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10 Thoughts: Week Four Edition

There are many teams and players in MLB, so it’s easy to think of 10 things every week. Here are our thoughts for Week 4.

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We all love the game of baseball, and with so many teams and players, it’s easy to think of 10 things every week. Here’s our thoughts for Week 4.

In this edition of 10 Thoughts we dive into Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s long-awaited breakout, Alex Wood’s resurgence, a sleeper outfielder, and much more.

1) The Vladimir Guerrero Jr. breakout is here, and it’s glorious. 
Jr. is such a talent that it was always a matter of when not if he would break out, and now is the time. In just his age 22 season, Vladito is once again obliterating baseballs left and right, posting gaudy exit velocities. The reason to believe in the breakout is that Guerrero is finally blasting balls into the air with an improved launch angle. Vlad’s poor average launch angles in his first two seasons (6.7 degrees, 4.6 degrees) were the only thing standing in the way of his raw power unleashing itself. Obviously, both the Toronto Blue Jays organization and Guerrero himself were aware of this, and it appears that he’s made enough of an adjustment to get more balls over the wall and deep into the outfield. Jr.’s 10.6-degree average launch angle isn’t totally ideal (we want something in the 15-20 degree range), but when you have top three raw power in the league it’s more than enough loft to do damage. Guerrero currently ranks in the 88th percentile or better in xwOBA, xBA, average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and walk rate. He’s not far behind in xSLG, strikeout rate, and chase rate as well. Guerrero’s elite eye at the plate coupled with prodigious raw power and improved launch angle means that the sky is the limit for him going forward.

2) Alex Wood is worth starting in most matchups when he’s healthy
There are so many pitchers to monitor in fantasy baseball that some guys slip through the cracks much of the time, especially if they aren’t relevant for long periods of time. Enter Alex Wood, a prime example of a very good pitcher that slipped through the cracks in most leagues. Wood has a reliable sinker, slider, changeup mix, and a career 3.41 ERA to go along with a career xFIP and SIERA of 3.55 and 3.71 respectfully. The man can pitch, but he’s endured brutal injuries that have limited him to 59.4 innings from 2019-2021. In truth, his last fantasy-relevant season was way back in 2018 when he was a Los Angeles Dodger. Things are looking up for Alex however, as he appears to have turned the corner in terms of health, and he’s back to performing as he did in his prime. In two starts this season Wood owns a .075 ERA and a 0.42 WHIP while throwing his pitches with more movement and velocity than ever before. Couple that with the fact that he’s also pitching on a prove-it deal in one of the game’s friendliest pitcher parks and you have a recipe for success. Wood has never been a big punchouts guy (8.3 career K/9 doesn’t hurt though), and he could always go down with an injury, but this is a pitcher who can be a tremendous asset for you if things go smoothly.

3) Eugenio Suarez is killing fantasy teams, and there’s no reason to believe that he’s going to break out of his slump.
There’s no questioning Eugenio’s prodigious power, but at some point you have to stop believing in a guy that doesn’t make enough contact. Suarez’s formula the last couple of years has consisted of limiting chases, whiffing a ton when he does swing, and balancing weak pop-ups with extra-base smashes. It’s a delicate balance as was illustrated last season when he hit .202, but the wheels are really falling off this year. Suarez’s already poor whiff and strikeout rates, both in the 3rd percentile in 2021, have become borderline insurmountable, and he’s making weak contact at a much higher rate without the signature bombs to balance the scales. Maybe the switch to shortstop is overwhelming him, but right now Suarez’s inability to make any type of consistent contact is rendering him unstartable in all formats.

4)  Spencer Turnbull is back on the mound and picking up where he left off in 2020, but there’s still upside for more.
I haven’t heard much talk about Turnbull despite the fact that he’s now healthy and locked into a rotation spot. Maybe it’s because he plays for the Detroit Tigers, or maybe it’s because he’s only slightly better than average, but either way, he deserves more love. Turnbull made strides in many areas during the shortened 2020 season, posting a 3.97 ERA and 1.34 WHIP to go along with a solid 8.1 K/9 and a ridiculous 0.32 HR/9. The only area of concern for Turnbull was walks, as he posted a very poor 4.6 BB/9. So far this season in 11 innings Turnbull has a 3.27 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, a good start to be sure but it’s a very small sample. I’m high on Turnbull’s ability to improve due to the potential for pitch utilization changes. Besides a sparsely used curveball, the only poor pitch Turnbull throws is a sinker that he threw 20.9% of the time last season. So far that usage is down to 16.1% this season, but there is an even more important development… Turnbull has finally bumped slider usage way up to 33.9%. Turnbull has an amazing slider (.151 BA and 43.1% whiff rate in 2020), but he threw it just 20.9% of the time last year. Being that we’re working with an 11 inning sample, it remains to be seen if these pitch utilization rates are here to stay, but I’m very intrigued. Even if Turnbull doesn’t improve his arsenal this is a serviceable starter that you can throw out there when he’s not facing a top 10 lineup, but I have a good feeling about this one.

