Aaron Nola, SP (PHI)
Nola was not at his best, and he was not helped by his defense, but he still managed to throw a complete game, albeit only six innings in the first game of a doubleheader. He allowed five runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks and struck out six. After seeing mild regression last year, Nola has improved in nearly every category in 2020. The Phillies ace is inducing a career-high swinging strike rate to go along with a decline in walks and barrel rate, all combining for a career-low 2.75 xFIP. Nola has altered his pitch selection. After throwing his fastball or curveball 70% of the time in 2019, this year he is using all four of his pitches almost equally. His changeup usage outranks his curveball, fastball and sinker just slightly. While his changeup was relatively effective last year, he occasionally missed on that pitch, which often led to home runs. This year he hasn't allowed a single home run on his change. In fact, batters are slugging only .270 off his changeup. Less predictability in his arsenal and more precision with his offspeed pitches are leading to Nola's re-emergence as a top pitcher in baseball.
Nicholas Castellanos, OF (CIN)
Castellanos connected off a Brett Anderson sinker in the first inning for his 14th home run of the season. Castellanos has really taken a nosedive since an electric start to the 2020 season. Before Tuesday's bomb, he only had one home run in his previous 15 games, and his wOBA was down to .259 in the month of September. Castellanos' hard hit rate has declined, but the regression is also a product of an increase in breaking pitches. Castellanos is struggling mightily against breaking balls, and pitchers are throwing them more now than they were at the beginning of the season. Castellanos is hitting .154 against breaking pitches in the month of September. That hasn't been a major obstacle for Castellanos in the past, but over the past two seasons he is gradually getting worse while actually showing slight improvements against fastballs. Therefore, it only makes sense opposing pitchers will continue to attack him with the breaking stuff. Until he shows he can make the proper adjustments, the diminished production will continue.
Sonny Gray, SP (CIN)
Gray was solid in a return from a brief stay on the injured list, tossing five innings of one-run baseball, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out eight. The 30 year old was dealing with back discomfort, which led to his stint on the IL. Prior to his absence, Gray was dealing with a 0.88 delta on his ERA to xFIP. Whereas last year he benefited with a 79.7% strand rate, this year his LOB% is 68.5%. Other than that and an uptick in walks, Gray has been quite good. A decline in hard hit rate contributed to a lower barrel rate which explains the decrease in home runs allowed. While his curveball hasn't been quite as effective this season, he continues to use it more and diversify his arsenal, which should sustain production into his 30's.
Adbert Alzolay, P (CHC)
Alzolay entered Tuesday's game in relief of Jose Quintana and delivered four one-run innings, striking out a career-high seven batters. It was Alzolay's second relief appearance, and he could pave his way onto the Cubs' postseason roster. The important question for fantasy owners is whether he is securing a spot in Chicago's 2021 rotation. The reality is, while Alzolay's stuff is intriguing, his production hasn't been very good. In fact, he hasn't had an ERA below 4.00 since a short stint at AA-Tennessee in 2017. His lack of command keeps his above-average fastball/curveball combination from dominating. But it can, and on Tuesday he induced 10 whiffs on 32 curveballs and only three balls were weakly hit in play. Alzolay's potential as a starter is tightly connected to his ability to command the strike zone. He's far from that right now and that's why he is unable to secure a starting role.
Drew Smyly, SP (SF)
In his longest start of the season, Smyly only gave up one run on four hits and two walks while striking out five. On the one hand it's the Rockies and that offense, especially without Nolan Arenado, is putrid. On the other hand, Smyly's fastball is about three miles per hour faster than any point in his career, and the key is what that means for his secondary pitches. Batters are making hard contact off his heater (93.1-mph EV), but the batting average off his curveball and changeup is under .200. His strikeout rate is a stupendous 39%. That's based off an ability to get ahead of hitters with the hard fastball and then put them away with a suddenly devastating curveball. Meanwhile, his 3.38 ERA could be even better if his 67.8% strand rate was closer to where it should be with his above-average strikeout capability. After struggling to find the strike zone in multiple injury-riddled seasons, Smyly is executing his pitches while generating 66% contact. He will be a free agent after this season and should lure some intriguing offers. Meanwhile, his role heading into 2021 could make for a rising star in fantasy drafts.
This is just a small sample our daily analysis, join our member area for over 80 daily player updates sent to your inbox every morning and track your team online. Click here for details: http://www.insiderbaseball.