Corbin Burnes, SP (MIL)
Alright, Corbin Burnes is human. I mean, sort of. He still has an astounding 49/0 strikeout-to-walk rate, but on Monday he allowed his second run of the season. And then he allowed his third, fourth, fifth and sixth runs. He ended up allowing five runs (4 ER) in five innings while striking out nine batters. There was a lot of buzz around Corbin Burnes during draft season and those who were buzzing are looking pretty prophetic based on Burnes' historic start. Increased velocity, impeccable command and a devastating arsenal helped Burnes elevate into the upper echelon of MLB starters. The key to Burnes' arsenal is his cutter. He picked up three miles per hour on it this year, and it's so unhittable he can throw it to any hitter in any count and get outs. In fact, he increased the use of his cutter to more than 50 percent. It complements his sinker as two pitches in the mid-to-high 90's that move in very different directions. But that's not all. He still carries a changeup, slider and curveball in his back pocket, which is the real key to Burnes' successful starter's repertoire. He's shown enough to assure most of his development is real. The biggest question at this point is how many innings Burnes will throw. He hasn't thrown more than 100 innings since 2018 when he finished with 116.2 combined between AAA and MLB. At some point the Brewers will get creative to limit his usage and that could cause frustration for fantasy owners.
Zach Wheeler, SP (PHI)
Wheeler had his best start since throwing seven scoreless in his first start of the season. On Monday Wheeler stifled the Cardinals, allowing only one run on one hit and three walks in eight innings. He finished with nine strikeouts. He moved to 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA. He also only allowed one hit with an exit velocity over 100 miles per hour. That's significant because Wheeler has been getting hit hard this season. Opposing batters have a 7.8% barrel rate with a .448 expected slugging percentage. He is countering the hard contact with limiting contact in general. Wheeler has always had strikeout material, but he's never been a particularly high strikeout pitcher. In 2021 he is generating a 10.8% swinging strike rate and limiting contact to a career-low 77.1%. The reason for both the hard contact and the reduced contact rate is higher velocity on his pitches, which is leading to an inordinately low contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone. He's blowing his 97-mph fastball by hitters and also using his slider more INSIDE the zone rather than simply as a putaway pitch. On the flipside, higher velocity inside the zone is going to result in harder contact. And that also means more home runs, which is the case as evidenced by Wheeler's 1.14 home runs allowed per 9 innings. Home runs create volatility and volatility creates frustration for fantasy owners, but for now he is getting the job done with limited damage.
Ian Happ, OF (CHC)
Happ moved down from the leadoff spot to the 5-hole on Monday. It didn't lead to better results as he finished hitless in five plate appearances with two strikeouts and one HBP. Happ is among the league leaders with a career-high 51.2% hard-hit rate. However, he only has one home run and a .188 slugging percentage and .043 ISO. As usual Happ continues to draw a lot of walks and actually has his swinging strike rate at the lowest mark of his career, but his contact rate is terrible, which leaves him very little leeway to register a decent batting average. Because his BABIP is unusually low and he strikes out over 30% of the time, he's just not getting enough hits. Furthermore, his ground ball rate is high as his launch angle is a career low, and his HR/FB rate is far lower than previous seasons so he isn't hitting home runs either. So what we have here is a poor batting average and non-existent power. That makes Happ unstartable right now.
Austin Gomber, SP (COL)
It was a night to forget for Austin Gomber. Let's put it this way. His ERA jumped from 3.38 to 6.65. That's how things work when you allow nine runs in less than two innings, and this all came without allowing a homer. It was seven hits and four walks that led to the devastating damage. He was hit hard. He allowed three batted balls with an exit velocity over 105 miles per hour. The truth is the xFIP gods saw this coming as his xFIP only rose 0.12 to 5.16. Well, maybe they didn't see THIS coming. I mean, he had been really solid in some difficult matchups to start the season. He faced the Dodgers twice, the Astros once and the Giants the other time. He hadn't allowed more than three runs in any of those starts. He stuck primarily with the fastball and slider on Monday, nearly abandoning his changeup and limiting his curveball to 17% usage. Needless to say, none of the pitches were particularly effective. Gomber was warming himself to fantasy owners, or particularly DFS owners, who like rostering him on the road. It will be tough to trust him anytime soon after Monday's debacle.
Anthony Desclafani, SP (CIN)
Coming off his worst start of the season, Desclafani delivered his best start of the season, tossing a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts in a 12-0 win over the Rockies. Desclafani only allowed three hits and one walk. His ERA is down to 1.50 and his WHIP is now 0.97. We talked all offseason about what to do with 2020's stats. Well, Desclafani is an example of why it was a mistake to read too deeply into 2020. He had a 7.22 ERA with a career-low 15.8% strikeout rate, but that was affected by injuries, bad luck (65.7% strand rate) and an uncharacteristic batted ball profile. This year Desclafani is reemerging as a reliable right-handed arm in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. He is reaching deeper into his arsenal this season, throwing his curveball and changeup more than ever while continuing a gradual reduction in the use of his fastball. That is leading to less contact, more chase and the highest swinging strike rate of his career. There is some clear regression coming from this electric start, but Desclafani is returning to his years as a reliable rotation piece.
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