It’s getting late in the season. The final makeup of your fantasy league is likely starting to take shape. The teams on top are well separated from the teams on the bottom. But no matter how your league is constructed, there still is time for one last push. It’s never been more important to find the players to help you finish strong.
Casas came into the league as a guy who knows how to get on base. He has a career .374 OBP in the minors in 1,019 at-bats though that was tempered a bit by a .269 batting average and 1.58 K:BB. Thanks to his size (6-5/240), scouts projected he would be able to grow into his power as he moved toward the big leagues. And, if he could cut his strikeout rate, then the sky would be the limit on his potential.
It was not looking good for Casas for much of this season.
In the first two months, he slashed .193/.308/.359 with an 80 wRC+. There were some encouraging signs like his 14.5 BB%, six home runs, and a 91.6 mph average exit velocity. Slowly but surely, his upside started to emerge. He earned the AL Rookie of the Month award in July after hitting .348/.442/.758 with seven home runs, 16 runs, 13 RBI, and a 215 wRC+.
While there have been some ups and downs, Casas is still rolling strong. Since the beginning of August, he’s added another seven home runs along with 19 RBI, 17 runs, and a .307/.402/.564 slash line. His strikeout rate during this most recent stretch is still a little high but is basically within the league average at 22.2%. Overall this season it’s at 24.9%.
Casas is a big student of the game and has displayed a great ability to make adjustments. There’s not one main pitch that’s keeping Casas down. I wouldn’t say much of anything is keeping him down at this point.
Verdict: Legit. Casas might never be a .300 hitter, but he simply doesn’t have to be in order to prove useful. He has struggled heavily at times in his first big league season this year but still heads into the middle of September with 23 home runs and a line of .268/.368/.503. I don’t even think we’ve seen the ceiling as far as his power or on-base skills are concerned and his strikeout rate is dropping by the day. He’s in the top quartile in xwOBA, xSLG, average EV, barrel rate, hard-hit rate, chase rate, and walk rate. His defense could use a lot of work, but he plays first base, so I doubt that’s going to hold him back. He could be a better version of Matt Olson before too long.
We’ve been through this exercise with Outman already. Outman was one of the hottest rookie hitters in baseball with a slash line of .292/.376/.615 and a 166 wRC+ through the end of April. Even in the midst of his early hot streak, the warning signs were there – particularly a 33% strikeout rate and .396 BABIP. Everything pointed to an upcoming crash.
And crash he did. Outman became nearly irrelevant in fantasy baseball. From May 1 through June 30, Outman’s strikeout rate climbed and his BABIP normalized, resulting in a line of .192/.277/.274 and a 54 wRC+.
But that wasn’t the end of Outman’s story.
Since the beginning of July, Outman has rediscovered some of that early-season magic and put his name back into the mix as a fantasy-relevant player. In that period, Outman is slashing .289/.424/.465 with a 151 wRC+. He’s also hit eight of his 17 home runs.
So what about those warning signs? Well, they’re back too.
His strikeout rate since July 1 is 28.3% and the BABIP has shot back up to .396. He has struggled with sliders, though curveballs seem to be his biggest kryptonite. Overall, Outman has .174 xBA against the curve this season. He did improve slightly in August which is an encouraging sign, but it is a small sample. He saw a similar positive adjustment against sliders briefly this season only to watch those trends reverse. He has a .175 xBA against sliders this season. So, he has a couple of areas that need work.
Verdict: Not legit. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. Outman soars early in the season, pitchers adjust, and Outman crashes. Then Outman makes adjustments and he soars again. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle: he’s not as good as his hot streaks and not as bad as his cold streaks. Since this is his first real season in the big leagues, we don’t have enough of a track record to base our information. On one hand, Outman does a great job barreling up the ball and hitting it hard. That combined with a high-percentile sprint speed could help him survive with a high BABIP. On the other hand, Outman desperately needs to get the strikeouts under control. Until that happens, he’ll never be better than a streaming option.
Manning has been quite the surprise over the past month. He has allowed just a single earned run over his past four starts. Even if you go back to the start of July and include a few of his bad starts, he still comes out with a 4-3 record, 3.47 ERA, and a minuscule 0.96 WHIP. As a Tigers fan, I love to see it. As somebody who likes to analyze baseball statistics, I have some concerns.
Let’s start with the good. Manning does an excellent job pounding the strike zone. Over his past four starts, he’s thrown 64% of his pitches for strikes and is not afraid to work in dangerous areas. His four-seamer, slider, and curve all live in the zone at a much higher rate than the league average. His pitches have average to below-average movement and velocity, but he makes up for it with strong control. Manning’s walk rate on the season is an excellent 6.4%.
Manning is a PLV hero. His slider rates in the 98th percentile at 5.72 and his four-seamer isn’t far behind at 5.08 (73rd percentile).
On the bad side, Manning does not miss many bats. His CSW already falls slightly below average at 27.8% and even that is largely fueled by an abnormally high 19.2% called strikes. That mark is in the 95th percentile and is very atypical from the Manning we’ve seen in the past. He has remarkably low whiff rates on his primary pitches.
When batters do connect with Manning’s pitches, they hit it hard. He’s giving up a 90.7 average exit velocity and 11% barrel rate.
Verdict: Not legit. Manning is playing with fire with how much he relies on batters NOT swinging at his pitches in order to find success. When opposing hitters do swing, they tend to hit the ball hard. Fortunately for Manning, those hits have not amounted to much lately. He has a .130 BABIP over his recent four-game stretch and a .209 BABIP since the start of July. If it all feels almost too good to be true, it probably is.