Hello and welcome to the third edition of Deep League Risers and Fallers. I hope you were able to follow Lucas Spence’s advice from last week’s article and added Mitch Keller for his six-inning, five-K, one-walk win versus the Reds. That’s four consecutive quality starts for the Bucco hurler. Your team may have 99 problems, but Mitch ain’t one. His Pirates are 16-7 to start the season. Pittsburgh leads the NL Central, and trails only the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in baseball. I might be foreshadowing a rising player. I might just be enjoying the best start the Pirates have managed since the early 90s. But I always choose bad news first…
Michael Massey, 2B, Kansas City Royals
I could have left the player name blank and just targeted the entire Royals team here (except Vinnie). KC has scored the third-fewest runs in the majors, trailing only Miami and Detroit. As a team, The Royals have mustered just a .606 OPS, the second-lowest mark in the league, narrowly beating out Detroit again. But I recommended Massey pretty strongly during spring, so I will eat some crow here.
Massey carried a .371 OBP, and .903 OPS across 391 AA and AAA plate appearances last year and held his own with a .683 OPS in limited MLB action. Nothing spectacular, but he looked like a player who could chip in double-digit dingers and steals while producing a respectable batting average. None of that is happening so far. Massey is slashing just .143/.138/.161 through 56 at-bats. He has hit zero dingers and carries an absolutely brutal 22/0 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
When he does make contact, Massey is hitting the ball fairly hard. His 89.3 MPH average exit velocity is slightly above league average and his hard-hit percentage ranks in the top quarter of the league. However, his K rate is nearly at the very bottom of the league and his whiff rate is in the bottom fifth. He did record his first multi-hit game and steal his first base of the year over the weekend, so maybe that’s a sign of life, but I’m saying “No Mas!” to Massey as a buy-low target.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
Rendon is another player I recommended way back in March. The idea was simple: Taylor Ward, Mike Trout, and Shohei Ohtani are all really good hitters who get on base at a good clip, and Rendon would likely bat cleanup. Those players are getting on base at rates of .314, .423, and .340 respectively. (Ward is coming off of a slow week) and Rendon does usually bat fourth. However, he has not been able to capitalize on his opportunities. The veteran 3b is slashing just .235/.344/.275 on the season with zero long balls and 11 RBI. He is getting on base at a healthy rate, but has only two extra-base hits on the year and has not been the run producer I had expected.
Rendon has had some bad luck. His BABIP clocks in at .261 which is lower than MLB average, but also aligns almost perfectly with his .258 and .267 marks from the last two seasons. His hard-hit percentage ranks in the league’s bottom third and his barrel percentage is around the league’s bottom 10%. There is a glimmer of hope in his plate discipline, though. Rendon ranks near the top of the league in walk rate, whiff rate, and strikeout rate and has the absolute best chase rate in the majors.
While his run production has not been what I had hoped for, and his underlying numbers do not really suggest any imminent turnaround, I think there could be some element of “rust” still present in Rendon’s game. He did play in only 47 games last season. The strong plate discipline and his lineup situation still give me reason to hold on to Rendon, and I would consider trying to acquire him if the price was low enough, especially in OBP leagues.
Tristan Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox
There was good reason to be excited about the Red Sox’ rookie first baseman this season. He posted a .281/.389./500 triple slash with 12 home runs over just 334 plate appearances at AAA before being called up to the big club last season. After his promotion, the 6’4″ lefty slugger launched five-round trippers and posted an extremely encouraging .358 on-base percentage and a promising .766 OPS. His batting average with the big club was just .197, but that came with a shockingly low .208 BABIP.
The first few weeks of 2023 have not been as encouraging. Casas checks in with a .136/.275/.318 line on the season. Like Rendon, his walk rate has remained strong, but there is not much else to love here. Casas’ chase rate is average for the league, but his strikeout rate places just above the bottom 10% and his whiff rate inside the bottom quarter of the league. He is posting above-average exit velocity and barrel rates, but his hard-hit percentage sits in the league’s bottom fifth.
Casas still has a ludicrously low BABIP at .154, which is staggeringly bad compared to the MLB average of .295, so there is definitely a degree of bad luck here, but his expected batting average is still just .181. I have cut ties with Casas in 12-team leagues, but I still think his combination of power and plate discipline can turn him into an impact player. This is his first full MLB campaign after all. I’m not advocating dealing for Casas right now, but if he was dropped in your league, I would consider adding him or at least placing him on my watch list.
