The 2021 Fantasy baseball season saw one of its biggest prospects called up last week when Wander Franco made his debut for the Rays. He already has a home run and stolen base to his name, and although he hasn't been perfect so far, we're optimistic he won't follow the same path as Jared Kelenic. In addition to big prospect call ups, baseball is going through the early aftermath of the MLB's crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances. Spin rates are down everywhere and Gerrit Cole is no longer the ace you were banking on.
To kick off each week of the season, I'll be reaching out to Fantasy Baseball Today's Chris Towers, Scott White and Frank Stampfl to ask them a few big questions that can hopefully help lead to actionable advice. If you are reading this and have specific questions you'd love to see Chris, Scott and Frank answer -- please DM me @DanSchneierNFL. And remember that if you don't like any of the answers, I'm just the messenger, and you know what they say about the messenger.
We're rolling with a theme for this week and here it is: Name one key bounceback player (in the second half) at each of these positions: CI, MI, OF, SP, RP.
- Scott: Anthony Rendon. While I still have every confidence in Freddie Freeman bouncing back with numbers that live up to our expectations, Anthony Rendon has further to go to do so, which makes for a better buy-low opportunity. He hasn't forgotten how to put the bat on the ball, which is his most important attribute, and he's impacting the ball as hard as last year, too. The track record is as steady as they come, so I think between a couple IL stints and this year's ever-changing hitter landscape, he just hasn't had a chance to get in a groove yet.
- Chris: Anthony Rendon. There aren't many promising signs to be found in what Rendon has done so far; based on his underlying numbers, Rendon has earned every bit of his struggles so far. Maybe, at 31, Rendon has just hit a wall. It's possible. But I'll bet on the nearly decade-long track record Rendon has as an elite hitter that he'll get back there soon enough. When you're looking for a buy-low or bounceback candidate, starting with a player with this kind of track record who is struggling is a great idea.
- Frank: Jose Abreu is wrapping a truly awful June and is now dealing with a knee injury after he was hit by a pitch Sunday. Assuming he'll be okay health-wise, I have to assume Abreu will be better. He's not going to deliver MVP numbers like he did last season but he is somebody who typically dominates in the second half. For his career, Abreu owns a .308 batting average with an .898 OPS in the second half. As the weather heats up, usually so does Abreu.
- Scott: There are several candidates here, particularly among second basemen, but I'll stick my neck out for DJ LeMahieu, who's had a good enough June to convince me he's not a lost cause (but not so good that it's obvious to everyone yet). Which isn't to say his rebound is a sure thing, but it's notable that his best batting average and more than half his home runs have come this month, with spin rates falling across the league. He still bats leadoff for the Yankees, which helps, and is in the 90th percentile for xBA. It wouldn't shock me if he made it to 20 homers again.
- Chris: Ketel Marte. Marte's hamstring continues to be an issue, and it's always tough when you are trying to come back from a soft tissue injury during the season. Maybe it will be an issue all season long and it will ruin Marte's Fantasy value. However, he's proved pretty emphatically even in his somewhat limited opportunities to date that his 2019 breakout wasn't a fluke, and if you can buy him for an injury bargain, Marte is a great target. It's a risk, but he could absolutely be a top-10 hitter the rest of the way.
- Frank: Francisco Lindor is coming around but people might not realize it yet. For anybody who's lagging behind, buy Lindor now before he really gets going. In June Lindor batted .255 with five home runs, two steals, and a .820 OPS. Those numbers alone are a 30-homer, 12-steal pace over the course of a full season. There isn't much in the underlying numbers that suggest Lindor is close to breaking out. This is just one where you have to trust the track record.
- Scott: Michael Conforto. Choices like Cody Bellinger and George Springer are a little too easy given the time they've lost to injuries, and I don't think you could buy all that low on Bryce Harper. I've legit seen Conforto dropped in some shallower leagues, though. Back in April, when the mid-tier hitters were just getting crushed, I had my doubts about how impactful someone like him would be, but as temperatures have risen and spin rates have fallen, that's not the case anymore. The Statcast data makes Conforto out to be the same player as always, which should translate to a .275 batting average and 25-to-30-homer pace.
