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Red Alert: Luis Robert's 115.8 MPH Smash Means Something

In the hullabaloo of MLB’s opening weekend, you may not have noticed that Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox — he of the .337 ISO at Triple-A Charlotte — announced his presence with authority on Friday night. In the second inning of his MLB debut, Robert strode to the plate, stood 60 feet and six inches away from Jose Berrios, and proceeded to smash the first pitch of his MLB career at a velocity of 115.8 MPH. To give that achievement some context: last year, there were exactly 20 players who hit a ball harder than Robert did in his first career hit. We’ll get to their names and stats in a minute, but most of them are players you want to own.

I wrote this piece on Sunday morning, and by Sunday afternoon, Robert had added his first career home run. The dinger was a 419-foot blast that Robert smoked at 111.4 MPH. By MLB’s current leaderboards, that means Luis Robert now has the fifth and first-hardest hits of this season.

So it is that I have come here to sing the anthem of Luis Thunderclap Robert, First of his Name, Stealer of Bags, Destroyer of Baseballs and Pitchers, La Pantera and Child of Destiny.

 

We Have Lift Off

 

115.8 MPH is Like Really, Really Hard

Maximum exit velocity is one of a handful of small-sample data points that has a strong correlation to outcomes. Hitters capable of slugging a single ball over 110 MPH are far more likely to see positive offensive results than those who cannot. In this case, a single batted-ball event can tell us quite a bit.

Two years ago, Rob Arthur found that for every mile per hour over 108, we can add another six points to a hitter’s projected OPS. Robert had been projected for an OPS somewhere between a .765 (The BAT X) and .808 (Steamer). With Arthur’s formula, we can push Robert’s OPS to somewhere .812 and .855.  Keep that in mind as we try to recalculate Robert’s projected value. Whatever you thought Luis Robert was before the season, it turns out that he is probably more than that.

If you’re still feeling skeptical about the significance of a single batted-ball event, here are the players who hit a ball 115.8 MPH or harder in 2019.

Player Max Velo. wRC+
Giancarlo Stanton 120.6 139
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 118.9 105
Pete Alonso 118.3 143
Gary Sanchez 118.3 116
Aristides Aquino 118.3 119
Aaron Judge 118.1 141
Jose Abreu 117.9 117
Christian Yelich 117.9 174
Yordan Alvarez 117.9 178
Kyle Schwarber 117.6 120
Nelson Cruz 117.0 163
Mike Trout 116.6 180
Bryce Harper 116.4 125
Ketel Marte 116.3 150
Josh Bell 116.2 135
Avisail Garcia 116.2 112
Mike Zunino 116.1 45
Ronald Acuna Jr. 115.9 126
C.J. Cron 115.9 101
Fernando Tatis Jr. 115.9 150
Yoan Moncada 115.8 141

That’s a list of great players. It would be easy to dismiss the less appealing names on that list (Zunino, Cron, and Garcia), but those names are critical to clarifying the range of outcomes. Even then, if Robert does generate the same 112 wRC+ as Avisail Garcia, he will have outperformed his projections with the bat.

 

To Be Young and Fabulous

Like many stars, Robert has enjoyed ample success ahead of his age group. There is a direct correlation between a player’s debut age and his career success. Some of that is the result of accumulation, but it is also because advanced and more mature competition reveals a younger player’s true talent level.

At the age of 15, Robert broke into the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s premier professional league). At that time, he was 11 years younger than the league’s average player (26.7 years). By the time he was 17, he put up an OPS of .796. At 18 years old, that number soared to 1.213.

In Robert’s 2019 campaign, he was 2.7 years younger than his competition in the Double-A Southern League and 5.9 years younger than the average player in the Triple-A International League. During that stretch, Robert hit .306 with 24 home runs, 28 steals, and a wRC+ of 146. Given what we know about how older competition helps a younger player to advance his abilities, we should have expected this type of arrival in the majors.

After all, Robert’s talent and success led the White Sox to sign him for six years and $50 million because they thought it would save them money in the long run. The team has committed to playing him every day this year, and center field may as well have his name on it.

Since 2017, there have been eight players age 22 or younger who enjoyed a 135 wRC+ in Double-A or TripleA-A and then at least 450 plate appearances for their entire rookie season:

Name Age G R HR RBI SB AVG wRC+
Juan Soto 20 150 110 34 110 12 .282 142
Rafael Devers 22 156 129 32 115 8 .311 132
Ronald Acuna Jr. 21 156 127 41 101 37 .280 126
Gleyber Torres 22 144 96 38 90 5 .278 125
Ozzie Albies 22 160 102 24 86 15 .295 117
Eloy Jimenez 22 122 69 31 79 0 .267 116
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 20 123 52 15 69 0 .272 105
Victor Robles 22 155 86 17 65 28 .255 91

Fernando Tatis Jr. misses out here because he suffered an oblique injury last year. This list, combined with the list above, gives us context for Robert’s ability to be an immediate star.

Notably, Robert won’t have the entire season, which means that if opposing teams find some glaring weakness to expose, the Chicago wunderkind will have less time to adjust and rebound. As with all players, the range of outcomes is much greater this season, but that is especially pronounced with a player whose range is so dramatic.

The simple reality is that while fantasy sports owners are used to seeing rookie running backs explode onto the scene in fantasy football, most fantasy baseball owners are skeptical about the value of a rookie player. However, as the last few years have shown us, there are going to be absolute studs who arrive at the height of their powers.

 

Valuing a Hot Asset

Before the season, Robert’s work with the bat and his forecast nine steals were enough for him to be projected as the 22nd best outfielder and 77th most valuable player for this season.

While we don’t have a meaningful sample for Robert’s average exit velocity or his barrel rate, the velocity should still have benefits for Robert’s batting average (as well as his power). For a player with Robert’s speed, the ability to hit the ball with that kind of authority prevents fielders from playing too far in as they attempt to take away weak grounders. His speed prevents them from sitting back so they can reach hard grounders.

If we combine the speed and make modest improvements to Robert’s hitting projections, we’re left with a player who looks awfully similar to Fernando Tatis Jr. If we use the Depth Charts projections, Tatis Jr. projects as the 29th most valuable hitter and the 42nd most valuable player overall.

I’m arguing that we’ve undervalued Luis Robert. Using Arthur’s adjustment and applying the rates to the rest of Robert’s stats, we get something like this:

Player R HR RBI SB Average OPS
Luis Robert 29 10 31 9 .279 .818
Fernando Tatis Jr. 34 10 30 9 .275 .835

The extra opportunities on base may lead to more steals for Robert, but I haven’t added that in, even though the numbers would suggest another half steal (enough to round up). By my values, Tatis remains more valuable, but just barely. It looks like Robert’s new projection should make somewhere between the 40th to 50th most valuable player this season. That puts him somewhere between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Starling Marte.

If you own Robert, make sure you get fair value for him in a trade. If you’re looking to acquire him, it’s likely to be expensive. The reality is that most Robert owners are already enthusiasts, and they ought to be. However, there are always owners who want to get too cute and sell high when they don’t know the value of what they have. Don’t overpay, but if you need steals and a dynamic outfield bat, Luis Robert is likely to the cheapest asset in that third tier of outfielders ranging from Giancarlo Stanton to Eloy Gimenez.

In dynasty leagues, Robert is about to make the leap to being a top-20 player. We haven’t yet seen enough to push him ahead of young stars like Yoan Moncada and Pete Alonso, but it’s easy to see him there by the end of this season.

At this point, we can say with much greater confidence that the hype on Chicago’s phenom is more than justified. The L is now leaving the station.



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Is Mike Trout Still the #1 Pick in 2020?

Is it time to talk ADP already? Affectionately known as Mike Trout Doubting-Season, this is the time of year when some touts stick out sorely in declaring that the best player of this - and possibly any - generation should not be chosen first overall in fantasy. Instead, they have declared that it should be Mookie Betts or Jose Altuve or Bryce Harper. Or even Paul Goldschmidt, for Trout's sake!

However, besides these few yearly dissenters, Trout has still remained on top on draft day, with his ADP in NFBC holding the number-one spot in every year since 2015, with things likely to stay the same in 2020. But should he be?

Ending up with Trout on draft day is like draping yourself in layers of the finest chinchilla. both keeping your roster warm and soft while also giving it a rock-solid foundation upon which to build a contender. If it's the safest fantasy-floor in baseball that you desire, then Trout is your certainly your man at number-one. However, if it's the biggest catch in the fantasy pond that you most desire and don't mind gambling away his warm security, then 2020 might be the right time to fish elsewhere.

 

Elite Cruising Speed But Losing Top Gear

Let's get one thing out of the way; Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet, unequivocally. This year, next year and every year, for only Trout knows how long. This makes saying that he lacks upside sound ludicrous. But this isn't real life, this is fantasy. In terms of fantasy-dollars*, Trout hasn't led the league in earnings in any year since he took over that top-drafted spot from Miguel Cabrera in 2015.

*Earnings for this article were calculated using the Fangraphs auction calculator. This is not to say that it is necessarily the best method for calculating earnings, as there are many, but it is widely respected and freely available. 

2015 PA $-Earned $_Rank  S/PA  $/PA_Rank
Josh Donaldson 711  $    42.80 1  $   0.060 2
Bryce Harper 654  $    42.30 2  $   0.065 1
Paul Goldschmidt 695  $    41.10 3  $   0.059 3
Mike Trout 682  $    34.90 6  $   0.051 6
2016
Mookie Betts 730  $    41.70 1  $   0.057 1
Mike Trout 681  $    38.50 2  $   0.057 2
Jose Altuve 717  $    37.70 3  $   0.053 3
2017
Charlie Blackmon 725  $    46.30 1  $   0.064 1
Giancarlo Stanton 692  $    44.40 2  $   0.064 2
Aaron Judge 678  $    42.40 3  $   0.063 3
Mike Trout 507  $    26.50 13  $   0.052 7
2018
J.D. Martinez 649  $    45.80 1  $   0.071 2
Christian Yelich 651  $    45.70 2  $   0.070 3
Mookie Betts 614  $    45.40 3  $   0.074 1
Mike Trout 608  $    35.50 9  $   0.058 4
2019
Ronald Acuna 715  $    41.20 1  $   0.058 3
Christian Yelich 580  $    40.30 2  $   0.069 1
Cody Bellinger 660  $    40.10 3  $   0.061 2
Mike Trout 600  $    32.10 7  $   0.054 5

The beauty of Trout lies in his consistency from year to year, with his dollars-earned per plate-appearance always making his floor in any given year a top-five hitter, assuming good health. Knowing your first pick in the draft has a worst-case scenario of top-five value is exactly what it means to drape your roster in the aforementioned chinchilla, but it also doesn't change the fact that Trout seems to be losing the part of his real-life game that made him once be able to fly so high in the fantasy world.

Trout had 11 stolen bases in 600 plate-appearances this season, after stealing 24 in 608 PA last year and 22 in 507 PA in 2017.  Given the recent track record of new manager Joe Maddon, it's hard to be optimistic that Trout's ceiling on the basepaths will be going up any time soon. You may remember Maddon's Rays as being fun and free-running but may not recall that he sped them way down towards the end of his tenure in Tampa Bay and then kept his foot off the gas when he went to Chicago.

From 2009 - 2012, Maddon's Rays finished either first or second in stolen bases but since 2013 only one of Maddon's teams has finished higher than 20th for the season. When taken together with Trout's already-declining stolen base numbers, the hire of Maddon doesn't seem to bode well for the prospect of Trout suddenly becoming more aggressive in his thefts.

This doesn't change Trout's level of general awesomeness and please remember that Trout is a magical unicorn who could probably wake up and just decide to steal 50 bags if he wanted to, but it might also be prudent to lower expectations of what you can expect from him in 2020. The loss of the stolen bases is a drag on his fantasy bottom-line but that drag is compounded further by declining in a category that's becoming more and more of a scarce resource in the MLB, with total stolen bases and attempts in baseball dropping in each of the past four years.

Gone are the days when easy speed could be found cheaply in drafts and seemingly everyone drafted in the first 10 rounds came included with a dozen free bags. Even if it's true that Trout's ceiling is relatively limited by his lack of future on the basepaths, does it even matter? It's easy to say that Trout won't be the top earner but that's not actionable advice unless you can pair it with whoever will be. In other words, if you pass on Trout to take a shot at bigger game, you had better not miss the bear.

 

The Other Half of the Equation

Using NFBC ADP data, there are a handful of players every year who have been taken at number-one over Trout, but only a few were drafted as legitimate contenders for top billing. In 2015, for example, Carlos Correa's minimum pick was one, but his 8.3 ADP says that people picking him first were outliers. In 2015, Trout had no real competition for number-one but from 2016-18, at least one player in each year had an ADP of less than three, along with being picked first. Here are those chosen few, along with their numbers before and after their elevation to the first-pick overall.

Player ADP (2019) Rank ('19) Rank ('18) PA ('19) $$ ('19) PA ('18) $$ ('18)
Mike Trout 1.2 7 9 600 $32.10 608 $35.50
Mookie Betts 2 11 3 706 $29.60 614 $45.40
ADP (2018) Rank ('18) Rank ('17) PA ('18) $$ ('18) PA ('17) $$ ('17)
Mike Trout 1.1 9 13 608 $35.50 507 $26.50
Jose Altuve 2.2 45 4 599 $17.60 662 $37.90
ADP (2017) Rank ('17) Rank ('16) PA ('17) $$ ('17) PA ('16) $$ ('16)
Mike Trout 1.2 13 2 507 $26.50 681 $38.50
Mookie Betts 2.7 12 1 712 $26.80 730 $41.70
ADP (2016) Rank ('16) Rank ('15) PA ('16) $$ ('16) PA ('15) $$ ('15)
Mike Trout 1.7 2 6 681 $38.50 682 $34.90
Paul Goldschmidt 2.3 6 3 705 $31.12 695 $41.10
Bryce Harper 2.9 54 2 627 $15.70 654 $42.30

 Trying to correctly anticipate the value of other players can involve evaluating a myriad of different variables, necessarily increasing your likelihood of failure. Anticipating the value of Trout involves just one variable; how many times will he get to bat? On the flip side, it's also easy to see how dangerous it is to gamble and lose. Drafting Trout first won't necessarily win your league, but passing on him can definitely lose it for you. Those that drafted Betts and Goldschmidt may have survived with their eventual earnings; those that drafted Altuve and Harper probably didn't. In other words, you had better be sure about who you're aiming for.

 

Two Rise to the Challenge

As stated prior, just saying that Trout won't finish first, isn't enough to not pick him first. And just because Trout hasn't finished first in earning since 2014, doesn't mean there are players worth taking over him in any given year. In order to pass on Trout and live to tell the tale, the conditions must be perfectly ripe. In 2020, we have not one, but two contenders to the throne.

Run Ronald, Run

The top-earner in 2019, Ronald Acuna Jr. is 21 years old and coming off of a near 40/40 season, making him less and less of a controversial choice at number one. While his overall line of 41 HR, 127 R, 101 RBI, 37 SB with a .280 AVG was certainly impressive, Acuna was much less fantasy-friendly serving as the Braves cleanup hitter for his first 157 PA, stealing only two bases through May 9. After moving to leadoff, Acuna not only stole 35 bases in his next 558 plate-appearances but his power didn't suffer either, with his home run-rate increasing from 0.46 HR/10 PA to 0.60 HR/10 PA.

The exciting thing about Acuna, in both fantasy and real life, is that 2019 isn't necessarily his high watermark because Acuna is young, fun, and doesn't look like he'll stop running anytime soon. That is, unless the Braves go off and sign a leadoff hitter, moving Acuna (and his stolen bases, presumably) back down to fourth. As things stand now, the Braves' cleanup options in 2020 are Austin Riley and Nick Markakis, with the Braves playing Riley at third and pairing Ender Inciarte with Acuna and Markakis in the outfield.

With only $89 million on the books in 2020, will Atlanta stand pat with this arrangement until top-prospects Christian Pache and Drew Waters arrive to reinforce the outfield, spending their money on pitching instead? Or could they sign someone to play third base or outfield; and if so, where would that person bat? Surely, the Braves will leave well enough alone and leave Acuna at leadoff, but those drafting before Atlanta has made their free-agent decisions need to be aware of how much his value could change if he drops in the lineup.

Brother Christian Keeps Motoring

While taking Acuna over Trout may be a popular pick this year, taking Christian Yelich likely won't be. Unlike Acuna, it's harder to project more production than the $40.30 that Yelich earned in 2019, but does he even need to improve to be worth a pick over Trout? Remember that Yelich was earning at virtually the same rate prior to missing the last 17 games of the season with a knee injury and was arguably a better baseball player in 2019 than he was in 2018 when he ended the year as fantasy baseball's second-highest earner.

Season $$ PA  $/PA  HR R RBI SB AVG OBP SLG K% BB% wOBA
2018 45.7 651 0.070 36 118 110 22 0.326 0.402 0.598 20.7% 10.4% 0.422
2019 40.3 580 0.069 44 100 97 30 0.329 0.429 0.671 20.3% 13.8% 0.442

A pessimist could point to impending regression due to a 32.8% HR/FB and a .355 BABIP but an optimist would point out that while high, both numbers are lower than 2018's marks and that a change in approach may help sustain both rates. Yelich not only had career-highs in launch-angle, Barrel%, Pull%, and Hard%, he also had a top-3% barrel-rate and a career-low groundball-rate. And a visit to Baseball Savant shows that maybe this isn't just a two-year mirage, with Yelich posting an exit velocity in the top-3% of the league and x-stats that were all in the top 2% or better.

Season Brl% EV LA xBA xSLG wOBA xwOBA xwOBAc
2018 12.9 92.3 4.7 0.327 0.572 0.422 0.418 0.500
2019 15.8 93.1 11.2 0.314 0.623 0.442 0.421 0.501

There may have been deserved trepidation after Yelich's breakout in 2018 but after putting up virtually identical production in 2019, at what point do we accept that this is what Yelich is and that there are few reasons to expect significant regression in his age-27 season? Just how elite has Yelich's production per plate-appearance been over the last two years? Since 2013, just five players have posted rates over $0.069/PA and Yelich has two of them.

 

To Trout, Or Not to Trout

That is the question, with a wrong answer bringing you not only fantasy hardships but also the immense shame your league-mates will inevitably cast down upon you. And with the increasing popularity of a Kentucky Derby Style draft lottery system, players have more control of where they will pick, thereby increasing their chances of having to answer this question in the first place. If your league is using a KDS system and if you're confident in valuing Acuna and Yelich at or above Trout, then why set your preference to pick number one, when you can get a guy you want at number-three and get to pick sooner coming back around?

Or, just pick Trout first, wrap yourself in that sweet chinchilla and be confident that there's almost zero chance that it'll blow up in your face. Will you take the safest path and bank the straight-cash that Trout virtually guarantees?  Or forego safety and blaze a gambling trail, reaching instead for the heights of $45 and beyond? Whatever the choice, here's hoping your trail ends in Oregon and the Willamette Valley, not in dysentery and death.

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Gauging Trust Levels in Cubs’ Starting Pitchers

The Chicago Cubs are currently sitting at 78-68 and in a tie for the second wild-card spot with the Milwaukee Brewers. They're two games ahead of the New York Mets, while the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies are still hanging around at 2.5 and 3.5 games back, respectively. With just 16 games remaining, the Cubs will be treating every game as a must-win in an effort to secure a playoff berth.

A significant chunk of the Cubs’ playoff chances rests on the performance of the starting pitching staff, comprised of Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jon Lester. We’re going to take a look at these Cubbies and determine the trust levels you should have in them down the stretch in the fantasy baseball playoffs.

Cubs' Remaining Schedule: Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, @Pirates, @Cardinals

 

Jose Quintana

Jose Quintana has had a decent season, holding a 13-8 record with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 143/43 K/BB ratio over 157 and 1/3 innings pitched in 2019. He has a 21.2% strikeout rate, 8.7% swinging-strike rate, 1.1 HR/9, and a solid 6.0% barrels/batted ball event rate this season. He’s also 9-2 with a 4.41 ERA over his last 15 starts as he’s been piling up the wins.

