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10 Thoughts: All-Star Break Edition

In this edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover Jake Fraley’s surprising emergence, undervalued players, a frustrating pitcher that no longer can be trusted, and so much 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 at the All-Star break.

1) Despite his flaws, Jake Fraley is getting it done. 
As recently as May it seemed like it was time to give up on Fraley in fantasy circles. After all, he was a 26-year-old prospect without impact tools or MLB production on his resume. In June Fraley was brought back up to the Majors and he’s flipped the script, establishing a unique, fantasy-friendly skillset. Fraley is now a patience/power/speed guy who won’t carry a high batting average. Fraley’s patience is incredible — he carries a ludicrous 22.1 percent walk rate with him into the break. That patience allows him to reach base at a very high clip (.409 OBP) despite a .237 batting average, and more times on base means more stolen bases. That part of his game isn’t going anywhere, but while his 7 HRs in 114 ABs seems great, Fraley’s Statcast page looks concerning. Jake’s batted ball data is poor in pretty much every way, but it can be summed up by saying that he doesn’t make consistently hard contact at all (85.6 MPH avg exit velocity). Interestingly, that’s not a problem, as Fraley’s unique approach mostly results in walks or home runs. When Fraley wants to sell out for his pitch he does, and he pulls the ball out of the park on occasion, but he can’t make consistently hard contact, hence the low batting average and just two doubles on the year. For fantasy purposes that works just fine, and it’s time to embrace Fraley for who he is — an unorthodox contributor who helps in very important roto categories and OBP leagues.

2) Logan Webb is among the best buys in fantasy baseball.
Webb has been sneaky good this season when healthy, pitching to a 3.63 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 52 IP behind a great Giants offense. The success he’s had is legitimate, as his 3.35 SIERA and 2.96 xFIP are both excellent. Webb primarily works with a sinker/changeup/slider combo, with the sinker and changeup possessing elite vertical movement while the slider acts as the east/west compliment. The sinker and the changeup do their job of generating a ton of groundballs, but the slider has been out of this world in 2021. Webb’s slider this season is allowing hitters just a .104 BA and .167 SLG while compiling a 54.9% whiff rate, 54.9%!!! Those numbers are elite, and I believe that the slider plays incredibly well because hitters contend with so much north/south movement with Webb’s other pitches. The bottom line is that Webb is severely underrated at this point, and he should be a priority target for any sharp fantasy manager.

3) Wilmer Flores is a great under-the-radar addition at this point in the season.
It’s July — the injuries are piling up, your league is hyper-competitive and you can’t afford to lose big chunks of production at any infield position — enter Wilmer Flores. Flores is slashing .255/.333/.427 while playing almost every day, but because he’s Wilmer Flores he’s probably on your waiver wire. Flores is one of those weird hitters that consistently overperforms poor Statcast data, the case in point being his .237 xBA .396 xSLG in 2021. If you look back at his career expected vs actual statistics there’s not much to be concerned about. Flores has been a steady producer for almost seven years running, and at this point in his career, there’s no doubt that this guy can hit above replacement level. Flores also boasts versatility in the form of triple eligibility (1B/2B/3B) in most leagues. Wilmer is an ideal bench piece for your second-half push. 

4) Triston McKenzie is back in the Major Leagues and he looks ready this time.
McKenzie is a very talented pitcher, that’s the genesis behind why we should be in on him. Throughout his time as a prospect, McKenzie dominated the minor leagues and the only skepticism around him was durability because he’s rail-thin. In 33.1 IP innings pitched at the MLB level in 2020 McKenzie dominated hitters as he did in the minors while continuing to display elite command and control (2.4 BB/9), but that area is where McKenzie faltered in his 2021 stint before being sent down. In 49.1 IP this season McKenzie lacked any semblance of the command he’d been known for, walking 7.3 hitters per nine innings and allowing a ton of hard contact that culminated into a 5.47 ERA. AAA action didn’t go much better this year, as he still allowed 5.1 walks per nine innings, but there’s still hope. In the lone start McKenzie made after being called up before the break he pitched seven shutout innings, struck out nine, and surrendered just one walk. The talent here is undeniable and I strongly believe in taking a gamble on a pitcher with this kind of upside. 

