By The Numbers: Starling Marte, Yordan Alvarez, Taijuan Walker
Every year, MLB honors its best performers … over half a season. These All-Star selections often look silly by the end of the year, or in the case of Aroldis Chapman, minutes before the roster reveal.
Sometimes the fans and coaches get it wrong. More often, there just isn’t room for everyone. This isn’t the NFL Pro Bowl, where Andy Dalton always winds up on the roster because nobody else bothered showing up.
Let’s cut everyone some slack when observing this trio of difficult omissions. One likely didn’t get the invitation to Colorado because he spent too much time on the shelf. As for the other two, it makes sense when seeing everyone invited to the All-Star festivities instead.
Rather than bemoaning their absence, let’s celebrate their commendable first halves. In all three cases, that extends to exceptional results for your fantasy squads as well.
*Note: Stats updated as of Wednesday evening.
Starling Marte (OF – MIA): 13.0 BB%
Marte has never needed walks to flourish in five-by-five fantasy formats. Even with a 5.3% career walk rate, the outfielder is a .287 hitter averaging 18 home runs and 40 stolen bases per 162 games.
By those measures, his 2021 has been perfectly normal. Marte is batting .285 with six long balls and 16 steals in 50 games. However, there’s one major difference. Marte, who has never drawn a walk rate above 6.1% in nine MLB seasons, has more than doubled that previous personal high. That’s led to a sparkling .397 OBP for Miami’s flourishing No. 2 hitter.
The outlier isn’t all on him; Marte has seen the fewest pitches inside the strike zone (38.6%) of his career. He’s also swinging less, particularly on offerings off the plate.
The underappreciated rotisserie stud didn't need to make any adjustments, so fantasy managers might not have even noticed. Yet even those not directly receiving credit for his extra walks are reaping the rewards. Marte has already scored a resounding 41 runs despite missing over a month with a rib fracture. He's reaching home at a ridiculous rate of 132 runs per 162 games.
The 32-year-old is also the only player to have accrued double-digit steals in fewer than 60 games. He's tied for fourth on MLB's leaderboard.
Although injuries have limited him to play 58.8% of Miami's schedule this season, Marte is nevertheless the 17th outfielder on ESPN's Player Rater. That puts the 32-year-old ahead of Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and Mookie Betts. Marte remains a five-category fantasy stud, and the walks only make him more dangerous.
Yordan Álvarez (OF/UT - HOU): 169 wRC+ (career)
Álvarez is hitting .308/.394/.608 with 44 home runs, 113 runs, and 138 RBIs in 160 career games. Since his arrival, only Mike Trout has a higher wRC+ among batters with at least 500 plate appearances.
After pounding 23 home runs in 56 Triple-A games two years ago, Álvarez crushed 27 more while slashing .313/.412/.655 in a sensational MLB debut. Instead of celebrating a new superstar, fantasy players spent 2020 worrying about his future. Álvarez required season-ending surgery on both knees two games into the season, prompting fears of chronic issues derailing his potential.
So far, he hasn't missed a beat. Álvarez, who returned from paternity leave with two home runs Tuesday, is now batting .305/.375/.553 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. Although he's drawing fewer walks, his quality of contact hasn't wavered much from an eye-popping rookie campaign.
Just as I recently wrote about Nelson Cruz, you're only not bummed about forgoing Alvarez if you did so to draft another stud designated hitter (Cruz, Shohei Ohtani, J.D. Martinez) instead. In hindsight, anyone could have made a killing chasing value and doubling up on those tremendous bargains. Alvarez has earned outfield eligibility in most leagues by playing 12 games in left field.
This season could mark the last time Alvarez isn't a consensus early-round selection for a while.
Taijuan Walker (SP - NYM): 20.7% Called Strike Rate
The All-Star competition was brutal among NL starters. Even as a Mets fan, it's hard to get angered over Walker's omission when Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Freddy Peralta also missed the cut. Still, it's a shame one of the first half's best stories won't receive a brighter spotlight.
A rising young pitcher who never fully met sky-high expectations, Walker underwent Tommy John surgery in early 2018. After returning for one inning to close 2019, the righty returned with a bang in 2020, posting a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts. However, a 4.56 FIP and 4.60 SIERA sowed enough doubt in the comeback's legitimacy that the Mets got him for a three-year, $23 million deal.
Walker was even cheaper in 2021 fantasy drafts, going after 112 pitchers with a 281st overall consensus ADP.
Instead of regressing, Walker is getting better. The 28-year-old has posted a 2.44 ERA in 15 superb starts. This time, he also an elite 3.06 FIP (but a 3.94 SIERA) with a career-high 17.9% K-BB rate.
Can he keep it up? Heading into 2021, many drafters (myself included) stayed away from Walker because of a mediocre 7.8% swinging-strike rate. Though better this season, a 9.3% mark is still the seventh-worst rate among 62 qualified starters. He's also the only one of 14 with a single-digit swinging-strike rate still striking out over a batter per inning.
In the past, I would have halted the analysis there and called for a decline. But there's more than one way to get strikes. While Walker isn't inducing many whiffs, he's among MLB's leaders in called strikes.
Walker is still likely to backpedal a bit in the second half. His workload is also an issue since he hasn't pitched a full season since logging 157.1 innings in 2017. That said, he shouldn't entirely fall off a cliff. Don't feel compelled to sell high to the point that you're actually settling for less.
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