By The Numbers: Max Scherzer, Marcus Semien, John Means
Most MLB teams (sorry, Mets) are nearing the 60-game mark. A number encompassing all of 2020 is now only when the true fun begins in 2021.
Two months into the season, we’re seeing plenty of cases where last year’s small sample size deceived. Drafters who bought low on J.D. Martinez, Max Muncy, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, and Shohei Ohtani are reaping the rewards. Meanwhile, several top picks would be at risk of getting written off the same way if closing the book on 2021’s ledgers.
We now have some data to see how drafters are reshaping perceptions for the final four months. NFBC conducted a dozen Second Chance drafts around Memorial Day. The ADP can help get a sense of someone’s market value moving forward.
The following players went much earlier in those drafts than they did before Opening Day. Are those upswings warranted, or may it be time to explore trade offers? Let’s take a closer look at some key metrics to form a more educated conclusion.
Max Scherzer (SP – WAS): 31.2 K-BB%
After allowing five runs on April 27, Scherzer gave up no more than two earned runs in each of his six May outings, posting a 1.83 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright each have 57 strikeouts all season.
Some drafters wanted nothing to do with a 36-year-old coming off a season in which he matched his worst ERA (3.74) since 2012. Scherzer, however, is far from finished. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has an excellent 2.34 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 11 starts. He ranks third behind Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole in both SIERA (2.60) and K-BB rate.
While in-season NFBC drafters didn’t accordingly bump him up to the SP3, he climbed back into the first round with a No. 12 overall ADP. Those backers are willing to overlook 2020. Should everyone else follow suit?
In hindsight, it looks overly cautious to have faded Scherzer when a career-high .355 BABIP and 14.3% HR/FB rate impacted his bottom line more than health or velocity. His shortcomings weren’t entirely a fluke, though, as a 27.3% line-drive rate was his highest since a 56-inning rookie campaign in 2008. The righty has repaired that rate to 20.5%, which has led to hitters batting .177 against him rather than last year’s bloated .256.
A handful of poor outings tainted his 2020, so perhaps Scherzer isn’t entirely out of the woods. But the biggest takeaway might be that he’s healthy. Scherzer hasn’t missed any starts due to lingering back issues that persisted late in 2019. He’s a worthy anchor of any fantasy staff for the rest of the season.
Marcus Semien (2B/SS – TOR): 209 wRC+ in May
Semien had a No. 114 ADP in March NFBC drafts after batting a dreary .223/.305/.374 in 2020. Rather than discounting that fractured season, drafters understandably identified his 138 wRC+ from 2019 as a clear outlier from a 30-year-old who had never reached 100 in any other season.
He’s well on pace to exceed that league-average barometer this season. Now playing second base, Semien’s 152 wRC+ bests all active shortstops besides Fernando Tatís Jr. He’s one of five hitters with at least 10 home runs and eight stolen bases this season.
Investors shouldn’t have complained when Semien carried a .211 batting average through April; he still offered five homers and six steals. He then rewarded their patience with a torrid May that saw the former A’s infielder slash .368/.429/.702 with eight long balls and MLB’s second-best wRC+ alongside Nick Castellanos.
It looks like fantasy players want to believe. Semien's ADP skyrocketed to 28th -- with a tight pick range of 15-35 -- in NFBC's in-season drafts. That made him the No. 2 second baseman behind Whit Merrifield, who has collected an MLB-high 16 stolen bases.
This is likely a prisoner-of-the-moment reaction. After all, Semien is a career .257/.325/.433 hitter. While his hard-hit rate has jumped from 28.6% to 44.2%, the Statcast data still doesn't fully support his early surge. A .240 expected batting average and .329 expected wOBA give him the second- and third-widest drops, respectively, from his actual marks among all qualified hitters.
Managers, however, still shouldn't dump Semien for the pure sake of selling high. He provides power and speed as the everyday leadoff hitter atop a stacked Blue Jays lineup. He's also durable; only Merrifield has more plate appearances since the start of 2018. Semien should easily finish the season as a top-100 player, but he's unlikely to live up to heightened expectations from drafters who just spent a premium pick without getting any of his May production.
John Means (SP - BAL): 98.6% Strand Rate
At pick No. 79, Means went ahead of José Berríos, Sandy Alcantara, and Luis Castillo. Some may say that's not early enough for a burgeoning ace boasting a 2.05 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 11 excellent starts.
There's much to celebrate about a breakout anticipated by many analysts. Means is attacking the plate early with the second-highest rate of first-pitch strikes (73/0%) after Julio Urías. That's led to just 13 walks, which the 28-year-old has paired with a 14.1% swinging-strike rate matching fellow 2021 star Joe Musgrove. Although Means isn't a mere flash in the pan, he's also bound to slow down some.
Means has prevented a resounding amount of baserunners from reaching home. Trevor Bauer has the second-best strand rate at 92.1. Bauer (90.9%) trailed Shane Bieber's MLB-best 91.1% as the only two qualified starters to leave at least 86.0% of runners on base in 2020.
Adding further skepticism to Means' unusually high strand rate, he can't strike his way out of jams as well as other starters atop the leaderboard.
This sky-high strand rate has proven particularly important to his early success because Means has already allowed 11 home runs. While he deserves credit for avoiding free passes, fewer of those long balls would have been solo shots if his AL-low .188 BABIP was around his still superb .237 career norm.
The regression process has already started. Means has given up nine of his season's 16 runs in his last three starts. Having served up two home runs in each outing, he's fortunate to have avoided more severe damage.
It's not exactly groundbreaking to confirm that Means isn't Sandy Koufax. The owner of a career 3.47 ERA and 1.03 WHIP still makes an excellent option. Just expect a few more bumps in the road. He may pitch closer to his 3.67 SIERA going forward, making him more of a borderline top-25 starter than a fantasy ace.
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