Alex Verdugo (OF) - BOS
Verdugo went 1-for-2 with a single and a strikeout before leaving Friday's game with a hamstring injury that may sideline him for the remainder of the season. Verdugo has played well so far this season with a .326/.381/.511 slash line coming into Friday's game, but fantasy managers should be skeptical of his performance. A significant part of Vergudo's overall OPS gains this season have come on ground-balls -- which he's hit 53.2% of the time this season compared to 48.7% last year -- as his OPS on ground-balls is up 119 points from last season at .640. That increase comes as Verdugo's infield-hit rate on ground-balls more than doubled year-over-year, going from 3.4% to a career-high 10.7%. It's not as though Verdugo suddenly got faster as his 4.23 second home plate to first base split is only 0.01 points faster than last season's mark, so it doesn't seem as though Verdugo's performance on ground-balls is sustainable. It's worth noting that Verdugo performed almost exactly this well on ground-balls in 2018, but that came over a sample of only 39 grounders compared to 146 last season. None of that is to say that Verdugo won't be a valuable fantasy outfielder going forward, but his OPS looks more likely to sit around .820 than .900.
Yusei Kikuchi (SP) - SEA
Kikuchi struggled against the Padres on Friday, allowing five runs over four innings with six walks and three strikeouts. Kikuchi looks like a different pitcher this season with his average fastball velocity up nearly three mph from last season at 95 mph and his average slider velocity up six mph at 92 mph (though it should be noted the Baseball Savant classifies that pitch as a cutter, with his slider being a separate pitch). Kikuchi has also adjusted his pitch mix to feature his slider much more frequently, and it's paid dividends for his overall results. Those improvements haven't completely shown up in the box score given Kikuchi's 5.93 ERA on the season, but he took a 2.68 FIP into Friday's game and has been ridiculously unlucky with a 53.4% strand rate and is well-supported by a 12% swinging-strike rate and a .345 xwOBAcon. All of that makes Kikuchi a prime breakout candidate coming into next season, but there is one major factor to keep in mind. Kikuchi cited the lengthy major league season and (relatively) short rest compared to what he was used to in Japan as reasons for his struggles last year, and the 60-game season (plus Seattle's use of a six-man rotation) likely alleviated some of those issues. A (likely) return to a full 162-game season with a five-man rotation for the Mariners may result in a step back for Kikuchi in 2021, and fantasy managers should keep those changes in mind.
Miguel Cabrera (3B/DH) - DET
Cabrera went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk against the Indians on Friday. Cabrera has fallen a long way from his Triple-Crown days, and the 37-year-old took a paltry .684 OPS into Friday's game. There's a lot to like about Cabrera's underlying performance, though, and he's worth a look in deep leagues for the rest of this season and next year. Cabrera's contact quality took a dive last season based on his .387 xwOBAcon, but his xwOBAcon is back up over .420 at .425 this season, helping push him to a very respectable .283 xBA and .485 xSLG. Despite that rebound in contact quality, Cabrera's .273 BABIP is 63 points below last season's mark and 67 points below his .340 BABIP from the past two seasons combined. Combined with his -.068 wOBA-xwOBA despite being largely shift-proof, Cabrera's low BABIP suggests that he's suffered from a significant amount of bad luck this season. Cabrera's best days are still likely behind him at this point, but he should still be able to post an OPS above .800 next season if he can maintain this season's contact quality rebound.
Rich Hill (SP) - MIN
Hill was a tough-luck loser on Friday, holding the Cubs to one run over seven innings with five strikeouts. Whiffs were tough to come by for Hill on Friday (five over 95 pitches), but he made up for it with only two hard-hit balls allowed (19 balls in play). Friday's performance brought Hill's ERA down to 3.27 for the season, and the 40-year-old continues to be a reliable fantasy asset when healthy. Hill hadn't posted an ERA for a season above 3.70 since 2013, and he appears likely to keep that streak alive with his strong performance so far this year. That being said, Hill's 7% swinging-strike rate is his worst mark since 2009, and it's contributed to his low 20% strikeout rate and related 4.50 FIP. Hill's fastball has been the largest driver of his diminished swinging-strike rate, and it's come as the pitch has lost about 2 mph on average at 88.2 mph. Friday's start wasn't any better for Hill in that respect as his fastball averaged only 86.2 mph and topped out at 88 mph, and his diminished velocity is mildly concerning. Hill's effective curveball combined with the unusual ramp up to the 2020 season and the fact that Hill's fastball velocity wasn't in an extended decline coming into this season still make him worth rosterting in most fantasy leagues, but his velocity is worth monitoring.
Yasmani Grandal (C) - CHW
Grandal went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout against the Reds on Friday. Grandal struggled to start the season, but he's posted a .835 OPS through 34 games since the start of August, and his performance this season is a reminder of just how small the sample of 2020 games is for most players even as the end of the season draws near. Grandal's OPS for the season sat at .776 coming into Friday's game, and that .059 difference in OPS is driven entirely by only five games at the start of the season. As a catcher who has split some time with James McCann, Grandal has played in fewer games than many players, but the difference in his performance from only five games underscores the importance of recognizing the oddities of the 2020 season when drawing conclusions about players. All of that aside, Grandal has generally looked like himself for most of this season and should continue playing well through the final week of the regular season.
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