Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Rising Prospects, James Paxton's Struggles and More

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2020

Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Rising Prospects, James Paxton's Struggles and More

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Once again we asked for your fantasy baseball questions on the B/R app, and once again you responded with over 150 comments.

    The early struggles of New York Yankees starter James Paxton, the sustainability of Seattle Mariners rookie Kyle Lewis' performance, top prospects knocking on the MLB door and top-tier relievers in a tailspin are among the topics we tackled this week.

    General advice on building a roster and playing the waiver wire in the midst of an unpredictable season was also touched on, along with some quick-hit add/drop advice.


Bullpen Woes

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    Rowan Wick
    Rowan WickChris Szagola/Associated Press

    I've been having some bullpen problems. Who are some under-the-radar names I should target, either free agent or trade? (@ChiTownBaby)

    It's been a rocky start to the season for a number of top-tier relief pitchers. Here are a few off to ugly starts, with average draft position included, courtesy of FantasyPros:

    • Kirby Yates (ADP: 65.8): 4 G, 13.50 ERA, 6 H, 4 BB, 6 K, 3.1 IP
    • Brad Hand (ADP: 111.2): 3 G, 15.43 ERA, 3H, 1 BB, 4 K, 2.1 IP
    • Edwin Diaz (ADP: 121.0): 4 G, 5.40 ERA, 2 H, 4 BB, 6 K, 3.1 IP
    • Craig Kimbrel (ADP: 133.2): 2 G, 27.00 ERA, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 K, 1.1 IP
    • Hansel Robles (ADP: 157.2): 4 G, 22.09 ERA, 7 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 3.2 IP

    Those are not the only relievers giving fantasy owners issues. Aroldis Chapman has yet to make his 2020 debut. Hector Neris has only made one appearance. Jose Leclerc (shoulder muscle tear), Ken Giles (forearm strain) and Roberto Osuna (possible Tommy John surgery, per Mark Berman of Fox 26) are all injured.

    So what should fantasy owners do?

    If you have the roster flexibility to bench a struggling top-tier reliever, that should be the first step. There's a lot of bounce-back potential with those guys. Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias allowed five hits and three earned runs in his first two appearances of the season, and he's struck out four in 2.1 perfect innings since.

    In the meantime, here are some under-the-radar adds who are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues and could provide some help in the saves category:

    • Jairo Diaz, COL (40% owned)
    • Trevor Gott, SF (32% owned)
    • James Karinchak, CLE (32% owned)
    • Rowan Wick, CHC (16% owned)
    • Nick Burdi, PIT (14% owned)

    Rowan Wick is a must-add after nailing down saves on Saturday and Monday. He appears to have supplanted Kimbrel in the closer's role for the Cubs.

Add/Drop Questions (Hitters)

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    Eric Hosmer
    Eric HosmerKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    What should I do with Eric Hosmer? Trade, drop, or stash? (@JThomas12)

    Eric Hosmer went 3-for-4 with six RBI in his first game of the season, but he has played just two games since and is on the injured list with a stomach ailment.

    If he's your best option at first base in a deep league, stash him for now. If you can find a willing buyer, don't hesitate to trade him. But after he hit .259/.316/.412 and averaged 20 home runs the past two seasons, one big game to start the year is not enough to convince me he's a top-tier fantasy option. He's droppable.


    I've got Yasiel Puig stashed on my bench. Cut or keep? (@NBL21_bombasquad)

    In a 10- or 12-team league, there's no reason to stash Yasiel Puig. If you're looking for a long-term upside play on the bench, you're better off grabbing a rising prospect like Dylan Carlson (STL) or Alec Bohm (PHI) who is likely to get the call at some point this year.


    Drop Alex Verdugo and take a flier on a hot outfielder on the waiver wire? (@SteelCity17)

    Alex Verdugo started off the season just fine, going 6-for-18 with a pair of multi-hit games in his first five contests. He's 0-for-8 in his last two appearances, but if that happened 100 games into a regular season, no one would notice. Don't overreact to a bad 48 hours.

