Josh Bell (1B - PIT)
Bell's miserable start to the season continued on Wednesday with the first baseman going hitless with two strikeouts over four at-bats. Wednesday's performance brought Bell's batting average down to .189 and his OPS down to .507 for the season (25 games), making the 28-year-old a relatively high-profile bust so far this season after posting a .936 OPS last year. The most pressing issues for Bell this season have been his plate discipline and contact skills; Bell's 37% o-swing rate is up nearly seven points from last season, and his 73% z-swing rate is down nearly four points. Combined with 11 and nine-point drops in his z- and o-contact rates year-over-year, respectively, Bell's worse plate discipline has led to a 20-point jump in his strikeout rate (30.3%) that's supported by a 17.6% swinging-strike rate. Although Bell's power remains in-tact based on his 44.4% hard-hit rate, his contact quality has worsened, with his .368 xwOBAcon sitting 85 points below last season's mark. Importantly, Bell's plate discipline and contact issues feed directly into his contact quality decline. With Bell's z-contact and z-swing rates down more than his o-contact and o-swing rates, a greater proportion of Bell's contact has come on pitches outside of the strike zone this season. Since Bell (and hitters in general) tend to make less productive contact on pitches outside of the strike zone, his contact quality woes are likely to be alleviated with improved plate discipline and contact skills. Interestingly, Bell's xwOBAcon hasn't been much worse on pitches outside of the strike zone than inside of the zone so far this season. But Bell's average exit velocity and launch angles have been considerably worse on pitches outside of the zone, resulting in his depressed 7.4% HR/FB ratio and 4% extra-base hit rate. Bell's z-contact and o-swing rates have generally been trending in the right direction since the start of August, but not enough to inspire much confidence. Still, fantasy place can take solace in the fact that the season is only 25 games old, so Bell's struggles may be little more than an extended slump that will go away with time. That makes Bell a potential buy-low candidate, though not someone to target particularly strongly on the trade market. With that in mind, Bell should become a priority target for fantasy players if he starts to show significant progress with his plate discipline and contact skills,.
Jon Lester (SP - CHC)
Lester allowed one run over five innings against the Tigers on Wednesday, stranding a bevy of opposing baserunners after allowing eight hits. Lester has only had one season with an ERA below 4.00 since 2016, and even that one season came with a 4.39 FIP and 4.57 SIERA. With Lester continuing to lose fastball velocity -- his average fastball velocity is sitting below 90 mph for the season so far -- he's emphasized his sinker and changeup to try and improve his performance. Unfortunately, neither Lester's sinker nor his changeup is a very good pitch, with his sinker posting a .388 xwOBA last season and his changeup posting a .308 mark. As a result, Lester is unlikely to post an ERA below 4.20 for the rest of this season, and it's likely to come with a worse-than-average strikeout rate. The 58% of fantasy players who continue to roster the 36-year-old can feel comfortable dropping him at this point and pick up more exciting options like Sixto Sánchez instead.
Willson Contreras (C - CHC)
Contreras went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts against the Tigers on Wednesday. Strikeouts have been a problem for Contreras so far this season as he took a 31.4% strikeout rate into Wednesday's game, but the catcher is a fairly attractive buy-low candidate even with his 17.8% swinging-strike rate trending in the wrong direction. Contreras's power metrics are way up this season with his hard-hit rate sitting at 53.6%, resulting in a career-best .513 xwOBAcon. As a result, Contreras has managed to post a career-high .376 xwOBA even with a strikeout rate above 30%, and his .311 wOBA and 11.5% HR/FB ratio suggest that he's suffered from bad luck so far this year. Encouragingly, Contreras's power bump continues a trend that dates back to last season, so it's relatively likely to stick over the rest of the season. Even if Contreras sees his power numbers decline towards last season's levels, he should post an OPS around .850 for the rest of the season. That makes Contreras worth targeting in trades, particularly for players in points leagues.
Patrick Corbin (SP - WSH)
Corbin had a solid if underwhelming performance against the Phillies on Wednesday, allowing two runs over six innings with only three strikeouts. Corbin induced only five swinging-strikes -- three of which came on his slider -- contributing to his low strikeout total. And although the Nationals only managed to score two runs against Corbin, Washington managed to hit nine hard-hit balls over 20 batted balls, giving the team a near-50% hard-hit rate for the night. A dominant slider has fueled back-to-back impressive seasons for Corbin, and the pitch has been characteristically excellent so far this season with a 0.183 xwOBA and a 28% swinging-strike rate. Corbin's fastball velocity is down about 2 mph on average compared to last season, though, and the pitch has been shelled with a 0.506 xwOBA. That trend continued on Wednesday with Corbin's fastball sitting around 90 mph, but it has been trending in the right direction recently. Corbin's fastball velocity has started slowly in each of the past two seasons, so it seems as though he just takes time to ramp up to his velocity, and that's probably especially true this season. Corbin's fastball performance should improve as its velocity increases, making him an attractive buy-low candidate in fantasy leagues. That's not to say that there aren't other underlying issues surrounding Corbin's fastball, but he should see his performance improve over the rest of the season and should post an ERA below 3.60 with a strikeout rate above 27% for the remainder of the season.
Phil Gosselin (2B/3B - PHI)
Gosselin stayed hot on Wednesday with a two-hit game, bringing his OPS up to an impressive 1.042. Gosselin's hot start has earned him semi-consistent time for the Phillies as he's gotten into 15 of the team's first 25 games, including five of their last six. Gosselin's strong start appears likely to be fairly short-lived, though, as the 31-year-old has benefited from a significant amount of luck. Gosselin has managed to post a 16.7% HR/FB ratio despite a poor 27% hard-hit rate, his .407 BABIP is unsustainable and 80 points above his career average, and his .432 wOBA is 50 points higher than his xwOBA. Gosselin may still have a mini-breakout this season as his .456 xwOBAcon is strong, but it's come over a small sample of performance, and his peripheral statistics suggest that his OPS is likely to fall back towards .700 over the rest of the season.
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