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10 Thoughts: Week 23 Edition

In this edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover Jarred Kelenic’s fall from grace, fantasy playoffs/stretch run strategies, Adalberto Mondesi’s maddening talent, and 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 for week 23.

1) What’s gone wrong for Jarred Kelenic?
A lot has gone wrong for one of the game’s premier prospects. Kelenic is hitting .156/.235/.280 in his rookie season to date, and things have really spiraled for him as of late. Let’s look into some metrics under the hood to decipher what’s behind Kelenic’s atrocious season. Overall, Kelenic’s batted ball metrics aren’t awful, in fact, they’re mostly just a bit below league average. With that being said, there’s just nothing to build on, nothing foundational that comes off as a definitive strength, save for maybe a semi-optimal 14.5-degree average launch angle. Kelenic needs to make more consistent hard contact, as his 37.3% hard-hit rate ranks 209th out of 324 hitters with 200+ PAs. Upon further investigation, it becomes abundantly clear that Kelenic can’t hit breaking balls (.136 BA & .193 SLG) or changeups (.070 BA & .140 SLG) to save his life. Usually, this happens to rookies when they can only catch up to MLB heat if they sit on it, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to breaking and off-speed stuff. Right now it’s clear that Kelenic has talent because his batted ball metrics aren’t terrible even though his pitch recognition/timing isn’t close to major league ready. Kelenic’s league-worst -22 swing/take run value tells the story — he’s overmatched by major league stuff right now. Perhaps a full offseason of work and another big league spring training will allow him to acclimate to MLB stuff next year, but that’s far from guaranteed, and there’s little hope left for him this season.

2) Start your stud pitchers in the playoffs/down the stretch.
Whether you’re in a league with playoffs or just coming down the stretch in a roto league, start your best pitchers. Pitchers are volatile, but they aren’t nearly as volatile in short amounts of time as hitters are. Starting Frank Schwindel in the fantasy playoffs makes a lot more sense than starting Kyle Freeland despite the fact that both players have been riding hot streaks. Anything can happen in one or two starts, but you’ll never forgive yourself if you bench a stud starter who had some questionable outings recently for a questionable starter who had some stud-like outings recently. Trust in the guys who got you here.

3) Start your hottest hitters in the playoffs/down the stretch.
The cream rises to the top over a full season when it comes to MLB hitters, but that’s not the case over weeks or even a month at a time. Hitters can get scorching hot and maintain it for surprisingly long periods, or they can slump for the same amount of time. Hitting is volatile on a week-to-week basis, it just is. For that reason, I encourage fantasy managers to start their hottest bats at the most important juncture of the fantasy season. It’s really hard to project which player(s) will hit better in a one to two-week sample size, but going with the hottest player is generally the right strategy. Of course, matchups and player resumes should still be taken into account as well as gut feelings (you got this far), but don’t underestimate recent form down the stretch when plugging hitters into your lineup.

4) Joe Ryan’s MLB debut shed light on a possible concern going forward.
I was intrigued but surprised when the Rays sent Ryan over to the Twins in the Nelson Cruz deal. Ryan had been one of the most dominant minor league pitchers of the last few years, posting elite K/9 marks in the 11.84 to 17.00 range at different stops to go along with mostly great ERAs and WHIPs. Most interestingly, he missed all of those bats with a low 90s fastball. According to every scouting report, Ryan located the fastball extremely well, and it had an incredible amount of ride and carry. Now that we have Statcast data, something isn’t adding up, however, as Ryan’s fastball actually had less ride than the average MLB heater in his first start by a good margin. I’m totally speculating here, but I think Ryan may have been one of the pitchers utilizing spider tack/sticky stuff prior to the ban. Maybe the Rays (we know that the Rays almost always win trades) knew this and knew that his low 90s fastball would no longer play up without it, so they were happy to deal him. I could be completely wrong here, but low 90s fastballs very rarely dominate the way Ryan’s did up in the zone without some help, they just don’t, and the scouting reports noted massive ride that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. I will eat my words if Ryan’s ride is back in his next start, or maybe scouting reports were off, but I think it’s plausible that Ryan’s fastball success in the minors was at least partially due to the use of foreign substances.

