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Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Juan Soto, Tim Anderson, Kyle Gibson (2021)

by Jon Mathisen | @eazymath | Featured Writer
Jul 20, 2021
Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson has homered in three of four games since returning from the All-Star break.

Welcome to the Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers article for Week 15 (7/16 – 7/18). 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. We’ll discover if their recent performances have any staying power or if it was just a flash in the pan. Technically, this wasn’t a full week on account of the All-Star break as we only had three days of games starting on Friday, 7/16. So we spotted a few noticeable trends leading up to and after the Midsummer Classic to increase our sample sizes.

There were still some interesting narratives, and we also had a few players wake up from their pre-All Star break slumbers over the weekend. Even though the sample size was smaller than normal, you still need to pay attention and try and spot any trends that will help you down the stretch. With football season around the corner, this is typically when the casual fantasy baseball player starts to check out and turn their attention towards the NFL. But competitive managers (like you!) know that this is crunch time. It’s important to pay attention to which players are “rising” and which ones are “falling” so we know who to target and who to avoid in any potential 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

Juan Soto (OF – WSH)
Soto had 11 home runs on the season heading into the All-Star break last week, and he’s hit nearly half that number over his last four games. He swatted a pair in the Nationals’ 24-8 blowout loss to the Padres back on July 16 before going deep again with a solo shot in Sunday’s victory. Even though it was technically this week and not “last week,” it’s worth mentioning that he homered twice again on Monday in an 18-1 drubbing of the Miami Marlins. The 22-year-old phenom is now slashing .301/.420/.512 with 16 home runs, 53 RBI, and five stolen bases over 289 at-bats this year. Many pundits think that Soto re-discovered his power stroke at the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. I tend to agree as his recent results speak for themselves.

The recent tear also has Soto inching closer to his impressive expected stats (.310 xBA, .416 xwOBA, and .536 xSLG). He also ranks in the 94th percentile or better in Average Exit Velocity (92.9 mph), Max Exit Velocity (115.3 mph), Hard Hit Rate (54.7%), Walk Rate (17.3%), and Chase Rate (13.7%). We have a long ways to go before the season is over, but with recent injuries to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Jacob deGrom, Soto could find himself in the thick of the NL MVP race.

Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL)
Goldschmidt has been on fire since returning from the All-Star Break (three home runs and five RBI over the last four games), but he was heating up long before the Midsummer Classic. He’s 23-for-59 (.390/.471/.695) over his last 15 games, swatting five homers and driving in 13 runs over that span. Overall, the veteran first baseman is slashing .273/.343/.457 with 16 home runs, 54 RBI, and five stolen bases over 352 at-bats. He’s steadily improved each month after a slow start to the year. In April, he slashed .214/.257/.340 before hitting .265/.350/.422 in May. He stepped his game up even more in June, registering a .281/.349/.490 batting line and is currently rocking a .391/.481/.674 triple slash in July.

He’s working on a 14-game hitting streak and has even more room for improvement per his expected stats, if you can believe that. He’s got a .288 xBA, .386 xwOBA, and .544 xSLG. His 55.4% Hard Hit Rate and Average Launch Angle of 17.1 degrees are both career highs as well. On top of that, his 11.4% Barrel Rate is his highest mark in three seasons. He’s not walking quite as much as we’re used to with a 9.3% BB Rate (lowest of career), but his 19.9% Strikeout Rate is the second-best number of his career. You’re in good hands with Goldy.

Tim Anderson (SS – CWS)
It appears that a few days off during the break, even though he appeared in his first All-Star game, has recharged Tim Anderson. The dynamic shortstop has homered in three of four games since returning from Colorado and is riding a career-best 16 game hitting streak at the time of this writing. He’s slashing a cool .394/.419/.634 with six doubles, one triple, three home runs, 10 RBI, and 18 runs scored over the streak while the White Sox have gone 11-5. Overall, the 28-year-old has a .314/.349/.460 batting line to go along with nine home runs, 36 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 328 at-bats.

His expected stats (.264 xBA, .309 xwOBA, and .403 xSLG) along with his .393 BABIP tell us that he’s ripe for regression, but this is what we’ve come to expect from T.A. He posted a crazy .399 BABIP in 2019 and finished the year with a .335 batting average. He followed that up with a .322 BA (.383 BABIP) campaign in 2020, so he’s been bucking his expected stats for quite some time. In addition to that, his 40.4% Hard Hit Rate is the highest mark of his career, and his 6.1% Barrel Rate is the second best. He’s got some work to do if he wants to break his career-high in home runs (20) that he set back in 2018, but anything could happen, especially after this hot start.

Robbie Ray (SP – TOR)
Robbie Ray should have been on this list a long time ago as he’s having an excellent season. He’s put up ace-like numbers with an 8-4 record, 2.93 ERA, 1.043 WHIP, and 138:26 K/BB ratio over 107 1/3 innings (18 starts). He punched out 11 batters over seven innings as he one-hit the Tampa Bay Rays in his final start before the All-Star break. He followed that up with an eight strikeout performance over 6 2/3 innings in another win over the Rangers on Friday, July 16. His season numbers may be a tad inflated as he’s sporting career highs in BABIP allowed (.268) and LOB% (90.7). But his 3.80 FIP and 3.49 xERA tell us that he isn’t over his skis and that he’s made some real improvements, particularly when it comes to his control, this season.

