Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Daulton Varsho, Ty France, Triston McKenzie
The NFL is set to kick off in less than three weeks, which is crazy to think about, but it’s still important to pay attention to the happenings all around MLB. Sure, the end is in sight, and your fantasy baseball roster is pretty much finalized, but we can’t take our eyes off the prize. Laid-back fantasy managers have mostly checked out by now, but if you can’t get enough of this stuff, then you’re probably reading this article. Experienced and competitive managers (like you) know that this is the time to hunker down and focus with the playoffs just two weeks away. This is where we separate the serious from the casual. While most of us may have a set it and forget it lineup by now, some lesser-known players mentioned below could be worth adding to your rosters right now.
It’s important to pay attention to which players are “rising” and which ones are “falling.” 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. and Fernando Tatis Jr., for example. They’re obviously both 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.
Daulton Varsho (C/1B – ARI)
Varsho didn’t crack the D-Backs major league roster out of Spring Training and wasn’t recalled until late April. He struggled over his first 19 games before being optioned back to Triple-A in late May. He was recalled again on June 20 and has steadily improved since then. The 25-year-old catcher/outfielder slashed a measly .138/.250/.175 with no home runs, five RBI, and one stolen base over his first 34 games with the club (April 28 – July 10). But it’s been the opposite in terms of production since July 11 as he’s slashed .338/.446/.738 with nine home runs, 20 RBI, and three stolen bases across 84 at-bats. Overall, he’s got a .238/.342/.470 batting line with nine long balls, 25 RBI, and four stolen bases.
He hit .429 with a 1.643 OPS, two doubles, one triple, two home runs, and five RBI in five games last week. His .246 xBA, .340 xwOBA, and .429 xSLG aren’t far off his actual stats, and he’s sporting career bests in Hard Hit Rate (43.2%), Average Launch Angle (20.6 degrees), Barrel Rate (9.3%), Strikeout Rate (23%), and Walk Rate (13.9%). Including Monday’s loss to the Pirates, he’s now homered in three straight contests and is rostered in just 34% of Yahoo! leagues. His catcher eligibility makes him an intriguing addition to any fantasy team, but it should also be noted that he tends to hit towards the bottom of the Arizona lineup, which caps his RBI upside.
Daulton Varsho – Arizona Diamondbacks (7) pic.twitter.com/tPTDdiJdei
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) August 22, 2021
Ty France (INF – SEA)
All France has done is hit since he came over from the Padres in last season’s trade involving Austin Nola. He’s been Captain Clutch for the upstart Mariners lately, delivering numerous timely hits as they continue to scratch and claw for a Wild Card spot. Last week, he hit .417/.423/.833 with a double, three home runs, seven RBI, and six runs scored across 26 plate appearances (six games). He’s been raking since the All-Star break as well, slashing .358/.403/.569 with seven extra-base hits, eight home runs, 22 RBI, six HBP, and 26 runs scored. Overall, the versatile 27-year-old holds a solid .292/.361/.467 batting line with 16 home runs, 59 RBI, and 65 runs scored over 435 at-bats.
The Mariners had their backs against the wall on Sunday (August 22) in Houston before France delivered a solo home run in the top of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, where Seattle would go on to win. He repeated the same feat on Monday evening in Oakland when he tied up the ball game with a solo blast in the top of the ninth, again, as the M’s eventually pulled ahead for the W. France has always been a talented hitter, but he’s taken his plate discipline to another level this season. He lowered his Strikeout Rate from 23.9% in 2020 to 16.9% this season. He’s also sporting career-bests in his Z-Contact (89%) and O-Contact (59%) Rates. There’s a bit of a gap between his expected batting average (.265) and his actual one, but his .340 xwOBA and .430 xSLG aren’t far off. France is one of those players that is a better real-life performer than a fantasy one as he lacks the big counting stats upside, but he’s worth rostering during this hot streak. He’s available in 31% of Yahoo! leagues at the time of this publishing.
