This column will be posted on Underdog Network every Monday throughout the 2022 season. The goal is to shed insight on the latest happenings within the sport, which can hopefully be of interest to season-long fantasy enthusiasts, DFS players, bettors, and analytically-minded fans.
Conversation is always encouraged. I can be reached on Twitter @toomuchtuma. Now let's dive in.
Notes entering Tuesday
Nolan Gorman has hit 2nd for the Cardinals in 3 straight (and 5 of their last 8 games).
MJ Melendez has started 14 consecutive games for the Royals, 10 of them at catcher.
Tommy La Stella has hit leadoff for the Giants in 6 straight games against right-handed pitchers.
Regardless of whether they've been facing a lefty or a righty, Mike Yastrzemski has hit 2nd or 3rd in 9 straight games for the Giants.
Evan Longoria has started 7 of the Giants' past 8 games.
Bryce Harper hasn't played in the field since April 16th.
Kyle Tucker has hit higher than 5th just once since April 17th.
Matt Olson hit 2nd for the Braves in each of their first 41 games. He has hit 5th or 6th in 7 of their past 8.
Dansby Swanson has hit 1st or 2nd for Atlanta in 6 straight.
Juan Soto hit 2nd for the Nationals in each of their first 41 games. He has hit 3rd in each of the past 9.
Meanwhile, Keibert Ruiz or Lane Thomas has hit 2nd in each of those 9 games.
Bobby Witt Jr. has hit 3rd for the Royals in each of his past 12 starts.
I recently published a massive update to my rest-of-season rankings over on Patreon. With roughly two months of the 2022 campaign now behind us, it seems like a good time to simulate what a "redraft" of the first 2 rounds might look like.
Note that we the below mock is for the remainder of 2022. I'm not factoring in stats that have already been accumulated. Stats are entering Tuesday unless otherwise noted.
1.01 -- Mike Trout, OF, Angels
I covered Trout's 2022 resurgence in the beginning of May. He might not steal bases anymore (4 total attempts since the start of 2020), but he's still the best hitter alive. In a year where offense has been hard to come by, Trout's reliability is invaluable.
1.02 -- Jose Ramirez, 3B, Guardians
3rd base is bad this season. That was the narrative throughout the winter, though there were some interesting mid-to-late round targets at the time. Most of them haven't delivered. Meanwhile, J-Ram already has a ridiculous 51 RBI in 44 games (!!) to go along with 13 homers and 6 stolen bases. He's an elite fantasy bat for any position, but playing the hot corner helps him here.
1.03 -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays
We didn't sign up for a .256 average or an .802 OPS. Worse, Vlad recently went through a 15-game stretch where he hit .200/.323/.200 without an extra base hit. Then he homered in his next two games.
The talent combined with the pedigree is too much for me to be overly worried about him, at least when it comes to doing anything actionable. The culprit for his under performance is once again issues with his launch angle. Here is his year-by-year marks:
2019: 6.7 degrees
As noted below, he's particularly struggling with off-speed pitches this year, in addition to fastballs. He figured out breaking balls in his breakout 2021. Now it's time for him to make another adjustment.
1.04 -- Trea Turner, 2B/SS, Dodgers
Due to Mookie Betts' preference to hit leadoff, Turner has hit 3rd for the Dodgers in all but 3 games this season. Not coincidentally, Betts didn't start those 3 contests.
Because of this, Trea actually ranks 5th in baseball in RBI and is "under performing" the number of runs scored we expected before the year. It's a tradeoff that fantasy managers will take. Meanwhile, he's batting .294 with 4 HR and 10 SB. Last season's 28 dingers feel out of reach at this point, but we can't quibble with the sum of his production.
1.05 -- Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
One of my 6 "best bets" for the 2022 MLB season was taking Juan Soto, under 117.5 RBI. The biggest reason was that he was projected to hit 2nd for a bad Washington lineup. That bet looks really good right now, but totaling just 16 RBI entering Memorial Day feels a bit extreme.
