TDG Roundtable: Buying Hot Starts
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week’s roundtable topic is hot starts to the 2020 season we’re buying.
Chris Bassitt, SP, Oakland Athletics
Prior to the season, Chris Bassitt had not secured a spot in the starting rotation. However, with injuries and illness to A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo, he made the cut. In his two starts, Bassitt has been very impressive. In 9.2 innings, he has struck out twelve batters, walked one, and given up one earned run. You might look at his game log and chalk it up to the fact that he has faced the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners but there is more to this story. He has changed up his pitch mix and is focusing less on the fastball and more on his slider and changeup. Not only is he using that slider more, but he has also added a few ticks in velocity and has an impressive 41.7 Whiff%. It is also getting a couple more inches of break. Add that to a sinker that has a 50 GB% when you have Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman on your infield…I’m buying all day.
Dylan Bundy, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Although things have started to change in Baltimore, and Orioles pitchers and pitching prospects are no longer hard avoids, Bundy was part of the last wave of guys who badly needed a change of scenery and for another organization to attempt to get something out of the big Texas righty. Now with a new organization and with three starts under his belt, Bundy is starting to blossom. The most notable change in Bundy so far in 2020 is his pitch usage. In the past, he’s used his four-seam fastball as his primary pitch, throwing it about 50% of the time. Now he’s actually using his slider as his main pitch to great results. His usage on his slider is up to 42% and his fastball is at 38%. With this new sequencing, he’s been able to generate more whiffs on his pitches than he has ever before in his career. His mechanics look slightly altered from his time with the Orioles as well. When he finishes pitches he’s more sturdy and upright on his plant leg. I think this is leading to better control of his mechanics and his spin rate on all of his pitches has increased from a year ago. After his most recent outing, a 10 strikeout complete game, the window to acquire him may have just slammed shut, but if he’s still a free agent in your league, I’d break the bank to get him.
Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Seattle Mariners
This is not your parent’s Yusei Kikuchi. He has undergone a transformation this year: his average four-seam fastball velocity is up 3 MPH over last year, at 95.5 MPH. He has added a cutter, which he is throwing 45% of the time thus far. The spin rate on the cutter is elite, and the results have been there too, with a .170 xwOBA on the pitch so far. Spin rates on his four-seam are also way up over last year. He has scrapped the curve, which was shelled last year (.442 xwOBA). Spin rates on his slider are also way up over last year, and his whiff rate on the pitch has jumped from 26% to 40%. His strikeout minus walk rates have been promising in the early going too, and his K% and swinging strike % are each approximately double what they were last year. Taken together, this is a lot of substantial and positive change, more aligned with what was expected from him entering 2019. It’s hard to know what it all adds up to at this point, but I’m getting him wherever I can in hopes to find out.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Teoscar Hernandez was a buy for me heading into the 2021 season, so you can bet I buy his hot start and furthermore expect him to keep it up. Two two-home run games out of the first seven games put him on this list. Hernandez is perfectly suited to this era of power hitters with high K%, high ISO, low BB%, and low average.
He should also be a good source of runs and RBI hitting in a good, young lineup that should continue to improve over time. Only 27 years old, Hernandez is entering his prime. In 2019 he hit 26 home runs over 464 plate appearances, which was an improvement upon the 22 in 523 plate appearances in 2018. The only problem area is batting average, where he is a .250 hitter at best (his .273 average in 2020 is likely to come down). He has hit out of the seventh, sixth, third and leadoff positions in the lineup so far, with his most recent games out of the three-hole. In 2019 most of his at-bats came out of the fifth to eighth spots in the lineup, so he is moving up the lineup, attaining more at-bats and the opportunity for more RBI and runs. In Dynasty leagues acquiring Teoscar is a solid move for the now, and the future. If a buy-low opportunity exists now that the Blue Jays have been off for a few days, pounce.
