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 22.
1) Is Néstor Cortes really this good?
Nestor Cortes is one of my favorite stories of the year. Cortes is a former 36th round pick, he maxes out at 91 MPH, he has the quirkiest timing sequences I’ve ever seen, and he had a 6.95 career ERA prior to 2021, but none of those things have stopped him from compiling a 2.77 ERA in 1.09 WHIP in 61.2 IP this season. As for the question, no, Cortes isn’t THIS good, but that doesn’t mean he’s a fluke. Cortes is very unique in that he allows a ton of fly balls, but he limits home runs. Cortes does this by suppressing barrels extremely well and generating a ton of pop-ups. It’s a unique formula, but Cortes makes it work, and he also strikes out his fair share of hitters despite limited velocity (9.3 K/9). Cortes doesn’t have a dominant whiff pitch (though all of his pitches generate solid whiff rates), but his fastball is dominant in every other facet. Cortes’ 90.4 MPH heater is holding hitters to a .165 BA and .258 SLG because he locates it and the pitch features elite riding movement, which is more important than anything else. It’s a balanced arsenal overall with a slider, curveball, and a changeup flanking the fastball, and it works. Cortes’ ERA estimators are in the mid to high threes range, and I think he can maintain a 3.50 ish ERA going forward. This is a very useful fantasy starter who is thriving against all odds.
2) Chris Taylor is maximizing his power.
Chris Taylor isn’t a massive, hulking power hitter, but the way he’s learned to maximize the raw power that he does have is impressive. Taylor has developed an elite eye at the plate (89th percentile) this season, and it’s the foundation for his entire plate approach. Taylor picks out his pitch, and swings really hard, often trying to pull the ball out of the park. Taylor’s whiff rate (12th percentile) is the way it is because of his intentions when he swings the bat. On the year, Taylor has hit 19 HRs in 445 ABs, with all but five of them being dead pulled. That’s no accident, as Taylor’s 42.1% pull rate is a massive number compared to the low 30 percent-ish pull rates that he’s carried throughout his career. Taylor is the perfect example of modern baseball development; he strikes out a ton (27.8%), walks a ton (11%), he sells out for power. It’s rare to see a player make such committed and drastic changes that actually work out over a full season, but Chris Taylor has worked hard to get where he’s at and he deserves respect in fantasy circles as an all-around contributor (13 SBs is the cherry on top).
3) Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s ground ball tendency is rearing its ugly head.
Young Vladdy has enjoyed a breakout season in part because he’s (mostly) fixed his launch angle issues that resulted in too many ground balls. Guerrero hits the ball so damn hard that he’s impossible to stop when he’s lifting it, but when he’s not lifting the ball and those hot smashes are being hit to infielders he becomes fairly average at the plate, as we saw in 2019-2020. This is so incredible that it’s hard to believe, but prior to August Vladdy’s lowest SLG in any month was .583 in July — that’s how dominant he was… until August happened. In August Guerrero’s SLG plummeted down to .361, and, not coincidentally, his launch angle for the month was just six degrees. The low launch angle translated into a rough 53.4% ground ball rate that sapped all power despite a 94.1 MPH average exit velocity in August. It remains to be seen whether or not Guerrero can make the adjustment and start lifting the ball again, but the trend is worrisome, especially because this is a guy who will likely be a first-rounder in 2022 drafts.
4) The epidemic of pitching injuries has created misconceptions about the value of pitching in dynasty formats.
I’ve seen too many people devaluing pitching in dynasty formats because pitcher injuries are becoming so unbelievably common. I disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. If quality, healthy pitching is the biggest competitive advantage in the game, we should chase it by accumulating the best pitching depth possible. It’s true that nobody has a “healthy” pitching staff these days because guys go down every night and routinely miss whole seasons with Tommy John Surgery. The key is to shrewdly acquire enough pitching to withstand many injuries. If you can put together a staff with 10-12 solid starting pitchers, the ones that are healthy at any given time can support you even when you lose five or six guys at a time. My starting staff in one dynasty league looks like this: Luis Castillo, Shane McClanahan, John Means, Luis Patino, Sandy Alcantara, Logan Gilbert, Corey Kluber, Dylan Bundy, Spencer Howard, and Spencer Turnbull. A lot of those pitchers have been on the shelf and/or in the minors for portions of the season, but because of the depth, I never felt like my pitching was letting me down. The depth has paid off and I’m securely in the playoffs along with the other teams that had the pitching depth to withstand the massive amount of injuries this year.
5) Brandon Marsh is not worth rostering in redraft formats.
