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 10.
In this edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover Tarik Skubal’s impressive May performance, Lance Lynn’s incredible luck, deep hitting sleepers, and a whole lot more.
1) Tarik Skubal is developing rapidly and delivering on the promise he showed as a prospect.
After a rough March/April that saw Skubal struggle en route to a 6.14 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, he turned things around with a strong May performance in which he posted a 3.33 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Interestingly, there hasn’t been some massive change that obviously resulted in better outings, but there are a few things to look at. First, Skubal’s May ground ball rate is much higher than it was in March/April, which helps explain the decrease in HR/9 from 3.27 to 1.67. Additionally, Skubal only walked three batters per nine innings in May after he walked almost six batters per nine innings in the prior month plus. And then there is the jump in K/9 from 7.36 in March/April to 13.00 in May that can be partially explained by bumped-up changeup/splitter (it’s tough to say which pitch it is) usage. The changeup/splitter holds an incredible 55.6% whiff rate despite having mediocre movement at best, which makes me think Skubal sells the pitch extremely well with his arm speed. Overall, I attribute most of the added success to better command, as it seems like Skubal is simply locating his pitches in places that hitters can’t do much if any damage with. Hopefully, we continue to see him trend up, but I’m not completely sold on Skubal yet after one quality month of pitching.
2) Keep a close eye on Edward Olivares in deeper leagues.
The Kansas City Royals recently called up Olivares from AAA in search of outfield production, and the young outfielder has answered the bell early on, hitting .364 in his first 11 ABs. That’s a very small sample size, but Olivares has real power/speed tools as evidenced by his five home runs and seven steals in just 81 AAA ABs this year. Should Olivares hold down a regular spot in the Royals’ lineup it’s not out of the question that he could provide upwards of 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases. I like his chances better than most because, in addition to the tools, Olivares displayed a mature approach at the plate in AAA where he walked almost as much as he struck out while posting an elite .473 OBP. Time will tell how much his game translates at the highest level, but Olivares is an intriguing player who I want on my roster.
3) Alek Manoah is legit.
I mentioned Manoah as a high priority prospect pick up a couple of weeks back, but even I was taken back (in a good way) by his performance in his first two big league outings. Manoah works with a four-seamer, slider, sinker, and changeup arsenal that really plays up because of how confident he is in each pitch. Unlike most pitchers who throw a primary pitch 45-55% of the time, Manaoh’s primary pitch is his four-seamer thrown 38.6% of the time. The small sample size here could prove misleading, but based on scouting reports Manoah has been working this way for awhile now. I don’t have many concerns with Manoah, which is rare for such a young pitcher, but he throws strikes, has good velocity (93-94 MPH fastballs), generates good movement/whiffs (especially with his wipeout slider), and isn’t afraid to mix up his offerings. Of course we must continue to watch closely as the pefromance sample size increases, but Manoah has all of the makings of a mid to top of the rotation starter pitching on a team with an elite offense – that’s a recipe for fantasy gold.
4) Elvis Andrus is healthier and he’s starting to heat up.
Andrus has really struggled cumulatively on the year, slashing .211/.259/.269 with zero homers and just three stolen bases, but he’s getting healthier and is hitting .407 in his last 9 games. If Andrus can get on base at a decent clip and maintain his health he should be a big stolen bases asset if nothing else, but we’ve seen him provide quality batting averages and runs before as well. Elvis battled through a particularly rough back injury last year in Texas that he mentioned as something that promoted bad habits in his swing, so it’s possible that he’s dialing things back in after a tough couple of months. Andrus has been getting the bat on the ball at a high clip, but he’s shown no power for the most part… hence the paltry .269 SLG. Three of Andrus’s eight doubles this season have come in his last nine games, however, so there may be some hope in that department as well. It’s tough to say whether or not Andrus will do enough to be fantasy relevant going forward, but the strides he’s made recently are a
5) Lance Lynn is primed to regress in a big way.
I’m a big Lance Lynn fan, I love guys who relentlessly pound the zone with well-commanded fastballs, but Lynn is currently walking a tightrope that can’t hold up much longer. On the surface, it seems like Lynn has been dominant all year long, but he’s actually pitched pretty poorly in May while being aided by incredible luck. Lynn’s May xFIP was 4.94, which seems impossible when you compare it to his sparkling 1.64 ERA. Lynn was the luckiest pitcher over that stretch by a wide margin – you just don’t see gaps like that between quality ERA estimators and actual ERA. Lynn’s BABIP was comically low at .170, his LOB rate completely unsustainable at 89.9%, and his HR/FB rate (even by his standards) was very fortunate at just 6.7%. That’s just the beginning though, Lynn’s K/9 regressed from 12.36 to 8.18 along with his BB/9, which regressed from 0.92 to 3.55. Overall, Lynn missed a ton fewer bats, gave up more free passes, and still remained relatively unscathed. I’m selling Lynn hard where I own him, as I think he’s pitching like a low fours ERA pitcher right now despite his current elite numbers.
