By The Numbers: Nelson Cruz, Frankie Montas, Kyle Schwarber
Some players need time before meeting expectations. Others are conversely exposed as the data points largen. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one of the select few who constantly delivers for fantasy investors.
For this week’s By The Numbers, I’ll look at three of my favorite preseason targets. One is, as he seemingly does every year, towering above a suspiciously low acquisition cost. Another slugger is returning to form after a dreary 2020 and an even worse start to 2021. Condolences to those who cut him before reaping the rewards.
The highlighted pitcher, however, continues to disappoint due to maddening inconsistency. Just when he appears on the right track, he erases three small steps forward with one monumental leap backward.
Nelson Cruz (UT – MIN): .411 wOBA since 2019
When will you fools learn to just Nelson Cruz already?
Fantasy baseball’s gravest injustice remained an annual tradition when Cruz held a No. 85 overall ADP in 2021 drafts, per FantasyPros’ consensus. Randy Arozarena, Cavan Biggio, Keston Hiura, and Zach Plesac all went ahead of one of the game’s most consistent sluggers. Sure, Cruz is a four-category superstar who’s hit at least 37 home runs in each full season — he had 16 in 2020 — since 2014. And sure, he’s annually batted over .300 with the second-best wOBA behind some scrub named Mike Trout since the start of 2019.
But he's old and without a position, which some drafters decide matters for some reason even though essentially every league in existence has at least one utility spot for this exact situation.
Shockingly, the guy who always rakes is still raking. Cruz has matched last year's 16 dingers while batting .306/.380/.572. Bad news for anyone expecting age to catch up; the 40-year-old has his lowest strikeout rate (19.8%) since 2010 and his highest hard-hit rate (54.2%) since Statcast began tracking data in 2015.
It's nearly impossible for pitchers to extinguish Cruz's bat when it catches fire. The designated hitter has smacked six home runs over his last 12 games and has collected a hit in all but one of 17 games in June. That includes one Monday, the day after leaving early with neck tightness. As of Wednesday, his .515 wOBA led all hitters this month.
Stop fighting it. Cruz has inherited the Father of Time antidote from David Ortiz. The only valid answer to "Why didn't you draft Nelson Cruz at his ADP?" is "I took J.D. Martinez/Shohei Ohtani in my utility spot instead." Only attempt to sell high if you have a glaring need for pitching or speed and recevie a return befitting a top-shelf slugger.
Frankie Montas (SP - OAK): .400 wOBA against Slider
There was Chris Archer. Then Kevin Gausman (before he got good) and Dylan Bundy (before he got good, and bad again). Don't forget Ricky Nolasco long before them. These pitchers should excel based on their strong strikeout and walk numbers. We keep pointing to the lower FIP as proof that their failures are a facade.
Sometimes they put the pieces together and -- if even for a fleeting moment -- tap into their ace upside. Other times, they keep torpedoing your staff's ERA.
After pairing a 25.3% K rate with a 5.60 ERA in 2020, Montas opened this season by surrendering a 6.20 ERA in April. He then turned a corner, reminding us more of the 2019 breakout star by submitting a 3.27 ERA in nine redemptive starts. It's time to trust the 28-year-old righty again, right?
Guess not. Firmly back in everyone's starting lineup, Montas got mauled to eight runs at Texas on Monday. That calamity elevated his ERA to 4.79. While a 3.94 FIP and 3.89 SIERA suggest he should be better, fantasy managers have to wonder if they can ever get comfortable deploying Montas.
He continues to utilize his sinker to middling results, allowing a .344 wOBA with a 33.7% usage rate. In 2019, he flourished anyway because of an untouchable slider. That pitch has betrayed him this year; the opposition is now mashing it with far fewer strikeouts.
Regardless of what Montas is throwing, hitters are making loud contact. Only Kyle Hendricks (30) and Tarik Skubal (27) have allowed more barrels than Montas (26), who has also served up the fourth-most hits at an average exit velocity of 95.0 mph or higher.
Through this all, Montas still has a healthy 87 strikeouts and 21 walks over 82.2 innings. He's ceded three earned runs or fewer in 11 of 15 starts. Unfortunately, he's allowed 25 runs in the other four turns. Rather than crossing your fingers for the return of 2019 Frankie Montas, managers need to accept his volatility and hope those punchouts come with an ERA closer to 4.00 than 5.00.
Kyle Schwarber (OF - WAS): .519 SLG
Schwarber was slugging .347 on May 12 with three home runs in 25 games. That slump banished him to the waiver wire, which wasn't a terrible overreaction considering he never found his footing (.188//.308/.393) during the shortened 2020.
Given enough time, a slugger like Schwarber will eventually get hot. From May 13 onward, he's clubbed an MLB-high 16 home runs (including two Saturday and three Sunday) in 37 games. In six weeks, his slugging percentage has sprung all the way to .519.
Dreadful 2020 aside, Schwarber now has 30 long balls in his last 122 games after clubbing 38 in 2019. Those 68 deep flies give him more than all but six hitters (including Cruz, of course, because he's awesome) during that timeframe.
His .358 wOBA suddenly aligns with his .357 clip from 2019, a campaign that saw him record a career-best .250 batting average. While he's now at .240 with a 29.4% strikeout rate, that's good enough for an elite power source in 2021. A .257 expected batting average -- he had a .263 xBA in 2019 -- also provides encouragement that his average is more likely to rise than fall.
Some fantasy managers gave up on Schwarber earlier in the season. This is clear, as not all leagues have responded to his renaissance. As of Wednesday, Schwarber remains available in 28% of Yahoo leagues. Even in shallow standard formats with three outfielders and small benches, this shouldn't be the case.
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