Austin Riley (3B-ATL) went 3-4 with a pair of longballs, a double, and 3 RBI against the Pirates on Friday. The 24 year-old is now hitting .310 with 7 homers, 15 RBI, and 25 runs scored through his first 173 plate appearances of the 2021 campaign. While his strikeout rate is still a bit high at 27%, he's shown more patience at the dish than he ever has before in the majors (12% walk rate) and has hit the baseball with the usual authority (43% hard-hit rate per Statcast, in 2021 and over his MLB career). Riley has laced liners at a healthy 25% clip while keeping the flyballs to a modest but productive 29% rate. His 18% HR/FB might appear a bit high at a glance, but his career rate is actually a touch higher at 20%. All that said, a .409 BABIP is not sustainable and so the average will come down over time. But we do know that Riley's power is legit and it will play with a, say, .250 average, which he is suggesting is possible.
Josh Bell (1B-WSH) went 3-5 with a double, a run scored, and an RBI against Baltimore on Friday evening. The 28 year-old has had a miserable start to his first season with the Nationals, as he now owns a .195 average to go with 5 homers, 17 RBI, and 23 runs scored through his first 124 plate appearances of the 2021 campaign. Bell's strikeout rate remains a bit high at 27% (19% career) and his trademark patience (12% career walk rate) has not been on display (7% walk rate in 2021). While his 74% contact rate comes in below his 77% career average, it's encouraging that Statcast puts his hard-hit rate at 55% while his 93mph average exit velocity is also solid - and both are career bests. But just like last season, his grounder rate sits at 56% (49%) career, and that isn't good for a guy with no wheels. Ultimately, Bell's .227 BABIP does seem due for some correction toward his .284 career clip in that department, and his average would climb with that. One can't promise a return to his 2019 form (.277 average and 37 dingers) but something like his 2017 output (.255 average and 26 dingers) seems possible.
Ian Anderson (SP-ATL) tossed 6 shutout innings against the Pirates on Friday, scattering 6 hits and walking none while fanning 6. He threw 62 of his 92 pitches for strikes. The 23 year-old has been very good so far in 2021, as he now owns a 2.82 ERA, 9.4 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 through his first 9 starts of the campaign (51 innings). He usually issues some free passes, so it was nice to see a 0 under that heading in this one. Like last season, Anderson is inducing swinging strikes at a solid 12% clip while he's done an even better job of inducing grounders (56% in 2021, 53% in 2020). His average fastball velocity is slightly up to almost 95mph and he's actually thrown that pitch slightly less often than last season (48%) while deploying his change at a 32% clip and his curve 20% of the time. Sure, his 3.28 xFIP points to an 81% strand rate suppressing his ERA a bit, but it seems that we are pretty much getting what we should out of Anderson. He lines up for a start on the road against the Mets next week.
Stephen Strasburg (SP-WSH) returned from the IL (shoulder) to allow no runs on 1 hit and 4 walks while striking out 4 over 5.1 innings of work against the Orioles on Friday evening. He threw just 39 of his 72 pitches for strikes in the outing. The 32 year-old now owns a 4.11 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and 6.5 BB/9 through his first 3 starts (15.1 innings) on the year. His 5.26 xFIP indicates that his ERA is lucky, as opposing batters have logged just a .189 BABIP against him. Fastball velocity has been an issue for Strasburg this year, as his average heater has sat at about 92mph (was 94 and higher 2019 and earlier), and it sat at 92-94 in this outing until tailing off to 90-91 during his last inning or so of work. Statcast shows that opposing hitters have mustered a 50% hard-hit rate against Strasburg so far this season, and his swinging-strike rate of 8% is not exactly good. He lines up for a start at home against the Reds next week.
Aaron Nola (SP-PHI) got beat up a bit by the Red Sox on Friday evening as he gave up 5 runs (4 earned) on 7 hits and a walk while striking out 9 over 5 innings of work. He tossed 64 of his 98 pitches for strikes in the outing and allowed a homer. The 27 year-old still has a solid overall line in 2021, as he now boasts a 3.91 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 1.5 BB/9 through his first 10 starts (59.1 innings). Nola's 3.31 xFIP, however, indicates that the ERA should come down a bit, as a .321 BABIP is a bit high (.292 career) and his 71% strand rate is a bit low (75% career). So, if you own him in fantasy, don't fret after this rough outing against a quality lineup. Nola lines up for a start in Miami next week.
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