He’s recorded five double-digit strikeout games on the year and is currently on pace to set new career-highs in punchouts (235 in 2019), and innings pitched (174 1/3 in 2016 & 2019). His 31.9% Strikeout Rate (89th percentile) is up there with the two highest marks of his career, 32.8% in 2017 and 31.5% in 2019. The big difference between then and now is that Ray had a 10.7% Walk Rate in 2017 and an 11.2% mark in 2019. His current 6% Walk Rate is the lowest mark of his entire career and a significant improvement on his career-worst 17.9% number from last season. Ray has always had massive strikeout potential, but his lack of control would often prevent him from going deeper in games, inflating his pitch count. Whatever he’s been doing up to this point is working, and he deserves to be rostered in more than 87% of Yahoo! leagues.

Fallers

Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
Heaney’s 2021 season has been a microcosm of his entire career. He’s had some brilliant starts, which some ugly stretches have mitigated. After allowing seven earned runs in a loss to the White Sox in his first game of the year, he put together a solid 2.28 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 40:8 K/BB ratio over his next five starts (27 2/3 innings). He followed up with a mediocre stretch of games before putting up another solid four-game run when he recorded a 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 25:8 K/BB ratio over 23 2/3 innings. His last three starts have been downright bad as he’s allowed 14 runs over the last 12 2/3 innings (10.22 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 13:6 K/BB ratio).

It took him 79 pitches to make it through four innings in his last start, a loss to the Mariners on Friday, July 16. All in all, the 30-year-old southpaw has a 5.56 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 98:26 K/BB ratio over 81 innings (16 starts). The inconsistency has been a killer for fantasy managers that have started or tried to stream Heaney. He’s been a little unlucky with a 4.20 FIP and 4.23 xERA, and he’s also sporting a 28.1% Strikeout Rate, the second-highest mark of his career. But managers can’t bank on his actual stats to close the gap with his expected ones. He has a relatively easy matchup (on paper) with the Twins in his next start, but it’s best to wait and see if he can snap out of this current funk before you consider streaming him again.

Kyle Gibson (SP – TEX)
Gibson has been a pleasant surprise for both the Rangers and fantasy managers alike this season. The 33-year-old was a quality start machine in the first half of the year, which earned him a much-deserved first trip to the All-Star game. From April 7 to May 21, he ripped off nine straight quality starts while posting a 1.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts over 60 innings. He’s been solid since then but has just three quality starts over his last seven appearances. Yes, I’m aware that’s a little nitpicky. His overall numbers are still excellent, with a 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 90:33 K/BB ratio over 107 innings (18 starts). He’s had some luck with run prevention (84.3% LOB Rate), and his .254 BABIP allowed is also a career-best mark, so we should expect some regression here in the second half. But his numbers are supported by a solid 3.42 xERA and 3.47 FIP.

He makes the “Fallers” list because of his two most recent starts. He allowed five runs over 6 1/3 in a loss to Detroit in his final start before the All-Star break and coughed up a season-worst eight runs over five innings in another loss to the Tigers on Monday July 19. It’s just two starts, so this shouldn’t be the time to hit the panic button, although it’s slightly alarming that it occurred against Detroit, a below-average offense. Things won’t get much easier for Gibson as he’s slated to face the Astros in Houston in his next turn. Keep an eye on how he performs in that one.

Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM)
The last three appearances for Edwin Diaz have not been pretty. He’s gone 0-for-3 on save chances and has put up a 21.00 ERA, 3.33 WHIP, and 6:3 K/BB ratio over a combined three innings pitched. Diaz took the loss, in addition to the blown save, in two of those three games as well. The recent cold streak raised his season ERA to 4.30 to go along with a 1.25 WHIP and 54:16 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. He blew just one save between April 8 and July 10 but has blown the last three opportunities. That makes him 19-for-22 on the season, which is still solid, but this recent iteration of Diaz is bringing back some bad memories for Mets fans and fantasy managers alike.

He’s looked better than his current numbers show for the vast majority of the season, but fantasy managers are likely starting to sweat. Since June 21, when MLB started to crack down on the sticky stuff, Diaz has registered a 7.59 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 17:8 K/BB ratio, and hit three batters over 10 2/3 innings. He put up a 3.00 ERA with eight walks and just two HBP over the 27 innings before the crackdown. He’s really struggled to find the strike zone lately. Four of the base runners that have reached with a walk or HBP have come around to score over his last 10 2/3 innings. The Mets should give Diaz more time to work things out, but his leash is much shorter than it was just a few weeks ago. The division races are starting to heat up, so the margin for error will only get thinner.

Randy Arozarena (OF – TB)
Arozarena has been a solid fantasy contributor this season, but it’s been a little underwhelming for fantasy managers that were hoping for more power. He was a difficult player to rank in fantasy drafts following the absurd end of his 2020 season (seven home runs in 23 regular-season games, 10 home runs in 20 postseason contests). Obviously, those power numbers weren’t sustainable over the course of a full season, but it’s safe to say his lack of home runs up to this point has been a letdown. Entering action on Tuesday, he’s slashing .248/.330/.394 with 10 home runs, 42 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and a 99:35 K/BB ratio over 327 at-bats. He hasn’t gone deep since June 17 and is batting a paltry .167/.274/.222 with five RBI and is 0-for-5 on stolen base attempts since then (21 games).

He was hitless in nine plate appearances as the Rays took 2-of-3 games from the Braves over the weekend. He did collect a pair of hits, including a double in Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Orioles. Despite the recent struggles, Arozarena hasn’t been a fantasy disappointment overall. He’s scored 52 runs and hasn’t been a total liability in any particular category. There are some issues under the hood, however, with his expected stats. He’s got an ugly .203 xBA, .280 xwOBA, and .329 xSLG, which all rank in the 10th percentile or worse. He’s also seen his Barrel Rate drop from 14% in 2020 to 6.6% this season. He hasn’t been a bust, but it’s safe to say the fantasy community was expecting more from a player with an NFC ADP of 57 before the start of the season.

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