The Nats recently moved him to 3rd in the order, which should help, but it's fair to wonder if Washington's lineup context is hurting the counting stats of their generational superstar.
A peek at his batted-ball profile shows that he's hitting way more fly balls (35.6%) than he did in 2020 and 2021 (28.6%, 28.7%). His ground ball rate has remained the same, so these additional fly balls are cutting into his LD%.
As a result, Soto is currently sporting a .241 BABIP (compared to .321 for his career). Before we get too worked up about his supporting cast, he simply needs to get his swing right. Given that we're talking about Juan Soto, there's little reason to worry here.
1.06 -- Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
Just like in 2021, Tucker got off to a slow start in April. This time around, he hit .224/.277/.408, which was good for a 97 wRC+ in the weak offensive environment. And just as he did in '21, Tucker caught absolute fire in May. Entering Memorial Day he's batting .253/.385/.468 (156 wRC+) for the month.
The fact that Dusty Baker continuously hits him 5th or 6th (usually 6th) is annoying, but at this point it simply doesn't matter. Houston's lineup, and Tucker himself, are just that good. He already has 8 homers and 9 stolen bases, so 30/30 is well within reach for his age-25 campaign.
1.07 -- Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers
Speaking of players who are having monstrous months, Betts' April to May transformation has been even more dramatic than Tucker's.
The former MVP and 2-time WS champion currently has the 2nd most homers in baseball (15), trailing just Aaron Judge. He also has a whopping 50 runs scored, which leads baseball. To put that into context, Judge and Rafael Devers are tied for second in the league with 38 runs.
Betts' power streak is unlikely to last as he's sporting an uncharacteristic 21.7% homer-to-fly ball rate. Still, the overall production can be counted on moving forward. Early-season concerns have been quelled.
1.08 -- Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies
Similar to Tucker, Harper is putting on an impressive showing in the power-speed departments, totaling 10 homers and 6 steals through Monday's action. His .586 slugging percentage ranks 7th in baseball, but this is a different version of Harper than we're normally used to.
The reigning NL MVP is sporting just a 6.8 BB%, which is wayyy down from his previous career-low of 13.8%. For comparison, his 2022 BB% is in the 36th percentile of qualified hitters; he was in the 99th-100th percentile in 2021 and 2020.
The obvious reason is likely a nagging elbow injury that has prevented him from playing in the field since mid-April. It hasn't cooled his bat, but the approach is different. It's something to keep an eye on. Harper is probably the riskiest first-round selection that I've named so far.
1.09 -- Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Braves
...And Acuna is the next riskiest choice. For him, though, it's been more about recurring groin/quad issues than fear of any individual injury shutting him down for good (like the elbow with Harper).
The 24-year-old has been in and out of the lineup since returning from his ACL reconstruction, which we haven't even mentioned yet. That's partly because it doesn't seem to be an issue -- Acuna has 9 steals in just 21 games to-date. That's preposterous.
We don't have enough of a sample size to analyze the rest of his numbers, but he looks good. It's well within his range of outcomes to finish as fantasy's No. 1 player from here on out.
1.10 -- Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
Machado entered 2022 as a hyper consistent + durable performer coming off the two best Statcast seasons of his career. However, he harshly under performed his expected stats in 2021, posting a .350 wOBA despite a .380 xwOBA.
So far in 2022, positive regression is on his side as he's hitting .353/.432/.572 with 8 homers and 7 stolen bases. The HR+RBI totals aren't as elite as some other first-rounders, but Machado's 182 wRC+ ranks 6th in MLB, highlighting that he's been one of the sport's top hitters this springs. The batting average and runs scored are strong, as is the number of bases he has swiped. There simply isn't anything to complain about here.
1.11 -- Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
Here's the positional scarcity impact again, as Devers is the third 3rd baseman to come off the board inside the top 11 selections. Through 2 months the 25-year-old is having the best season of his young career, hitting .340 with a 175 wRC+.
