Is It Legit?: Eddie Rosario and Nolan Jones

Is it just a hot stretch or something more?

This is the hardest time of the year to find meaningful contributors on the waiver wire. Yes, I truly believe that just before the All-Star break is the toughest time to be a fantasy baseball manager.

We’re far enough into the season that most breakout candidates have been identified and picked up already. A lot of top prospects have already debuted and found a fantasy home — hopefully on your team. Baseball is the biggest sport in play right now. With fantasy football draft season still about a month from kicking off, managers are still pouring most of their focus into their fantasy baseball teams hoping to either keep the good times rolling or to right the ship before it’s too late.

With it being trickier than ever to manage your fantasy teams, let’s dive into four hot performers and see if we can identify them as legitimate or not. Hopefully, we can find some actionable ways for you to improve your fantasy squads in the process.

Eddie Rosario, OF, Atlanta Braves

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen Eddie Rosario as an exciting fantasy option, but he’s looked like a strong contributor at the plate again over the past two months.

When you think of Rosario, his phenomenal run with the Braves in the 2021 second half probably comes to mind. He slashed .271/.330/.573 over 106 plate appearances as Atlanta caught fire entering the playoffs. Once the postseason began, he actually got even better and raised his slash line to .383/.456/.617 on the national stage, won the NLCS MVP, and played an enormous role in the Braves’ World Series championship.

If we go back a little bit further to his time as a Minnesota Twin, Rosario was actually a very consistent fantasy contributor, posting four straight seasons from 2017-2020 as a solid batting average, runs, and RBI source. When he left Minnesota — aside from that aforementioned second half of 2021 — his numbers cratered and he pretty quickly became a platoon bat.

Starting in 2021, Rosario began swinging more often but making less contact; a deadly combination for any hitter. Pair that with a declining barrel rate and you have a recipe for a huge step down in his performance level.

Now’s the time you’re probably expecting me to dive really deep into his numbers to explain how he’s turned things back around, but I think things are a whole lot more simple than that.

Early in the 2022 season, the Braves noticed something was off with Rosario. He wasn’t even hitting the ball well in the batting cage or in soft toss drills according to Kevin Seitzer, the Braves’ hitting coach. They sent him to an eye specialist who recommended laser surgery to fix swelling and blurred vision in his right eye. He spent over two months on the IL and returned to the team last July. He still struggled as his vision continued to adjust and he worked on finding contact lenses that worked best for him.

The results never showed on the field last season, but now a year removed from the surgery, it seems like Rosario is back to his old self. He struggled out of the gate, but since April 24th he’s slashing .307/.363/.591. His 152 wRC+ during that period is the 10th-best mark among all hitters. If we narrow down the dates even more, Rosario’s been on an absolute tear in the month of June. In 81 plate appearances, he has eight home runs, 17 runs, 19 RBI, and a 219 wRC+.

On top of the vision improvements, Rosario’s also one of the hitters most benefitting from the shift ban. He was shifted 83.6% of the time in 2022 and his wOBA fell from .341 with no shift to .240 with the shift.

Verdict: Legit. Can this really be as simple as Rosario being plagued by vision problems? I think so. Only a player can ever truly know the effect an injury or physical ailment is having on their performance, but looking at the numbers I think I buy into this explanation. It’s supported by team sources in the MLB.com article I linked above, and his peripheral numbers also suggest it’s true. Rosario has an 11.6% barrel rate this year, more than double what it was last year and almost four points above his previous career high. If his vision is better, it tracks that he should be hitting the ball better and he is. Rosario also has new career bests across the board in exit velocity – MaxEV, Average EV, and Flyball EV.

Rosario isn’t going to be a league-winning pickup, but if you need outfield help he’s certainly worth a spot in most formats. He’s available in 72% of ESPN leagues and 29% of Yahoo! leagues.

Nolan Jones, OF, Colorado Rockies

It’s looking like yet another disappointing season for the Rockies and their fans, but the big bright spot of the campaign has been Nolan Jones. Last November, Colorado acquired him from Cleveland in a trade for Juan Brito. It’s still way too early to make a definitive call on the deal — Brito’s just in Double-A but is performing well there — but early returns are certainly favorable for the Rockies.

In Jones’ first 110 plate appearances with Colorado, his triple slash line stands at .316/.391/.551 to go along with five home runs, 13 runs, 14 RBI, and five stolen bases. He made his season debut on May 26th, and over that period his 140 wRC+ is the 35th best among MLB hitters.

One of the best parts about Jones’ game is his power ability. It was one of his calling cards as a prospect and PLV loves what he’s doing in the early goings of his big-league career.

