This is it. For head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues, we’ve reached the final week of the regular season. This means there is no more time to wait and see on players, as every at-bat could be the difference between advancing or your fantasy season ending a bit earlier than you’d like. With every week now potentially being your last, it’s more crucial than ever to start the right guys in your lineup and avoid that one, dreaded “six earned runs in 3.2 innings” pitching performance that could wreck your entire season.
While it is obviously impossible to perfectly predict these things, we can at least look more closely at players, especially those who have struggled of late, to see how likely they are to repeat these poor performances. This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we closely examine three under-performing players to try and determine if any of them are on the verge of turning things around in a hurry. With the season so close to its end, these players are on an extremely short leash, so let’s see which of these struggling players are still worthy of our faith.
Austin Meadows (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)
.202 AVG, 17 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB
Coming off a strong breakout season that saw him bat .291/.364/.558 with 33 homers and 12 steals, Austin Meadows has underwhelmed to say the least, barely keeping his average above the Mendoza Line, while failing to display the same levels of power or speed. The 25-year-old got off to an even later start than most this season due to COVID-19 complications along with some nagging injuries, and it has certainly shown. Meadows has struck out a whopping 32% of the time this year, compared to just 22.2% during his massive 2019 season. This strikeout rate has only gotten worse of late, with 10 Ks in his last four games, all of which were hit-less performances. His 12.7% swinging strike rate is his worst since 2014 when he was still a teenager just starting out in the minors.
Inability to make contact aside, Meadows actually has hit the ball with similar force to last season, with a more than respectable 42.3% hard-hit rate and a solid 90.2 mph average exit velocity. However, despite an inflated 23.4 degree launch angle this season, up more than 50% from his career norm, he has failed to translate his hard contact into home runs, with his last one coming on Aug. 18. Unfortunately, these hits are now resulting in fly outs more than anything else, as shown by an increased 52.1% fly ball rate versus a declining 19.7% line drive rate.
This combination of fly outs and strikeouts is not one built for success, and there is little reason to believe this will change in the last couple weeks of the season. While I like his outlook for 2021, it seems that injuries and illness have gotten the best of Meadows in this shortened 2020 MLB season.
Chris Paddack (SP, San Diego Padres)
3-4, 4.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 48 K, 47.1 IP
For Chris Paddack, there is no doubt about his talent on the mound. He has clearly shown that he has the stuff to be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues for many years to come. Unfortunately to this point, he has been maddeningly inconsistent. In his last five starts, he got blown out by the Dodgers, giving up six runs through just three innings of work, then pitched a great one run game against the Rangers, allowed six more runs against the Mariners, bounced back to throw a six-inning shutout against the Rockies at Coors, and then couldn’t even make it through five innings in his most recent start against Oakland.
Likely the biggest reason for his struggles and inconsistency this season has been his inability to keep the ball in the park. He has already given up ten long balls in nine starts this season, including five between both of his miserable six run performances. That’s good for a 1.90 HR/9 and a 22.2% home run to fly ball ratio.
Aside from that, is 11.1% swinging strike rate is nearly identical to last year, while his 77.4% contact rate allowed is actually a slight improvement compared to his rookie season. Paddack also has a 3.69 xFIP and a 3.83 SIERA, indicating better overall pitching than his 4.75 ERA shows.
Paddack has a nice upcoming schedule, with half of his remaining starts coming against a Giants team that he has pitched very well against in four career starts, while three of his four upcoming starts are at home, where he has consistently performed better in his time in the big leagues. Benching him in his one remaining start against the Dodgers might not be a bad idea, but I am otherwise confident that Paddack will look like an ace in these last few starts before the Padres get to the postseason.
Frankie Montas (SP, Oakland Athletics)
3-3, 5.73 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 37 K, 37.2 IP
After an electric 2019 season that saw him go 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA, Frankie Montas started his 2020 with more of the same in his first four starts, only to seemingly fall off a cliff in his most recent four outings. In that time, Montas has allowed 20 earned runs in just 14.2 innings, watching his ERA balloon from 1.57 to 5.73. Just before this miserable stretch ensued, Montas had been scratched from a start and pushed back a few days due to some upper back tightness. It is entirely possible that this discomfort led to his struggles, as he looked more like his previously dominant self in his most recent start against the Astros.
Overall on the year, Montas has allowed an impressive 31% hard contact rate, while keeping opposing batters to an 87.5 mph average exit velocity. His 21.8% strikeout rate is considerably lower than a season ago, but that’s not for a lack of missing bats, as his 10.8% swinging strike rate is right where it was in 2019. That’s not the only area where Montas seems due for some positive regression, as his 67.3% left on base rate should not be so low, especially considering he has only given up five homers on the season.
Overall, Montas seems to have broken through his rough patch, and his back is hopefully back to 100% health now. With upcoming starts set to come against the Rangers, Giants, and Mariners, Montas should be able to help fantasy teams in a big way in these final weeks.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)