Jon Gray: Gray pitched six innings and allowed two runs against the Padres on Saturday but only got one strikeout in the process. Gray has made headlines this season for his poor overall numbers but encouraging peripherals, and his ERA (3.38) appears to finally have caught up with his peripheral statistics over the second half of the season. Gray has really been very good all season from a plate discipline perspective; his 71.2% contact rate ranks eighth among qualified pitchers and his 13.3% whiff rate ranks eleventh, fueling his impressive 4.18 SO/BB ratio. 2018 hasn't all been great for Gray as he's allowed a less than desirable 35.3% hard hit rate (and poor 15.8% soft contact rate), but that number has been trending downwards recently and should continue to do so based on last season's 28.4% mark. Gray largely hasn't changed his approach relative to last season (or throughout the course of this season), and this seems to be a case of his elite strikeout rate and improving contact quality profile finally paying off. Expect Gray's recent hot streak to continue (though Colorado does have a tough remaining schedule), and he should end the season on a high note.
Yasiel Puig: Puig went hitless in two at bats against the Diamondbacks on Saturday. After a hot early August saw Puig's hard hit rate skyrocket, his production has fallen back down to earth and he's starting the final month of the season in a bit of a slump. Though Puig's hard hit rate is down substantially recently, he has posted some encouraging trends with rising contact, fly ball, and line drive rates that should hold off a total collapse over September even if his hard hit rate continues to falter. Additionally, Puig has fared significantly better on the road compared to at home this season, and September features a 10 game stretch at hitter friendly parks including Coors Field and Great American Ballpark (six games total, Busch Stadium accounts for the other four), so Puig is faced with circumstances that should help stave off his late season decline. Don't expect Puig to put up the .900+ OPS that he did through the middle parts of the season due to his declining hard hit rate, but he should still have a productive September due to a friendly schedule, higher contact rate, and an improving batted ball profile.
Kyle Hendricks: Hendricks allowed six hits and one run over six innings on Saturday and struck out four Phillies batters. Outside of a disastrous June that saw him post a 7.03 ERA over five starts, Hendricks has largely been solid this season and much of his performance is backed up by strong peripherals (78.8% contact rate, 23% soft contact rate, 31.6% o-swing rate) that are either in line with or better than his career averages. The problem for Hendricks this season has been fly balls; though Hendricks is traditionally more of a ground ball pitcher that most (career 0.99 GB/FB ratio), he's posted a 0.87 GB/FB ratio this season (the most fly ball heavy profile of his career) and is getting crushed (relatively) on balls in the air. Hitters have slashed .207/.202/.686 on fly balls against Hendricks this season -- a significantly worse line than his .167/.165/.521 career average despite a generally strong Cubs outfield (defensively). This decline in performance on fly balls is likely the result of Hendricks' inability to induce pop ups -- Hendricks has posted a career worst 9% IF/FB ratio this season, and the biggest culprit has been his fastball. Hendricks has seen his fastball allow a ton of fly balls this season (its 34.88% fly ball rate is more than 10 points higher than its mark last season), and it's been his second worst pitch this season (behind his seldom used curveball). Fortunately for fantasy owners, Hendricks has tapered off the use of his fastball since its usage peaked in June, and he's seen his fly ball rate drop as well. Expect Hendricks to pitch like he has all season (with the exception of June) and be a productive fantasy asset over the rest of the year.
Joe Panik: Panik went 0-3 with a walk against the Mets on Saturday. Panik has been in the midst of an up and down season at the plate, and he could be getting hot just at the right time for fantasy owners. Over his past 10 games, Panik has seen his hard hit and contact rates rise while his o-swing and whiff rates have fallen, but his production hasn't quite caught up yet. Additionally, Panik's splits make him particularly useful for DFS players. Panik struggles against lefties to the point where he's essentially useless as a fantasy player when facing southpaws (.176/.231/.247 slash line against lefties this season), but his numbers against righties are serviceable (.279/.336/.389, 1.2 SO/BB ratio against righties this season) and should be trending upwards. Look to target Panik when facing righty starters (though it is worth noting that the Giants expect to face a number of lefties over the final month), and you could find yourself with a bargain, upwards trending middle infielder.
Chris Archer: Archer lasted six innings and allowed one run and two hits with six strikeouts against the Braves on Saturday. Archer has fallen short of expectations all season but has really struggled to hit his stride since joining the Pirates at the trade deadline. That being said, some signs of a potential late season surge are starting to show. The Pirates effectively added a sinker to Archer's arsenal, and it's been among his most successful pitches so far in August due to its tendency to induce ground balls. Archer's newly developed sinker has strengthened his overall arsenal as well, and he's seen his o-swing, ground ball, and hard hit rates all improve since moving to Pittsburgh. Archer has still limited contact to an impressive 73.2% rate (49% swing rate, 43.8% zone rate) for the season indicating that his strikeout rate should rise to its prior elite levels, and if his sinker can continue to induce desirable contact then Archer could be a fantasy difference maker into the playoffs. Fantasy owners looking to take on a somewhat risky play with high upside should look no further than Archer, and more cautious owners should keep an eye on him as his 4.72 ERA has a real chance to improve significantly over the rest of the season.
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