Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 9

Jameson Taillon has been dealing for the Yankees. What has led to his excellent campaign?

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 ninth scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.

The Angels Keep Finding Ways to Lose

After another crushing defeat in the late innings on Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Angels lost their 11th game in a row, falling to 8.5 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. Both Bryce Harper and Bryson Stott delivered knockout punches in the form of a grand slam and a walk-off home run versus the Angels' bullpen. Now they face a road to get back to contention that is much steeper than when they looked liked Wild Card contenders.

How does this impact your fantasy team moving forward? Basically, we have had to rethink the value of many Angels players (especially pitchers) during this span. Add in all of the injuries and inconsistency for the offense, and -- apart from Mike Trout -- this team has been a fantasy roller-coaster. No Angels starting pitcher has recorded a win since Noah Syndergaard on May 24th. Michael Lorenzen is winless since May 21st, and Shohei Ohtani's last win was more than a month ago (May 5th).

Speaking of last year's MVP, Ohtani has just two home runs in his last 12 games (both in the same game) and is slashing only .167/.318/.222 in June after a strong .250/.348/.510 May. He is still bringing it on the mound with a 12.36 K/9 rate and only two walks per nine innings. But fantasy managers were hoping for better than a 4.00 ERA, and he has allowed 11 runs in his last three starts.

The surprise offense player of the year, Taylor Ward, is now on the injured list, joining Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, and Griffin Canning. Jo Adell spent more than a month in Triple-A after a poor start to the year. And the once-reliable Raisel Iglesias has a 4.91 ERA and is allowing almost two homers per nine innings.

Add it all up, and this is not the fantasy goldmine we thought it would be at the end of April. There is still plenty of time to right the ship, of course, but falling this far out of the race this early is a bad sign for August and September.

Jameson Taillon: The New Yankees' Ace

Gerrit Cole is still doing Gerrit Cole things this year and remains the nominal ace for the New York Yankees. His five wins, 2.78 ERA, and 11.27 K/9 are all near the top of the ranks of starting pitchers. Nestor Cortes might actually be the best pitcher in the majors through two months with his league-leading 1.50 ERA and 1.9 WAR. But Jameson Taillon is beginning to emerge as a potential leader of the monster that is the Yankees' starting pitching staff.

No starting pitcher in the American League has a better ERA than Taillon's 0.56 number over his past two starts. And it has solidified his strong start to the season as he has a 2.30 ERA and a fantasy-friendly 6-1 record. How is Taillon doing it, especially since his 6.75 K/9 ranks 54th among starting pitchers?

The answer lies in a combination of pitch mix and the type of batted balls he induces so far in 2022. According to pitch tracking information from Baseball Savant, we can see how Taillon has approached his pitch mix in 2022 compared to 2021.

The four-seam fastball has seen a huge drop, while all of the off-speed stuff is trending way up. The result is a 10 percentage-point increase in groundball rate and a 10 percentage-point decrease in fly-ball rate, according to Fangraphs.

That type of contact is counteracting the low strikeouts and giving Taillon a huge boost by letting his defense do some easy work. His hard-hit rate is also down seven percentage points from last season, so even the contact he gives up has been the kind that easily turns into outs.

Alejandro Kirk is Heating Up in a Big Way

If someone could explain to me why Alejandro Kirk is still available in 39% of Yahoo leagues after last week, I would really like an explanation. In yet another year when fantasy catcher is a wasteland of offensive production, Kirk has hit an offensive groove and is now one of the best backstops available.

Over the last 14 days, Kirk leads all catchers in home runs, runs, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he is second in RBI. He is displaying almost unbelievable plate discipline with a 12.3% walk rate (fourth among catchers), and an 8.6% strikeout rate (best among all catchers).

Kirk just has an uncanny knack for making contact when the ball is over the plate. His 88.4% contact rate this season is three percentage points better than any other catcher's and is ninth overall among all batters.

There is no way his roster percentage will stay at 61% for long with how he is hitting. Add in the fact that he has now solidified the fifth spot in the batting order behind all the Toronto Blue Jays' mashers, and he is a catcher who should be universally rostered. Run to your waiver wire now to see if he is still available.