Fire and Ice
The 2020 MLB season is a mess of short sample sizes and hot takes, so how you interpret and apply them to your fantasy leagues is up to you. This gets particularly difficult when you’re applying a couple of weeks’ worth of data to a player’s long-term outlook. In most cases, drastically increasing or decreasing your valuation of a player is unwarranted, but other times players can show meaningful and sustainable improvements (or regression) of which you should immediately take note. I’ve found myself discussing a recurring set of players with league-mates or fellow TDG staff over the last week, so I’ve compiled a brief valuation on their current performance and dynasty outlook. My goal is to illustrate that there is a wide range of current valuations and opinions on a given player’s performance that may or may not impact their dynasty rankings. In a normal season, a player struggling in late-April might be attributed to a being a slow starter or a hot streak to begin the season might be discounted since players are just coming out of spring training. At the end of the day, it’s up to the fantasy manager on how to interpret all of that data and apply it to your league.
Below are a handful of player valuations, each has a number of different factors affecting my current and dynasty outlooks, using a scale ranging from 🔥 🔥 🔥 as the best outlook to ❄️❄️❄️ as the worst outlook.
All statistics below are as of 8/17/2020
Bo Bichette, Age: 22, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
2020 Season: 5 HR, 4 SB, .361/.391/.672
We knew Bo had a high ceiling, but this season he is showing us just how high that ceiling actually is. His barrel rate is nearly double 2019’s number and he’s in the 90th or better percentile in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA, while his strikeout rate is at a career-low, including his time in the minors. The window to add Bichette to your roster is undoubtedly closed. Bichette is an easy Top 25 player for me in dynasty leagues moving forward.
Update: Bo was sent for an MRI following Saturday’s game and is expected to be out until mid-September with a right knee sprain.
J.T. Realmuto, Age: 29, C, Philadelphia Phillies
2020 Season: 8 HR, 0 SB, .300/.354/.717
Coming into 2020, Realmuto was a consensus Top-2 catcher for both dynasty and yearly leagues, but there’s no questioning his place atop the catcher rankings now. He’s been absolutely mashing opposing pitchers with his career-high exit velocity and hard-hit rate resulting in an xBA of .306 and is fourth in MLB with eight home runs. While it’s a small sample size, he is striking out at a higher rate this year and his launch angle is only 6.2 degrees. As a dynasty reminder, Realmuto will be turning 30 next March and the catcher aging-curve tends to catch up to you quickly.
Gleyber Torres, Age: 23, SS, New York Yankees
2020 Season: 1 HR, 0 SB, .246/.358/.319
Torres’ Baseball Savant page is the definition of ice, ranking in the lower half of all significant hitting metrics. He’s been seeing a steady increase in breaking pitches this season and he is chasing these pitches outside the zone at the highest rate in his young career. Although his walk rate has seen a nice increase, I think his patience at the plate is partly to blame for his struggles as he’s historically been an aggressive hitter, specifically on fastballs; heaters accounted for 24 of his home runs 2019. Perhaps we are seeing a bit of a breakout this past week, as he is 10 for his last 21 overall, with three multi-hit games in his last four, including a 4-for-4 night on Friday night (8/14). Based on the number of games played we are in the normal equivalent of late-April, so for dynasty purposes, I’m not worried about his slow start one bit. In a yearly league, send a screenshot of his Baseball Savant page to your league mates and see if you can get a more favorable trade.
Walker Buehler, Age: 26, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2020 Season: 0 W, 17 K’s, 5.21 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.1 K/9
Walker hasn’t looked like the Dodgers ace so far this season. Overall his pitch-mix, velocity, spin rate, and movement are pretty consistent with prior years, but he is not getting the results we are used to seeing. Particularly, he hasn’t had his typical command and he’s not seeing hitters chase his slider or cutter as much, leading to a significant decrease in strikeout rate. It’s clear he doesn’t have the feel for his pitches just yet and described one of his recent starts as “a bit erratic.” On Saturday night’s start, he was routinely in the high 90’s with his fastball but again wasn’t commanding his secondaries and left a few out over the plate, mainly a hanging curveball that Mike Trout deposited over the centerfield wall. Interestingly, Walker had a very slow start to the 2019 season as well but still ended up with a 3.26 ERA and 215 K’s over 182.1 innings pitched, so perhaps we are just starting to notice an early-season trend. All indications are that Walker is healthy and there is no reason to flux your ranking of him for dynasty purposes. He’s still an SP1, but we’re going to need to see him figure it out here soon.
Mike Clevinger, Age: 29, SP, Cleveland Indians
2020 Season: 1 W, 15 K’s, 3.24 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8.1 K/9
Oh boy, where do we even begin? Unless you’ve been disconnected from the baseball world for the last week, you’re probably well up to speed on Clevinger’s off the field “adventures,” at least based on the details that are public. The Indians are taking a hard stance with both Clevinger and Zach Plesac, having optioned both to the team’s alternate site and offered no timetable for their returns to the big-league rotation. The feeling in Cleveland is that they have lost the trust of their teammates and after notes from the latest team meeting surfaced the team looks poised to move forward without any “distractions.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but for fantasy purposes, Clevinger is going to be idling in a roster spot for the time being and, absent moral objections to Clevinger’s actions, it would be ill-advised to trade him given his current dilemma.
Madison Bumgarner, Age: 31, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2020 Season: 0 W, 13 K’s, 9.35 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 6.8 K/9
Well, I hate to say we should have seen this coming, but we should have seen this coming. All of the warning signs were there: decreased velocity, strikeout and whiff rates, increased hard-hit rate, ERA, and xERA, among others. In 2020, Bumgarner’s average fastball dipped from 91.4 mph to 87.8 mph and when facing this pitch, opposing hitters managed .267/.323/.724 with four home runs and only three strikeouts. Bumgarner ranks in the 10th percentile or lower in xERA, xBA, xwOBA, barrel rate, and fastball velocity, and this past week he hit the injured list with a back strain. Sigh. The Diamondbacks invested $85 million over five years to see the lefty return to form so I don’t feel quite as bad having traded for him in my dynasty league. However, I’m off this train until further notice. I expect not a lot of interest, if any, when exploring a trade so it might be wise to hold and cross your fingers for a good stretch at some point this season, after which you can send him to a contender.
Brad Hand, Age: 30, RP, Cleveland Indians
2020 Season: 5 SV, 7 K’s, 6.35 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 11.1 K/9
Cleveland fans’ favorite closer is always the next guy in line for the job. In this case, the next guy is James Karinchak and they’re not wrong. Despite some nerve-racking surface-level stats, Hand has actually performed decently well this season, converting 5 of 5 save opportunities and if you remove one appearance where he gave up three earned runs his ERA shrinks to about 1.70. However, he’s lost a couple of ticks on his primary offerings (fastball and slider) and has career-worst hard-hit percentage as well as strikeout, walk and barrel rates. Despite all the near heart attacks, and absent another blow-up, I expect Cleveland to keep him in the closer role for the immediate term. Hand is in the last year of his contract and could be a trade candidate as the deadline nears, in which case I think he moves to a set-up guy. Karinchak is the heir apparent and this is probably the last year that Hand will serve as a closer.