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10 Thoughts: Week 12 Edition

In this edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover Blake Snell’s evolving pitch utilization, the crackdown on foreign substances, boring but valuable assets, and a whole lot more.

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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 12.

1) Blake Snell is throwing his changeup less, and that’s a good thing.
For whatever reason, Snell has been fond of his very average changeup for some time now, typically throwing it between 15-20 percent of the time year in and year out. In many years he’s even thrown it more than both of his elite breaking balls, which is a crime. Snell has struggled by his standards this season, but thankfully he’s recognizing the need to throw fewer changeups. In his last two starts (11 IP, 3 ER, 14 K’s) Snell has thrown the pitch 11.3% and 3.0% of the time as opposed to 16.7% of the time on the season. I’d like to see Snell make up that usage with more breaking balls as opposed to more fastballs like he’s been doing, but it’s a start.

2) Be skeptical of every pitcher’s performance to this point as the league starts cracking down on foreign substances.
It’s a terrifying time to evaluate starters – spin rates, which pitchers are so reliant on these days, are declining across the board as pitchers stop using grip-enhancing substances like spider tack. We simply don’t know who will be most affected yet, and we likely won’t know for certain until the heightened enforcement is fully implemented on June 21st. My advice is not to trust any previous pitcher performance until the rules are enforced and we know who can perform without foreign substances. 

3) Joey Votto is one of the best buys in fantasy baseball.
After a couple of poor seasons, Joey Votto put in work this offseason, training at driveline while reevaluating himself as a hitter – and it’s showed, kind of. Votto’s .228/.315/.441 line isn’t all that inspiring, but he’s been a victim of tough luck when you dig into his underlying metrics. Votto’s xSlash line is .266/.315/.526 and he’s also been in the 80th percentile or better in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard-hit rate, xwOBA, and xSLG. Votto’s new stroke is supplying almost 5 MPH more exit velocity than his 2020 swing, and he also has a very healthy 13-degree launch angle. Votto might settle in as just a decent a .240 batting average guy, but I expect a major power surge the rest of the way.

4) Lucas Sims is locking down the closer job in Cincinnati.
It’s about damn time David Bell made Sims the closer. The Reds have struggled to find an effective formula to close out games, but Sims has been the answer all along. Sims has a 4.62 ERA, but his 1.18 WHIP and 3.14 SIERA paint a more accurate picture, as Sims has been bitten by an unlucky strand rate and BABIP. Despite Sims’ .294 BABIP being fairly average, it’s still an unlucky number, as Sims has been among the league’s best at limiting hard contact – hence a .167 xBA according to Statcast. It’s also worth noting that Sims is thriving in the new role, having only allowed one earned run in eight games since the change.

5) Jonathan Schoop isn’t a star, but he’s a perpetually underrated power bat.
I know first-hand that players like Schoop make a big difference when competing for fantasy titles. Schoop was an underrated cog on two of my teams that won it all in very competitive leagues over the last two seasons. Jonathan is a boring, .260 average 25 HR type bat who provides valuable production, especially with 2B eligibility, and yet he’s only rostered in 65% of leagues and it was much less than that up until very recently. The lesson here is that the market underrates players with bankable, boring skills and solidified playing time who won’t kill you in any one category.

6) Patrick Sandoval is a must-add starter right now.
I’ve been monitoring Sandoval for some time, as I love starters with strikeout upside, but he won me over with his start against the Seattle Mariners on June 6th. Sandoval got more whiffs in that game than any other pitcher has in a game this season, and he backed it up in his next start going six strong innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. I’ll acknowledge that both Seattle and Arizona are very poor offensively, but we’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle here so we don’t want to be super picky. Sandoval has a dominant changeup, two poor fastballs, a very good slider, and a show-me curveball. The key is for him going forward is to get ahead in counts while avoiding damage on the fastball; if he can do that Sandoval’s excellent changeup/slider combo can continue to carry him to fantasy success. 

7) Odubel Herrera is a cheap source of production.
Now that Herrera has the Phillies CF job locked down, it’s time to start looking at him as a fantasy option. As of now, Herrera is on pace for a 15/15 season (per 600 AB’s) while hitting .282 and scoring a lot of runs atop Philly’s lineup. I don’t expect Herrera to hit .280+ all year, but even if he dips down to .260 or so he’s a borderline starter if he keeps up the rest of his production, and he’s still an afterthought in most leagues (owned in less than a third of leagues on major sites). Now is the time to make Herrera your latest under-the-radar pickup. 

8) Logan Gilbert is progressing at his own pace.
Watching Gilbert fail miserably in his first few MLB starts was frightening for owners everywhere, but since then Gilbert has slowly developed with each start. When learning how to pitch at the highest level as a starter there are so many things that you have to learn. How does each of your pitches play against the best in the world? How do you attack each hitter’s weaknesses? How do you communicate with your new catcher? The list goes on, but the point is, considering how rapidly development must come to see improvement, Gilbert has done an excellent job of adapting. In his first three starts, Logan surrendered nine earned runs; in his next three, he surrendered only four earned runs. Gilbert has displayed his trademark control, but he needs to continue to locate better within the zone if he is to avoid all of the hard contact he’s been giving up. All in all, a 4.12 SIERA isn’t bad at all for a rookie starter, so I still believe that the future is bright.

9) Luis Urias is quietly morphing into a power hitter.
Nobody is confusing Urias with Babe Ruth, but for a one-time prospect who was only ever projected to hit for average… the 180 has been interesting. Urias currently holds a .222 xBA and .424 xSLG, and his surface stats aren’t far off, so essentially he’s a below-average contact hitter and a league-average power bat right now. The power is coming from above-average barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and launch angle to go along with an increased pull rate. It’s clear that Urias is making conscious choices to hit for power, and I’m very intrigued to see how he balances things going forward. Urias still has elite ability to put the bat on the ball, so that foundation combined with burgeoning power skills could pay off and make him a well-rounded player… or he could plateau where he is right now and remain a slightly below-average hitter overall.

10) Don’t sleep on this trio of reliable starters.
Ross Stripling, Adrian Houser, and Keegan Akin all have one thing in common: they get it done most times out without ever looking dominant, and because of that they’re all undervalued. Stripling has a 4.91 ERA, but he pitches for a really good offensive team and he’s been much better since he stopped tipping his pitches a few weeks ago. Houser is generating grounders at a ridiculous rate and holds a 3.62 ERA with a lot of innings pitched. Akin pitches for the lowly Baltimore Orioles, but his well-rounded skill set on the mound is translating into slightly above-average production in the form of a 4.12 ERA. With pitchers dropping like flies this time of year, these are the underrated additions that can hold your team above water, and they’re also not expensive to acquire.

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