5) Emmanuel Clase is already one of the most dominant closers in Major League Baseball.
It always seemed like a formality because the guy throws a 100 MPH cutter, but Emmanuel Clase has ascended into the elite tier of MLB closers. In 23 innings pitched post-all star break, Clase has a 1.17 ERA, a 0.61 WHIP, and 10 saves. In August alone hitters batted .120 against his cutter and .059 against his slider, the latter of which also generated 44.1% whiffs. Clase only needs those two pitches because they’re both commanded well and thrown with truly elite velocity. Oh, and Clase has only walked 15 in 59.1 IP, so he doesn’t bail you out with free passes like most pitchers who throw 100+ MPH. I can go on and on, but I highly encourage you to take a peek at Clase’s Statcast page — his Statcast pitching metrics percentiles graphic is among the best I’ve ever seen.

6) Don’t fall for Leody Taveras no matter how badly you need steals.
Taveras came into 2021 with some hype around him after a strong finish to the 2020 season, mostly due to his top-notch speed and stolen base prowess, but things went south quickly early on. Even for a rebuilding club like the Texas Rangers, Taveras was simply unplayable. His season line is .135/.189/.236 in 89 ABs to go along with a *gulp* 39.6% K rate and the trademark seven SBs. As bad as things have been, Leody is trying to salvage a lost season. Taveras is hitting .278 (with a .417 BABIP) in September after being called up once again, though he’s also posted a discouraging 0:6 BB/K that has become all too familiar. If you choose to roll the dice on Taveras to help put you over the top in the steals category I sure hope you can afford to take hits in the other batting categories, because it’s very likely that things get ugly for Taveras at the plate in the coming weeks. 

7) Glenn Otto’s slider is fun.
Otto was traded from the New York Yankees to the Texas Rangers in the Joey Gallo trade, but not much was thought of him. Despite the lack of pedigree, I think Otto could have a solid MLB future based on what I’ve seen in his first two Major League starts (9.2 IP, 11 Ks, 1.86 ERA). I’m mainly basing that analysis on Otto’s Frisby-like slider that has generated a 35.3% whiff rate early on. The pitch has 5.1 inches more horizontal break than the average slider, and he locates it well. Other than the slider, Otto commands a low 90s fastball pretty well and he mixes in average changeups and curveballs to keep hitters honest. I’m especially intrigued because I read that Otoo didn’t start throwing his slider until this year, so it has the potential to become dominant if he can really hone it in with more reps. At worst, Otto should be an effective slider-heavy reliever, but he could stick in a rotation if he commands his other more fringy pitches well enough while finishing batters off with the slider. 

8) Brandon Belt has been slept on for too long.
Belt has garnered plenty of attention lately after smashing nine HRs in the month of August alone, but Belt’s season has been underappreciated as a whole, and the fact that he’s unowned in 75%+ of leagues is a tragedy. Belt has 21 HRs in just 258 ABs and a ridiculous 15.7% barrel rate — the power is real and here to stay the rest of the way. Plus, he gets on base and he hits in a potent lineup, so there should be some quality counting stats across the board. If you can take a minor hit in the average category or if you play in a points/H2H league, Belt is an ideal reinforcement down the stretch. 

9) Adalberto Mondesi remains the most maddening player in fantasy baseball.
In three September games through September fifth, Mondesi has four stolen bases, three RBIs, and a home run. Those games were just Mondesi’s 10th, 11th, and 12th of the 2021 campaign, however, as he once again missed a massive amount of time due to injury. In 49 ABs this season Mondesi has an otherworldly 21.2% barrel rate, an elite 94.4 MPH average exit velocity, and he’s stolen five bases. Mondesi’s 2021 per AB projection puts him on a 60 HR/60 SB full season pace. His 1:17 BB/K is, as usual, absolutely horrendous. All of this is to say that we may never see a more polarizing “what if” player in fantasy circles ever again. Mondesi could legitimately go 30/60 if he played a full season, his raw tools are insane, and it’s fair to wonder what his ceiling could be if he learned to be more judicious and patient at the plate. My hunch is that Mondesi will once again be an early-round selection in fantasy drafts next year because the upside is simply too great to pass up. I just wish I could say that I had even a shred of confidence that he’ll deliver upon his promise, even if I’ll always hope that he does just so that we can all experience a theoretically historic fantasy season. 

10) Don’t be afraid to stream your way to the top.
Unless your team is unquestionably dominant (H2H) or leading the standings by a wide margin (roto), in both roto and H2H leagues you have to maximize your upside down the stretch to win in most cases. One way to do that is to stream pitchers. The more category points/H2H points your pitchers give you the better your shot at winning it all, even if there are risks associated with streaming. Streaming gives you the edge in counting stats based on added volume, but you must stream in the right scenarios because in doing so, you risk inflating your ERA/WHIP categories or taking a negative in the points column. Look out for my SP streamers column on Friday to find out which pitchers are worth taking the risk on.

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