Robbie Ray (SP-TOR) was dynamite against the Rays on Sunday afternoon as he tossed 7 shutout innings in which he allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk while racking up 11 punchouts. The 29 year-old lefty fired 71 of his 103 offerings for strikes in the contest. Through 17 starts (100.2 innings) on the year, Ray owns a sparkling 3.13 ERA, 11.6 K9, and 2.2 BB/9. His 3.16 xFIP suggests that his ERA is right about where it should be. Ray has always been a high-strikeout guy, but control (4.1 career BB/9) and resulting inefficiency on the mound were major issues. But this year, he's logged a career-low walk rate while upping his average heater velocity to 95mph, his highest since 2016. The longball has always been an issue with Ray, and it remains so this year (1.79 HR/9, 20% HR/FB), but his newfound propensity to issue relatively few walks has helped to minimize the damage. Opposing hitters have logged a career-worst 49% hard-hit rate against him per Statcast, Ray has also posted a career-best 15% swinging-strike rate which is aided by a career-high 33% o-swing rate. He appears likely to continue to get hit hard going forward, but the elite strikeout ability and improved control should ensure that Ray's breakout continues.
Framber Valdez (SP-HOU) allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 6 hits and 6 walks while recording 5 punchouts over 4 innings of work against the Yankees on Sunday. The 27 year-old southpaw threw just 45 of his 91 offerings for strikes and surrendered a homer in the outing. Valdez now owns a 2.98 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9 through his first 9 starts (54.1 innings) of the 2021 campaign. A broken finger cost him the early part of the season but he's been largely effective since his return, although this marks two outings in a row in which he has scuffled. His 3.42 xFIP suggests that the ERA could regress further going forward, as his 78% strand rate is a touch high. While Valdez has not exactly missed a ton of bats (11% swinging-strike rate) and has given up hard contact at a 44% clip per Statcast, he has induced groundballs at an insane 70% rate. And it's a good thing that he doesn't allow more flyballs, as opposing hitters have logged a 21% HR/FB against him. Overall, one has a hard time not expecting some regression going forward after taking a peek at Valdez's peripherals.
Brandon Lowe (2B-TB) went 1-4 with a solo shot and a strikeout against the Blue Jays on Sunday. The 27 year-old is now hitting .208 with 21 longballs, 48 RBI, and 47 runs scored across 335 plate appearances on the campaign. He's also chipped in 4 steals, one off his career high. While a 32% strikeout rate helps to explain the low average, his BABIP also comes in at a career-low .244. A career-worst 41% hard-hit rate per Statcast may be partly to blame for that, and his line-drive rate is a career-low 18%. Lowe's batting average woes no doubt stem, in part at least, from a 34% o-swing%, which includes a career-high 53% contact rate on those swings at pitches outside of the zone - much of that contact is low-quality in nature. The homer total is nice, but I would be a bit worried about his power output ticking downward going forward, as Lowe's 26% HR/FB is the highest it has been in his career (19-24% each year 2018-2020).
Andrew Vaughn (OF-CHW) produced against Baltimore on Sunday as he went 2-4 with a pair of big flies and 4 RBI. The 23 year-old now owns a .253 average to go with 10 homers, 26 RBI, and 38 runs scored through his first 272 plate appearances of the 2021 season. Sure, the rookie hasn't exactly lit the world on fire, but it's worth noting that he was just drafted #3 overall back in 2019 and logged just over 200 plate appearances in the low minors before starting the 2021 campaign in the majors. So, as high as expectations can be for a guy with a plus-plus hit tool and plus power, some struggles can be reasonably expected as a guy jumps multiple levels to the majors. Even so, his wRC+ comes in at 112, above average, and Statcast shows a very nice 50% hard-hit rate. Vaughn has struck out a fair bit (25%) and taken a few walks (8%), but he hasn't swung and missed a ton (11%) and his chase rate (33% o-swing%) isn't far off the league average. Problematically, though, he's made contact on those pitches outside of the zone at a 59% clip, which will cause some poor contact. All things considered, this isn't exactly a poor start to a major-league career, especially for a guy who skipped Double-A and Triple-A ball.
Jose Miranda (1B/2B/3B-MIN) is putting together a compelling 2021 campaign in the high minors. Entering Sunday's action, the 23 year-old was batting .350 with 3 homers and 8 RBI through his first 48 Triple-A plate appearances, which comes after he hit .345 with 13 dingers and 38 RBI across 218 plate appearances at the Double-A level. In AA, he showed improved plate skills by walking at an 8% rate and fanning at just a 12% clip. He's never struck out much (21% so far in his limited AAA action), but he last walked at a rate north of 7% in rookie ball back in 2016. And Miranda has so far drawn walks at a healthy 15% rate in AAA. His tendency to chase pitches out of the zone has tended to result in poor contact rather than swings and misses, but so far in 2021 he's laced lots of liners (30% in AA, 28% in AAA, but usually 10-12%). The power output has been encouraging, as he's tied his career-high in homers from 2018 (A and High-A ball) while easily eclipsing the mere 8 he smacked in 478 High-A plate appearances in 2019. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward with his average, as he posted a .342 BABIP in Double-A and currently owns a .393 BABIP in Triple-A after never before surpassing .286 in that department in a meaningful sample size. Ultimately, the track record is not there but Miranda's work so far in 2021 merits attention in fantasy circles.
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