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Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Joey Votto, Brendan Rodgers, Logan Webb, Yu Darvish

by Jon Mathisen | @eazymath | Featured Writer
Aug 2, 2021
Joey Votto

Joey Votto can be a difference-maker in fantasy leagues down the stretch.

Welcome to the Fantasy Baseball Risers and Fallers article for Week 18 (7/26 – 8/1). 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 try and discover if their recent performances have any staying power or if it was just a flash in the pan. The fantasy trade deadline is around the corner, and the race to the playoffs is heating up. The landscape of Major League Baseball has shifted in a major way following one of the wildest trade deadlines in recent memory.
Most fantasy baseball managers also play fantasy football and will begin to lose focus around early August, but this is crunch time. It’s more important than ever to pay attention to the happenings all around MLB even though we’re still in the”dog days.” The trade deadline brought a lot of temporary excitement, but we still have two full months of the regular season to go, so it’s easy for the casual fantasy manager to check out. But experienced and competitive managers (like you) know that this is the time to hunker down and focus. 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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Joey Votto (1B – CIN)
This column had to begin with Joey Votto, who had a week to top all weeks. He had nine hits (.375/.448/1.250) in six games, and seven of them left the yard. He also drove in 11 runs and drew five walks. His hot streak actually began last Saturday, July 24th, when he smashed the first of nine home runs that he would hit over the next seven contests. As mentioned below, he became the eighth player in MLB history to hit a home run in seven consecutive games. The veteran first baseman is now slashing .276/.371/.556 with 21 home runs, 59 RBI, one stolen base, and 40 runs scored over 275 at-bats this season. Votto has made a concerted effort to try and hit more home runs, and he’s doing a darn good job of it. He’s posting career-highs in Hard Hit Rate (50.2%), Barrel Rate (16.4%), Average Exit Velocity (92.6 mph), Max Exit Velocity (114.1 mph), and xwOBAcon (.496).

He’s had to sacrifice some of his patented plate discipline in order to hit all of these home runs. His 22.1% Chase Rate is a career-worst, and the same goes for his Z-Contact (76.7%) and O-Contact (52.3%) Rates. He’s also sporting a 23.6% Strikeout Rate, by far the worst mark of his career. That’s a small price to pay for those that scooped him up off the waiver wire over the last month, though. He just single-handedly won a lot of fantasy managers their weeks, so it’s doubtful that many care about the underlying metrics. Votto’s roster shares skyrocketed over the last week, but he’s still available in 26% of Yahoo! leagues at the time of this writing. He won’t keep up this torrid pace, but he can still be a difference-maker in fantasy leagues down the stretch.

Austin Riley (3B – ATL)
Austin Riley was catching fire before last week even began, homering in back-to-back games on July 24 and 25. The Braves played eight games last week, and Riley did his best Joey Votto impersonation by homering in four straight games and slashing .379/.455/.897 with five home runs and 13 RBI over 29 at-bats. He’s smashed eight homers and driven in 21 runs in 17 games since the All-Star break. He owns a .290/.372/.523 batting line with 22 home runs, 63 RBI, and 54 runs scored over 369 at-bats. The 24-year-old always possessed massive power upside, but there were concerns over his strikeouts and plate discipline.

He’s made some incremental improvements in his approach, and it’s paying off so far. First of all, he’s raised his Walk Rate to 10.4%, nearly three points higher than his 7.8% mark from 2020. He’s also lowered his Chase Rate to 28.9% (32.3% in 2020) and increased his O-Contact Rate to 56.2%, up from 49.2% last season. He’s been a certified breakout star, and his expected stats tell us that it’s no fluke. His .273 xBA, .371 xwOBA, and .505 xSLG aren’t far off his actual numbers, and he’s also posting a career-best 46.3% Hard Hit Rate. He’s still striking out 24.3% of the time, but that’s a minor trade-off compared to the counting stats that he’s been putting up. It’s really hard to believe he’s still just 24-years-old. He’s locked into the cleanup spot for the Braves and should continue to rake as Atlanta fights for a playoff spot over the next two months.