5) Michael Conforto will put his struggles behind him, but don’t expect him to live up to last year’s performance.
Conforto massively overperformed in 2020 in comparison to his Statcast metrics and most of the fantasy industry knew it, but few expected a .214/.333/.339 start. Though Conforto has been a productive player throughout his career he hasn’t posted exit velocities or hard-hit percentages above the 50th percentile since 2017. Instead, he compensates by using an all fields approach while posting high barrel rates. In 2021 Conforto’s average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, numbers are in the 25th and 7th percentiles respectively, yikes. While you never want to see that, it’s telling that his xBA and xSLG are still better than league average despite the lack of hard contact, which he’s never relied on. Additionally, Conforto is now chasing and striking out less than he did in his amazing 2020 season. I fully expect Conforto’s elite plate approach and barrel proclivity to stabilize his performance in a positive manner going forward. Something like a .260/.370/.480 slash line is a reasonable expectation for Conforto over a full season, and he should get back on track fairly soon while hitting in the heart of a potent Mets lineup.

6) Feel free to be excited about Madison Bumgarner… for now.
After the no-hitter that wasn’t last Sunday it’s pretty clear that Madbum has something left in the tank, but can he be trusted going forward? In the short term, the answer is a resounding yes. In his next few starts, Bumgarner is likely to face two poor offenses in the Colorado Rockies and the Miami Marlins, and after what he did to the Braves it’s hard to feel anything but comfortable with those matchups. Bumgarner’s improved performance in his last two starts comes on the back of positive changes from last year. First off, the heater is back up above 90 MPH, barely. Still, after averaging 88 MPH last year we’ll take it. The other important improvement we’ve seen is with the curveball, which is looking like it did in its prime when it generated tons of whiffs and weak contact. Bum still has three rough outings to two good ones on the season, and he needs to locate his fastball and cutter much better, but for the moment I’m on board with throwing him out there against Miami and Colorado – beyond that I’m not convinced.

7) Don’t forget about boring batting average boosters
Players like Bryan Reynolds, Joey Wendle, and Adam Frazier often get lost in the shuffle because let’s face it… they’re boring. These guys aren’t going to break out and win you the title, they aren’t going to crush home runs, they don’t play on exciting teams, but they still have value. Based on career-long track record and current performance there’s no reason why these guys won’t hit .280 minimum while scoring a lot of runs and chipping in elsewhere. In many leagues, these guys are already rostered as they should be, but maybe you play in a shallow league, or maybe you’re stacked at 2B/3B/OF; even in those cases, you want to have these guys on the bench so that you can tread water when injuries inevitably happen. There are sexier pickups and bench stashes to be sure, but Reynolds, Wendle, and Frazier are consistent and reliable if and when you need production; it’s the glue guys that can be the difference between finishing first and finishing second.

8) John Gant’s incredible run of luck is bound to end sooner rather than later.
Gant is a fun story, and his 2.25 ERA through four weeks is fantastic, but he may be the luckiest pitcher in the Major Leagues right now. The first red flag is Gant’s very poor 1.55 WHIP. If you’re allowing that many baserunners you are bound to struggle eventually. The next thing I looked at was his left on base rate, and sure enough, it’s way above the league average of 70-72% at 85 percent. He’s allowing lots of baserunners as the WHIP shows, but he’s unsustainably preventing them from scoring. Gant is also allowing a TON of hard contact, so much so that he’s in the bottom seven percent of the league in average exit velocity allowed. All of the hard-hit balls are just going right to guys, and his 5.23 SIERA says it all. If you own Gant and can sell him for just about anything decent I would do it as quickly as possible. Gant’s fall from grace is coming fast and it won’t be pretty.

9) Jesus Aguilar is having a good season, but it should get even better.
Fantasy owners likely didn’t draft Aguilar to be their starter in most leagues, but he’s slashing .292/.376/.472 early on and I believe the best is yet to come. The slash number that stands out is the on-base percentage, as it’s 0.38 points higher than his career .338 mark. To look at why he’s getting on base more let’s compare Aguilar’s 2020 metrics to those from April action this season. Aguilar has bumped his strikeout percentage from the 72nd percentile to the 89th percentile, his chase rate from the 26th percentile to the 49th percentile, and his walk rate from the 70th percentile to the 80th percentile. Those are massive gains across the board, and Aguilar is now operating with a near-elite approach at the plate. Though Aguilar’s power numbers aren’t great due to some poor exit velocity/hard hit stats they should stabilize to better than league average based on recent track record. When the power surge happens and Aguilar combines his pop with the new and improved approach good things are bound to happen.

10) Justin Williams is an interesting sleeper in the St. Louis Cardinals outfield.
The Cardinals have been lacking production in the outfield for a long time now, so a lot of unheralded prospects have been given a shot. Williams, the Cardinals’ 18th ranked prospect by MLB.com, is one of those players and he’s done some intriguing things with the opportunity. At first glance his .182/.297/.291 slash line looks uninspiring, but if you replace his actual BA and SLG with his xBA and xSLG it looks like this .247/.297/.466. Those numbers are much more serviceable, and for a rookie, they’re better than average. Williams has been doing two things very well: hitting the ball hard and taking walks. Williams’ 92.2 MPH average exit velocity is 85th percentile and he’s barreling up baseballs at an 86th percentile clip to go along with a 14.1% walk rate that is in the 87th percentile. In today’s game, we’ve seen players with this profile thrive under the right circumstances, and considering that Williams only has 61 AB’s under his belt at the MLB level there is a ton of room for development. The improvement will hopefully come in the strikeout and launch angle departments, as a 32.8% K rate and 4.9-degree average launch angle isn’t a recipe for success no matter how hard you hit the ball. The bottom line is that the tools are there, and if Williams improves in just one of those key areas, if not both, he could be in line for plenty of opportunities and production in the thin St. Louis outfield.

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