Max Scherzer (SP-WSH) threw 7.2 strong innings against the Phillies on Friday, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits and a walk while racking up 9 strikeouts. He tossed 70 of his 108 pitches for strikes in the contest. The 36 year-old looked uncharacteristically human in 2020, but he seems to be back to his 2012-2019 form this year, as he now owns a 2.22 ERA, 12.2 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 through his first 12 starts (77 innings) of the campaign. Sure, his 3.01 xFIP points to an 89% strand rate and .240 BABIP suppressing his ERA a good bit, but that figure compares favorably with his 3.28 career xFIP. After dipping under 15% for the first time since 2014 last season, Scherzer's swinging-strike rate is north of 16% in 2021 and his walk rate comes in south of his 2.4 career clip. There is a little room for concern, though, as Statcast shows a 38% hard-hit rate that is the highest he's allowed since Statcast was born in 2015, and he's induced grounders at only a 30% clip this season - that leaves a lot of batted balls that can do some damage, especially as hitters make more hard contact against him. Overall, though, the old Scherzer appears to be back. He lines up for a start at home against the Giants next week.
Zack Wheeler (SP-PHI) tossed 7.1 strong innings against the Nationals on Friday evening, as he gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks while recording 8 punchouts. The righty threw 68 of his 101 offerings for strikes and allowed a homer in the outing. The 31 year-old is in the midst of assembling his finest season in the majors, as he currently owns a 2.51 ERA, 10.9 K/9, and 2 BB/9 through 12 starts (82.1 innings). His 2.77 xFIP points to a .282 BABIP and 80% strand rate suppressing his ERA a bit, but there is no doubt that he has truly taken a step forward this year. Wheeler's average fastball velocity is up to a career-high 97.5mph and he's deploying his 91-mph slider a career-high 26% of the time. In addition to logging a career-best 13% swinging-strike rate, he's induced grounders at a healthy 47% clip while giving up hard contact at a modest 34% rate. The peripherals suggest that fantasy owners should expect him to continue performing at a high level going forward. Wheeler lines up for a start at home against Atlanta next week.
Juan Soto (OF-WSH) went 1-4 with a solo homer against the Phillies on Friday. The 22 year-old is putting together a solid if unspectacular 2021 campaign, as he now has a .280 average to go with 7 longballs, 23 RBI, 29 runs scored, and a lone stolen base (while being caught 4 times) through 184 plate appearances. His strikeout rate is a career-low at just under 14% while he's drawn walks at an 18% clip, which indicates that his command of the zone is as good as ever. And Soto's hard-hit rate is at 52% per Statcast, right where it was last season - the same goes for his 92mph average exit velocity. The 53% groundball rate is a bit of an issue, as that's trended further in the wrong direction after he posted a 52% clip last season - that will certainly sap the power output a bit. Soto is now in the process of recording a groundball rate north of 51% for the 3rd time out of his 4 seasons in the majors, so that may very well be the norm for him.
Hunter Greene (SP-CIN) has started the season hot in Double-A, as the 22 year-old righty owns a 1.91 ERA, 13 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 through his first 5 starts (28.1 innings) entering the weekend. His xFIP currently stands at 2.50, as his 82% strand rate seems a bit high and his 5% HR/FB comes in on the low side. But the start is nevertheless encouraging, as Greene missed the 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John Surgery and then there was the lost 2020 campaign for minor-leaguers in general. Thanks in large part to a big fastball that he can push north of 100mph, Greene has always possessed strikeout ability, but his command was marked as a work in progress entering the 2021 campaign. So, the good news is that he hasn't been hit hard, has kept the walks to a modest clip, and has induced grounders at a healthy 45% rate. Rated among the top few prospects in the Cincinnati organization and #57 overall in baseball per MLB.com, Greene is definitely worth having on your radar as he works his way toward the majors. He's scheduled to next take the hill on Saturday.
MacKenzie Gore (SP-SD) has scuffled in Triple-A to begin the 2021 campaign, as he owned a 5.94 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 5.4 BB/9 through 4 starts (16.2 innings of work) entering the weekend. The 22 year-old southpaw's xFIP currently stands at 5.86, which indicates that his luck has been pretty neutral. While his strand rate is a bit low at 65% and opposing batters have logged a high .385 BABIP against him, he's also yet to cough up a homer (which obviously puts the HR/FB at 0%). His fairly low strikeout rate (his previous low K/9 was 11 in A-ball back in 2018) and high walk rate (his previous high BB/9 was 3.3 in Double-A in 2019) are not encouraging. On the plus side of things, Gore has induced grounders at a healthy 51% clip and kept the liners to a modest 18% rate. He reportedly struggled at the Padres' alternate site last summer, did not exactly impress in spring training before being assigned to Triple-A, and San Diego has a fairly robust big-league rotation, so there is no reason for us to expect to see him in the majors anytime soon.
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