Brendan Rodgers (2B – COL)
Rodgers found his power stroke during the Rockies’ road trip last week. The 24-year-old infielder went 9-for-29 (.310/.375/.724) with four home runs and six RBI over a seven-game span. He homered in back-to-back games twice and is currently working on a nine-game hitting streak. For the season, he’s slashing .270/.337/.470 to go along with nine home runs, 26 RBI, and 20 runs scored over 185 at-bats. He got off to a late start to the season after injuring his hamstring towards the end of spring training. He wasn’t activated until May 21, hence the limited number of at-bats. He’s batting .294/.345/.569 over 55 plate appearances since the All-Star break and could be a valuable fantasy option down the stretch.

The former top-prospect struggled early in his career, batting just .195 over his first 97 Major League at-bats between 2019-2020. Due to phenoms like Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., we expect top prospects to contribute the moment they arrive in the big leagues. Many fantasy managers will lose their patience with players unless they perform right away. Rodgers has battled injuries, mismanagement, and inconsistency, but it’s starting to feel like he’s turned the corner. He’s still just 24-year-old, looks as healthy as can be, and is finally getting the playing time that he deserves. He’s been locked into the number two spot in the batting order, and if he can finish this season strong, he could be a top-10 second base option heading into next season.

Anthony Rizzo (1B – NYY)
What a wild week for Anthony Rizzo. He homered in three straight games for the Cubs from July 25-27 before being dealt to the New York Yankees one day before the trade deadline. He then helped his new team sweep the Miami Marlins by going 5-for-9 with two home runs, three RBI, five runs scored, and three walks. The veteran first baseman owns a .256/.357/.467 batting line with 16 home runs, 43 RBI, four stolen bases, and 46 runs scored over 332 at-bats this season. The 31-year-old is having the type of year many expected he would have so far, but he’s got the potential to erupt over the final two months of the regular season.

He’s already sporting career-highs in Barrel Rate (9.9%) and Hard Hit Rate (44.1%) and is now surrounded by a formidable lineup that will be playing half of its games in Yankee Stadium with the short porch in right field. 13 of his 16 home runs this season have gone to right field so we should expect some more bombs over the next 50-plus games. He hit cleanup in 2-of-3 three contests with New York and was in the leadoff spot in Sunday’s series finale against the Marlins. Regardless of where he bats in the order, he’s got an eight-game hitting streak and will see plenty of RBI and run-scoring opportunities moving forward.

Logan Webb (SP – SF)
Fantasy streamers often like to target pitchers that have two start weeks, especially when the matchups are favorable. Webb was a two-start pitcher last week, but he was likely avoided as a streamer as he had to face both the Dodgers and the Astros, yikes. However, the 24-year-old didn’t flinch against two of the better offenses in all of baseball. He put up a 1-0 record with a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 8:2 K/BB ratio over 12 innings against Los Angeles and Houston. Not too shabby. Webb missed a little under six weeks during the middle of the season due to a right shoulder strain, but he’s been stellar since rejoining the Giants back on July 9. In his last five starts, he’s put up a 2.25 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 19:6 K/BB ratio across 24 innings. Overall, he’s posted a 3.33 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 73:23 K/BB ratio over 73 innings (15 games, 14 starts) this season.

He’s sporting career-bests in CSW Rate (32.1%), Whiff Rate (28.7%), Strikeout Rate (25.2%), and Walk Rate (7.9%). His 3.33 FIP and 3.46 xERA show that he hasn’t overperformed either. He’s been much better at home (1.85 ERA in six starts) than he has on the road (4.62 ERA in eight starts), but that’s pretty normal for most Giants pitchers. He’s rostered in just 34% of Yahoo! leagues, which feels too low. Webb has a big test coming up this week against the Brewers on the road, but he should be a waiver wire priority. Starting pitchers with a low WHIP and win equity potential are extremely hard to find on the wire, especially this late in the season.


Yu Darvish (SP – SD)
What’s gotten into Yu Darvish? He was rock solid over his first 16 starts of the season, putting up a 7-2 record, 2.44 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 115:23 K/BB ratio over 96 innings pitched. But over his last five starts, he’s looked like a completely different pitcher with an 0-4 record, 7.36 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 27:6 K/BB ratio across 25 2/3 innings. His season numbers are still solid overall with a 3.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 142:29 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings, but he’s been trending down for the last month. He only put up one start this last week, coughing up five earned runs over six innings against the Rockies at home. He allowed three home runs in that contest, including one to the opposing pitcher, German Marquez.

