Don't rule out Jesús Luzardo just yet

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That trade deadline was bonkers. For as long as I’ve been alive, I haven’t seen anything like it. Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Dodgers. Kris Bryant to the Giants. Craig Kimbrel to the White Sox. José Berríos to the Blue Jays. Javier Báez to the Mets. And more.

Additionally, we’re once again starting to see COVID-19 ruin our happiness, with games being postponed and players going on the COVID-19 injured list. On July 28th, about a dozen members of the Nationals’ organization tested positive for COVID-19, several members of the Diamondbacks recently tested positive, and it’s clear that this pandemic is far from over. As a result of this, fantasy managers need to continue to embrace the fact that any one of their players could catch COVID-19 at any moment. More players are landing on the injured list than ever and managers need to have backup plans ready.

Luckily, the waiver wire never sleeps and will always be available for managers to take advantage of. With more prospects being called up and values still sitting around waiting to be picked up, now is not the time dilly-dally around. If you’re in contention, you need to keep your eyes peeled on the wire. You didn’t get this far for nothing, it’s time to finish strong. In this week’s piece, I’m going to highlight several players who I think you should consider adding in your fantasy leagues. Let’s get to it!

Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 50% of ESPN leagues)

Cesar Hernandez 2B, White Sox (42% rostered)

For a 31-year-old who’s never had a 16 home run season, César Hernández’s display of power this season has been truly impressive -- and unexpected. Back in his days as a prospect, he was never a power threat, as he hit just 14 home runs over 2,403 at-bats. He was a guy who was projected to have slightly above average on-base skills and above average speed while being a serviceable contributor overall. And over his first 3,148 MLB at-bats coming into the season, he has performed as expected (.277/.352/.383 with 49 home runs and 80 stolen bases).

So not only is this sudden uptick in power surprising, but it’s also helped him transform into a much more useful fantasy asset. Over 381 at-bats, he’s blasted a career high 18 home runs. To understand what could be fueling these improvements, all it takes is a quick analysis of his quality of contact skills. Coming into 2021, he never had a barrel rate greater than 3.9% in a season, but this year, his barrel rate is sitting at 9.2%. That’s a huge improvement. More than this, he’s hit the hardest ball of his MLB career this year, indicated by his career high 110.2 max exit velocity. His average launch angle (12.2 degrees) and fly ball rate (36.5%) are also both career high marks. It's now easier to understand how he surpassed his career high in home runs this season.

Generally speaking, it’s good to know why a player has suddenly seen an uptick in their production. So while we know his improved quality of contact has fueled his production, the real question is, why has his quality of contact improved? He’s been barreling fastballs at a career best rate and as a result, he has a career high 88.4 average exit velocity against fastballs so far. Given the fact that these improvements are coming so late into his career, it’s possible he begins to fall back into old habits soon. Nevertheless, if he keeps mashing fastballs at this rate, he’ll be a reliable, and inexpensive, source of home runs for the rest of the season.

Jesus Luzardo RP/SP, Marlins (42% rostered)

Luzardo had a 105th overall average ADP this past offseason per NFBC and over 38.0 innings pitched, he has a 6.87 ERA (4.36 SIERA) and 13.9% K-BB. He’s been the definition of a fantasy bust. Many expected the talented young lefty to take a step forward this season, but he’s unfortunately taken several steps back. Though it’s important to remember that coming into 2021, he only had 266.2 professional innings pitched between the minors and MLB. Not every prospect will develop the same and Luzardo will clearly require more refinement than others.

Surprisingly, and to the delight of Luzardo stans everywhere, he was traded to the Marlins on July 28th for Starling Marte. It didn’t seem like the Athletics wanted to put Luzardo back in their rotation this year and now he has the chance to start again this season for a rebuilding team. Trevor Rogers returned recently, but the Marlins’ starting pitching depth is still being tested. Luzardo hasn’t been too effective in Triple-A this season, but he’s been better as of late, so there’s a chance he can provide some fantasy value down the stretch. Whether he joins the Marlins’ rotation or not is still up in the air, but if he does, he should be owned given his talent and upside.

