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10 Thoughts: Week 24 Edition

Organizational pitching development, J.P Crawford’s redemption, A.J. Alexy’s surprisingly awesome MLB debut, and more– 10 Thoughts for this week!

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Fantasy Baseball -Corbin Burnes

In this week’s edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover organizational pitching development, J.P Crawford’s redemption, A.J. Alexy’s surprisingly awesome MLB debut, and much more.

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 24.

1) Corbin Burnes is a perfect example of why fantasy players must pay attention to organizational factors.
Corbin Burnes has been elite this season, like really elite. On the year the Milwaukee ace has a 2.25 ERA with estimators to match, a league-leading 7.1 WAR, and an insane 30.5% K/BB. Simply put, Burnes has developed into one of the game’s very best pitchers, and it’s no accident. Burnes is clearly talented, but the Brewers consistently help their pitchers develop freaky good pitches with data-driven process, as we’ve seen with Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Jake Cousins, and Freddy Peralta. In fantasy baseball, we should always be more willing to target pitchers with progressive pitching development around them. I value young pitchers who pitch for the Brewers, Rays, Astros, Marlins, and Cleveland more than I do a young pitcher who pitches for a team like the Padres, who have really struggled to develop young pitchers. Keep organizational aptitude in mind when drafting, making waiver claims, and making trades — this really matters.

2) A.J. Alexy might just be legit.
A.J. Alexy somehow has a 0.00 ERA in two major league starts despite walking five batters in 11 innings. ERA estimators are all over the place — 4.71 SIERA, 4.79 xFIP, 2.46 xERA, and 2.55 FIP — so who is the real A.J. Alexy? Well, Alexy pitched to a 1.66 ERA in AA/AAA action before being called up, but he’s never been a top 20 prospect. In that minor league action, he struck out over 10 hitters per nine innings while walking a little less than four hitters per nine innings. So, Alexy was pretty dominant this year in the minors. Another interesting thing about his profile is that he’s always carried low BABIPs, and he’s also suppressed exit velocity at the MLB level in the very small sample we have. I’m inclined to bet on Alexy because he has four workable pitches (fastball/slider/changeup/curveball), he’s had statistical success, and his fastball rides well up in the zone (+2.3 inches vertical movement versus average). Alexy could be the latest unheralded pitching prospect to thrive in the Major Leagues, and I’m very interested to see how he performs the rest of the way. 

3) The Miami Marlins are getting the most out of Jesus Luzardo.
Miami was one of the organizations I mentioned when looking at teams that consistently develop pitchers. The team has had incredible success in that area over the years, and Jesus Luzardo is the latest beneficiary. Luzardo was a truly elite prospect, but he plateaued with the Oakland Athletics to the point that he was demoted to the bullpen and still struggled there. Things have turned around since the trade to Miami however, as the young lefty has put together a 3.97 ERA in September, and he’s looking like a viable major league starter for the first time in 2021. The simple version of how things have changed is that Luzardo is throwing more curveballs and fewer sinkers, he’s throwing harder, and he’s pitching on the edges more. Luzardo clearly has talent, and with Miami working on his pitch shape, mechanics, pitch location, and pitch utilization, I fully expect Luzardo to bounce back in 2022.

4) After many years of struggles, J.P. Crawford has developed into a very good MLB player.
J.P. Crawford took the less glamorous route, but he’s delivering on all of the promise he showed as a 19-year-old Philadelphia Phillies prospect some seven years later with the Seattle Mariners. Crawford always had the glove to play every day, even at baseball’s most demanding position, but it’s the bat that’s finally come around. After toiling around near the Mendoza line for most of his career with little power to show, Crawford has turned himself into a league-average hitter, and perhaps even an above-average hitter for a shortstop. On the year Crawford is hitting .265 with 8 HRs, and his .350 OBP is certainly above average at short. Altogether he’s totaled 3.1 WAR, which makes him undeniably above average. It’s a shame that players like Crawford, who lost top prospect status and persevere through many years of struggles and doubt to carve out respectable careers, don’t get more respect, but I wanted to write about him after he admirably filled in on two of my fantasy teams this season. I’ll always root for players who go from the highest highs to the lowest lows and come out better for it because that’s the hardest thing to do in life. 

