Written by: Scott Rowland
Another week in the books. The White Sox have struggled dropping 11 of their last 14 games. The Royals and Giants have won 10 of their last 13 contests. And while the Red Sox continue to score a ton of runs (73), the Pirates have scored more over the past two weeks with 78.
Over the past two week Gregory Polanco tops the ESPN player rater, along with surprises Jonathan Villar and Logan Morrison at second and third overall. Clayton Kershaw is no surprise as the top pitcher on the list, but a few unlikely names round out the top-10 such as Nathan Eovaldi (5), Matt Shoemaker (7) and Marco Estrada (10).
Lets look at some of the biggest gainers and losers in the last two weeks
Rich Hill: Rich Hill strikeout potential generated much excitement for the Cubs organization during his minor league days and time in the majors from 2005 to 2007, but he often had trouble finding the strike zone.It took him eight years of bouncing around between six different clubs before finally getting some recognition after dominating in four starts for the Red Sox at the end of 2015. He’s had several brilliant stretches this season, one such stretch coming over the past two weeks. Hill has won his last three starts, posting a 1.34 ERA and 0.99 WHIP along with a 9.40 K/9, a 1.79 BB/9 and a 49% groundball rate.
Hill’s curveball is nearly unhittable when he’s throwing it well. Not only is he throwing it well right now, he’s throwing it about 5% more than his career average. It has a positive value of 7.1, and is a great setup pitch for his fastball which is generating a SwStr% of 12.2. His control has been outstanding, walking less than half of his career average during the last two weeks. Hill won’t continue being a top 10 pitcher, but until he loses control of his curveball he should continue to be a great source of strikeouts, innings, and ERA and quality starts.
Your league mates probably have healthy skepticism regarding him, so unless you can get a top 25ish starter as a return, I’d hold and wait for the wheels to come off.
Gregory Polanco: Another former high-end prospect graces us as one of the top performers over the past two weeks. Polanco has batted .377 with three home runs, three stolen bases, 12 RBIs and 13 runs scored over the last 13 games – predominantly batting third.
His strikeout rate is about 2% higher than his career average and his walk rate nearly 6% lower. He’s also pulling the ball more, and hitting line drives 33% of the time (boosting his season line drive rate to 27%). The line drive number is unsustainable, and his average will fall as this number comes back closer to his career rate which is just over 20%.
The Pirates are the 4th highest scoring team in baseball, so if Polanco can maintain a decent average and keep the power numbers going he should continue to racking up numbers in runs and RBIs. This is looking like the breakout year fantasy owners have been watching for.
Marcell Ozuna: The Marlins have an outstanding outfield with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna is the least heralded of the three, but has shown over the last two weeks that his name deserves to be included in discussions when talking about the talent in the Miami outfield. He’s managed to get at least one hit in 13 out of the last 14 games played, and has put together an impressive line of .418 with four home runs, eight RBI, and 13 runs scored. He has also been striking out less than 17% of the time (20.8% for the season) and walking over 8% (7.2% for the season).
His BABIP is high at .463, but it’s not being driven by an increase in his hard hit rate (which is right in line with his career norms), and his medium contact rate is 3% higher, so nothing terribly out of the ordinary there. His line drive rate is actually slightly lower than his career, as is his groundball rate. The higher BABIP is driven by an approach that has seen him go right back up the middle with his hits 44.4% of the time. This is a very impressive number, and if he can keep spread the ball around good things will continue to happen.
Ozuna won’t keep up a .463 BABIP (.396 for the season) or .418 average (.339 for the season), but he does hit for decent power so the home runs should continue. Once Stanton and Yelich are both back in the lineup, Ozuna should continue to see good pitches,and score a decent amount of runs batting in front of them.
Addison Russell: The Cubs offense has been third in runs this season, right behind the Cardinals and Red Sox. Addison Russell has played his role in that success, however, over the last two weeks he’s had a rough go of it. He’s only batting .196 with 1 extra base hit along with 6 runs scored, 3 RBIs, and 1 stolen base. Not exactly great production, especially from a deeper than normal SS position.
Russell lowered his strikeout percentage this season (from 28.5 to 24.9), but that number has spiked over the last two weeks to almost 39% of the time. His walk rate is also trending the wrong way during this time, down close to six percent. The big issue lately though is his contact rate. This year his Z-Contact% is 81.4%, but over the past two weeks that number has dropped to just 73%. Expect this number to come up, and his counting stats with it.Overshadowing all these things is the fact that he is still batting in the bottom half of the order. The Cubs will continue to score, but his numbers will be dampened by primarily batting 7th on most nights.
Verdict: Hold (redraft)/Buy (dynasty)
Eugenio Suarez: Suarez was a bright point in the Reds lineup to start the year, hitting home runs, stealing bases, and carrying a good average. Over the last two weeks though (and pretty much the entire month of May) he has fallen off in every aspect except for power. During this time he’s only managed to hit .163, with no stolen bases, 5 runs, 8 RBI, with a terrible 43% strikeout rate to only a 2% walk rate.
His batted ball profile has been a little off over the last couple weeks. He’s hitting about 6% more ground balls, with most of this change coming from a drop in line drive rate. The hard and medium contact rates are both higher than normal, contributing to his elevated 30% HR/FB rate; this helps explain why his power has still been good even with everything else dropping off.Swinging at more pitches is never a bad things, but it is when it results in an 8% drop in contact which is what’s happening. Suarez should be able to make adjustments and get his swing and contact rates back to normal. In turn, the batting average along with his run and stolen base chances will improve. This level of power won’t be sustained though.
Taijuan Walker: Taijuan Walker has also struggled mightily in the last two weeks. He has lost all three games starts; fortunately an error saved him in one games that not only gave him a quality start, but kept his three-game ERA at 5.00 (it could have been worse). The K/9 was 6.66 and his BB/9 was a full point over his season line. When I wrote about Walker before the season, I discussed that limiting walks and continued increase in splitter usage would be key indicators to his success.
Walkers walk rate has regressed the last two weeks; he’s been mixing in a two-seam fastball more, and in the last two starts he has nearly abandoned his cutter usage. His first strike mix, swinging strike rate, contact rates, and swing rates are all in line with his career norms. Opponents are making more solid contact though; his hard hit rate is abnormally high the last two weeks. I expect this to come back down as he works out his pitch mix. I still have confidence that Walker will continue his gains and be a productive member of both the Mariners, and your fantasy staff.
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