- Chris: Michael Conforto. Even before his hamstring injury, this was a disappointing season for Conforto. However, there's been some bad luck along the way, as Conforto is hitting just .220 despite a lower strikeout rate and an expected average based on Statcast numbers of .273. The power has been missing, too, but Conforto's hard-hit rate, launch angle, and average exit velocity look a lot like they did a year ago, so you should feel pretty confident that part of the game will come along. Conforto is about to get hot now that he's healthy, and this might be your best chance to buy low.
- Frank: Let's go Mets? Let's go Mets! I could join Scott in seeking Michael Conforto (which I approve) but I'll take a different Mets hitter in Jeff McNeil. I guess there's a chance that McNeil just forgot how to play baseball but I'm willing to bet against that. In eight games since returning from the IL, McNeil is batting just .167. Entering this season, McNeil had a .319 career batting average with an .884 OPS. When he gets going, McNeil will be a plus contributor in batting average with modest contributions in power and speed.
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- Scott: I like Aaron Nola, who may still cost you a pretty penny but who will likely be worth it. The up-and-down performances have so frayed the nerves of his investors that they might jump at the chance to "unload" him. Ultimately, though, I see nothing wrong with him. The xFIP, SIERA and xERA are all normal. The whiff and walk rates are both better than normal. He also hasn't lost any spin on his pitches this month the way so many high-end pitchers have, which may help him to close the gap moving forward.
- Chris: Kenta Maeda. I was actually able to add Maeda on my Tout Wars team, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had that opportunity. I don't think Maeda will be as good as he was in 2020, but he'll be a lot better than he has been so far, and we're already seeing signs of it -- he has 11 strikeouts in 9.1 innings with three runs allowed since coming back from the IL. Maeda just hasn't been quite as sharp as we're used to seeing so far, and his slider especially has been an issue, with a .384 wOBA against it. Once he figures that out, everything else should fall into place for Maeda.
- Frank: What do Patrick Corbin and Al Pacino have in common? "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." I really expected to be done with Corbin after his blow-ups earlier in the season. Over his last three starts, Corbin has a 2.66 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP with 20 strikeouts to just two walks. He has a 13% swinging strike rate during that stretch and his fastball is averaging over 92 MPH. It's still a small sample size but this recent stretch looks a lot like 2019 Corbin. My guess is he could still be had for dirt cheap right now.
- Scott: Jordan Romano was hyped as the next great closer once Kirby Yates was lost for the year, but it turns out he wasn't the Blue Jays' first or even second choice to inherit the role. His shaky April didn't help. Since then, though, Julian Merryweather and Rafael Dolis have gotten hurt, and everyone else with a shot at the role has disqualified himself. The Blue Jays went most of June without a save chance, but three saves in the past week offer a glimpse at Romano's future, as does his 1.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 11.6 K/9.
- Chris: Raisel Iglesias. It's been a pretty uneven season for Iglesias, but he's doing nearly everything right. He has his highest strikeout rate ever at 38.1%, while his 5.6% walk rate is just one-tenth of a point off his previous career best from 2020. The issue has been home runs, as he's given up seven in 31.1 innings. That might be a concern moving forward if he was allowed a lot of fly balls, but he's got a 44.9% groundball rate, his highest since he was a rookie. Iglesias is going to be an elite closer moving forward.
- Frank: I know the Phillies are kind of a mess right now and you can probably still just add him off the waiver wire but I think Jose Alvarado has the stuff to be successful closer. He walks way too many but gets a good amount of strikeouts and limits home runs. Alvarado has a career-high 55.2% ground ball rate. Maybe the Phillies just go out and trade for somebody but if they don't, Joe Girardi will wise up and hand the ball to Alvarado in the ninth inning.