5) Byron Buxton is struggling mightily since coming off of the injured list.
In 62 ABs since returning from the injured list in August Byron Buxton is slashing just .177/.215/.371 with a whopping zero stolen bases. To put that in perspective, Buxton slashed an impossibly amazing .369/.409/.767 with five stolen bases prior to the injuries. Buxton’s swing has gotten steeper since returning, as he’s posted launch angles around 15-20 degrees in Aug/Sep, whereas he was in the 5-10 degree range when he was dominant early on in 2020. Additionally, after being in the 92-95 MPH average exit velocity range prior to going on the IL, he’s been in the 88 MPH range since returning. The plate approach metrics are fairly stable, so I think it’s clear that Buxton’s injuries are physically limiting him to the point where he’s no longer capable of returning to form the rest of the season. Buxton is among MLB’s 10 most talented players and if he ever puts together a healthy season it will be a sight to behold, though, as unfortunate as it is, that doesn’t seem likely to ever happen. 

6) Why is Andrew Kittredge not owned in most leagues?
Andrew Kittredge has a 1.60 ERA, a 0.73 WHIP, and a 27.8% K rate — he might be the best closer in the league right now — and yet — he’s owned in under 50 percent of fantasy leagues. If you’re chasing a rotisserie title or in the H2H playoffs this guy is a must-add, and if he is available thank your lucky stars because he might just pitch well enough to put you over the top. 

7) Lane Thomas is benefitting from a change of scenery.
When Lane Thomas was dealt from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Washington Nationals nobody batted an eye, and understandably so, but the trade was actually a big deal (no pun intended). Since coming over in the trade, Thomas is hitting .305/.396/.537 with four homers and two steals. Something about St. Louis didn’t sit right with Thomas I guess, because he had hit .111 or worse in St. Louis over the last two seasons. I’m inclined to believe in Thomas, as he’s hitting the ball 91-92 MPH on average since the deal, his launch angle is fairly optimal, and he utilizes the whole field all while employing an elite approach at the plate.

8) Nick Solak went from great, to horrible, to solid all in the span of one season.
Nick Solak was one of the early season darlings of the fantasy baseball world, slashing .293/.375/.535 in April en route to player of the month consideration. Things got very bad very quickly after that for Solak though, as he hit below .200 and slugged below .300 in both June and July. After losing playing time and hitting rock bottom, Solak has once again started to hit. In August/September he’s hitting a combined .319 with two HRs and two SBs. At his worst, Solak was carrying whiff rates in the 24.3%-29.8% range, but he’s dialed down his approach, and his more contact-oriented mindset is paying off, with the whiffs down to just 16.7% this month. Solak is an interesting player to project going forward, as he could continue with his new approach or he could go back to being an extremely volatile hitter who is great at times and unrosterable at others. My best guess is that he ends up a .270/.320/.420 type of player with around 15 HRs and 15 SBs per season, as I think that the best version of him is an all-around contributor who’s not flashy in any one area.

9) Bryan De La Cruz is probably just a flash in the pan.
As much as I love the random, against all odds, breakout stories, I can’t buy into this one. De La Cruz is slashing .338/.386/.481 with four homers in his first 133 ABs, but there are tons of red flags beneath the surface. De La Cruz has an unsustainable .441 batting average on balls in play. The BABIP is unsustainable because even really good hitters with speed can’t maintain a BABIP that high, but even more so because De La Cruz isn’t a speedster or an elite hitter. De La Cruz is only a bit faster than average, and his mediocre batted ball metrics and lack of pedigree hint at major regression, hence a .253 xBA and a .365 xSLG. If you want to ride the lightning to the finish line this year there’s nothing wrong with that, but understand that things will go south at some point in the near future. 

10) D.J. Peters is showing that the power he had in the minor leagues never left.
After pacing for 30+ HRs (per 600 ABs) in almost all of his minor league seasons prior to this year, D.J. Peters strangely only hit five home runs in 206 ABs with the Dodgers organization across AAA and MLB action in 2021. Since he was traded to Texas the power that he was known for has come roaring back. In 139 ABs with the Texas Rangers Peters has hit 10 HRs, so essentially he’s been on a 40+ HR full season pace. It’s entirely too early to say that this power is sustainable long-term, but it’s certainly a possibility given Peters’ minor league track record. I expect Peters to display 30+ HR pop if given the chance to play every day next season, but I think it will also come with an average near the .200 mark.

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