Ty France is the first player with a game-tying HR in the 9th inning (or later) in back-to-back games in #Mariners history.
France is the first player to do it since Hanley Ramirez did it for the Florida Marlins on June 29-30, 2008.
— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) August 24, 2021
Triston McKenzie (SP – CLE)
McKenzie got off to a less than ideal start to the season. In addition to being optioned and recalled multiples times, he put up a lackluster 6.11 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 79:45 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings (15 appearances, 14 starts). He coughed up 14 home runs over those 15 games and produced an ugly 16% Walk Rate over that same span. He’s looked like a different pitcher since the calendar flipped to August, though. He’s put up a ridiculous 1.93 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, and 28:2 K/BB ratio over 28 innings (four starts). He’s only surrendered two home runs over those 28 innings while lowering his walk rate to a minuscule 2%. His pièce de résistance came back on August 15 when he was just four outs away from recording a perfect game against the Tigers. He didn’t go the distance but still surrendered just one hit while punching out a career-high 11 batters.
Last week, he cruised to an easy victory against the Angels, allowing one run on two hits while striking out eight over seven innings. His poor outings still outweigh his stellar ones, so his overall numbers are nothing special. McKenzie owns a 4.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 107:47 K/BB ratio over 91 1/3 innings to go along with a 4.71 FIP and 3.97 xERA. His 12.6% Walk Rate and 12.6% HR/FB Rate show there’s still room for improvement as well. He’s flashed his true potential the last four outings and has a chance to help fantasy teams down the final stretch. There still seems to be some incredulity in the fantasy community as he’s rostered in just 68% of Yahoo! leagues at the time of this writing. He’ll be tested in his next turn when he faces the Red Sox at home, but if he can perform in that spot, then it’s all systems go for the 24-year-old hurler.
Triston McKenzie, Unhittable 82mph Curveball. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/a7Gab1K5Y3
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 21, 2021
Tyler Naquin (OF – CIN)
It’s been a long time since Naquin made this list. He was the top “Riser” in the very first edition of this column way back in early April. Well, he’s earned himself some recognition after last week’s production eruption. The 30-year-old outfielder slashed an absurd .500/.552/1.154 with four extra-base hits, four home runs, and five RBI over 26 at-bats as the Reds went 5-2 vs. the Cubs and the Marlins, respectively. The stellar effort earned him NL Player of The Week honors. Naquin hasn’t been this productive since the opening week of the season when he put up a 1.444 OPS with five home runs and 14 RBI over the first seven games of the year. Naquin has always been streaky, and remaining healthy has been a struggle throughout his career. While he’s still been streaky this season, he’s been relatively healthy and is having a career year as a result. He’s slashing .268/.333/.482 with 18 home runs, 66 RBI, five stolen bases, and 49 runs scored over 365 at-bats.
Despite the streakiness, he’s putting up some solid statcast numbers with a 42.9% Hard Hit Rate, 90.1 Average Exit Velocity, and 113.5 Max Exit Velocity. He’s also sporting a career-best 10.5% Barrel Rate and 7.9% Walk Rate. His expected stats are quite solid as well with a .268 xBA, .343 xwOBA, and .460 xSLG. While he’s never really lived up to that hot start he had back in April–he’s rostered in just 52% of Yahoo! leagues–he can still be useful down the stretch. He’s currently riding a 12-game hitting streak and slashing a healthy .457/.500/.935 with five home runs and nine RBI over that span. He’s collected multiple hits in eight of the 12 games and should be rostered in most fantasy formats right now. Strike while the iron is hot.
