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Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Chris Taylor, Harrison Bader, Touki Toussaint, Kevin Gausman

by Jon Mathisen | @eazymath | Featured Writer
Jul 26, 2021
Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor has been a reliable contributor for the Dodgers all season.

Welcome to the Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers article for Week 17 (7/19 – 7/25). I will be covering some of the hottest and coldest players in baseball over the last week. This column aims to provide insight into the featured players’ success and/or struggles as we’ll try and discover if their recent performances have any staying power or if it was just a flash in the pan. This was the first full week since the All-Star break, and the landscape of the league is already beginning to shift with the trade deadline around the corner. The Padres acquired Adam Frazier from the Pirates on Sunday evening in what should be the first of many big moves over the coming days.

The MLB trade deadline is at 4:00 PM EST on July 30, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on that. Most fantasy baseball trade deadlines are around mid-August, depending on your league, which will give us time to digest any big trades that occur this coming week. The majority of NFL teams begin training camp this week, so the fantasy football season is in full swing. Most fantasy baseball managers dabble in fantasy football, and many begin to lose focus around this time of year. But this is crunch time in fantasy baseball, the playoffs are around the corner, and competitive managers (like you!) know that this is where we separate the serious from the casual. It’s important to pay attention to which players are “rising” and which ones are “falling.” That way, we’ll know who to target and who to avoid in any last-minute trades as we try to bolster our teams for a playoff push.

I try my best to focus on some lesser-known players or fringe roster-worthy guys that have been flying under the radar. To avoid redundancy, I won’t always be covering superstars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Shohei Ohtani, and Fernando Tatis Jr. They’re all amazing players. As much as I’d like to write about them every week, they’re rostered in 100% of leagues, and their awesomeness is well documented across the fantasy baseball landscape. Anyway, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into it.

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Risers

Chris Taylor (INF/OF – LAD)
The Dodgers offense has seen better days. Mookie Betts has battled all sorts of injuries throughout the season and was just placed on the injured list with hip inflammation. Former NL MVP Cody Bellinger has had multiple IL stints himself and can’t get into a rhythm at the plate. Last year’s NLCS and World Series MVP, Corey Seager, has been out since the middle of May with a hand fracture. But Chris Taylor, who’s having an excellent season, has done all he can to pick up the slack. He was white-hot at the plate last week, slashing an absurd .414/.433/1.000 with two doubles, five home runs, six RBI, and a stolen base over seven games. He was literally the difference in two of the Dodgers’ three wins, homering twice in Tuesday’s 8-6 win over the Giants before swatting two bombs again in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Rockies.

The versatile 30-year-old is now slashing .284/.380/.497 with 16 home runs, 55 RBI, nine stolen bases, and 73 runs scored over 334 at-bats. He’s on pace to set new career-highs in home runs (21 in 2017) and RBI (72 in 2017). He’s overachieved a bit per his expected stats (.256 xBA, .358 xwOBA, .458 xSLG) and his .364 BABIP is well-above his career mark of .344. There has been a noticeable change in his batted ball profile, however. He’s upped his Fly Ball Rate from 16.8% in 2020 to 27.9% this season while lowering his Ground Ball Rate from 48.1% to 39.7%. He’s been a reliable contributor for the Dodgers all season with his defensive versatility (he’s started at six different positions) and clutch hitting. He becomes a free agent this offseason and should cash in for a big payday if he can keep this up.

Harrison Bader (OF – STL)
Bader didn’t make his season debut until April 30 due to a forearm strain, so he got off to a late start. He had a decent stretch in May, hitting .311/.385/.600 with four home runs over a 14 game span. He started to scuffle at the plate towards the end of the month before he fractured a rib while attempting to make a diving catch in the outfield. He was understandably dropped in most fantasy leagues as he ended up missing five weeks while on the injured list. He was activated on July 1 and has done nothing but rake at the plate ever since. He went 13-for-27 (.481/.517/.815) with two homers and seven RBI over seven games last week. He’s got a 1.227 OPS since the All-Star break (10 games) and is slashing a sterling .362/.421/.609 with five doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI, and two stolen bases in the 19 games since his activation.

