Deep League Risers and Fallers Week 1

We try to keep up with the Joneses in this week's DLR&F.

Welcome back to DLR&F! It’s great to be here, I recognize some of you from last season, but also see a lot of new faces in the crowd.  In this space, we take a look at players who can be important and valued contributors in larger, or deeper leagues.

Our goal in DLR&F is to identify players that have been hot or cold relative to their recent play (or their expectations this early in the season) and then try to determine whether those trends are sustainable, or if they might suggest selling high or low.  We won’t love every riser and we won’t shade every faller.  Only two teams have played more than five games, so let’s remember to be patient and not overreact.

 

Fallers

 

Luis Severino, Starting Pitcher,  New York Metropolitans

50% Rostered

 

Severino had a year to forget in 2023.  He suffered through injuries and finished the campaign with a 6.65 ERA and 1.65 Whip over just 89 innings.  The IL stints and low inning count were nothing new, as Severino hasn’t pitched over 102 innings in a season since way back in 2018.  However, Severino was effective when he pitched over those injury-plagued years, generally carrying an era in the low 3’s and striking out over 10 batters per nine innings.

Severino is still just 30 years old and seemed like a prime “change of scenery” bounce-back candidate entering this year.  Maybe he should have made a more dramatic change than moving from the Bronx to Queens.  Severino drew Milwaukee for his first start of the 2024 season and got brewed to the tune of six earned runs on twelve hits allowed over five innings. He did notch six strikeouts though, and did not walk a single batter.

It is concerning to see Severino’s four-seamer average 95.5 MPH, down from 96.5 MPH his last couple of seasons and well off his 98 MPH average from 2018.  But it was his slider that was crushed, yielding a 1.167 slugging percentage and generating zero whiffs on 21 pitches.  His slider actually came in a couple of ticks faster than he threw it last season.  It’s possible the decreased difference in relative velocities between his four-seamer and slider was detrimental to keeping hitters off balance or disrupting their timing.

I’m not dropping him after one outing, but I also don’t intend to use him for his next start scheduled @CIN.  I suggest keeping a close eye on his fastball velocity, and an even closer eye on his slider.

 

A.J. Puk,  Starting Pitcher, Miami Marlins

49% Rostered

 

Puk had pitched in 142 MLB games entering this season, all in relief.  Miami intended to stretch him out and try him in the rotation this season.  But injuries to Braxton Garrett and Edward Cabrera along with Puk’s strong Spring Training performance sealed the deal.  (1.32 ERA, 23 Ks in 13.2 spring innings).

Most pitchers lose some velocity transitioning from the bullpen to a starting role and Puk was no exception.  His heater averaged just under 93 MPH in his first start compared to just under 96 MPH last season.  He threw his sinker about 25% of the time in his first start, compared to just 5% of the time last year which I think is an encouraging sign since he relied almost entirely on his heater and sweeper as a reliever last season.

It’s tempting to chalk this one up to a combination of nerves from making his first career start and running into the buzz saw that is the unstoppable Pittsburgh Pirates, who are 5-0 and averaging nearly 8 runs per game. But the velocity drop is pretty significant and we just don’t see too many relievers successfully convert to starters.  That being said, I’m comfortable rolling with Puk versus the Angels in his next start.  Same as with Severino though, my eyes are on that radar gun readout.

 

Michael Busch, Third Base, Chicago Cubs

13% Rostered

 

Michael Busch slashed .323/.431/.618 with just 85 strikeouts over 469 plate appearances at AAA last season as a member of the Dodgers organization.  Then things got exciting when he was dealt to the Cubs in January and was in line to get full-time MLB at-bats.  He had a solid .261/.340/.543 line in spring that included three dingers and a couple of steals and was set to start the year as the Cub’s everyday 1B.

He has started all four games at first for Chicago thus far but the returns have been bush-league.  Busch has just two hits, both singles through his first 16 plate appearances.  He has scored once and has not driven in a run.

