Shane Bieber (SP-CLE) was dynamite again, as he tossed 7 scoreless innings against the Tigers in which he scattered 3 hits and a walk while racking up 11 strikeouts. The 25 year-old righty is putting together a historic campaign, as he now boasts a 1.30 ERA, 14 K/9, and 1.6 BB/9 through 5 starts (34.2 IP). His 1.62 xFIP says that the ERA is no fluke despite a 100% strand rate (yes, 100%) and .246 BABIP, with a 22% HR/FB somewhat balancing out that equation. While Statcast shows that opposing batters have barreled up the ball at a 10% clip and made hard contact at a 48% rate against Bieber, those numbers are partly inflated because they've managed to put so few balls into play against him. Their contact rate is just 60% while he's posted an excellent 19% swinging-strike rate. His average fastball velocity is up nearly 1mph from last season (to just over 94) and Bieber has introduced an 89-mph cutter that he throws 19% of the time to complement his secondary offerings (mainly a curve that he throws 25% of the time). Solid velocity, a diversified repertoire, and elite control. Shane Bieber is one of the game's very best pitchers.
Lucas Giolito (SP-CHW) took the L against the Cardinals on Saturday as he surrendered 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits and a pair of walks while fanning 5 in 5 innings of work. The 26 year-old has disappointed a bit so far in 2020 after breaking out last season, when he logged a 3.41 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 in 29 starts (176.2 IP); his 3.66 xFIP confirmed that his step forward was pretty real. To date in 2020, though, his ERA stands at 4.88 while his WHIP is up to 1.41, his K/9 is down to a still-solid 10.4, and his BB/9 is way up to 4.9. If there's any good news, it's that his 4.12 xFIP indicates that he's suffered from some misfortune, particularly in terms of strand rate (68% in 2020, 71% career) and BABIP (.323 in 2020, .263 career), with a 14.3% HR/FB also coming in a little on the high side. Opposing batters have amassed an astounding 53% hard-hit rate against Giolito (was just 32% last season), although he's maintained a stellar 15% swinging-strike rate. It's worth noting that his average fastball velocity is down nearly a full tick from last season to just over 93mph while he's leaning more on his changeup than ever before in his career. In fact, he's almost been a two-pitch pitcher so far in 2020, as his fastball (53%) and changeup (36%) account for nearly 90% of his offerings. Giolito is worth at least one more look before you dump or bench him - he is slated to face the Tigers at home next week.
James Paxton (SP-NYY) labored a bit through 5 innings against Boston on Saturday, surrendering 3 runs on 6 hits and a walk while fanning just a pair. Through 4 starts on the year, the 31 year-old owns a 7.04 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9. But his 4.33 xFIP points to a bloated .409 BABIP, suppressed 59% strand rate, and high 18% HR/FB inflating his ERA. His K/9 is right around what he's produced in every season since 2017 (range 10.3-11.7) while his walk rate is well below his 2.7 career clip in that area. Paxton's average fastball velocity is way down (more than 3mph from 2019 to 92mph this season) while his swinging-strike rate is down 2% from the last to seasons to 12%. Opposing batters have been able to better square up on the ball against him, as their barrel rate sits at 13% (7% last year) and they have generated a 43% hard-hit rate against him, a career high. Paxton did undergo back surgery in early in the year and was only reported to be at "full strength" in May, so he did not get any real work in before COVID-19 shut down spring training.
Nelson Cruz (DH-MIN) stayed hot, going 3-6 with a pair of homers, a double, 3 runs scored, and 3 RBI in a doubleheader with the Royals on Saturday. The 40-year old continues to defy Father Time, as he's now batting .342 with 6 longballs, 21 RBI, and 16 runs scored through 85 PA in 2020. This comes on the heels of a 2019 campaign that ranks among his best seasons, as Cruz hit .311 with 41 dingers and 108 RBI in just 521 PA (120 games). Interestingly, his hard-hit rate is down a bit this season to a still-nice 44% (was 51% the last 2 years per Statcast) while his average exit velocity is down to 90mph (94 the last 2 years). One thing to keep an eye on will be his batted balls, as Cruz's groundball rate currently sits at 52% (42% career) while his flyball rate is down to just 23% (41% career). His HR/FB sits at an absurd 36% that would be a career high (was 31% last year, just 21% career). So, the surface numbers remain great but there are some interesting things going on under the hood.
Nomar Mazara (OF-CHW) went 0-5 with a pair of strikeouts as the White Sox dropped both games of a doubleheader with the Cardinals on Saturday. The 25 year-old is absolutely scuffling to begin the 2020 campaign after he started the season late because of strep throat. Through 32 PA, he is batting just .160 with no homers, 1 RBI, and 2 runs scored. He's drawn a handful of walks (16% walk rate) while whiffing in an uncharacteristic 31% of PA (21% career strikeout rate). In addition to posting only a 65% contact rate (77% career), he's managed just a 25% hard-hit rate, way down from last season's 45% clip (35% career). At this point, it's doubtful that fantasy owners are putting much stock in Mazara producing for their teams, as he's yet to surpass 20 homers through four full(ish) campaigns in the majors while never posting a batting average greater than .268. While he's still young and showed some signs of progressing before an injury derailed his 2019 season (.268 average and 19 homers through just 469 PA), his wRC+ was still just 94, and he's never even been league-average in that department.
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