Albert Pujols (1B, St. Louis Cardinals)
It looks like the redbird is looking for a Red Dead Redemption, and he’s taking no prisoners. Over the past two weeks, Pujols has served up a whole pu pu platter of fantasy goodness, hitting an absolutely insane .514 with 7 homers and 14 RBI in just 35 AB. For most of the season, we’ve been looking for stability and track record, but there’s a time to throw that out the window and just take the guy whose August has made Aaron Judge jealous.
But if you still need reason to believe, Statcast largely backs the sudden performance boost. Of all major leaguers, he’s the second biggest improver over his last 100 PA, with a fantastic .435 xwOBA over that span compared to .307 in the 100 prior PAs. Maybe former Redbirds still have a demon that possessed Matt Carpenter before finding a new host. Obviously, if you’re one of the rare teams that doesn’t need a lot of power right now and batting average, you can look elsewhere, but also consider the edge your competition could get from taking him. It could be just a flash in the pan, but given the general decline in offense elsewhere (especially among corner infielders like Cron, Walsh, Mancini, and many others( I think you have to ride the wave in all leagues.
Jorge Mateo (2B/SS/OF, Baltimore Orioles)
It seems there’s a new Adalberto in town. Mateo was below the Mendoza line, and his general offense was so bad I said back in June that his fantastic stolen base output was not worth the drag in the other hitting categories. Well, clearly either I goofed, or it was my article, not his coaches, that lit a fire under him. He’s hit .364 with 1 HR and 2 SB over 44 AB the last week, but even though he’s cooled a bit on the basepaths, he’s rocking a great overall line of .235 with 12 HR and 28 SB in 379 AB.
The weird thing is that it could be somewhat of a fluke, or rather regressing towards the mean. Statcast thinks he hasn’t improved much over the past 50 PA or 100 PA, but even when he was hitting .199, his xBA was in the .230s. With Baltimore having a surprising surge to fight for a spot in the playoffs, he should continue to provide enough thunder on the basepaths and run-scoring opportunities to weather the substandard batting average and homer count. Add in 10-team AVG formats.
Brett Baty (3B, New York Mets)
I know that after the post-debut funk he seems like an unattractive hitter now compared to other waiver wire hitters, but don’t fall for the Baty and switch. While he’s still raw, I think 3B is messy enough and there’s enough I like from my first impressions that I think he’s still well worth the dice roll. If you don’t believe a talented player with bad surface performance isn’t worth holding, just look at Vinnie Pasquantino. Well, okay, look at what he did before he got hurt, anyway. Don’t get hurt.
Baty put up a strong showing in Double-A, hitting .312/.406/.544 with 19 HR and 2 SB in 394 PA, and hitting like that in his first taste of Double-A impresses me more than doing it in the generally more hitter-friendly Triple-A. I know, I know, you’re about to say that in the majors, he’s hit just .148 with 1 HR in 38 PA. Well, first of all, that sample is too small to mean much, and also his BABIP is just .150, which does not jive with the .350+ BABIP he averaged across the minors.
From the first hit, I love that he smoked a ball 113 MPH, which instantly validates his big game power. But he needs to make contact, which he has done with a solid 79% Contact%, but a far more impressive 97% Z-Contact%. Given he’s not a super free swinger with a 28% O-Swing%, I think he can wait for his pitches to drive. His biggest weakness so far is groundballs, with a 61% rate, and unfortunately, that does jive with his minors track record and could limit an otherwise massive power ceiling. But if his floor is Yandy Diaz, I feel safe to chase the upside for now. Add in most 12-team formats, and if you have room for a speculative add I’d definitely do it or snag him from an impatient owner. Just please put him at 3B and not CI. Why? Nobody puts Baty in the corner.
Oscar González (OF, Cleveland Guardians)
He’s bruising baseballs so badly right now, that every ball has been left with an O-scar. I wrote him up as a buy shortly after his debut, noting his excellent exit velocity of 113 mph to go with decent contact and speed. But for a while, he didn’t make the most of it because he was too busy burning worms. Now he’s hitting scorching liners and burning the early birds, hitting .348 with 2 HR and 1 SB over 66 AB over the past 3 weeks, raising his season line to .306 with 4 HR and 1 SB over 196 AB.
