By The Numbers: Tim Anderson, Randy Arozarena, Alex Reyes
The numbers are flooding back. Fantasy managers had four days to stop and evaluate MLB’s first-half results before returning to the daily task of monitoring an ever-changing landscape.
A lot can happen in a few days. Not even a full week back from the All-Star break, Juan Soto has raised his slugging percentage from .445 to over .500. Ross Stripling was working his way back into mixed-league relevancy before the Red Sox tagged him to six runs in under an inning, expanding his ERA from 4.34 to 5.04.
The two hitters highlighted below have each enjoyed a power barrage in recent days. The pitcher, on the other hand, had his worst outing of 2021 days after making his All-Star Game debut. Let’s step back and get a full snapshot of their season stats.
Tim Anderson (SS – CHW): .324 Batting Average since 2019
Still waiting for Anderson’s batting average to regress? Hope you brought some snacks and a comfortable blanket.
Anderson possesses MLB’s best batting average among all qualified hitters since capturing the AL batting crown in 2019. As of Wednesday, he represented one of just eight hitters hitting over .300 during that three-year window.
While 2020 didn't provide a full sample size, that's still 251 games and 1,091 plate appearances of elite production from the White Sox shortstop. It also comes with the fourth-lowest walk rate (3.8%) of all qualified position players, but that aggressiveness is clearly not hampering Anderson's success.
Case closed? Not all skeptics will relent, as Anderson's career transformation is more confusing the deeper you dive. Whereas most .300 hitters boast a contact rate above the 80-percent mark, he has never climbed above 77.0% in a single season. Anderson also doesn't hit the ball noticeably hard; this year's 89.5-mph average exit velocity is a career-high, but still close to the league's median. Those perusing his Statcast page will see a middling .264 xBA and expect the bottom to finally fall.
Anderson's high batting averages still don't make much complete sense, and it's fair to wonder if he can sustain MLB's highest BABIP without an exemplary line-drive or hard-hit rate. But don't we eventually have to believe a long-standing trend and appreciate a flourishing outlier? Perhaps his speed and ability to spray the ball all across the field are enough.
Of course, it helps that he's compiled 19 home runs and steals apiece in 128 games dating back to 2020. Leading off for a stacked White Sox lineup awaiting the return of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert is also cool. It wouldn't be wise to buy high on Anderson, who is batting .381 with 19 runs in 14 July games, but his current managers should enjoy the ride unless receiving an offer befitting a five-category stud.
Randy Arozarena (OF - TB): 21 Games
That's how many games Arozarena went without a home run or stolen base. Diamond Digest's Jeremy Frank noted an oddity regarding this drought right before Arozarena notched three long balls in two games.
Randy Arozarena is the first player with no home runs, no stolen bases and 5+ caught stealings in a 20 game span since Dexter Fowler in May 2011.
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) July 20, 2021
It's funny how fast someone's fortune can turn.
If written a few days ago, this section would wonder what's wrong with Arozarena. The answer may now be "nothing." Although not the stud who dominated last September before guiding the Rays to the World Series, he's one of 13 players who have tallied double-digit homers (13) and steals (11) this season. Arozarena has 29 home runs and 18 steals in 155 career games when including his tremendous playoff success.
Given the out-of-hand preseason helium, drafters probably expected better than a 113 wRC+ from Arozarena. After all, he ended up going around the same range as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The cost left little room for profit, but it soared precisely because of the power-speed pairing he's displayed.
Arozarena's .210 xBA and .288 xwOBA -- not factoring in Wednesday two-homer afternoon -- are also concerning, but he's more likely to repair those metrics than regress down to them. However, he'll struggle to rediscover last fall's high gear while hitting so few line drives (21.5%) and struggling against breaking (.241 wOBA) and offspeed (.245 wOBA) pitches.
The biggest worry, however, is how long the Rays will let him keep running. Despite trying five times, Arozarena still hasn't successfully stolen a base since June 17. He's gotten caught in seven of 18 tries, so it's fair to wonder if the light turns red. That's how he'd go from a top-25 fantasy outfielder to an overhyped talent who peaked in 2020. Yet we're not there yet, and it wouldn't be surprising if Arozarena is only beginning another massive hot streak.
Alex Reyes (RP - STL): 19.4% Walk Rate
Few players have delivered a higher return on investment than Reyes this season. Either a bench flier or undrafted altogether, the former top prospect has posted a 2.06 ERA and 22 saves for St. Louis. The All-Star set an MLB record by closing the door on his first 24 career save opportunities, a streak that halted Tuesday night.
A NEW MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD!
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) July 18, 2021
Injuries limited Reyes to just 26.2 innings over the past four seasons and robbed him of a chance to mature into a front-line starter. This reclamation act is a remarkable triumph tale. It's also constantly on the precipice of decaying into a horror show.
Reyes has issued an alarming 37 walks in 43.2 innings, giving him the highest walk rate of any qualified pitcher. Fantasy managers have paid the price with an unseemly 1.42 WHIP. Only Daniel Bard has a higher WHIP among the 25 pitchers with double-digit saves.
Those free passes finally haunted Reyes when two walked batters made it home during Tuesday's blown save. As difficult as he is to hit, Reyes can't perform a Houdini act in every outing.
Based on some troubling metrics, this rough patch could be only the beginning. A 3.75 FIP towers far above his ERA, but it's nearly a full run below his 4.74 xFIP. A 4.87 SIERA also indicates what could happen if Reyes doesn't keep preventing long balls with aplomb. He's allowed just two home runs with a 5.1% HR/FB rate that's far below league-average, but not necessarily a fluke.
The FIP and 3.58 xERA are more realistic baselines of what regression could look like for Reyes. That's still troublesome for a closer with a sky-high WHIP -- and perhaps not as much job security as one may think. The Cardinals roster another star reliever in Giovanny Gallegos, who pairs his 2.57 ERA with a nearly uniform 2.62 xERA, 2.63 SIERA, and 2.69 FIP. He hasn't allowed a walk in 14 of his last 15 appearances.
Reyes has probably built up enough job security to remain the closer barring an undeniable breakdown. Managers with other closing options should nevertheless shop him to save-needy squads before MLB's trade deadline creates closer turnover to attack on the waiver wire.
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