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Breakout Breakdown: Anthony Rendon

Although it’s more of a repeat, Anthony Rendon provided another fantasy relevant year while improving upon his average. Rendon set career highs in both doubles and extra-base hits despite appearing in 11 fewer contests compared to 2017 . In 2018, he finished with 88 runs, 24 home runs, 92 RBI, two stolen bases and a .308/.374/.535 slash line. In spite of missing time with an ankle injury last year, Rendon finished tied for first in the National League in doubles, fourth in average, fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage (.909), sixth in slugging percentage and ninth in extra-base hits (70). Rendon also reached base safely in 33 straight games between August 21st and September 25th hitting a robust .369/.454/.662 in the streak. Read the rest of this entry »

Half Season Heroes: Jesse Winker

At a time when many players trade contact for fly ball rates to generate power, Jesse Winker could be emerging as a fantasy asset with a skill set rooted in plate discipline with power on the rise. Winker appeared in 89 games last year scoring 38 runs with seven home runs, 48 RBI and a .299/.405/.431 slash line. Unfortunately, his season ended abruptly due to a subluxation of his right shoulder, covered in detail by Mark Sheldon. While many questioned Winker’s power as a prospect, the article suggests he’s been dealing with the balky shoulder for 2-to-3 seasons. In spite of this, Winker flashed his upside for fantasy in this limited sample, making him an intriguing target for upcoming drafts.

Before delving into the potential growth of his power, ignoring Winker’s prowess at the plate would be a mistake. He’s one of five players with at least 300 plate appearances last year to record more walks than strikeouts. This puts him in rare air joining only Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Alex Bregman and teammate Joey Votto in doing so. Some guy named Mike Trout just missed the list with a 0.98 walk to strikeout rate. In terms of plate discipline, Winker finished with a 5.9 swinging strike percentage and made contact over 85 percent of the time. Winker also swung at pitches in the strike zone (Z-swing percentage) at a 65.3 rate punctuating his upside in terms of discipline.

Transitioning to his batted ball data, Winker increased his line drive percentage by over seven percent, reduced his ground ball rate by over 10 while hitting more fly balls compared to his statistics from 2017 in Cincinnati, in spite of a nagging shoulder injury. More important, Winker raised his hard hit percentage to 43.9 percent last year which overshadows the drop in home run per fly ball data. A hitter who just fell short of hitting .300 with more walks than strikeouts and improved batted ball data seems like an interesting fantasy commodity. Here’s a look at a rolling chart of these statistics from the last two seasons:

If Winker’s shoulder returns to full strength and he can carry over the hard hit percentage, his latent power could surface in 2019. Looking at his xSTATS, Winker’s exit velocity grew from 86.7 MPH in 2017 to 89.1 MPH last season. His expected home runs from the last two years add up to 14.8 in only 402 at-bats, almost in direct line with his 14 in this time frame. Unlike many batters, Winker does not need to pull the ball to increase his home run total, it lies within his ability to hit to all fields. Here’s his spray chart from the last seasons using all of his line drives and fly balls according to Statcast:

Steamer projects a very solid season for Winker with 75 runs, 17 home runs, 66 RBI, three stolen bases and a .284/.376/.437 slash line in 525 at-bats. Once again, using his xSTATS, Winker’s expected average from the last two years sits at a very respectable .288, and well within his outcomes for 2019, with owners hoping for a repeat of last year. This also applies to his home run projection as long as he can accrue at least 500 at-bats. News on his shoulder this spring will provide more clarity as to his health. With some luck, Winker could exceed his Steamer home run projection and reach 20, but it’s speculation not an expectation. However, 17-to-20 home runs with a .288 average could be more appealing than how people may perceive Winker. Especially considering only 20 hitters finished with a higher average than Winkler while accruing at least 300 plate appearances.

Winker’s #2EarlyToMock average draft position finished at 211.1 over the course of nine drafts. His highest draft spot of 180 still leaves room for profit due to his potential upside. Discipline with an uptick in power and a strong supporting cast in Cincinnati not only make Jesse Winker a half season hero, but he’s a worthy target in the upcoming draft season.

