Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 15
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 15th scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
Raimel Tapia Makes the Most of His Playing Time
If you browse a list of the top-20 hitters in rotisserie leagues over the past 14 days, you will notice something interesting about Raimel Tapia. No other player on that list has fewer than 29 plate appearances in that span except for Tapia, who has just 20.
How can a player ascend to the top of the fantasy world with so few opportunities? Simply put, he is squeezing every last drop of value out of his limited times at the plate, and it may be time for him to start seeing the field some more.
Over the last two weeks, Tapia is hitting a crazy .550 with a home run, a steal, 13 RBI, and 5 runs. Many may point to the fluky nature of his inside-the-park grand slam he hit last week, but the fact is that he's hitting the cover off the ball lately, and the grand slam was just a product of Tapia taking advantage of his opportunity.
One of the most frustrating things about Tapia the last few years was he seemingly had the combination of park (Coors Field), opportunity (often batting leadoff), and skills to provide elite levels of success, but his batted ball profile wouldn't let him put it all together. But in his limited time now in Toronto, he is finally starting to hit the ball the right way and hit it harder.
But until the Toronto Blue Jays can commit an everyday spot to Tapia, he might just be limited to a daily transaction league asset only. He has not played in back-to-back games since July 9th and 10th, as the combination of George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel, and Alejandro Kirk have centerfield, left field, and DH locked down. But if Tapia keeps generating runs like this, can they keep him out of the lineup in a backup role?
I'll be keeping a close eye on Tapia because he is one injury or cold stretch away from being able to play a major role in our fantasy lineups.
Dylan Cease on a Historic Stretch
Longtime baseball fans are used to seeing something new every season. Even in a sport that is 150 years old, we are still seeing records fall and new wrinkles to the game every year.
For the latest example, you don't have to look any farther than the historic stretch Dylan Cease is currently on. After not allowing any earned runs in his start against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday, he has now allowed only three earned runs in his last 11 starts.
You may have heard of the only other pitcher to be that dominant over 11 starts.
Complete list of MLB starting pitchers in all of history to allow only 3 earned runs in an 11-start span:
Bob Gibson, 1968
Dylan Cease, 2022
That's it. That's the list. pic.twitter.com/Dp2AAkiu2p
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) July 24, 2022
Of course, this follows a stretch where Cease allowed 13 earned runs over three starts, which had analysts wondering what had happened to the pitcher many picked for a breakout campaign. But this recent stretch proves that those 14 runs were mostly fluky, and Cease should now be considered among the game's very best young arms.
He now carries a 2.03 ERA, 12.52 K/9, and 0.65 HR/9 into the final two months of the season. Cease has leap-frogged a number of candidates to land at third in the American League Cy Young odds, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. It will be a long shot to try and pass Shane McClanahan or Justin Verlander this year, but Cease deserves to at least be in the conversation among those guys.
Cease has now improved his ERA, strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate, and hard hit rate for three straight seasons. And this season we are watching him develop into a pitcher that should be in the Cy Young conversation for years to come.
Leody Taveras Should be Rostered Everywhere
It's not often that a player comes around after mid-season who can completely turn a team around in one or two categories. But since he arrived back on the MLB scene in mid-June, Leody Taveras has evolved into a player who may win some fantasy managers a steals category in their league.
Taveras has just six steals in 34 games this season, but five of those steals have come in the last 11 games for the Texas Rangers, which just happens to coincide with when the Rangers finally committed Taveras to a full-time gig in centerfield. Over that span since July 11th, his primary batting slot has moved up from ninth to sixth, and the Rangers are basically giving him the green light since their season is now effectively over.
Over the last two weeks, only Bobby Witt Jr. (seven) has more steals than Taveras, but Taveras is also hitting .415 in that span, which is fifth-highest among players with at least 30 plate appearances.
Taveras has never had the best eye at the plate, and his 6.5% walk rate this season is actually below his career average. But he is finally lifting the ball off the ground with regularity this year. After an average 43.4% groundball rate and 34.8% flyball rate for his career, Taveras is at 35.1% and 40.5%, respectively, in 2022.
Baseball Savant lists Taveras as having a 95th percentile speed score, which should help keep him running all around the bases as long as he can keep the strong batted-ball profile going.
Many fantasy managers have taken notice of this hot stretch, but as of Monday, Taveras was still available in 37% of Yahoo fantasy leagues. No potential category winner should be that freely available. Check and see if you can add him to your roster today.