Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 21
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 21st scoring period of the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
Paul Goldschmidt's Numbers Are in Rarified Air
Glancing at the top points-league and rotisserie batters from the past two weeks tells us that -- surprise! -- Paul Goldschmidt has been the best player in baseball over that span.
It's actually about as far away from a surprise as one can get, because Goldschmidt has been battling Aaron Judge for "best batter in the game" status for months now. In fact, we have to start considering this season by Goldy to be one of the top fantasy seasons ever at the position.
Paul Goldschmidt ranks among all NL position players:
6.7 bWAR - 1st
.339 AVG - 1st
.421 OBP - 1st
.635 SLG% - 1st
1.056 OPS - 1st
200 OPS+ - 1st
4.6 WPA - 1st
84 Runs - 2nd
266 TBs - 2nd
96 RBI - 2nd
Let's not overthink this. Goldy IS the MVP. pic.twitter.com/mCT2quPYP7
— Cardinals Stats And Facts (@STL_Stats_Facts) August 21, 2022
He has been so good, in fact, that some chatter around a potential Triple Crown is beginning to boil. But just how good has Goldschmidt been for fantasy managers?
If we just take a snapshot of his stats (.338 average, 33 home runs, 92 runs, and 105 RBI), we can get a sense of comparison to other great first basemen's fantasy seasons. Those numbers are the first time a first baseman has reached them all since Albert Pujols did it in 2008. And it is just the 12th time it's been accomplished by a first baseman since 1950. And guess what? He still has 34 games to add to those totals.
If he can finish with a .330 average, 40 home runs, 100 runs and 120 RBI, he will be one of only 12 first basemen to have done that since 1950. He may not have the 60 home runs like Judge might or the 1.84 ERA like Justin Verlander, but Goldy is in the midst of what is undeniably one of the best offensive seasons in recent fantasy memory.
Is Felix Bautista Lucky or a Top-Shelf Closer?
At this point of the rotisserie fantasy season, every single save is precious. When you find a consistent source who was a previously unmined gem, they often can help you win a league just from the movement in one category. So it's no surprise to look at the top rotisserie pitchers of the last two weeks and see recently coronated closer Felix Bautista as the second-best pitcher in that time.
Over the last 14 days, he has a 0.44 ERA in nine innings, a 1.00 WHIP, 12 strikeouts, one win, and four saves. In a recent appearance against the Chicago White Sox and their best hitters, he was making them look simply foolish.
How Félix Bautista navigated that eighth inning:
• One devastating splitter low and away to Luis Robert
• One high 100.8 mph heater to José Abreu
• One fist pump from Adley Rutschman pic.twitter.com/15Yc1HEShB
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) August 24, 2022
The fact that he has been dominating is undeniable. But is the breakout closer candidate for one of the breakout teams of the year legitimate? There's an argument to be made on both sides.
On one hand, Bautista simply has nasty stuff complemented by outright gas on his fastball. His 99.1 average miles per hour on that pitch is sixth-fastest in the majors, which he can then follow up with a curveball that is also a top-eight pitch this season. No one can deny how nasty his stuff is, and he has already learned to provide some control with it, only allowing 2.53 walks per nine innings, lower than what he did at any level in the minors.
But he has also been incredibly lucky in a number of areas. His batting average on balls in play is a crazy-low .212, almost 80 points below the league average for pitchers (.290). His left-on-base percentage (the percentage of base runners he does not let score) is 94.2%, also well above the league average of 72.4%. His home-run rate is in line with the average for all pitchers, but he is clearly benefiting from hitters against him getting unlucky on balls in play.
It's true, however, that the best pitchers can often make their own luck with how good their stuff is. If Bautista's clip of12.00 K/9 continues, it may not matter what hitters do when they make contact, because Bautista makes them swing and miss at nearly everything.
Be Cautious of the Jake McCarthy Breakout
Looking once again at the top 12 rotisserie hitters from the last two weeks, one name stands out amongst the Goldschmidts, Betts, Bregmans, and Yelichs of the list: Jake McCarthy.
In the past 14 days, he has put up a .421 average with a homer, seven RBI, and three steals. The seasonal average (.291) and steals (12) are where McCarthy has really been assisting his fantasy managers through just 68 games this season. And having just turned 25 years old less than a month ago, he looks like a potential star in the making.
But fantasy managers might want to pump the brakes on the McCarthy breakout for the rest of this season.
The first thing that stands out for McCarthy is the extremely high BABIP of .358. The MLB average this season is .291, and we are dealing with only a 221-plate appearance sample size, far from enough balls in play to draw serious conclusions. The batting average on the season (and especially the last two weeks) has been exceptionally helpful to fantasy managers who took a chance on the speedy outfielder, but with a high BABIP and only a 7.0% walk rate, the average and steals might creep back down the rest of the year.
Beyond his own performance, he now is forced to deal with external factors outside his control. The Arizona Diamondbacks have announced that they will be calling up prized outfield prospect Corbin Carroll to debut this week. Just 22 years old, Carroll is seemingly major league ready and has a total slash line of .307/.425/.610 this year with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases. Carroll will likely come up to play every day, which creates a potential pinch on the rest of the roster.
Suddenly, the Diamondbacks have a young and crowded outfield consisting of Carroll, McCarthy, Ketel Marte (who is back from injury), Daulton Varsho, and prospect Alek Thomas, who has been playing well in his own right. This will likely create a lot of mix-and-match scenarios for this group the rest of the way, so McCarthy may not be a player you can count on for everyday at-bats, especially in weekly leagues. He might be relegated to starts against only right-handers.
Next season, if Marte moves back to the infield and/or if they can convince Christian Walker to DH, there might be less of a logjam. But for the last four weeks of the season, it might get a little crowded in Arizona.