Is It Legit? 5/7/24: Brice Turang, Javier Assad, and Ryan Jeffers

Can these hot starters keep it up as we get deeper into the season?

It’s the beginning of May and six matchups into the fantasy season, you’re probably starting to feel either pretty good about your squad or desperately trying to fix the problems holding your team back from contention. Thankfully, with increased sample sizes comes increased confidence in our ability to evaluate players, meaning we can feel much better about the waiver wire moves we make and evaluating trade decisions. Let’s dive into three players who have turned heads in the early going to see if you can bank on their strong early-season numbers to continue, or if there are lurking pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.

Brice Turang, 2B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers

Among all players to reach at least 400 plate appearances last year, Brice Turang had the third-worst wRC+ at just 60, meaning he was 40% less effective at creating runs than the average hitter. Ouch. That’s why seeing him jump out to an incredible start has been surprising. He wasn’t an average hitter making a leap into the good hitter territory. He went from literally being one of the worst hitters in baseball to being solidly above league average.

In 31 games so far, Turang’s slashing .299/.367/.411. That comes out to a 125 wRC+, more than double last year’s mark. Even with those improved numbers, Turang’s calling card is still his speed. Even struggling as much as he did at the plate in 2023, he swiped 26 stolen bases. This year, he’s already over halfway to last year’s total, sitting at 14 stolen bases which is the second most in the bigs.

There are two gigantic changes that Turang has made in his profile. The first is that he’s dramatically cut down on his strikeouts, whiffs, and chases. Last year he had a reasonable 21% strikeout rate, but it came with a 21.5% whiff rate and 27.3% chase rate. This year he’s struck out just 15% of the time—a top-30 mark in baseball—and has cut the whiff and chase rates to 12.6% and 23.1%. That’s substantial growth.

The other area where Turang has transformed in his sophomore season is hitting fastballs. We already covered that he was one of the game’s worst hitters in 2023, but he was particularly bad against fastballs, notably four-seamers. He had a -17 run value against the game’s most common offering. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he’s doing significantly better against fastballs in 2024.

Looking at overall numbers, even though his barrel rate hasn’t improved, his hard-hit rate has jumped from 27% to 34.4% and he’s added exit velocity where it matters most: flyballs. His FB EV has risen from 83.5 mph to 88.2 mph. As you’d expect, his X-stats have risen across the board to go along with those improvements. He is overperforming them by a decent margin, though. He has a .317 average and .361 wOBA, as compared to a .261 xAVG and .309 xWOBA.

Verdict: Legit. Turang looked overmatched against big-league pitching in his rookie season, but he’s totally flipped the script as a sophomore. I do think he’s due for some regression and probably settles in with an average in the .260-.280 range rather than hitting near .300 all year long. He does have 96th percentile sprint speed, so he has the ability to sustain inflated BABIPs by beating out more groundballs than the average hitter, which could give him an average boost. Turang hasn’t made significant leaps in the power department, so even with the improvement he’ll probably hit about 10 homers, but that plays just fine with above average contact and the potential for 50+ stolen bases. If you have him, hold him. He’ll single-handedly swing stolen base categories into your team’s favor.

Javier Assad, SP/RP, Chicago Cubs

Assad’s been one of the early season’s best success stories. Over the last two years, Assad’s gone from bullpen arm, to swingman, to reliable big league starter, and his results have reached a new level in 2024. Through seven starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player page succinctly sum up a profile better than Assad’s does. Take a look at this beauty:

You love that red on the left side, but the right is oh so sadly blue. In a nutshell, this tells us that although Assad’s results have been very good, his underlying pitch metrics are not.

Now, we could just call him not legit and move on, but his results warrant a deeper dive. What’s exactly going on here?

Well, it seems like Assad is in a command groove. He has a six-pitch arsenal that he’s been able to place well enough that he’s not only survived his seven starts but thrived.

