New Everyday Starters — July 27, 2021

It’s been a while since running a series of New Everyday Starters posts and man, do we have a slew of them right now. Between injury replacements and minor league call-ups, it might be easier than ever to find a replacement for your injured starter. Let’s discuss five of those new regulars and determine if they have a place on your roster.

Estevan Florial | NYY OF

Once upon a time, Florial was a top 100 overall prospect and top five Yankees prospect. Then injuries bit and poor performance followed, as he struck out more than 30% of the time at High-A in 2019 and posted just a .314 wOBA, which followed just a .336 wOBA at the same level over the previous year. Early in his minor league career, he showed both power and speed, and a willingness to take a walk. But those skills just haven’t resulted in strong offense since 2017. Because the Yankees have been ravaged by injuries once again, Florial got the call from Triple-A this season, even though he posted just a .322 wOBA there. That’s not usually the type of performance that earns a promotion, but the Yankees were clearly desperate for anyone healthy.

At Triple-A, his power rebounded, as his ISO jumped back just below .200 and HR/FB rate into the high teens. He still struck out a lot, but got that rate just below 30% and at least he had offset those whiffs with a strong walk rate. A career low .267 BABIP really hampered his production though and overshadowed what looks to be an interesting skill set.

For now, the playing time will clearly be there, but Florial isn’t going to have an unlimited leash, especially with the trade deadline upcoming. If he doesn’t hit, he’s going to find himself back in Triple-A quickly. Given his combination of power and speed, he’s the type to gamble on over the short-term as a hot streak could bring lots of counting stats and we don’t need to worry as much about the strikeouts and potential low batting average.

Billy McKinney |LAD OF

After earnings just three plate appearances last season, McKinney found himself in a starting role when both the Brewers, and then Mets, found themselves ravaged by their own injuries in their respective outfields. He performed acceptably with the Mets, which wasn’t enough for the team to keep him once they got healthy, but was enough for the Dodgers to acquire him, who also needed reinforcements in their outfield. He has now started four straight games with the team, including against a lefty, even though he’s left-handed.

McKinney found himself in Dodger Blue because of Mookie Betts, who was placed on the IL on Sunday. Obviously McKinney is going to lose his job as soon as Betts returns, which doesn’t give him much time to impress, but could give his fantasy owners at least a week of regular playing time.

McKinney has some power, sitting with a career HR/FB rate in the mid-teens and ISO just over .200. He doesn’t swing and miss often, but takes called strikes at a higher rate than the league, which has raised his strikeout rate into the mid-20% range. It’s a bit higher than you want to see, but perhaps it’s something that could be corrected if he became a bit more aggressive inside the strike zone. His biggest issue so far is a low career BABIP, which sits at just .263. He owns a fairly reasonable batted ball type distribution, so perhaps it’s just been a small sample mirage that’s due for improvement.

Since his days as a Dodgers starter are likely numbered, don’t invest much in him.

Brent Rooker | MIN OF

The Twins trade of Nelson Cruz opened up DH at-bats for a lucky new hitter, and one of those beneficiaries looks to be Rooker. The 26-year-old was most recently ranked as the team’s 15th best prospect, with power being his greatest asset. Since his 2018 Double-A season, his ISO and HR/FB rate have both risen each season, ultimately settling in at .307 and 30.6%, respectively, this year. Those are mammoth rates.

Of course, that power comes with what you might expect — strikeouts. He has also struck out over 30% in each of his last two minor league stints. The good news is his SwStr% this year at Triple-A was lower than you would expect given the strikeout rate and a vast improvement from his 2019 mark. He has also offset all those strikeouts with a high walk rate, as it has landed in the low-to-mid teens the past two years. That gives him significantly more value in OBP leagues, where he could potentially be a valuable contributor…as long as he doesn’t find himself back in the minors if he doesn’t improve upon his current ugly 1/17 BB/K ratio.

Rooker has an opportunity now to show off his power, but his ability to make contact will determine how long he not only remains a regular, but lasts in the Majors this year. The upside is high, especially in OBP leagues, so he’s worth a gamble in deeper leagues.

Curtis Terry | TEX 1B

Terry wasn’t exactly a prospect heading into the season, having been ranked just 61st in the Rangers organization. But with the team in last place in the AL West and with the second worst record in the AL, they are going young and seeing what they have in the minors. With first base filled by Nate Lowe, Terry is now getting a chance in the DH spot.

After the lack of a minor league season last year, Terry jumped from High-A in 2019 to Triple-A in 2021. You would never know, though, given his performance, as his ISO and HR/FB rate skyrocketed, and his wOBA remained just as strong as it typically has. He posted a .397 mark this year, which followed a pair of .400+ marks at Low-A and High-A in 2018 and 2019, which sandwiched a .395 mark at Single-A in 2019. He has hit well everywhere he’s played, but for some reason, hasn’t earned any prospect pedigree.

While everyone else is rushing to pick up the top prospects based on their tools and not necessarily their actual performance, give me the Terrys of the world for cheap and little leaguemate competition for his services. Because the first base job is filled, Terry’s playing time isn’t exactly secure at DH. It means he’s going to have to hit and we don’t know how patient the Rangers are going to be. But you aren’t going to hold onto him if he doesn’t hit anyway, so go speculate here and see if that minor league performance translates.

Thairo Estrada | SFG 2B/SS

Estrada has been the beneficiary of incumbent Brandon Crawford’s injury and he’s going to shortly eclipse his previous high plate appearance total in an MLB season. Through 2018, Estrada owned weak power skills, but with some speed and a good strikeout rate, was worthy of being on the fantasy radar.

Then something happened in 2019. That season, his power exploded, as his ISO doubled from his 2017 mark, his previous full season, while his HR/FB rate returned to the mid-teens, a mark he once posted back in 2016 over a small sample as well. Along with the newly established power was a big increase in strikeout rate. It looked like this could have been a conscious change of approach as everyone had become homer-happy.

So what did he do as a follow-up in the minors this year? More of the same, as his ISO jumped even higher, above .200 for the first time, while his HR/FB rate increased again. This time, he was able to do it while massively improving his strikeout rate, pushing it back closer to where he sat before 2019, while also enjoying a career best walk rate.

It now seems pretty clear that Estrada has transformed himself into someone with legit power, who could also steal a base, and who owns solid plate discipline. It’s not a profile I had any idea he was displaying before this writeup, but has me very interested now.

One wonders what will happen to Estrada’s playing time once Crawford returns, but it’s hard to imagine him hitting the bench if he keeps hitting well. Do note that his current .400 wOBA is wholly unsupported by his skills, as his xwOBA only sits at .337. But even a .337 mark is probably far better than anyone expected, and indeed his projections are all in the .280 range, with THE BAT far ahead, but still at just over .300. He’s a good example of a real possible skills changer that the projection systems will be late on.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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2 years ago

Mike, I confess I have seen much of your FanGraphs work as trying to squeeze insights out of arcane statistical minutiae where there is really not much to be gleaned. But this here, this is thoughful, clear, thorough, and importantly, actionable, analysis. Bravo, more like this.