But I am not down on Busch at all.  He has drawn three walks already while striking out four times, which leaves him with a .313 OBP despite the .154 batting average.  Moreover, he has a 93.3 MPH exit velocity in the early going and while he initially qualified at 3b, (which has already seen two major injuries) he’s on pace to add 1b eligibility.  I like the early underlying numbers, and his minor league performance enough that I would consider trying to buy low, or otherwise add him to my roster in any league with more than 12 teams right now.

 

Risers

 

Zack Littell, Starting Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays

21% Rostered

 

Littell made the transition from reliever to starter midway through the 2023 season thanks to a series of injuries befalling something like 150% of the Tampa’s starting rotation.  In all he appeared 14 times in relief and started 14 games.

While Littell’s strikeout rate dipped with the transition, he excelled in the role. He finished the season with a 3.41 ERA and 1.05 WHIP as a starter compared to a 6.75 ERA and 1.66 WHIP as a reliever.  Similarly, opponents slashed. .248/,271/.415 against Littell when he started vs .308/.361/.487 as a reliever.

So far that success has continued.  Littell cruised to a 1.35 ERA with 13 Ks in 13 spring innings.  He then turned in a excellent, six-inning shutout performance against the Jays in his first start of this season.  He recorded a CSW% of just 26.1 and isn’t going to be a strikeout-per-inning guy, but the wins and ratios should be there.  I am not excited about his next start, which is scheduled to come at Coors Field, but after that, I would be happy to roster Littell in any league.

 

Jose Siri, Outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays

36 % Rostered

 

Siri is off to a nice start with a .294/.400/.529 slash with one homer and three steals through his first five games (20 plate appearances).  The power and speed look legitimate, as he crushed 25 homers and stole 12 bases in just 364 plate appearances last year. While his exit velocity was below league average last year, his barrel rate ranked in the top 15% and he possesses elite sprint speed.

It’s Siri’s ability to reach base consistently that is the major concern.  He carried just a 5.5% walk rate and ranked in the bottom 1% of the majors in whiff and strikeout rates last year.  So far that aspect of his game looks unchanged, as he’s struck out seven times and walked just once this year.

Siri is 28 years old, so this is probably who he is at this point.  He does grade out as an excellent defender, so I think he should be in line for full-time at-bats, or at least as close to full-time as anyone on the Rays.  He should be a solid source of dingers and steals, but will likely be a bit of drag on batting average and could see prolonged slumps with his whiff-happy approach.  He’s a good guy to pair with hitters like Luis Arraez, Nolan Schanuel, or Bo Bichette.

 

Jared Jones, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates.  

45% Rostered

 

I’m shocked Jones’ roster percentage has remained under 50% long enough for me to include him in this article.  He absolutely fileted the Marlins in his MLB debut over the weekend.  Jones racked up 10 strikeouts with 22 whiffs and a CSW% of 40 while allowing just three hits and two walks.  The 22 whiffs were more than any Bucco starting pitcher recorded in any game last year.

Jones pitched to a 3.85 ERA with 146 strikeouts and 50 walks allowed over 126 innings split between AA and AAA last year, and earned his spot in the rotation with 15 Ks and eight BBs over 16.1 shutout innings in Spring Training.  The strikeout potential is real and it’s spectacular.  He threw a nearly even split of 97 MPH heaters and 88 MPH sliders with a few change-ups and curve balls sprinkled in.  His four-seamer generated a 42% whiff rate and his slider a 58% whiff rate!

Jones does line up to face Baltimore (World Series preview?) in his next outing, which is very skippable for most starters and might explain why he’s still available in more than half of fantasy leagues.  However, the Battling Buccos are on pace for a totally sustainable 162-0 record, so maybe don’t worry much and just roll with Jones against the reigning AL East champs.

Nate Kosher will take care of your Deep League Risers and Fallers next week, and then back to me for the 4/17 article.  Good luck out there deep leaguers!

 

 

 

Sam Lutz

A Pittsburgh native and long suffering Pirate fan, Sam turned to fantasy baseball to give him a reason to follow the sport after July.

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