5) Ben Gamel is scorching hot and deserves a spot on fantasy rosters.
Ben Gamel, yes that Ben Gamel, is slashing .333/.432/.722 in July with four HRs and there’s reason to believe that the power production is somewhat sustainable. Gamel has raised his launch angle to a healthy 18.6 degrees in 2021 and his 90 MPH average exit velocity indicates that he’s hitting balls far harder than ever before. The 11.1% barrel rate doesn’t hurt either. Gamel’s .432 xSLG indicates that he’s underperformed to this point as well. I’m very skeptical when players like this come out of nowhere, but there’s convincing data behind the surge, and Gamel should be rostered on league benches far and wide going forward. 

6) It’s time to accept that we can’t trust Chris Paddack.
Paddack has been frustrating all year. The 25-year-old’s 5.38 ERA and 1.35 WHIP tell part of the story, but he’s not that bad of a pitcher, just a very frustrating one. Paddack has talent and does a great job of limiting walks, but something is missing in every start. Sometimes it’s fastball command, sometimes it’s the curveball release point, and on occasion, it’s the changeup feel. Even on the rare occasions that Paddack has had everything going his way in a start, he loses his way in the one afterwords. In redraft leagues, I think it’s time to stop counting on Paddack to be who he was as a rookie — that ship has sailed. I’m also open to selling Paddack in dynasty formats for young bats if another manager in your league still thinks highly of him. Starting pitchers who lack consistency to this degree are bound to end up in the bullpen before long, and Paddack is dangerously close to that fate should the Padres choose to acquire veteran arms at the deadline. 

7) Harrison Bader is healthy again and his upside is considerable.
The oft-injured young outfielder has had rotten luck in the health department this season, but when he has been on the field he’s been displaying some intriguing skills. As usual, Bader has the power/speed thing going on with six HRs and five SBs is only 107 ABs, but it’s his K rate that we should focus on. Bader has cut his K rate more than half in 2021 after he struck out an ugly 32 percent of the time in 2020. That number is down to 15.8% thus far and the implications are major. Bader should steal a lot more bases by way of getting on base more often, and he could prove to be a competent contributor in the batting average category. Either way, most managers have likely written Bader off and I love his potential as a bounce-back candidate in the second half. 

8) Logan Gilbert and his changeup are reaching new heights.
As I’ve written about Gilbert before — I love his game, own him in multiple dynasties, and expected big things from him, but even I’m surprised by how quickly he’s learning. After a poor May in which he debuted, Gilbert has carved hitters up over the last month and a half. Gilbert is learning how to be aggressive with his heater in the zone without getting hurt, and he’s rapidly developing his secondaries. The slider works great against righties, but I want to focus on Gilbert’s changeup. Gilbert recently started throwing his changeup pretty frequently to lefties and it’s been absolutely lights out. The changeup has a 73.9% whiff rate, and that’s all you need to know because that number is so utterly ridiculous. Gilbert could take another step if he learns how to utilize the changeup against righties, and at this point, I wouldn’t bet against him doing just that. 

9) A couple of Colorado Rockies hitters have underrated second-half upside.
Raimel Tapia and Brendan Rodgers are two players who could make a surprisingly big impact down the stretch of this fantasy season. Tapia is far more proven, having already put together a solid first half in which he slashed .283/.336/.387 with five homers and fifteen stolen bases. Essentially, Tapia is a leadoff man who can be counted on for plus batting average, an excellent number of steals, and modest contributions in the other categories. Tapia is a great player to grab on the cheap for those precious stolen bases. Rodgers on the other hand slashed .261/.333/.433 in what is his first real consistent MLB playing time. Rodgers was a highly regarded hitting prospect as a minor leaguer and he calls Coors Field home, so it’s fair to say that he should improve upon what was already a solid first-half showing the rest of the way. I especially love buying Rodgers in dynasty formats. 

10) David Price is moving back into the rotation, and he’s a must-add.
The situation the Dodgers find themselves in is a perfect example of why you can never have enough pitchers. The early season SP depth of Kershaw, Buehler, Bauer, May, Urias, Gonsolin is now down to just a healthy Buehler, Urias, and Gonsolin. Enter David Price, who likely projects to remain in the rotation long-term depending on what happens with Trevor Bauer’s case and Clayton Kershaw’s elbow. Price is a rock-solid high threes ERA innings-eater who will compile wins and a decent amount of K’s. This is a pitcher to be aggressive about acquiring as we approach the deadline — I have Price as a top 50 arm the rest of the way.

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