Jack Suwinski, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jack Suwinski ended his 2022 rookie season with one of the weirdest splits I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t his .794 OPS vs right-handed pitchers compared to his .511 OPS vs lefties. That kind of split is fairly common for left-handed sluggers. No, it was Jack’s extreme home/away splits that really stood out. His .982 OPS in the comfy confines of PNC Park was nearly 600 points higher than his .395 OPS anywhere else. Even if he played his home games at Coors and his road games in Yosemite that would be nearly impossible to reproduce.
Whatever the issue was, it appears fixed, as Suwinski comes into today with a 1.221 road OPS and an overall .255/.383./.638 line. He’s launched five dingers, swiped a couple of bases and driven in 12 runs over just 60 plate appearances. His underlying numbers are even more impressive. Jack ranks in the top five percent of the league in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, barrel rate, walk rate, and chase rate. His only real deficiencies are whiff and strikeout rates hovering around the bottom fifth of the league, but that’s manageable.
He also plays for the current best team in the National League (every chance I get) and bats behind Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Santana who are getting on base at rates of .359, .369, and .358 respectively. Right now that’s an even better setup than what Rendon is getting behind the Ward, Trout, and Ohtani trio. If you can still add him, do it now before you read about the next two risers. Jack is out of the box and that roster percentage is going to price him out of deep leagues if he keeps this up.
Brent Rooker, OF, Oakland Athletics
At first glance, Brent Rooker looks like a classic Max Muncy-style late bloomer finally getting a chance to prove himself in the majors. He has a strong minor league track record, eclipsing a .900 OPS in 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022. It dipped a bit at AA in 2018 and there was no minor league season in 2020, but Rooker played in seven games for the Twins in that covid-shortened year and posted .960 OPS over his 21 MLB plate appearances. He got a brief shot with Minnesota in ’21 and struggled to the tune .210/.291/.397 over 213 plate appearances. Last season Rooker had short stints with the Padres and Royals and managed just a .125/.222/.156 triple slash. He had the look of a AAAA player through and through.
Thankfully for the 6’4″ righty, the rebuilding A’s had room in their lineup to give Rooker one more chance. And thankfully for us deep league enthusiasts, Rooker has excelled so far. He has managed a robust .333/.441./.729! line across his first 16 games while slugging six round-trippers and 14 RBI despite playing for one of the worst overall offenses in the league. He has walked as often as he has struck out, ten times apiece, and his underlying rates are just as eye-popping as his standard numbers.
Rooker currently has a 93.5 MPH average exit velocity, placing him in the top 10% of hitters. He’s got a barrel percentage of 23.1, placing in the league’s top three percent. His strikeout rate is in the top quartile and his walk rate is in the top tenth. And his BABIP checks in at .303, slightly above league average, but not to a degree that screams or even suggests regression. There is a good chance Rooker is still available in your league. Now is the perfect time to change that.
Mauricio Dubón, 2B, SS, OF, Houston Astros
That’s right, all batters this week. I did think about Logan Allen, and Seth Lugo for this spot, but I don’t love their next scheduled outings, and I’m not sure how long Allen sticks with the big club as other players get healthy. But Dubon definitely deserves his spot on this list either way, and I found it fitting for him to grace our cover this week since he’s taking over the lineup spot from last week’s cover athlete, Chas McCormick.
Lance Spence recommended McCormick last week for good reason, as he had just settled in as the Astros leadoff hitter while Jose Altuve recovers from a broken thumb. Sadly, McCormick promptly hit the IL himself, and Dubon has batted first for Houston ever since. Dubon has recorded at least one hit in all nine games since taking over the leadoff spot and is currently riding an 18-game hitting streak.
Dubon has batted .300 and scored 10 runs while chipping in one stolen base over nine games at the apex of the Astros lineup. He does not walk much, having taken just two free passes on the season, but he barely strikeouts either. He ranks in the top two percent of major leaguers in both whiff and strikeout rates. Dubon qualifies at both MI spots and outfield as well and should continue to be an excellent source of runs and a batting average boost.
That wraps up DLR&F for the week. Lucas Spence will be your deep league guide again next edition. Good luck out there deep leaguers!
Sam, don’t you love moments of brilliance like “…Even if he played his home games at Coors and his road games in Yosemite that would be nearly impossible to reproduce.”
So Sudden Sam, if you had to pick one, by tomorrow night, would it be Suwinski or Rooker?
Thanks in advance,