And just like that we are now just about one-third of the way through the 2021 Fantasy Baseball season. Draft season feels like forever ago and for a lot of managers this season has been more difficult than usual. I speculate that has a lot to do with the injury rate that is way up. Not only are there a lot more injuries (very possibly because the shortened 2020 season messed with the players' timelines) but they have been to some very big name Fantasy assets and early-round draft investments. Through it all, we're here to help you right the ship as best we can.
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.
Let's dive into the questions now:
- What's the best lesson you learned through one third of the season?
- Scott: Hitting isn't disposable the way I thought it would be. Finding impact bats on the waiver wire has been a real struggle, whether in a 12-team league or 15-teamer, when at times the past two years it seemed like there was an inexhaustible supply. Impact pitchers have become similarly difficult to find in May, with some of the most outrageous April numbers having normalized, so I think we're looking at an environment in which hitters and pitchers are of similar scarcity. And frankly, that's the way it should be.
- Frank: The mid-tier of hitters has not been as reliable as I thought it would be. I was aggressively drafting starting pitchers early in drafts with the idea that I would just draft most of my hitters in the middle rounds. While some have worked out like Vladimir Guerrero, J.D. Martinez, and Nick Castellanos, I would say a majority of those hitters have under performed to this point. Names like Anthony Rendon, Gleyber Torres, Alec Bohm, and Eddie Rosario have been big disappointments.
- Chris: You can't win this season fighting last season's battles. This is true of every season, but this season so far has been a powerful reminder. Especially in an era where MLB seems to be tinkering with the composition of the baseball each year, you have to have an approach to drafting and team building that is flexible. But this season has also taught us that sometimes, trends stop, as we've seen with the apparent growth of ace-level pitching this season.
- Amed Rosario, Cesar Hernandez or Willy Adames? We also chime in on if it is time to drop struggling pitchers like Jameson Taillon and Dylan Bundy on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 podcast. You can follow us to get the latest episodes on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
2. What unexpected breakout do you expect to keep up over the final four months?
- Scott: It's top of mind and maybe outside of the spirit of the question, but I don't think anyone thought 31-year-old Zack Wheeler had another gear left in him. Three straight double-digit strikeout efforts, though -- including 14 last time out -- would suggest otherwise. He has a swinging-strike rate to back it up, too. He says he's learned to pitch to his strengths, which includes more first-pitch strikes and an altered pitch selection that's faded the sinker for more four-seamers and sliders. And of course, we know he has the endurance to last all year.
- Frank: Jesse Winker. It all comes down to health for Winker. There's no doubting his talent. In 347 career games, Winker has a .291 batting average with an .890 OPS. He's in the 93rd percentile or better in both expected batting average and expected slugging percentage. He just needs to stay on the field. Winker has yet to play more than 113 games in a season yet. If he does, there's a good chance he'll finish with a batting average over .300 with 30+ home runs.
- Chris: I believe Jesse Winker is legitimately one of the better hitters in baseball, though I'm not sure it should be as much of a surprise as it has been. Winker had an ADP outside of the top 200 despite a .280/.380/.479 line for his career. He's one example of where betting on health being somewhat random has paid off in a big way.
3. What unexpected breakout do you expect to fall off?
- Scott: Brandon Crawford, specifically with regard to his power production. His 11 home runs put him more than halfway to his career high of 21 already, and that 2015 season is the only one of his 11-year career with as many as 15. A shortstop's production typically begins to peter out by the time he enters his 30s, so to see one set a new standard for it at age 34 is exceedingly rare. Crawford is elevating the ball a little better in a year when Oracle Park is playing a little fairer, but I still don't buy it.
- Frank: Aaron Civale. This is a weird one because I really liked Civale coming into the season. While he has a 3.28 ERA, all of his ERA indicators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, xERA) are over 4.00. It's a very fine line for pitchers who predominantly pitch to contact. That's why we've seen such volatility from somebody like Dallas Keuchel in his career.
- Chris: Jared Walsh is hitting .308 this season and .302/.355/.598 since the start of 2020 with a 40-homer, 125-RBI pace. I believe Walsh is a legitimate contributor, but right now his numbers look like those of an elite Fantasy hitter, and given how many disappointments there have been among hitters, maybe some view him as exactly that. He's not. His strikeout rate has settled in around league average, and he has more like good, but not great power. I think Walsh is a solid hitter, but one who is still more likely to hit .260 than .300.
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4. What Fantasy concept will change most over the next four months?
- Scott: I think we're about to see some attrition at the starting pitcher position. You could argue it's already started the past couple weeks, with Corey Kluber, Danny Duffy and Zach Plesac being among those to succumb to it. It's the norm at the position anyway, but particularly after a year in which nobody got his typical workload, there will be problems. Some will be self-imposed. I'm thinking particularly for the young pitchers, teams will have to curtail the innings.
- Frank: While the league batting average improved in May, it still sits at .236 overall. If the season ended today, it would be the lowest batting average in baseball history. Typically, BABIP and batting average rise throughout the summer months as the ball travels better in the heat. The league batting average will get back to the .245 it was last year, and I think we will see batting averages climb over the next four months.
- Chris: I think there's going to be some disappointment at SP here soon. There have been so many players pitching way above their career norms so far, and while some of that is sustainable -- players improve, and some are benefitting from the change in offensive environment around baseball more than others. But I'm viewing someone like Trevor Rogers, who doesn't have a track record of doing this over a full season, as a risky rest-of-season investment.
5. Bold prediction: What prospect not yet called up will win a Fantasy playoff series for your team?
- Scott: The easy answer here is Wander Franco, and it's a good one. But I've been saying for a couple weeks now that I think his Triple-A Durham teammate, Vidal Brujan, will actually beat him to the majors. And Brujan being three years older, it wouldn't surprise me if he's more productive as a rookie. His power breakthrough seems to be legit, especially given that the majority of his seven home runs have come from his weaker side (the right), he has top-of-the-scale 80-grade speed, and he puts the bat on the ball. The impact should be significant.
- Frank: I'll take the low-hanging fruit with Vidal Brujan from the Tampa Bay Rays. Through 22 games at Triple-A, Brujan is batting .315 with seven home runs and nine steals. He was always known for his speed in the minors, but has really shown an improved power stroke this season. Seeing as how he's already on the Rays' 40-man roster and Wander Franco isn't, I'm expecting Brujan to be promoted first. We could see him at some point in June.
- Chris: I'll go a bit off the beaten path: Max Meyer, another left-handed pitcher for the Marlins. Meyer was the third overall pick from last year's draft and is already pitching in Double-A, where he's acquitted himself with 22 strikeouts in 23 innings over his first five starts, sporting a 1.96 ERA. Betting on young Marlins pitchers has been a pretty good policy of late, and he should get his opportunity before the end of the season.