By The Numbers: Bryce Harper, Chris Taylor, Charlie Blackmon
Manipulate the numbers a bit, and we finally have a full season worth of MLB data to dissect.
The 2021 campaign is far from complete, but it’s already much more extensive than 2020. Pairing this season’s 105-110 games with last season’s 60, many player stat lines resemble what you’d see from a normal full year.
With that said, let’s veer from the typical routine and play a fun numbers game. Here are a few standout lines (good or bad) when searching the 2020-2021 results. These stats were taken Wednesday, and this exercise tended to avoid data heavily skewed by a breakout this season. For example, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is batting .300 with 43 home runs in 164 games despite a lethargic 2020.
Note: All stats are updated as of Wednesday.
If anything, the 30 homers are disappointing for Harper, who tallied 34 and 35 home runs in 2018 and 2019, respectively. However, gains elsewhere have turned him into a more well-rounded star who could garner first-round consideration next year.
Sluggers of Harper's ilk tend to slow down on the basepaths in their prime years. The Phillies outfielder has instead picked up the pace. With inconsistent totals from season to season, he averaged 11.25 steals per year from 2012 to 2019. That's certainly helpful in this current climate, but the extra steals elevate him to another level. While he meets the minimum requirements for each rate, Harper joins an elite group of Fernando Tatís Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., Trea Turner, José Ramírez, and Shohei Ohtani as the other players with at least 30 homers and 20 steals from 2020 onward.
Although Harper hit .330 in 2015's MVP campaign and .319 two years later, he batted below .275 in seven other seasons. Drafters adjusted their expectations accordingly, only to watch him now batting .306 with a .299 expected batting average (xBA) and the seventh-highest xwOBA (.418) among all qualified hitters.
Even if he doesn't carry these improvements fully beyond 2021, hitting .275 with 30 home runs and 15 steals -- and triple-digit runs or RBIs, depending on lineup placement -- makes Harper a steady high-end option.
Going off pure name value, Taylor and Pollock could lose reps on this superteam. That'd be a major bummer for fantasy managers enjoying these unheralded standouts. It'd also be ill-advised for the Dodgers to sit one of their best players during a heated NL West race.
Taylor's role should be relatively safe. Since the start of 2020, Betts is the only Dodgers position player with a higher fWAR than Taylor's 5.1, which ties Harper for 14th among all hitters. The 30-year-old's positional versatile should also keep him in the lineup nearly every day, where he'll continue to make a mark in all five standard fantasy categories.
Pollock doesn't deliver as much value with his glove, but the Dodgers are going to have a tough time taking his bat out of the lineup. He's already tallied 10 doubles and eight homers in 28 games from July 1 onward. Pollock has a higher wOBA and wRC+ than from his 2015 breakout.
Can a team still trailing the Giants for the division crown really bench one of those two for a .165 hitter? Bellinger has the fifth-worst wOBA (.245) of all hitters with at least 200 plate appearances this season. He's slugging .246 since the All-Star break.
Those who drafted Bellinger as a lineup anchor in the late-first or early-second round may not like the answer. Then again, they may be looking for an excuse to also bench -- if not cut -- the 2019 NL MVP.
Blackmon hit at least 29 home runs every season from 2016 to 2019 before suddenly turning into Nick Markakis.
The career .339/.399/.567 hitter at Coors Field is no longer reaping any benefits from his cozy home park. While batting .296 with a .371 OBP on the road over the last two seasons, he's only hitting .274 with eight home runs in 81 games at home. Blackmon's dim power output now compares to Adam Frazier, Tommy Edman, and David Peralta.
The speed has also evaporated entirely. Including 2019, he has six stolen bases over his last 300 games. Those aren't coming back for the 35-year-old.
At the same time, he's not a useless bust. Blackmon is still a steady contact hitter and strong run-producer in the heart of Colorado's lineup. That makes him a worthwhile contributor in five-outfielder leagues, but it's undoubtedly a letdown for drafters who anticipated a power bounce-back. Since most managers chase power, speed, and upside, Blackmon is likely to fall far enough down 2022 draft boards to turn into a late, volume-driven bargain in deeper leagues.
Staying in Colorado, Márquez is defying Coors Field to help fantasy investors. Not immune to the occasional home blow-up, he got gashed for 10 runs by Houston last August and eight in the first inning against San Francisco this May. Yet he's recorded a quality start in 24 of 35 turns. His 3.34 FIP ranks ninth among all qualified starting pitchers over the last two seasons, and only Zack Wheeler has worked more innings.
Don't overlook the durability factor. As the year winds down, fantasy managers will witness more starters hit a wall or get skipped, shut down, or put on a tighter pitch count by clubs looking to avoid fatigue and injury. That's unlikely a concern for Márquez, who should have 50-60 more innings left in the tank. Finally thriving in Colorado (3.29 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 76.2 innings), even skeptics can't deny that he's a top-40 fantasy starter.
It's a bad sign when you allow three home runs, and it's still considered an encouraging start. Corbin completed the seventh inning for just the fourth time this season, collecting his most strikeouts (eight) since May 13 on Tuesday. He also served up three long balls to the Phillies for the second straight outing.
After pitching fairly well in June (3.82 ERA), Corbin has gotten decimated to a 6.75 ERA in his last six starts. Opponents are hitting .312/.356/.602 against him after the All-Star break.
One pitch isn't enough for a major-league starter. Corbin continues to lean heavily on an excellent slider, but his four-seamer and sinker have respectively gotten rocked to a .430 and .380 wOBA. Those are improvements over last season's ghastly .482 and .421.
It's been a swift and sudden decline for Corbin. A fantasy ace in 2018 and 2019 is no longer rosterable.
In this case, Manaea took a significant leap in 2021. However, his humdrum 4.50 ERA in 2020 also came with a microscopic 3.6% walk rate, leading to a 3.71 FIP.
This season, the useful lefty has evolved into a top-flight pitcher, posting a 3.26 ERA with a 3.23 FIP. His strikeout rate jumped from an average 20.3% to a superb 26.9%, an improvement back by his swinging-strike rate climbing three percentage points from 9.6 to 12.6.
Maybe you don't trust his current ERA to stay intact, especially after witnessing the Padres pile on five runs against Manaea on Tuesday. Even so, these 2020-2021 numbers make for a handy No. 3 fantasy starter. They're also on par with his 3.53 SIERA and 3.66 xERA.
The only concern here is Manaea holding up through September; he's already 34 innings away from setting a new season-high, and Oakland hopes to play October baseball. However, the risk isn't high enough to sell Manaea.
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