Quintana's recent form has been unappealing, though, to say the least. He has allowed four earned runs or more in three of his last four starts, and just got crushed by the San Diego Padres in a three-inning, four-earned run beatdown. He concerningly only recorded one strikeout and hasn't completed six innings in four straight starts.

Trust Level: 6/10

Jose Quintana’s awful recent form and lack of strikeout-upside make him an unappealing play in the fantasy playoffs, though he's worth a shot if you're chasing wins.

 

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks has been a steady, if not exciting, starting pitcher option in 2019. He’s 10-9 on the year, with a 3.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 137/31 K/BB ratio over 159 and 2/3 innings pitched. He has limited his walks (1.7 BB/9) and hard contact (5.4% barrels/batted ball event) and ranks in the top-10 in average exit velocity allowed (86.6 MPH). His 20.9% strikeout percentage won’t blow anyone away and takes his fantasy appeal down a bit, but his solid ERA and decent record keep him in the conversation.

Hendricks is 2-1 over his last seven starts, compiling a 4.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a 30/6 K/BB ratio over 39 and 1/3 innings pitched.

Trust Level: 7/10

Hendricks is a starting pitcher who you can trust in the fantasy playoffs, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph into a strikeout-heavy pitcher. He’ll help in the ERA and WHIP categories, and he’ll be a decent candidate for a win or two.

 

Yu Darvish

Don’t let Yu Darvish’s record of 6-6 in 2019 fool you - he’s a useful starting pitcher to employ in the fantasy playoffs. He racks up the strikeouts at an impressive 29.2% clip, and his 13.1% swinging-strike rate, 94.1 MPH average fastball velocity, and 204/55 K/BB ratio in 2019 all stand out as impressive metrics.

However, truth be told, there’s some risk involved with starting Yu Darvish. He’s walked too many batters (3.0 BB/9) and allowed too many homers (1.8 HR/9) and barrels (7.9% barrels/batted ball event) on the season. Darvish has quietly been on a bit of a roll lately, going 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and a 63/4 K/BB ratio over his last seven starts (42 1/3 inning pitched). He fanned 14 over six innings in a win over the San Diego Padres in his latest start.

Trust Level: 7.5/10

Darvish’s strikeout-rate is elite (11th best in the MLB), and that’s the main reason you’re starting him in the fantasy playoffs. He’s in great form, but is still giving up too many walks (and homers) and will be facing a few teams that have crushed him this season. Darvish is a guy you have to plug into lineups, but his trust level is a little lower than it normally would be due to those factors.

 

Jon Lester

Jon Lester, a veteran in his 14th season in the big leagues, is not having a great season. His surface numbers are less than ideal with a 12-10 record, 4.51 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and a 154/49 K/BB ratio over 155 and 2/3 innings pitched. Digging deeper, Lester is recording a career-high with his 1.4 HR/9, 35.6% hard-hit rate, 88 MPH average exit velocity, and 8.1% barrel rate. His ERA is the highest it has been since 2012 and his WHIP is his highest since 2007.

To throw some salt in the wound, Lester has been in terrible form. He’s 3-3 with a 6.63 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, and a 38/22 K/BB over 36 and 2/3 innings pitched in his last seven starts.

Trust Level: 4/10

Lester is very difficult to trust in the fantasy playoffs, as his subpar metrics and awful recent form are clear red flags that are hard to look past.

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Don't Forget About Corey Dickerson

As we head down the stretch of the 2019 fantasy baseball season, it's easy for certain performances to get overlooked. Owners in the bottom portion of the standings tend to tune out and many players' minds begin to wander to football with the season underway.

This may explain why new Phillies outfielder Corey Dickerson can't seem to crack the 40% ownership rate in fantasy leagues.

Those of us that want to take home some championship hardware need to take a second look at the new leadoff hitter in Philadelphia.

 

Starting Over in Philly

Since a trade deadline deal that sent the 30-year-old outfielder across Pennsylvania from the Pirates to the Phillies, Dickerson is batting .295 with 16 of his 33 hits going for extra bases. Most importantly, he seems to have filled a void at the leadoff position for the Phillies that has been inconsistent since Andrew McCutchen went on the injured list in early June with a torn ACL.

Dickerson has battled several injuries himself over the past couple of seasons so it's easy to forget he hit 24 and 27 home runs with the Rays in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Four games into this season, he went on the 60-day injured list with a right posterior shoulder strain and was only able to play 27 games in the first half. He seemed to be dealing with lingering effects upon return from that injury and his numbers suffered.

Now that he's healthy, Dickerson has been on a tear in the second half slashing .322/.362/.586. His .322 batting average is 18th in the Majors since the All-Star break and though it comes with a .362 BABIP, his career mark is .331 so it's not that far out of the ordinary. Additionally, Dickerson has improved his batted ball data from his injury-riddled first half by elevating the ball more after hitting an astronomical 44.3 percent of his batted balls on the ground before the break.

He upped his hard-hit rate from 31.4 to 39.8 percent while hitting more line drives and fly balls. Dickerson raised his line drive rate six percent and his fly ball rate 12 percent from the first half to the second while sporting the highest average launch angle since his 2016 season according to Statcast. More fly balls and line drives have helped Dickerson put up an elite .947 OPS compared to a .799 OPS in the first half. Those numbers plus a very good 18.4 percent strikeout rate suggest everything Dickerson is doing is sustainable for the last month of the season and fantasy owners should take notice.

Looking at the numbers from this season is obviously a smaller sample size but Dickerson is still a career .286 hitter with a career slugging percentage over .500 who has batted leadoff in seven of his last eight starts. He hits for average and power and should score a ton of runs rest of season batting in front of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto atop a potent Philadelphia lineup. If you're chasing points in a roto league or need a bat during the fantasy playoffs now is the time to take advantage of other owners tuning out while Dickerson was on the IL and pick him up for the stretch run.

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Tips for Head-to-Head Playoff Success

Anyone who has read my work, followed my Twitter feed, or in some other fashion engaged with me on the subject of fantasy baseball knows my strong preference for rotisserie formats over head-to-head. While the appeal of the latter is obvious, the idea of successfully navigating the grind of a six-month season only be to undone by a bad week or run of injuries in September really rankles.

As a result, despite my best efforts, I often write more from the perspective of a roto owner than one who plays H2H. Today, however, that won't be the case. With the playoffs looming in most head-to-head leagues, it's the perfect time to dive into a management strategy for the final month.

While there remains a large element of luck inherent to the proceedings, there are definitely things you can do to better position yourself for the championship tournament.

 

September Sprint

We'll begin with a piece of advice that applies to any format, which is to know your strengths and weaknesses. By now, you should have a firm understanding of which categories you tend to win or lose more often than not. Use that knowledge to your advantage and undertake a thorough accounting of your league's waiver wire. Is there anything you can do to shore up those areas of weakness? If not, it may be best to fortify your existing strengths. If you own Mallex Smith but have no other sources of speed on your roster, it's unlikely that he's helping you much. Benching or cutting him for a hitter who can provide pop or a higher average could be a better play.

That's especially true if you anticipate running into an opponent who leads your league in stolen bases, which is the second suggestion - scout your opponents and tailor your approach accordingly. A rival who goes heavy on relievers will almost always win the saves category, but leaves himself vulnerable to losing the counting stats (wins and strikeouts), and could even find himself in ratio trouble if his RP string together a few blow-up outings. In this situation, you could opt to go high-volume by streaming starters or loading up on two-start SP to ensure that you come away with at least two of the five pitching cats.

That leads into the third recommendation - plan, plan, plan. Now that you've scouted both your own roster and those of your likely opponents, you need to decide how best to use that information. You should know which categories you're going to target and how to optimize your roster to do so. Schedules obviously can (and will) change, but now is a good time to map out the final month and figure out which pitchers will have two-start weeks, analyze matchups, and make sure you're minimizing the number of off days for hitters. You also need to have a deep understanding of your league rules; whether it's through weekly transaction limits or FAAB, you don't want to find yourself unable to maneuver in crunch time.

Head-to-head playoffs will always be something of a crapshoot, and even following the advice above doesn't guarantee victory. In some cases, in fact, you may wind up over-managing and trying to get too cute. Some owners opt to dance with ones who brung 'em, and that's a perfectly valid approach as well. Regardless of how much or how little you tinker, the outcome is as much a product of the whims of the universe as it is anything that we do to try and control it. If nothing else, though, that provides plenty of excitement. Best of luck to those of you braving the chaos.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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Overlooked Veterans On the Waiver Wire

It is the time of year that we need every roster spot filled at all times. We need nothing more than counting stats, lots of them.

In searching for guys to fill the roster, some fantasy owners look just at a player's name to determine whether they should be on their roster. This can be misleading due to preconceived notions of a player’s ability.

Others look at season stats which isn’t necessarily the right path to take when searching for free agency acquisitions to help your roster down the stretch. You would be better served sticking with a hot bat than trying to roster a player based on stats accrued earlier in the season.

 

Oldies But Goodies

Some teams will need to shoot for the stars with upside players to make drastic moves in the standings. A majority of teams just need a steady producer with the potential to have really good games. This is where the boring old veterans come into play. They can provide stable production that will offer more consistency than drastic rises and falls. Veterans also provide peace of mind with steady at-bats rather than pulling your hair out checking daily to see if a guy is in the starting lineup.

When streaming, there’s a variety of knowledge that is beneficial. Past performances could portend a similar outcome. However, it isn't guaranteed. As they say, a force in motion tends to stay in motion. As such, it is valuable to see how a player is performing recently to see if you can enjoy the hot streak. Once you find a few of these players, don’t discard them simply because of their age. Find production wherever you can. Veterans are an optimal group to consider at this point.  Below are a few guys that will help fit your needs as you venture towards a championship run.

Kyle Seager (3B, SEA)

Seager hasn’t played this good in a couple of years. Of course, it hasn’t been a completely successful season. The first three months were utterly terrible with .220 being the best average of the three. His performance could be attributed to offseason hand surgery. August has been a complete transformation back to a younger version of himself. Seager has hit eight homers with 17RBI, and a .345 batting average this month. He boosted his hard-hit rate nearly seven percent to 42.2%.

Seager is on such a streak that can do nothing but help if you take a chance on him. The Mariners are resigned to let their veterans play the season out.

 

Randal Grichuk (OF, TOR)

Grichuk never gets any respect until he is on a run smacking balls out of the yard. Well, he’s at it again. Grichuk has hit seven homers to go with 15RBI and a .273AVG over the last 30 days. He’s slowed down over the last week, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be beneficial to your squad.

Grichuk has demonstrated he enjoys the second half of the season. In 2018, he hit .280 with 14 long balls in the second half. If you need to be more specific with your needs, start him against left-handers for average (.255) and versus righties for power (16).

 

Evan Longoria (3B, SF)

A little long in the tooth at 33 years old, Longoria still has been put out to pasture by many in the fantasy community. This is likely in part to a 2018 season that saw most of his statistical efforts plummet to career-low levels of 16 HR, 54 RBI, and a .244 batting average. Longoria also had the worst walk rate of his career (4.3%).

In 2019, he’s rectified the walk rate to a level not seen since 2013 (8.3%) and has already matched or improved nearly all of 2018 numbers. The second half has been good to Longoria thus far with a beautiful .319 AVG to go with four taters and 14 BI. This comes following a strained plantar fascia in his left foot. The Giants aren’t a powerhouse squad but somehow they’ve been putting up some surprising numbers. Longoria has been a part of that and there’s no reason he can’t be a valuable addition.

 

Jason Kipnis (2B/OF, CLE)

More opportunity generally leads to more statistical output. The Indians drastically improved their offensive roster at the trade deadline and Kipnis has already benefitted from it. In the last month, he's hit six long balls with 21RBI and a .284 batting average. Even at 32 years of age, Kipnis has managed to increase his hard-hit rate to a career-high 38% and his batting average even stands at .254.

Despite an 8.3% walk rate, Kipnis is no longer an on-base guy so he gets a downgrade in those leagues. Otherwise, take advantage of his 2B/OF eligibility and enjoy having a piece of the Indians lineup.

 

Justin Smoak (1B, TOR)

Since Rowdy Tellez was called back up, 32-year-old Justin Smoak has lost a little playing time. He still starts against left-handed pitchers and will get the occasional start versus a righty. Smoak is only an option when you need power (19HR), and you’re willing to sacrifice batting average (.213) to get it. If this description fits you, then Smoak is definitely an option. It will just take a little more work as you'll have to make sure he's in the starting lineup.

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Time To Replace Your Battery Mate?

It's crunch time in the 2019 fantasy baseball season and as we head down the stretch everything can feel like it is magnified. Every win, point, or stat accrued feels more important than it did back in May. If your team is still competitive you've likely settled on the primary guys that have gotten you to this point and feel a sense of loyalty. If that's the case it's likely been a while since you've evaluated your catcher situation, and for good reason.

Picking a catcher is the dregs of fantasy baseball. With all the real-life defensive responsibilities and the physical toll nine innings behind the dish takes on the body, it's hard for most catchers to contribute with the bat. That being said, upgrading the catcher position in fantasy can become a huge advantage down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.

Big catching names from earlier in the season have cooled off. Mitch Garver is batting .186 in the past month. Travis D'Arnaud hasn't homered since July 30. Heck, even Yasmani Grandal has struggled lately with just a .240 batting average and one home run since the All-Star break. Despite that, Grandal is still the number-two ranked catcher according to Yahoo's player ranking which illustrates just how low the bar is for a catcher to vault his way to must-start status in fantasy. If your backstop is struggling and you need to win now consider replacing your battery mate with one of the names below who could be a massive upgrade when it matters most.

 

Francisco Mejia, San Diego Padres

It's been a tale of two halves for the Friars' starting backstop. Mejia battled injuries and shared playing time with Austin Hedges for the majority of the season and as a result, played only 33 games in the first half. He wasn't effective in those games either posting a measly .211 batting average and only two home runs. His .599 OPS was had owners who drafted him as a sleeper sprinting to the waiver wire to find a replacement and anyone who dropped him surely wishes they had him back.

Since the All-Star break, Mejia has been on a tear, he's slashing .353/.396/.553 and shows no sign of slowing down. He's upped his fly ball rate from 38.6 percent on the first half to 49.3 in the second and is making hard contact at a 37.7 percent rate while batting fifth or sixth in a good Padres lineup. Most importantly, Mejia has cut his strikeout rate from 25.2 percent in the first half to 17.6 in the second which has helped his spike in batting average.

He won't be a .353 hitter going forward as that is supported by a .400 BABIP but he should continue to provide plenty of RBI's and above average home run power from the catcher position. He is only 23 years old and was the top catching prospect in the Cleveland system before the Padres gave up a top-notch closer in Brad Hand to acquire Mejia at last year's trade deadline. He has the pedigree and batted ball profile to be an elite catcher. The results have taken a while but they should be here to stay now that he's getting regular playing time.

 

Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

Here we have another former top catching prospect that is thriving in his chance with a new team. Kelly was the "catcher of the future" for the Cardinals for a long time but was always blocked by sure-fire Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. Now with Arizona, Kelly is taking his chance to start and running with it.

Where Kelly really stands out is points leagues or any league that uses on-base percentage. His .352 OBP is fifth among all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, but he's no slouch in the power department either. Kelly has 17 homers on the season and is slugging an elite .537, third among all catchers.

The best part about Kelly is everything he's done to this point seems sustainable. He sports elite plate discipline with a sub-20 percent strikeout rate and a stellar 12.1 percent walk rate. When he does swing the bat he makes hard contact a whopping 51.9 percent of the time and sports a 90.1 percent average exit velocity per Statcast. He's still available in roughly 75 percent of Yahoo leagues and that number needs to be significantly higher.

 

Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds

The name "Tucker Barnhart" doesn't generate much buzz in fantasy circles as he's played over 100 games each of the past three years and only has a .251 career batting average. Unlike the other names mentioned here, Barnhart doesn't have top-prospect pedigree and is a little older at 28 years of age. What he does have is a career-high 87 percent average exit velocity and a 1.020 OPS since the All-Star break which is second among all catchers in that time.

Like Mejia, Barnhart has been tearing it up in the second half. Unlike Mejia, the only real difference in Barnhart's game is he stopped striking out as much. Barnhart struck out 26.7 percent of the time in the first half and it resulted in a .191/.290/.315 slash line. Since the break, Barnhart cut his strikeout rate in half and is walking at an elite rate as well. His .441 OBP in the second half leads all catchers and he's hitting for power as well with a .246 ISO. If you're looking for a hot-hand play, Barnhart is as hot as any catcher not named Will Smith.

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Managing For The Stretch Run

If you've gotten this far into the season and remain firmly in contention, congratulations! The fantasy baseball season is a grind, and maintaining a competitive squad for four and a half months presents a challenge to which many owners can't measure up.

Still, as we approach the playoffs for those of you in head-to-head leagues or the mad dash of the final weeks in rotisserie formats, it's important to note that the endgame often requires a different approach. What makes sense in April doesn't always work in August or September, and failure to adjust could lead to the death of your championship dreams.

How can you avoid such a fate? Let us discuss.

 

Crunch Time

As an active owner, you likely feel quite aware of your team's strengths and weaknesses - but even the most involved fantasy players can miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes you're simply too close to the situation to notice certain details. That's what makes team logs and splits one of the most useful tools in the discerning owner's arsenal. It's easy to look at the season-long stats for players on your roster - most platforms default either to this view, or the current day's performances - but what that simple glance won't tell you is how much your squad has actually benefited from those numbers, or when they were accumulated. Say you own one of the dozen players who has already hit 30 or more home runs. You'd feel pretty good about that, right? But if that player has only gone deep twice in the last month - coincidentally, right around when you traded for him - those warm and fuzzies quickly dissipate. His season-long production doesn't reflect the value, or lack thereof, provided to your squad. In this scenario, looking at either your team log or the "last 30 days" split gives you the real story. It may or may not be time to make a move in this hypothetical scenario, but at least the scales have fallen from your eyes.

Another common mistake fantasy owners make is making decisions - whether they be trades or waiver transactions - without considering their team's specific situation. Say you receive a trade offer from a rival who wants to send you Mallex Smith for Patrick Corbin. Sounds ridiculous in a vacuum, right? The kind of deal you'd immediately reject and then snark about to fellow players. But no trade exists in a vacuum, especially not this late in the year. There are plenty of scenarios in which this deal would make sense for you to accept, the most obvious being that you could gain several points in the standings by adding the handful of stolen bases Smith will contribute. Perhaps you're also on pace to exceed your league's inning limit by early September, making Corbin significantly less valuable to you moving forward. The other owner has done what you haven't - he's checked the standings and put together a proposal that reflects them.

By the same token, you shouldn't be afraid to make a move that appears like an obvious loss on the surface if it helps you. The closer we get to the finish line, the more it makes sense to prioritize immediate returns on investment. In a head-to-head league where you're fighting to make the playoffs, your best play could well be to trade or cut an injured player you'd normally hold onto for someone who can help now. Sure, they'll be back in a few weeks if their rehab goes well. But there's no guarantee that the player you're waiting on returns at full strength - and if you don't make the playoffs, it doesn't matter anyway.

Lastly, this is the time of the season for loving to embrace churning the bottom of your roster. Early on, it makes sense to use your bench as more of a stashing ground as we wait to see how things develop. At this point, though, it's all hands on deck. Any player not actively helping your cause is hurting you, and unless you're in a keeper or dynasty league, there's a much lower risk of regret if you toss someone back onto the waiver wire because you're only missing out on a few weeks' worth of production instead of a few months. Whereas I spend much of the year preaching patience and encouraging the long view, the last six weeks or so demands a certain degree of impetuousness. The bottom line is that time is running out, and every day that passes is one fewer day you have to recover from the mistakes that inevitably pile up over a period of several months. And as we draw closer to the season's end, the more drastic these kind of decisions may need to be.

Keep trusting your instincts - just be ready to take decisive action when the moment requires it.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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On The Value of Rankings

If you read my work last season, you may remember that 2018 was an uncommonly lean year in terms of personal fantasy success. Actually kinda hope you don't remember, because if you do that probably means I complained about it too often. Alas.

