Is It Legit? Joe Ryan, Yandy Diaz, Brent Rooker

What can we expect from these three players going forward?

There really is nowhere to hide now. Five weeks into the season, we have a better sense of what we can expect from a majority of players across the fantasy baseball landscape. That’s not to say that players can’t improve or fall apart. That’s why we do this exercise. Nothing is written in stone.


Joe Ryan, SP, Minnesota Twins


Ryan was fairly unheralded as a prospect before his rookie year in 2022. He barely cracked the Top 100 on the major lists. In retrospect, Ryan may have deserved a bit more love in his younger years with a 2.63 ERA and 330 strikeouts in 229 minor-league innings.

Last season, Ryan did not get any love in the Rookie of the Year voting but probably deserved at least a little bit of praise. He went 13-8 with a 3.55 ERA and a 151:47 K:BB ratio in 147 innings. His 2.1 fWAR was higher than fellow rookie hurlers Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and MacKenzie Gore.

Still, he was more average than good last season. His fastball was excellent, but his secondary pitches were pretty hittable. His slider, curveball, and changeup had a combined .269 batting average against and he threw them nearly 40% of the time. It was clear that would have to improve if his success was going to continue this season.

So far, Ryan is on that track. His fastball is still riding strong with a .200 batting average against but he’s slightly lowered its usage as his secondaries have improved. He has added a nearly unhittable splitter that he throws 27% of the time and a strong slider that has a 15% usage. All three of his pitches have been highly effective this season with each one near a 30% whiff rate. His 15.5% swinging strike rate and 31.3% CSW are both among the best in the league.

His profile is not spotless. His velocity is below league average across the board with his splitter nearly a full 3 mph slower than most. Based on his track record, that’s unlikely to improve since Ryan has always been more of a finesse pitcher than a fireballer. And while he’s shown an elite ability to hit his spots and avoid contact, when hitters do connect, they’re getting all of it. He’s giving up a ton of hard contact.

Verdict: Mostly Legit. Ryan gave up some hard contact at times last year, too, but not at the rate we’ve seen so far this season. Considering the improvement in his repertoire, expect some positive regression in that category. Added to that, his career-best 3.3% walk rate continues to showcase his remarkable control.

That being said, Ryan is pitching a bit over his head. His phenomenal 36.7% chase rate is likely to regress a least a little closer (but not necessarily all the way) to his career 28.4% mark. Also, his elevated 37.8% ground ball rate has put a lot of the onus on his defense, which helps explain the disparity between his 2.57 xERA and his 3.30 xFIP. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.


Yandy Díaz, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays


How many players have the best year of their career going into their seventh season at 31 years old? Not many, but that’s where we’re headed this season with Diaz. Normally, it would be enough to make this an open-and-shut case of “Not Legit” and we could just move to the next guy on the list. You’re free to do that, if you’d like. You’re not a captive audience. I can’t force you to read everything I write. But it would be a mistake.

Diaz has always had the tools to succeed, but he’s rarely ever been put in a position to do so. He was a part-time player in his first two seasons with Cleveland before being shipped off to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the Rays were every bit as platoon-happy in 2019 as they are today and Diaz only saw a minor bump in playing time.

Far be it from me to criticize the managerial decisions of executives who know far more about the game than I do, but forcing Diaz into a small role has always seemed like a mistake. Outside of his rookie year, Diaz has never posted a wRC+ lower than 111. In his six seasons before 2023, Diaz had a slash line of .278/.372/.411 and has consistently posted strikeout rates, walk rates, and exit velocities that rank him among the very best in the leagueall the primary factors that we use to rate the top players.

Diaz has never struggled to make contact or hit the ball hard. His problem (outside of questionable defense) was the way he hit it. For Diaz, even managing a league-average launch angle in any season would have been a success. In 2020, he actually averaged a -7.9 launch angle. Yes, you read that right. Negative. More often than not, Diaz was smacking the ball hard and straight into the ground. His groundball rate has hovered just under 55% for most of his career. Regardless of how hard he hits the ball (and it’s very hard), it doesn’t do much good if you can’t elevate it.

