Carlos Rodon (SP-CHW) was effective again, this time allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks while recording 8 punchouts over 7 innings on the mound against Houston on Friday. He tossed 67 of his 106 pitches for strikes and did not allow a homer. Rodon was pretty much ignored as the 2021 fantasy season began after he logged an 8.22 ERA, 7 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 across just 7.2 innings in 2020. But he's back and better than ever in 2021, with a 1.83 ERA, 12.8 K/9, and 2.4 BB/9 across his first 12 starts (73.2 innings). Sure, his 2.90 xFIP points to a .238 BABIP and 87% strand rate suppressing his ERA, but Rodon has taken his strikeout stuff next level while posting his lowest walk rate to date in the majors. And his average fastball velocity is up to a career-high 96 mph while he's effectively mixed that (57%) up with a devastating 86-mph slider (25%) and a change-up (15%), with a curve accounting for the balance (about 2%). Rodon's breakout appears to be legit, so there's no reason to not keep trotting him out there. His next start should come at home against the Mariners next week.
Luis Garcia (SP-HOU) largely held the White Sox in check on Friday evening as he allowed just 1 run on 7 hits and a pair of walks while fanning 8 over 7 innings of work. The 24 year-old righty fired 65 of his 96 offerings for strikes in the outing while keeping the ball in the yard. It has been an excellent start to the 2021 season for Garcia, who now owns a 2.82 ERA, 10.2 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 across his first 12 starts (70.1 innings). His 3.97 xFIP, however, does point to a .257 BABIP and 84% strand rate suppressing his ERA, and so his fantasy owners should expect a bit of regression going forward. Opposing batters have logged a 47% flyball rate against him, with a 39% hard-hit rate per Statcast - that combination could be a bit problematic going forward. Garcia's not exactly overpowering with a fastball that averages 93 mph, but he effectively mixes it (47%) with a cutter (21%), slider (15%), changeup (9%), and curve (8%). He lines up for a start in Detroit next week and should be absolutely starting in fantasy lineups for that one.
Matt Olson (1B-OAK) went 1-5 with a solo blast against the Yankees on Friday evening. The 27 year-old slugger appears to be in the midst of a breakout campaign, as he is now batting .295 with 19 homers and 44 RBI through his first 272 plate appearances of the season. Sure, we've always known that Olson possesses prodigious power, but the strong average has been a pleasant surprise (.252 career). A key there has been a significantly reduced strikeout rate, as he's fanned at just under a 17% clip this season as compared to his 25% career rate. His .286 BABIP isn't high at all, especially when one considers his .279 career mark in that department. With his contact rate up to a career-best 78% and his swinging-strike rate down to 10% (12% career), Olson is making the most of his 51% hard-hit rate per Statcast. Oh, and that 22% HR/FB has to be a bit high, right? Not really - that is exactly his career rate. The breakout appears to be legit, folks.
Robbie Ray (SP-TOR) lasted just 4.1 innings against the Orioles on Friday evening as he gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5. The veteran southpaw threw 69 of his 106 pitches for strikes and allowed 1 homer in the contest. Ray now owns a 3.50 ERA, 11.7 K/9, and 2.4 BB/9 through 13 starts (74.2 innings) on the year. For a guy with a 4.1 BB/9 on this career, the newfound control has been a key to his success. Ray's 3.12 xFIP indicates that he's actually been a little better than the ERA suggests, with a 23% HR/FB helping inflate his ERA a bit. There's been some good fortune too, with a 90% strand rate showing that most of those longballs have been of the solo variety. His average fastball velocity of 95 mph is the highest it has been since 2016, so that is also encouraging. The main issue with Ray has always been his wildness and his propensity for giving dingers, and so with one of those issues under control (no pun intended) in 2021, we're seeing Ray reemerge as a fantasy asset after he disappointed the last couple of seasons. He lines up for a rematch against Baltimore at home next week.
Cal Raleigh (C-SEA) is playing well to open the season in Triple-A and that should interest fantasy owners. Through 142 plate appearances entering the weekend, the 24 year-old switch-hitting backstop was hitting .355 with 7 homers and 27 RBI. His average rides on a .356 average that is likely to dip - taking the average with it - as the season progresses. But there have been some encouraging signs of progress out of Raleigh in 2021, as his 12% strikeout rate is vastly improved from the 30% clip he logged across 159 plate appearances in Double-A back in 2019. He's always posted at least a solid walk rate, and that remains the case in 2021 as he's drawn free passes at an 8% clip. True to his track record, Raleigh is hitting tons of flyballs (52% rate), which is good for the power but not so much for the average. And also true to form, he's recorded a fairly high pull rate (47%), which, again, will likely affect the average as teams are liable to deploy the shift against him. His scouting grades aren't off the charts, as his hit tool comes in below-average, with his game power in the average range and his raw power slightly above. But since the catcher position is pretty much always a tough nut to crack in fantasy and because there isn't exactly much blocking him in Seattle, Raleigh could get the call sooner rather than later. And in that event he'd be absolutely worth the speculative add if you are looking for help at that position.
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