Aaron Civale, SP Cleveland Indians
Civale is one of the latest products of the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher factory. The 6’2’’ righty was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft and debuted late in the 2019 season. He wasted no time carving up hitters over his first 10 appearances and that has carried into the 2020 season. Civale features six (6!) different pitches in his arsenal, including his cutter that he throws more than 30% of the time and a revamped four-seamer that pounds the zone with an over 60% strike rate. He ranks in the 75th or higher percentile in xERA, K%, xwOBA, and Whiff% while racking up a quality start and nine strikeouts in each of his two starts. Civale is a buy for me, with the upside of a #2 starter.
Trent Grisham, OF, San Diego Padres
Through 58 plate appearances, Trent Grisham has a .271/.386/.604 slash line with 4 home runs, 3 stolen bases, and a 9/14 BB:K ratio (304/412 BB:K ratio throughout his minor league career). Although it has been a small sample size, Grisham has a microscopic 12% chase rate on pitches outside of the strike zone, elite sprint speed, has consistently barreled the ball, and has had no problem constantly getting on base by any means necessary. Grisham should be a fixture at the top of a major league lineup for years to come. He has never been labeled with the “elite prospect” title but at some point, you cannot ignore the production anymore.
Gio Urshela, 3B, New York Yankees
One of the more anticipated position battles coming into the 2020 season was third-base for the New York Yankees, between last year’s offensive breakout Gio Urshela and the returning 2018 AL ROTY runner-up Miguel Andujar. This question has been answered in the early season with Urshela starting 10 out of 11 games at third base, and Andujar only starting five games overall, one of which was at third base. Urshela has picked up where he left off and quickly quieted any doubters of last year’s breakout with an early slash line of .333/.667/1.088. His Statcast numbers have improved as well, with exit velocity and hard-hit percentages both among the top 10 percent in the league. His expected stats stand out even more with an xBA of .390, xSLG of .696, and xWOBA of .488, all in the top 6 percent of the league or better. With an absolutely stacked Yankees lineup around him, the counting stats should be abundant as well. Urshela is here to stay in the Yankees lineup and should be in fantasy lineups as well.
Sonny Gray, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Fantasy players love redemption stories. The evidence? Every sucker that waited for the 2015 NL Comeback Player of the Year, Matt Harvey, who never “came back.” Sonny Gray is a redemption story. In the last five seasons, we have seen two shades of Gray [woof- Ed.]. Shade one of Gray dominated from 2013 to 2015. The other shade of Gray appeared in 2016 and was repeated in 2018, as he posted his career-worst in hits per nine innings, WHIP, and ERA. A trade to Cincinnati in 2019 looked like a death sentence, but it has been the opposite. Supporting a 3-0 record this year, Sonny is mowing down lineups. His 41% strikeout rate will drop. He has also benefited in the luck department, as his xERA is calculated at 3.05, so the 0.96ERA he currently boasts will eventually rise. If his slider (56% whiff rate) and curveball (38% whiff rate) can remain effective in this short season, you are looking at a potential Cy Young candidate.
Rio Ruiz, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Ruiz checks a couple of boxes I am targeting in this shortened season- playing time, and favorable place in the batting order. His glove should keep him in the lineup nearly every day at third base, and he can shift to the outfield in a pinch. Rio has already hit as high as 4th in the line-up on multiple occasions this year and will benefit from playing half his games in the hitter-friendly park Camden Yards. Still only 26 years old and now off to a hot start with three home runs and a 1.112 OPS in his first 22 at-bats, he gives Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde little reason to keep him out of the lineup when healthy. The key here is you should still be able to acquire Ruiz cheaply if you are a believer too.
Joey Gallo, OF, Texas Rangers
Gallo is a polarizing player. He’s never had a walk rate of less than 12.2% in a major league season. He’s also never struck out at less than 35.9%. A 93.7 mph average exit velocity means no one argues the power isn’t real. Many point to the strikeouts and say he can’t hit over .220. Last year before injuries shortened his season he did just that, slashing .253/.389/.598 in 297 plate appearances with 22 home runs. The reason? He got even more selective. In 2018 he had an O-swing of 32.2%. That dropped down to 24.2% last year. In layman’s terms, if it’s out of the strike zone or close, he takes the pitch. If it’s a strike he can handle, he tries to hit the bull and win a free steak. While his current .310/.429/.724 will come back to earth, the uber selective approach is sustainable. Last year’s slash line was legit. I’m a firm believer that with power being up around baseball, you need MORE to compete. At only 26 years old, Gallo is a perennial 50 home run threat for the foreseeable future. Pair that with a .250-.260 average and you’ve got a budding superstar.