Darvish put up a 31% Strikeout Rate and only allowed 10 home runs (3% HR Rate) over his first 16 starts of the year while opponents hit just .194 against him with a .201 xBA. Over the last five starts, his Strikeout Rate has dipped down to 24% while opponents have hit .272 (.213 xBA) against him. He’s also allowed nine home runs (10% HR Rate) during that period. MLB started cracking down on the sticky stuff back on June 21, and Darvish has only had two quality starts over seven games since then. The movement on his pitches hasn’t really changed much, so maybe it’s just a coincidence, but he hasn’t looked right since the calendar flipped to July. He may be trending in the wrong direction, but he faces the lowly Diamondbacks in his next start, which is the perfect “get right” spot. If he ends up struggling in that game, though, then it may be time to ring the alarm bell. As seen below, he can still make batters look silly, so worried fantasy managers should take some solace in that.

Gleyber Torres (SS – NYY)
Gleber Torres hasn’t been able to get going all season, much to the consternation of his fantasy managers and Yankee fans alike. This last week was no different as he went 5-for-26 with no home runs, no RBI, and seven strikeouts over six games. He did next to nothing in the Yankees’ sweep of the Marlins, going 1-for-13 with four strikeouts and a fielding error. He’s slashing .242/.323/.334 with six home runs, 37 RBI, 10 stolen bases, and 32 runs scored over 335 at-bats this season. He picked it up a bit in July, hitting three homers over 21 games after only hitting three over the first 50 games of the year. The lack of power has been well documented up to this point, but it’s still hard to believe this is the same player that hit 24 and 38 home runs back in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Torres has just nine home runs over his last 134 games dating back to last season. He’s seen steady increases in his Groundball Rate over the last four years, while his Fly Ball Rate and Average Launch Angle have both declined. He had a 34.3% Groundball Rate back in 2018, but that number has ticked all the way up to 42.8% this season. He had a 32.1% Fly Ball Rate in 2018, along with a 13% HR/FB ratio, but that’s dipped to 27.2% this year (4.5% HR/FB). His Average Launch Angle was 19 degrees in 2018, 17.7 in 2019, 14.9 in 2020, and now sits at 13.6 degrees this season. The expected stats don’t offer much hope either, with a .249 xBA, .323 xwOBA, and .396 xSLG. The stolen bases have been a nice bonus as he already has 10, which is a career-high, but he’s been a major disappointment other than that. The only hope now is that the additions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo will help raise the tide to lift all the boats in the Bronx, including Torres’

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT)
Hayes went 4-for-20 (.200/.238/.300) with one RBI and a pair of doubles over five games last week. It wasn’t a horrendous stretch, but it wasn’t a good one either. Overall, the former top-prospect has a .257/.330/.396 batting line with four home runs, 21 RBI, two stolen bases, and 22 runs scored over 187 at-bats. Again, that’s not bad, but it really isn’t great. Hayes lit the world on fire in his extra short 2020 campaign, putting up a 1.124 OPS with seven doubles, two triples, five home runs, and 11 RBI in just 24 games. Most fantasy managers understood that type of production would not be sustainable over the course of a full 162-game season, but the glimpse of his talent, his prospect pedigree, and his upside made him a trendy pick in fantasy drafts this spring. Unfortunately, he suffered a wrist injury on an awkward swing during the second game of the season and ended up missing the next two months.

It was initially thought to be a minor inflammation issue, but it turned out to be much worse. He couldn’t even swing a bat two weeks after sustaining the injury and also dealt with a setback by re-aggravating his wrist, further lengthening his recovery time. Predictably, his Hard Hit Rate (47.9%), Barrel Rate (5.6%), and Average Launch Angle (3.9 degrees) have all decreased from last season, while his Groundball Rate has shot up from 47.7% in 2020 to 56.3% in 2021. He has just one home run over the last 41 games and only has four more extra-base hits this season (51 games) than he did last year (24 games). There’s a decent chance that his wrist is still bothering him, and that would certainly be a logical explanation for the lack of power he’s displayed up to this point. Hayes still has an incredibly bright future, and if his wrist is indeed still nagging him, he’ll need a full offseason to recover.

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