Half Season Heroes: Franmil Reyes

Trying to discern between second half breakouts as seeds sown for growth compared to a potential bust makes preseason preparation exciting. One name sure to be popular in the new year will be Franmil Reyes. During his 87 game sample in the majors last year, Reyes launched 16 home runs with a .280/.340/.498 slash line in 261 at-bats. It did not come without some adversity. He arrived to the majors with a propensity to hit for power along with racking up strikeouts.

This proved to be true during Reyes’ first 104 at-bats during May, June and nine games in July prior to his demotion. Reyes hit six home runs but only walked seven times with 42 strikeouts resulting in a .221/.270/.423 slash line. Less than ideal. Getting a reset in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, Reyes finished with a robust 16 home runs in only 58 games at Triple-A with a .324/.428/.614 line. This led to his return to San Diego on August fourth.

From this point forward, Reyes surged. Over his last 157 at-bats he scored 22 runs with six doubles, 10 home runs, 24 RBI and an eye popping .318/.385/.548 slash. He also hit safely in 20 of his 25 games in September benefiting fantasy owners who held tight or took another chance on Reyes upon his return to the majors. More encouraging, Reyes walked 17 times compared to 38 strikeouts in this time sample, showing growth in his plate discipline after his reboot in the minors.

During Reyes’ time at Triple-A, he walked 14.8 percent of the time versus a 23.6 strikeout percentage. While this rate of discipline should not carry over to the majors, there’s room for growth seeing his 9.7 and 9.8 walk rates in August and September provide hope going forward. In these same two months, Reyes reduced his strikeout percentages to 23.6 and 20.6 respectively as well. In both May and June, Reyes produced strikeout rates at or above 40 percent.

When trying to assess his potential average in 2019, some will depend on his ability to build on the gains in discipline during his second go around in the majors while he continues to adjust to hitting at this level. Reyes will also need to improve against right-handed pitching if he’s going to hit at or above his Steamer projection. At Triple-A, Reyes hit .359/.519/.564 against southpaws while slashing a very respectable .316/.404/.626 against right-handed pitchers in his limited 216 at-bat sample last season. When going back to his 2017 Double-A statistics, Reyes hit appreciably better against right-handed pitching (.292/.349/.514) than he did against left-handed pitching (.147/.233/.293).

While this intimates Reyes remains a work in progress, he should be able to improve upon his splits from last year in the majors. Reyes hit .247/.298/.449 versus right-handed pitching with 10 home runs in 178 at-bats. Against southpaws, he slashed .349/.426/.602 with six home runs in 83 at-bats. It’s tough to predict how Reyes will fare versus each type of pitcher in 2019, but planning on some movement to the mean in each category seems salient. So, improved plate discipline baked in with past production versus each type of pitcher should allow Reyes to hold his own going forward.

Transitioning to his batted ball data, Reyes should be able to achieve his Steamer projection of 69 runs, 28 home runs, 79 RBI, two stolen bases and a .251/.319/.456 line in 531 at-bats over 146 games. With home run production down last year, these will not be numbers to overlook. When trying to gauge his home run totals, Reyes displayed power throughout the minors along with the 32 he hit across two levels last season. But, trying to predict a total higher than Steamer’s will be difficult. Could he surpass this total? Absolutely. However, paying for more could be risky.

According to Statcast data, Reyes averaged an exit velocity of 96.4 MPH on his fly balls and line drives put into play of his 181 batted ball events. Last year, Reyes made the most of his 33.3 and 23.9 fly ball percentages from August fourth on, but he’s not recorded a season with a fly ball percentage above 40 percent, once, during his debut season in 2012 in Rookie ball. It’s encouraging Reyes produced a hard hit percentage (44.2) and home run per fly ball rate (29.6 percent) above the major league averages. He’s also within five-plus percent of the major league average in fly ball percentage. Not trying to downplay his home run upside, but his ground ball rates of 45.8 percent in August and 53.5 percent in September cannot be ignored when projecting his best case scenario.

Using xSTATS data, Reyes had an expected home run total of 12.7 last year with an expected slash of .268/.330/.465, an xBABIP of .346 and .OBA of .344 last year. These numbers along with his Steamer projection translate to upside. It’s apparent Reyes will be targeted from the 10th round on. In the #2EarlyMocks orchestrated by Justin Mason, Reyes carried an average draft position of 208.1 with a high pick at 165 and a low of 260 within the nine leagues. Due to his strong finish along with his power despite the ground ball to fly ball rates, Reyes will be worth the risk. As intimated above, using the Steamer projection as a guide to his baseline value, targeting “Franimal” to balance a draft with power and an average which will not tax the category makes perfect sense. Reyes could hit 30 home runs, or 24. Either way, he’s a half season hero who deserves the hype.