There are certainly flaws in his game, as his strikeout rate is too high and walk rate is too low to reliably hit for average, though it’s at least encouraging that he only has 3 K in 15 AB this week and his xwOBA is trending up over the past 50 PA. With Franmil gone, he’s often occupied the cleanup spot, which even in Cleveland is a boost to his value. While his upside isn’t too high in any one category, he should help all around and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to steal a few more bases. Add in 12-team AVG leagues, though most 12-team OBP leagues can find more disciplined bats to pursue.
Jake Fraley (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
He must be hiding a capuchin in his locker, because he’s getting hyped up like the Frally Monkey. Although he’s hitting just .167 this week, it comes with 2 dingers, a far superior .288 AVG, and 5 homers over the past 2 weeks. He deserves to be in the lineup more often, as he’s actually been the biggest improver over the past 50 PA, with a .466 xwOBA over his past 50 AB.
He still struggles to hit the ball hard consistently, as he has raw power with a 110 MaxEV but with an average EV of just 85 mph and a HardHit% of just 29%. While last year he was an OBP god with a dreadful average, I see signs that he can improve on that front. His contact rate of 78%, while not great, is a considerable jump from the 74% mark he posted last year. He’s also increased his swing rate, which may reduce walks but gives him an excellent CSW of 25% which should keep his K rate down.
The biggest boon to his value is that he did the opposite of Jesse Winker and moved from a pitcher’s park to a great hitter’s park, so his approach to make more contact is likely a wise move. While he’s not on track to steal 10 bases like he did last year, speed is still clearly a part of his game. He’s worth adding in all 15-team formats, though he’s worthy for streaming in 12-team OBP, especially if you have room on the bench for when he’s out.
Emmanuel Rivera (3B, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Since the trade, he’s gone from Emmanuel to He-Man-uel. He’s hit .296 with 4 HR in 56 AB over the past 3 weeks, which is among the better Augusts of all third basemen. Statcast suggested he was underperforming his peripherals, and given his strong minor league track record and consistent improvements in xwOBA the more he plays, he should be a rather sneaky add in 15-team AVG formats in need of power. I wasn’t planning on writing about him, but I figured if you need power more than average, you have an alternative to the next guy on this list.
David Fletcher (2B/SS, Los Angeles Angels)
The Fletch is back to being a catch. The diminutive middle infielder has had an injury-riddled year to forget, but he’s trying to make up for lost time with a hit parade. Sure, it’s not so impressive that he’s hitting .326 with 1 homer over the last 3 weeks, raising his average to .271 with 2 HR in 118 AB. But it’s under the hood where it’s appealing, so now I’ll shine on it with a Fletchlight. I mean flashlight, don’t be gross.
Fletcher is still hitting the ball as softly as ever, with a maxEV of 99 mph, yet Statcast still loves him this year. How much? They give him an xBA of .314. That’ll play. Okay, but why? I think it’s him fixing one of his game’s biggest weaknesses. No, not lack of power, didn’t you read what I wrote like three sentences ago? The weakness was actually passivity. He’s swinging more at everything but especially strikes, with a career-high 64% Z-Swing%, which is a huge jump from 2019-2020 when it was sub 50%. And when you have a 96% career Z-contact% (93% this year), you’re much better off swinging than taking a called strike. So even though his SwStr% of 5% is a career-high, his CSW% of 25% is more telling of how he’s managed a career-best K% of 6%.
Not only that, he’s increased his launch angle by trading off groundballs for flyballs, which is generally a good thing but perhaps less so for him? But perhaps he’s just finding the holes in the outfield, and even though he lacks his previous speed and multi-position eligibility, I think he’ll be an impact table setter capable of a .300 AVG the rest of the way. It’s empty batting average, but batting average can be quite useful right now in 15-team AVG formats.
Mark Mathias (2B, Texas Rangers)
Understanding launch angle isn’t hard if you’re good at Mathias. The journeyman Rangers second baseman just has 26 PA to his name, but I’m impressed with the early showings. Although he’s hitting just .240 with 2 HR and 1 SB, that’s still 2 homers and a stolen base in just a handful of games, and I think the average should improve.
