Triston McKenzie, SP (CLE)
McKenzie's hot streak came to an end on Monday with his worst outing of the season. After allowing one run or less in each of his last five starts, the Cleveland rookie allowed a season-high seven runs on three home runs in 4.1 innings. The nine hits allowed was also a season high and the four strikeouts were his lowest since Aug. 5. His velocity was down, particularly on his slider and that led to ineffectiveness on what has been one of the best pitches by any pitcher this season. He only generated two whiffs out of 20 sliders thrown, a far lower rate than his 44% whiff rate on sliders this season. He is approaching his career high in innings pitched (combined between AAA and MLB) and his velo and slider effectiveness will be important to monitor over his next start or two. Monday's performance opens the door for some concern starting him in the remainder of fantasy playoffs. However, the gains made since getting recalled to the big league team in early July are highly encouraging. His slider is generally so good he can overcome other deficiencies. The evolution of an additional pitch could elevate McKenzie into one of the most dominant starters in the league.
John Means, SP (BAL)
Means tossed 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out six batters on Monday. It continued a string of five straight starts allowing two runs or less and was only his seventh start this season without allowing a home run. He's allowed 26 long balls this season and it's a result of several factors, most notably that he plays in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays. But there's more to it than that. His fastball/changeup combination is susceptible to rising in the zone and creating extra lift for the opposing hitter. Therefore, Means has started to use his curveball and slider more in recent starts because those two pitches have surrendered a combined one home run this entire season as opposed to 25 homers off his fastball/change. His curveball is really an impressive pitch and if he can trust it enough to throw at least 20% of the time, Means has the potential to be very successful. There is always a risk drafting a Baltimore pitcher who gives up home runs, but Means has the potential to finish this season and future ones with impressive numbers.
Nestor Cortes Jr., SP (NYY)
Cortes cruised through four scoreless innings before running into trouble in the 5th. He couldn't escape the inning after ultimately allowing two runs (a third run scored after he left the game). He finished with three runs allowed on five hits and two walks in 4.1 innings. He did strike out seven batters in what turned into a no-decision. The converted reliever has picked up a little velocity since moving into a starting role, particularly on his slider, which he is using much more. Cortes has mostly shed his changeup and decreased the use of his curveball while relying significantly on his fastball and slider since moving into the Yankees' rotation. Cortes was mostly a reliever throughout the minor leagues so it will be interesting to see how the elevated innings total affects his health. And will he remain a starter next season? For one, the Yankees needed him to start because of all their injuries, but a healthier rotation doesn't necessarily require Cortes' services. And it is important to note the luck he's received from a low BABIP and 85% strand rate. However, he has allowed more than three runs in a start just once this season. He keeps his walks low, which mitigates the damage from a 1.29 HR/9 rate. Continue to roll the southpaw out there and monitor his status and role during the offseason.
Shane Baz, SP (TB)
Remember when Shane Baz was a "throw-in" by the Pirates in the Glasnow/Meadows/Archer trade? Well, now he's one of the top prospects in the organization with one of the top farm systems in baseball. Baz made his major league debut on Monday, picking up a win following a five-run debut with two runs allowed and five strikeouts. The only damage was two solo home runs by Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He didn't walk a batter, and that is consistent with his minor league season. He has dramatically improved his K/BB rate throughout his minor league career and if that can continue at the major league level, Baz will be an instant impact pitcher. Baz generated 15 whiffs in only 65 pitches, finishing the game with a 32% CSW rate. He touched 99 miles per hour with his fastball while generously mixing in his slider and adding an underrated curveball. For what it's worth, Gurriel's homer was on his slider while Hernandez's came off his fastball. The reality is he did allow hard contact and the damage could have been worse, and that's to be expected with his pitch mix, but if he continues to limit walks the damage will be held in check. Baz will likely be on some sort of innings limit next season, but if he starts the year in the Rays rotation, there is enormous upside.
Hunter Dozier, OF (KC)
Dozier hit his fourth home run in the last 10 starts, finishing 2-for-4 with four RBIs in Monday's doubleheader. In what has been a very disappointing season, at least Dozier can take some encouragement from finishing the season strong. A lot has changed since Dozier's career-best 2019 season. His plate discipline has seen dramatic regression and his BABIP has dropped more than 60 points. Dozier also regressed against breaking balls. He can still hit fastballs, but he is only slugging .348 against breaking pitches in 2021 after slugging .506 in 2019. Furthermore, his average exit velocity against breaking pitches dipped four miles per hour over the last two seasons. Dozier recently turned 30 years old and has had only one good season. He lacks identity, consistency and discipline. He needs to improve his discipline and success against breaking pitches to be considered a fantasy asset again.
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