Vlad Guerrero Jr (1B - TOR) - Vlad finally picked up HR #20 in game #127 on Sunday, and he's now hit in 8 straight. He's basically had one good week a month since April, so it's worth trying to figure out what's going on here. The one thing that jumps out at me when comparing the disappointing seasons of 2022-23 to the fabulous 2021 season is the aggressiveness at the plate. He isn't quite turning into his dad, but his swing% has clearly jumped the past two seasons, and mostly in terms of pitches chased outside of the zone rather than swinging at strikes (particularly last season). The EV is still borderline elite, but it WAS elite in 2021 so there's been some deterioration there also....something that could easily be explained away by the greater number of pitches outside the zone offered at, because the contact rate has actually increased. Still too many GB also, a persistent issue that was only somewhat remedied in 2021. All in all, I feel like this is all coming back to plate discipline. Somebody needs to get in his ear and curb his aggression just a bit....I think that would be enough to elevate him back into the top-tier of all hitters. As of now, sad to say, I'm not sure he's top-10 offensively at the position heading into 2024 (he's ranked 14th at present), although of course his ceiling is clearly top-3. I'll have to see where things shake out in the spring, but for now I am going under the assumption that he'll be overvalued.
Graham Ashcraft (SP - CIN) - Ashcraft's incredible run continued on Sunday, as the 25 year old held Arizona to 2 runs on 7 hits over 6 2/3 innings for a 10th QS in his last 11 starts. That run will certainly get put to the test over the next few starts with the Cubs and Mariners (both top-6 run-scoring offenses over the past month), but I think it's worth looking into just how lucky Ashcraft has been during this streak. I do think we are seeing some amount of progress from him, but it's a bit more sporadic than you'd think because of the luck factor, and if you don't think there's been a lot of luck involved I'd point you to both the 92% strand rate in the 2nd half, and also to the 4.28 xFIP in that same split. Ashcraft is often viewed as a pitcher that can't strike people out, but I don't believe that to be true. In this excellent 11 start run, I've noticed that he can either limit FB or he can strike people out: not both. He's had 4 starts where he didn't allow a HR during this run. He's 2-2 in those 4 starts with 24 hits and 5 runs allowed in 25 innings, and he's walked 7 and fanned 8. He's allowed at least 1 HR in all 7 of the other starts, with this line: 2-0, 46 2/3 IP, 33 H, 14 R, 14 BB, 45 K. He's primarily a 2-pitch guy (cutter, slider) with a few sinkers mixed in at this point, but I'm less inclined to think that this is all a mirage than many. I might bench him for the two upcoming starts, but he's shown me enough that I'm probably riding him for the stretch run after that (@DET, MIN, PIT, @STL). I expect mid-rotation level performance from him in total the rest of the way.
Griffin Canning (SP - LAA) - The Ohtani injury news has probably secured a rotation spot for Canning down the stretch, and he responded Sunday with a fantastic 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K outing against the Mets. Canning is a high-quality streamer for me, combining improved control with a velocity jump (and his typically above-average bat-missing) this season while still allowing too much hard contact despite a nice jump in GB%. You would think that the 6-man rotation the Angels are currently using would hamper Canning's value, but it's actually kept him away from the tougher teams on the schedule the rest of the way, as he's now slated to face the A's twice, the Tigers, the Guardians, and the Twins. Barring a change in his performance level, I'm OK riding him the rest of the way against that slate.
Jonah Heim (C - TEX) - Heim hit a grand slam in the 4th on Sunday, his first XBH since returning from the IL. Still, there's plenty of reason for concern here, at least for the remainder of 2023. First of all, the presence of Mitch Garver combined with Heim's injury (a left wrist tendon strain) mean that Heim is only likely to play against RHP for the remainder of this year, and perhaps not against all RHP at that. For his career, Heim is a significantly better hitter RH than he is from the left side, and even this year, in easily the best season of his career, his wRC+ is 128 hitting RH and only 105 hitting RH. Add in the fact that he's just 3-30 with that 1 XBH since his return, and I'm not positive that I'd automatically plug him into the lineup going forward like his year-long stat line would warrant. For this coming week, where the Rangers are facing 5 RHP and just 1 lefty, I'd certainly consider him, but the catching position isn't as shallow as it used to be. You have to knock him down a few notches in your rankings for the remainder of this year.
Mike Clevinger (SP - CWS) - Clevinger did what a competent pitcher should do against the A's on Sunday, holding them to 1 hit and 1 run over 7 innings, walking 2 and fanning 10 to move to 6-6 on the year. It's been an injury plagued season for the 32 year old, but the velocity has been up nearly 1 mph over his last 4 outings, so there's hope that he is rounding into form now. The control has been as iffy as you'd expect from a pitcher that hasn't been 100% healthy, but I'm on board here for fantasy playoff time. Not only am I pleased with the velo bump that we've seen over the past 3 weeks, but his schedule is extremely friendly for the next 4 outings: DET, @DET, KC, @WAS. That's the kind of stretch that can elevate a 5th starter like Clevinger into 2nd or 3rd SP performance....he's a clear add for me in any format that he's available.
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