Keen on Kolten

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If you’re looking where things might be headed for offense in this new sticky substance-enforced world, let’s just take a cursory look at some monthly data for hitters.

March/April - .232/.309/.389 batting line, 24.4 percent strikeout rate
May - .239/.315/.397 batting line, 24 percent strikeout rate
June - .245/.317/.415 batting line, 23.4 percent strikeout rate

These numbers were probably due to increase anyway with the warmer weather, but there has been a notable reduction in four-seam spin rate around the league dating back to the June 3 memo from MLB. Travis Sawchik of The Score has done a great job tracking this so far. It’s hard not to see the correlation between reduced four-seam spin and the increase in offense. It’s probably no coincidence that we’ve seen a number of high-profile players suddenly turn things on this month. There’s still the matter of the “less bouncy baseball” here, but we’re at least a little bit closer to equilibrium between pitchers and hitters.

What will be interesting to see is whether pitchers start to adjust their arsenal and approach to the new environment, maybe throwing fewer four-seamers up in the zone due to the reduced spin. Either way, pitchers appear to be a much shakier bet moving forward in fantasy leagues, especially with all of the workload questions we were worried about after the truncated 2020 season.

Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.

MIXED LEAGUES

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, June 24th

Kolten Wong 2B, Brewers (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)

Wong has already had two stints on the injured list this season due to oblique issues, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting off to a great start with his new team. He’s swung the bat well since returning last week and holds a .281/.340/.459 batting line with six homers, 19 RBI, five steals, and 28 runs scored through 50 games overall. The 30-year-old didn’t do much to stand out in mixed leagues during last year’s shortened season, but don’t forget that he put up 11 homers and 24 steals with a .784 OPS over 148 games in 2019. He’s hitting leadoff for the Brewers in a hitter-friendly home stadium, so it’s a bit surprising he’s still out there in so many leagues.

Jake Odorizzi SP, Astros (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)

The Astros are straight-up steamrolling teams right now and Odorizzi appears to be hitting his stride after a shaky start to the season. The veteran right-hander struck out nine without allowing a hit over five innings against the Orioles on Monday and now holds a sterling 2.82 ERA and 24/6 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings over five appearances (four starts) since returning from a right pronator muscle strain a month ago. He’s ramped up his four-seamer usage at the top of the zone and actually averaged 93.4 mph on the pitch in his most recent start, so it looks like he’s leaving his frustrating 2020 campaign in the rear-view mirror. He’s an easy call to start against the Tigers this weekend and should sustain mixed league value beyond that.

Keston Hiura 2B/1B, Brewers (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me thrice, that wouldn’t be nice. It’s hard to know what to think of Hiura at this point, as he looked completely lost in his last stint in the majors. However, he continued to mash after his most recent demotion to Triple-A and even struck out at a more acceptable rate (25.5 percent) relative to what we’ve seen from him lately. The Brewers probably would have waited a bit longer to call him back up, but their hand was forced with Daniel Vogelbach going down with a strained left hamstring. Keep expectations in check, but the upside justifies the pickup in most competitive leagues.

Patrick Sandoval SP, Angels (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)

Jose Quintana made his return from the injured list this week, but the Angels decided to move him to the bullpen due to the emergence of Sandoval. The 24-year-old southpaw has certainly earned it, posting a 3.13 ERA and 32/10 K/BB ratio in 31 2/3 innings over six starts since moving into the rotation in mid-April. He has a 10-strikeout game and a nine-strikeout game in his last three starts. He’s dramatically ramped up the usage of his changeup this year to the point where he now uses it more than any pitch. And for good reason, as he’s picking up an insane number of whiffs on the pitch. Opposing batters are hitting just .125 with one extra-base hit against the pitch. Per Alex Fast from the wonderful Pitcher List, only eight pitches have a swinging strike rate north of 30 percent (min. 100 pitches thrown). Jacob deGrom’s slider ranks first at 35.9 percent, but Sandoval’s changeup is right behind him at 34.3 with his changeup. Who knows how sustainable this might be, but keep rolling with him in all formats for now. He gets the Rays on the road, the Orioles at home, and the Mariners on the road leading into the All-Star break.