Assad’s generally a fastball pitcher. His three most used pitches–a sinker, cutter, and four-seam–total 78% of his offerings. Each of those pitches has returned a positive Statcast Run Value this year, despite PLV only grading the cutter as above average. In tandem with those three fastballs, Assad throws a slider, curveball, and changeup sparingly, and once again it’s the same story. Each of those has graded out positively this year in terms of Run Value, but the changeup is the only one that PLV likes.

One thing that’s fueled this run of success for Assad is his ability to stay ahead in counts. He has a true first strike percentage in the 71% percentile of pitchers and has generally been able to stay out of hitters’ counts. If he starts falling behind, he can easily catch back up with his strong ability to command his fastballs. All three of them have strike rates of at least 65%.

As you’d expect with that skillset, Assad doesn’t walk many batters. He’s lowered his walk rate in each of his three seasons in the bigs, from 12% as a rookie to 7.9% in 2024. While he may not have an elite ability at avoiding walks, just having good command buys him plenty of breathing room.

You may be surprised to learn that despite unremarkable stuff, Assad has generated a better-than-average chase rate. He’s gotten hitters to swing at bad pitches, they’re just fouling them off, hence his 81st-percentile foul-strike rate. When hitters are making contact–and it’s happening very often–they just aren’t hitting the ball hard. He’s allowed just a 29.2% ICR which is 92nd percentile.

Verdict: Not Legit, But Usable. Assad is the classic case of a pitcher much more valuable to his real-life team than his fantasy one. Every single MLB team would love a pitcher like Assad at the back of their rotation, but his lack of swing-and-miss stuff keeps his ceiling in fantasy formats relatively low. Command-centric guys can get beat up pretty bad when they’re not in a groove, so Assad is probably best served as one of the last players on your roster in 12-teamers. Reap the rewards of streaming him in good matchups, but don’t hold on too tight because the odds are there are better options than running Assad out there against the game’s top lineups.

Ryan Jeffers, C/DH, Minnesota Twins

It’s impossible to pick a fantasy MVP this early into the season, but Jeffers has inserted himself into that conversation in the early going. The 26-year-old out of UNC Wilmington was largely overlooked in a surprisingly deep catcher pool, and so far his 166 wRC+ is the second-best mark among any qualified backstop. On the year, the Twins’ catcher is slashing .291/.375/.563 with 6 HR, 17 R, 22 RBI, and 1 SB as the cherry on top.

Coming into the season the collective thinking on Jeffers was that even after his breakout 2023 season, he was a solid but unspectacular bat that carried some scary downside due to his high strikeout rate. He punched out 27.8% of the time last season. Six weeks later Jeffers has calmed pretty much all those fears, cutting his strikeout rate over 10 points to 17.5%.

Despite the huge decrease in strikeouts, Jeffers hasn’t been any less aggressive–he’s swinging at nearly an identical rate as he did last year–he’s simply making better swing decisions. He’s cut his chase rate and raised his in-zone swing rate, both by about 2%. PLV loves what what he’s been doing and sees him as having only locked in more as the year has progressed.

Jeffers isn’t just making better swing decisions, but he’s also addressed his biggest weakness from last year: four-seamers. In 2023, Jeffers generated a -4 run value against four-seamers, hitting just .253 against them with a .368 SLG. Opposing pitchers knew he struggled against the fastball and used it to punch him out often. This year he’s looking so much better against four-seamers, hitting them to the tune of .313 with a .656 SLG. He’s also cut both his whiff and put-away rates against the pitch by double digits.

Verdict: Legit. It’s safe to expect Jeffers to cool off a bit, but his underlying skills look really strong. If you have Jeffers rostered, hold on and enjoy the ride. If you don’t, he’s still available in 48% of ESPN leagues and 27% of Yahoo! leagues. I believe in this enough that I’d even consider making a trade offer for Jeffers if you’re hurting at catcher and his current manager has the depth to give him up.

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from every fantasy league format you can imagine to the unending greatness of Mike Trout. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

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