Oh, just what could he do with a strong launch angle?

Well, we’re finding out. With a launch angle this season of 10.8 degrees, Diaz is on pace for over 30 home runs and nearly 200 combined runs and RBI. Most importantly, he’s maintained the plate discipline and eye for the ball that made him so intriguing in the first place. He’s hitting .319/.420/.585.

Verdict: Legit. Diaz has been trending in this direction for a couple years. Obviously, 2020 was rock bottom for him when it came to launch angle, but he’s made a concerted effort to improve. He had a career-best 6.6-degree angle in 2021 and then improved even more last season to 7.8. He’s made another step forward this year to 10.8 degrees and he still has room to grow. The league average launch angle is 12.1 and the ideal range is generally believed to be between 15-20. But when you hit the ball as hard as Diaz does, something slightly less than ideal is just fine.

Hitting the ball hard continues to be Diaz’s best quality. His hard-hit rate has risen to a career-best 58.2%. His average exit velocity is 95.7 mph and his max EV is 114.5 mphboth top 10% in the league. His groundball rate is down to 43%, which puts him in line with the league average. And that’s the best part. Diaz just needs to take his elite contact skills and become league-average everywhere else to be a star.

Thankfully, the Rays are giving him the playing time he has so rightly deserved. He’s an everyday player now and he’s making the most of it.


Brent Rooker, OF, Oakland Athletics


If you never heard of Brent Rooker before this season, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Rooker played a total of 81 games over three years for three different teams before 2023 and accomplished little of note. His best season was 2021 with Minnesota when he slashed .201/.291/.397 with nine home runs over 189 at-bats. That came with a ghastly 70:15 K:BB ratioa 32.9% strikeout rate.

That was his best season until now.

To say that Rooker has been turning heads is putting it mildly. Playing for Oakland has given him a path to far more consistent playing time than he’s ever had before in the majors. And he’s starting to bring over some of the tools that once made him a Top 100 prospect and have helped him establish success in the minors.

In five minor league seasons, Rooker hit .269/.366/.543 with 102 home runs in 1,493 at-bats. That equates to around 35+ home runs per every 550 at-bats, which is usually what we can expect from a full-time hitter in the majors. His elite minor-league ISO numbers show just how special his bat has been at Triple-A: .254 in 2019, .318 in 2021, and .360 in 2022. He led ALL players in the minors last season in ISO and was second overall in wRC+ with 154.

Some of that production is finally carrying over to the majors. Through the first five weeks, Rooker is hitting .353/.465/.779 with 9 home runs and 22 RBI. Right now, he leads every single player in the major leagues in ISO at .426 and wRC+ at 238.

Verdict: Not Legit. I’m sorry A’s fans, but your team has not discovered the next Barry Bonds. We should always be willing to consider whether or not a player has made improvements to his profile, but you have to work within the bounds of reality. Bonds, for example, only twice had an ISO above .426. The league average generally falls around .140 and Aaron Judge led all qualified players last year at .375 while hitting an AL-record 62 home runs. Only two qualified players have finished with a wRC+ over 200 since 2015.

Surprisingly, Rooker is not making a ton more contact than normal. His contact rates both inside and outside the zone are not only below the league average, but below his own career average as well. It’s the quality of contact where he’s getting value. His barrel rate of 24.1% is in the league’s 98th percentile. Last year, in a limited sample, it was just 4.8%. And when he does connect, he’s putting the ball up into the air with an average 19-degree launch angle that is getting the absolute most out of his natural power.

Making improvements is one thing, but playing so abnormally outside your career norms as a 28-year-old journeyman is something else. While there’s little doubt that Rooker is in line for the best season of his career, don’t expect production anywhere near the pace he’s currently at. Rooker will cool off and pitchers will adjust their approach. He reminds me a lot of Taylor Ward who also got off to a surprisingly scorching start last season before coming down to earth. Ward remains a quality bat even now, but still nothing compared to the way he played through the first two months of the season. Enjoy Rooker’s ride while it lasts.



Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams.

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