Anyway, in reflecting on the root causes of these struggles, one of the theories I developed was that compiling rankings had ceased to be a productive exercise for me; they were a hindrance, rather than a help. Simply put, they were anchoring my values too much.

So when it came time to put together RotoBaller's preseason rankings for 2019, I opted out of participating for the first time in the five years I've been with this here website. While there remains much to be determined, my results thus far this season have been notably improved. Case closed: Rankings are bad. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

 

Rank Hypocrisy

Obviously, it's not that simple. And a good thing too, since I've got to squeeze another 500 words out of this premise. We've discussed it in the this space before, but knowing your own tendencies is one of the most critical components of sustained success in fantasy baseball. It's probably important for sustained success in other things, too. If I ever have sustained success in something besides this game, I'll let y'all know.

Self-deprecation aside, understanding the way you play the game is crucial. In my case, I gravitate toward a somewhat risk-averse approach. It became apparent that last season, I clung too tightly to my preseason valuations as a result of that natural tendency. It made me too slow to react to what was happening, and as a result the Juan Sotos of the world landed on rosters that belonged to others, while I waited in vain for guys like Domingo Santana to get it together.

A question you may be asking yourself, besides whether or not you should keep reading this because we're getting particularly navel-gazey this week, is : If I've been doing rankings for years, why didn't they have the same negative effect in other seasons? That seems like it might be part of the problem. I had generally been successful, and the longer I occupied a position of relative authority as a paid analyst, the more difficult it became to pivot when my priors turned out to be garbage. When you spend a lot of time honing something, it's tough to let go.

Accordingly, in addition to not publishing rankings, I mostly avoided those published by others. It's also why you saw significantly fewer offseason columns with my byline. The goal was to recharge for the season ahead, and put off diving into the data for long enough that I would only have time to get the lay of the land and not wind up missing the forest for the trees.

Is this approach viable for everyone? Probably not. Like so much else about this game, it's subjective. The exercise of ranking 400 players just stopped being valuable enough to me to invest the time and effort required. That doesn't mean I didn't prepare as usual for my drafts, up to and including the construction of customized spreadsheets for most of them because I am a giant nerd. I just didn't start thinking about them in December or spend hours slaving over which NL Central utility guy might be better than the other.

Instead, I relied more on intuition backed by the strong research foundation I'd already developed. That may not sound terribly different, but even that subtle change yielded positive results.

Is it possible that I was simply luckier this year than last? Absolutely. We could be back here in August 2020 and I'll be whining about how taking a hands off approach to preseason prep brought nothing but ruin. But it feels like this year was the discovery a sweet spot between winging it and overthinking it.

Or maybe I'm just jealous of Mariano. Either way.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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Zac Gallen to Arizona: Don't Be Disappointed

Of all the players changing zip codes prior to the MLB Trade Deadline, Zac Gallen was not on anyone's list as a potential mover. As a promising young rookie off to a good start for a talent-starved team, it's befuddling why the Marlins chose to trade a young, controllable arm like him.

There are adequate reasons, which I'll outline below, but the bottom line for fantasy owners, especially in dynasty leagues, is that his value is somewhat in question now. He moves out of pitcher's park and away from the organization that had been grooming him in order to compete for a rotation spot in the desert.

On the other side, the fish did receive high-profile prospect Jazz Chisolm, who now rightfully lands on many radars based on the quick path to playing time. Let's take a look at both players in more detail to determine how to approach them in keeper leagues.

 

Gallen's Rookie Season (So Far)

Prior to his call-up, I did an in-depth profile on Gallen around mid-May. That's when he was dominating Triple-A with a 1.79 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, and 11 K/9. Even then, I was cautious about his big-league potential because he was never touted as an elite prospect and doesn't have electric velocity to fall back on when his control isn't there. Next time, I'm throwing caution to the wind.

Gallen made his Marlins debut with a strong start against the Cardinals that saw him allow just one run and five hits over five innings. In seven Major League starts so far, he hasn't given up more than three runs in a game and has been stretched out to seven innings in each of his last two outings. Not only are the ratios there (2.72 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), they are accompanied by a 28.5% K-rate.

Despite having less-than-stellar fastball velocity, ranking in the 19th percentile at 92.3 MPH, he uses his four-seamer less than half the time. He throws hitters off balance with a cutter, curve, and change combo and has maintained an xwOBA of .320 or less on all four pitches. While his changeup is most effective at inducing whiffs, they all sit above 20% in swing-and-miss rate.

 

Dynasty Value Drying Up?

The biggest change for Gallen will be his home park. Marlins Park, a notorious pitcher's park, has mostly played as such this season. It ranks 54th in Home Run Factor for right-handed hitters and 57th for left-handed hitters. Arizona's Chase Field was once known as Coors Lite but the humidor truly has made a difference; it ranks 44th and 48th in Home Run Factor for RHB and LHB respectively. When looking at Run Factor though, Arizona has actually been better for pitchers (35 and 53) than Miami (18 and 33).

Gallen isn't really a ground-ball pitcher, so the lower HR Factor could make a slight difference. In all, much of this can be ignored because a home team's offensive capability plays a large role in these park factors. The bottom line is that Gallen won't necessarily be worse off moving from the beach to the desert.

With Zack Greinke gone, Gallen has a chance to step in and become the next... Zack Greinke. OK, it's a stretch to assume he'll ever reach that caliber but he will at least hold down a mid-rotation spot for the foreseeable future and figures to be a relatively safe SP for fantasy leagues. Gallen is a firm hold for those who own him in keeper leagues and is worth pursuing if the Gallen owner in your league is nervous about his post-trade value.

 

Talkin' All That Jazz

As mentioned above, in exchange for a 23-year-old starting pitcher under club control who had been impressive as a rookie, the Marlins got back one player: Jazz Chisolm. This was met with skepticism by the baseball community, as it seemed the Marlins were Marlins-ing again. In reality, this trade made all the sense in the world for Derek Jeter and company.

First, while young starters with excellent control are hard to come by, the club is suddenly in a position of wealth. Aside from Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto debuted this season and has been even better up until his last three starts. He may be hitting a wall in his rookie year but he should prove to be a dependable fourth or fifth starter behind Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, and eventually, Sixto Sanchez. The Marlins now find themselves with a bigger need to address than pitching - shortstop.

The team has used a combination of Miguel Rojas, J.T. Riddle, and Jon Berti at the most important defensive position, getting little offense in return. The keystone is set for years to come with impressive prospect Isan Diaz getting the call days ago, so Chisolm figures to be the last piece of the puzzle for a team that is building to compete in 2022 (no, seriously).

Jazz Chisolm was rated the top prospect in the Diamondbacks' minor league system by Baseball America before the 2019 season. By contrast, Gallen was ranked 18th in the Marlins' lowly farm system. This already implies that the ceiling is much higher. Then again, the floor is much, much lower.

Chisolm is a fluid athlete at 5'11", 165 lbs yet has high-end raw power (55) for such a diminutive middle infielder. The problem is that he strikes out a lot. He has been sent packing to the dugout 33.8% of the time this year at Double-A and has finished with a K-rate over 30% at two other stops already. The Marlins must have visions of a Chisolm/Diaz double-play combo putting up 50 combined homers. That may come at the expense of the team's overall OBP, however. Diaz ranks at a 60 in raw power but his K-rate has lived in the upper 20s throughout his minor-league career prior to 2019.

Chisolm is just 21 and has another year or two before he cracks the Marlins' roster but he is in position to inherit the shortstop job if he can find ways to improve his contact. He must be considered a boom-or-bust prospect at this point. In a format like Ottoneu where 4x4 scoring is common (without steals as a category) and power is prioritized, Chisolm is worth a stash in case he pans out.

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Mets Muddle the Trade Deadline

Thought to be sellers, the New York Mets were 52 -55 at the MLB trade deadline, putting them 11 games back in NL East, and 4.5 games back in the Wild Card race. But the Mets continued to confound their fan base by not only failing to sell the valuable assets that everyone assumed that they would but also by buying someone else's. Not a true buyer and definitely not a seller, New York instead used misdirection by doing neither.

For their first trick, the magical Mets made Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman disappear from the trade market on July 28, even though the favorites to land Stroman appeared to be actual contenders like the Dodgers and Astros. Some thought that perhaps they just saw a good deal and were going to turn around and flip Stroman for more assets. But no, instead, New York only shipped Jason Vargas to Philadelphia the next day as well as holding tight to Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, even though many thought both would be moved.

And so it was last week that the Metropolitan Baseball Club took a look at the man in the trade deadline mirror and declared themselves contenders. And in doing so shattered the fantasy dreams of Syndergaard the Astro, Tucker the Met, and others.

 

A Pretender Looking Back

With a starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Matz, and Stroman, there are certainly worlds where they can carry the Mets to the playoffs this year or next with a core offense of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Michael Conforto. But they'll need everyone to stay healthy as well - a big ask given the injury history of the staff - because New York's finances will likely still be hamstrung given that they'll owe a combined 85 million to Cano, Familia, Lowrie, Cespedes, and Wright.

Regardless of what the future holds for the Mets' championship aspirations this year and beyond, what really matters is how their moves and lack of moves affected everyone's fantasy teams for this year and beyond. What are the realities for Stroman, Wheeler, and Syndergaard now that Gotham is their home for at least the next two months?

 

What Could Have Been

In the timeline where none of the aforementioned pitchers are currently Mets, their future would obviously be unique to their new home (whether it be the Astros, Dodgers, Tampa, etc), but in a general sense, all three would've likely seen some fantasy bumps just simply because they weren't on the Mets anymore. But to be fair, whoever was traded to Houston would almost inevitably get chosen as the favorite to succeed. New York does have Citi Field and it's 93 Park Factor in its favor, but they also come with the league's worst infield defense, as well.  Not just worst, but worst by far if using Defense Runs Saved as the measurement, with the Met's -32 DRS making them last by a full ten runs over the next lowest team.

With that substandard defense, it's Stroman who gets hurt the most by the Mets decision to be lukewarm buyers, as his 55.4% groundball-rate is the fifth-highest among qualified starters this year. And that mark is actually low compared to his career average of 60%, which would lead the majors this year by a margin of 2.5% over the current leader, Dakota Hudson. Just like fantasy owners, Stroman probably watched former teammate Aaron Sanchez combine for a no-hitter with his new team and wondered about alternate timelines where he gets that magical Houston pitching dust instead.

So now dynasty owners can now only imagine which prospects would've been on the move if New York had decided to trade Syndergaard and - to a lesser extent- Wheeler. Would Kyle Tucker get moved and finally get a chance to play every day? Would the Dodgers give up Gavin Lux? Now we'll never know, and we may not have found out even if Syndergaard had been traded because post-deadline reports had the Mets not wanting prospect packages for their stars. Instead, they were stalling deals by making high demands on major-league players, like when they wanted Byron Buxton included in any deal with the Twins; which Minnesota was never willing to do because Buxton is still only 26 and has has been one of the best centerfielders in baseball basically ever since he stepped on the field.

 

The Riskiest Timeline

It has been reported that a dozen people interviewed for the Mets general manager job and that 11 of the 12 recommended a rebuild of some sort, with only Brody van Wagenen dissenting. Through that prism, it is easier to understand the Mets' deadline behavior:

  • They traded for Stroman because he's an upgrade from Jason Vargas (presumably), affordable, and has another year of team control - as the team believes their competitive window is open in 2020
  • They held on to Wheeler because no one would meet their high price for an injury-prone rental, as Wheeler is a free agent at season's end. Teams may have been prudent in not meeting New York's price but the Mets may have been wise as well to hold on to him because they can now make him a qualifying offer at year's end which will either will net them draft-pick compensation or a one-year contract with Wheeler at around $18 million. This is probably an acceptable cost if you think you can win in 2020. With the non-signings of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel this past off-season, Wheeler could find it in his best interest to take the guaranteed money or may even feel pressured to sign a team-friendly extension.
  • A healthy Syndergaard can be one of the best pitchers in baseball - even though he currently has a career-high 3.96 ERA - and is under team control for two more years, which is why the Mets balked at trading him when their demands were not met to their satisfaction. Since New York thinks they're competing in 2020 then they're only going to trade Syndergaard if it's more of a lateral move in terms of current Major League value. But holding onto Thor also means holding his risk, as his UCL might as well be a ticking time bomb given his injury history and elite velocity.

 

Rolling the Dice

With both their moves and lack of moves at the trade deadline, New York announced very clearly that they were not rebuilding this year. Maybe they weren't in complete win-now mode, but they were certainly in win-soon. But isn't this a rerun, with the Mets counting on elite pitching to stay healthy and carry them this year and next?

Make no mistake, this is a rotation that has the talent to do so. But counting on any pitching rotation staying healthy is a risky move, let alone a staff with the injury history of these Mets. By refusing to rebuild and thus holding on to all of their chips, it is a dangerous game that Brodie van Wagenen is playing. So dangerous, in fact, that it could be adapted into a 1994 thriller starring Ice T and Gary Busey. And everyone knows that it's unlikely that anything good ever comes of that.

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Identifying Burnout for Starting Pitchers (Before It's Too Late!)

We live in the era of data. There are numbers everywhere, and more than in any other place (in the context of sports), in baseball. Statistics have been a fundamental part of the batted-ball rounds for decades now. And as couldn't be otherwise, more and more franchises are at the cutting edge, putting analysis to practice and employing the very best methods they can come up with to get the best results on the field.

One of the most sought after and talked about trends in baseball nowadays is that of pitchers' usage. Each passing year it seems we recognize how pitchers (or any player, for that matter) are humans at the end of the day and continuous and prolonged performance at a maximum level of effort can be quite taxing.

This is why starting pitchers, more than any other players in baseball, are seeing their work rates cut.

 

Where Do We Come From?

We just have to take a quick look at the data to see how this is indeed a fact. I have pulled every starting pitcher-season from 2010 to 2019 from Fangraphs. There are 762 player-seasons in the dataset. Then, I've plotted every player-season in the next chart (excluding those of 2019 to not introduce noise while calculating the trendline):

The circles in red represent players with 30 or more starts and the circles in green those with fewer than 30. The size, although not very appreciable, is also related to the number of games started.

I don't think there are any doubts left of what's going on. Each passing season there have been fewer starting pitchers throwing great amounts of innings.

 

Where Are We Headed?

If we add the 2019 player-seasons to the chart, we can see how the leaders of the pack are about to catch the trailers from past years:

That dot leading the way for the 2019 pitchers is Trevor Bauer. He's started 24 games by the date I obtained the data (August 2) with a combined 156.2 IP. Although he's still way behind Max Scherzer's 220.2 IP in 33 G last year, he's only less than five innings from getting on par with 2018 season's trailer Ivan Nova. The problem is that Bauer is going to catch him having pitched in five few games!

But we need to dig deeper and thread finer if we really need to know the truth. And the truth, in this case, is not hidden under games or innings pitched, but rather in pitches thrown.

Suppose Bauer were removing hitters on a one-pitch per PA basis (every throw becomes a groundout). He'd have thrown 156.2 IP * 3 batters per inning, which is a total of 468 plus two extra hitters, that is, a square 470 pitches. Ivan Nova threw a total of 2529 pitches last year. That is nothing abnormal. In fact, the abnormal would be to only throw 470 pitches to remove 470 batters. But you get the idea.

What the real data says is that while Ivan Nova took 2529 pitches to remove 683 batters (200 more than if he had only faced three per inning). That is an average of 3.7 pitches per batter. On the other hand, Trevor Bauer has thrown 2685 pitches and faced 664 batters for an average of 4.04 pitches per batter. As you can see, the load Bauer is carrying is already considerable and only looks like it gets even worse during the next few weeks.

 

Identifying Potential Burnouts - An Introductory Example

To try and find some potential pitchers with a high risk of burning out during the final stretch of the season I'm only going to use data from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. I am going to calculate differences from one year to another (from 2017 to 2018, and from 2018 to 2019), calculate some average metrics related to pitching, and find some burnout candidates.

My dataset includes 337 pitcher-seasons. Given that some starters have suffered injuries in that timeframe, others may have changed teams and roles, joined different rotations with different levels of talent, etc, I'm going to only look at pitchers which in 2018 played between seven more/seven fewer games from those they played in 2017, with a minimum of 23 G. That would get rid of some outliers. 62 of them did so.

Of those 62 starters, only four (Jameson Taillon, Blake Snell, Jose Berrios, and Zack Godley) played 7 G over what they did in 2017. Of those, though, only Zack Godley averaged more pitches per 9 IP (nine more, to be exact). The Diamondbacks burned Godley a little down the stretch, and what was a 3.37 ERA in 2017 became a 4.74 ERA in 2018. He allowed more walks and amassed fewer strikeouts (his K/BB ratio dropped from 3.11 to 2.28).

On the other hand, Jameson Taillon averaged 17 fewer pitches per 9 IP. That allowed him to lower his load over the long run. He threw a total of 2960 pitches, slotting behind 27 other pitchers during the 2018 season. As you may have guessed, his 2017 ERA of 4.44 improved to 3.20 in 2018, he maintained his K/9 ratio exactly the same and walked almost one fewer batter per nine IP. Load management seems to matter.

 

Identifying Potential Burnouts - Time To Find Our Candidates

Enough theory, and enough examples from the good old times. It's time to cut to the important thing, the current season.

To account for the season being still uncompleted and midway down the road, I'll use pro-rated stats to 30 G, which align with what we could expect in terms of games started by an ace nowadays. I will use those values also for the 2018 translation, so both seasons can be compared on the same terms.

Here are the pitchers that, at the current pace, would finish the season with 15 or more IP/30G than last season had they played exactly 30 games in both years:

Name 2018 IP/30G 2019 IP/30G Difference Increase Pct.
Lance Lynn 154 192 38 24.9%
Wade Miley 147 172 25 17.1%
Mike Minor 168 191 23 13.7%
Joey Lucchesi 150 167 17 11.1%
Sonny Gray 147 163 16 11.0%
Tyler Mahle 146 161 15 10.4%
Marcus Stroman 161 177 16 10.2%
Lucas Giolito 162 177 15 9.5%
Matthew Boyd 165 180 15 9.2%

Our old friend Shane Bieber barely missed the cut with a difference of 14 IP/30G between 2018 and 2019, as he was clearly surpassed by others, namely Lance Lynn (38), and not only in the pure count but also in the Increase Percentage.

As we already know, that is not half the truth, though, as we must account for thrown balls instead of innings. So here, instead of IP/30G deltas (the difference between one year and the next one), I have listed the pitchers with the highest deltas in terms of pitches thrown per 30G (min. Difference of 100):

Pitcher 2018 Pitches/30G 2019 Pitches/30G Difference Increase Pct.
Mike Minor 2734 3100 365 13.4%
Lance Lynn 2918 3217 299 10.2%
Luis Castillo 2688 2925 237 8.8%
Shane Bieber 2721 2954 233 8.6%
Sonny Gray 2523 2734 212 8.4%
Trevor Bauer 3113 3356 243 7.8%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 2596 2794 198 7.6%
Matthew Boyd 2768 2967 200 7.2%
Marcus Stroman 2695 2886 190 7.1%
Joey Lucchesi 2490 2648 158 6.3%
Chris Sale 2806 2977 171 6.1%
Jake Arrieta 2671 2821 150 5.6%
Charlie Morton 2688 2824 136 5.1%
Brad Keller 2828 2969 141 5.0%
Patrick Corbin 2856 2996 140 4.9%
Marco Gonzales 2652 2781 128 4.8%
Mike Leake 2708 2832 125 4.6%
Clayton Kershaw 2728 2852 124 4.5%
Noah Syndergaard 2894 3026 131 4.5%
Ivan Nova 2616 2734 118 4.5%
Julio Teheran 2712 2829 118 4.3%
Jon Gray 2710 2827 117 4.3%
Stephen Strasburg 2947 3063 116 3.9%
Jacob deGrom 3011 3120 109 3.6%
Eduardo Rodriguez 2889 2993 104 3.6%

Completely different story. These truly are the pitchers in danger of burning out down the road. These are the ones who are throwing more pitches per game than they did in 2018, by far. While it doesn't mean they are the ones throwing the most pitches overall (just look at the difference in projected pitches for Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray, for example), it shows who is throwing way over his standards and what he did last season.