Harrison Bader OF, Cardinals (48% rostered)

Believe it or not, Bader already has two seasons where he’s stolen double digit bases while also hitting double digit home runs. In 2018, he hit 12 home runs and stole 15 bases over 379 at-bats. Then the next year, he hit 12 home runs again while stealing 11 bases over 347 at-bats. As a prospect, Bader was known for his solid raw power, above average speed, and his immaculate defensive skills. As a whole, he was demonstrating all the tools to be a rock solid all-around contributor at the MLB level.

Unfortunately, Bader’s tendency to strikeout at a high rate gradually became more evident as he ascended through the minors. This habit carried into his first couple MLB campaigns and coming into 2021, he had a 29.2% strikeout rate over his first 1,054 MLB plate appearances. His consistently high strikeout rate was likely the result of his struggles against breaking and offspeed pitches. The chart below breaks down his whiff rates against breaking pitches from 2017-2020:

Offspeed pitches

Breaking pitches

2017

40.9%

49.0%

2018

33.7%

38.1%

2019

33.3%

36.6%

2020

15.6%

28.2%

As we can see, his whiff rates against both offspeed and breaking pitches have been trending in the right direction. More than that, his whiff rate against offspeed pitches has significantly improved so far this year and over 171 plate appearances, Bader has a career low 15.2% strikeout rate. Consequently, he’s been making contact at a career high rate (83.3% contact rate) and his floor has never seemed safer. However, these improvements have come over a small sample size. It’s possible that his tendencies to swing and miss start causing him problems again. At the same time, it’s possible he’s truly adjusted his approach at the plate, a change that would help him be fantasy relevant on an annual basis. As a whole, he’s been seeing regular playing time and 2021 could end up being the most productive campaign of his career. Go add him if you’ve been looking for outfield help, or if you just need a useful bat in your utility spot.

Luis Severino SP, Yankees (35% rostered)

Severino has completed just 12.0 innings since 2018. In Spring 2019, Severino was dealing with rotator cuff inflammation and then later in the year, he suffered a lat strain. He ended up returning in September 2019 only to undergo Tommy John surgery a few months later. These last couple years have been very unkind to Severino.

Between 2017-2018 (384.2 innings pitched), Severino earned a 3.18 ERA (3.26 SIERA) and 22.6% K-BB. Utilizing his 100 mph four-seam fastball along with his slider and changeup, Severino was consistently missing bats while demonstrating strong command and limiting contact. In short, he was an ace. But as aforementioned, injuries have stopped him from being able to showcase his talent over these last couple of seasons.

While rehabbing in June of this season, Severino suffered a Grade 2 groin strain and subsequently stopped pitching off the mound for the time being. The injury bug shows absolutely no mercy and this minor delay in his rehab was just another example of this. Thankfully, he’s seemingly recovering nicely and is on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment on August 3rd. Assuming he has no more setbacks, a mid-to-late August return seems like the most realistic scenario. Given his poor durability as of late, there’s a strong chance that his workload will be limited when he returns. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean he won’t be fantasy relevant. Severino is fully capable of striking out a good amount of batters in just a handful of innings. So while he likely won’t go deep into games, he’ll still be able to help fantasy managers who are fighting for a championship. Grab and stash Severino if you’re competing, he could help you with your championship run.

Brian Anderson 3B, Marlins (23% rostered)

Consistency is underrated. Now, while consistently hitting around the mendoza line with minimal power isn’t ideal, that doesn’t mean that these inconsistencies aren’t useful. No matter how a player is performing, the consistency of their performance helps us better understand who that player is. Furthermore, if their performance begins to change abruptly, we know that either this is outlier production or that this player has made a real adjustment at the plate. With all that being said, Brian Anderson has been as consistent to start his MLB career.

Since 2017, he’s never had a batting average less than .255 or greater than .273. He doesn’t steal much and has about 20-25 home run potential. Boring, but useful. If he was more productive against breaking and offspeed pitches, his ceiling would certainly rise. But as of right now, his tendency to swing and miss against breaking and offspeed pitches at a high rate has been truly capping his overall potential. Additionally, he’s already dealt with a handful of injuries this season, but over 143 at-bats, he has a .266/.340/.413 slash line with five home runs and four stolen bases. Right on track for another Anderson-esque campaign. If you’re looking for a cheap, useful, and reliable source of points, Anderson sounds like the guy for you.

