Zach Eflin (SP-PHI) tossed a complete-game (7-inning) shutout in game 1 of a doubleheader with the Blue Jays on Friday, scattering 4 hits and 2 walks while racking up 9 punchouts. The 26 year-old has been inconsistent in 2020 en route to complinging a 4.28 ERA, 11.4 K/9, and 2.4 BB/9 through 9 starts (48.1 IP). His 3.09 xFIP points to a .368 BABIP and 18% HR/FB inflating his ERA, but despite his stellar K/9 opposing hitters have made lots of contact (81%) and haven't swung and missed much (just under 10% swinging-strike rate). He can get hit a bunch, as he did in his last outing against the Marlins, when he lasted just 4 innings as Miami piled up 4 runs on 8 hits and a pair of walks while he did strike out 4. Statcast shows that Eflin has limited opposing batters to a hard-hit rate of just 32%, but with 47% of batted balls going on the ground, it seems that many of those have had eyes. Starts such as this one and the 7-inning gem he tossed against Atlanta back on August 29th (1 run on 4 hits and no walks with 8 strikeouts) will pull in fantasy owners, but then he turns into a pumpkin for a couple of starts before again dazzling again. Consider this: Wednesday's start was only his second quality start all season (the other being that 1-run outing against the Braves a couple of weeks ago). It's tough to recommend him on the road against Washington next week.
Carlos Martinez (SP-STL) struggled through just 3.2 IP in the first game of a doubleheader with the Pirates on Friday, giving up 5 runs (1 earned) on 3 hits and 4 walks while striking out just 1. Sure, the defense did him no favors, but the 4 walks and lone strikeout show that he didn't really help himself. The 28 year-old's return to a starting role in 2020 after serving solely as a reliever last season has not gone smoothly to say the least, as he now owns an 8.40 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 4.8 BB/9 through 4 starts (just 15 IP). His xFIP is 5.14, pointing to a lousy 51% strand rate, .358 BABIP by opposing batters, and 24% HR/FB inflating his ERA, but he still clearly hasn't been good by any metric. Statcast shows that opposing hitters have amassed a 55% hard-hit rate against Martinez, while their 79% contact rate is the highest against him since 2016. After sitting at 96+ mph with his heater prior to this season, his average fastball velocity is down to under 94. Granted, he only deploys it about 34% of the time as he utilizes his sinker 17% of the time, a changeup on 17% of pitches, and leans heavily on his slider (31% usage, a career high). It will be interesting to see what the Cardinals do with him after this season given his effectiveness as a reliever last year and his absolute struggles in 2020. For fantasy purposes, he's likely best left on the wire until he shows something as a starter or returns to a high-leverage bullpen role.
Sixto Sanchez (SP-MIA) got knocked around by the Nationals on Friday, as he surrendered 5 runs on 8 hits and a pair of walks while striking out 2 in 4 IP. Entering the contest, the 22 year-old rookie owned a stellar 1.69 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, and 1.4 BB/9 through the first 5 starts (32 IP) of his big league career. A 3.38 xFIP indicated that he had been good, but not quite as good as his ERA suggested, and so some regression was to be expected. That happened on Friday, and now his ERA (2.75) has somewhat closed the gap with the new xFIP (3.74). While the .296 BABIP that opposing hitters have amassed could be roughly sustainable, an 82% strand rate is less likely to be. However, it's worth noting that Sanchez's modest strikeout ability and propensity to avoid walks comes with a high 60% groundball rate and a middling 37% hard-hit rate per Statcast. He can miss bats (13.5% swinging-strike rate) and opposing batters don't exactly make a ton of contact against him (74% contact rate), so that bodes well. Possessing three plus (including two plus-plus) pitches and plus command, Sanchez is showing in this 2020 audition that he merits attention in 2021 fantasy drafts.
Bryce Harper (OF-PHI) went 1-2 with a 2-run dinger, 2 runs scored, and a walk in the first game of a doubleheader with Toronto on Friday. He followed that up by going 3-3 with a pair of doubles, 2 RBI, a walk, and a run scored in the evening game. On the surface, it's pretty much more of the same for the 27 year-old in his second season in Philadelphia, as he owned a .252 average to go along with 10 homers, 24 RBI, 33 runs scored, and 8 stolen bases through 199 PA entering Friday's action. But in some ways he's improved in 2020. Harper's fantasy owners have no doubt appreciated the modest spike in steals, which is in part fueled by a jump in his walk rate to nearly 20% (15% career). He's also slashed his strikeout rate to under 17% while maintaining a healthy 46% hard-hit rate and a 15% barrel rate. Harper has cut the swinging strikes from 15% last season to under 13% this year while raising his contact rate back toward his career norm (72% this year, 68% last).
Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B-PIT) went 1-3 with a run scored, 2 RBI, and a walk in the first game of a doubleheader with the Cardinals on Friday. He went 0-3 with a strikeout in the nightcap. The 23 year-old has enjoyed a fine start to his big league career, as he was batting .313 with a pair of homers, 5 RBI, 8 runs scored, and a stolen base through 54 PA entering Friday's action. As was the case in the minors, he's taken plenty of walks (10%), but has uncharacteristically (but understandably as he takes the step up to the majors) struck out a good bit (26%). Sure, his .406 BABIP indicates that his average will likely regress, but he's mashed the ball (65% hard-hit rate per Statcast) and has made plenty of contact (82%) while not swinging and missing much (8%). The sample size is absolutely small at this point and the hype has always been based more on potential than production in the minors, but Hayes is giving fantasy owners reason to have him on their radar for 2021.
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