Breakout Breakdown: Whit Merrifield

While most of the fantasy community fawns over young talent, many overlooked Whit Merrifield’s breakthrough in 2017. In NFBC drafts prior to the 2018 season Merrifield only carried an average draft position of 69th overall, at a time when stolen bases prove to be difficult to procure in spite of being one season removed from 80 runs, 19 home runs, 78 RBI, 34 stolen bases and a solid .288/.324/.438 slash line in 148 games. Perhaps his late age breakout caused fantasy owners to be wary of him repeating it this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakout Breakdown: Stephen Piscotty

It feels like fake advertising to label Stephen Piscotty’s 2018 as a breakout, but his ability to rebound from adversity and outproduce his 2016 season turned out to be a boon to patient fantasy owners. After cratering in 2017, Piscotty’s preseason average draft position plummeted falling to the 19th round in NFBC formats as the 72nd outfielder drafted. His trade to Oakland and declining health of his mother also created questions about potential production fueling his depressed draft stock. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakout Breakdown: Joey Wendle

Although the Rays made headlines with their “Opener” strategy, they also provided some under the radar fantasy performers in 2018 including Joey Wendle. He did not enter the season as a starter, but provided value to those who added him during the season. Of all major league rookies, Wendle finished first in average (.300), fifth in on-base percentage (.354), third in hits (146), third in doubles (33), first in triples (six) and tied for second in stolen bases (16).

It’s never easy to buy into older breakouts, Wendle will turn 29 next April, but ignoring late bloomers could be a mistake as well.  Case in point, Whit Merrifield who built on his strong 2017 by leading the majors in stolen bases this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Bullpen Report: September 22, 2018

Although most of the focus within this column caters to the saves chasers, with just over a week remaining in the season, teams will need to protect ratios as well. Owners of Josh Hader realize this through the value he provides in strikeouts and his ERA which dropped below two last night along with his 0.74 WHIP in 77 innings this season. Hader’s been a heater but his consecutive strikeout streak ended on Friday when Colin Moran lifted a pop fly to left field caught by Christian Yelich. However, Hader recorded 16 straight outs via strikeout over five outings to set a major league record. He also set a record for all southpaw relievers for strikeouts in a season with 136 so far with a chance to add to this in Milwaukee’s last eight contests. In September, Hader’s registered a strikeout minus walk percentage of 60, produced a 24.2 swinging strike percentage and allowed only 54.4 contact through 10 innings with a ridiculous 23:2 K:BB with a 0.50 WHIP. A different southpaw remains on the waiver wire in many leagues due to his lack of saves production, but Taylor Rogers extended his scoreless streak to 23.1 innings in Oakland last night. Since July 30th, spanning 25 games, Rogers has faced 80 hitters giving up only nine hits and three walks with 27 strikeouts. Yes, saves matter, but so do southpaws like these two who can ratio erasers to preserve spots in the standings. Read the rest of this entry »

Bullpen Report: September 20, 2018

As the season winds down and bullpen committees continue to populate the landscape, change could be upon us in fantasy baseball. This site featured a terrific article detailing how handling relievers evolves in an interview with A.J. Hinch. Blended bullpens, new roles and keeping pitchers healthy make this column a necessary stop if chasing saves. For starters, 10 different relievers have recorded a save for the White Sox this year. Joakim Soria (16), Nate Jones (5), Jace Fry (4), Hector Santiago (2) and Luis Avilan (2) to this point, although only two of them remain on the roster. Also, Chris Beck, Xavier Cedeno, Juan Minaya, Bruce Rondon and Thyago Vieira each own one save this year. Last night, Ian Hamilton attempted his first career save but incurred the loss giving up a walk-off grand slam to Jason Kipnis. The inning started with Juan Minaya facing one hitter, Josh Donaldson and allowing an infield single after review. Then Caleb Frare entered yielding a hit to Yandy Diaz and recording the innings only out on a popped up bunt by Melky Cabrera. Hamilton then entered and hit Yan Gomes with a pitch prior to the Kipnis slam.