Dinelson Lamet, SP, San Diego Padres
Dinelson Lamet is once again on the cusp of greatness. He’s started out the season with 17 strikeouts in 15.2 innings and hasn’t allowed a home run. Additionally, though the sample size is limited (only 255 pitches thrown), we see that Lamet is leaning more heavily on his slider. So far in 2020, he’s thrown it a whopping 51.4% of the time, in comparison to 12.2% in 2019. This is intriguing because it may be his best pitch, as evidenced by a 42.6% whiff rate, .145 xBA, and .198 xSLG against. Yes, his walk rate worries me, and I’d prefer to see more changeups mixed in to vary up movement and pitch speed. That being said, two walks in his recent start against the patient, lefty-heavy Dodgers is still palatable, and if the slider is working, I say keep using it. He just carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against those same Dodgers! This hot-start could turn into a breakout if Lamet continues to challenge with his excellent slider and high-90’s fastball while working back in the occasional offspeed pitch to keep hitters guessing.
Kyle Lewis, OF, Seattle Mariners
Is anyone off to a hotter start than our main man Kyle Lewis? The former 1st rounder picked up exactly where he left off in the fall of 2019 when he smoked 6 homers in 75 PAs and has been shooting rockets all over the field. To paraphrase a line from the late Dennis Green, Kyle Lewis is who we thought he was — but we’re not going to let him off the hook. Reel him in, baby! Look, the .386 batting average is obviously not going to last. In fact, it’s going to fall precipitously, like a summer shower in South Florida. But that’s okay because we’ve always known that Lewis wasn’t going to hit for average (I mean, just look at his MLB strikeout rate, it ain’t pretty). What he is going to do is hit the ball with authority and drive it over the wall with frequency. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a man with 70 raw power and when he connects, the ball goes far. Plain and simple. So, while I’m not buying the high average, I’m very much buying Kyle Lewis: MLB slugger.
Mike Yastrzemski, OF, San Francisco Giants
The best player on the San Francisco Giants is a 29-year-old outfielder with a legendary grandfather. He’s also a guy who seemed to emerge from thin air last season, after spending years rotting away in the upper levels of the Orioles farm. Since being acquired by San Fran, Baby Yaz quickly ascended to the bigs and powered his way to a solid 64 R, 21 HR, 55 RBI, and .272 AVG in only 371 AB. The small sample size was the reason for many to doubt the rook’s legitimacy, but I think it’s time to admit the kid is for real. This year he is walking much more often, continues to hit for power, and is planted firmly in the Giants’ leadoff spot. I expect his average to dip, but I think the power and counting stats will remain above average. That’s great news for a guy picked outside of the top 300 players. Mike, like his grandfather, can really hit.
Christian Vazquez, C, Boston Red Sox
Perceived as a primarily defensive catcher through the 2018 season, Vazquez has broken out in a big way in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. On the surface, Vazquez’s 2018 featured an unsightly .207 average and .283 SLG%, but his Statcast xBA was .257 and xSLG was .357 and he had increased his Launch Angle from 8 to 12.8 degrees and hit for a career-high 87.4% exit velocity. These changes were magnified in 2019 to an 89.4 Exit Velo and 13.2 Launch Angle, leading to a .276 / .320 / .477 slash line and an out-of-nowhere 23 home runs. Vazquez was even deployed as the DH in 11 games last year, leading to 138 games played (122 starts), a big help to those counting stats. One-fifth the way through the 2020 shortened season, Vazquez already has four home runs in ten games played with a .308 BA and a 167 wRC+. While the Red Sox as a whole have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, Vazquez has split time between the fifth and sixth spot in the lineup, in a prime location to drive in runs hitting behind Devers, Martinez, and Bogaerts. Combining offense and defense, the 29-year-old Vazquez has to be considered a top-five “real life” catcher at this point and may be in the conversation in the fantasy world as well.
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