Probably nobody would argue Lynn, Minor, and Bieber are aces well worth allowing an increase of their load given the potential return. But they could be slowly entering dangerous territory if they keep their current pace. And the same goes for quite some more starters.

You can take the data as you please, but to me, there is the main takeaway to extract from it and two solutions to at least try to solve it. If indeed performance decays with a higher number of pitches thrown (by one's standards and average, again, not compared to the rest of the league), then every single one of those pitches is to a certain extent risking their production level during the final weeks of the season. To solve this issue, either they "improve" their pitching (by removing batters earlier with fewer throws) or have their teams pull them off the games earlier.

Of course, both things are easier said than done. One can't just flip the switch and become a batter-killer overnight. No one will ever remove hitters on a single-pitch basis. It's nonsensical. And second, we all know most aces want the spotlight and to be on the mound for as long as possible, which could make difficult the game-time side of the equation. Not many pitchers will auto impose a pitch limit on themselves, nor will their teams be willing to dramatically reduce the number if they feel like they're getting the most out of them when they're out there in the field.

As for you owners out there, it'd be crazy to drop say, Luis Castillo, because he's on his way to throw more pitches than he did last season. Yes, there is the chance he burns out and ends with a steep decline in production, or that his team starts cutting playing time to maintain his performance at a high level.

At the end of the day, aces gonna ace, but keep an eye on those names just in case.

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Nicholas Castellanos Heads to Cubs - Fantasy Implications

Teams had one deadline to manage this year in regards to trading. There was a ton of movement by the few teams looking towards betterment. The Chicago Cubs, being one of them, are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead at 57-50 and felt they needed to make a few more moves for the stretch run.

The Cubs only made three moves on the pitching side of things. They added David Phelps, Derek Holland, and Brad Wieck to assist in the bullpen. None of these are viewed as game-changers, but they will definitely have their roles.

On the offensive side is where they made the biggest splash. The Cubs love their utility players and it wouldn't be right if they didn't add one at the deadline. As such, Tony Kemp was brought in to add to their collection. The primary objective in the trade discussions was to obtain a player that could not only help them offensively but help them where they've had the biggest issues. To do that, the club traded for outfielder Nicholas Castellanos.

 

Nick Castellanos - Stock Improves

One look at Castellanos' stat line doesn't provide anyone with confidence. This season, he's hit 11HR to go with 57 runs, 37RBI, 2SB, and a .273AVG. At first glance, he's just an ordinary hitter. The Cubs weren't interested in adding an ordinary bat. They needed someone that could help their very poor .235/.319/.423 slash line versus southpaws. They definitely targeted the right player for their needs. Few players do better against left-handed pitchers than Nicholas Castellanos; he has a .347/.415/.611 slash line against southpaws in 2019.

Castellanos is not strictly a specialist versus left-handed pitchers either; he is a career .266 hitter against righties. Despite a mediocre stat tally, Castellanos has made improvements in plate discipline with a 76.5%Contact and 12.9%Swinging Strike rates. Despite these improvements, he’s still a guy who loves to chase pitches (41.1%) at heart. Of course, the chase and swinging strike rates look like amateur hour compared to Javier Baez (43.6% Chase and 18.5% Swinging Strike rates). The only thing that will prevent Castellanos from being on the field will be his defense. Thankfully, Kyle Schwarber is lacking in that area as well.

 

Castellanos vs. Top Cub Bats

According to Statcast metrics, Castellanos is having one of the worst years of his career with an 8.4% Barrel rate and an 88.3 MPH average exit velocity. He also has an average batted-ball distance of 194ft, which will play better in Wrigley Field. Although a down year for him, these numbers are quite good compared to his new teammates, who are having tremendously better statistical seasons. This is particularly evident in the home run category.

In comparison, Kris Bryant is superior only in Barrel rate(9.3%) as his average batted-ball distance (189ft) and average exit velo (88.2 MPH) fall just short of Castellanos. Anthony Rizzo excels in average exit velo (89.5 MPH), but his average batted-ball distance(181 ft) and Barrel rate(8%) are lacking when compared. Javier Baez, aside from his chase rate, is second to Castellanos only in average batted-ball distance(178). His 14.3% Barrel rate and 91.4mph average exit velo are some of the best in the majors.

Fantasy Value: Castellanos could not have fallen into a better situation. In Chicago, he doesn't have to carry the team on his shoulders. As such, the reduction of mental stress will benefit him. If Castellanos continues hitting in the two-hole ahead of the explosive bats of Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez, he'll accrue a ton of stats. Nicholas Castellanos is only 80% owned. Acquire him if you can; you'll definitely want to be a part of the excitement of seeing him finish the year in Wrigley. If you can trade for him in dynasty leagues, it would be to your benefit. His improvement in the rest of 2019 will only increase his value, regardless of his future club past this season.

 

The Cost

In exchange for Nicholas Castellanos, the Cubs traded pitching prospects Paul Richan and Alex Lange. Richan has had a better recent performance, but Lange has the better draft pedigree.

Lange was a first-round draft pick(30th) in the 2017 draft. However, he hasn't lived up to the first-round expectations yet. In 18 games spent at both High- and Double-A this year, he has a 3-12 record with a 5.18ERA. Double-A was the better of the two with a 3.92ERA(4.94FIP), but he still had issues walking people (4.38 BB/9). He's destined for the bullpen but unless something changes, it won't be an attractive option.

Paul Richan has spent the year at High-A where he earned a 3.97ERA(3.52FIP) to go with a 10-5 record. He currently profiles as a fourth or fifth starter, at best. Richan is getting 8.32 K/9 while maintaining a 1.74 BB/9. He's working with a four-pitch mix but there is a lot of development necessary for them to be effective at higher levels.

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Zach Greinke's Astronomical Fantasy Value

Nothing is ever completely quiet at the deadline, only often boring. But this year it was eerily silent on the day of the new hard trade deadline as only minor tremors shook the market. Sure, the typical moves were made that make fans shrug, as their teams shored up the back of their rotations, bullpens, and bench.  But what everyone really wanted to know was about the BIG move that almost everyone expected was coming. Where would Noah Syndergaard be traded?

Nowhere, it turns out, as the deadline came and passed without the Mets moving either Syndergaard or Zach Wheeler (who also seemed a lock to be traded). Instead, the best kind of big trade happened. The one no one sees coming because the only people who knew about it were the principles involved and they weren't talking.

Having moved on from Thor, the Astros dropped their own hammer as news broke that they had acquired Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks, thus changing the narratives of the trade deadline and the rest of the season, as well as making themselves the seemingly prohibitive World Series favorite, all in one fell swoop.

 

Coming Back to America(n)

The American League, that is, as Zack Greinke comes back to the AL after spending almost nine years on the Senior Circuit. Besides the obvious (states, teammates, how chili should be made), what is changing for the 35-year old as he now finds himself on a World Series contender?

Home Park

With the move, Greinke goes from Chase Field to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros will play 29 of their remaining 52 games. Since the introduction of a humidor system in 2018, Chase Field has been reduced from a hitter's paradise to a more subdued hitter's park, with "only" a 103 Park Factor in 2018, reduced from their previous three-year average of 108. Houston, on the other hand, is a sneaky pitcher's park whose 94 Park Factor over the previous three seasons is tied for the third-lowest in baseball.

Greinke: Advantage

Division/Remaining Schedule

Arizona has an unbalanced schedule remaining, with 32 of their remaining 53 games coming at home. While the humidor has reduced the hitter-friendly nature of Chase Field, its 2018 Park Factor was still tied for the league's 10th-highest. Outside the less than friendly home-confines of Chase, Arizona has 21 remaining road games, nine of which come in Cincinnati (third-highest Park Factor in 2018), Milwaukee (15th), and Colorado (as in, Coors).

Arizona also has four games remaining against the World Series contending Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as four against the Mets, who apparently fancy themselves a contender. On the other hand, the Astros end their season on the virtual cupcake-trail, playing 30 of their final 52 games against the non-contending Royals, Mariners, Blue Jays, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, and Rangers.

Greinke: Advantage

Run Support/Bullpen

It probably doesn't need to be explained that Greinke now has much better hitters playing with him on the division-leading Astros, than he did on the Diamondbacks. But while Greinke's 5.07 runs-per-game of support puts him squarely in the middle of pitchers making at least 15 starts, the true devil is in the details, as Greinke failed to pick up a win eight times after giving up three runs or fewer, with five of those outings being two runs or less. And like an exclamation point on his Diamondbacks career, Greinke ended his Arizona tenure by giving up only five runs in his final three starts while collecting zero wins.

But if Greinke is going to snatch more wins down the fantasy homestretch, his biggest advantage may lie in his new bullpen, as the Diamondback's pen was merely average, sitting squarely in the middle of the league in most important metrics. In contrast, Houston bullpen has the league's 4th-best ERA as well as the lowest xFIP in baseball.

Greinke: Advantage

 

Fantasy Dreaming

All that is well and good but how does that affect Greinke in regard to what's really important? As in, your fantasy team. How does the trade change his value for the rest of the season in redraft leagues? What about for dynasty players?

The Here and Now (Redraft)

Greinke's stuff hasn't changed and it's probably not going to change in the next two months. He was a must-start pitcher with Arizona and he's still a must-start with Houston. In a vacuum, Greinke's fantasy stat-line has the best chance of improving in the wins column, for all the reasons laid out previously. But given the easier schedule, the friendly home park, no Coors, etc...it's not unreasonable to expect bumps in his ratios as well. So if you already have Greinke and plan on keeping him around, then the move to Houston will likely provide a moderate upgrade to his fantasy earnings.

But should you keep him? If contending with Greinke as the lynchpin of your pitching staff, then yes; you should probably hold on unless overwhelmed by an offer. But if Greinke is your number two or three? It might be time to do some dealing as the fantasy trade deadline approaching, with Greinke's value unlikely to ever be higher as everyone is awash and flush with the hype that comes with such a big trade. Selling off Greinke to an owner dreaming of Houston's pitching magic could go a long way towards patching any roster holes you may have as we enter the dog days of the fantasy season.

The Future, Conan? (Dynasty 2019 and Beyond)

While selling high on Greinke may be the best strategy in redrafts, as taking advantage of the margins that lie in inflated markets is one of the keys to fantasy success, targeting him in dynasty may be a better course. Because just as everyone knows that Tinker Bell and all the other residents of Pixie Hollow have a magic tree that makes them pixie dust, everyone knows Tal's Hill was removed from Minute Maid Park only because that's where GM Jeff Luhnow decided to hide the tree that makes the Astros' magic pitching dust.

The Houston-Effect (copyright-pending) is what you'd be betting on if you decide to trade for Greinke in dynasty. And why not? Every year, half the fantasy world decides that this is the year that Greinke will stop getting away with his ever-diminishing velocity and stop being a top-20 pitcher. And yet, he persists. Unless he starts throwing 85 mph (which is certainly on the table), the year-long Houston Astros version of Greinke is unlikely to suddenly fall off a cliff with his skills and regress himself out of the top-40.

Is the 35-year old guaranteed to be in the top-20 again in 2020? Of course not. But if you can acquire him closer to the cost of the average aging pitcher with velocity problems, instead of the statistical metronome that Greinke's been, sign yourself up.

 

Best Bets

In the end, the most likely outcome is that Greinke is about the same pitcher that he was in Arizona but now with more wins. So if you hold on to him this year, you're unlikely to be disappointed. But remember that it's the savvy fantasy GM who doesn't always stay static with the safe plays but instead watches for that bloated market and stays brave when the time to pounce arrives.

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Jesús Aguilar Heads to Rays - Fantasy Implications

In what can be considered an overlooked trade by the standards of a deadline day (Greinke to Houston, Stroman to Mets, etc), both Tampa and Milwaukee engaged into discussions and finished the day with a deal. The operation ended being a one-for-one trade with a hitter going in one direction and a relief pitcher the other way around.

The biggest piece of the trade, first baseman Jesus Aguilar, moves to the Rays while reliever Jake Faria will be part of the Brewers' bullpen for the rest of the season.

Here is a breakdown of what is ahead for both players and the impact they'll have on their new team's plans going forward, mostly focusing on the rest of the season and for you fantasy owners on redraft leagues.

 

Jesús Aguilar (1B, TB) - Stock Up

After having a career year last season for the Brewers, Jesús Aguilar's 2019 campaign hasn't brought any good news with it. Aguilar never amounted to anything in Cleveland but once he was moved to the Brewers something clicked and his game improved considerably. Until this spring, that is.

The regression Aguilar has suffered this year is notable and should be highlighted as a precaution (5x5 stats normalized to 600 PA):

Season R/600PA HR/600PA RBI/600PA SB/600PA AVG
2018 85 37 114 0 .274
2019 60 18 78 0 .225

Not much left in the air after looking at the table above. Aguilar has underperformed in every single 5x5 fantasy category (and also in those not included there) and therefore Milwaukee opted to move on from him opening room for other players to get more playing time (more on this later).

Enough with the negatives, though!

Jesús Aguilar is a prime candidate for a big comeback during the two months that are left to play. There are a few reasons to think of this. Let's take a look at the most impactful ones:

  • Aguilar has moved from the National League to the American League. That means he won't be forced to play 1B anymore and can slot in the DH spot on a daily basis.
  • Tampa Bay has sent Nate Lowe back to Triple-A, removing one potential threat to Aguilar's playing chances primarily at 1B but also as a DH.
  • The Rays' other 1B, Ji-Man Choi, has platooned batting mostly against righties. Aguilar comes as a great hitter against lefties and is expected to get all of those matchups.
  • As a matter of fact, Aguilar has had his best month in July: During the last 30 days, he has hit 3 of his 8 HR, improved his AVG to .298 and lowered his strikeout percentage to a season-low 19.2%.
  • If we go by advanced stats, Aguilar's wOBA sits at .304 for the season when his xwOBA says it should be up to .342. If he can perform as expected (which is on par with his career average wOBA of .349), only good things will come his way.

That is enough to consider Aguilar a clear candidate for a positive ROS outcome. The trade hasn't swung his %Rostered too much, and it currently is at 46.2% in ESPN leagues. There is a chance you can get him for free off waivers and I'd encourage you to gamble on him in deep leagues.

 

Jake Faria (RP, MIL) - No Value Change

As for the other piece of the trade, Jake Faria, we could spend two hours talking about him and get nothing substantial out of it. He has played every game this season as a reliever, never made it past two full innings in any of his games, and averaged 22 Pitches/IP in a total of 10 IP.

All of this comes in a season in which he was fully moved to bullpen duties after starting 14 and 12 games in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The results were "meh" at best back then, so Tampa opted to restrict him to relief duties this season.

In such a small sample, Faria has a 2.70 ERA, a not-so-pretty 5.72 FIP and a K-BB% ratio of just 8.5%. He can keep what has been his role to this date once he suits up for Milwaukee, or given his past, there is also a chance for him to make it through the final spots of the Brewers rotation if only to try his ability there.

Those are the main reasons his stock doesn't change with the move. He won't become anything different to what he has been lately, nor is his new team going to force a change for good or bad. Don't care too much about him.

 

Trade Impact - Rest of Rays' Roster

This probably where the meat and potatoes of this trade are found. I already mentioned a couple of important events and implications that will be affected by Tampa acquiring Aguilar.

First of all, it has made the Rays send 1B Nate Lowe back to Triple-A. As a rookie, he has not had a bad season and although he's getting out of the Major League roster now, we expect to see him back before the end of the season. Don't give up on him in dynasty formats. In redraft leagues with a higher ROS importance, if he was part of your roster for some reason, it is probably time to move on.

Lowe's stock fell out of the picture.

That means one less first baseman in the depth chart for a position in which Ji-Man Choi and Jesus Aguilar profile as the leading candidates to occupy. Ji-Man Choi production won't change as he will keep facing righties in a platoon split with Aguilar.

No change in Choi's stock.

One player that will see his appearances cut short on 1B is Travis D'Arnaud, who had covered that position on certain games. He will more than probably be locked into the catcher position from this point on, solidifying himself there.

Stock up for d'Arnaud.

 

Trade Impact - Rest of Brewers' Roster

The addition of Faria doesn't impact the Brewers' plans that much, but the sudden subtraction of Jesús Aguilar's bat surely does, much more in a National League where there is no DH spot available.

Eric Thames has been the primary 1B for the Brewers this season with 61 games at the position. He will be relieved to see Aguilar depart as he was the man who took his place in the lineup last season with his great outing. He will see less of the outfield and more of the first bag going forward.

Stock up for Thames, as his playing time will ramp up.

The other player affected by the removal of a 1B from the team is Travis Shaw. He played at the spot last season and also this year, and with Aguilar out of the team, he will also get chances there although his primary duty will still be to play at third base, much more with Thames establishing himself at first. Given that he was sent down to Triple-A at the end of June and called back up just days ago,

Shaw's stock also goes up after this move.

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Under-the-Radar Starting Pitchers on the Move

Up until the final hours of the 2019 MLB trade deadline, it was almost looking like every major league GM had made some sort of weird, simultaneous mistake where they forgot to mark the days off on the calendar and thought that it was only July 30th. When the deals started rolling in, they came in a mad flurry, but not necessarily including the names you were jazzed up to hear.

While we did ultimately see swaps for the likes of Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig, Nicholas Castellanos, Shane Greene, Marcus Stroman, and some of baseball's top prospects, the majority of moves were low-key and conveyed a prevalent aura from around the league: confidence in organizational position and identity.

With hotly discussed starters like Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Matt Boyd staying put, we can nonetheless find an advantage in the starters who do currently find themselves on new rosters, and with a new set of circumstances to exploit for a strong run down the homestretch. So, let's discuss the pitchers of the 2019 MLB trade deadline who may have flown under the radar, but whose acquisitions are worth your undivided attention.

 

Mike Leake (SP, ARI)

29% Owned

Mike Leake had been having a durable, yet mostly forgettable season on the mound for the hot-starting (fast waning) Seattle Mariners, until he put together a fantastic month of July that saw him hitting on all cylinders. In 30.0 IP, he accrued a 3.60 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, causing his name to once again carry appeal on the trade market. He definitely looked appealing to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and backing up his hot run in the heat of July are several key statistical improvements.

In that time, Leake forced season-best figures for hard contact (29.2%) and soft contact (18.8%) on batted balls, he produced season-best figures of 19.5% and 1.6% for strikeout rate and walk rate, he forced a sub-1.00 HR/9 (0.90) for the first time all year, and he coaxed the opposition into a 2.00 GB/FB ratio on 50% grounders. It's questionable to go through a change of scenery immediately following your best month of work for the campaign, and the move to Chase Field could easily cause struggles for Leake who has had issues with the long ball in the past. With steady adaptation with the passing months, a severe aversion to walking batters, and a secure spot in the Diamondbacks rotation, its hard to see Leake not being a serviceable streamer at the very least as 2019 dwindles down.

 

Tanner Roark (SP, OAK)

26% Owned

Due to several unfortunate circumstances, the Oakland Athletics found themselves needing some urgent assistance in the heart of the rotation, already having taken steps to shore up the back end by acquiring Homer Bailey from Kansas City. The Cincinnati Reds simultaneously found themselves with a rental starting pitcher to spare, and as the action heated up, ultra-consistent Tanner Roark was on his way to play for the A's. Though, unlike Mike Leake, Roark is entering his new town fresh off of the worst month of his otherwise successful season.

In 24.2 IP throughout July, Roark mustered an ugly 7.30 ERA and 1.82 WHIP, posting his only poor stretch of the season. While the source can likely be attributed to the rise of his BABIP from .268 to .382, the deviation from his average performance has come on some rather minor missteps on the mound. His strikeout rate dropped to 18.3%, his walk rate crept back up to 7.8%, and despite maintaining a respectable rate for hard (32.5%) and soft (19.3%) contact on batted balls, he allowed an overly destructive 2.55 HR/9 over that stretch. The issue has been additionally allowing batters to produce 27.5% line drives, turning into XBH all over hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

Even with his first sub-par stint as a starter for Cincinnati coming right as Oakland has decided they need him, the fact that they have a wide-open spot for the reliable veteran in the rotation is always a plus, and the nature of the Athletics home venue will at least help to suppress any future artillery fire to the stands. Even with limited strikeouts, Tanner Roark could be immediately ready to get back on track.

