Patience or Panic 8/21: Machado, Lester, Diaz
We’re now just a week and a half from the fantasy baseball playoffs, and that means it’s officially crunch time. Some people were dealt crushing blows to their rosters recently with the news of guys like Chris Sale and Fernando Tatis Jr. going down for the season, meaning it’s that much more important to take advantage of the waiver wire in an attempt to replace those key players. This also means that it is increasingly crucial to know which players on your team can safely be dropped, without fear that they will suddenly turn things around just in time to help someone else in your league win the championship. This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three under-performing players to try and determine whether or not we should maintain faith in them as we approach the most pivotal part of the season.
Manny Machado (3B, SS, San Diego Padres) – .266 AVG, 67 R, 26 HR, 71 RBI, 4 SB
After deciding to take his talents to San Diego in the offseason, Manny Machado has underwhelmed in his first season with the team, as seen by his mediocre .266 batting average and a .470 slugging percentage that is his lowest since 2014. In fact, Machado has struggled mightily of late, with just one home run and five RBI since July 21st. Part of this has to do with the fact that he is striking out 20.1% of the time, the highest rate of his career and far worse than the 14.7% strikeout rate he posted in 2018. However, his exit velocity of 90.8 mph along with his 42.1% hard-hit rate are both right around his career norms, and suggest that he is still hitting the ball well when he does make contact. Ultimately, it seems as though his new home ballpark is taking its toll on Machado’s numbers. Known as one of the biggest pitchers parks in baseball, Petco Park has clearly hurt the four time all-star at the plate this year. His .232/.298/.434 line when playing at home this year is remarkably worse than his .297/.367/.504 line when he is playing elsewhere. Therefore, while benching him during some home games if you have a reliable replacement could be seriously considered, it is clear that Machado is still more than capable of producing at an elite level, and he has proven in the past that he can get hot in a flash.
Jon Lester (SP, Chicago Cubs) – 10-8, 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 132 K, 134 IP
After a shaky 2017 season, Jon Lester bounced back for a strong 2018 campaign, despite some underlying metrics showing that he may have gotten a bit lucky. Now it seems that his luck has run out, as he has posted a 5.48 ERA since May 13th. Lester has had a great deal of trouble keeping the ball in the park this season, allowing 1.41 home runs per nine innings, his worst mark since 2007. For reference, Lester kept this number below 1.00 every year from 2008 to 2016, outside of 2012 in which it was 1.10. Ever since 2017 however, his first disappointing season, the amount of long balls he has allowed has continued to balloon. This is partially a result of batters having a hard-hit rate against him of 38.8%, easily the worst of his career. In his 13 previous seasons, batters had never made hard contact more than 32.6% of the time. He is also forcing soft contact just 15.8% of the time, the worst of his career excluding his 2006 rookie year. Lester has also lost the ability to blow the ball by opponents, with an average fastball velocity that now sits at just 90.8 mph, nearly a full tick down from last season and over two mph slower than in 2016 when he routinely topped 93 on the gun. Despite using his offspeed pitches more often in an attempt to adjust (he has thrown his fastball 30% of the time compared to 45.2% last year), it is still easier for opposing hitters to face him without that extra threat of not being able to catch up to a heater. Given all of this information, it is unlikely that Lester is able to perform consistently. He will surely have a strong game here and there like he did against the Pirates a few days ago, but I cannot trust him in the fantasy playoffs, where one implosion could mean the end of your season.
Edwin Diaz (RP, New York Mets) – 1-6, 5.32 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 25 SV, 77 K, 47.1 IP
After entering the season as the top closer in fantasy baseball, Edwin Diaz has been nothing short of a disaster in his first season with the New York Mets. For starters, Diaz is walking way too many batters, giving up 3.61 free passes per nine innings. Those have frequently turned into extra runs, as he is also allowing 2.09 homers per nine innings, compared to 0.87, 1.36, and 0.61 in his previous three seasons in the big leagues. Batters are simply having their way with the 25-year-old at the plate this year, as he has given up hard contact 45.5% of the time, which is good for the bottom 3% of the league. However, there are still some positive takeaways, even after being temporarily taken out of the closer’s role in favor of Seth Lugo. His 36.7% strikeout rate is still in the top 2% of the league, while a 3.30 xFIP and 2.89 SIERA show that perhaps he has been pitching better than most of these stats would show. It also seems that his biggest mechanical problem has been with his slider, and pitching coach Phil Regan seems to believe that Diaz is on the verge of fixing the pitch. Hitters owned a batting average of just .129 against Diaz’s slider last season, compared to over .300 this year, so it would appear that fixing the slider is the ultimate key to Diaz becoming an elite relief pitcher once again. Still not entirely out of the mix for saves in the short-term, I believe the hard-throwing reliever will figure out his slider any day now, and he will get back to his dominant form just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)