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FANTASY BASEBALL/DFS

10 Thoughts: Week Six Edition

We love the game of baseball, and with so many players, it’s easy to think of 10 things every week. Here are our thoughts for Week 6.

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Fantasy Baseball - Yasmani Grandal

In this edition of 10 Thoughts, we dive into Yasmani Grandal’s extreme approach at the plate, a couple of impactful league-wide trends, undervalued players, and a lot more.

1) Yasmani Grandal is pushing the limits of patience, and it’s going better than his slash line indicates.
As a Grandal owner in a dynasty league, I’ve been a bit concerned with his start to the season, so I looked into his performance on a deep level. Grandal has always been very patient at the plate, but he’s taken it to a new level in 2021 by leading the league in walk rate by a good margin. Not only does he lead the league in walks, but Yasmani also has the lowest swing rate of any MLB player at just 25.7%. That extreme patience is how you end up with a .378 OBP despite having a horrendous .113 batting average – just thinking about that is insane. Fortunately, better batting average results are coming and coming fast. Grandal’s current.119 BABIP is dead last in the league among hitters with 90+ plate appearances by a huge margin, and of course, it’s completely unsustainable, as Grandal’s career BABIP is .277. Additionally, Grandal’s average exit velocity (93rd percentile), hard-hit rate (86th percentile), and barrel rate (69th percentile) are all healthy, so there really isn’t much to worry about here. In points/OBP leagues Grandal could be a top-three catcher the rest of the way, but even in roto leagues, Grandal should start to be a valuable asset very soon.

2) Batters are being hit by pitches at a record pace so far this season, and it makes sense if you think about it.
I’ve recently seen many writers and reporters around baseball pointing out that HBP’s are becoming more common than ever, so I started reading into it and thinking about why this could be. The trend is of course very worrisome because we never want batters to get hurt, but at the same time, we really shouldn’t be surprised given the way that the modern game is trending. Pitchers in general are throwing harder than ever and sacrificing command, relievers with worse command than starters are being used more often, breaking balls that are harder to locate are being utilized more than ever before, and batters are crowding the plate whilst wearing large protective gear. All of those things combined are why we are where we are in regards to HBP’s, and I don’t see this unfortunate trend slowing down any time soon.

3) John Means is legit, and his blueprint for success is very sustainable.
Means has been a pitcher with excellent command for a few years now, but there are two other components in his skill set that move the needle for him, and when they are both going well at one time we see what we’ve seen from him so far in 2021. Those two components are decent fastball velocity and a good changeup. Though Means did have a good 2019 season, it was far from elite, and his 2020 was pretty poor across the board. In 2019 he had the good changeup but didn’t have the fastball velocity, and in 2020 he had the solid fastball velocity, but no changeup. This season Means has both; he’s throwing the heater at 92.6 MPH on average and his changeup has limited opposing hitters to a .102 BA and .153 SLG. So long as Means maintains both of these key skills and maintains his plus command there is no reason to think that he can’t be an All-Star level starter going forward.

4) Harrison Bader could be primed for a breakout season.
For a long time, Harrison Bader was regarded as a well-rounded top prospect with the potential to have five plus tools, but since his debut, back in 2017, he seemed to have settled in as a guy who dominated in centerfield and possessed raw power but couldn’t overcome whiffing/batting average issues. That could be changing this year, and a big clue surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: a story from former slugger Travis Hafner detailing a conversation that centered around Pokemon cards. Yes you read that right, essentially Hafner started trying to stock up on Pokemon cards and Bader contacted him looking to sell his collection, one thing led to another and Bader ended up telling Hafner that nasal polyps had impacted his equilibrium and ability to see the ball for the last few years. I want to give credit to Razzball for the story, and they wrote an article that included a screenshot of Hafner’s account of the conversation with Bader. Anyways, Bader had surgery to remove the polyps over the offseason and so far he’s clearly seeing the ball better. Bader’s .250 average is nothing special, but it’s backed up by a .285 xBA that indicates bad luck, and it’s still workable compared to his marks from the last couple of years, Harrison’s current K rate also sits at just 13.5% in a small sample this season after he routinely posted near 30 percent K rates in past years, and his chase and whiff rates are each down more than 6.9% from 2020. Of course, the power and speed we’ve come to expect are still present as well, so we could finally get the full package this year. Don’t be late.

5) Sonny Gray is back and picking up where he left off.
After a hiccup season with the Yankees in 2018, Gray has been very consistent with the Cincinnati Reds the last couple of seasons. Sonny seems to have settled in as a mid-threes ERA guy with decent WHIP’s and a very good strikeout rate. On paper, Gray’s 2020 season was much worse than his excellent 2019, but the peripherals were actually strikingly similar. Notably, Gray posted a 3.97 SIERA in 2019 vs a 3.83 SIERA in 2020, so he may actually have been pitching even better last season. The middling 2020 season combined with a Spring Training injury meant that Gray fell down draft boards into the middle rounds, and he looks like a steal because he’s pretty much the same pitcher, if not a better pitcher than he was in 2019. Gray’s recent model for success centers on an elite curveball and a very good, if inconsistent slider, each of which generates whiffs while hiding his average sinker and poor four-seamer. The breaking balls are once again dominating this season, but Gray’s four-seamer is surprisingly playing close to average. This is interesting because the four-seamer is usually a liability, and if he can keep this up he’d have a lot more potential. Either way Gray seems to have been undervalued and he’s a very good fantasy baseball starter even if he just continues what he’s done the last couple of years.

6) Offense is down across the sport due to the new ball, and MLB failed in what they set out to accomplish.
Before I begin, I want to ensure that I state that this entire thought was inspired by a fantastic article from Fangraphs’ Devan Fink titled “Where Did the Homers Go?” in which he discusses the unintended effects of the new ball and backs up his findings with data. In Fink’s article this excerpt, in particular, stuck out to me:

“In 2019, fly balls hit between 100-104 mph and at a 20-24 degree launch angle went for outs (including sac flies) just 18% of the time; using the inverse, hitters would reach base 82% of the time when they’d connect. In 2021, however, hitters are reaching base just 65% of the time. That’s still a solid figure, but it provides further evidence that, rather than convert home runs into other types of base hits, MLB has only reduced offense overall”.

Hard-hit balls not resulting in as many hits is a bad look for MLB, but there’s also another issue with the new ball that is preventing contact in the first place. As many pitchers have noted, the higher seams that create more drag also give pitchers a better grip and allow for more movement. In a time when pitchers’ stuff has never been better, the ball has juiced movement even more as can be seen prevalently when comparing the Statcast tracked pitch movement this season to last season. In turn, hitters are having even more trouble getting the bat on the ball, exacerbating an already serious issue with today’s game. I’m not a scientist by any means, but from my perspective, it seems like MLB really dropped the ball (sorry) with the changes they made. Rather than increasing the amount of non-homer hits they seem to have reduced them while also further intensifying their strikeout problem. If it seems like most of your team is struggling to hit don’t worry, most hitters are.

7) Tyler Anderson will regress a bit, but he’s a really good pitcher right now.
The first thing we should note in regards to Anderson is that he may have always been a solid, underrated pitcher that had his reputation decimated by the monster that is Coors Field. Anderson posted a 4.06 SIERA in his first three years in which he stayed relatively healthy. That number isn’t overly impressive, but considering that he was pitching at Coors half of the time it’s definitely better than average. The “breakout” this season is largely due to an improved cutter that has been so good that Statcast’s run value metric has it as the most valuable in the league so far. Anderson was traditionally a four-seamer/changeup/cutter guy in that order with the exception being the 2018 season when the cutter leapfrogged the changeup in usage. This season he’s throwing his cutter 27.8% of the time, up from just 18.1% of the time last season and just down from his career-high of 28.7% in 2018. The pitch has been completely dominant as hitters are only batting .163 and slugging .204 against it. It’s not just the cutter though, Anderson is somehow getting an elite 29.5% whiffs on his four-seamer (conceivably due to good ride and location up in the zone) and his changeup has been nearly as dominant as the cutter due to good command and sequencing/tunneling with the four-seamer. Overall, this is a pitcher who is in control of an arsenal that keeps hitters off-balance despite not being overpowering. A 3.40-3.60 ERA season with quality ratios should materialize if he can keep this up.

8) Josh Naylor is slowly coming around, and he could be a very good hitter before long.
Naylor was a guy I was really high on coming into the season as a sleeper outfielder for a couple of reasons. The first being that he has a very good skillset at the plate, combining quality hand-eye skill and a lack of K’s with raw power. The strikeout rate is up to 20.% after being way down at just 11.5% last year, but it’s still pretty solid, and the raw power has started to show up with a 68th percentile average exit velocity and a significant 95th percentile max exit velocity. Now, Naylor does need to be more selective at the plate but that will come with more playing time and opportunity… which brings me to my second reason for being high on Naylor. The Cleveland Indians have an abundance of playing time available in the outfield for Naylor to gobble up, and he should develop into a better hitter as the season progresses. Is Naylor going to be a superstar? No, but hitters with little swing and miss and big raw power are fairly rare, and Naylor has started to really do damage in May with a .303/.361/.545 slash line so far this month. There will be ups and downs, but I think Naylor is an underrated asset in season long, and especially in dynasty.

9) Tony Gonsolin will be joining the Dodgers rotation soon, and now is the time to pounce.
I am incredibly high on Gonsolin if he can stay healthy, my only questions with him are related to injuries and opportunity in a crowded Los Angeles Dodgers rotation. It took a while but Gonsolin is getting healthy and due to Dustin May’s torn UCL there is a rotation spot for Tony. Gonsolin has shown elite stuff and passable command in the 86.2 innings he’s thrown in the majors, and it’s resulted in a career 2.60 ERA and 0.92 WHIP to go along with almost a strikeout per inning. Those are elite statistics and Gonsolin is legit with a four-pitch mix featuring a four-seamer, splitter, slider, and curveball, each of which has been effective in their own ways. Gonsolin locates his fastball well to get ahead in counts and the three secondaries are near-dominant in terms of generating whiffs and weak contact. I understand the concerns related to health and innings potential, but Gonsolin isn’t talked about enough as a starter that could follow a similar trajectory to Zac Gallen (minus some of the punchouts). Now is a great time to buy, because once Gonsolin is healthy and pitching in the rotation people are going to be holding him very close for a long time.

10) Jorge Soler has really struggled, but the underlying metrics say that he’s underperformed.
Understandably, fantasy owners are always going to have Soler’s magical 2019 seasons on their minds when evaluating him, and while I’m not sure he’ll ever approach the success he had back then going forward, much of his profile is still the same. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the current .200/.280/.374 slash line though, it’s been tough sledding early on in 2021 for Soler. The x stats projected slash line is much more palatable however, it currently looks like .242/.322/.493. Why the big disparity? Soler is still crushing the ball as evidenced by a 98th percentile average exit velocity, 95th percentile max exit velocity, and a 98th percentile hard-hit rate, he’s just hitting it right at people (.267 2021 BABIP vs .309 career BABIP). Soler also has better whiff and K rates than he did in 2019 surprisingly. If you’re still not convinced, Soler’s xHR total is 6.6 while his actual HR total is only three. Soler’s entire 2021 profile is strikingly similar to his 2019 profile, buy or hold him now because the lightning will eventually follow the thunder.

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