 

Jordan Lyles (SP/RP, MIL)

14% Owned

Milwaukee had a certifiably snooze-worthy deadline approach, but after the injuries down the line of their pitching staff, they were badly in need of starters (and possibly long-relievers). One of their earliest moves was in grabbing Jordan Lyles from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it wasn't an acquisition met with much enthusiasm by the Brewers faithful. In 82.1 IP across 17 starts for the Pirates in 2019, Lyles struggled immensely with a 5.36 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, which measures unfortunately close to his career average despite being around for so long.

He had a good first start as a member of the Brewers though, going five innings and allowing just one earned run, on three hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. The problem for Lyles this season hasn't really been in his tolerable 9.2% walk rate or his actually high-performing 24.7% strikeout rate on the year, the issue has been the fact that he has allowed a downright frightening 1.6 HR/9. That kind of figure may be understandable if he was still a member of the Colorado Rockies, but it shouldn't happen in PNC Park, and it could be a crippling obstacle in power-friendly Miller Park.

He has baited opponents into 17.5% soft contact on batted balls but has allowed a harmful (though still not unaligned with his career tendencies) 37.1% hard contact. The truth is, besides his slight strikeout upside, Jordan Lyles just isn't a reliable starter to deploy from a game-to-game basis, and should likely be avoided until a poignant change is noticeable in his approach and results.

 

Trevor Richards (SP, TB)

10% Owned

Trevor Richards had been a part of a burgeoning rotation for the Miami Marlins, and though he had several strings of exemplary starts, he has ended up with a shaky cumulative ERA (4.50) and WHIP (1.38) across 112.0 IP in 2019 (23 appearances, 20 starts). The Tampa Bay Rays must've seen a spark in Richards (or were willing to bear the consequences), because they acquired him at the deadline in a package with strikeout-heavy reliever Nick Anderson. While it's true that Richards has been useful at times this season and the Rays were a club desperately in need of back-end rotation help, the momentum has shifted far out of the 26-year-old hurler's favor.

The only aspect of his game that has taken a turn for the better since the start of July has been his strikeout percentage which ascended to a season-best rate of 23.8% for the month. Other than that, his walk rate has ballooned to 13.1% for his work this past month, and he has allowed a highly dangerous 43.4% hard contact on a 0.75 GB/FB ratio (66.1% combined line drives and fly balls). Those kind of peripherals may have flown at Marlins Park, but they might not fare so well in Tropicana Field pitted against daunting batting orders of the AL East (not to mention their offense-friendly home fields). You can find strikeouts in much safer places than the hands of Trevor Richards, and he's a reluctant stream with the way he's been letting pitches spray back.

 

Aaron Sanchez (SP, HOU)

10% Owned

Aaron Sanchez was once thought to be right on the cusp of stardom with the Toronto Blue Jays (he is still only 27), and he looked like he was ready to hop back on board his own hype train when he started 2019 with a fantastic showing through the first month. Well, it all went barreling downhill (and into the outfield) from there, but that didn't stop Sanchez from being dealt along with teammate Joe Biagini to the super-stacked Houston Astros at the deadline.

It wasn't the biggest addition that Houston made to the rotation that day by a mile, but even with his struggles and some discouraging performance measures, there are some reasons to keep Sanchez in your peripheral vision. Across 25.2 IP for the month of July, he produced season-best figures for strikeout rate (23.7%), walk rate (6.1%), and HR/9 (0.70), while still forcing opponents into a GB/FB ratio north of 1.00 with 36.4% grounders. The biggest issue remaining was the fact that opponents could sustain a .360 BABIP over the past month by applying 45.5% hard contact to 29.9% line drives.

At least Minute Maid Park isn't too much more hitter-friendly than the Rogers Centre on any given day, and his limiting of long balls should be a vital factor down the homestretch. He may get a World Series ring out of this, but if Aaron Sanchez can limit the hard contact over the final months, he could be in position for a strong recovery.

 

Drew Pomeranz & Jake Faria (SP/RP, MIL)

3% Owned (Combined)

In further effort to supplant the innings and production of several starting pitchers recently forced out of action due to injury (and shall remain out for a considerable period), the Milwaukee Brewers opted to go one step further than Jordan Lyles in their underwhelming quest by snagging Drew Pomeranz and Jake Faria at the deadline. What makes this an interesting mix is the fact that both guys have had success in the past out of major league rotations, but have recently been utilized out of the bullpen by San Francisco and Tampa Bay.

Of the two, Pomeranz is the most likely to work his way into Milwaukee's rotation (or consistently extended innings) and close out the campaign effectively. Faria is still just 25, but he has failed to impress in mostly relief work for Triple-A Durham this season, and has been remarkably lucky to escape with a 2.70 ERA across limited major league work the Rays in 2019 with a 1.8 HR/9, 14.9% walk rate, and 1.70 WHIP. Pomeranz struggles with walks too (though to a lesser degree at a 10.7% clip for July), but he has been striking batters out with solid frequency at 26.8%, while lowering his hard contact rate allowed on batted balls to 37.1%. He needs to induce way more soft contact than his July rate of 2.9%, but his numbers on the year are highly inflated by a catastrophically bad time from the mound in May (19.16 ERA in 10.1 IP).

With two straight months of steady ground under his belt, Drew Pomeranz could be ready for a bounce-back of his own.  Though if another injury pops up, you could have worse choices than a strikeout-hungry Faria taking the stage for a contender like Milwaukee.

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Under-the-Radar Hitters On the Move

As it came, it went. We've just flipped our calendars to August and, opposite to what has been the norm forever, there will be no more impact trades this season as the MLB opted to install a hard deadline on July 31st.

Everything that had to move, moved. Everything that had to stay put, stayed. So now it is time to look at the full picture of what did and what didn't happen during what turned out to be quite a shaky day after all.

Here aer some under-the-radar players traded yesterday. There is always a chance they could turn into something, but keep your hopes at bay for the most part. You won't find the Castellanos or even the Aguilars of the market here, as those are players with a higher profile. Two of these guys are not going to move the needle at all, while the other two may be helpful here and there. So let's quickly analyze what each of these players will bring to their new teams.

 

Derek Fisher (OF, TOR)

1% owned

The least impactful of all players moved is Derek Fisher.

Fisher was a first-round pick by the Astros in 2014, and the No. 4 prospect in Houston's farm not long ago in 2017. The problem is that, since his debut that season, he has only played 112 games and logged 312 plate appearances while struggling in his first taste of the majors. Not that good a look.

Although he has stepped up his game this year, he still has a ways to go to become an impact bat. Career wise (that is, putting together all of his performances since his first day as a major leaguer), Fisher has 56 H, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 43 R and a slash line of .226/.317/.367. You could easily expect a better slash line from practically any other rosterable player around the league. Ugh.

Don't pick him up. Really. He will do nothing good for you this or the next few.

 

Jedd Gyorko (2B/3B, LAD)

1% owned

Jedd Gyorko presents an odd case. He's the most experienced of the group of players explored here, and he's in the middle of his ninth MLB season. He has played 38 games for the Cardinals this year and even if he played another 38 for the Dodgers (he won't), that will mark a career-low in games played. He's been on the 60-day IL but is almost ready to return to the field. Still, he will only play a utility role.

Bad for Gyorko, this year there are a lot of good third-basemen available. The most compelling skill he brings to the table is versatility. He can play at both infield positions, and he's been hitting well against lefties. Here are the splits by handedness that Gyorko has built during his career (counting stats are shown on a per-PA basis to account for the difference between the pitchers' handedness he's faced):

Handedness H/PA R/PA RBI/PA HR/PA AVG OPS wRC+
v Lefties 0.242 0.127 0.111 0.042 0.271 0.809 122
v Righties 0.215 0.098 0.130 0.039 0.237 0.707 94

While he won't become a staple in the Dodgers lineup there is still a chance he can become a somewhat important part of it when he takes the field. I wouldn't go crazy after him (he's coming off an injury too), but keep an eye on him just in case he starts to perform and you need to jump to pick him up before others do.

 

Scooter Gennett (2B, SF)

37% owned

 

 

 

 

It's a toss-up between Scooter Gennet and Corey Dickerson for the first spot in our particular leaderboard. Let's start with the slightly under-owned new Giant.

Much like Gyorko, Gennett has been a major leaguer for seven seasons now. In those, he has amassed a plus-1.7 fWAR in four of them. This year, though, he's at a minus-0.4 fWAR. No wonder why Cincinnati opted to part ways with him.

His breakout 2018 season, which marked his career-high in games played and PA, saw him put up a 4.5 fWAR while slashing .310/.357/.490. He also hit 23 HR, got 92 RBI and lowered his K% more than three percentage points (from 22.9% to 19.6%) from his 2017 mark.

This year, though, he's regressing. But hey, so were the Giants, and look at them now! And look where Gennett is headed to! San Francisco is it! And for a team that is clearly out of division contention, but fighting for a wildcard, Gennett is as good an addition as one could get.

Being part of more than 37% of ESPN's roster is no joke. Gennett is actually the 30th most-owned second baseman there, and while he currently ranks in the 11th percentile in terms of Player Rating this year, he should improve his production. I'd pick him up if I could get him for free and had an infield hole in my lineup. The Giants have been bad, Joe Panik has been their first-option 2B all season and he has not been better than Gennett. There is a real chance he gets the starting job at the position.

 

Corey Dickerson (OF, PHI)

37% owned

Another veteran, Corey Dickerson gets the award of being the most-coveted player of this group by edging Scooter Gennett by a minuscule 0.1%ROST. Uh oh!

It is very difficult to asses Dickerson's game going forward. There are currently 64 outfielders qualified for the batting title. Only one (Bryce Harper) is part of the Phillies roster (!). Stricly limited to the left field, Dickerson will cover for Jay Bruce's injury. When he recovers, tough, Dickerson's role will be anyone's guess.

Dickerson made the All-Star in 2017 and won a Gold Glove award last year playing for Pittsburgh. His fWAR has never been lower than 2.6 in seasons he's played more than 130 games and he's already at 1.0 fWAR in 2019.

His Exit Velocity has lowered (from a peak 89.7 to 87.0 this year), as his Barrel% (11.3% to 6.7%). He's got 22 extra-base hits in 2019 and four HR to date and his batting average sits at a career-best .315 right now. He's walking more than ever since his rookie season with a 9.2 BB% and boasts a 0.57 BB/K.

Same as with Gennett, I'd bet on Dickerson if I could pick him for (close to) nothing before people start to realize his potential value.

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Joint Fantasy Custody

As I've mentioned before, when I'm not managing my own teams or doing my best to help yours, I also do private consultations, either for drafts or season-long personalized advice. With one client, this is our third year working together on his weekly points league roster. The team is two games up on its closest competitor, and whaling on that rival this week.

For most of the season, he has been vocal about wanting to trade a particular player. The idea behind the move is sensible. However, there were enough compelling reasons to stand pat that I have been firm in my assessment that he shoot for the moon, and even if he missed, he'd still have the star. I felt confident in the roster as it stood and therefore unmotivated by any offer that wasn't a slam dunk.

Until a few days ago, I thought I'd managed to bring my client around to my way of thinking. With hours to go until the trade deadline, though, he pulled the trigger on a deal. It isn't a bad one by any means; it merely doesn't satisfy me for a handful of reasons.

 

Split Decisions

Ultimately, it was my client's call to make. He paid the league dues, he sets the lineups, invested the time in trade negotiations. I'm not involved in the day-to-day operations, just a sounding board. And it's entirely possible that the decision will pay off handsomely, or at least lead to a better outcome than what would have lain at the end of the road for which I advocated. I have no interest in litigating it, which along with my reverence for fake baseball consultant confidentiality is the reason I haven't gone into the details. And that wouldn't make for an interesting column, anyway. (Does this one? The good news is it'll only take you a few minutes to find out!)

What it ultimately got me thinking about is how to navigate a co-manager relationship. This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison for the reasons stated above - by design, I can be overruled, though this is the first time I can recall it happening. The more interesting scenario is one I've never personally experienced: Two people with equal votes on how to run their fantasy baseball team.

It's an uncommon setup, at least in redraft or keeper leagues. Dynasty formats lend themselves a bit more easily to it because they tend to require more attention, but sharing a team is definitely more the exception than the rule no matter what your league settings might be. That unfamiliarity, and the need to get someone else to buy into your idea before you can execute, presents its own unique challenges.

Division of responsibility seems a good place to start thinking about how to ensure that two heads are, in fact, better than one. Do you take the hitting and pitching coach tack, putting one person in charge of managing the lineup for each? Does one person handle the lineups each day while the other monitors the waiver wire? Who takes the lead on trade negotiations? Ideally, your strengths and weaknesses complement your partner's well, allowing you to put your best foot forward in all aspects of the game. This is where one of the cardinal rules of this column ("Know thyself") comes into play.

Perhaps most crucial to consider: How, and how often, should the two owners communicate? Obviously, no major decisions should be made unilaterally, but does cutting a guy at the back of the roster who just got demoted to the minors merit much discussion? You might want input on whoever the replacement is, or you might not really care dude I'm changing a damn diaper rn and the dog is eating a couch pillow and dinner's a disaster just pick up Thames if you like him ffs. That will obviously depend on your level of investment and the demands of your actual life.

Those are logistical issues, but what happens when you disagree on the best course of action? One of you wants to pluck a lotto ticket from the waiver wire, the other thinks he's a bum and has eyes for another dice roll. One person is content with the status quo, the other wants to shake things up. Player 1 is looking toward the future, while Player B wants to push all-in on the current run. What if one of you hates the trade the other has been painstakingly negotiating? I spent all day slaving over a hot smartphone, and this is the thanks I get?! 

It's a fascinating problem, and one that has any number of potential solutions. What my mind continues to drift toward is some sort of trump card/veto system in the event of a pronounced difference of opinion. Each owner gets a certain number of times to put his foot down on a decision and overrule his counterpart. The idea is to encourage both of us to really think about what we're proposing, and decide if it's a hill upon which we're willing to die.

Disagreements are inevitable in any relationship. It's how you handle those moments that defines them. What you want, regardless of how you get there, is the same end result - to do better, more often.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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Marcus Stroman Heads to Mets - Fantasy Implications

In the first of the significant moves involving pitching at the deadline, Toronto ace Marcus Stroman is headed to the New York Mets. In return, the Jays receive two pitching prospects in Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson. While not the New York team that most expected, Stroman enters a team that thinks they are in the hunt. If the team can win some games, a pitcher with this profile fits nicely.

For fantasy value, this trade has impacts in both redraft and dynasty formats. While Stroman is not one of the top pitchers in the game, he does offer a younger arm with some run. Over a month-long stretch, Stroman can pitch like an ace, but owners need to deal with the other starts as well. For their part, the Mets are making some pieces to rebuild the farm in this deal. Kay and Woods-Richardson are both in the minors, with the former at the top and latter down at Single-A. For owners in NL-only formats, Stroman might be the best option to hit the wire, based on league rules, and could be the arm that changes a season.

To answer all those questions, this article looks to each of the three players in the deal to evaluate their fantasy stock. While this trade got overshadowed quickly by other significant moves, the Mets are going to be fun to watch in the next few years. Stroman could be a cog on a surprise run to the Wild Card, but at the very least, will be a crucial piece next year.

 

Stock Up

 

Marcus Stroman (SP, NYM)

A former first-round pick by Toronto out of Duke in 2012, the Stroman experience has been more good than bad for Jays fans. While there have been some clubhouse concerns, and comments off the field, for the most part, Stroman has been a reliable SP3 in real life and fantasy baseball. The concern with looking to measure Stroman’s value for fantasy is that owners do not know what the Mets are going to do the rest of the way. While the easy answer, Stroman’s value is reliant on the team staying in the playoff hunt. If not, then there is as much risk for wins as with Toronto, so no real jump in the short term for that category.

Even without the wins, the park factors seem to work out for Stroman. Rogers Center has played to a 1.037 run factor, and Citi Field is down a tick at 0.957. Rogers Center has also been the worst pitcher’s park for homers, with a 1.458 home run factor compared to Citi Field’s 0.946 mark. The downside for the factors comes on walk factor, as Stroman has struggled with command at times. Over his career, Storman has been one of the better BB% arms in the Majors. Still, this year, he is walking even fewer batters with a rate down to 6.8 from 8.0 last year. Citi Field has a 1.009 walk factor, and Rogers Center is 0.937. This means that while still a core skill, owners might not be able to pencil in the current WHIP.

No matter the trade return and value for Toronto, the Mets have added one of the better arms in the American League, even if that comes at the cost of an elite ceiling. Owners will need to watch the command but should be able to rely on a lower ERA due to the park and division content. Moving away from a hitter’s park, and the New York and Boston lineups seems to only be a good thing for gross fantasy value.

Stock Down

 

Anthony Kay (SP, TOR)

Of the two arms coming back to Toronto in the deal, Kay is the closest to the Bigs but also has a lower ceiling. Entering the year to the worst pitchers park in terms of homers and will need to adjust to make this work. Stock is down with the park, but he might have a longer leash when he gets the call. as the number six prospect in the Mets’ system, Kay had been pitching at Triple-A at the time of the trade. To begin the year, down at Double-A, Kay had a 1.49 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP over 12 starts. While the numbers have risen at Triple-A to 6.61 and 1.63 up a level, owners have to be excited by the stuff that he flashed to start the year.

Mixing in a fastball, curveball, and changeup, Kay relies on the mixture as opposed to his elite stuff. With none of the pitches grading out above average, Kay does project to have plus command. Kay's fastball that tops out at 94, meaning that the changeup has been critical for Kay in terms of getting swings-and-misses. Still, when there are real questions on his ability to command the curveball, Kay cannot rely on the changeup as Chris Paddack does. The other primary concern has been seven homers in seven games at Triple-A. Kay is headed

 

Simeon Woods-Richardson (SP, TOR)

The principal return for Stroman, Woods-Richardson is an arm that will start to appear on top-100 lists this offseason. While only 18, Richardson already has a polished curveball and fastball combination. The only issue has been development of a third pitch, with a changeup still a work in progress. Projecting as a starter, Woods-Richardson does have some concerns with durability and command due to his throwing motion. Still, fantasy owners have to like the elite stuff, and with the tools to dream on, easy to see why this is the return for Toronto’s ace.

In 20 games for Single-A this year, Woods-Richardson has a 2.29 xFIP and 11.14 K/9. If he can keep on an innings schedule, Woods-Richardson will debut in 2021 at the earliest, with 2023 being a better target date. That is the rub for fantasy owners, and why the Jays got hammered for this deal by pundits.

Even if it all goes well, owners are sitting on a lottery ticket with plenty of time for arm injuries, command issues, and new baseballs. For dynasty owners willing to wait, Woods-Richardson can jump up prospect lists in the next two years, but for owners in redraft leagues, this is a name to forget for four years. Stock is neutral in a vacuum, but with the Jays’ recent history, owners should not trust them to polish this blue-chip prospect.

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Introducing Bo - The Youngest Bichette Has Finally Arrived

It's been years in the making. Who was once a second-round pick for the Blue Jays in 2016 has turned into a real major leaguer, and he is here to stay. By now, we all know about Bo Bichette and his pedigree. He has been one of the most-heralded prospects for the past two years and his time has arrived with Toronto's call-up a few days ago.

Even with all of that, there is an outside chance that you still don't know or realize who the shortstop is and where his game stands right now. If so, there's a good chance you aren't old enough to remember his dad, Dante Bichette.

With him becoming part of every fantasy league from this very moment, it looks like a proper time to asses his qualities and introduce him to every fantasy owner interested in the young infielder.

 

Who Is Bo Bichette?

You have heard the name, but you have not watched the tape. Fear nothing. This will get you up to date with Bichette's profile as a hitting machine.