What does all this mean? The team will continue to audition relievers the rest of the season to try and see what roles will be applicable during their rebuild. Jones will handled carefully and it appears will not pitch in consecutive outings. He will be a factor in saves the last week and a half, but not overworked. Jace Fry pitched 1.2 scoreless innings giving up only a walk, but his ability to work more than one inning, along with Minaya make them valuable and not just ninth inning options. It stands to reason, if chasing a save, to avoid this bullpen due to the volatile usage and auditions still to come as the White Sox evaluate their young arms in high leverage. Read the rest of this entry »

Bullpen Report: September 15, 2018

Representing one of the most frustrating bullpens over the last month, could the White Sox situation finally be settling in? This coincides with the return of Nate Jones from the disabled list who recorded his first save since May 22nd on Friday night. Jones allowed a hit with two strikeouts during his second outing back this month and, dare speculate, should be the primary closer going forward. Jace Fry secured his 15th hold walking one and striking out one in the eighth inning while Ian Hamilton yielded a run (unearned) on a hit and a walk with a strikeout en route to his first hold in a two-thirds of an inning appearance in the seventh inning. This bridge continues to evolve, but fantasy owners may be able to take solace in this blueprint over the last two weeks when Chicago owns a lead.

While one bullpen in Chicago takes shape, the other returns to fluidity with Pedro Strop out for the remainder of the regular season. Fantasy owners should not overreact regarding Jose De Le Rosa’s save last night. He did get his first this year working around a double and a walk in Cincinnati. However, all of Jesse Chavez, Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. pitched in the two prior games making them unavailable in this game. Also, those who think Justin Wilson could figure in the save mix may wish to reconsider since he was passed over for Jamie Garcia. Garcia faced Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett in the eighth inning retiring them in order for his fourth hold. Wilson could have appeared in this game due to usage, so its worth noting. As for future saves while Brandon Morrow looks to complete a bullpen session later this afternoon, look for Chavez and Cishek to take the lead but nothing’s guaranteed. Chavez has been terrific as the Cubs pliable reliever with two wins, three saves, a 1.45 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 0.87 WHIP and 34 strikeouts against four walks in 31 innings since his acquisition. Stay tuned. Read the rest of this entry »

Bullpen Report: September 13, 2018

With Hurricane Florence nearing landfall, please be safe if in its path. Bullpens continue to be volatile as the season approaches the final 16 games for most teams. Some good news regarding the return of injured relievers Aroldis Chapman and Brandon Morrow could cheer up their owners, but in varying degrees. Chapman threw an encouraging side session according to reports detailed in this article by Bryan Hoch. With the Yankees heading home, Chapman will meet the team to throw another side session and the simulated game hoping to return to action next week. This would allow the Yankees to reset their bullpen hierarchy and return Dellin Betances to the eighth inning where he dominates. Stay tuned. As for Morrow, he threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session and details it in this video courtesy of Jessie Rogers. Given the delay in Morrow’s return along with how well Pedro Strop’s pitched, there’s no guarantee Morrow would return to the ninth inning if he makes it back.

One day after recording his first major league save, Yoshihisa Hirano allowed a two-run walk-off home run to D.J. LeMahieu. Baseball’s an unforgiving game. This snapped Hirano’s eight game scoreless streak and became the first earned runs he’s yielded since August 21st. On a positive note, it seems as though Hirano’s the new preferred option in Arizona’s fluid bullpen, so he should bounce back from this outing. Hirano does not own any glaring splits within his batted ball profile, just the occasional gopher ball which occurred in Colorado last night. He’s working in a setup role, but Brad Ziegler did secure his seventh hold with Arizona last night. Ziegler’s been scoreless his last eight (6.2 innings) and owns a 1.31 ERA his last 20 appearances.

Save number eight for Jose Alvarado in a clean outing with two strikeouts. Alvarado’s given up only one hit his last 12 games (9.2 innings) with 16 strikeouts versus only three walks. In the second half, Alvarado’s worked 20.2 innings with a 1.30 ERA and has a 1.14 ERA over his last 37 contests dating back to June 12th. While our chart will still consider this a committee, Sergio Romo’s only pitched once over the last 15 games for Tampa Bay. It’s probably too late to handcuff Romo with Alvarado, but keeper league owners and those preparing for drafts next season should not ignore Alvarado’s recent surge in performance.