    Verdugo can flat-out hit, and while he's batted sixth and seventh in the Boston lineup to this point, he could eventually be the team's leadoff hitter. There's a high probability that dropping him is a move you'll regret.

Add/Drop Questions (Pitchers)

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    Taijuan Walker
    Taijuan WalkerElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Would you pick up Taijuan Walker? (@jeremy_villa)

    After missing the bulk of the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, Taijuan Walker settled for a one-year, $2 million contract from the Seattle Mariners to try to get his career back on track. He was knocked around in his first start of the year (3.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER) but threw a gem last time out against the Oakland Athletics, allowing just one hit while striking out eight in seven scoreless innings.

    Manager Scott Servais told reporters:

    "Tai is a much different pitcher now than when we had the first go-round. When we had him back in '16, he was very reliant on the fastball. Some nights he'd have a curveball, some nights he didn't and didn't really have much else after that. ... He's got a chance to put together 10 starts this year and kind of get back on the map again after being hurt for a couple years."

    Still just 27 years old, he definitely has some upside. If you've been hit hard by injuries on the pitching side, he's a great pickup who could provide some terrific value if he hits his stride.


    How do you feel about a Tyler Chatwood pick up? (@benvecc19)

    Love it. He's already owned in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues, so if he's still available, it would be wise to move quickly.

    Outside Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray, he's been arguably the best pitcher in the National League so far this year. He's allowed just six hits and one earned run in 12.2 innings, tallying four walks and 19 strikeouts.

    The 30-year-old has always had terrific stuff. The issue has been his command. He entered the season with a 4.7 BB/9 rate for his career and 6.6 BB/9 in his first two seasons with the Cubs, so the fact that he's walked just four batters this year is a promising development.


    Too early to drop Luke Weaver? Has blown up against two division opponents thus far. (@jdelli64221)

    At the very least, Luke Weaver should be benched for his next start, which will come on the road against a San Diego Padres team that is averaging 5.8 runs per game.

    Chances are he's your fourth- or fifth-best starting pitcher anyway, so if there's an attractive alternative on the waiver wire, go for it.


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    Dylan Carlson
    Dylan CarlsonJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    What prospects should we be targeting for potential call-ups soon? (@Briott14)

    Chicago White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell became the latest high-profile prospects to be called up to the MLB roster in the last few days.

    So who's next?

    Here are a few prospects worth keeping an eye on, whether it's as a future pickup or an early stash:

    • OF Dylan Carlson, STL
    • SP Casey Mize, DET
    • 2B Gavin Lux, LAD
    • SP Ian Anderson, ATL
    • SP Bryse Wilson, ATL
    • 3B Alec Bohm, PHI
    • SP Spencer Howard, PHI
    • C Joey Bart, SF
    • 2B Brendan Rodgers, COL
    • SP MacKenzie Gore, SD
    • 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec, BOS
    • SP Forrest Whitley, HOU
    • 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes, PIT
    • 1B Ryan Mountcastle, BAL
    • SP Clarke Schmidt, NYY

    Keep an eye on how the Atlanta Braves handle losing Mike Soroka for the season to a torn Achilles. Mike Foltynewicz might get the first crack at filling his rotation spot, but the team could also turn to Ian Anderson or Bryse Wilson.

    Top San Diego Padres pitching prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino, who was reportedly called up Tuesday, per The Athletic's Dennis Lin, could provide a major boost to the pitching staff, and both could make a significant fantasy impact.

James Paxton

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Need help figuring out what's going on with James Paxton. Should I drop him or give him a few more starts in the short season? (@DrBenton)

    It's been an ugly start for New York Yankees left-hander James Paxton, who posted a combined four innings pitched over his first two starts:

    • July 25: 1.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
    • Aug. 2: 3.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

    Beyond the surface-level results, Paxton has also shown diminished velocity, averaging 91.5 mph with his fastball. That's down from 95.7 mph last season.