If there is something to know about Bo Bichette, it must be his hitting prowess and his power. Bichette profiles as a hard hitter and his minor league numbers show it. This year, accounting only for his time at Triple-A Buffalo, he's hit eight home runs in 244 plate appearances, amassed 61 hits, walked 19 times, and converted 32 RBI. His slash line of .275/.333/.473 doesn't look overly great, but given the little time he's spent on Triple-A (at age 21, way below the average), it was enough to grant him a call from the Blue Jays.

After Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s graduation, Bichette became the No. 1 prospect in Toronto's farm system, and with good reason. Even while suffering a little slump during the month of August (which he attributes to his antsy about getting called-up), Bichette surely looks like he's been on a steadily-improving path.

 

Bo's Value Volume I: Dynasty

Let's start assessing Bo Bichette's value for fantasy owners that are playing in Dynasty leagues. Those competitions reward more sound planning and are based on more true-to-life strategies such as stashing prospects that could eventually pan out, getting assets for both the present and the future, etc. Bichette's value in Dynasty leagues is, plain and simple, unbeatable.

The fact that Bichette comes as an organization No. 1 prospect speaks for itself. Not only that, but MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the eighth-best prospect overall. By this time, Bichette must already be part of the player pool in your league, so if you are still able to find him unclaimed don't lose a single second getting him before he flies off the board!

While talking Dynasties, current production is not that important. Bichette will be given even more room to grow at his own pace now that the Blue Jays has traded Eric Sogard just prior to the prospects promotion. The shortstop position is his to lose now in Toronto and it doesn't look like it will change either the short- or long-term future. Even if he eventually moves to second or third base, which some scouts think will happen, there is no doubt he'll remain in the lineup one way or another for years to come.

These are the two-year projections ZiPS is giving him, starting next season:

The only four players to have at least 2.5 WAR in 2018 and 2019 while being 22 years old at most are Rafael Devers, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Cody Bellinger. That's who Bichette is projected to be next season.

Enough to convince you of getting him. So yes, buy/add/get/sign/trade or use whatever means you have, but put Bichette in your roster right now!

 

Bo's Value Volume II: ROS

Here is the tricky part with Bo Bichette. The kid is already a major leaguer, and therefore he's going to produce value for the two months left in the season. This is where discrepancies of his true value for the next few weeks may arise depending on the type of league and how different owners value prospects and strategize.

We have already mentioned how Bichette is a lock in Dynasty leagues. There are no surprises there, and that should be assumed every day. On the other hand, re-draft leagues pose another completely different challenge when thinking about what to do with Bichette's appearance in the players' pool.

As of Wednesday, Toronto has 53 games left on its schedule. Let's not fool ourselves here, and say Bichette will definitely play in no less than 50 of them if not in every single one. In order to assess or predict what we could expect from Bichette in that timespan, I took a look at late-season (June 1 or later) call-ups from last year. There were only six position-players that fit the profile, but only two of them can be seen as comparables to Bichette in terms of sample size: Jake Bauers (96 games) and Kyle Tucker (28 games).

Jake Bauers debut season ended with him hitting 11 HR, scoring 48 runs and 48 RBIs, putting up 6 SB, and slashing .201/.316/.384. Kyle Tucker got 9 H, no HR, 1 SB, 4 RBI, and a slash line of .141/.236/.203. These numbers represent a small sample size of only two players. While there is little use in overanalyzing brief performances, it does identify a very important point: it takes time to adapt to the majors.

Looking at ROS projections by Steamer, Bichette is expected to play 44 games, get 44 H, 4 HR, 20 R, and 20 RBI, 7 SB, and slash .263/.313/.415. Not bad production, but nothing out of this world neither.

In pure re-draft leagues in which you will only squeeze two months off Bichette, though, I'd advise passing on him. Despite a clear path to playing time, it will take time for Bichette's skills to stabilize at the top level. Therefore, his production will probably not help you during the rest of the season.

One thing to consider, although it could be hard to pull off, is to take advantage of the expectations and hype Bichette is bringing to the league with him and try to sign-and-trade him as soon as possible.

In a league full of savvy and experienced owners this would never happen, but in others filled with less experienced players, you could try to get a veteran for Bichette. I would recommend this move over keeping the rookie, as even slumping players with MLB experience are expected to be more valuable ROS than a true newcomer.

While no one will trade any incredibly talented player for Bichette (at the end of the day he's an unproven commodity right now), you could look for trade packages that include players such as Khris Davis, Michael Brantley, Adalberto Mondesi, Scott Kingery, or Brian McCann. It would depend on how different owners see Bichette's potential ROS performance and how high they are on the shortstop, but it is a strategy worth trying if you can get Bichette for free and have space to play around with him.

 

Conclusion

All in all, Bichette has arrived a little late to the party. But don't think he has not brought enough goods to be part of it for years to come. Some of us expected Guerrero Jr. to break baseball from day one, but it is taking a little more time for him to gear up. Whether Bichette follows the same path or start putting on a show from day one, we shouldn't worry too much about it for now given the upside he comes with.

He already has the hitting tools to become a staple in any type of league going forward, boast enough power to put up high HR numbers and although he may lose speed along the way, he can also provide base running production in the shape of SB for quite some time.

Get Bichette as soon as you can and plan ahead of time. You'll need that middle infield free for him to slot in before you know it.

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Trevor Bauer Trade - Fantasy Implications from the Deadline Deal

The Cleveland Indians have again made the most significant trade of the MLB deadline. Pending a formal announcement, Cleveland dealt Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati, Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes head to Cleveland, and top-20 prospect Taylor Trammell is headed to San Diego. Also in the deal are prospects Scott Moss, Logan Allen, and Victor Nova who all head to Cleveland. While there is still time for another deal to take the title, as it currently stands, this is the trade that will define the 2019 MLB deadline.

While the trade will have clear implications on the playoff race and future years, fantasy owners are wondering what this deal does for their current rosters. To help owners, each player in the deal is evaluated on their fantasy implications moving forward. With impact in American, National, and mixed league formats, these types of trades have rippled across the fantasy community. In fact, the major pieces in the deal are all set for a dip in fantasy value due to the immediate changes in team and park context.

Read along to see what moves owners need to make, or what players to target due to this deal. Trade deadlines in fantasy might not get the media coverage; they are as key for a pennant race.

 

Stock Up

 

Franmil Reyes (OF, CLE)

The biggest knock on Reyes to this point in his career has been his glove. Rated as a below-average defender, and lacking the accuracy with the big arm to make up for the lack of range, Reyes is best suited to a designated hitter role. This means that a move to the American League is ideal. Even more, while a torrid defender, this is not a scenario where the team can only play him at DH. Instead, he becomes a player that can start in the field and be replaced by Jordan Luplow or Mike Freeman late in games for defensive purposes. For a team needing a right-handed bat, and with the defenders to cover the loss, Reyes could not have landed in a better spot.

The other bonus for Reyes is the power that he has already shown. In 99 games, Reyes has 27 homers with a .536 SLG. While Petco Park is easier on right-handed power, as opposed to sapping most of the lefty mashers, Reyes is still in for a better hitting environment. To date, Petro is 17th in the league with a .939 home run factor, while Progressive Park, Reyes’s new home, has a 1.13 factor. This means that even with some platoon risk, Reyes is in a better hitter’s park, and should see a boost in his total power numbers. Cleveland is buying a top 5% of the league Hard Hit%, exit velocity, and xSLG, so this could have a more significant impact than the current media narrative suggests.

 

Logan Allen (SP, CLE)

If there is one thing that Cleveland has excelled at over the past decade, it has been pitcher development. Cory Kluber was one of the first in a line of arms that were added on the cheap and saw their real value far outshine their prospect hype. Add Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and yes, even Trevor Bauer to that list. Even more, Cleveland has been uniquely capable with pitchers who can flash elite command and pitch-mix but lack the elite velocity to churn a roster. This description fits Allen like a glove.

On Allen, the stock is up due to a direct pathway to playing time. If he can pitch with Cleveland this year, expect him to, but if not, he enters 2020 spring training with a chance to earn a spot in the rotation. While there might have been stability with the Padres and that fleet of young arms, Allen might be lost in the shuffle of Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Cal Quantrill, and the waves of arms down in the lower minors. Without the velocity, Allen is more likely to be a starter in Cleveland, or at least; there is less depth to fight for playing time. Expect the current development path to keep up, and with Cleveland, if there is more to unlock, owners can trust this front office.

 

Victor Nova (SS, CLE)

Nova is the wildcard in this deal, as he is only 19 at the time of the agreement. Playing in his second professional season with the Padres Arizona Summer League squad, Nova does not appear on any prospect lists or reports at the time of the deal. Without much public information, Nova is a lottery ticket with as much upside as Cleveland can squeeze out. This year has seen Nova make marked improvements at the plate, with a .330/.421/.451 slash after a .197/.370/.291 line last year. No power with only one homer so far, Nova has stolen seven bags in nine total tries this year.

While there is little known about Nova, if there is a team that can develop young infielders, it is Cleveland. Along with the command-centric pitching approach, infielders with athleticism and a hit tool fit well into the Cleveland machine. Even more, with the team expected to lose Francisco Lindor in a few years, there is a stop to play on this infield. In San Diego, there was no chance to break in, or at the very least, playing time in five years is a plus for Nova in this move. For dynasty league owners, Nova will be a cheap add with some upside, and worth the dart if owners can wait for four or five years for any return.

 

Stock Down

 

Trevor Bauer (SP, CIN)

Before diving into the park factors, team context, and all the data stuff about this move, with Bauer, owners need to start off the field. Highly rated out of UCLA, and selected third overall by Arizona, the only thing that held Bauer back was the team’s willingness to let Bauer “Bauer.” Yes, “Bauer,” as a verb.

Bauer needs to control his off the field routine, and his throwing sessions, and all the rest. This is not some insider news, but fairly public from Cleveland. This means offseason work at Driveline, the pregame ritual, and all the rest. While Cincinnati wants Bauer and is willing to work with him, the Cleveland situation was unique. The team has learned how to handle outbursts, as evidenced by the reaction from the team and manager to the latest incident. This means that any move should raise red flags, and owners will have to see if the manager and pitching coaches let Bauer “Bauer.”

On the field, owners should also have concerns about Bauer moving forward. The main issue for Bauer this year has been the long ball, as he has allowed 22 bombs in 156 innings. Opposing hitters are also hitting the ball a mile-per-hour harder, and have added four points to the launch angle. When Great American has a 1.125 home run factor, compared to Progressive’s 1.13, the park will not help Bauer. Add in that Bauer will have to face better teams in the National League as opposed to the American League Central, there is only a risk the power numbers continue to rise. Still a top fantasy arm, Bauer will never be the ace that many expected entering this year.

 

Taylor Trammell (OF, SD)

The most significant prospect piece in this deal, Trammell has a bit of a mixed reputation in fantasy baseball. While a definite asset, concerns about the hit tool and personality have caused his fantasy profile to slip a bit. The good news for Trammell owners is that there is no longer a block in center field with Nick Senzel to hold him back, but Manuel Margot has been playing much better this year. With Reyes also leaving, there is a spot open in this outfield so Trammell could break camp with the team next year. San Diego also does not care about service time, as they have been willing to play their rookies a ton this year. This means he could be up quicker than he would have been with the Reds and that only helps with development.

The reason that the stock is down overall is the park fit with his power. Right now, scouts grade his future power tool at a 50, which is average for the league. While there are concerns he even gets to that, the power was already going to be secondary in the profile. Add in Petco Park, with the lefty swing of Trammell, and there is little to no boost in that power base. Also, when he is only hitting .236 in his first year at Double-A, this move seems to be an overpay for a player slipping in the rankings. Owners should sell while there is still some hype to deal. Trammell was already a falling prospect and is now entering a tougher environment.

 

Yasiel Puig (OF, CLE)

While news of a looming suspension might limit what Puig can do in the short term, or the rest of the year, owners should expect much of the same offensive value when he is allowed to play. The downside comes from the fact that Great American is a better hitters park when compared to Progressive. Currently, Progressive is the 19th ranked park for run factor with 0.978, and Great American is 10th at 1.076. This means that Puig might lose some of the park boost, but is still a solid hitter nonetheless.

To date, Puig has put together a disappointing campaign. While he is slashing .255/.302/.475, these numbers are all down from career norms, and last year more specifically. The good news is that he has 22 homers so far, after only hitting 23 all of last year. The difference for Puig has been hitting at the heart of the team. As opposed to this time in Los Angeles, when he was a supporting piece. Entering a roster with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Reyes, and Carlos Santana, Puig is back to a supporting role. This move will not kill his value but hurts what has been a stable, but steady campaign for the Cuban slugger. Puig might be a better player when he is carrying the team, and might ironically lose some value when he is part of a machine. Still a player to own the rest of the way, this move does not seem to help his fantasy value for 2019.

 

Scott Moss (SP, CLE)

Added to the move as a part of the roster crunch, Moss will be Rule-5 eligible this winter, meaning that Cleveland will need to add him to the 40-man roster. Still some ways from the Bigs, Moss has the approach to factor in the bullpen sooner than later. A lefty with middling velocity, Moss has three pitches he can throw for strikes. The fastball is the most significant tool, with the velocity rising from 88 at the time of the draft, to 92-93 entering this year. With the added speed, Moss moves from a bullpen arm to a starting option in this system, but still lacks the ceiling to project in the rotation.

The slider and changeup are critical for the overall profile, as both pitches currently sit at a 50 grade. Without the off-speed support, the fastball alone is not enough for Moss to handle the Majors. The good news is that he has 123 Ks in 102 innings this year, so the stuff is beginning to translate. While the WHIP was up to 1.38 from 1.33 last year, the overall approach is still proving useful. A reliever in the long term, the stock is down since Cleveland loves these types of arms in their bullpen. If he starts, an SP5 model, but in the bullpen, could be an elite arm. It all depends on the secondary stuff.

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Farewell, Tulo

There are any number of ways in which baseball can serve as a metaphor for life. These have been explored, with varying degrees of skill, in plenty of creative works through the years.

As I grow older and the sport skews in the opposite direction, baseball inspires more and more pensivity. The game belongs now to players who are younger than me, in some cases by a decade or more; the stars who ruled the game when I was the age of this new crop of studs are beginning to fade away. This is inevitable, but it doesn't get any easier to watch time pad its undefeated record.

The news on Thursday that Troy Tulowitzki has elected to retire wasn't a surprise. The veteran had played in just 71 games since the start of the 2017 season, and just five in the last two years as a decade full of injuries finally caught up to him. It did, however, inspire some sadness. Tulowitzki will be 35 in October; he's three years older than I am.

 

Happy Trails

Tulowitzki made his debut back in 2006, at the tender age of 21. He reached the majors only 15 months after the Rockies selected him the first round of the 2005 amateur draft, and though he struggled in his September cameo (.240/.318/.292), that rapid ascension suggested a bright future lay ahead of him. It didn't take long to arrive. Tulowitzki hit .291/.359/.479 with 24 home runs, 104 runs scored, and 99 RBI the following year, in his official rookie season. He also played fantastic defense at shortstop. He finished second in voting for both Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove honors to Ryan Braun and Jimmy Rollins, respectively. He did capture the Fielding Bible award, though, and got revenge on Rollins in October.

The Rockies weren't even supposed to be in the postseason that year. They were coming off their sixth straight losing season, and after a loss to the Marlins on September 15, their record stood at 76-72, six and a half games behind the Padres for the division lead. They proceeded to win 14 of their final 15 games, including a wild Game 163 over San Diego to steal the NL wild card berth. They then swept Rollins' Phillies (who had completed their own incredible comeback to take the NL East title from the Mets) and the Diamondbacks. Tulowitzki was a key factor in that insane 21-1 stretch, including scoring the tying run in Game 163 in the bottom of the 13th inning. Though the Red Sox unceremoniously ended the Rockies' miracle run with a World Series sweep, Denver had embraced their baseball team after a decade-plus mediocrity.

2008 would not be kind to either Tulowitzki or the Rockies. The shortstop suffered a torn quad in late April, which cost him two months. Shortly after returning to action, he sustained a cut to his hand that required 16 stitches after slamming his bat to the ground in frustration. Ultimately, Tulo hit just .263/.332/.401 with eight homers and the Rockies finished 14 games under .500. Both player and team bounced back the following year. Tulowitzki had what wound up as the best season of his career, hitting .297/.377/.552 with 32 homers, 101 runs, 92 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. That helped the Rockies capture the wild-card for the second time in three years, though they lost a rematch with the Phillies in the Division Series.

It was the last time that Tulowitzki would play 150 games in a season, and not coincidentally, the last time the Rockies would qualify for the postseason with him on the roster. Over the next five years, Tulo was uniformly excellent when on the field, amassing a .940 OPS and making three All-Star teams. The problem, of course, was health. Due to a wide variety of injuries, he averaged just 106 games per season. Fantasy owners argued over whether or not he was worth the high draft cost required to land his services given his propensity for missing significant chunks of time. In 2015, the question quickly became academic. Tulowitzki was traded to Toronto at the deadline that year and slumped badly in the aftermath, never to recover his former glory. After a decent but underwhelming 2016, the bottom fell out.

Like Miguel Cabrera (who got this treatment from me last summer, although he remains active), Tulowitzki was a regular presence on my home league roster for a large portion of its dynastic run. I managed to sell him off in a deal for then-rookie Carlos Correa just before the downturn came, correctly predicting that Tulo plus turf equaled bad news. But I routinely owned him in that league and many others because despite his frequent injuries, there was no other shortstop who could produce like him. That seems quaint now with the embarrassment of riches at the position, but it's the truth. Even 100 or so games of Tulo plus a waiver wire replacement was usually better than a full season from anyone else at the position.

We hadn't seen much of him on a baseball field lately, but I'm still sad to see him go. Tulowitzki said in his retirement statement that he hopes to remain in the game as an instructor. Here's hoping he gets the opportunity, after his body took him away from the game so often during his playing career.

 

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Second-Half Surgers - Hitters to Buy Now

With all the recent emphasis on the MLB draft, striking on prospect call-ups, and finding early-season breakouts, it’s easy to get lured into complacency during the dog days of summer.

The All-Star break marks a clean checkpoint and gives us the opportunity to take stock of underperformers or players poised to outperform their current market value. With the exception of Acuna, each player below has his warts, but they also represent a real buying opportunity.

Let's examine some players who could see their fantasy value surge in the second half of the 2019 season.

 

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, NYY)

For E², context is king, and I’m a firm believer in the regenerative power of Yankee Stadium, a pennant race, and good lineup position. The Yankees traded for Encarnacion so they could play him, and there’s good reason to believe in New York’s decision. Encarnacion has suffered from bad luck on balls in play (.204 BABIP) despite showing positive signs in both plate discipline, exit velocity, and launch angle. Expect improvements in Encarnacion’s runs, RBI, and average, even as he maintains his impressive power output.

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR)

Biggio owns an elite 48.3 hard-hit rate, an excellent .60 FB/GB ratio, and a healthy 23% line-drive rate. Biggio's flyball rate is especially promising given his 11.4% Brls/BBE. To some extent, the rookie's solid debut has been lost in the shadow of Vlad's arrival and the Blue Jays’ larger woes. Granted Biggio did struggle when he was initially called up, but fantasy owners should see his -.22 xwOBA differential (.329 wOBA vs. .351 xwOBA) and realize that he’s been better than his production this season (111 wRC+). The batted ball profile suggests that he should be a top-5 second baseman for the rest of the season.

Notably, if you can still acquire Jose Ramirez at a discount, do it. If it doesn’t work out, you can blame the demise of your fantasy season on me. Ramirez might not be a 30-30 candidate this season, but his .330 xwOBA is still well ahead of his actual .296 wOBA. Expect him to finish the season with over 20 HR and 30 SB.

 

Josh Donaldson (3B, ATL)

We may have just missed the window to buy Donaldson, but there are certainly going to be owners looking to "sell high" on an aging star. If the Donaldson owner in your league is among those, then the third baseman is a valuable piece. Prior to the all-star break, Donaldson owned a .364 wOBA, a mark moderately below his .378 xwOBA. Moreover, Donaldson has overcome the groundball spike from early in the season: for the last month his GB/FB ratio has dropped to 1.12, much closer to the 1.04 that he averaged during his prime years of 2015 to 2017.