Leading the charge for the Reds offense. 🔌
Congrats to the NL Player of the Week, Tyler Naquin❗ pic.twitter.com/dsBCZwGHgo
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 23, 2021
John Means (SP – BAL)
Means has been in a downtrend over the last month, and this last week didn’t help matters. He coughed up 10 runs (seven earned) over 10 innings in two starts against the Rays and the Braves, taking the loss in both contests. Means was looking like one of the better pitchers in all of baseball before hitting the injured list with a left shoulder strain back on June 6. The 28-year-old southpaw put up an impressive 4-2 record, 2.28 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 69:13 K/BB ratio over 71 innings (12 starts) prior to the injury. He allowed 13 home runs over that time frame, put up seven quality starts, and threw a no-hitter against the Mariners on May 5. He missed a month and a half of action before returning on July 20 and hasn’t looked like the same pitcher since then. In seven starts since his activation from the IL, he’s put up a 1-4 record, 5.84 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 30:6 K/BB ratio over 37 innings. He has just two quality starts over that span and has coughed up 10 homers.
His overall numbers still look good due to his excellent showing prior to the All-Star break. He carries a 3.50 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 99:19 K/BB ratio over 108 innings (19 starts), but his FIP (3.97) and xERA (4.74) show that he’s overachieved. He’s not as bad of a pitcher as he has been lately, and the obvious explanation for his recent struggles is that his shoulder is still bothering him. That’s pure speculation, but it sure would explain a lot. He still has time to right the ship, but it won’t get any easier this week as he faces the pesky Rays at home. He still carries an elite 4.4% Walk Rate (96th percentile), but opponents have had their way with him over the last month, and fantasy managers are understandably nervous about starting him in his next outing.
Dallas Keuchel (SP – CWS)
Keuchel has been on a steady decline since the All-Star break as well, and last week didn’t give White Sox fans any hope that he could turn it around. In two starts against the A’s and the Rays, he put up a 7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, and 5:4 K/BB ratio over 10 innings. Granted, six of his eight earned runs came against the Rays, but he only went five innings (78 pitches) against the A’s. The veteran southpaw has just one quality start since the All-Star break and owns an ugly 5.87 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 24:15 K/BB ratio over 38 1/3 innings (seven starts) over that span. He’s also served up nine home runs since mid-July. The 33-year-old owns a 4.71 ERA, 1.364 WHIP, and 82:46 K/BB ratio over 135 2/3 innings (25 games, 24 starts) on the year.
His 5.20 FIP and 5.92 xERA tell us that he hasn’t been unlucky either. His 14.1% Strikeout Rate, which ranks in the third percentile, is a career-low, while his 7.9% Walk Rate is his worst mark in four seasons. Opponents have an expected batting average of .294 and a .364 expected wOBA against him as well. He’s getting harder and harder to trust, but 55% of Yahoo! fantasy managers still believe in him. He’s shown no signs of improvement so far and will face the Blue Jays on the road in his next turn. Start at your own risk.
Lewis Brinson (OF – MIA)
I know what you’re thinking. Brinson was near the top of the “Risers” list last week, and just like that, he becomes a “Faller”? Well, if we’re basing this list off of last week’s production, or lack thereof, in the case of Brinson, then yes, he deserves to be on this dubious list. The 27-year-old outfielder went just 2-for-24 (.083/.154/.125) with zero RBI as the Fish went 0-7 last week. It was not a pretty scene for the Marlins as they were outscored 46-20 while being swept by the Braves and the Reds. After the rough week, he owns a .253/.295/.452 batting line with seven home runs, 25 RBI, and 18 runs scored over 166 at-bats. As we stated last week, there were no guarantees that Brinson could keep his hot streak going, which was buoyed by a .408 BABIP.
He did seem to get unlucky last week as he only struck out four times in 26 plate appearances and registered a subpar .100 BABIP. It seems unfair to just single out Brinson when it was really a collective failure by the entire Marlins squad last week. Despite the recent snag, Brinson still is posting career numbers in Hard Hit Rate (43.8%), Average Launch Angle (13.5 degrees), and Strikeout Rate (25.6%). The K Rate still may be high, but that’s a sign of improvement for Brinson. He fell off a cliff pretty quickly, but given the streaky nature of his approach, he could turn things back around just as soon. But given his well-documented struggles of the past, he deserves a short leash and shouldn’t be relied upon as a fantasy option for the time being.
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