Joc Pederson 1B/OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 38 percent rostered)

Pederson was mentioned in this column about a month ago and he’s held up his end of the bargain from a power perspective. The veteran slugger has popped seven homers through 19 games in June to go along with 15 RBI and 12 runs scored. He’s hit just .232 this month, but it’s not like we’re picking him up for batting average. While the lack of patience has been a bit strange to see (his swing rate and chase rate are both on the rise), he’s hitting leadoff for the Cubs while making a ton of hard contact. As long as you can live with the flaws (and maybe sit him against left-handers), he’s a respectable option in mixed leagues.

Akil Baddoo OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)

I was very skeptical about whether Baddoo’s early season heroics were meant to last, but to his credit, he’s made the adjustment. After a brutal stretch where he went 4-for-46 with 26 strikeouts from mid-April through early May, he’s hit .347 with eight extra-base hits (including one homer), 19 RBI, 14 runs scored, and six steals over his last 31 games. Perhaps most encouragingly, he’s posted a 19/19 K/BB ratio in that time through 95 plate appearances. He has struck out just four times in his last 37 plate appearances. Riding a nine-game hitting streak, he made the start out of the leadoff spot on Wednesday against the Cardinals. It would be nice to see more power, but Baddoo is quietly holding his own while putting up some useful numbers for those in deeper mixed formats.

Jarren Duran OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)

Wander Franco is finally up in the majors, so which highly-regarded position player is next? Duran isn’t quite on the level of Franco, but his stock is on the rise with his power surge so far this year with Triple-A Worcester. The 25-year-old has put up 13 homers and seven steals with a .285/.373/.615 batting line through 32 games. He’s slugged six homers in the span of his last 12 games. Keep in mind that Duran had just eight home runs through 199 minor league games coming into this season. The thing is, he’s a different player now. Duran overhauled his swing going into 2020 and went to work adding more strength last year. It’s hard to argue with the results. The Red Sox have heaped praise on Duran’s progress, but remain vague about the timeline for a call-up. Meanwhile, their center-fielders have combined to hit just .244/.299/.397 this season. Stash if you can.

Deeper Dandies

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Daulton Varsho C, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)

Varsho is back in the majors after Carson Kelly fractured his right wrist when he was hit by a 96 mph fastball over the weekend. He’s not assured of regular at-bats, as Stephen Vogt is also in the mix here, but the Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere and should just put Varsho out there and see what happens. So far, the results haven’t been great. Varsho has hit just .174/.263/.315 through 167 plate appearances in the majors, but the minor league numbers are interesting and he brings some intriguing speed from the catcher position. Worth a shot depending on need.

Taylor Ward OF, Angels (Yahoo: 7 percent rostered)

My colleague Ryan Boyer went over Ward’s case in his new weekly “5x5 Finds” article earlier this week, but I’ll echo that here, especially since he’s still available in so many leagues. Even with an 0-for-13 stretch over his last three games, he’s boasting an .804 OPS with three homers, 13 RBI, and 12 runs scored through 20 games this month. He’s already amassed more barrels (13) this season than he did through 297 major league plate appearances coming into this year. With Mike Trout and Dexter Fowler injured and Jared Walsh serving as the primary first baseman, the opportunities should continue to be there. He’s also in a favorable spot, hitting either third or fifth in each of his last eight games. The Angels were forced to use Ward at catcher on Wednesday after Kurt Suzuki got hurt, but we probably shouldn’t expect catcher-eligibility anytime soon. Still, he’s a worthwhile addition in deeper formats.

