Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 12

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 twelfth scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.

Javier Baez Is Turning His Awful Season Around

Just like a broken clock that is right on time twice a day, Javier Baez is on one of his couple-times-a-year heaters and has been legitimately one of the best fantasy assets over the last week and a half. It's a complete 180-degree turn from the player he was for most of the first two months -- when he was perhaps the worst hitter in all of fantasy baseball.

In the month of May, Baez had the lowest wRC+ (21), offensive WAR (-11), wOBA, and on-base percentage of all qualified major league hitters. His .159/.202/.230 slash line with one home run for the month had Detroit Tigers' fans calling for a benching of their new $140-million man. But in the month of June, everything seemed to start clicking after about the first week. For the month, Baez is now hitting a nice .260/.304/.521 with four home runs, 12 RBI, and three steals. His wOBA is up to 130 this month, or 30% better than the league average.

But we have seen this story before, so do we expect it to continue?

Baez is a notoriously streaky player. A simple Twitter search will show you how often Baez will have a 20-game hitting streak that immediately follows a 2-for-22 slump. And his power also tends to come in bunches. In 2021, for example, 21 of his 31 home runs came in the first half of the season. The Tigers, however, think this latest streak might be a turning point.

Beyond just the increase in power, Baez's strikeout rate dropped from 25% in May to just 16% over the last two weeks. His walks are up this month, and after his hard-hit rate bottomed out around 13% on June 11th, he is back up to 29.8% over the last 15 days. It's probably the wrong time to buy Baez right now, because this is the highest his value has been all season. But there will be another slump at some point, and that will present a buying opportunity.

We know that this level of production is in his range of outcomes, and his power-speed combo can often mask the hit you will take in batting average.

Jon Gray Has Turned a Corner

The beginning of Jon Gray's first season with the Texas Rangers was an absolute disaster brought upon by multiple injuries.

First, he landed on the injured list after two starts due to blisters. After returning from that, he quickly went back on the injured list because of a knee injury. After that setback, he was listed day-to-day with a different knee injury and missed a start. But in June, he has finally been healthy, and the move out of Coors Field to a much better park for pitchers is starting to pay off.

With all of the injury woes behind him, it's clear to see those ailments are what hindered his success through the first two months. Here are Gray's statistics by month for the 2022 season:

April 7.00 9.0 8 1.00 8.0 0.665 2.00
May 5.04 25.0 24 1.44 8.6 0.731 0.72
June 2.64 30.2 36 1.01 10.6 0.550 0.59

As Gray has gotten healthier, all of his rates and underlying metrics have improved. In fact, among all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched this month, Gray's 2.64 ERA ranks 13th.

As Gray has had to worry less and less about injury, it has allowed him to better locate his pitches, leading to a sharp increase of balls in the strike zone since the beginning of the season, per FanGraphs.

Couple that with Gray walking fewer than 3.00 per nine innings, and this looks like a player to target before the knowledge of this improvement becomes widely known. All of the injuries allowed Gray's roster percentage to drop to 50% in Yahoo leagues right now. If he's available, this is a pitcher who can help any fantasy squad for the rest of the campaign.

Now Is the Time to Grab Jarren Duran

Over the past week, only one fantasy hitter among the top 25 in rotisserie formats has zero home runs. And that's Jarren Duran.

Despite the lack of power, Duran is batting .318 with four runs, three RBI, and four steals over the last seven days, and he has solidified his spot at the top of the Boston Red Sox lineup. With Enrique Hernandez on the shelf, there still may be an opportunity to acquire Duran on the cheap in the first part of this week.

Duran never hit less than .250 and never stole fewer than 12 bases at any level of the minor leagues. Before his call-up, he already had 11 swipes in 43 games, and he is off to the races in the major leagues, as well. According to Baseball Savant, his sprint speed is in the 93rd percentile of all big leaguers. And since Duran's debut on June 5th, only 10 major leaguers have more steals than he does.

Currently, Duran is only 21% rostered in Yahoo fantasy leagues. And that 21% are surely enjoying the benefits of rostering Duran the last couple of weeks. The other 79% of you should grab him or place a claim on Duran if you are in any kind of need for steals, runs, or batting average.

But if you are in a league with someone who already rosters Duran, see what they might be willing to take in return. Duran is not going to suit up for the three-game series in Toronto because he is not vaccinated. If that manager is frustrated by the inability to use the Boston speedster, it might be worth throwing an offer their way while the price is right.