Overall, he’s got a .289/.358/.507 batting line with eight home runs, 24 RBI, and five stolen bases over 142 at-bats while playing excellent defense in center field. He’s become a more disciplined hitter with career-highs in Z-Contact (86.6%) and O-Contact (64%). He’s also nearly cut his career 27.5% Strikeout Rate in half with a 16.2% mark this season. Even though he only has five stolen bases so far, he’s capable of swiping more as he ranks in the 97th percentile in sprint speed. He’s on pace to set a new career-high in home runs (12 in 2018/2019) and should reach double-digit steals before the season wraps up. Bader is only rostered in 14% of Yahoo! leagues as of now, but that number is bound to go up this week.

Touki Toussaint (SP – ATL)
Toussaint made just six starts (23 1/3 innings) in the minors this season due to a lingering shoulder injury, so expectations were low when he was called up early last week for his season debut against the Padres. He got the job done against the Friars on Tuesday (7/20) when he limited them to just one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings. He picked up the win and earned himself another start against the Phillies on Sunday. The 25-year-old went toe-to-toe with Aaron Nola, punching out 10 batters (career-high) while limiting the Phillies to just five hits and one run over seven innings (another career-best). Unfortunately, the Braves’ offense couldn’t get to Nola, so Toussaint took the tough-luck loss.

Through two starts, he’s got a sparkling 1.32 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and 15:2 K/BB ratio over 13 2/3 innings. Toussaint has always been able to miss bats, but free passes have been the big issue for him. He’s got a career 13.9% Walk Rate and has averaged 5.4 BB/9 over 108 2/3 major league innings. This 2021 sample size is very small, but he’s pounded the strike zone so far, and it’s kept hitters off balance. He posted a sterling 41% CSW rate in Sunday’s loss to the Phillies. He’ll get another start this week against the Milwaukee Brewers at home and is worth rostering in all fantasy formats. Just know that he’s flashed at the major league level before, but consistency has evaded him.

Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)
The Rockies only played five games last week, but that was enough for Blackmon to put some impressive numbers. He went 7-for-20 (.350/.381/.700) with two doubles, one triple, one home run, four RBI, and one steal. He’s been on fire since the All-Star break, slashing .375/.412/.688 to go along with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, six RBI, and a pair of stolen bases over 32 at-bats. It’s worth noting that both home runs were game-winners as he swatted a walk-off bomb at home against the Dodgers on July 18 and the go-ahead two-run homer in extra-innings against the Dodgers on the road on July 23. This mini second-half resurgence has been welcomed by patient fantasy managers who stuck by Blackmon. Overall, the veteran outfielder is slashing .273/.363/.397 with six home runs, 47 RBI, two stolen bases, and 42 runs scored.

The power numbers are well below what we’ve come to expect from Blackmon, but his expected stats give some reason for optimism.He’s sporting a .292 xBA (94th percentile), .360xwOBA, and .432 xSLG. He’s also posting a career-best 41.8% Hard Hit Rate. His xHR number is 11.4, so he’s had some bad luck in the power department. Meanwhile, his 12.3% Strikeout Rate (97th percentile) and 10.4% Walk Rate are both career highs. He may not be the dynamic power/speed combination that he was five years ago, but he’s still a useful fantasy asset and should remain a solid outfield option moving forward.

 

Fallers

Kevin Gausman (SP – SF)
This was not the two-start week that fantasy managers anticipated from Gausman. On Monday, the 19th, he had his shortest start of the season, needing 80 pitches–47 strikes–just to get through three innings of two-run ball against the Dodgers. Los Angeles is a familiar opponent, and they really made Gausman work, but surely he would bounce back in his next start against the last-place Pirates on Saturday in Oracle Park, right? Unfortunately, he did not. He had his worst start of the season against Pittsburgh when he surrendered six runs, a season-high, with two strikeouts and four walks over 4 1/3 innings. It’s hard not to give the 30-year-old hurler a break because he’s been so reliable this season, but this was an ugly week.

In his first 18 starts prior to the All-Star break, he posted a 9-3 record with a 1.73 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and 133:30 K/BB ratio over 114 2/3 innings. He only allowed eight home runs over that span as well. In his last two starts, post All-Star break, he’s put up a 9.82 ERA, 2.45 WHIP, and 7:7 K.BB ratio while allowing three home runs over 7 1/3 innings. Even with the recent slide, his overall numbers are sterling with a 2.21 ERA, 0.918 WHIP, and 140:37 K/BB ratio over 122 innings (20 starts). His 3.22 xERA and 3.00 FIP show how dominant he has been for the majority of the season. He’s had issues with his split-finger, which has been his most dominant pitch this season over the last two appearances. Opponents are hitting just .112 (.127 xBA) off of that pitch this year, and he throws it 36.7% of the time. Gausman thinks it’s a mechanical issue that he can correct, which is good news. He should be fine moving forward, but he has a tough draw in his next turn when the Astros come to town.

