Nathan Eovaldi, SP (BOS)
Eovaldi delivered his first scoreless outing of the season on Thursday, limiting the Marlins to two hits in five innings while striking out seven. Other than one disastrous start at Yankee Stadium in mid-August, Eovaldi has been fairly decent, especially over his last three starts where he has thrown 15 innings, allowing only two runs. That goes back to his last start prior to a calf injury that shelved him for three weeks. Eovaldi's swinging strike rate is up significantly this year, but it is only leading to a mild increase in strikeouts. His velocity on his fastball is steady, but his cutter is two miles per hour slower. The truth is Eovaldi's curveball is the key to his strikeouts. Batters can't hit it and it's his No. 1 put-away pitch. So why doesn't he use it more than 17% of the time? It might have to do with last year's results. Batters slugged .588 off his curveball in 2019 and he may just now be realizing that in 2020, batters are slugging .160 off the curve. This is nit-picking a bit as overall Eovaldi is trending in the right direction, but it still feels like a 30-year-old pitcher with a high-90's fastball, a cutter and an unhittable curveball should be striking out 30% of opposing batters.
Rafael Devers, 3B (BOS)
Devers continued his strong month of September with a 2-for-4 performance, including a home run and three RBIs. I can remember a time when Rafael Devers was on those "Will They Rebound" lists? The date was August 17, 2020. Devers was a struggling star, hitting below the Mendoza Line with only two home runs. Fast-forward one month to September 17. Devers is hitting .293 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He's just fine, folks. What changed from last year is a slight increase in launch angle. Devers' swing has a greater upward trajectory in 2020, which is evident in his GB/FB rate and his swinging strike rate. In fact, his 15.7% swinging strike rate would eclipse his previous career high by two and a half points. That will explain his dip in batting average; however, the truth is Devers' swinging strike rate has not improved since his early-season struggles. It's actually a little bit worse. The concern is it's way worse than last year, and a high swinging strike rate will lead to more streaks and slumps, like what we've seen in 2020. What has improved is his hard hit rate. His average exit velocity prior to Aug. 18 was under 90 miles per hour. It is more than 94 mph since then. As long as Devers crushes the ball like this he is capable of elite production, but improving his plate discipline is the key to Devers moving into the first round of fantasy drafts.
Byron Buxton, OF (MIN)
Byron Buxton is red hot. He hit two more home runs on Thursday. He has seven home runs in his last nine games. His OPS is now .894. This certainly isn't the first hot streak of Buxton's career. It isn't the first time people wondered whether he finally arrived. Unfortunately the same issues that have plagued the talented outfielder throughout his career haven't really gone away. He isn't shedding the "injury-prone" title as he missed time this season with ailments. Furthermore, his plate discipline continues to hold him back. His swinging strike rate is sky-high, over 18%, and he has one walk this entire season. One walk. ONE! Out of 114 plate appearances. If you want him to get back to 20-plus stolen bases, he needs to get on base more. Twelve of his 30 hits this season are home runs. That means other than reaching via error, Buxton has only had 19 opportunities to steal (he has one SB, one CS). Yes, he is flashing his power right now, but that will slow down and when it does he will continue to be limited in batting average due to the high swinging strike rate and he will struggle to get stolen base opportunities due to his low on-base percentage. The late-season hot streak will create some buzz heading into next year's drafts, but Buxton is still the same player he has been throughout his career: inordinately talented, injury-prone and frighteningly lacking in plate discipline.
Chase Anderson, SP (TOR)
Chase Anderson. Meet the Yankees. Right now the Yankees are the Bronx Bombers, and any pitcher in their way needs to be avoided. On Thursday that was Chase Anderson, who followed the Blue Jays' Opener, Julian Merryweather. Neither pitcher was effective, but it was Anderson who gave up five home runs in the 4th inning before mercifully getting the hook. He finished with the following ugly line: 2.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 4 K. His ERA jumped to 7.45. Following the Opener is supposed to be beneficial because it allows a pitcher to face the latter part of the opponent's lineup. Unfortunately, it doesn't really matter who's up to bat for the Yankees. Anderson's 2020 HR/FB rate is now 31.4% and his xFIP is not as discouraging at 4.57, but he can mostly be avoided for now, and it is entirely possible that Blue Jays completely remove him from the rotation. With that being said, Thursday's performance is not fully an indictment on Anderson but a marvel at the opposing lineup.
Jose Ramirez, 3B (CLE)
Ramirez had a monster game against Detroit, tallying four hits, two home runs, a double, three runs and four RBIs in a 10-run outburst for the Indians. The huge performance raised his wRC+ to 141, close to his two best seasons of 2017 and 2018. Ramirez's BABIP has really been a drag on his surface stats over the last two seasons, and that depressed BABIP is in line with a growth in flyball rate, something that is actually higher this season. In fact his launch angle is nearly 25 degrees in 2020, more than twice as elevated as the MLB average. That will lead to more pop flys, which will lead to outs. Meanwhile, Ramirez has 13 home runs in spite of a subpar hard hit rate. While there are a handful of drawbacks, Ramirez is one of only two players with double-digit home runs and stolen bases. His batting average is up to .276 and he remains one of the top fantasy players in the game.
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