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.
Last week's edition of Tuma's Take was inspired. Two months into the season felt like a good time to simulate what a redraft of the first two rounds of a 2022 fantasy baseball league might look like. We focused on stars.
This week? I've struggled to come up with a connected theme for all the players I want to write about, so I've decided to just go with spotlights on as many as I can fit in before publishing.
The creative block did allow me to come up with topics for future weeks, however. Those might include MLB power rankings, fake trade ideas, a trade deadline primer, All-Star voting, season-long awards picks, and more.
It's an exciting time. I've mentioned this many times, but nobody has ever won a fantasy baseball league before Memorial Day. It's easy for folks to be plugged in early on, but true winning is done throughout the dog days of summer. With that in mind we're focusing on some under-the-radar options today. Let's do this!
I've been on Ashby since late last season. He was one of the prospects I loved on Valentine's Day and one of my 3 breakout pitchers to target in 2022 drafts. Yet he isn't on most of my redraft teams right now. More on why in a minute.
While dominating out of the bullpen in the second half of 2021, Ashby's double-plus slider really stood out. In fact, it generated the fourth highest CSW% of any pitch that was thrown 200+ times. CSW stands for called strikes plus whiffs. Rating well in this metric is important because those two outcomes are considered within a pitcher's control.
So why doesn't Brendan Tuma, president of the Aaron Ashby fan club, roster him everywhere? Two reasons. The first is his role to begin the season wasn't what it is now. Ashby was Milwaukee's sixth starter and they were easing the 24-year-old into action, oscillating between spot starts and multi-inning relief work. It was unclear when, or if, he would enter the rotation.
It wasn't until Freddy Peralta's injury that Ashby got a legit chance as a starter. It was also at this time where something more important happened -- Ashby's "stuff" took a notable jump in quality. Here's the proof, velocity-wise:
That is what has allowed Ashby to pitch like this:
He ended up allowing four earned runs in Saturday's outing but completed six frames for the second consecutive start. More notably, the control was pristine.
With Ashby, we're talking about an electric arm from an organization with a proven track record of pitching development. His biggest fault up until this point in his career has been control, but the velocity is spiking and he has a 21:2 K:BB in his past 12 innings. Giddy. Up.
I'm sorry, you didn't spend your Friday night marveling at the pitch characteristics of Tyler Anderson's changeup? Priorities, people.
While you were likely out having fun on a Friday in June, Anderson was busy carving up the Mets for six scoreless frames, and I was busy taking notice. He allowed just three hits with a 5:0 K:BB. For the season the longtime journeyman is now 7-0 with a 2.59 ERA and leads Dodgers pitchers in fWAR. How?
It starts with his changeup, which he's throwing more frequently this season, mainly at the expense of four-seamers. Furthermore, Anderson has increased the vertical movement of his signature offering (up to 33.8 inches of drop from 28.2 in 2021). Finally, he's throwing it a tick slower with the Dodgers, down to 79.2 mph. This is creating a larger differential between his fastball and changeup velocity. Here are the results:
To be clear, Anderson's success isn't entirely due to the differential in pitch velocity. It's stemming from a combination of that, the increased vertical movement, throwing it more, a better cutter, not pitching in Coors Field, and a 98th percentile walk rate!
The lesson here is to never doubt the Dodgers. Anderson is a must-roster player in every fantasy league.
I've been sitting on spotlighting Torres for about a month now. The way he has found success this year just isn't how it's typically done.
Ordinarily, we want to see hitters chasing less, whiffing less, and being all-around more selective with their swing decisions. Based on how 2022 has played out, I'm not positive that fits Torres' game.
In 2018-19, which are Gleyber's best years, he had a O-swing% at 34.4% and 35.1%, respectively. Then in 2020-21 it dropped to 25.6% and 27.5%. It has climbed back up this spring. The same patterns holds true for his overall swing rate and his production (measured by wOBA). Here's what it looks like visually throughout the years:
This is unusual, but my working theory is that after a couple of seasons in the big leagues Torres tried to become more selective (since that is generally seen as good process). It clearly didn't work for him, though, so he's back to his free-swinging ways.