 

J.D. Davis (3B, NYM)

He is available in nearly all leagues, and he’s shown signs that he could be emerging as an excellent hitter. Early in the season, Davis popped up as a potential breakout player, but he ran into a stretch at the end of the June and early July when he was constantly driving the ball into the ground. In response, the Mets relegated him to pinch-hitting duty. He seems to have escaped that pattern and returned to the batted-ball profile that brought him success earlier in the season.

Even with that brutal stretch, Davis still owns a 7.6 Brls/PA%, which is better than Michael Conforto, Max Muncy, and Charlie Blackmon. If he can find playing time, Davis could help plenty of teams in deeper formats.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD)

After returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him 2018, the 25-year-old got off to a mediocre start this season. Fantasy owners were growing frustrated until Seager’s GB/FB and hard-hit ratios spiked and his production improved -- at least until a hamstring injury sent him back to the IL. The Dodgers gave Seager only three rehab games to get ready, so he’s likely going to show some rust for the next week or so. Use that window to get him.

The Dodgers have the third-best offense in baseball, and when healthy Seager has been featured in the two-hole. Even if Seager doesn’t provide prodigious power or steals, his career .856 OPS should enable him to be the type of player who finishes as a top-50 bat in the second half. Carlos Correa is another candidate here, but his brand is still strong enough that it will be difficult to get him off owners who spent a top-30 pick to get him.

 

Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS)

Another young player who suffered from a poor start. After last year’s offensive success, the Red Sox did the logical thing and shuffled their batting order. In particular, the team moved Benintendi from the number-two spot to leadoff. Last month, Boston reversed course and switched him back, and Benintendi has responded with an improved, if not exceptional, performance.

It’s hard to pin all of Benintendi’s early-season struggles on that issue alone, but he’s hit .303 in the two-hole versus .267 from the leadoff spot. Likewise, his strikeout, groundball, and slugging percentages have all improved since the change. Benintendi was probably overdrafted at the start of the season, but if he’s available as a top-75 player, he should return good value.

 

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

The eighth-best player in 5x5 formats seems like a crazy name for this list, but I’m trying to pry Acuna away if he’s available at all. The reality is that even as good as Acuna has been, he'll probably be even better in the second half. Last season, Acuna surged after the break; this year, his production (.371 wOBA) has somehow lagged behind his batted-ball profile (.393 xwOBA). For owners angling for an elite outfielder or a first-round talent, Acuna could be the best player in the second half, and he's likely more available than Betts, Yelich, Trout, or Bellinger.

 

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)

Conforto's perception and production have been depressed by his shoulder injury from 2018 and his concussion from earlier this season. The combo means that his statistics for the last calendar year and his overall projections are somewhat underwhelming. These days, it’s just hard to get too excited about 17 HR. However, Conforto’s career .226 ISO is still the 15th best among outfielders since he debuted in 2015 (and that's if we count Just Dongs Martinez as an outfielder).

Consider the fact that Conforto played through a traumatic shoulder injury that cost him power for two seasons. The second half should allow us to see an evolution similar, though not equal to the one Joey Gallo is showcasing. Expect a bump in batting average, and another 17 home runs in the second half.

 

A.J. Pollock (OF, LAD)

If Pollock only provides 100 games of real production a year, then we should have entered his productive period for this season. Obviously, the injury risk is constant, but the price has dropped to almost nothing. Currently owned in just half of all leagues, Pollock might be the best second-half value of any player on this list. For the last three years, Pollock has averaged 22 HR, 86 R, 74 RBI, 19 SB per 600 PA. Those numbers aren’t overwhelming, but like Seager, Pollock has the advantage of the Dodger offense, and even though the NL West has its share of pitcher-friendly parks, it also has three pitching staffs in the bottom half of the league.

 

Nomar Mazara (OF, TEX) and Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC)

The story here is the same for both players. They’re likely available for free or next to nothing, and they should both be solid OF4 or bench bats for the rest of the season. Both players have shown flashes of their talent this season and previously, and both players have suffered from bad luck. Despite similar peripherals to last season, Schwarber owns a .262 BABIP in contrast to last year’s .288. Baseball Savant thinks his batting average should be closer to .258 rather than his current .231.

Similarly, Mazara hasn't looked particularly good this season. Despite owning a stronger xwOBA, launch angle, and barrel rate, his statistics look similar to last season when he was barely relevant in fantasy leagues. Baseball Savant thinks Mazara’s slugging percentage is 40 points below where it should be. If the numbers are to be believed, his batted-ball numbers should have him closer to 16 home runs rather than 12. That doesn’t make him an exceptional fantasy talent, but he should be a useful bat for the second half.

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Some Thoughts On Trade Etiquette

As I've often mentioned in my weekly waiver wire columns, the middle portion of the season is the toughest time to find free help. Combined with a sense of urgency as trade deadlines loom and time begins to run out on the season, that means owners are generally more amenable to exploring swaps to address their needs.

Anyone who has ever played in a fantasy baseball league knows that not all trade partners are created equal. Owners who make reasonable offers and are willing to negotiate in good faith are worth their weight in gold. More commonly, you will run into people who put seemingly no real effort into their proposals, and are unwilling to entertain alternatives.

With most leagues a month or so away from trade deadlines, here are some thoughts on the etiquette involved.

 

Proposals

First and foremost, to be a good trade partner, you should consider the other owner's needs as well as your own. If you can't proffer a legitimate argument for why, in their position, you would accept the offer you're about to make, don't send it. Take a few minutes to look over their roster and their place in the standings, and identify assets you can provide to them that will actually be useful. It's always obvious when someone hasn't done this, and it's always annoying. Don't be that guy.

On a similar note, avoid lowballing or otherwise insulting intelligence. There is a school of thought that it is perfectly acceptable to open with a weak offer, because by doing so you anchor the value of what you'll ultimately give up. How often have you actually seen this work, though? Speaking for myself, it's immensely preferable when I receive an offer that doesn't presume idiocy on my part. You don't have to put your absolute best offer forward immediately, but starting from a reasonable place makes me much more inclined to enter into a discussion with you.

Finally, for the love of all that is holy, do not spam. Sending one offer is fine, maybe even two if you have multiple frameworks that make sense. Obliterating a rival's inbox, however, is as likely as not to lead to them completely ignoring you, particularly if the offers are of substandard quality - and if you're sending them often enough that it's obnoxious, they almost certainly fit that bill.

 

Negotiation

When you receive an offer, the least you can do is to respond promptly. We're all glued to the internet these days, and between apps and email, it's almost certain that you saw the offer within hours (if not minutes) of its genesis. You should be getting back to the owner who proposed the deal within 24 - 48 hours. Even if you need more time to mull the deal over, a simple text or email acknowledging that you received it and will have a decision shortly is only courteous. This will hopefully curtail the spamming issue to boot, so everyone wins.

If the offer you've gotten isn't to your satisfaction, make it clear what you want. Maybe you don't want to trade at all! That's fine, and just stating unequivocally that you are happy with your roster is sufficient. If you are interested in a swap, communicate both what you are willing to give up and what you're angling for in return. It isn't always immediately obvious to an outsider what your plans may be, particularly in keeper or dynasty formats where future years factor heavily into the proceedings. Explaining what your goals for a deal are will go a long way toward minimizing frustration in the negotiating process. For all but the most insulting offers, when rejecting an overture you should provide a brief explanation of your reasoning. You might be pleasantly surprised by a more suitable proposal if you do.

As often as not, there simply is no way to arrive at an arrangement that both sides find equitable. Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with this. Reasonable people can hold differing opinions, even in our currently dystopian hellscape. Don't prolong talks; once it becomes clear that your valuations just don't jibe with the other party's, thank them for their time and move on. There are other owners in the league - you're both better off starting fresh with one of them.

Practicing these principles will not only lead to more fruitful negotiations for your current deal, but make other owners more likely to work with you in the future. Good luck, and happy wheeling and dealing.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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Looking Ahead - Prospects to Add for Dynasty Rebuilds

In the world of fantasy baseball, the All-Star break should be a time for reflection. A time for reflection and a time for honesty, as you sit in judgment on what is the best direction that your fake team should take. For those in redraft leagues, these decisions are all about the now. What, if anything, can be done to help win this year; as there is no next? And if there is no realistic path to victory, then the season becomes simply a grind to the finish.

But for dynasty players, the season never ends because there's always another year. This means there are always plans to make and moves to be made because it is the wise fantasy player who constantly keeps their roster stocked with fresh faces that they hope will someday pan out to prospect gold. Because few things are as valuable an asset as the much-hyped prospect on the verge of a call-up. And few things as hard to acquire.

So who are the minor leaguers that you can stash away now, in hope that they turn into that prospect gold by this time next year? Not the guys who sit atop all the prospect lists now, the ones who are already golden. While it'd be lovely, it is not very likely that you can stroll to the waiver wire and pick up the likes of a Jo Adell or Bo Bichette, or a Jesus Luzardo or Casey Mize. So if you don't want to pay through the nose in a trade, the only way to get young talent like that is to pounce on them before the hype train has left the station.

 

Hitters

Vidal Brujan (2B, Tampa Bay Rays)

Age: 21.4     ETA: 2020     Level: AA

Forgotten behind Tampa Bay's bevy of uber-prospects, analysis of Brujan usually comes with the disclaimer, "but he's only 5' 9".  However, it's doubtful that Tampa Bay puts that disclaimer on him as they probably only care about how much he can rake. And that's all Brujan and his elite hit-tool do;  his 15 games since being promoted to Double-A, Brujan is slashing .328/.400/.428 with a .392 wOBA and 151 wRC+, while also swiping ten bases in only 66 plate appearances, while holding an impressive 7.3% SwStr%.

Jarred Kelenic (OF, Seattle Mariners)

Age: 20.0     ETA: 2020     Level: A+

The big prize that Seattle landed when they traded Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to the Mets, Kelenic has not disappointed, tearing up two levels so far this year. In his 338 plate appearances in 2019, Kelenic is slashing .287/.370/.534 with 15 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a 154 wRC+. He may not see true playing time with the big club until 2021 but Kelenic has the tools and advanced approach to rise quickly rise through the Mariners system and reach his All-Star upside.

Alec Bohm (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)

Age: 22.9     ETA: 2020     Level: AA

Now at his third stop of the year at double-A Reading, Alec Bohm just keeps hitting, posting a 156 wRC+ and .560 SLG through his first 82 plate-appearances at the higher level. He doesn't have the raw power of his third base peers in the minor leagues but his approach is much more advanced, with less than a 15% K-rate across all levels, a 10.2% walk-rate, as well as a .934 OPS. Blocked only by Maikel Franco at the major league level, expect Bohm to continue to rise quickly if he continues to mash.

Nolan Jones (3B, Cleveland Indians)

Age: 21.2     ETA: 2020     Level: AA

At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, there are doubts about Jone's ability to stick at third base. But there are no doubts about the massive power that the 21-year-old possesses, as Jones carries 60-grades for both in-game and raw power.  Jones also has a great eye, never posting a walk-rate under 16% and carrying one over 20% this year. Having only recently been promoted to Double-A after posting a 157 wRC+ and .409 wOBA in his first stop of the year at High-A, Jones could advance quickly through Cleveland's system with continued performance.

 

Pitchers

Deivi Garcia (New York Yankees)

Age: 20.2     ETA: 2020     Level: AAA

With a live arm, but only standing five-foot-nine and 163 pounds, Garcia's hype has been held in check with worries about him being able to stick as a starter. But at some point, his numbers become so fantastic that you just have to assume he can be a starter until it's proven he cannot. And Garcia's numbers are at that point, after striking 114 batters over 69 innings in 2019, with the last 51 innings being pitched at Double-A. And after starting the Futures Game, the 20-year old has been promoted for the second time this year, getting the call to Triple-A and now on the fast-track to the Big Apple.

Luis Patino (San Diego Padres)

Age: 19.7     ETA: 2021     Level: A+

The embarrassment of prospect-riches continues for San Diego, as Patino is the latest Padre to have sky-high upside, with the teenager sitting 94-97 mph, with two breaking pitches that flash plus. Over 67 innings so far this year, Patino has struck out 89 in dominant fashion and was subsequently selected to represent the Padres at this year's Futures Game.  Patino announced himself to the world right away by setting down the five batters he faced in order, with three of them via strikeout. Previously lesser-known behind fellow Padre prospect MacKenzie Gore and former prospect Chris Paddack, Patino won't stay available for long.

Brusdar Graterol (Minnesota Twins)

Age: 20.9     ETA: 2020     Level: AA

It was reported recently that the Twins had listed Graterol as one of their "untouchables" in any trade discussions. It's easy to see why, as the 20-year old sits 96 -99 mph, touching triple-digits frequently, with a slider that flashes plus, and a changeup that could be above-average as well. While not dominant in his 48 innings after getting an aggressive assignment to Double-A to begin 2019, Graterol has still more than held his own, with a 1.89 ERA, 1.10 ERA, and a 24.3% K-rate.

Spencer Howard (Philadelphia Phillies)

Age: 23.0     ETA: 2020     Level: A+

Howard wasn't on many radars entering his first full season as a member of the rotation in 2018, but that quickly changed after he struck out 147 batters in just 112 innings and finished his year by throwing a no-hitter in the Sally League playoffs. Shut down briefly this year with shoulder fatigue, Howard has come back strong, striking out 22 in his first 14 innings back. At only 29 innings on the year, he's unlikely to see the big club this year; but with a fastball that sits 95 - 97 mph, a changeup that projects as plus-plus, as well as a slider and curve that both project as plus pitches, Howard could move quickly through Philadelphia's system.

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Second-Half Speculation - Prospects to Stash Now

Picking up the right prospect during the second half can make or break a fantasy baseball season. While many of baseball's best prospects, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Keston Hiura, Austin Riley, and Brendan McKay have already been called up - there are still plenty of players still in the minor leagues that should get a chance to shine in the big leagues before the year is up.

Here is a look at five players - all who have yet to make their big league debut - who should be stashed in deeper fantasy formats, and should absolutely be on the fantasy radar in 10 and 12-team leagues.

I'll provide a glimpse of when they could get the call, and in what formats they should be owned as soon as they are up.

 

Bo Bichette (SS, TOR)

Toronto's other elite infield prospect, shortstop Bo Bichette, has been killing it at Triple-A this season. He currently sports a .320/.380/.520 slash line with five home runs and 12 stolen bases in 38 games played. Injuries slowed him to start the campaign, but it's becoming clear that Bichette has little, if any, left to prove in the minors.

With Guerrero cemented at third base for the next few decades, Bichette will need to displace veteran shortstop Freddy Galvis and/or Eric Sogard, the current starters in the middle infield. Toronto also needs to find at-bats for Lourdes Gurriel and Cavan Biggio, both who can play the middle infield.

That's the biggest concern about Bichette at the moment, but if he does find himself getting everyday at-bats, he is a must-own in all fantasy formats.

Toronto will likely look to trade Galvis and Sogard, who are both overperforming, which should free up that spot for him.

Keep a close eye on this situation, and snatch him up as soon as he is called up. If you have an extra spot ahead of time, Bichette is one of the safest stash candidates who has yet to make his big league debut. You won't want to miss out on this budding star.

 

Jesus Luzardo (SP, OAK)

Prior to the season, most expected left-hander Jesus Luzardo would be with the big league club by the All-Star break. However, injuries have really hampered his 2019 season - although he is healthy now and already beginning to make his case for a promotion.

In three Triple-A starts, Luzardo owns a 3.65 ERA and a ridiculous 14/2 K/BB ratio. That's obviously a tiny sample size, but big strikeout numbers have become the norm for the flame-thrower, and it's expected that will continue when he reaches the big leagues, which could happen by the end of this month.

I do expect some turmoil for Luzardo, who really hasn't thrown a lot of innings since he was drafted, but ultimately his strikeout stuff and the fact that he plays his home games in a big park should allow him to be a top-50 starting pitcher down the stretch, provided he stays healthy and doesn't face any kind of injury shut down.

Once he is called up, he should be added in all formats. He's already owned in 18% of Yahoo! leagues, so it might not be a bad idea to stash him now so you don't miss out.

 

Isan Diaz (2B/SS, MIA)

Diaz could have a very strong impact on fantasy baseball teams if he gets an everyday role in Miami this year, but the presence of Starlin Castro and his big contract make that vision harder to see. Castro will certainly be gone after this season, which frees Diaz up to start at second base and - hopefully for Miami fans - become the franchise player at that spot.

Diaz is crushing the ball so far in 2019, boasting a .289/.386/.560 slash with 20(!) home runs, 69 runs scored and four stolen bases in 83 games played. He's always possessed raw power - particularly for a middle infielder - and the juiced ball make him a potential 25-30 home run candidate in the show.

Diaz is one to keep an eye on this season, although he is really only going to be worth picking up if he is playing every day, which may take a trade or an injury to Castro for that to become a reality.

 

Jorge Mateo (SS, OAK)

Mateo has always been a prospect with blazing speed, but inconsistency at the plate slowed his development and had him well off most prospect radars after a disappointing 2018 season where he slashed just .230/.280/.353 with three home runs in 510 plate appearances at Triple-A, his first full season in the A's system.

However, even in an ugly year at the plate, Mateo still managed to swipe 25 bases, continuing a trend of elite base stealing that goes all the way back to his first minor league season, when he swiped 49 bases in just 64 games in Rookie ball in 2013.

Mateo's speed is still there, but now the bat is back too - and he's knocking down the door for a big league promotion. In 82 games at Triple-A, Mateo is slashing a wicked .308/.342/.533 with 18 stolen bases and a career-high 13 home runs. Sure the power is inflated by Triple-A's use of the juiced baseballs, and his plate discipline numbers are somewhat concerning, but there's reason to believe that Mateo could hit 8-10 home runs and steal 15 bases if he were called up to the A's right away.

With Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto struggling, Mateo could end up in a full-time role in Oakland sooner rather than later.

I'm adding him in very deep leagues right away, and would want to snatch him up in 14+ team leagues as soon as he is recalled. If he gets an everyday role, he would be worth a look in 12-teamers for owners who are desperate for steals.

 

Jake Fraley (OF, SEA)

Fraley was a relatively unheralded prospect when he changed hands last offseason, coming from the Rays to the Mariners in the deal that sent Mike Zunino to Tampa. Although he had posted some solid numbers in the low minors with the Rays, no one expected the kind of break out he has shown with the Mariners so far this season.

He began the year at Double-A, getting his first taste of that level. He absolutely feasted, slashing .313/.386/.539 with 40 runs scored, 11 home runs, 47 RBI and 16 stolen bases in just 61 games played.

His Triple-A numbers are almost just as good, with a .305/.354/.661 slash line, four home runs, three stolen bases and 19 RBI in just 14 games played.

Fraley only has 14 games at Triple-A, so a call-up probably isn't imminent, but the Mariners may have lost Mitch Haniger for the entire season and could make trades involving Dee Gordon, Domingo Santana and/or Kyle Seagerwhich will free up at-bats that the team will need to give to someone.

If Fraley continues to rake down in Tacoma, a September call-up seems likely - and he could be up even sooner if the team moves some players in late-July.

A top-of-the-order table setter with a nice combination of power and speed, Fraley would be worth a look in 14+ team leagues when he is called up, and could make his way onto the 12-team radar if he is playing every day.

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Can Jeff McNeil Keep Surprising?

Jeff McNeil sat at his locker at Citi Field just before the All-Star break and contemplated the fact that not only was he going to represent the Mets in the 2019 All-Star Game, he was going to be on the National League roster with longtime friend Pete Alonso. “It means a lot,” McNeil said. “I’m really excited. We both are.”

It seems Alonso, who has quickly risen to real and Fantasy Baseball stardom, and McNeil, who is enjoying a breakout season, are being linked together frequently in both worlds. In the spring, McNeil’s place in the Mets lineup was not firm, and Alonso was in a battle for playing time with Dominic Smith and it was uncertain if he would begin the season in the majors. Alonso was the 30th player off the board at first base in drafts and McNeil was 33rd at second base.