Brandon Marsh hasn’t been great since he came up to the big leagues, but he hasn’t been awful (yet). Marsh has prospect pedigree, but he’s not ready to contribute at the MLB level yet, and he’s a ticking time bomb of sorts. Allow me to explain — Marsh is hitting .279 with only one home run in 129 ABs, but he’s also striking out almost 40 percent of the time, which is completely unusable. It gets worse, however, as Marsh is sporting a ridiculously fortunate .486 (!!!) BABIP that is somehow keeping him from hitting .230-.250. Marsh is likely to hit below .250 the rest of the way with regression kicking in, he doesn’t hit for power right now, and he’s striking out almost half of the time — cut him and don’t look back.
6) Can Ranger Suarez thrive as a starter?
The Phillies moved Ranger Suarez into the starting rotation a few weeks ago, but he’s fully stretched out now and we have some real sample size data to look at. After dominating as a reliever prior to making the transition Suarez has done the same as a starter and he has a ridiculous 1.48 ERA and 1.04 WHIP on the season. Specifically, Suarez has a 2.03 ERA as a starter, and he’s made it through five or more innings in two straight starts. There are some red flags though. Suarez has a 1.31 WHIP as a starter and a very good LOB% that has covered up control issues. Suarez has walked 13 in 26.2 IP since becoming a starter, that’s not good. It’s especially concerning because Suarez had only walked 14 in 40.1 innings as a reliever. The walks will bite Suarez eventually, but he’s still limiting hits and home runs, maintaining velocity deep into games, utilizing a good mix of pitches (sinker, four-seamer, changeup, slider), and striking out 9.4 batters per nine. As a starter, Suarez has a 3.94 xFIP, and I think that estimate is fairly accurate in terms of what we can expect from Suarez going forward. Suarez will regress, but he’s clearly still good enough to maintain an ERA in the mid threes going forward. A mid-threes ERA starter with a solid strikeout rate is very valuable, just don’t expect Suarez to continue cruising along in the 2.00 ERA neighborhood and you’ll be happy.
7) Keibert Ruiz is worth a pickup.
Catchers who rake are almost like unicorns in the fantasy baseball world. Keibert Ruiz debuts this week, and if his AAA numbers are any indication, he has a shot to hit the ground running. Ruiz slashed an absurd .308/.365/.577 in AAA as a 22-year-old catcher, and the Nationals would love to get him as many MLB at-bats as possible if he hits. Prospects, and catchers especially, are wildcards at the plate when they first come up to the big leagues, so I don’t want to make Ruiz sound like a sure thing. Nonetheless, Ruiz could provide a major boost at the thin catcher position down the stretch, so I’m all for picking him up.
8) Bailey Ober is coming into his own.
Ober is a unique pitcher; he’s 6-foot-9 260 pounds and he dominated the minor leagues despite the fact that his fastball sits in the low 90s. That fastball plays up because of ridiculous extension though, and he’s fared well with it at the Major League level. Ober has a 3.98 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 74.2 IP this season, and he’s really figured things out in August. For the month Ober has a 2.30 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, and he’s only walked three in 27.1 innings. Ober’s recipe is simple — he uses his deception to pound the zone with a well-rounded four-pitch mix. The ability to limit walks really helps limit damage and keep the WHIP down, but the aggressiveness in the zone also leads to Ober giving up more homers and hits than you’d like. Overall, I think Ober is pitching at a very sustainable level right now, and he’s a guy you can trust in plus matchups. Ober is a 3.80-4.20 ERA arm that will provide quality WHIP, volume, and a nice amount of Ks (9.4 K/9 in 2021). Expect Ober to be a fixture in the Minnesota Twins rotation for years to come.
9) Bobby Dalbec is cutting down on the whiffs and destroying baseballs.
Dalbec has an incredible amount of raw power, like out of the stadium and on to the next street over type of raw power… but he’s whiffed far too much to be a quality fantasy option in the past. After punching out in 42.3% of PAs as a rookie last year, Dalbec was striking out almost 40 percent of the time in 2021 prior to August. Dalbec clearly made some type of adjustment in August though, as he’s cut the K rate down to just 25.3% for the month, and good things are happening. Dalbec has exploded for a .345/.438/.782 line in August that includes six HRs. The display Dalbec has put on in August makes sense because he destroys baseballs when he does make contact, and he’s making much more contact in August. Dalbec’s 18.4% barrel rate (98th percentile) is flat-out ridiculous; if he continues to keep the K rate below 30 percent Dalbec could develop into one of the league’s premier power hitters.
10) Don’t forget about Jose Urquidy.
Jose Urquidy, he of the 3.38 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, will be returning from the injured list this weekend. The stat to know with Urquidy is that he’s only walked 13 hitters in 77.1 IP. Urquidy attacks the zone with pinpoint control of a four-pitch mix that includes two top tier pitches in the changeup and the slider, each of which has a 30%+ whiff rate and a BAA (batting average against) of .200 or below. Urquidy is a very good pitcher and he pitches for a team with a quality offense, so there could be plenty of win opportunities down the stretch. Urquidy is my number one priority on the wire this week, though I will be listening closely for news on pitch counts.