Jason Heyward, OF (CHC)
Heyward put together a rare two-hit game in what can only be described as "garbage time" late in the Cubs' 11th straight loss. The 8th-inning single drove his batting average UP to .198. Then he tallied another single in the 9th to finally lift himself over the Mendoza Line. Heyward is one of the most fascinatingly frustrating hitters to follow. He doesn't strike out as much as it seems, although he has a career-high 11.6% swinging strike rate this season. He walks a lot so he gets on base, and here's the weird thing. He is CAPABLE of hitting the ball hard. Like, sometimes he just swings so hard and so his max exit velo is actually pretty impressive. The problem is, he normally hits the ball softly, mostly unthreatening grounders or weak popups. Heyward's average launch angle is 7.1 degrees. His career mark is nearly 12 degrees. That's a decent launch. The problem is, that's his average. The reality is he normally has too high of a launch (hence, the popups) or too low (weak grounders). How do we know that? A fancy little Statcast metric called Sweet Spot. That reveals how often he hits the ball with a launch angle between 8 and 32 degrees (typically, a line drive with more likelihood of landing for a hit). Heyward's sweet spot rate is a career-low 24.6%, more than eight percentage points less than the MLB average. So again, his average launch angle is fine, but he rarely has a launch in that sweet spot area. This is all to say Heyward just doesn't make good contact regularly enough. He doesn't belong on a fantasy roster.
Merrill Kelly, SP (ARI)
Kelly labored through 5.1 innings on Tuesday, escaping with only two runs allowed but only recording one strikeout in a no-decision against Colorado. He only walked one batter, which is something he has improved upon of late while increasing his strikeout numbers, although that was clearly not the case against the Rockies. The improvement in walks and strikeouts coordinates with an increase in the use of his cutter, which has induced a .173 batting average and 80-mph average exit velocity. It has led to an improvement in his overall numbers as he has allowed six runs in his last 25.1 innings. He minimized the hard contact he had allowed during the month of May and increased his groundball rate. Kelly may not be on the Diamondbacks much longer, but he is certainly delivering startable fantasy results. Furthermore, he has shown he can compete against good offenses (shut down San Diego two starts ago, struck out 12 Dodgers in late May) so fantasy owners can cautiously play Kelly on a semi-regular basis.
Aaron Nola, SP (PHI)
Nola has been off and on for the last couple months. He has limited walks and improved his strikeouts, but he had allowed at least six runs in two of his previous three starts entering Tuesday's game. On Tuesday he struggled in the 3rd, allowing three runs before finishing six innings with four runs allowed and eight strikeouts. One or two bad innings has been the theme for Nola, and there isn't a lot to explain the periodic struggles. His velocity is fine, he is still limiting hard contact and getting a lot of whiffs. Okay, walks and hard contact WAS a problem in his June 19th start at San Francisco. The Giants beat him around pretty good, he only struck out one batter and his xFIP was 8.43. But his June 30th start against Miami? He gave up seven runs in 4.2 innings for a 13.50 ERA and yet his xFIP was 0.34! He allowed two of his fly balls to leave the park, he didn't walk anyone and he struck out 11. On Tuesday he finished with a game xFIP of 3.35. As long as Nola doesn't let the outwardly poor results get to his head, he will be fine and remains one of the better starting pitchers in the National League. Expect positive regression and that could be something to target via trade in your fantasy league.
Guillermo Heredia, OF (ATL)
Heredia was part of a growing offensive problem for the Braves. He was hitless in three plate appearances on Tuesday. The Braves have outfield problems. The return of Marcell Ozuna from injury/suspension? is very much in question following his arrest for domestic assault last month. Cristian Pache has not shown he can regularly hit major league pitching and so the Braves are left with Ronald Acuna Jr. and some questions. They're even trying middle-infielder Orlando Arcia in left field (Arcia hit a home run to serve as Atlanta's only run on Tuesday). In centerfield they've been rolling with the 30-year-old Heredia who has played for five teams in the last four seasons. The results have been somewhat encouraging in the early going this season, although there are warning signs of regression. Heredia has always been a weak-hitting, high-contact bat off the bench. In more regular playing time this season, Heredia's contact rate is down while his swinging strike rate is a career-high 12.7%. He is clearly trying for more power and while there is a slight uptick in average exit velocity, he only has four home runs in 194 plate appearances. It's a danger to aim for power at the risk of contact. Yes, his batting average is a solid .269, but that's boosted by an unlikely .353 BABIP. The move to more power may eventually lead to a few more home runs, but he will never profile as a true power contributor and the batting average will eventually regress. The Braves may have no choice, but fantasy owners should avoid the journeyman outfielder.
Brandon Crawford, SS (SF)
Crawford continued his career year, driving in three runs on four hits in Tuesday's game against St. Louis. Although he was homerless among his four hits, Crawford's power has been astounding this season. He represents the positive side of selling out for more power. Increasing his launch angle 3-and-a-half degrees from his career average while swinging harder has cost him some contact, but that is offset by an extreme surge in isolated power (.268 this season, up from .149 in his career). Crawford has one of the top barrel rates in the National League and is slugging over 130 points higher than his career average. It isn't a fluke. He is aiming for more power, and it is working. The 34 year old is still vulnerable to offspeed pitches, but he has improved his production against fastballs so much that his overall numbers are very good. This late-career surge is reminiscent of Daniel Murphy and should not be discounted.
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