The title of this column truncating the legitimacy of its own name seems exceedingly appropriate as we dive headfirst into binary conclusions on fewer than 10 games of data. Although a more calculated sabermetrician may reserve judgment until we reach a statistically significant sample size, we the fantasy community don’t have the luxury or collective patience to wait. So gather your FAAB, reset your expectations, and grab some floaties because we’re going swimming amongst the sharks in a sea of speculation.
Yermín Mercedes is extraordinary.
The Nationals cut the burly 5’11, 245-pound Dominican catcher in 2013 after three straight seasons in Rookie Ball. Unable to secure employment in the minor leagues, Yermín spent all of 2014 with the Douglas Diablos of the Independent League. Ordinarily, this sort of negative trajectory would portend an early retirement. However, Yermín Mercedes is anything but ordinary.
Yermín fought from the obscurity of Douglas back to the minor leagues in 2015, and since then Mercedes has been the model of consistency at the plate. Through eight minor league seasons, he registered an .857 OPS with an above-average wRC+ (with a low of 107) every season of his minor league career. The question with Mercedes always revolves around his athletic and defensive deficiencies limiting his ability to find a spot at the major league level. Given the White Sox depth at catcher and the impending arrival of Andrew Vaughn, who seemed ticketed for the 1B/DH split with Jose Abreu, these fears made Mercedes an afterthought on draft day.
Yet again, despite the adversity in front of him – Yermín persevered. With a current logic-defying triple-slash of .556/.571/.889, a BABIP of .591, the 2nd best wRC+ in baseball, and a jaw-dropping 485 foot home run under his belt, Yermín has earned the chance to solidify his spot in the lineup.
Despite the regression he will undoubtedly suffer, Yermín’s competence with the bat is proven across all levels for close to a decade. His seasoned approach at the plate vacillating between a massive leg kick in early counts and a choked-up two strikes approach has led to an elite 10.7 K%.
Although some may assume his frame signals a more power-dependent profile, Yermín is just a flat-out skilled pull hitter with an advanced approach defying his rookie status. If you’re lucky enough to be in a league where he qualifies at C, there is legitimate potential to finish as the top overall catcher, especially in .AVG leagues.
Just as he has done throughout his career, his run as an above-average hitter looks like it will continue at the highest level.
Less than two months ago, a 29-year-old Naquin signed a minor league contract with the Reds, which barely registered as a blip on the transaction wire. Buried behind a deep outfield consisting of Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama, and Aristides Aquino, Naquin was fighting for big-league employment more than he was a lineup spot. Yet due to injuries to Winker and Akiyama, a multi-game resting for Nick Senzel, and a few early season bombs, Naquin has occupied the leadoff spot against righties for the Reds. He has parlayed this opportunity into 5 HR’s, 14 RBI’s, and an OPS of 1.363 which is one spot behind a more familiar league leader named Mike Trout. Have we found another Mercedes-esque late-20’s breakout?
Digging under the hood, there is a lot to keep the spirits of the Naquin hopeful buoyed. More specifically, his barrel rate of 23.8% is almost triple his 8.1% career average and his average exit velocity of 97 MPH is up almost a full seven MPH over his career average.
However, it must be noted that the Reds have not faced a lefty starter during this run, and Naquin’s career splits (.798 OPS v. Righties, .695 OPS v. lefties) and history as a platoon bat lessen the chances that Naquin will suddenly become an everyday starter. Furthermore, with Castellanos occupying RF, Winker still producing in LF, and prized former top pick Nick Senzel enjoying a mini-breakout of his own, Naquin will be hard-pressed to even guarantee a consistent platoon starter’s role. Add to this that Naquin’s five home runs have been hit against a group of unproven-to-replacement-level pitchers (Tyler Webb, Trevor Cahill x2 , Chad Kuhl, and Taylor Widener) and there is more reason for skepticism than jubilance if you were lucky enough to secure him for this hot streak.
Naquin’s blistering start to the season is decidedly less legit than that of Mercedes. His uncertain role as a potential lefty platoon bat in a crowded outfield and the nature of his thriving off weak competition suggest this start is:
In his seminal work highlighting the innate flaws in Musgrove’s excessive reliance on his fastball, Pitcher List writer Michael Ajeto may have catalyzed a change that led to the first no-hitter in Padres history. Regardless of the mechanism that got us here, Joe Musgrove has gotten the message and is thriving.
Though we only have a limited sample of 15 innings to work off of, Musgrove has cut usage of his four-seam fastball from (26.9% in 2020 to 12.6% this season). He replaced his fastball with a cutter (6.4% in 2020 to 24.7 % this season) and increased the usage of his slider (24.2% to 26.8%) which continues to produce elite expected stats and a 50% whiff rate. Although his cutter has not produced whiffs or expected stats at the rate of his breaking pitches, there are signs that it may tunnel better with his slider and curveball combo than his 4-seamer has. These changes were magnified during Musgrove’s miraculous no-hitter where he threw only eight fastballs throughout the 112 pitch effort and none in the last three innings.
Through two starts and 15 IP Musgrove has not allowed a run and K’d 18 batters, producing a 0.20 WHIP. As the current league leader in WAR for pitchers, Musgrove is reaching new heights with his changed approach and there is undeniably enough here to speculate that this is a real and lasting change.
Obviously, Musgrove, with a preseason ADP of 122.91, is legit relative to the above off-the-radar breakouts. But these early returns are enough to substantiate an argument that Musgrove may be vaunting his way into the elite top 10 SP’s in all of fantasy. Given the changes in his repertoire that were long overdue and the returns that were a Joey Gallo HBP away from being classifiable as perfect, Musgrove’s breakout looks:
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