Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 6
Welcome back to the 3 Things We Learned Series for the 2022 MLB season! This weekly piece will look at the trends, patterns, and interesting statistical touchpoints of the MLB season in order to help you make actionable fantasy decisions.
Baseball fans love their stats. We devour them, dissect them, and build our fantasy rosters around them. Each week of the 2022 baseball season, we will be gifted with another statistical sample size of pitches, plate appearances, and playing time. Knowing it often takes hundreds or even thousands of pitches or batted-ball events for trends to normalize, how should fantasy managers adjust to the ebbs and flows of weekly player performance?
Each week during this season, this piece will look at trends that have emerged over the past week and determine if it is signal or noise moving forward. What is prescriptive in helping build winning fantasy teams and what can be ignored as small sample size noise? Hopefully, we can make sense of what has just happened to help us make smarter roster and free agent budget decisions.
Let's take a look at some of the data from the sixth scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
Kolten Wong Is a Top-Five Second Baseman Going Forward
Kolten Wong just finished one of those weeks that can single-handedly win fantasy managers a head-to-head matchup or allow you to climb four spots in your standings. In just 17 at-bats, Wong hit .353 with five runs, two home runs, three runs batted in, and four stolen bases. Clearly, there are no lingering concerns from earlier poor performance, and after the last 14 days, Wong now finds himself as a top-five rotisserie second baseman on the season.
I'm predicting he stays there all year.
Batting leadoff in one of the best hitter's parks in the majors is certainly going to help Wong's case. And the Milwaukee Brewers are finally finding their groove as an offense after a miserable start to the year. In the month of May, the Brewers lead the majors in team wOBA, including the highest slugging percentage and third-highest on-base percentage. Much of that production can be tied back to Wong, who is slashing .342/.449/.658 this month with three home runs and five stolen bases.
It all points back to a change in approach as Wong is lifting the ball more. In May, his fly-ball percentage is 45.2%, compared to just 37.5% in March/April. He has been able to do that because of how much more selective he has been with his swings, even since the start of this season. Here is Wong's rolling swing percentage since the start of this year, courtesy of FanGraphs.
You can see that dramatic drop-off lately in his swing rate. That's allowing him to wait on his perfect pitch and take the free pass if he doesn't find it. His walk rate in May (18.4%) is almost six times higher than it was in the first month of the season (3.9%). If he keeps up that kind of plate discipline, he will accumulate enough plate appearances and counting stats to maintain a top-five spot all season.
Don't Trust Zach Thompson Just Yet
Among the names of starting pitchers who have had the best results the past two weeks, we see one name -- Zach Thompson -- up there with the likes of Justin Verlander, Nestor Cortes, Dylan Cease, and Shohei Ohtani. He stands out not only for his results but in his roster percentage, as well. He is rostered in just two percent of Yahoo leagues after completely dominating in back-to-back starts.
Should that change? Waivers ran for many leagues on Sunday night, and the percentage remained that low. It turns out, he probably should remain on waivers, at least until we see some more.
Thompson's past two starts have been nothing short of masterful, pitching 12 innings with 10 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and two wins. It is a far cry from his first four starts, when he allowed 21 runs to score and had three games with an ERA over 8.30. He did make some pitch-mix changes, decreasing the use of his fastball and his changeup in favor of a more reliable sinker, but that still masks what is a middling performance against inept offenses.
Both of Thompson's last two starts came against the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds, you may have heard, are just plain bad. They have the 2nd-highest strikeout rate and 17th-ranked walk rate. Their team on-base percentage and team slugging percentage both rank 25th in the majors, and they hit .216 as a team. But beyond the opponent, the numbers under the hood scream regression when you dig into them.
In both of Thompson's starts, he had a left-on-base percentage (LOB%) of 100%. That means no one who reached via walk, hit, or error scored in those 12 innings. The league-wide LOB% is just 72%, so that plus the low BABIP (under .170 in both games) should make us reconsider Thompson. So far this year, his strikeouts per nine innings are 7.52, which is his lowest since he was in A-level ball. Add it all up, and we have a pitcher on a hot streak against a weak opponent who is likely to regress back to his normal stuff.
Luis Gonzalez Is a Priority This Week
Luis Gonzalez (8% rostered in Yahoo leagues) would normally seem like a player the San Francisco Giants would churn through like they do with so many other players. Play him when it makes sense. Play him to give other guys a day off. Pinch-hit him in the right spot.
Well, Brandon Belt, Mike Yastrzemski, Evan Longoria, and LaMonte Wade Jr are all back and healthy again, but Gonzalez just keeps playing every single day. In fact, Gonzalez has started in 19 of the Giants' last 20 games, mostly batting seventh or eighth.
That lineup slot hasn't stopped him from becoming the 20th-most valuable batter in rotisserie formats over the last two weeks. In that time, Gonzalez has a .412 average, six runs, one home run, eight RBI, and three stolen bases. For the first three days of this week, the Giants travel to Coors Field, where the offense is sure to be flowing. The left-handed Gonzalez gets two righties to start the week and then two more in the following series against San Diego. Even if the Giants all of a sudden start playing the matchups, Gonzalez should have a lot of plate appearances this week.
In his brief 86-plate appearances in the majors, Gonzalez is slashing .333/.407/.486. That high slugging percentage is not likely to last long-term, but the on-base percentage is where Gonzalez profiles to be the strongest. In the minors, Gonzalez never had a walk rate lower than 9%, and he frequently would be up over 13% at several levels. He also hit more than 40 doubles in his first two minor league seasons, using all fields and showcasing just enough pop to make pitchers be honest despite his elite eye.
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox and rising through their ranks with the likes of Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, Gonzalez was often overlooked among their prospects. But now on the Giants, he seemingly has the opportunity to play every day. If you are in need of an OF5 or utility player this week, Gonzalez is an excellent place to go.