    "I am pretty confident it is not physical. I feel like he is healthy," manager Aaron Boone told reporters. "We do feel like physically he is sound. All the behind-the-scenes tests we do as far as measuring strength and output and everything it is very similar to what it has been his entire career."

    His next scheduled start is Friday on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays.

    In his lone start at Tropicana Field last year, he allowed seven hits and two runs while racking up 11 strikeouts in six innings. He has a 3.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 19 career innings in Tampa Bay.

    Bench him this time and see if he rebounds in a situation he's enjoyed success with in the past. If not, it's time to consider pulling the plug.

Kyle Lewis

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Sell high on Kyle Lewis, or do you think he can continue his fantasy value? (@johngrill)

    There's a lot to like about the early returns from Seattle Mariners rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis.

    The 25-year-old is hitting .386/.438/.591 in 48 plate appearances, and he leads the majors with 17 hits, including three home runs.

    However, there are reasons for concern.

    Along with his impressive hit total, he has also racked up an AL-high 19 strikeouts for a 39.6 percent strikeout rate, and that number is right in line with the 38.7 percent strikeout rate he logged in 75 plate appearances as a September call-up last year.

    He's already showing signs of cooling off, going 2-for-11 with six strikeouts in his last three games, and 14 of his last 15 hits have been singles.

    His .636 BABIP ranks second among all qualified hitters and is comically unsustainable. Looking at the bigger picture, his lack of power production since homering twice in his first two games is equally concerning for his long-term outlook.

    Sell high while you have the chance. Significant regression is coming.

Bench Approach

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    Chad Green
    Chad GreenKathy Willens/Associated Press

    How should the virus impact who you have on your bench? Talent? Multiple positions? Another way? (@AcesAnd8s)

    The biggest change I've made to the way I'm approaching my roster this year is an increased emphasis on positional versatility.

    With guys potentially inactive at a moment's notice, having multiple players on your team who can be shuffled around to make your lineup work is a must.

    Ian Happ (Cubs) was one of my early waiver additions due in large part to his eligibility at second base, third base and in the outfield. He's still owned in just 53 percent of Yahoo leagues.

    This is not the year to be carrying four players who are only eligible at first base.

    On the pitching side, I've gone a bit more reliever heavy than usual early on since starters have not been pitching deep into games anyway, and elite relievers generally have better rate stats that middle-of-the-rotation starters. That might not be a sustainable approach as starters build up their arms and starting pitching deeper into games.

    For now, it makes more sense to roster a multi-inning reliever like Chad Green (Yankees) than it does a middle-of-the-road starter like Mike Fiers (Athletics).

Waiver-Wire Approach

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    Colin Moran
    Colin MoranGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    When you're looking for players to pick up off the waiver wire, what are your "go-to" stats for analyzing hitters/pitchers? (@eliotsimon)

    I'm a big fan of advanced metrics when it comes to my regular MLB coverage, and that tends to bleed over into the way I play fantasy baseball.

    For hitters, if a guy goes on an unexpected hot streak, I like to look below the surface at things like exit velocity, hard-hit percentage and batting average on balls in play. Those numbers tend to be good indicators of whether a hitter's performance is sustainable.

    I'm buying Pittsburgh Pirates breakout slugger Colin Moran in part because he ranks among the leaders in exit velocity (97th percentile) and hard-hit rate (86th percentile), and his .222 BABIP actually suggests there is some positive batting average regression to come.

    FanGraphs is a good place to start for those advanced stats, and Baseball Savant takes it a step further with sortable Statcast data.

    For pitching, I stay a bit more surface-level with my go-to numbers, focusing mostly on recent performance. If a guy strings together a few good starts after a rocky stretch, it's often an indication that he's figured something out with his mechanics or his pitches.

    Jack Flaherty failed to make it out of the fifth inning in back-to-back starts last season to raised his ERA to 4.90 on July 2. That was followed by two starts in which he went seven innings and allowed just one earned run.

    If you were still looking at his overall numbers, his 4.41 ERA in 104 innings didn't look like much, but those two starts ended up being the jumping off point of one of the most dominant runs in recent history.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.