Kenley Jansen (RP – LAD)
Prior to last week, Kenley Jansen had a 1.24 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 41:22 K/BB ratio, and was 21-for-23 on save opportunities for the season. He had not blown a save since May 5 and had looked like his old dominant self throughout much of the year. The veteran stopper had a rough three days at the office last week, though, blowing three straight save opportunities. He surrendered a whopping eight earned runs on nine hits with three strikeouts and four walks over the three appearances (two innings) as the Dodgers lost all three games. To add insult to injury, two of the three losses came against division-rival San Francisco. Jansen was given a fourth chance to redeem himself on Saturday night when manager Dave Roberts sent him out to preserve a 1-0 lead against the Rockies. He was able to get the job done and end an otherwise horrible week on a good note.

He now holds a 2.97 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, and 45:27 K/BB ratio over 39 1/3 innings. Jansen had been one of the more reliable closer options in the game prior to last week’s meltdown, so hopefully, he can put the poor performances behind him. The Dodgers can ill-afford to blow many more games like that, particularly in the division, as they’re locked in a tight race with San Francisco and San Diego. Fantasy managers shouldn’t be looking to trade Jansen or cut bait on him after a few bad games, but his leash probably got a little shorter.

Victor Robles (OF – WSH)
This season has not gone according to plan for Robles and his formerly hopeful fantasy managers. He’s slashing a rough .207/.325/.300 with one home run, 12 RBI, and eight stolen bases over 227 at-bats. The Nationals recently recalled Andrew Stevenson, and he’s been splitting time with the struggling Robles. As a result, Robles has been getting platooned and only appeared in two games last week. He’s hit a meager .154/.353/.154 with one RBI over the last seven games (17 plate appearances), and he’s got a lowly .170/.304/.277 batting line with one home run, seven RBI, four stolen bases, and a 32:14 K/BB ratio over 42 games since June 1. Robles had more home runs (three) and RBI (15) last season in 63 fewer at-bats than he’s had so far this year to put his struggles in perspective.

His expected stats (.213 xBA, .294 xwOBA, and .312 xSLG) don’t offer much hope either. His 23.7% Strikeout Rate is the second-worst mark of his career, while his 27.1% Hard Hit Rate ranks in the third percentile in MLB. The only positive takeaway is that he has a 10% Walk Rate, which is a career-high. But he doesn’t get on base nearly enough, and his sprint speed (currently 78th percentile) has declined every single season since 2017. The former top prospect in the Nationals’ system hasn’t come close to living up to expectations and isn’t worth a roster spot in standard mixed leagues.

Christian Yelich (OF – MIL)
Yelich got off to a decent start immediately following the All-Star break, picking up a pair of multi-hit performances over the first three games. Unfortunately, he’s hit the skids since then as he went 3-for-20 (.150/.190/.200) with one RBI and seven strikeouts over five games last week. The former NL MVP has battled a nagging back injury this year, which has limited him to just 67 games. He’s had two separate IL stints, and the missed time has led to inconsistency at the plate as he seemingly hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm. He’s got a .235/.382/.367 batting line with just six home runs, 28 RBI, and seven stolen bases over 221 at-bats this year. He has scored 44 runs, which is solid, but the rest of his numbers are far below what fantasy managers expected when they made him a first-round pick in the spring.

It’s possible that his back is still bothering him, but Yelich struggled last year as well. He hit just .205 with a .786 OPS last season, albeit with 12 home runs in 58 games. His Hard Hit Rate (48.6%), Barrel Rate (9%), and Average Launch Angle (nine degrees) are all four-year lows. His HR/FB rate of 9.1% is by far his lowest mark since he arrived in Milwaukee (18.2% in 2018, 22.2% in 2019, and 20.7% in 2020). He’s a hard player to value right now as he still has the big-name recognition and isn’t too far removed from an MVP season. But he’s been such a letdown so far, and the numbers don’t lie. There’s always the chance he could catch fire over the final two months, but hope isn’t something that fantasy managers should hang their hat on.

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