Torres enters Monday with a 118 wRC+, which is barely below the 125 mark he posted in his 38-homer 2019 campaign. Are his raw counting stats as good right now? They're not, but that's because 2022 is a far different offensive environment than a few years ago.
The 38-homer version of Torres probably isn't coming back without another juiced ball, but his start to this season (and the underlying approach changes) show that he's still a contributor in fantasy.
One of the great aspects about playing fantasy baseball is that you can be so locked in to 99% of what's happening in MLB, but there will always be one or two storylines that get past you.
So in case you were wondering, I'll confirm that it's no fun being late on Christopher Morel. This isn't Ashby-level FOMO, but the 22-year-old is batting .291/.380/.468 through his first 92 big league PAs.
Morel has also led off for the Cubs in 14 straight games. Defensively, he's moving all over the place with 11 starts in CF, 8 at 2B, 3 at 3B, and 2 at SS. He's already attempted 8 stolen bases in just 20 games and possesses a 93rd percentile sprint speed.
Speaking of elite tools, it needs to be noted that he already has a 91st percentile max exit velocity. Morel has 2 homers with a .177 ISO, but that max EV and an impressive 11.7% barrel rate makes me think he could be a legit power/speed option with multi-position eligibility as Chicago's everyday leadoff man. Roster him.
It's really important to not overreact to a recent hot stretch from a fringe hitter. That might sounds obvious, but it can be so tempting to chase past production. Click on a player card and see all the goodness you could've had if you had been rostering him. And see they're still available. That's what gets you.
The key is determining if there is a reason for this change in production. Enter Gimenez, who I initially dismissed as a light-hitting infielder having a strong couple of weeks. Then I dug deeper. Here's the Andres Gimenez story since his 2020 debut:
Still just 23 years old, Gimenez has made subtle-but-critical changes in 2022. He's chasing less, hitting more line drives, and hitting the ball harder. Any one of these adjustments would be noteworthy, but the combination is what sold me on his recent play.
To be clear, Gimenez isn't suddenly a world-beater. His barrel rate is only in the 47th percentile of hitters according to Baseball Savant. At 7.6% it's up considerably from 3.3% and 3.6% in '20 and '21, however. He has basically transformed from a nothing in the power department to closer to league average. He enters Monday with 7 homers, a .540 slugging percentage, and a .234 ISO. Note that he posted a .215 ISO in 233 plate appearances in Triple-A last summer.
It's a small sample, but Gimenez has also hit lefties extremely well so far this year (10-for-25). Factor in a 96th percentile sprint speed (but just 4 steals) and a strong batting average (.307 with a .299 xBA) and this suddenly looks like a must-roster player in any categories format.
The Giants have done it again. In 240 innings from 2019-21 Junis posted a 5.36 ERA with a 4.89 FIP. There were moments where he seemed interesting for fantasy, but the Royals proved unable to fully unlock his potential.
In his first 43 frames under San Francisco's tutelage the 29-year-old has a 2.51 ERA. This is an organization that has fully restored the careers of several veterans lately, including former castoffs who appeared to be done as major league contributors. Junis falls into that category.
His underlying numbers aren't as impressive -- a 3.96 xERA, a 3.72 FIP, and a 44th percentile K%. Junis shouldn't be mistaken as the next Kevin Gausman, but the Giants have pulled off a clever trick with their latest reclamation project.
The above image highlights how perfectly Junis' pitches complement each other right now. His primary offering is a slider (yellow above) with elite horizontal movement that spins away from right-handers. The Giants are having him throw it more than ever before this season (54.5%).
Those orange and green sections? Those are Junis' sinker and changeup, which move in the exact opposite direction from his slider. The sinker functions as his main weapon against lefties while the changeup gives him another option and makes him a true three-pitch starter.
Noticeably gone are four-seam fastballs. Whereas the Royals had him throw them about 34% of the time over the past three seasons, Junis has tossed just five in 2022. Five. It wasn't a good pitch, so the Giants had him stop throwing it. Instead, they told him to throw his good pitches. Sometimes it's really that easy.