Chris Sale, SP (BOS)
Facing his former team, Sale lumbered through six innings, allowing five runs on six hits while striking out 10. It was his fifth time striking out double digit batters in his last six starts. It was the first time since April 9th Sale allowed more than four runs. After starting the season with diminished use of his fastball, Sale is turning to his heater more as the weather heats up. On Wednesday he threw 58 fastballs of his 102 pitches. Since that spike in fastball usage (essentially May 3), Sale has a 2.33 xFIP with a 15.2% swinging strike rate. In the month prior, his xFIP was 4.45 with a 12.0% swinging strike rate. In fact, since the start of May and despite Wednesday's clunker, Sale's numbers are pretty much in line with his career averages and could get even better if his 67.9% strand rate improves.
Mike Minor, SP (TEX)
Minor was stupendous on Wednesday, polishing off a complete game five-hitter, allowing only a solo home run to Brandon Dixon, striking out seven. Despite a continually elevated walk rate, Minor sports an 8-4 record with a shiny 2.40 ERA. He has pitched eight innings or more in three of his last four starts and he is striking out just under a batter per inning. But, and there's always a but, the peripheral statistics continue to scream caution. First and foremost, his strand rate is 88.3%. Remember, the average strand rate is typically in the low 70's. Even if Minor were an elite strikeout pitcher, which he's not, 88.3% is just too high and if that levels off it will impact the amount of runs he prevents. Also, his HR/FB rate is 10.5%, which would be his lowest number since 2013. Plus, his BABIP is under .160 over his last four starts despite a hard hit rate near 40%. In all, he has a -1.89 delta from xFIP to ERA. The point is he's getting lucky, but what does that matter if you're a fantasy owner? Well, it means you could probably trade him for a pretty good haul before the good fortune goes awry.
Rafael Devers, 3B (BOS)
Devers continued his hot streak with three more hits on Wednesday. He is seven for his last nine with four doubles. He doesn't turn 23 until after the regular season, but he is making very mature improvements at the plate. It's not necessarily more power or a better launch angle. It's better plate discipline. His swinging strike rate is down 1.3% from last year (strikeout rate is down 8%) and his contact rate is nearing 80%. Also of note, he is hitting far more line drives, a skill he showcased in the minors. He's probably due for some regression as his BABIP is a complementary .361, but the gains in discipline are very real, very sustainable and portend a true breakout for the young star.
Jose Ramirez, 3B (CLE)
Ramirez's modest five-game hitting streak was snapped on Wednesday, as he was 0-2 with a pair of walks in the Indians' 5-3 win over Kansas City. I'm going on record to tentatively suggest Ramirez is starting to bust out of his nearly year-long slump. Last week he was hitting under .200. Now he's up to .216. Okay, that's certainly not very exciting, but it's better than hovering under the Mendoza Line. Ramirez's two walks on Wednesday are indicative of seeing the ball better. In fact, his swinging strike rate over the last two weeks is 2.2%. His contact rate over that stretch is 95%! What made Ramirez so special over the previous two seasons was his elite EYE. The signs of a rebound are there.
Framber Valdez, SP (HOU)
Valdez was lit up for six runs in three innings, a disappointing performance in a promising matchup against Pittsburgh. Shortly after the game, Houston optioned Valdez back to AAA-Round Rock. The Pirates tallied eight hits against the small-statured southpaw, sending his win-loss record below .500 for the first time since his season debut in relief at Texas. In his last two starts, Valdez has allowed 11 runs in 6.1 innings. It was walks and homers that did him in last week against the Yankees, but it was simply a barrage of hits that catapulted his start on Wednesday. xFIP will tell you his start wasn't as bad as it seemed, but his ROS potential is questionable after the demotion.
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