20 Things To Watch For In Week 20 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
As I mentioned last week, it’s crunch time. Fantasy football is heating up and summer is still in full swing, which means our baseball opponents might be slipping. This is your reminder to stick with it. Especially if you play in a H2H league the goal is just to get into the fantasy playoffs. From there, anything can happen. Onto Week 20!
Remember to reach out on Twitter with questions anytime @toomuchtuma.
1. Evan Longoria‘s return
Prior to going down with a shoulder injury in early June, the 35-year-old third baseman was having his best season in the Statcast era. Longoria was hitting .280/.376/.516 with nine homers and 30 RBI in 186 PAs. Incredibly, as shown in the tweet below, he was actually under performing his expected stats. We’ve known for a while that the Giants hitting coaches have found some new ways to get the most out of their veteran bats, a la Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. It’s quite clear a similar resurgence was happening with Longoria before he got hurt. It might take him a bit to readjust after such a long layoff, but he’s a priority fantasy add in leagues where he was dropped.
Prior to going down with his shoulder injury, Evan Longoria was not only having a career year for the Statcast era, but he was actually under performing
.280 BA –> .288 xBA
.516 SLG –> .562 xSLG
.380 wOBA –> .401 xwOBA
Priority add down the stretch.#ResilientSF
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) August 12, 2021
2. Logan Webb‘s matchup with the Mets
The 24-year-old was an interesting sleeper back in March, but some early-season ineffectiveness combined with an IL stint removed him from the fantasy radar for most of the summer. However, if he’s somehow still available in your league then the time to buy back in is immediately. In seven starts since returning from the injured list Webb has a 1.75 ERA, backed up by a 2.90 xFIP, with 36 strikeouts in 36 innings. Additionally, he has a fantastic 63.3 GB%.
And if you extrapolate that sample to include his previous three starts before getting hurt, then Webb has a 1.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 53 innings over his past 10 outings. A matchup with the Mets in Week 20 is one to attack. Start him with confidence.
3. Chris Bassitt‘s two-start ascension
Whereas I was personally lucky enough to get in on Webb before this recent revelation, I was never in on Bassitt. And that’s unfortunate considering he has a 2.83 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings (plus an 11-1 record) over his past 21 starts. Those results give him the fifth most bWAR among American League pitchers entering the weekend. His Week 20 matchups are against the White Sox and Giants, which isn’t necessarily ideal, but we’re long past whether we should consider Bassitt a must-start option by now.
4-7. Interesting two-start options worth discussing
Frankie Montas (SP – OAK)
Set it and forget it. Montas began using his splitter more regularly once the calendar flipped to July (18% to 33%), and in his past seven starts he has a 2.49 ERA, a 2.91 xFIP, and 54 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. The season-long numbers aren’t nearly as clean, but don’t let those fool you. Montas has fixed his early-year struggles. He draws the White Sox and Giants in Week 20.
Cal Quantrill (SP – CLE)
Cleveland’s righty has totaled at least six innings in each of his past five starts, allowing two runs or fewer in each of them. Good, right? Of course, but the strikeouts have been all over the place — 2, 5, 6, 10, 5. Typically when a mediocre starting pitcher is on a run of success without generating whiffs, it means regression is coming. Think John Gant from earlier this year. Looking at his pitch usage on Baseball Savant, shown below, I couldn’t find a noticeable change during this stretch. This lends me to believe that Quantrill is just running hot right now. Week 20 matchups against the Twins and Angels make him serviceable until we learn more.
Tarik Skubal (SP – DET)
Just when it seemed like Skubal was hitting a wall in 2021 (nine earned runs over two starts in late July), he has come roaring back in August — spinning 11 shutout innings with a 10:2 K:BB ratio. Skubal began having success this year once he was able to generate a velocity difference between his fastball and changeup, as well as mixing in a curve. More struggles popped up as summer went along, but this recent two-start stretch has been promising. The Week 20 matchups aren’t easy with the Angels and Blue Jays on tap.
David Price (SP – LAD)
The defending champs have had some surprising rotation holes this season, and it has led to Price being utilized as a more traditional starting pitcher. However, he has yet to complete six innings in a start, and he’s only pitched more than five frames twice. Building up stamina takes time, though, and Week 20 could be the time to deploy the 35-year-old in weekly lineup leagues. The matchups (Pirates and Mets) are on his side.
8. Start Andrew Vaughn
Chicago’s lineup is suddenly a bit crowded following the returns of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, but the rookie Vaughn has played well enough to remain an everyday starter for the contending White Sox. Vaughn got off to a slow start this season, which is understandable for a hitter who had never played above High-A entering ’21, but the adjustments have been made. Since June 29th he’s hitting .325/.384/.553 (entering the weekend). Incredibly, the 23-year-old has been able to cut down on strikeout while adding power. He owes the newfound success to a more effective pre-swing hand load. Vaughn has a seven-game schedule in Week 20.
