Corey Kluber (SP-CLE) will be out for an extended period of time as x-rays revealed that the ulna in his throwing arm sustained a non-displaced fracture when it was hit by a line-drive during Wednesday's game. Kluber had surrendered 3 runs on 8 hits and walked none while striking out 3 when Brian Anderson hit a 102-mph comebacker to the mound with two outs in the 5th. Kluber immediately left the game and was initially diagnosed with a bruise. This is certainly unfortunate news for Kluber and the Indians, but his fantasy owners will have to hope that the time on the shelf helps Kluber come back sharper than before the injury. He hasn't looked right all year, and the numbers back it up. His 5.80 ERA and 1.68 WHIP only scratch the surface, as his 4.63 xFIP confirms some major issues. Those begin with an uncharacteristic lack of control, as his 3.79 BB/9 is by far his highest in a meaningful big-league sample size (1.96 career BB/9). He's also been hit hard this year, for the 37.5% hard-hit rate posted by opposing batters is a career-high; they logged a 36.6% hard-hit rate last season, well above his career clip of 29.2%. Hopefully the 33 year-old recovers well and recaptures his old form when he returns.
Jose Berrios (SP-MIN) contained the Houston offense on Thursday in his 7 innings of work, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits while giving out no free passes and fanning 5. The lone blemish on an otherwise strong outing was a first-inning home run to Alex Bregman. On the season, Berrios now boasts a strong 2.91 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, but his 4.22 xFIP points to a suppressed .250 BABIP (.286 career) and, especially, an elevated 86% strand rate (71.5% career). He's definitely made some strides, as he's recorded a quality strikeout rate (8.94 K/9) while slashing his BB/9 from last season's 2.85 to this year's 1.55. But opposing batters have posted a career-high 37.5% hard-hit rate against Berrios while elevating the ball more (46.6% flyball rate in 2019, 39.8% career), contributing to a 1.36 HR/9. The 24 year-old is certainly one of the game's more promising young pitchers, but there's likely to be a few bumps on the road as things correct to the mean.
Jose Altuve (2B-HOU) continued to struggle against the Twins on Thursday, going 0-4 with a strikeout against Jose Berrios and friends. The 0-fer dropped his season average to .248 across 136 plate appearances, and his 16.2% strikeout rate so far in 2019 is a career high (his previous high was 13.2% last season). Altuve's .231 BABIP is extremely low (he has a career .338 BABIP), but he may be selling out for power as his hard-hit rate sits at an elite 44.3% while he currently owns a career-high 37.2% flyball rate, career-low 17% line-drive rate, career-high 54.6% pull rate, and career-high 22.9% infield flyball percentage. He does own an astronomical 25.7% HR/FB rate that dwarfs his 8.5% clip, so time will tell if he's able to sustain his career-high .265 ISO.
Jorge Polanco (SS-MIN) sustained his hot start to the 2019 campaign against the Astros on Thursday, going 2-3 with a double, triple, walk, and run scored. He's now batting .336 with 18 extra-base hits across 121 plate appearances, good for a career-high .299 ISO. The elevated .365 BABIP will dip toward his career .314 clip, although he regularly posted BABIPs in the .330-.340 range during his minor-league days. So the average will certainly come down a bit, but it's possible it won't dip too low. The power spike is even more surprising than the average, as he's never hit more than 13 dingers in a professional season yet already has 5 in 2019; he hit 6 in over 200 more at-bats last season. After posting pedestrian hard-hit rates throughout his career (his high entering this season was last year's 32.1%), that clip has jumped to 41.4% this season while he's slashed his groundball rate to a mere 22.4% (35.1% career) and is lofting over half (50.6%) of batted balls into the air. His 27.1% liner rate also exceeds his career 24.1% rate. Oh, and he's doing this while walking more (9.9% this season, 7.6% career) and striking out less (14.9% in 2019, 16.1% career). This may be the breakout we've been waiting for.
Brandon Lowe (2B-TB) was the hero of the game for the Rays on Thursday, as he went 2-4 with a decisive 2-run homer to defeat the Royals. The Lowe that wasn't recently promoted to Tampa Bay now boasts a .304 average on the season to go along with 7 longballs, 19 RBI, and 3 stolen bases over 112 plate appearances. But a whopping 33% of those plate appearances have ended in a strikeout and his BABIP sits at an unsustainable .407. His track record in the upper minors suggests that a BABIP in the .320-.360 range is more likely, and he never whiffed more than 25.7% of the time at any professional stop prior to this season. Although he's recorded an elite 46% hard-hit rate this year, his 28.6% HR/FB rate will no doubt dip as time passes, bringing down his power production even as his average dips. All of this isn't to say that he'll be useless for fantasy purposes... but there are enough red flags in the underlying stats to suggest that it might be best to sell high on him now.
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