The Legitmus Test: On Validation – ManoahMania, Lux, and Austin Riley

Calculated Validation in a Sea of Misinformation

Validation, sweet validation. That invigorating feeling when your waiver pickup goes yard on the first at-bat or that SP you streamed pitches a shutout or even a No-Hitter (Tip of the cap to you, Mr. Turnbull). Or when you sell high on a surging bat at the optimal moment leveraging their hot run to buy low on the swooning Lindors of the world. Validation is a drug and the fantasy community peddles it like hot cakes.

The veterans remain patient and as we know with all things, moderation is the way. Easier said than done in a game that gives you daily returns. You flock to box scores praying to see the counting stats, the K’s, the breakouts. Then when the games are over you flock to the analysts to pat you on the back for making that oh so genius move that takes you one step closer to glory.

The sinkhole of compulsive validation is lurking around every corner of the fantasy baseball blogosphere. Resist the temptation – celebrate your victories but never let them consume your more calculated mind. This game is a fluid one in which one tweak can change everything (looking at you Gausman and Muncy).

The Legitmus Test is here to provide you calculated validation. Yes, I will wrap you in that warm blanket of validation you seek like a fiend in the night but it will be layered in substance, analysis, and narratives that allow you to dig past the surface to really understand the truth of this volatile and unforgiving world. With the wide eyes of hope, we seek our fix:

 

Alek Manoah

We are one start into the career of Manoah and the community is buzzing like they’ve just witnessed the second coming. FAAB bids were ranging from 25-50% of season long budgets for the 6’6 260-pound slider-slinging, fireballing behemoth named Alek Manoah.

The 2019 11th overall pick started the AAA season on a run that could not be ignored where he only allowed one ER in 18 IP with an absurd 27 K/2 BB. He parlayed this into a debut on the grandest of stages – on the road at Yankee Stadium where Manoah exceeded even the loftiest of expectations:

The metrics are impressive but is there anything supporting the small sample size brilliance you say? Oh, do we have some GIFs for you! Facing the 3rd batter of his career, Aaron Judge stepped to the plate hoping to humble the rookie. Yet, in two swings he first falls to his knees unable to touch a fastball riding in then swings his bat like he was wielding a fly swatter on tape delay unable to touch a 97 fastball right over the heart of the plate.

This is the stuff of prospect dreams – a shutout for a top prospect in his debut with over a K/IP on the road against a supposedly quality opponent. Yet it must be noted that the beleaguered Yankees were fielding a lineup with 5 batters under the Mendoza line and missing both Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit. Despite this qualifier, Manoah is a can’t miss prospect who continues to exceed expectations and is well worthy of a significant FAAB investment.

There is some concern about a potential innings limit considering he only logged 35 minor league innings since he was drafted in 2019. However, if you were to include his college stats from 2019 at West Virginia he tallied 125.1 IP that season. With the significant potential to be a season-long asset in Ks, there is enough helium here to provide great value through the summer.

I will defer any further pitching analysis to our pitching deities Eno Sarris and our very own Nick Pollack. Eno, in his most recent Rates & Barrels episode, classifies Manoah as a top 40 SP ROS, noting his Stuff+ gives him a top 10 fastball in all of baseball. While Nick just debuted Manoah at 47 overall on The List. It is not often a pitching prospect immediately vaults into the top 40 SPs in the game but Manoah has loudly entered the chat and has enough upside to dream of further ascension.

With a start against the Marlins on deck today I will be keenly tuned into this gargantuan hype train that could carry Manoah into the Rookie of the Year conversation. After one start I am calling my shot, Manoah is:

LEGIT

 

Gavin Lux

Over the last 15 days Gavin Lux has been a top 20 batter. The fantasy community has long been teased by the upside of Gavin Lux awaiting the breakout of the former top prospect who posted a gaudy 1.197 OPS in AAA in 2019. So far that success has not translated to the majors but Lux is still only 23 years old, suggesting that the long-awaited breakout could occur at any moment. After a 2 HR performance against the Cardinals on Monday including one off of ace Jack Flaherty some are ready to annoint this the beginning of Lux’s long-awaited breakout.

