Sometimes playing fantasy baseball can make a person feel a little bit like a dog chasing their own tail.
Nothing can ever just be easy. Just when it feels like you’ve solved one problem with your team, two more come out of nowhere. A player that was carrying you in the first couple of months of the season is now your biggest problem. Another player that you cut weeks ago is now helping your opponent beat you.
It truly is a never-ending race from the first pitch in March to the final out of championship week.
So, how should we handle this newest round of baseball frustration?
When we did these exercises early in the season, it always came with multiple warnings of caution. Especially for pitchers, it was foolhardy to make any sweeping declarations about a player when the sample size was too small to make informed decisions.
That same idea is still true in this case with Rodon, who has only made three starts since returning from injury earlier this month. None of those starts have been very good though and it’s a disheartening situation for any fantasy managers that stashed Rodon hoping for so much more.
Through his first three starts, Rodon is 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and an 11:9 K:BB ratio in 14 2/3 innings.
The good news is that Rodon came off the IL throwing heat. Last year, he averaged just under 96 mph with his fastball. Right now, his average fastball velocity is 95.3 mph, so the power is still in there.
The slider has looked really good at times, too. He’s been able to spot the low corner better than I expected at this stage. Some players take a while to lock in, but Rodon is getting nearly 20% swinging strikes on the pitch already.
Where he has struggled is with his command. In his last outing, Rodon threw 87 pitches with only 21 strikes. The slider in particular was a little wild. He threw 30 sliders with only four whiffs and two called strikes.
Verdict: Patience. All things considered, I think Rodon looks pretty good considering he hadn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 29, 2022, before coming off the IL earlier this month. The areas where Rodon is lacking, like command, are things that will develop as Rodon gets back into the swing of the game and gets more comfortable on the mound. Three starts is a ridiculously small sample size, especially for a player with Rodon’s history of success. We know exactly the type of pitcher that he can be and very likely will be again.
Let’s play a game of Player A vs. Player B:
Player A since June 1: .220/.282/.366, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 16 runs, 8 stolen bases, 79 wRC+
Player B since June 1: .225/.249/.364, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 20 runs, 6 stolen bases, 64 wRC+
Of course, neither player is doing much to help their fantasy owners. The difference is that Player A is rostered in 98% of leagues (according to Yahoo), while Player B is rostered in just 38% of leagues. You may have guessed it by now, but Player A is Wander Franco. Player B is the ignominious Javier Báez.
For years, many predicted that Franco would become one of the best young players in the game with only injuries holding him back. After an excellent start to the season, Franco finally looked to be turning that corner.
Franco’s first two months saw him hit .294 with six home runs, 28 RBI, 34 runs, and 20 stolen bases. Those months are still keeping Franco’s overall numbers respectable, but his fantasy owners have been feeling the sting for many weeks now.
The frustration has been rising for Franco, too. He was benched for two games by Rays manager Kevin Cash because, according to Cash, “the way he has handled his frustrations have not been the way that we ask our players to uphold being the best teammate.”
While the strikeouts have been up slightly for Franco during his slump, it’s not anything that’s so extreme as to be a concern. He still strikes out far less than the league average.
In fact, he’s making good contact across the board since June 1. He’s elevating well with an average 11-degree launch angle and nearly 30% flyballs, his hard-hit rate is an excellent 41.2%, and his average exit velocity is actually tracking up at 90 mph through that span.
Verdict: Patience. Some players slump because pitchers adjust and attack a hitter’s weaknesses to generate outs. That usually results in an increase in strikeouts and an increase in frustration for the player who suddenly can’t touch the ball. That can be a big issue if the batter can’t also make adjustments, but that’s not the case here. For all his public frustrations, Franco is still putting the ball in play with consistency and power. It should come as no surprise based on the numbers above that Franco’s BABIP since June 1 is .242. His career average is .295 and even that is lower than I would expect from a player with Franco’s speed. Franco will be fine.
For a good stretch of the season, it felt like the Mitch Keller breakthrough we all waited so long for was finally happening. Through the first two months of the season, Keller was 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and a stellar 85:13 K:BB ratio.
It was an impressive run for Keller who was succeeding with excellent command of a diverse arsenal of pitches. Diverse, but not elite. Most of Keller’s pitches rate at or below average by run value. Keller’s best weapon is his high 90s four-seamer which actually does a good job limiting hard contact and generating whiffs.
Keller’s early season success was driven by his ability to take full advantage of his expanded repertoire. At a very basic level, it was quantity over quality. Keller doesn’t have elite pitches, but he sure has a lot of them and he commands the strike zone well.
But over the past few weeks, a lot of that command has started to falter and his pitch mix hasn’t been as finely tuned. Since June 1, Keller is 2-5 with a 5.03 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 44:20 K:BB ratio. He has allowed 14 runs combined in his past two starts.
Verdict: Panic. I hate having to choose between one of two options, but if I have to choose, I’m going with panic. For me, that means I’m trying to sell shares of Keller while he still has value (though you might have to wait until he has a good start first). Keller does not have a long track record of success to fall back on and his previous reputation is not exactly positive. The command is a great thing to have, but it’s even better if your repertoire has elite weapons. Keller has a great fastball, but so do a lot of other pros. Until he finds a secondary that can dominate, I’m out.