That’s elite levels of power right there. That kind of power profile playing half their games in Coors Field? That’s something fantasy managers usually only dream about. Jones clearly has the raw ability to keep up his strong production, but there are a few areas of concern for the rookie.

The first thing that jumps off the page is his propensity to strike out. That’s pretty standard with hitters of Jones’ ilk. He’s currently punching out 31.8% of the time, a mark over nine points above league average. The interesting thing with Jones is that a lot of those strikeouts aren’t just because he’s swinging and missing, they’re also because he’s not swinging. Jones is offering at just 38.8% of pitches he sees, a rate that puts him in the bottom fourth percentile of hitters. That allows pitchers to pump strikes into the zone to get ahead of him in the count, and then when he’s forced to swing, he misses more than he should. His 31.6% whiff rate is nearly seven points above the league average rate.

Being a patient hitter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We see hitters like Juan Soto and Yandy Díaz thrive with some of the lowest swing rates in the league, but they also run contact rates significantly higher than what Jones is doing now. Combining a patient approach with low-contact ability isn’t a recipe for success.

The final thing I’ll mention about Jones is something that jumps off his player page as soon as you open it — his .448 BABIP. That certainly won’t stick for long. In fact, it’s already fallen 53 points from where it was a week ago. In that time his BABIP has fallen from .511 to .448, and as you’d expect, his wRC+ has also fallen considerably from 173 to 140.

Verdict: Not Legit. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but Jones’ success with his current approach just isn’t sustainable in the long run. We’re talking about stats over a small sample size (110 PA) so they’re going to change very very quickly. A bad week or two from Jones could make his really great batting line look very pedestrian. If you’re rostering Jones, I’d look to sell high in re-draft leagues. In dynasty formats, I’d hold on, as I love how his power could play in Coors and adjustments to his approach will certainly help his long-term outlook.

Julio Teheran, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

It’s safe to say one of the strangest storylines of the season has been Julio Teheran re-emerging as a solid starting pitcher. In 35.1 innings, the former All-Star has a 1.53 ERA and 0.88 WHIP.

Teheran is only striking out 17.6% of hitters, so the driving force behind those incredible ratios is great batted-ball results. The Brewers rate as the second-best defensive team in baseball with 16 Outs Above Average. That surely adds a touch of legitimacy to the results, but clearly, his .211 BABIP and 90.3% LOB% won’t stick long-term. On the plus side, Teheran’s shown fabulous control. He’s walking just 6.1% of batters which is crucial for a guy who isn’t punching out many hitters.

Verdict: Not Legit. This one seems like a pretty clear flash in the pan. He’s a fine depth piece for the Brewers, but relying on him as one of the team’s regular starters is really risky. Teheran is tossing his sinker and four-seamer half of the time and they have measly CSW% rates of 24.2% and 19.7%, respectively. As you may expect, PLV is not a fan. His 4.93 PLV is in the 21st percentile of starting pitchers. Most of his ERA estimators agree. He has a 3.92 FIP, 4.69 SIERRA, and 3.54 xERA.

Spencer Steer, 1B/3B, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ shocking run of success, as well as the immediate stardom of Elly De La Cruz, has left Spencer Steer to fly under the radar in his rookie season. The 25-year-old corner infielder has been phenomenal, slashing .274/.361/.477 with 11 home runs, 40 runs, 43 RBI, and eight stolen bases.

Steer had a small cup of coffee with the big-league club last year, and he struggled with just a .632 OPS and 24.1% strikeout rate in that limited 108 plate appearance run, but he’s been able to put those struggles behind him during his first full season against MLB pitching. Steer always showed good plate discipline in the minor leagues, and he’s doing that again, dropping his strikeout rate by nearly six points down to 18.2% this season and posting a chase rate in the 89th percentile of hitters.

When Steer hits the ball, he’s hitting it pretty well. His 27.8% hard contact rate is above league average and is a nice compliment to his 86th-percentile flyball rate. He’s pulled all but one of his home runs, which is interesting given just his 36.2% pull rate, but his spray chart on Baseball Savant shows he’s been driving the ball for hits all over the field, just not necessarily over the wall in right.

Verdict: Legit. Steer has been all kinds of impressive as a rookie, and I think he’ll just get better. I love hitters that come up with solid plate discipline as it feels they have more margin for error, and Steer has actually gotten even better with his plate discipline over the course of the year. PLV likes him pretty much across the board, and for good reason, check out all that red on his profile page.

Steer is pretty widely rostered already. He’s available in just 29% of ESPN leagues and 17% of Yahoo! leagues. You may not be able to just pick him up anymore, but I’d even consider targeting him in a trade if you need corner infield help. He may also gain outfield eligibility soon with Joey Votto healthy and taking over a lot of playing time at first base.

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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