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Weekend Warriors

Shane McClanahan SP, Rays (Yahoo: 40 percent rostered)

It’s probably high time to just give a blanket recommendation on a McClanahan pickup, so this is just a reminder to make sure he’s rostered with a start against the Angels coming up this weekend. The 24-year-old is coming off the longest start of his career, where he tossed six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and just one walk against the Mariners. The southpaw has been a bit up and down on the whole, resulting in a 4.03 ERA across 10 starts, but he holds a strong 54/14 K/BB ratio over 44 2/3 innings. With some of the highest fastball velocity in the league, he’s tied with Corbin Burnes for the second-highest swinging strike rate (17.6 percent) in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. Only Jacob deGrom is higher (21.6 percent), because of course he is. Still, this is impressive company and McClanahan should be rostered everywhere with the Rays starting to push him a little more.

Adrian Houser SP, Brewers (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)

Houser allowed five runs over six innings against the Rockies last time out, but we can forgive that since it was at Coors Field. He had a 1.71 ERA over his previous four starts and gets must-stream status for a start against the Rockies at home this Saturday. The Rockies have been absolutely dreadful on the road this season, posting a .572 OPS. Just to put things in perspective, the Pirates are next-lowest with a .626 OPS. We’ll probably see the Rockies pick things up a bit with the weather warming up and enforcement of sticky stuff, but this is a matchup you can’t pass up in any format.

Ross Stripling SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 28 percent rostered)

It wasn’t too long ago that Stripling looked like a lost cause in mixed leagues. His ERA was sitting at 7.20 as recently as May 19. However, he’s turned things around dramatically since then, posting a 2.29 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and a 36/9 K/BB ratio in 35 1/3 innings through six appearances (five starts). He’s benefitted from a .202 BABIP in that time, but his control is back and he’s done a great job limiting hard contact during his stretch. Start him with confidence against the Orioles on Sunday.

AL ONLY

Andy Ibanez 2B/CI, Rangers (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)

Ibanez made his way back to the major league roster this week after scuffling during his first chance back in May. He homered against Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas and has made starts over Nick Solak and Nate Lowe this week before sliding over to third base on Thursday. Ibanez is 28 years old and has put up monster numbers in Triple-A this year (.352 with six HR, 1.058 OPS), so the Rangers might as well see what they have with the Cuba native, especially with names like Sherton Apostel and Josh Jung likely to make an impact before long. Ibanez is a better option against lefties, but there could still be enough here to justify a pickup in deeper formats.

Ryan O’Hearn 1B, Royals (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

O’Hearn made his way back to the major league roster this week with Adalberto Mondesi hitting the injured list and has taken advantage of the opportunity by going 4-for-9 with two homers and five RBI through his first two games. Batting average is never going to be a strength here, but it’s been nice to see him get back to lofting the ball more often this season while making more in the way of quality contact. He’s hit cleanup in three straight games since returning (including Thursday against the Yankees), so just keep riding this wave as long as the power is there.

NL ONLY

Tylor Megill SP, Mets (Yahoo: N/A)

Megill actually isn’t in the Yahoo database yet, but he did enough in his first start against the Braves on Wednesday to show that he has some staying power. After a meteoric rise through the Mets minor league system, the 25-year-old allowed two runs on three hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings, with the only damage coming on a two-run homer off the bat of Ender Inciarte. Topping out at 96.8 mph with his fastball, he induced seven swinging strikes (four of them on his slider) and 16 called strikes in his 92 pitches. Megill was great in the minors this year (3.35 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 12 walks in 40 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A) and figures to get more chances as the Mets sort through all of the injury issues in their rotation.

Lars Nootbaar OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)

I mean, who wouldn’t want a delicious Nootbaar? That’s what the Cardinals determined this week, adding the 23-year-old to their roster while optioning Lane Thomas to Triple-A. Nootbaar was off to a great start in Memphis this season, slashing .329/.430/.557 with five homers over 22 games. He just recently returned to action after missing a couple of weeks with a right hand injury. Nootbaar has never really stood out in the minors, but the power progression is worth watching, especially with how hard he’s hit the ball with the Cardinals this week.