Corbin Burnes (SP-MIL) earned a quality start against the Rockies on Friday afternoon as he allowed just 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7 over 6 innings of work. The 26 year-old righty threw 61 of his 94 offerings for strikes in the outing. After taking a major step forward in 2020 (2.11 ERA, 13.3 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9 across 59.2 innings), Burnes has fully broken out in 2021, as he now owns a 2.53 ERA, 13.9 K/9, and 1.7 BB/9 across 13 starts (74.2 innings). While his 2.99 xFIP in the abbreviated 2020 campaign indicated that he benefited from some good luck, his 1.99 xFIP in 2021 suggests the opposite - a .331 BABIP appears to be inflating his ERA a bit. One might glance at his 4% HR/FB and expect correction there, but he did log a HR/FB just south of 5% 2020. Limiting the gopherball - a major problem in his limited action in the majors in 2019 (39% HR/FB) - was a key to him emerging last season and the key this year to further progress has been slashing his walk rate by more than half. His 18% swinging-strike rate is simply elite and his contact rate is down to just 63%. There's not really anything here to indicate that Burnes should regress. His next start should come at home against the Cubs next week.
Taijuan Walker (SP-NYM) tossed 5 solid innings against the Phillies in game 1 of Friday's doubleheader, giving up just 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk while fanning 5. He threw 44 of his 68 offerings for strikes in the outing. The 28 year-old has been very effective in 2021, as he now owns a 2.38 ERA, 9.3 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 across his first 14 starts (79.1 innings) of the campaign. His 3.73 xFIP does, however, point to a 78% strand rate (73% career), .260 BABIP (.279 career), and 7% HR/FB (12.5% career) suppressing his ERA. Walker has also surrendered hard contact at a 42% clip per Statcast. So, his fantasy owners should be prepared for some regression going forward, especially since he allows lots of liners (25%) and a fair amount of flyballs (35%). Walker lines up for a start in Atlanta next week.
Aaron Nola (SP-PHI) was dynamite in game 1 of a doubleheader against the Mets on Friday afternoon as he threw 5.1 shutout innings in which he allowed 2 hits and walked 1 while piling up a dozen punchouts. The righty hurled 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes in the contest. The 28 year-old righty now owns a 3.97 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9 through his first 16 starts (90.2 innings) of the season. His 3.47 xFIP indicates that he's run into a little bit of bad luck, especially a .316 BABIP (.294 career) and 13% HR/FB; but it's worth noting that his career HR/FB is 14%. Curiously, Nola's groundball rate is down to 41% (50% career), with the difference going to flyballs (a career-high 38%). For the second straight season, Nola's swinging-strike rate is sitting right about 13%. He appears slated to start at home against Miami next week.
Daniel Bard (RP-COL) blew the save against the Brewers on Friday afternoon as he allowed 2 runs on a hit and a walk over 1 inning of work. The damage came on a walk followed by a longball. The 36 year-old righty returned to the majors last season after a 6-year absence and was solid out of the Rockies bullpen, posting a 3.65 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 across 24.2 innings in which he recorded 6 saves and a pair of holds (although his xFIP did end up at a concerning 4.38). But this year he now owns a 4.60 ERA, 11.8 K/9, and 4 BB/9 across 31.1 innings of work. His 3.55 xFIP, however, indicates that Bard has run into some bad luck in the form of a .386 BABIP and a 17% HR/FB. The BABIP is well north of the .313 clip he posted last eason and his HR/FB is also well above last year's figure (9%). The improved strikeout rate is nice and the xFIP indicates that better days should lie ahead, but it's tough to trust a closer who has shown both walk and homer issues.
Drew Waters (OF-ATL) seems likely to make his MLB debut sometime during the 2021 season, so how's the 22 year-old been doing in his second round at Triple-A? In a word, meh. Through 144 plate appearances entering the weekend, he's hitting .254 with 3 homers, 10 RBI, and 18 runs scored. And while he's swiped 10 bags he's also been caught 5 times. Somewhat encouragingly, though, he's trimmed his strikeout rate to 31% after fanning at a clip just north of 36% in his 119-plate appearance stint at the same level back in 2019. And an even bigger plus has been his walk rate, which climbed from just 6% in Double-A in 2019 (454 plate appearances) to 9% in Triple-A that same season, and to nearly 12% so far in 2021. The lack of game power dents his fantasy potential a bit, but Waters still possesses a plus hit tool and plus speed, and those skills combined with an improving ability to draw walks (which will give him more opportunities to steal bases and score runs, of course) make him worth watching for fantasy.
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