While we’ve already passed the 60-game mark, this is not 2020, which means we still have a whole three and a half months remaining (thank goodness!). That means there’s still plenty of time for slumping hitters to break out, and for early-season stars to become late-season goats. While each individual player’s value will be different depending on your league format, I’ve tried to provide enough context to inform your outlook on two on-fire hitters and one breakout pitcher and help differentiate goat from G.O.A.T.
Jean Segura has been the Phillies’ most reliable hitter over their recent winning streak, most notably delivering the walk-off hit in two consecutive games over the weekend. Segura’s 2021 numbers have put him firmly in consideration for an All-Star selection, and have endeared him to his fantasy teams as he’s batted .339/.389/.475 with three home runs, six steals, 24 runs and 20 RBI in 47 games so far. Currently hitting second, right in front of J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in the Phillies’ lineup, Segura should pad his counting stats and maximize his plate appearances in this favorable spot in the order. Segura is no spring chicken; at the age of 31 and enjoying his tenth season in the Majors, we generally know what we’re getting out of him. An excellent contact hitter who has been one of the faster players in the league for most of his career, Segura can usually be trusted to put up a good batting average while also helping out in steals. He’s kind of the prototypical old school middle infielder. So has Segura achieved a new skill level with his early season performance, is good fortune driving his success, or is the answer somewhere in between? Looking at the numbers, we see a profile of a player who has been the picture of consistency over the course of his career. For example, Segura’s chase rate, 35.0%, is identical to his career mark. His swing rate and contact rate are well within his normal range of outcomes. That said, Segura hasn’t been stuck in neutral, but has made a few notable improvements in 2021. For one, Segura is taking off on the bases more often than he ever has as a Phillie. Having gone six for six in attempts so far, Segura’s success on the bases should earn trust from the Phillies to receive the green light in the future, and if he keeps up this pace he should be in line for eighteen attempts which he could convert into fifteen or sixteen steals. Another improvement Segura has made, which started last season and which he’s been able to sustain, is incremental improvement in his hard hit rate.
So, Segura is a prototypical contact hitter who’s also hitting for a bit more pop, what’s not to like? For one, that high BABIP is likely to regress (the projections give him a .320 BABIP going forward), and his wOBA/xwOBA discrepancy (.364 wOBA versus a .317 xwOBA) does suggest he’s gotten relatively lucky in his batted balls this season. As luck evens out throughout the season, look for Segura to see a modest drop from the torrid hitting pace, while still hitting for a good average.
Verdict: LEGIT. Segura is a valuable player in virtually all formats, as long as you know what you’re getting. While he’s not likely to finish among the home run leaders, look for Segura to finish somewhere around 70 runs, 13 homers, 60 RBI, 15 steals, with a .295 BA and .350 OBP. No single stat completely blows you away, but the cumulative production is plenty valuable for most leagues.
It seemed like Luis Garcia’s success came out of nowhere. At the end of 2019, he was striking out the world in High A as a 22 year old. After spending most of the 2020 season at the alternate site, Garcia has already broken through in a big way with the Astros this season. The results have been impressive: 11 GS, 63.1 IP, 72 Ks, 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 5 wins at this point roughly one third of the way into the season. The shape of Garcia’s production has also reassured fantasy managers to stick with him, as he hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in a single start. Garcia’s 20.3% K%-BB% ranks 25th among all pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched in 2021, and puts him in a class with big names such as Lance Lynn (21.2%), Tyler Mahle (20.4%), José Berríos (19.6%) and Walker Buehler (19.6%). Garcia has put up these numbers despite facing stiff competition. He has faced softer-hitting divisional opponents such as the Mariners and Rangers only once apiece this season while contending with a murderer’s row of the Twins, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Dodgers in his most recent four starts. Despite the quality of these opponents, Garcia emerged from that tough stretch with excellent stats: a 3-1 record, a 2.31 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP with 25 Ks over 23.1 IP. Garcia has succeeded because he has above average stuff and a five pitch mix highlighted by an excellent cutter and slider. His decision to boost his usage of the cutter from 9.9% to 21.1% has been his biggest pitch mix change in 2021, and it has paid off in a big way, as the cutter has been his best putaway pitch in 2021 (32.3%). The slider is actually his best pitch based on movement, and he has increased the vertical and horizontal movement on the offering this season. Batters are only generating a 69.2% in-zone contact rate on the slider, so he can use it effectively inside and outside of the strike zone.
Looking for holes in Garcia’s strong start, we can point to some likely overperformance with his BABIP (.243) and Strand Rate (83.3%), and he’s somewhat vulnerable to lefty-heavy lineups, as as they’ve batted .267/.312/.485 against him, but none of these blemishes are enough to indicate significant regression is coming for him. With Lance McCullers scheduled to return from the IL to start on Tuesday, the Astros are looking at moving to a six-man rotation to weather this grinding stretch where they will play 20 games in 20 days. At the conclusion of this three-week push, it’s possible the team may stick with a six-man rotation, or might jettison a pitcher to the bullpen. It seems unlikely to me that Garcia would be demoted, however, as Jake Odorizzi has had a rough start to the season, and would be my choice to get a cut in playing time, if necessary.
Verdict: LEGIT. While breakout players like Garcia are often deemed untradeable by the happy managers who rostered them, it’s not impossible that a manager in your fantasy league may not want to take on the risk of a potential bullpen move down the line, and may be willing to make Garcia available in a trade. I think this would present a nice “buy high” opportunity. Based on his combination of five pitches, command and stuff, I think he is a good bet to outperform his projections, which have him putting up a four-something ERA and a WHIP in the neighborhood of 1.30. I project him for a 3.75 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over the rest of the season with a 26-27% K%, numbers you’ll be more than happy to have.
Jake Fraley has been a revelation these last few weeks for Seattle. In thirteen games since returning from a hamstring strain, the bearded Mariner popped four homers and swiped three bases, while hitting for a .258 batting average (.458 OBP). What can fantasy managers expect from Fraley going forward? Although there’s not a lot we can reliably take from such a small sample size of plate appearances, the fact that Fraley has been running wild on the bases is a promising sign. While he’s not an elite burner (62nd percentile spring speed), he’s wily enough to have stolen four bases without being caught, and he has a minor league track record that supports his ability to steal effectively in the majors (he stole 22 bases in 29 attempts in 99 games between AA and AAA in 2019, a 76% success rate). Looking at his power tools, the early returns are inconclusive. One one hand, Fraley hit a 112.2 mph batted ball, good for 87th percentile in the league, last season, and is currently posting a respectable 9.7% barrel rate. On the other hand, Fraley’s hard hit rate of 19.4% leaves much to be desired at this point, as that number would put him near the bottom of the league. While his power is in question, Fraley indisputably posseses elite plate discipline. With a very low swing rate (36.2%) and an almost impossibly low chase rate (14.3%), Fraley’s ability to discern balls from strikes helps him wait on a pitch he can handle. When he has swung the bat, Fraley is making more contact, as his swinging strike rate is at 8.9% so far this season, compared to 13.3% in 2020 and 12.2% in 2019. These numbers paint a profile of a hitter in a similar mold to teammate J.P. Crawford or to Cavan Biggio–patient hitters with great eyes at the plate and questionable power–which provides a ballpark estimation of the range of outcomes to expect for Fraley going forward this season.
Verdict: IT DEPENDS. With improving contact skills, as well as plate discipline and speed, Fraley’s skill foundation gives him many paths to value for most fantasy teams. He is a must-roster in OBP leagues, but I would exercise some patience in shallower leagues before dropping a slumping star to pick him up.
Featured Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)