Performance Report: 5/8

Digging a little deeper to find those elusive steals

How often do you check your league standings? How much weight do you let those standings have on your decisions with add/drops? This is especially challenging as you find yourself in the hole in categories like Saves and especially Stolen Bases. We are at the point in the season where standings must be taken into account and strategies must shift. Injured players and ice cold players could be taking up valuable space on your roster.

As much as it might hurt… You might have to part ways with someone you really loved a month ago.

Wait just a second though! Before you go and rage drop that pitcher who you’ve watched torpedo your ratios one too many times, or that batter in funk at the plate, make sure you take a minute to look into their underlying numbers.

Allow me to spin a somewhat ludicrous, yet cautionary tale. I played in my first keeper league in 2011 and I had no idea what I was getting in to. In July that year, the Angels called up a hot young prospect named Mike Trout (ever heard of him?). He proceeded to lay a giant egg in his first major league action to the tune of a .220/.281/.390 triple slash. The owner claimed that Trout’s poor play cost him the league and he was so mad about it that he dropped him!

While this is hopefully not something an educated Pitcher List reader would ever do, I know that sometimes mistakes can be made. In light of that, let’s look beneath the surface stats at a few players this week to better inform ourselves before making any rash decisions.


Isiah Kiner-Falefa


I love looking on “bad” teams or offenses for value and overlooked players. Sometimes an offense is so bad that you really do want to completely steer clear (Cleveland got shutout again yesterday… yeesh), but other times there are decent enough fantasy options on bad teams. A lot of the time, these players are good bets to retain playing time even in a slump because the roster is not nearly as competitive as it could be elsewhere.

With this in mind, let’s look at Texas Rangers SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He first entered the majors in 2018 as a catcher and since then has been shuttled to 3B and this year settled in as the Rangers’ everyday SS. His offensive numbers have never been eye-popping, but the team has been committed to finding him a spot in the lineup.

Up until this season, Kiner-Falefa has been the type of guy who won’t hurt you in any categories, but not necessarily win you one either. He hits for a decent average and has a low strikeout rate, but more importantly to fantasy he chips in with some sneaky speed. While his sprint speed is only in the 72nd percentile, Kiner-Falefa always seems to get the green light and makes the most of it on the basepaths. In just 211 at bats in 2020 he had eight stolen bases and this year he is already up to six in 136 at bats.

Power can not be counted on to be a carrying tool with Kiner-Falefa. The optimist will look at his five HR already this season and disagree with me. However, I look at his Statcast numbers and can’t find anything that paints a picture of a power breakout looming. His barrel percentage, launch angle, and exit velocity are all indicating we are looking at a guy with 10-15 HR power rather than someone who might exceed 20+. The most condemning piece of evidence could actually be his current ridiculous HR/FB rate of 20%. There’s no way that’s sustainable when you consider his career mark had been 7.7%.

I know I just threw some cold water on Kiner-Falefa, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable by any stretch. You just need to have right-sized expectations. What he won’t be is a player who will bat .280 with 20-25 HR and 160 Runs plus RBI. Yet, he is a player who could sneakily get you 20+ steals while padding your counting numbers and chipping in the occasional HR. Of course, your league size is a factor here. He’s not a very appealing starter in a shallow league, but in deeper leagues he is a great glue guy for your roster and the multi-positional eligibility will become more important as injuries continue to pile up across the league.

Verdict: BUY – don’t overpay for the power though


Taijuan Walker


This week’s matchup against the Cardinals was a big step in the right direction for Taijuan Walker. He only gave up one run on one hit, struck out eight batters, and went for seven innings. This is incredibly encouraging for a pitcher who hasn’t thrown for significant innings since 2017 due to his recovery from TJ surgery.

Up to this past start, I had been watching Walker with some concern. Not including the aforementioned start against the Cardinals, he had been walking batters at 5.0 BB/9 through five games. It would seem that Walker is making some strides in the command of his pitches. If he is able to maintain these gains, we could be looking at a solid pitcher who can strikeout a batter an inning with the ability to regularly go 6-7 innings without a large threat of the blowup games.

The only hesitation I still have is simply seeing Walker string together a few starts like this. His ERA is 2.38 while his xERA is sitting at 3.93 right now. That’s not a terrible ERA by any stretch, but it’s enough to give me just a little pause before buying in. I would not fault any pitcher hungry fantasy owners for being aggressive and going after Walker in a trade right now. For me, I need to see at least one more start with the walks down before committing too much.



Tyler O’Neill


Since coming off the IL and being reinserted into the starting lineup, Tyler O’Neill has hit four home runs, stolen three bases, and hit for a line of .292/.333/.583. The speed and the power here are legit tools for O’Neill, but he has always had a really hard time keeping down his strikeouts and making consistent contact. At times, O’Neill has just looked lost at the plate.

So here is where things get interesting, in his last 14 games O’Neill has shown some improvements in both his penchant for striking out as well as his contact in general. On the year, the amount of pitches he is swinging at in the zone has risen from 68.5% to 76.2%. These are small changes for sure, but it’s exactly what you want to see when you have a power/speed threat like O’Neill.

Outside of Dylan Carlson, O’Neill has the highest fantasy upside of any player in that outfield. Be that as it may, the Cardinals are playing to win this year and they seem to like to play musical chairs with their outfield. For that reason, if O’Neill hits a cold stretch, he could cede time to Lane Thomas or Justin Williams. Even still, he is a guy that I am looking to acquire in leagues where I need a power/speed boost and where I don’t care about taking a hit to my OBP (2.5 BB% so far this year).

Verdict: BUY


Josh Naylor


Earlier I talked about looking at bad teams and finding some of those overlooked value pieces to fill out your roster with at-bats. Well, Cleveland might be the exception to that. Outside of José Ramírez, their major league roster is pretty bad. They have a couple of post-hype interesting names worth watching like Amed Rosario and Franmil Reyes. Beyond those guys there is not much else to see here.

One guy in particular I’m seeing pop up here and there is Josh Naylor. If I’m being honest, I sort of want him to become a thing. He has massive raw power and has even shown the ability to walk while not striking out a ton in his minor league career. His problem is that he can’t seem to hit offspeed or breaking pitches and really struggles against lefties with just a .179 AVG this season. In addition to this, while his max exit velocity is in the 95th percentile, his average exit velocity is in the 67th. This means that while he does have that big raw power, he just hasn’t been able to tap into it in games consistently yet.

Unless you are in a deep league, Naylor probably isn’t even on your radar. So, he is likely not someone you are very concerned about owning. I don’t think I can really recommend selling him since there probably isn’t even a market to begin with, and I can’t advise buying him because he still needs to work through some holes in his game. I do think there is value though in looking at players like this (even on terrible offenses) and at least filing the name away somewhere just in case they show improvements.




Photo by Mick Haupt/Unsplash | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Gabe Zammit

Gabe Zammit has been writing about baseball since 2017. He is a contributor on Pitcher List in addition to Friends with Fantasy Benefits. Outside of the baseball world, Gabe is a music director and producer and loves to chat about anything and everything music.

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