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.
Andrew Vaughn has hit 2nd in his past 4 starts. Manager Tony La Russa said "he's earned the spot."
Taylor Ward has led off for the Angels in 7 straight contests.
Franmil Reyes hit cleanup in each of his first 15 starts. He has hit 5th or 6th in each of the past 4.
Ketel Marte hit 2nd in each of his first 16 starts. He has hit 5th or 6th in each of the past 6.
Kyle Tucker has hit higher than 5th just 3 times this season. All 3 of those games came with Yordan Alvarez sidelined.
Ronald Acuña has hit leadoff in all three games he has started since returning from the IL. Ozzie Albies, meanwhile, has been hitting 5th since Acuña returned.
Trevor Story has hit leadoff for the Red Sox in 9 straight starts.
DJ LeMahieu has hit leadoff for the Yankees in 9 consecutive games.
Jazz Chisholm has started just 1 of 5 games against lefties this year.
Ward was always going to be the cover photo for this edition of Tuma's Take. He was a top-4 player by xwOBA entering Sunday and then went 2-for-5 with 2 runs scored. Overall, he's hitting .400 with 5 homers and a 1.271 OPS.
This emergence from Ward truly came out of nowhere. At the end of last season his own manager viewed him a fourth outfielder. However, we're living in the era of player development, so we shouldn't dismiss mid-career breakouts the way we once might have. This is especially true when the underlying stats appear to be legitimate.
When evaluating hitters early in the year we want to look at chase rate (O-swing%), SwStr%, and barrel rate. Phrased another way - are hitters swinging at good pitches, making contact, and hitting them well?
Entering Sunday Ward's 20.7 O-swing% was roughly 6% lower than his career average. It also would've ranked 9th in the majors if he had the PAs to qualify. His swinging strike rate was at 8.5% (10.5% for his career). Lastly, his barrel rate is way up (11.3% in '22, 5.9% for his career).
Of course, this hot start won't last forever. Not even Mike Trout could keep up the pace Ward is on. In that sense he's a sell-high candidate if someone were to blow you away with an offer. But recognize that this isn't just some BABIP-fueled stretch. Ward has transformed himself into a wonderful hitter, and he now spends each game hitting in front of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
It's been a couple of weeks since we last checked in on the state of bullpens in MLB. This is by design, however. Closer situations have become so wildly fluid that chasing the most recent save is often a losing battle.
I find that a lot of the fantasy industry tries to determine who a team's closer might be based on usage (if a reliever pitches the eighth inning but it's against the heart of the order, for instance). This still feels like a losing game. A lot of teams have multiple relievers that they trust in different spots. The new norm is a world in which Team A might have RP1 get 15 saves, RP2 accrue 10 saves, and RP3 finish with 5.
We know which teams have a locked-in closer. These relievers are Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks, Raisel Iglesias, Jordan Romano, Aroldis Chapman, Ryan Pressly (injured), Edwin Diaz, Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel, Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, and Daniel Bard.
I'll share some thoughts on the remaining situations:
Orioles: Jorge Lopez is the guy, and he's undervalued right now.
Red Sox: Hansel Robles is the team's most trusted reliever. Matt Strahm, Jake Diekman, and Matt Barnes might all earn saves throughout the year.
Rays: Andrew Kittredge has 3 saves, Ryan Thompson has 2, and Jalen Beeks has 1. Do with this what you will.
Tigers: Gregory Soto has 3 saves and Michael Fulmer has 1.
Royals: Scott Barlow/Josh Staumont committee.
Twins: Emilio Pagan has 2 of Minnesota's 3 saves. Jhoan Duran is a (very) high-upside handcuff.
A's: Dany Jimenez has been the team's closer while Lou Trivino is on the COVID-19 IL. I'm not sure why they would go away from Jimenez since he has done well.
Mariners: Mega committee between Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, and Drew Steckenrider. I'd go nuts if Andres Munoz somehow winds up with the role, but I'm not counting on it.
Rangers: Joe Barlow/Matt Bush committee
Marlins: Anthony Bender already has 6 saves! Cole Sulser, Dylan Floro, and Tanner Scott could all vulture some opportunities here and there.
Nationals: Tanner Rainey is the guy. Similar to Lopez/Orioles, he feels undervalued.
Cubs: David Robertson already has 5 saves. Alrighty then.
Reds: The team is 3-19. I'm actively avoiding this Lucas Sims/Art Warren/Tony Santillan committee.
Pirates: David Bednar/Chris Stratton committee.
Cardinals: Giovanny Gallegos/Ryan Helsley committee BUT Helsley has been the best reliever in baseball so far this year. If the Cardinals committed to him as the primary ninth-inning option he has top-5 closer upside. Below is what I wrote about him in a recent article on Substack, which you can subscribe to (for free) by clicking here.
Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy has been filling in for Mark Melancon while he's on the COVID-19 IL.
Giants: Camilo Doval is probably the primary option (4 saves), but Jake McGee has 2 and Tyler Rogers is always lurking. The Giants might win enough games where Doval gets 70-75% of the opportunities and still finishes top-10 in saves.
Trading away Ryan for two months of Nelson Cruz last summer is shaping up to be a rare mistake by the Rays. In their defense, however, this was hard to see coming. The 25-year-old was never considered a premium pitching prospect, he doesn't throw his fastball very hard, and he mostly throws fastballs. So what gives?
In Week 1 of Tuma's Take I referenced pitching models that are taking over the industry in order to quantify a pitcher's "stuff." In other words these models attempt to quantify the physical properties of a pitch -- velocity, movement, etc.
These models don't think Ryan is all that special either, but there's one thing they struggle with: deception. Ryan throws from an atypical arm slot, which leads to an extreme vertical approach angle. This allows his fastball to "play up" despite the modest velocity. He's deceptive, which gives hitters trouble.
Yet Ryan has continued to get better in 2022. That might be due to a change in his pitch mix. His fastball usage has declined from 65.8% to 52% while his slider usage has jumped from 16% to 30.3%. Through 23 innings (four starts), Ryan has totaled a 1.17 ERA, a 0.70 WHIP, and an excellent 25:6 K:BB ratio. The change is working.
With deception being so hard to quantify, it's tough to predict if-or-when it'll stop being so effective. Will hitters begin to pick it up the more they face Ryan? Perhaps this could make Ryan a sell-high candidate in dynasty leagues. In redraft it might be worth just taking the profit based on how late he was drafted. Of course, I'd be open to swapping for a hitter.
I'll soon be publishing an entire article on how rookies are performing so far, but the general takeaway is that they aren't lighting the world on fire.
Because of that, and since this was an "issue" last season too, I haven't found myself stashing prospects in redraft leagues. Nonetheless, here are some quick thoughts on the biggest names who could receive a promotion in the near future:
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates: The darling of spring training is batting just .176 with 1 homer through 19 games at Triple-A. No need to stash.
Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B, Cardinals: He already has 11 homers in 20 games. The fact that he could have eligibility at two weaker positions is a huge benefit. The strikeouts are an issue right now (34.9%), but they weren't last year at Triple-A (19.2%). I'm not stashing but would add right away if he gets the call. I'm not sure St. Louis has a spot for him, though.
Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox: Boston isn't going to rush their top prospect despite the dismal performance by Bobby Dalbec. I'm expecting to see Casas at Fenway by mid-summer.
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles: He just moved up to Double-A as part of his "rehab assignment." He's probably another couple weeks from a big league promotion. I'd stash by this weekend in leagues where I don't have a high-end catcher.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins: He's dominating Triple-A with a 1.71 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings. Miami knows how to develop pitchers. I'm more interested in stashing him than Cruz/Casas, though there will be workload restrictions throughout the summer.
I wrote a deep dive on Andrew Vaughn that can be found here.
Josh Hader and Jordan Romano have combined for 21 (!!) saves. Lordy.
Mookie Betts leads baseball with 21 runs despite his slow start.
Trea Turner, who is batting 3rd for the Dodgers this year, is tied for 5th in the majors with 18 RBI.
Julio Rodriguez leads baseball with 9 stolen bases this season. He has a top-5 sprint speed in the league according to Baseball Savant.
Ronald Acuna Jr. already has 2 steals in just 3 games.
Kris Bryant has a career-low 25.5% hard-hit rate. Maybe the back issue that landed him on the IL is to blame? I'm concerned considering his exit velocities were historically not-great to begin with.
Shane McClanahan has a league-worst 26.7% HR/FB rate. It was 14.3% in 2021. Incredibly, even better days could be ahead.
Some other SPs who have unlucky HR/FB rates: Nathan Eovaldi, Corbin Burnes, Frankie Montas.
Carlos Rodon looks utterly amazing through four starts. He has a 1.17 ERA, a 0.92 FIP, and 38 strikeouts through 23 innings. I have him as a top-7 SP rest-of-season.
Josh Lowe was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday's game.
Mike Trout has surpassed Ken Griffey Jr. in fWAR.
The Cincinnati Reds are 3-19.
Finally, a reminder that my redraft/in-season rankings can be found on Patreon! These are updated every few days and include a "change log" to reflect the adjustments. Dynasty rankings, prospect rankings, and exclusive content is included within the $5 subscriber package as well.
Thanks for reading!