Both have outperformed real and fantasy expectations and have been the two brightest spots in an otherwise frustrating season for the Mets. While Alonso is already a star in the making, will the magic continue for the lesser-hyped McNeil?

 

Surprising Start

Alonso had a terrific spring and has fully carried the momentum through the first half, while McNeil has nailed down the leadoff job. He has played most of his time in his left field and at 2B. Injury issues have pushed McNeil into a lot of work in the outfield, and teammate Michael Conforto has seen just how valuable he has become as a hitter and fielder.

“Jeff has been great for us. Obviously he's in the conversation for the batting title. He is our everyday leadoff guy and someone that can play anywhere on the field,” Conforto said.

When I landed McNeil with the very last choice in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction draft for one dollar, neither I or anyone in the room were expecting a .345 batting average with 41 runs scored, 36 RBI and a nifty seven homers to boot at the break. Veteran Mets beat writer Mike Puma of the New York Post wasn’t forecasting McNeil to contend for the hitting crown, either.

“I didn't expect him to be this good. I thought he could be a .300 hitter. I didn't envision him at .350. I don't think the Mets did either,” Puma said.

Alonso has morphed into a fantasy standout in a short period, but McNeil has also turned into the type of guy who you can surround Alonso with on a championship squad. He has unexpectedly been a major batting average standout while bolstering fantasy teams in other categories.

 

A Dynamic Duo

All along the way to the All-Star Game, Alonso and McNeil have helped each other gain advantages, sharing tips and insights on opposing pitchers with each other.

“We always talk about the pitcher coming up,” McNeil said. He is a real smart hitter who watches a lot of video, and we'll talk and try to come up with a plan.”

McNeil has a .385 BABIP, and while that number would seem to point to some regression, it could be minor. As Conforto pointed out, McNeil’s distinctive hitting style should continue to generate more success.

“His approach at the plate is pretty simple, to put the barrel on it. And he wants to find a hole,” Conforto said. If there's a gap in the infield you can bet he's aiming for it. He's good enough most of the time to put the ball where he wants to. It's an old school type of thing.  Right now a lot of guys are trying to hit the ball over the fence but he's really looking for gaps in a defense. When I was playing with him in the minor leagues he was doing the same stuff.”

Puma agreed, saying McNeil has the unique ability to seemingly guide the ball where he wants it to go.

“Wherever a pitcher puts the ball, he puts it in play,” Puma said.

McNeil said he is not the type of leadoff hitter that might be ideally suited for the spot in many people’s minds, but his aggressive approach has led to the desired results.

“I’m definitely not the type of hitter to go up there and see a lot of pitches or want to walk a lot.  I definitely like to swing a lot early in the count so I'm not your prototypical leadoff hitter,” McNeil said.

McNeil has a 5.7 percent walk rate, yet he has been able to sustain a .407 OBP. He is swinging at more pitches outside the zone this season and his fly ball percentage has fallen from 39.7 percent to 32.7 percent. He has not hit below .277 in any month yet. Naturally, all hitters will go through cold streaks, but Puma believes you will not see a significant falloff from McNeil in the second half of the season.

“Can he keep it up? Why not?,” Puma said. “He’s already gone and done it for the whole first half of the year.”

The bonus power production did not arrive until last year. From 2013 to 2017, McNeil had never hit more than three home runs in a minor league season. He then hit 19 in 88 minor league games at two levels last year before being called up to the Mets, where he hit five homers in 31 games.

“I put on a lot of weight that offseason and got a lot stronger. I focused a lot on my offseason weightlifting routine.  It has kind of showed the last few years, as the power numbers have really been there,” McNeil said.

What also makes McNeil unique is his usage of a knobless bat, which he has been favoring since 2015, when Mets minor league hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson introduced it to him.

“Once I got my hands on it I really loved it,” McNeil said. ”I like the feel of it, as it's really balanced. I choke up on the bat anyway, so I really don't need a knob. It felt really good and I've been using it ever since.”

McNeil has been impressing teammates since college, when he earned the nickname “Squirrel” for the way he made diving catches at Long Beach State. Now he is earning serious attention, even back in California, where he grew up in Nipomo.

 

Fantasy Come True

“I definitely take it as a compliment,” he said about being noticed in fantasy sports. “It's pretty cool to see people back home drafting me. I think it's pretty awesome.”

Now, fantasy players simply want to know, can he continue playing at this level the rest of the season? Should they sell high on him? Puma reiterated that he believes McNeil can continue to play at a high level in the second half.

“He is a terrific contact hitter, so why not?” Puma said.

I would expect a slump to inevitably befall McNeil at some point soon, but it’s hard to see it lasting extensively. You didn’t invest much draft capital into McNeil, so keep riding with him and enjoy fine overall results. His profile is one of a unique player and hitter, so he can continue to defy expectations.

“I know what I'm capable of doing this year, for future seasons and it's just the kind of player who I am, to try to hit for a high average, getting on base. and hopefully I’ll keep that going,” McNeil said.

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You Don't Know Jack (Flaherty)

Never a lauded prospect as he made his way through the St. Louis Cardinals' system, starting pitcher Jack Flaherty nevertheless made a splash in 2018, taking advantage of the playing time afforded to him by injuries to rotation mainstay Adam Wainwright.

Part of a loaded 2018 rookie class in the National League, which included supposed generational talents Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto as well as ascending ace Walker Buehler, it was easy to overlook Flaherty with his paltry record of only eight wins and nine losses. But as the offseason passed, fantasy analysts and players alike started to notice the performance that the Cardinals rookie had put up. Namely, striking out 182 batters in only 151 innings. This attention led to Flaherty becoming a pre-draft darling for fantasy owners - his name littering the lists of breakouts and sleepers - climbing draft boards until his ADP hovered in the mid-'60s.

But so far, 2019 has brought little of the success promised by the performance of the previous year. Will the second half begin to bring back some of the results that owners were banking on when they drafted him in ahead of players like Zack Greinke and Jose Berrios? Or instead of breaking out, will Flaherty only continue to bust?

 

Why Did Jack Climb?

Even though he finished fifth in the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year voting, Flaherty was mostly an afterthought to the aforementioned Acuña, Soto, and Buehler.  But as the offseason went on,  the fantasy world woke up to just how much of a tremendous season the 22-year old rookie had put together. While only earning eight wins in his 151 innings, the strikeout ability was what really jumped off the page and ultimately led to Flaherty's climb up draft boards:

182 K - 10.85 K/9 - 29.6% K-rate

For comparison's sake, Flaherty's K/9 and K% both placed him at No. 10 among starting pitchers with 150 or more innings - putting him on the same level as Blake Snell, Patrick Corbin, and Charlie Morton. But it wasn't just the gaudy strikeout numbers that drove Flaherty's popularity, as his underlying statistics seemed to support the breakout, with batters posting a .199 BA against him that was right in line with a .205 xBA, as well as a .281 wOBA that was virtually identical to their .279 xwOBA.

Factor in Flaherty putting up these numbers as only a 22-year old and it's easy to see why fantasy players of all formats moved him so far up their rankings.

 

Falling Down the Beanstalk

But with 2019 came the cold reality of regression that often awaits second-year players, as the league will adjust to players that now have a book on them; leaving it to the players to return serve and adjust back. But after entering the year seen as an ace-in-waiting, Flaherty has instead spent the first half of this season sputtering. The strikeouts were still there - though at a lower rate than the year before - as Flaherty has managed to punch out 107 batters over his 97 frames.  But his 4.64 ERA is over a run higher than the year before, with an xFIP that has also risen by almost a full run.

Flaherty has also only managed four wins in his 18 starts from the first half, being backed by a Cardinals offense that has only given him  4.72 runs of support per game - a mark good for 69th among pitchers who have had at least ten starts in 2019. And it isn't just Flaherty whom the Cardinals have failed to support, as they've quietly been one of the league's worst offenses since the beginning of May. They are posting team totals since then that are in the bottom three of the league in SLG, OPS, ISO, wOBA, and wRC+.

Playing on an increasingly offensively-challenged team, can Flaherty still bounce back to return some of the high costs that were paid for him on draft day? Or is now the time to cut your losses and trade him to an owner who still remembers the promises that Flaherty's name conjured in the spring?

 

Finding More Magic

While only four wins and an ERA close to five isn't ideal, particularly given his draft cost, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Flaherty still has time to turn his season around. For one, while lower than last year, his strikeout numbers are still above average, with a 26.4% K-rate and 9.93 K/9 that are both in the top-20 of qualified pitchers. And while his 1.86 HR/9 is a far cry from the 1.19 mark he posted last year, there is hope for some positive-regression, as his 20.0% HR/FB is five points higher than where it sat in 2018 and is currently fifth-highest among qualified starters in 2019.

But if Flaherty wants to fully unlock the potential of the ace waiting underneath, then a reexamination of his pitch mix may be needed, as significant changes were made to what had previously found success in 2018. Flaherty upped his overall four-seam fastball usage from 40% to 48.4% in 2019. This increased usage has come at the expense of his slider and two-seam fastball - with the slider's usage dropping from 29.9% to 26.9%, while the sinker has gone from 15.9% to 10.9% - and the results have been less than stellar. While both pitches have retained very similar strikeout numbers from the year before, they have also both seen 1.5% increases in their barrel-rates against, as well as significant increases in SLG and wOBA.

However, it's Flaherty's curveball, in particular to left-handed batters, which needs the most doctoring, as its performance has suffered considerably since being a dominant pitch for him in 2018. While his overall usage of the pitch stayed virtually the same, Flaherty upped his usage to lefties from 17.1% in 2018 to 21.3% in 2019. This was understandable given that in 2018 the pitch had a 53.1% K-rate against left-handers, along with a 0.0% barrel-rate. But the increased usage has not brought increased success, with the K-rate of Flaherty's curve dropping all the way to 15%, and now with a 10.2% barrel-rate. Getting his curveball back to form would go a long way towards getting Flaherty back on the track of an ascending Ace.

Even as 2019 has so far been a disappointment for owners who drafted him as a rotation anchor, Flaherty will continue to be a fantasy asset as long as he continues posting top-20 strikeout numbers. But wins may be hard come by as the Cardinals continue their sink in mediocrity, and a 1.23 WHIP and 4.64 ERA isn't helping anyone's ratios. But if Flaherty can get his breaking pitches back to their 2018 levels, then Jack may still have time to become a giant in the second half.

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Are You a Shane Bieber Belieber?

Cleveland Indians right-handed pitcher Shane Bieber has been among the best starting pitchers, both in fantasy and in real life, during the 2019 season. In a year where so many studs are struggling - including Justin Verlander, Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer and Chris Sale - Bieber's consistency has vaulted him into ace territory, and will surely make him a hot commodity over the All-Star break.

If you are a proud Bieber owner - congratulations! The big question now is if you should ride out this amazing season that has seen him post a 3.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 31.7% K rate, or if you should be looking to deal him at top dollar, cashing out after a remarkable first half.

Here is a primer on Bieber's history, pitch mix and peripherals from the first half, giving you a better idea of what to expect from the 24-year-old the rest of the way.

 

Who is Shane Bieber?

Bieber shot his way through the minor leagues after the Indians plucked him in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of UC-Santa Barbara. It only took 28 appearances before Bieber reached Double-A during the 2017 season, and he only needed 14 starts there before he found himself in Triple-A in 2018.

He registered eight starts with Triple-A Columbus, going 3-1 with a 1.66 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP, before he reached the big leagues. He's been with the Indians ever since.

Bieber's minor league numbers definitely give some credence to his success in the big leagues - particularly his control. Bieber's highest walk percentage in the minors was 3.4%, during those eight starts with Columbus. He was under 2% at most of his other stops, demonstrating the elite level control that he has continued to display in the big leagues.

His 4.7% walk rate in 2018 was in the top-6% of the entire league, and his 5.5% this year is elite as well.

While the minor league walk rate may have pointed toward his big league success, his strikeout numbers did not. Bieber sat between a 22-25% strikeout rate all throughout the minors, only reaching up to 26.7% during those eight starts at Columbus.

His first big league season, a 20-game showing in 2018, saw him post a 24.3% strikeout rate - roughly in line with his minor league production.

That number has jumped considerably in 2019. He currently sports a 31.7% rate, giving him a 11.47 K/9 on the year - which ranks in the top-8% of the league.

So the control is real, but what about the strikeouts? For that, let's take a look at his pitch mix:

 

Pitch Mix

Bieber sports a pretty standard four-pitch mix: four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. Here's a look at each of those pitches and how he is effectively mixing them to generate strikeout success this season:

Fastball

Bieber's fastball has nearly 10 inches of arm-side run, making it appear more like a two-seamer and serving as an effective set-up pitch for his breaking stuff which goes the other way. He averages 93.4 miles per hour and gets up to 95 with it on occasion. He attempts to live up with the heater while keeping his breaking stuff down in the bottom of the zone, which has helped him remain effective despite league average velocity and spin rate.

Slider

Bieber's slider is his bread-and-butter, generating a wicked 40.6% o-swing rate and a 22.9% swinging strike rate, leading to a 5.1 pVAL at the midway point of the season. It sits 85 miles per hour and has considerable drop, making it look more like a hard curveball than anything.

A look at his chart shows how this pitch has been so effective. Bieber is excellent at burying it low in the strike zone, ensuring he gets a fair share of called strikes and whiffs on this nasty pitch. Pairing that with his high fastball has been a HUGE difference maker for Bieber this season, and is very likely the reason his strikeout numbers have rocketed up this year.

Curveball

Bieber's curveball actually is his best swing-and-miss pitch, with a 46.6% o-swing rate and a 27.2% swinging strike rate. However, an unlucky 40% HR/RB rate on his curveball has ballooned some of his numbers - a sign that this pitch should actually be producing better results than it actually is. Considering how dominant he has been with both his breaking pitches this year, the fact that he is actually getting unlucky is definitely worth noting.

Changeup

Bieber's biggest weapon against left-handers is his runny changeup. Coming in at 88 miles per hour, this pitch has almost the exact same movement pattern as his fastball, helping him generate a ton of swings and misses and weak contact as batters flail out in front. This pitch is his least utilized secondary, and doesn't generate the swing and miss stuff that his breaking pitches do, but a 64.3% groundball rate and a .214 BABIP prove that this pitch can be effectively utilized in conjunction with his fastball and his breaking stuff.

So, a quick recap: Bieber has a league average fastball that he has learned to effectively locate up in the zone, which helps him weaponize his two elite breaking balls. Those two pitches are getting buried down in the zone with regularity, and both are posting elite swinging strike numbers. Lastly, he can effectively sprinkle in his changeup - particularly against left-handers - which generates weak contact.

 

Verdict

Bieber's numbers on the year are fully supported by most standard peripherals. He has a 3.54 ERA with a 3.40 FIP, 3.09 xFIP and a 3.22 SIERA. His .286 BABIP and 75.9 strand rate are both league average, and he's actually been unlucky in the home run department, hence the low xFIP.

We are looking at a pitcher who has figured out the recipe for success with his arsenal, and who has mastered the ability to generate swings and misses with his pitch mix. His numbers are not only legit, but he is suffering from some bad luck on batted balls, and could be in line for an even better second half.

I think he will finish the 2019 season as a top-25 starting pitcher, and should be valued as such.

So Bieber owners, unless a fantasy owner is willing to heavily overpay for his services down the stretch, you are better off holding onto the budding superstar for the rest of the 2019 season.

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Midseason Mea Culpas

Anyone who has read my work already knows this, but I've never been fully comfortable with the term "expert."

Why? The universe is chaos, especially when it comes to the weighted random number generators that we call sports. The few who are able to make a living as sports bettors still typically aren't much more accurate than simply flipping a coin. This isn't false modesty - I do consider myself good at the game and good at writing about it, at least to the level where I've managed to get paid to do so for half a decade. It's just the truth. We are all guessing at the end of the day; my guesses are simply more educated than most.

But when you spend hours every week dispensing advice about a game that displays only occasional adherence to rhyme or reason, being wrong is inevitable. With the All-Star break approaching, let's look back at some of my worst calls this spring and try to learn from the experience.

 

Players I Liked Too Much

Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

What I said: "After three seasons as a utility player, Frazier is finally getting a shot at everyday at-bats in Pittsburgh...[a] plus average, double digits in HR/SB, and 80+ runs scored are all realistic possibilities. He deserves a look at the end of many drafts."

What's actually happened: Frazier is indeed around an 80-run pace because he has managed to stick in the leadoff spot for the majority of the season. The pop and speed haven't really been there, though, as he's hit just four home runs and stolen only three bases in five attempts. And .275 isn't a bad batting average at all, but it won't move the needle much for fantasy squads.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Frazier hasn't been bad, and could still hit all these benchmarks with a few modest hot streaks. But he's also seen less and less time as the leadoff man in recent weeks, and simply isn't that dynamic of a player. (Okay, but nobody expected much of Frazier. This one isn't that bad. Let's get serious.)

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

What I said: "I may be in the minority here, but I expect Votto to bounce back to pretty much where he had been [before 2018]. For 2019, I might actually prefer him to Cody Bellinger." Oof...yeah, that's the good stuff.

What's actually happened: We all know how fantastic Bellinger has been. Unfortunately, Votto has much more closely resembled the 2018 model than the hitting machine he used to be. Not only has his power remained depressed, he's on track for the worst batting average and highest strikeout rate of his career.

Chances this might pan out anyway: To be fair, Votto has shown some signs of life recently as he hit .299/.390/.506 in June. However, even that surge has left him with a .271/.366/.416 overall line. If he can keep it going, the end-of-year numbers may wind up respectable, even good. But he won't return a profit on his draft price, and he damn sure isn't going to be better than Bellinger.

Yu Darvish, SP, Chicago Cubs

What I said: "Very surprised at how little love Darvish [is] getting based on early ADP. Fairly high on him...great rebound candidate. Would be comfortable with him as a #3, could be a #2."

What's actually happened: Darvish was never a control artist in the best of times, but he couldn't buy a strike for the first six weeks of the season. He walked seven in his debut and six in a May 9 start against the friggin' Marlins, who rank dead last in walk rate at present. Over that span of eight starts, he issued an astounding 33 free passes in 36 innings.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Darvish has gotten it together with just 16 walks in his last 60 frames, and he continues to rack up strikeouts. Unfortunately, what has also continued is his inability to prevent home runs; despite a career best ground ball rate, he's allowing 1.9 HR/9 after clocking in at 1.3 and 1.6 the prior two seasons. Gonna go ahead and say he's probably not opting out of his contract after the season.

 

Players I Didn't Like Enough

Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates

What I said: I can't actually find a single instance of me discussing Bell this spring, either in columns or the weekly Monday AMA on Reddit. That's how little I thought of the guy.

What's actually happened: Only four hitters in MLB have a higher weighted on-base average than Bell - Bellinger, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, and Charlie Blackmon. The Pirates' slugger ranks fourth in the league with 26 homers, which is already tied for his career high in just 84 games. He leads baseball with 81 RBI, and his 67 runs scored is tied for third. Oh, and he's also hitting over .300, no big deal.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Unless Bell is stricken by whatever mysterious ailment has caused Jose Ramirez to turn into a scrub, this will stand as an egregious oversight. Hell, it still might even then.

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres

What I said: "The power and speed are legitimate, though the average shouldn't be counted upon given the high strikeout rates he has routinely run in the minor leagues. I don't think he'll be up before Super 2."

What's actually happened: Tatis broke camp with the Padres and, despite missing over a month with a hamstring injury, has produced 12 homers, 13 steals, and a 1.006 OPS. Were it not for Pete Alonso, he'd be the clear favorite for top rookie honors in the National League.

Chances this might pan out anyway: This one might actually turn. Tatis is almost certainly not going to keep running a BABIP well over .400 or keep hitting homers on nearly 30 percent of his fly balls, and as great as he's been so far, he's still striking out a ton. The usual concerns with rookies - pitchers making adjustments, the grind of a longer season than they're used to - are present as well. Like everyone else, I had no qualms about Tatis long-term - I just didn't see this explosion coming this soon, and at the risk of further egg on my face, am expecting a second-half fade.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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