But, there are some clear deficiencies in Lux’s profile that may make this designation premature. Most notably, his inability to perform against lefties. Let’s take a look at Lux’s splits:

The weakness is clear and this has been a multi-year trend that saw Lux go 2 for 22 against Lefties in 2019 and 2020 combined. The Dodgers have been willing to give Lux more at bats against lefties this season as he has gotten the start against a few lefties in the last month but until this trend reverses course, there is a valid fear that Lux could develop into a platoon bat, greatly limiting his upside.

Even ignoring the deficiency in same-handed matchups looking at Lux’s complete profile the full package is so far underwhelming:

Performing below league average in the majority of his Savant metrics, having never hit a ball 110 MPH in his MLB career, and with the floor of a strong side platoon bat, you’d be smart to shop Lux after his recent hot streak. Being a former top prospect on a marquee team getting regular playing time in arguably the league’s greatest lineup will have some owners drooling on the potential of the upside. This can cause them to overlook the obvious downside and a floor much lower than his current performance level. Sell high if you can.

Although none of the above should discount the obvious long-term potential Lux has to assert himself as a fantasy force in the coming years, I do not think this is the year he will put it all together. With the potential to fall into a platoon situation, I wouldn’t be shocked if Lux were to hit the waiver wire in competitive 12 team leagues. Making this breakout:

NOT LEGIT

 

Austin Riley

Austin Riley was an all or nothing thumper. He hits bombs and he K’s, we know this. Since we were introduced to Riley in 2019, a year where his 36.4% K rate rivaled league leaders Chris Davis(39.5%) and Joey Gallo(38.4%) this has been a steady profile that was easy to compartmentalize.

Yet if you haven’t been tuned in, 2021 Riley is suddenly posting a BA over .300. In a season where the league-wide batting average has catapulted to an all-time low of .236 and the K rate is at an all-time high of 8.99/game, Riley’s transformation has been one of the more ironic developments over the first couple of months. How could he improve in all the areas the rest of the league is fading? What is driving these changes?

A deeper look into his profile shows some stark revelations that support a new approach from the 24-year-old power prospect. Let’s take a look at his plate discipline skills and batted ball data:

As you can see there are dramatic changes to Riley’s profile here. From 2019 Riley has cut his Zone Swing by 12%, his Chase rate overall swing % and first swing % by almost 9 each. Add to this that Riley has continued to increase his Opposite field % each season up over 3% since his 2019 debut and you are seeing a hitter with a clearly adapted approach.

Further supporting these changes are the shifts in his K%(down over 9% since 2019) and BB% which has more than doubled from 5.4 to 10.9%. All of these changes can be cleanly understood – Riley is seeing the ball better, is being more patient at the plate, and more selective on pitches within the zone. The alignment across his profile fitting the general narrative makes his profile all the more compelling.

However, be forewarned that Riley is not suddenly a .300 BA type hitter. He is undoubtedly improved since his debut but his .394 BABIP and .266 xBA are clear indicators that he’s had some luck thus far. Furthermore, his overall stat line is greatly buoyed by an 8-16 4 HR, 9 RBI series he just posted against the cellar-dwelling Pirates.

Despite that, the changed approach in his age 24 season is legit and his recent ascension to the cleanup spot in an elite Braves lineup further increases his ceiling. Riley looks to be on his way to a career year with underlying metrics echoing the changes the Braves are trusting in the heart of their order. Giving this breakout a qualified….

LEGIT

Featured image by Justin Paradis (JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Sami Alsado

Sami is a lifelong Reds sufferer, proud Buckeye, NYC attorney and statistical romantic who you can find disguised in a Yankee hat with the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium. When not overanalyzing the fringe of his roto roster you can find him desperately seeking reservations at Michelin starred restaurants and exuberantly jumping off balance at concerts.

  • Avatar Pat Staats says:

    This piece is as heavy as my weighted blanket. Upping my confidence in some of these players. Thanks Sami.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    I appreciate the straightforward judgement at the end. They might look bad in a few months, but it is all part of the game.

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