Not akin, but worth noting, Atlanta used Jonny Venters for the save on Wednesday despite A.J. Minter’s last outing being on Monday. Minter’s been battling back soreness and may not have been available, so his owners should track this closely. As for Venters, he remains one of the best comeback stories of 2018 notching his third save of the year, and second since joining the Braves with a 1.66 ERA in 20 games. Dan Winkler garnered the win in relief walking one and striking out one.

After intimating a committee in Minnesota following the Fernando Rodney trade, it’s been Trevor Hildenberger working as the primary closing option. Hildenberger notched his sixth save last night giving up a hit and striking out during a 1.1 inning appearance. He’s been scoreless his last seven games and converted six straight save chances. Teammate Taylor Rogers struck out the only batter he faced extending his scoreless streak to 19.2 innings spanning 18 games. During his streak, Rogers has seven holds, two saves and 18 strikeouts.

Former Twins reliever, Ryan Pressly, recorded his first save with Houston firing a clean ninth inning with a strikeout. Flying below the radar due to Roberto Osuna’s arrival, Pressly’s been scoreless his last 15 outings with a win, seven holds and this save in them. As an Astro, Pressly owns an impressive 0.96 ERA, 1.50 FIP, 0.54 WHIP, 25:1 K:BB, 59 percent ground ball rate, a swinging strike percentage of 16.9 and 64.1 percent contact allowed. If anything were to happen with Osuna in the future, keep Pressly in the memory bank.

In a pivotal match-up with the Cubs, the Brewers bullpen thrived on Wednesday night. Corey Knebel allowed his first hit since his recall on September second but struck out two in 1.1 innings of work. Knebel’s retired 20 of 21 hitters faced over his last six outings with 12 strikeouts. Josh Hader did yield a hit while striking out the side. He faced 10 hitters in three innings in Chicago with nine strikeouts and raised his season total to 130 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. For perspective, Jake Arrieta has 127 strikeouts in 159.2 innings this year. Jeremy Jeffress did not get a save chance when Milwaukee added to its lead in the ninth inning, but he did throw a clean ninth with a strikeout as he remains entrenched as the primary closer in a surging bullpen.

Quick Hits: A return to action for Kenley Jansen, a clean inning with a strikeout. It’s been a week since he pitched in a live game and has been scoreless his last five appearances with six strikeouts.

A much needed scoreless outing by Shane Greene with only a walk against him. Greene’s struggled of late giving up runs in three of his last five contests.

Felipe Vazquez held on for his 22nd consecutive save, and 32nd of the season, allowing three hits, an earned run and striking out two in St. Louis. Vazquez now owns the longest save streak in the National League this year, breaking a tie with Jansen, and owns a 1.36 ERA over his last 39.2 innings with 56 strikeouts.

Once again, a non-save appearance for Will Smith and he yielded two hits and an earned run to take the loss. This snaps a four game scoreless streak for Smith who lacks a save in September.

Save number nine for Kirby Yates despite giving up two hits, including a home run, with a strikeout. Yates has converted nine of 10 save chances since the Brad Hand trade, including his last four in a row. Hopefully he will be able to mitigate the gopher ball which plagued him in late August.

While Boston continues to audition pitchers for the eighth inning, Craig Kimbrel’s rounding into form. Kimbrel notched his 39th save and has only allowed one hit over his last eight appearances (31 total batters faced). He’s only given up one run over his last nine games and struck out 25 in his last 13 appearances.

Benefiting from Hirano’s walk-off home run, Wade Davis won his third decision of the year throwing a clean ninth inning with two strikeouts. Davis has only yielded one earned run his last 12 games on five hits and two walks with 17 strikeouts.

Still no clarity in the White Sox bullpen but, Hector Santiago recorded his second save in extra innings. Juan Minaya gets his second win working two innings giving up a hit and a walk with two strikeouts. Ian Hamilton pitched a clean eighth inning and Jace Fry struck out two in the ninth. It seems like they prefer Minaya’s ability to work multiple innings, so hone in on the Hamilton to Fry bridge but nothing’s guaranteed with this bullpen.

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