What's interesting is that he's leaning even more heavily into his swing-happy ways. Devers got his chase rate (O-swing%) in check throughout the 2nd half of 2021, which I thought led to his breakout. However, he's chasing again to begin 2022. He's walking less than ever before and swinging more than ever before.
Devers' combination of power and bat-to-ball skills is unique, so he can get away with certain swing decisions that other hitters can't. It isn't the model of sustained success that we typically see, but it's also impossible to argue with the results.
1.12 -- Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
I have a strong feeling that Judge is going to rank higher in the next update.
Over the offseason I published a blog titled "No More Juiced Balls: How to Approach Hitters in 2022." There were a lot of historical stats for batted balls in there, and the basic idea was that during the past 5-6 years it didn't take much raw power for a hitter to be able to pop 20 homers in the big leagues. The Juiced Ball Era was unique in the sense that it didn't allow for any individual hitter to club 60+ homers. Instead, the round-trippers were more evenly distributed among everyone.
With offense down to begin '22, I'm feeling good about the approach I outlined. That being said I should've gone farther with the idea of exit velocity playing a more prominent role in the new environment. During the Juiced Ball Era it simply didn't take as much authority when impacting the ball to get it over the fence. Now it does, and that's where Judge comes in.
Is Judge's exit velo/hard-hit rate/barrel rate combination more valuable this year than it has been throughout his career? I'm starting to think so. He's in the 100th percentile in so many expected stats on Baseball Savant, and it has led to a league-leading 18 homers.
Power is the most scarce resource in fantasy baseball this season. Judge is the best power hitter in the league. It's really that easy.
2.01 -- Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros
Whoever is picking at the turn in this hypothetical mock draft is double-tapping power here. Alvarez's Statcast page is blood-red just like Judge's, and the theory for elevating him into the top-13 overall is the same. Power plays in the post-Juiced Ball Era. Note that while Yordan's surface level stats are great, he's still wildly under performing his expected stats (.260 BA; .340 xBA).
2.02 -- Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays
While Judge has surged into Round 1, Bichette is moving in the opposite direction. He's probably the exact type of hitter who benefitted from juiced balls (but it isn't as if he's incapable of impacting the ball -- 85th percentile average exit velocity in 2021).
Bichette was off to a miserable start in April, hitting .213 with a .085 ISO. He has returned with a vengeance in May, batting .288 with a .240 ISO. Toronto's offense isn't living up to expectations yet, but it's still a favorable environment for the 24-year-old. Bichette was probably over-drafted as a Round 1 player, but his skill set is perfectly built for rotisserie scoring.
2.03 -- Freddie Freeman, 1B, Dodgers
I didn't mean for every write-up to become about the league-wide environment, but this string of hitters are seemingly more impact by it.
Freeman's overall production is strong and you drafted him for early-round safety. He enters Tuesday hitting .304 with boat loads of runs and RBI. The four homers are a tad disappointing and I'm not really expecting a major correction here.
On the one hand Freeman's 6.8 HR/FB% is way below his 16.7% career rate. The issue is that he's such a strong opposite field hitter and the current baseball isn't rewarding that right now. Interestingly, Freeman is leaning into his oppo reputation, hitting the other way a whopping 35.4% of the time right now (26.8% for his career).
Perhaps he starts turning on more pitches as the summer moves along. He's obviously talented enough to make that adjustment. He'll be a safe source of offense no matter what.
2.04 -- Corbin Burnes, SP, Brewers
A pitcher! Yes, this selection of the reigning NL Cy Young winner ends the great slide for starters in this midseason mock.
Burnes is once again doing everything right. His K% is slightly down but the SwStr% is slightly up. He has a lower ERA than he did last summer and has been more unlucky with homers. There isn't a whole lot else to dig into. Burnes is now just a boring fantasy ace! I'll defer to Foolish Baseball for some expanded thoughts.
2.05 -- Shohei Ohtani, DH/SP, Angels
Another pitcher! Well, kind of. Through eight starts this year Ohtani is pitching even better than he was during 2021's unanimous MVP campaign. Crazy. The K% is up, the BB% is down. The swinging strike rate is up. The fastball velocity is up from 95.6 mph last season to 97 mph in '22. The slider velocity is up almost 3 mph from last year.