6) Austin Riley’s revamped approach at the plate is paying dividends.
After the 2020 season, Riley’s second in the majors, it seemed like he was settling into a low batting average, low on-base percentage, massive raw power archetype. These types of players are incredibly frustrating, so I’m happy to say that it seems like Riley has turned a corner so far in 2021. Riley is still getting to his massive raw pop as evidenced by his 10 home runs thus far, but he’s also getting on base at a .393 clip when his career-best prior to this season in that regard was just .301 – that development is absolutely crucial. When you have elite raw power and combine it with a good approach… the sky is the limit. Riley’s approach still isn’t amazing, but it’s become slightly better than average and that’s all he needs. Riley has cut down his chase rate and whiff rate by small but meaningful amounts this season, but the real game-changer has been a newfound willingness to take pitches. Riley is walking at a 67th percentile clip this season after only doing so at a meager 34th percentile rate last year, and it’s because he’s seeing more pitches. Riley has cut his first-pitch swing rate all the way down to 34.5% from an… interesting 46.6% mark last season while dropping his overall swing rate down to 47.7% compared to his 54.2% mark last year. Riley has become a patient enough hitter that his natural bat speed is resulting in more hits, and we know that the power is here to stay – I’m buying this new and improved young third baseman where I can.
7) Austin Gomber might be the rare Colorado Rockies starter worth rostering.
As someone who owns Gomber in one of my leagues, I’ve been interested in his development and I really like what I’ve seen. Gomber has done a great job at suppressing hits and missing bats, a decent job of limiting walks, and a poor job of limiting home runs. Austin leans on a trio of effective secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) to neutralize opposing hitters, with his fastball currently playing well below average in shape and velocity. As of right now, Gomber’s SIERA sits at 4.09 while his ERA is a bit higher at 4.55. A low fours ERA is pretty impressive for any starter that has to endure Coors Field, and as I see it Gomber’s only real issue is the long ball right now, an issue that is exacerbated by Coors… or is it? Gomber never had home run problems with the St. Louis Cardinals so it’s very interesting to see that he’s given up eight of his nine homers on the road this year, granted he’s pitched many more innings away from Coors, but the point still stands. An unfortunate and elevated 16.4% HR/FB ratio is partially to blame there, and Gomber has done a solid job of limiting opposing exit velocities, so I expect the HR/FB rate to eventually settle in closer to the league average of 10 percent. Overall, I think Gomber is an underrated young arm with a bevy of great secondary pitches, and if he can find a way to make his fastball just average he could make a huge jump, but even if the fastball never comes around I still like him as a rock-solid starter going forward.
8) Teoscar Hernandez is an underrated fantasy asset despite the fact that he’s crushing the ball.
I stumbled upon Hernandez recently when I was scouting my leaguemate’s roster for an outfield acquistion and it dawned on me – nobody is talking about Hernandez’s excellent production this year. Hernandez is slashing .300/.352/.493 with eight homers and four steals to go along with a mostly gorgeous statcast page other than the plate discipline metrics. Hernandez is 90th percentile or better in barrel rate, average exit velocity, and xSLG, those are phenomenal skills. Admittedly Hernandez isn’t as good in points or OBP formats so maybe that’s part of it, or maybe coming off of the elite 2020 season fantasy owners were expecting the massive power show to continue more than it has, or maybe it’s just that Vladdy Jr. and Bo overshadow him, but whatever the reason may be, nobody is talking about this guy and he’s crushing it. It will always depend on who you’re negotiating with, but there might not be a better time to acquire an all-around great bat with huge average/power/speed upside in a great lineup.
9) Demarcus Evans is primed to take over as the Texas Rangers closer.
It’s a matter of if not when the Rangers’ current closer Ian Kennedy gets dealt, and I’m starting to feel the same way about Demarcus Evans becoming the closer afterward. Evans is an elite strikeout artist who posted an absurd 15.0 K/9 during his last full minor league season, and that’s what teams look for in a closer. Evans doesn’t throw all that hard (93-94 MPH fastball) surprisingly, but the heater rides beautifully and he also mixes in a quality cutter and slider combination. Evans has a history of walking too many hitters, but we’ve seen plenty of closers with great stuff thrive despite that deficiency. Saves are at a premium so I would recommend stashing Evans sooner rather than later. Some other names to watch are Joely Rodriguez and Josh Sborz, but I think Evans is a cut above.
10) Steals are very hard to come by, but a couple of unheralded players are providing them.
Amed Rosario and Austin Slater are far from hot commodities in the fantasy baseball space right now, but are we sure that should be the case? Rosario is now playing every day while pacing for 20 SB, and he’s also a player we’ve seen provide a high batting average as recently as 2019. Meanwhile, Austin Slater doesn’t have as secure of a role, but he’s currently on pace for a 30/30 season should he get close to 600 ABs. These players provide valuable stolen bases without killing you in other categories, that’s more than good enough for me in roto formats.