Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 16
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 16th scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
Matt Chapman Has His Groove Back
After a 26-year old Matt Chapman hit 36 home runs with 102 RBI in 2019 with a .342 on-base percentage in 2019, fantasy managers thought we were looking at the next great offensive third baseman to emerge in our game. We could see the elite defense he brought to the field, but he developed power and on-base ability that would prime him to become an elite fantasy asset.
After the shortened 2020 season, hopes were still high for Chapman, but he took a significant step back in 2021. He slashed just .210/.314/.403 and dropped to 27 home runs and 75 RBI in his last year with the Oakland Athletics.
Once Chapman joined a very strong Toronto Blue Jays offense, the hope was he would find his offensive groove again, and after a mediocre start to the season, he is on an incredible hot streak of late. Over the last 14 days, Chapman is slashing .467/.568/1.033 with five home runs and 12 RBI. He is top three in all of baseball for average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage during that time, and only two players have more home runs.
The biggest adjustment during his four months in Toronto is Chapman learning how to use his new home park to his favor. Chapman has always been a hitter who tends to pull the ball to left field, but this season he has taken that to extreme levels. Chapman's pull percentage is 43.5% this year, a full seven percentage points above his career average. That serves him well because the Rogers Centre is the sixth-best park for home runs by right-handed batters over the last three years.
Chapman is the hottest hitter on the planet not named Aaron Judge, and if he can keep playing to his strengths, there is no reason to think he can't finish the season as a top-five third baseman. Currently, he is up to .249/.326/.482 with 20 home runs on the year.
Merrill Kelly Can Do No Wrong
When Merrill Kelly was dominating teams like the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers, and Colorado Rockies in early- to mid-June, it was easy to look at his performances and chalk it up to a soft stretch in the schedule.
But now with Kelly having just breezed through a gauntlet of facing the San Francisco Giants (twice), San Diego Padres, and Atlanta Braves, we can safely say that Kelly is an elite fantasy pitcher in 2022. Kelly has now allowed just one earned run across his last 21 innings, and only Dylan Cease has been a better rotisserie pitcher than Kelly over the last month.
In those past 30 days, Kelly has given us a 1.31 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 30 strikeouts in 34 innings, and three total wins. On Sunday, he completely shut down the Atlanta Braves, one of the hottest teams in baseball. He certainly isn't blowing teams away with a rate of just 7.47 K/9 rate this year, and his walks per game is just average at 2.73 per nine innings. His batting average on balls in play is just a tick below the league average at .273. So what's driving the success?
Like many pitchers this year, Kelly is giving his four-seam fastball a backseat to the rest of his breaking pitches. According to Baseball Savant, Kelly now throws a fastball less than 30% of the time. He has significantly increased his cutter, curveball, and changeup usage, and FanGraphs rates his curveball as the fourth-best in the game.
But perhaps his best asset is the fact that he can use so many pitches to keep hitters off-balance throughout the course of an at-bat. He has five pitches that he throws between 15% and 29% of the time. And as long as he can keep hitters guessing -- as he has for the past two months -- Kelly is going to maintain his spot as one of the more reliable pitchers in our game.
And as an added bonus, if Kelly gets traded to a contender, the likelihood of more wins will follow.
Jonathan India Is Back in the Circle of Trust
After a breakout rookie season in which he slashed .269/.376/.459 with 21 home runs, 98 runs, and 12 stolen bases, Jonathan India had some sky-high expectations heading into 2022. By the time games started, he was being drafted as a top-90 overall player as fantasy owners had visions of a 25-15 season dancing in their heads for their second baseman.
After a series of unfortunate injuries to start the year, however, India finished the first half with a line of .237/.290/.346 with just four homers and two stolen bases.
It's safe to say that's not exactly what his managers had in mind.
But India has completely turned things around since becoming fully healthy. Since the calendar turned to July, India is slashing .371/.450/.743 with three homers. His pesky injuries have squashed his base-stealing ability this year, but he has been a top-15 player over the last month in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
India's bread and butter throughout the minors was his ability to get on base via hit or walk. From 2018 to 2021, he never had a walk rate lower than 10% at any level. His walk rate is at just 4.8% so far this year, so we know India could still get better throughout the last two months of this season. As his plate discipline likely improves over the rest of the season, so should his power. His hard-hit rate has improved each month of the season so far, culminating in a 32.4% clip in July.
Somehow, India is available in 19% of Yahoo leagues at the time of this writing. If India is on your waiver wire, be confident that his injury woes are behind him, and run to put in as much FAB as you can to claim his services.