Let's talk about that slider for a minute, because that last statement felt absurd to write. In 2021 his slider was recording 8.5 inches of horizontal movement. In 2022 it's at 7.9 inches, which is down a tad, but it's still very close to last year's pitch profile.
"The slider velocity is up almost 3 mph from last year."
That is what is so remarkable -- Ohtani is generating close to the same amount of horizontal spin on his slider while throwing it nearly 3 mph harder than he used to. So yeah, as a pitcher he's been pretty damn elite.
On the hitting side, are we really going to complain about 11 homers and 7 stolen bases? Of course not. The power hasn't been as outlandish as it was last season (.470 SLG in '22 compared to .592 in '21), but that could partly be due to the environment.
It can be frustrating when you don't receive both Ohtani's hitting and pitching stats, but just having the option to plug him in at either spot -- with high-end results -- is so valuable. Ohtani has also started in 46-of-49 Angels lineups this spring.
2.06 -- Gerrit Cole, SP, Yankees
The poster boy for MLB's sticky stuff scandal got off to a slow start in 2022, but since late-April he has been downright dominant. Over Cole's past 46 1/3 innings (7 starts) he has a 2.33 ERA with a 60:8 K:BB.
Of course, his first 3 starts of the season still count. One year removed from the enforcement of the sticky stuff ban, my takeaway is that Cole is still very, very good. He just isn't as consistently superior to his fellow starting pitchers.
2.07 -- Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
Robert has missed some time this season but already has 6 homers and 6 stolen bases in just 33 games. Add in a .285 average (.292 career clip) and solid runs+RBI, and we have a potential Round 1 bat from here on out. The only mark against him is playing time.
2.08 -- Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets
See: Judge, Alvarez.
Alonso's 13 homers are tied for the 4th most in baseball and his 47 RBI are 2nd in the league. Perhaps he should be closer to the end of Round 2, but the theory of "batted ball impact mattering more" (workshopping that) applies to this draft pick.
2.09 -- Shane McClanahan, SP, Rays
"Sugar Shane" has truly taken the Year 2 leap I so badly wanted him to.
More strikeouts. Less walks. Easy game, right?
K-BB% is generally viewed as one of the best metrics we have to evaluate pitching performance. Looking at this leaderboard will typically give you a list of the best starter for a particular season. Through 2 months McClanahan is No. 1 at 30.9%. Burnes, who is No. 2, is at 27.3%.
McClanahan will need his own article at some point this summer because there's just too much to gush about. He's locating his fastball in better locations at the top of the zone. He's using his changeup more against righties. His swinging strike rate has sky rocketed from an already impressive clip. That AL Cy Young award remains within reach...
2.10 -- Kevin Gausman, SP, Blue Jays
Every time I think "okay, Gausman has now peaked", he gets better. He ranks 3rd in K-BB% thanks to the lowest walk rate among qualified starters. He's also given up just one homer after allowing 20 last season, so some regression is likely coming. Still, the 2.40 xFIP shows that he should remain among the game's upper echelon of SPs.
2.11 -- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals
Over the past two seasons, Goldy's fly ball rate has spiked. With it, his wOBA has increased as well. It's interesting to note that the 34-year-old is hitting more fly balls at the end of the Juiced Ball Era, but it's a change in approach that we can point to as a reason for his recent success. Goldschmidt's 42 RBI rank 3rd in MLB.
2.12 -- Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
This final selection is admittedly a bit uninspired. Bogaerts isn't the type of player with the potential to produce as a Round 1 selection from here on out, but I consider him to be Freeman-esque in the sense of paying for safety. Bogarets enters Tuesday's action batting .328 and Boston's offense is just heating up. I'm confident that he'll close out 2022 as one of fantasy's top producers, just as he always does.
Carlos Rodon, SP, Giants
Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
Trevor Story, 2B/SS, Red Sox
Cedric Mullins, OF, Orioles
Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox