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 5.
In this edition of 10 Thoughts we examine Nico Hoerner’s potential value, the surprising reason for Corey Kluber’s recent success, a top prospect trending towards bust status, and much more.
1) Nico Hoerner could be very valuable going forward.
Hoerner’s contact/speed profile in and of itself provides a lot of value if he can continue to get at-bats, but there have been some encouraging signs that more power could be on the way as well. The Cubs coaching staff has been working with Nico to help him get more lift in his swing after he posted an average launch angle of just 0.8 degrees last season due to poor mechanics. So far it appears to be paying off, as his average launch angle in 2021 currently sits at 6.6 degrees. Fortunately, the added loft hasn’t detracted from his batting average at all either, as he’s hitting .392 in 36 AB’s to go along with would be career highs in xBA, average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and sweet spot percentage. All of the quality contact also comes with all important speed. Hoerner has already swiped three bases and there should be many more to come. Now would be a great time to send out offers with Nico on the IL following a scary collision.
2) Kyle Hendricks has very real issues right now, and they’re mostly mechanical.
For whatever reason Kyle Hendricks’ arm slot is lower this season than it has been in the past, and it seems to be a likely reason for his struggles. Hendricks could be working around some type of injury, or he may just be having trouble with his delivery, but either way, it seems like this type of thing is the culprit when you look at how consistent Hendricks has been up until this point. The velocity is also down and the movement and spin rates on his pitches are different, but it’s tough to say if mechanics are the culprit there. All in all, I’m going to have a hard time trusting Hendricks going forward until he irons out the arm slot and command.
3) Dominic Smith’s bad luck won’t stick around forever, but he needs to improve his approach at the plate.
When Smith hasn’t been threatening to fight pitchers in the tunnel he’s been hitting into plenty of outs, but that should change sooner rather than later. Smith’s .222/.247/.346 slash line isn’t reflective of the skill he’s displayed for the most part. The poor OBP is the only component of the equation that’s legit, as Smith sports the following ugly plate approach marks at the moment: 19th percentile whiff rate, 33rd percentile strikeout rate, 27th percentile chase rate, and a 6th percentile walk rate. It’s hard to see good pitches to hit when you have that poor of an approach, but perhaps due to an innate ability to hit Smith still has an xBA of .294 to go along with an xSLG of .526, both of which are better than 80th percentile across the league. Despite the poor approach, which only really hurts in points leagues, I fully expect Smith’s actual slash line to catch up to the expected one sooner rather than later. One key to watch is whether or not Dom can bring down the whiff rate, as he actually had a decent whiff rate last year in his breakout season.
4) Adbert Alzolay and his new slider are worth a roster spot.
I’ll admit that I didn’t think much of Alzolay going into this season. I saw him as a pitcher with poor fastballs that were thrown far too often to go along with spotty command, but he’s proved me wrong. Armed with a new, devastating slider that he’s throwing 47.2% of the time, Alzolay has decimated opposing hitters by limiting walks (2.6 BB/9) while generating strikeouts and weak contact as is evidenced by an above-average 9.9 K/9 and a dominant 5.6 H/9. The 4.71 ERA isn’t at all impressive, but it’s inflated by unlucky 15.8% HR/FB and 57.0% LOB rates, which a .91 WHIP and 3.51 SIERA confirm. There is a lot of upside in the tank for this young right-hander, and the time to get in on him is undoubtedly now.
5) Former top prospect Luis Urias is heating up, finally.
Urias was a truly elite prospect while in the Padres system, but he never found his footing in the big leagues with San Diego and he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers prior to last season in exchange for Trent Grisham. He had little success with the Brewers following the deal and once again looked to be scuffling this season until very recently. In Urias’ first 17 games of the season, he went for 7 for 47 (.148 BA) with two homers, but over his last nine games, he’s gone 9 for 26 (.346 BA) with a home run. Urias’s ability to carry a very low whiff rate while taking a ton of walks is very valuable in points/OBP leagues but otherwise is more valuable in real baseball. What’s been encouraging fantasy-wise is that Urias is starting to hit the ball hard, finally. He’s much better than league average in terms of barrels, but still fairly average elsewhere. Nonetheless, he’s still very young and with the opportunity, he has to play every day I could see him developing into a .270/.370/.430 type of player with a nice 10-15 SB’s to boot.
6) Corey Kluber’s recent improvements are predicated on a surprising development.
It’s the changeup, not the famous slurve, that has been Kluber’s best pitch in 2021. Don’t get me wrong the slurve is still performing well, but it hasn’t yet been the elite pitch it used to be. The last time Kluber’s changeup performed this well was back in 2017, but it was only thrown six percent of the time back then, whereas this season Kluber is throwing it upwards of ten percent of the time. The pitch isn’t moving more, in fact it’s actually moving less. Maybe Kluber has really improved his arm action, or maybe he’s tunneling the pitch with his fastball better than before, but whatever the reason having that pitch is huge. Kluber didn’t throw hard before, but now he’s barely scraping past 90 MPH with the heater, so having two elite off-speed offerings is crucial. Corey’s 3.03 ERA is great, but especially so considering he’s a notoriously slow starter – vintage Kluber is coming soon, or at least something close to it
7) Gavin Lux is starting to approach bust status
I’m not saying Lux is a bust, after all, he’s only 23 and he’s only had 220 plate appearances in the big leagues, so there’s plenty of time for him to make adjustments. However, Lux hasn’t done much of anything inspiring in his brief time in the big leagues. His xwOBA (probably the best single advanced statistic for evaluating hitting talent) this season is 5th percentile, that’s a big problem. Lux hasn’t displayed a feel for the barrel at the highest level and his Max EV’s (strong predictor of raw power potential) indicate that his raw power is average at best. Four stolen bases in 202 AB’s is decent, and he’s shown some signs of a decent plate approach, so there is that, but I see a guy right now who is a .240 or so hitter with little power. Maybe Lux develops into the player most thought he could be, but I’m starting to have serious doubts. If you own Lux in dynasty or redraft I would be looking to sell him if you can fetch a decent return.
8) Shane McClanahan is electric, but the Rays will suppress his value.
When you see a guy come out and pump 101 with nasty secondaries and decent command it’s natural to daydream about possibilities. I really think McClanahan can eventually be a better version of Blake Snell, but right now it’s important to be objective about his situation. The Rays are notorious for limiting their starters’ workloads, and Shane is a rookie who will be handled even more carefully, so despite the fact that they’ve said he’s a starter he won’t be going deep into games and there will be skipped starts throughout the season. That’s not to say that McClanahan isn’t valuable, he is and he should provide ratios and strikeouts, but I’m not paying a steep price in trades or counting on him to be a core part of my rotation.
9) Marcell Ozuna should turn things around, but his start is a bit puzzling.
Ozuna has hit the ball really hard really consistently for a long time now. In a four year span from 2017-2020 Ozuna was at or better than 90th percentile in average exit velocity and max exit velocity; however, Ozuna’s 2021 max exit velocity of 114.3 MPH is 96th percentile, and his average exit velocity it just 89.6 MPH, good for 55th percentile. Additionally, Ozuna’s hard hit rate is in the 43rd percentile this season which is unusual considering that he had been in the 88th percentile or better for four straight seasons prior to 2021. Other than the drop in hard contact, Ozuna’s profile is largely similar to past years, only he’s walking a bit less and striking out a bit more. Those plate approach factors are likely influencing his quality of contact, but they’re not significantly worse than they have been in the last couple of years and I would expect them to trend back up. Based on the body of work we should also expect that Ozuna’s hard contact will become more consistent going forward, but there are no guarantees there considering the steep drop-off so far. Maybe Ozuna really doesn’t like playing in cold weather, it’s a legitimate issue for some guys.
10) Chris Paddack is showing signs of life.
I’ve been a major skeptic of Chris Paddack going back to draft season, but there have been some encouraging signs as of late. The first positive I noticed is that Chris’ four-seamer velocity was back up to 94.9 MPH in his last start. In a recent start, he sat just 93.8 MPH with the pitch, so that is key. Secondly, Paddack set a season-high for curveball usage in his last start when he threw the breaker 10.5% of the time. It’s still not quite enough in my opinion, but it’s a very good start. Paddack needs to continue to refine his repertoire while keeping his four-seamer away from the middle of the plate, but he’s making small strides towards being the pitcher everyone thought he could be.