Celebrating fantasy baseball's best stories on 4th of July

I’m honored that you’ve taken a few minutes between beer and BBQ on the 4th of July to read my thoughts on fantasy baseball. And since this is a day to celebrate all the things that make America great, I wanted to chime in on the best parts of the fantasy side of America’s Pastime to this point of the 2022 season.

Paul Goldschmidt proving that age is just a number

Goldschmidt was one of the top fantasy assets while in his 20’s during the 2013-17 seasons, and he was aging gracefully in recent years. In fact, he turned back the clock when he swiped 12 bases last year. But Goldschmidt has ignored the aging curve at a new level in 2022, ranking as the No. 2 fantasy player thus far. The 34-year-old (who will turn 35 in September) ranks second in baseball in three fantasy categories (runs, RBIs, batting average) and 11th in home runs. He has tallied just three steals and could be even more valuable by running the bases aggressively this summer.

Fantasy strategy: My biggest takeaway with Goldschmidt is to remember that the aging curve is not always linear. Fantasy managers tend to grab young players when looking for breakout seasons, but those who are on the wrong side of 30 can still have substantial year-to-year performance upticks. Those who were smart enough to draft or acquire Goldschmidt should ride this wave for the remainder of the season.

Julio Rodriguez rewarding optimistic managers

A late-round pick in most leagues, Rodriguez has burst onto the fantasy scene by playing at the level of a top-10 player during the first half of his debut season. He sits second in the Majors with 20 steals and has also chipped in helpful contributions in homers (14), runs (45), RBIs (41) and batting average (.277). Still just 21 years old, Rodriguez will spark many teams to a 2022 fantasy title and could be a first-round pick in roto leagues next year. Seattle’s next superstar has provided us with a great reminder that although speculating on rookies sometimes leads to disappointment, the rewards can be incredible when we find the right prospect.

Fantasy strategy: There is no chance that I’m trading Rodriguez for anything less than a Godfather offer. The rookie was rock-solid in all categories during May and June, and although his 27.7 percent strikeout rate is slightly higher than we want to see, his explosive skill set makes him a true difference-maker once he makes contact with the ball.

Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez was a late-round pick in fantasy baseball drafts, but has performed like a top-tier player. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Shane McClanahan’s making hitters look foolish

McClanahan can make a good case to be baseball's most exciting pitcher to watch right now. His curveball has become the stuff of legends in the Twitterverse, with examples that can be sere here and here. Fangraphs rates the pitch as the second-most effective curveball in baseball so far this season, trailing only Braves breakout pitcher Kyle Wright. And with McClanahan, the elite curveball is just the tip of the iceberg. His split-finger is as good as any pitch in baseball. And his average fastball velocity is elite, 96.9 mph. McClanahan boasts the best K-BB rate (31.4 percent) of any qualified pitcher, and the next closest competitor isn’t even close.

Fantasy strategy: Forget fantasy value, you need to watch McClanahan pitch! His next start is scheduled for Friday against the lowly Reds. I know that the Rays aren’t one of baseball’s biggest draws, but McClanahan’s starts should be must-watch TV for baseball fans this summer. He has been baseball’s No. 1 starter thus far, and I expect that to continue on a per-inning basis. The only cause for concern for fantasy managers is that the Rays will need to slow down his rate of innings pitched during the second half.

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Jon Berti reminding us that fantasy miracles do happen

Berti did something amazing for the game of fantasy baseball in June. By coming off the waiver wire in most leagues to swipe 18 bases in the month, the veteran speedster reminded us that miracles can happen. To put the 18 June swipes into perspective, Berti is 32 years old and had never produced 18 steals in an entire season. Those who are languishing in the middle of their standings and thinking about giving up should keep trying, because the next version of Berti could be on their roster right now. America is the land of opportunity, and Berti has reminded us that sometimes we don’t see those opportunities coming.

Fantasy strategy: As much as I love the story of Berti’s June surge, I would try to trade him away before regression sets in. The speedster is mostly a one-category contributor, and those who rostered him during June are likely now ahead of the pack in that category.

Jhoan Duran’s regularly reaching triple digits

Admit it — we all love to see elite heat. Pitchers who can blow away the competition simply by throwing gas make things look so easy. And no one in baseball can match the radar gun readings of Duran right now. The Twins rookie is averaging 100.8 mph on his fastball this season, which ranks slightly ahead of Luis Garcia of the Padres and Andres Munoz of the Mariners. Duran has deployed his fastball roughly half of the time en route to logging an elite 29.9 percent K-BB ratio and a 56.4 percent groundball rate.

Fantasy strategy: Duran is rostered in just 52 percent of leagues, but that mark should rise rapidly in the coming weeks. The fire-baller is clearly the Twins best reliever, and he is knocking on the door to be their full-time closer. Duran compares to Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, in terms of velocity and batted-ball tendencies, which has me dreaming of him becoming a top-5 reliever during the second half.