Since June 29th Andrew Vaughn has the 24th best swinging strike rate in baseball (7.2%)
What massive improvements he has made throughout his rookie campaign
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) August 12, 2021
9 – 10. Dodgers playing time
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)
I’m using an arbitrary endpoint, but over his most recent 40 plate appearances Cody Bellinger has looked like himself — slashing .297/.350/.676 with four homers and a 171 wRC+. The former MVP is a high-variance player, but there was real debate within the industry recently as to whether or not he was droppable. He can be safely re-inserted into fantasy lineups in Week 20.
AJ Pollock (OF – LAD)
Adding to the Bellinger concerns was the idea that he would be squeezed out of playing time with the Dodgers at full strength. Manager Dave Roberts even said that the majority of his playing time will come against right-handers down the stretch. Maybe that’ll remain the case, but Mookie Betts‘ hip injury re-opens the door for everyday playing time. This is good news for Pollock as well, who has quietly hit .308/.359/.525 with 14 homers and eight stolen bases. Things will get messier for Bellinger, Pollock, and Chris Taylor once Betts returns, but for now the playing time should be more than fine.
11 – 12. Yankees playing time
Luke Voit‘s return to the lineup coincided with Anthony Rizzo landing on the COVID-19 injured list, so New York’s first base problem hasn’t actually been a problem yet. We don’t know how Aaron Boone is going to set the lineup once both are active. Aaron Judge could play more center field, with Giancarlo Stanton also playing the outfield, but this suddenly feels extremely suboptimal for defenses purposes. Voit is hitting .150 since returning and there were rumors that the Yankees were trying to deal him at the deadline, so maybe he gets squeezed a bit. Stanton has played five games in the outfield thus far and it’s unclear how often the Yankees want to throw him out there. Meantime, Joey Gallo has posted just a 73 wRC+ in 62 PAs since being traded. It’s going to get messy and it’s something for managers to monitor.
13 – 15. Rockies to stream
C.J. Cron (1B – COL)
The Rockies play six home games in Week 20, which means we want to get their bats into our lineups. The best streaming hitter is Cron, whose splits are as extreme a can be — a 1.062 OPS with 15 homers in Coors compared to a .660 OPS with three homers on the road.
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS – COL)
Rodgers missed some time this week due to a hand contusion, but he was able to return to Friday’s lineup and collect two hits. His overall numbers are pretty solid, but Rodgers has been even better since June 4th, hitting .314/.370/.543 with nine homers. He isn’t running and there hasn’t been an offensive explosion, and the playing time has still been a bit all over, but Rodgers has been steady. Six home games? Get him in your lineups!
Elias Diaz (C – COL)
Look, catcher is ugly. If you need a streaming option than you can do worse than a backstop who has a full week of games in Coors Field.
16. Another catcher pickup
For fantasy managers struggling to fill the catcher position — I have another recommendation — Travis d’Arnaud! The 32-year-old has missed the majority of 2021 due to a thumb injury, but the Braves activated him back on Wednesday. This is a player who hit .321/.386/.533 with strong expected stats last summer.
17. Swinging strikes from Josiah Gray
Through three starts with the Nationals the 23-year-old has a 15.4% swinging strike rate, which is good! Additionally, Gray has a 2.81 ERA with a 18:4 K:BB through 16 innings. He completed six full innings for the first time as a big league pitcher on Friday night. If that kind of workload continues then he’ll wind up being even more of a factor in redraft leagues than I originally thought. It looks like he faces Milwaukee in Week 20.
18 – 19. The Mets’ Infield
We got injury updates on both Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez on Friday. We’ll start with Lindor (oblique), who was able to hit off a pitching machine without issue. The $341 million man has slowly been ramping up his baseball activities. An early September return remains in play. As for Baez, who was placed on the IL due to his lingering back issue, rest is the key. The free-swinging infielder hasn’t been good since being traded to the Mets, but the team needs him down the stretch. Resting this back injury and gearing up for a strong finish is the best move here.
20. Rookie Struggles
My colleague/good friend Mike Maher joined me on a new podcast to discuss what has gone wrong for rookies in 2021, and how fantasy managers can use this year’s lessons to take advantage of the new market inefficiency.
⚾️ PODCAST ⚾️
Where @mikeMaher and I analyze 2021 rookie struggles from a macro level, big picture sense
Introducing Fantasy Baseball Prospects And More
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) August 14, 2021
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.