Bryant went 1-4 and struck out against the Pirates on Friday. Bryant has played well this year and took a .921 OPS into Friday's game. Daily players may want to avoid Bryant in the near future though, as the 27-year-old has displayed some moderately concerning trends (which are unlikely to last long term but may impact his short term value). Notably, Bryant has become significantly more aggressive at the plate over the past couple of weeks (his o- and z- swing rates have both been rising substantially), and his hard hit rate has been falling. Bryant's power has yet to fall like his batting average has (over the past week, Bryant owns a .222 batting average and .611 SLG), but if his hard hit rate continues to decline then his slugging percentage should fall with it. Bryant should still play well over the rest of the year as a whole, but expect somewhat of a slump in the near future.
Maeda allowed three runs over 4.2 innings with nine strikeouts against the Braves on Friday. Maeda has been underwhelming this season and took a 4.12 ERA into Friday's game. Despite his unimpressive ERA, Maeda's peripherals look better than they did last year when he posted a 3.81 ERA with a 28.8% strikeout rate, indicating that his performance should improve significantly over the rest of the season. Maeda's current 25.7% strikeout rate should rise towards 30% based on his 14.2% swinging strike rate, 70.4% contact rate, and 34.8% o-swing rate (all better than or in line with last season's numbers), and his 10.8% HR/FB ratio (7.5% last season) should fall well below the league average mark (9.7%) based on his sparkling 85.1 MPH average exit velocity 28.4% Statcast hard hit rate, and 5.5% barrel rate. Additionally encouraging is that Maeda has continued to emphasize his slider and changeup this year, continuations of trends from last season that helped boost his strikeout rate and decrease his opponent's slugging percentage. Expect Maeda to pitch well over the rest of the year (strikeout rate between 25 and 30 percent, ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00's), and buy low if you can. Daily fantasy players should also look to exploit Maeda against righty-heavy matchups as the 31-year-old has dominated that platoon split (.527 OPS, 5.92 SO/BB ratio against righties this year) this season.
Escobar has followed up his breakout 2018 campaign with a solid encore and took an .853 OPS into Friday's game. Escobar's production has faded over the course of the season though, and will likely continue to do so over the rest of the year. That being said, Escobar is a solid buy low candidate if owners can get him at a low-ish price due to his .671 OPS from the past month. One of Escobar's most significant problems this year is his plate discipline as his 41.2% o-swing rate is high while his 70.5% z-swing rate is lower than it's been in either of the past two seasons, resulting in a 12.5% swinging strike rate that contradicts his 19.4% strikeout rate. The good news is that even though Escobar's wOBA has been declining since mid-July, his z-swing rate has risen since the beginning of August while his o-swing rate has fallen since the end of July. In addition (and likely related), Escobar's hard hit rate has spiked over the past few weeks, and his production should catch up as a result. Don't expect Escobar to post the .920 OPS that he posted in the first month of the year, but an OPS north of .800 for the rest of the season (currently at .765 for the month of August) is a reasonable expectation.
Paddack allowed five runs (four earned) over 4.2 innings with six strikeouts against the Phillies on Friday. Paddack has played well this year, but fantasy owners (in non-keeper leagues) should consider selling high on the promising rookie. The most obvious threat to Paddack's value over the rest of the season is a potential impending innings limit (Paddack threw only 90 innings last year for a career high), but his performance is likely to decline over the rest of the year as well. Paddack's plate discipline profile lines up well with Masahiro Tanaka's (though Paddack pounds the zone significantly more), but Tanaka's strikeout rate is more than six points lower than Paddack's at 19.7%, and Paddack's numbers (10.6% swinging strike rate, 79.1% contact rate) suggest that his 26% strikeout rate should fall towards Tanaka's mark. In addition, Paddack has benefited from getting ahead of hitters 73.5% of the time (higher than any qualified pitcher), and any slip in that number will likely hurt his overall performance (hitters have posted a 1.045 OPS against Paddack when ahead in the count). Furthermore, Paddack has benefited from a .218 BABIP that will likely rise above .250 over the rest of the year based on his batted ball profile (86.7 MPH average exit velocity, 24% line drive rate, 31.1% Statcast hard hit rate). Paddack may pitch pretty well over the rest of the season even with an expected decline in performance, but a likely innings limit and probable decline in performance make him a strong sell-high candidate for fantasy owners.
Harper went 2-5 with his 26th home run against the Padres on Friday. Harper has been hot recently and has posted a stellar 1.213 OPS over the past week. The two fairly obvious drivers of Harper's recent success (especially when considering that his batting average has been in line with his season numbers, but his slugging percentage is up nearly 200 points from last month) are his hard hit rate (which has increased significantly since the end of July) and his ground ball rate (which has fallen sharply over the past week), but his plate approach has improved as well and has likely helped fuel his strong play. Harper has been significantly more patient at the plate since the start of August, and his largest gains have come due to fastballs. Harper has (relatively) rarely been chasing fastballs this month (after hovering above 25% for most of the season, Harper has chased fastballs at a 15.7% rate so far in August), and as a result has been mashing against the pitch to the tune of an incredible .994 xSLG. Harper is streaky, but if he can keep up his more patient plate approach (which hasn't shown any signs of changing lately) then he should continue producing like MVP-candidate version of himself.
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