The end of June is upon us which means the All Star Break is just around the corner. Right about now is usually when I find that higher end players are getting moved up or down dynasty and keeper rankings based on their performance. Even just a few weeks back you could argue that the sample size is too small and chalk things up to a slow or hot start. However, with every week that passes that sample size grows and eventually you reach a threshold of information that can justify a rankings or valuation adjustment. For me, this becomes a battle between my head and my heart as I find it particularly difficult to downgrade players who just a couple months back I may have seen as stars.
Two of those players for me right now are Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts. I am not going to take the space here to delve into their years, but use them more as the example of phenomenal players who have underperformed on their expectations. There is still plenty of time for them to remind everyone how incredible they can be, but right now it’s hard to defend either as a top ten player in dynasty leagues.
What’s my point with all of this? I suppose it’s to remind you that change is inevitable and we are approaching a critical point in the season. If you are still holding onto pre-season valuations of players, you need to make some adjustments based on their 2021 body of work.
Let’s get to why you are really here. This week in our Performance Report we have three “Buys” and one “Sell”.
I was not “in” on Ryan Mountcastle heading into this year for several reasons. The main reason being that I felt his price was only taking into account his stellar 2020 performance without any sort of sophomore regression baked in. I felt like he profiled more as a .240 hitter with good power than the .300+ hitter that he showed in his 35 games last season.
There were a lot of reports that prior to his 2020 call up the Orioles front office has Mountcastle working intentionally on his plate discipline and strike zone awareness. Those reports were a big reason many in the baseball community felt that his 2020 was maybe a little more real than not. After all, he posted the highest walk rate of his career (majors or minors) at 7.9%. For the uninitiated, the reason I’m always harping on higher walk rates is because it tells me that even if a batter goes through a slump at the plate, at least he will still have the occasional chance to get on base and provide you with some runs.
Through the beginning of June 2nd of this year, I felt somewhat vindicated in my offseason valuation of Mountcastle. He was batting .238/.265/.400 with six home runs and three stolen bases. At times he simply looked lost at the plate and he was striking out at a 31.6% clip while only walking 3.6% of the time. Any gains he had made at the plate appeared to have been lost.
I there more to this story? Perhaps pitchers were adjusting to Mountcastle and he simply needed to adjust in return. The last 21 days paint a much different picture as we see Mountcastle with a .338/.380/.608 slash line. I’m still not crazy about a walk rate as low as his in this time period, but the six home runs are encouraging. His BABIP during this time is pretty ridiculous (.396), and while he has been hitting less grounders in general, he still needs to work on his zone recognition and where and when he is swinging.
The time to buy low on Mountcastle is likely gone, and even though it might not seem like it, I would have been buying him a month ago at a discount. Currently, it’s hard for me to see a world where a Mountcastle owner is selling him at a discount. I could see talking myself into believing Mountcastle is more a .250 than .240 hitter, and for that reason I am probably looking to sell him right now. His stock is back on the upswing and there could be an owner in your league who doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get him now before it’s too late.
Speaking of guys who got hyped, enter Nicky Lopez. All I remember reading about last year was how he had spent the offseason working out with Whit Merrifield and so naturally the comparisons began to run wild. Lopez was one of those sleepers who had fantasy owners salivating at the thought of a guy who might give them mid-teens in power and enough stolen bases to make a splash in the standings.
The reality of the situation was anything but what I just described. Lopez ended 2020 as one of the worst full-time hitters in the league with a .201/.286/.266 triple-slash and just one home run to hang his hat on. He was dreadful at the plate and ceded playing time early this season when he started just as cold at the plate as he was in 2020.
Lopez’ first two months of the year saw him bouncing in and out of the lineup and only hitting .227. He did have a handful of stolen bases and a nice 10.8% walk rate, but even with his solid defense at 2B, he looked more and more like a bench player than anything else. The month of June has been an entirely different story for Lopez with him batting .346/.443/.365 while also walking at a 14.8% rate and only striking out 14% of the time. He’s actually looked, dare I say, like a major league player.
Now I know what you are thinking, that this is not an attractive profile for fantasy. There is almost zero power to speak of in the bat. No seriously, he has zero barrels on 162 balls put into play this year and his launch angle is only 2.8%. I get it, that doesn’t sound like a guy to invest in… but here’s the thing, how different is this player than what we were hoping to get from Nick Madrigal? Granted, Madrigal played for a better team and also saw himself batting in a better spot in the lineup, but as far as their player profiles go there are a lot of similarities. In fact, Lopez actually has a huge edge over Madrigal when it comes to taking walks.
Right now, you can probably get Lopez for free in most leagues. He isn’t a guy I’d be looking at in shallow leagues, but in deep leagues and dynasty, he’s worth a look especially as a replacement for the injured Madrigal. With Mondesi out, Lopez has a little more runway to try and re-establish himself as a apart of the Royals future. This past month the Royals offense has struggled and Lopez has been one of their best on-base options, so could it also be within the realm of possibility that he moves up to try and spark something? I don’t know, but this is the type of guy I love because the risk is next to nothing. If the guy I’m terming “Madrigal-lite” doesn’t work out, just cut him.
Verdict: BUY – likely on waivers or should cost nothing as a dart throw
There must be something in the water in San Francisco, because that entire pitching staff has exceeded preseason expectations. Johnny Cueto in particular has surprised me this year and is someone I am targeting in leagues where I need innings. He isn’t a bet for strikeouts any more but his walk rate is near elite at 4.3% and his fastball velocity is up just a tad over where it’s been the last few years.
Buying Cueto is a little less about me thinking he is an amazing pitcher and more about me not knowing how pitching will look in the second half of this season. There are so many variables at play and anywhere I can find safety and a buoy for my ratios, I want to take it. Pitchers might start getting shut down earlier or in a greater quantity than normal due to last season’s shortened schedule, which means quality innings are going to be in a high demand.
If my team is competitive, I am looking at acquiring Cueto whether we are talking redraft, keeper, or dynasty. Even if my staff feels solid, I would advise you look at adding a veteran (whether Cueto or someone else). Injuries are piling up and your staff could get decimated by bad luck or injury in the blink of an eye.
Nicky Lopez’s 2020 batting average would like to thank Hunter Renfroe’s average of .156 for making him feel a little better about himself. Hunter Renfroe was moved from the Padres to the Rays in 2020, and he just never looked comfortable. To this point in his career he had settled in as a low average, decent walk, and high power bat. This three true outcome profile almost reminded me at times of Adam Dunn, which is probably why I never regarded Renfroe in a positive light.
This offseason Renfroe moved over to the Red Sox where it was assumed he would settle in as a platoon bat at best. What we’ve seen instead is a revelation of sorts. Renfroe has put together a .263/.321/.447 line with nine home runs while also piling up 38 runs and 36 RBI. This might not seem like any sort of world changer in the statistical department, but the improvement over what was expected is incredible. The driving force behind this maturation is his improved zone swing % and zone contact %. Not to oversimplify things, but he is just making better contact than he ever has at pitches in the zone and actually identifying those balls better than he ever has.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d be buying in on Renfroe. If you compare his Statcast page from last season to this season, it’s pretty clear that whatever he was dealing with is in the rearview and we are seeing actual growth. He might have traded some of his power for contact, but I’ll take it if that means he won’t submarine by batting average or get benched for someone who can actually hit.
Photo by Mick Haupt/Unsplash | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)