Abraham Toro 3B, Mariners (10% rostered)

Toro is an interesting player. As a minor leaguer, he was never a big strikeout guy and he also drew walks at a high rate. Additionally, he stole a handful of bases per season given his slightly above average speed and his developing game power was obvious. However, it was his improvements to his batting average as he reached the higher levels of the minors that caught your eye. In 2019, playing between Triple-A and Double-A, Toro earned a .324/.411/.527 slash line with a 11.3% walk rate, a 16.0% strikeout rate, 17 home runs, and 4 stolen bases over 442 at-bats.

He then made his MLB debut in August 2019, but struggled to produce over his very small sample size. His playing time was inconsistent and he just couldn’t find a groove at the plate. This is normal. Young players tend to struggle when they first come up. No matter how much success players have in the minors, a young player struggling early in their career should not raise any red flags. In Toro’s case, his early career struggles should not result in people drawing conclusions about his long-term outlook. And so far in 2021, he’s making it clear that he’s just getting started.

While his .235 batting average is nothing to write home about, his current 16.5% strikeout rate looks very Toro-esque and his quality of contact has slightly improved. Beyond this, he’s hit four home runs since July 25th, as his game power appears to be gradually improving. Now on the Mariners, Toro’s path to regular at-bats is easier to see. His ownership percentage is too low given the value he’s capable of bringing to fantasy teams. He’s not an All-Star caliber player (yet), but I see him continuing to provide fantasy value for the rest of the 2021 season.

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Deep Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 10% of ESPN leagues)

Bobby Witt Jr. SS, Royals (7% rostered)

Ah, yes. I remember back in spring training when there were rumors flying around about Witt Jr. potentially coming up sooner than expected. Well, he wasn’t called up and now some folks are becoming impatient. He only has 291 professional at-bats under his belt, but he also has little left to prove at the minor league level. Over those 291 at-bats, Witt Jr. has a .299/.366/.570 slash line with a 8.2% walk rate, a 23.2% strikeout rate, 19 home runs, and 16 stolen bases. He’s one of the most electrifying prospects in baseball and it’s easy to see why when you look at his production.

Aside from his raw stats, he’s a gifted defender, who will help the Royals in more ways than one whenever he’s up. Furthermore, his super quick hands help generate elite bat speed, which will help him maintain a very solid batting average on an annual basis. All in all, there’s no guarantee we see Witt Jr. in 2021. The Royals aren’t competing and more experience at Triple-A can’t hurt. However, if he is called up before the season ends, he would need to be added everywhere. A true five-tool prospect who’s future appears very bright, Witt Jr. is worth a stash in redraft leagues and he should already be owned in every dynasty league in existence.

Reid Detmers SP, Angels (7% rostered)

After just 60.0 innings pitched in the minors, Reid Detmers is getting the call to make his MLB debut on August 1st vs Oakland. The 22-year-old lefty has plenty of college experience under his belt, so this quick ascension through the minors isn’t too surprising, especially when you factor in his success in Double-A and Triple-A this season. Over 60.0 innings pitched, he earned a 3.15 ERA (3.14 FIP) and 106:18: K:BB (35.6% K-BB). He was absolutely dominant and it was clear to the Angels that he had little left to prove in the minors.

Armed with a four-seam fastball that sits low-mid 90s, a great curveball, a diving changeup, and a developing slider, Detmers has the stuff to succeed at the next level. But aside from his arsenal, it’s how he commands and locates his pitches that will make him such a valuable major leaguer. Given his relative inexperience, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him struggle a bit against MLB bats to start. Though it’s important to remember that Detmers isn’t your typical prospect. He carries himself like a vet and at this point, it seems like nothing will stop him from having a very productive MLB career. He’s available in most leagues, so go grab him and watch his start closely on Sunday. If he performs well, he could be a big boost to teams who are competing.