine homers and a 1.043 OPS through 33 games. The 23-year-old flopped in a 10-game sample with the Marlins last summer, but he seemingly became a new hitter to begin 2021. The question now is whether or not he can sustain those gains in the bigs. Surprisingly, Sanchez has hit fifth and third through two games. Continuing to hit in a premium spot in the lineup will only help his fantasy value if he performs. Miami plays two games against Toronto and four against Washington in Week 12.
13. Matt Manning‘s second start
Redraft players have mostly gotten burned by prospects this season, which combined with Manning’s 8.07 ERA in Triple-A upon being called up meant that he was given little fanfare among analysts. The 23-year-old still fared better than some rookie pitchers who preceded him, however. The No. 9 overall pick in 2016, Manning was the 2019 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year due to a fantastic campaign in Double-A. The results in Triple-A have been a bit odd this spring, but reports are that Manning is still struggling with his changeup as well as the command of all his offerings.
Manning mostly stuck to his fastball in his debut (5 IP, 2 ER, 4 hits, 3 Ks, 2 BBs). Given how many prospects were absolutely shelled in their first starts in the bigs recently, lasting five innings was nice to see. Ultimately six swinging strikes weren’t enough to make him a streaming option for Week 12, even against a struggling Cardinals offense.
14. Young Tigers SPs
Perhaps no two players have received more love in this space on a week-to-week basis than Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. It’s clear to me that the organization is on to something in terms of developing young pitchers. This piece from The Athletic is a great read for anyone interested in learning more about my optimism for these guys, which includes Manning in dynasty/keeper leagues.
15. Giants hitters
Similar the faith I now have in the Tigers to develop young pitching, I’ve also become a believer in Giants hitters. Another piece from The Athletic is what convinced me. This one is from October 2020 and focuses on the three hitting coaches (who previously had a combined one year of big league experience) that Gabe Kapler hired last season. The hires were unconventional, but they’re working. And it helps explain why Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria (before going down) were all having huge years.
"The hitting philosophy was simple: only swing when you believe you can do damage, and regardless of count, take your best swing as often as possible."https://t.co/tDCeOTKe1p
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) June 15, 2021
16. Tyler Glasnow’s rest and rehab plan
We might not find out any more info about the Rays’ ace next week, but the situation has put fantasy players between a rock and a hard place. There are so many injuries right now that it’s mighty tough to keep Glasnow rostered. He’s on the 60-day IL, which means we won’t see him until mid-to-late August at the earliest. He might wind up being out for the year. I’m giving the green light to drop him if the alternative is burning a bench spot, especially if you need to play catch-up in the standings.
17. Cody Bellinger‘s health
The 2019 National League MVP is once again on the injured list due to hamstring tightness. The good news is that the move was made retroactive to June 12th, which means he can return as early as Tuesday. We’ll have to wait and see if we get any more info before Week 12 lineups are due, but fantasy managers are understandably frustrated. As long as the 25-year-old gets healthy, he’ll be a buy-low for me.
18. Ross Stripling‘s two-start week
It’s always tough to recommend two-start pitchers who are widely available but, amazingly, Stripling might be our best option. The 31-year-old has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his last five outings. And the matchups are good against the Marlins and Orioles. Starting Stripling isn’t necessarily I want to do, but he should be on your waiver wire if you want to.
19. The Blake Snell decision
I’ve been off Snell dating back to draft season, and so far that has worked out. The former Cy Young award winner has logged just two quality starts since July 21, 2019. There was an injury and a shortened season mixed in there, but it’s still stunning. In leagues that utilize QS over wins, Snell’s valuable is nearly nonexistent. Yet, even in leagues that don’t care for quality starts, Snell isn’t really much of an asset. The home/road splits are loud, but it has added up to a 5.72 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP through 14 starts.
Two starts at home might be our best chance to start Snell for a while, even if the matchups aren’t ideal (vs Dodgers, vs D’Backs). Still, the ratios could be costly and I’m not a blind believer in the home/road numbers, so Snell is a sit (or a drop) for me.
20. A possible closer stash
April was chaos when it comes to the closer carousel, but things have been mostly quiet since then. It has caused me to shift towards looking at potential trade deadline “winners” sooner rather than later. Richard Rodriguez of the Pirates is looking like the surest bet to be moved this summer, and I’m targeting David Bednar as the likely replacement in the closer role. The righty has a 34:8 K:BB ratio on the season. If you’re desperate for saves and have a big enough roster when you can afford to look alike, then consider Bednar.
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