He’s managed to keep the strikeouts down with an impressive 86% rate and has displayed mature plate discipline with a 21% O-Swing% that’s near-elite. Statcast thinks he perhaps got lucky on power but gives him a solid .270 AVG, and it’s also good to see he can drive the ball with 2 barrels already in the majors. He’ll likely play a fair amount in the final month and has enough moderate power, speed, and strong plate skills to succeed in a scrappy kind of way. Add in AL-only AVG formats.
Charles LeBlanc (3B, Miami Marlins)
Why not root for a player that sounds like a French wine? Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s the name of a beer. He’s certainly left pitchers punch-drunk with an impressive .322 AVG, 2 HR, and 3 SB in 59 PA. He has as many RBIs as stolen bases!
Sure, it’s not entirely sustainable, and his .280 xBA is still probably a bit optimistic given his poor plate discipline and weak combo of a 29% HardHit% with a 23% K%. Still, the fact that he’s displayed some speed gives him multiple ways to contribute, and it certainly seems he’s done enough to warrant at least semi-regular playing time. Add in NL-only average formats.
Tommy Edman (2B/SS/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Am I CRAZY? No, He’s still hitting .252 with 9 HR and 24 SB… hey that’s starting to look kind of like Jorge Mateo, but just in the opposite direction. Hopefully, you dipped out of your Edman shares when his batting average took a dip (and as a result, also his playing time, as he’s hit just .195 this week, although the 2 HR and 2 SB are decent.
I recall the days when he was hitting .290 and putting to rest all of the claims that his playing time is at risk. I mean, sure, he’s not a backup, but he’s definitely no longer playing every day, and even with the scarcity of speed, you’re better off in 10-team OBP going for a versatile speedster with more momentum.
Although his xwOBA hasn’t actually changed much in the past 100 PA or so, he’s been hitting a below league average xwOBA for most of the season, and is a lesson why spending big on speed-first players is a risky strategy. Or maybe I AM Crazy! I am the Walrus, I am the Edman, goo goo g’joob!
Oneil Cruz (SS, Pittsburgh Pirates)
If your team was the Beatles, right now he’s playing the role of Yoko Oneil. I really didn’t think they’d be right, but maybe the Pirates were right and Cruz really wasn’t ready after all. While he’s clearly possessing monstrous power (118 mph MaxEV) as well as speed, with an impressive 10 HR and 6 SB in 190 PA, he’s having so much trouble making contact that he must be in Interstellar. And his rapidly climbing 38% strikeout is as dumb as that scene with the library portal in the middle of space (Spoiler alert!) Wait, I definitely did that wrong.
Although I hoped Cruz would improve with more major-league reps, he’s gone the other direction, and it’s not just bad luck, His xwOBA has been nosediving in recent weeks. In June, his K% was 31%, in July it rose to 36%, but in August it’s been a whopping 46%! Maybe it’s that hitters adjusted and are exploiting a hole in his swing, but at this rate, he’s likely ceding playing time to the Pirates’ other options, becuase even they have standards… sort of. If you want another power/speed option, how about Jake McCarthy, though the pool of shortstops might actually have more talent.
Christian Vázquez (C, Houston Astros)
I mean, I just feel bad for him really. He was already shaken up about getting traded at all, in a trade that seemed to make no sense for the Red Sox, and now he’s playing backup to one of the most pitiful hitters in all of baseball. While he’s played, he’s mashed, so I assumed the playing time would come. Well, I’m still waiting.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the bat, but I no longer believe in the situation. If the pitchers love Maldonado as a defender that much, Vázquez becomes rather useless, since his value was always as an accumulator. Generally, it’s unwise to roster two catchers in shallow leagues, and those zeroes can really hurt you. Also, sell on Astro acquiree Trey Mancini for the same reason.
Tommy La Stella (2B, San Francisco Giants)
He could be kind of David Fletcher-esque if he had the playing time. But with Longoria healthy again and several other mouths to feed, he’s not getting enough PT to make an impact. He’s hitting just .167 with no homers over 17 AB the past two weeks. You can safely cut him, as I don’t think you’ll be Marlon Brando drunkenly returning to him while shouting LA STELLA!
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by William Purnell / Icon Sportswire