The MLB season is a long one. With 162 games on the schedule, it requires hard work, dedication, and a commitment to excellence in order to succeed. Over such an extended period, players may find an increased rate of success/failure by doing things incredibly well/poorly in small bunches, all leading to their cumulative season statistics.
It is crucial to spot a player on a hot/cold streak and whether they’re earning their outcome. In this piece, I’ll examine several players on streaks and what’s happening behind the scenes; to discover if they truly earned their fortune. Furthermore, correctly identifying which players to utilize will enhance a fantasy manager’s edge. With that in mind, here are some streaky players worth risking it over.
Matt Vierling (PHI)
9/11 – 9/24 (37 PA): .382 AVG, 4 R, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB
The Philadelphia Phillies have had a tumultuous season filled with drama. Whether or not they’re streaking themselves, they’ve had their fair share of good times and bad ones. What’s been a steady force for them all year, mind you, has been their ability to find a replacement for any of the injuries or underperforming players they’ve had in their lineups. Matt Vierling has been a shining example of this, as he’s filled in admirably when needed. More recently, he has seen consistent playing time due to injuries in the outfield and has seen an uptick in performance as well as at-bats. In that time, he’s made a few adjustments at the plate, and the results are outstanding.
With more of an opportunity to play, Vierling is obviously seeing the ball quite well out of the pitchers’ hands. While he’s been striking out less and putting the bat to the ball more often over the last fourteen days, it’s extending back even further. And while whiffing less is an obviously positive thing for a batter to do, it’s what he’s doing with the ball when he makes contact that matters most. Vierling has lowered his groundball rate considerably while also lifting the ball in the air and putting it in play. His recent performance against the Blue Jays where he had five hits in a game was a prime example of just how locked into the zone he is right now.
Franzke’s call of Matt Vierling’s first career walk off pic.twitter.com/Hi9VquqoLS
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) September 22, 2022
Conclusion: Matt Vierling has played his way into the Phillies’ lineup and has earned everyday at-bats for the team as they head towards the playoffs. With both Brandon Marsh and Nick Castellanos both currently mending and playing through injuries, there’s an opportunity here for him to close out the season as a staple in their lineup and someone that can be relied on for batting average help down the stretch.
J.T. Realmuto (PHI)
9/11 – 9/24 (45 PA): .304 AVG, 9 R, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB
The catcher landscape is such a volatile one that there are still not enough reliable options for fantasy owners to use within a given league. It’s nice to know that there are still some players that can be counted on for continued success, and J.T. Realmuto is one of them. Over the past fourteen days, vintage Realmuto has been back and alive for all to see, as his power and speed combination makes him one of the most valuable players in the game, given how much more valuable he is than most others at his position. He is locked in, seeing the ball well, and has been on fire for quite a while.
Conclusion: Realmuto is someone that can and should be trusted to not just be drafted, but remain in your lineup on a daily basis without any long-term worries. He’s a borderline five-category player at a position where finding stability at all categories is nearly impossible. As the Phillies push through down the stretch towards the playoffs, this sort of production should continue.
Brandon Woodruff (MIL)
9/11 – 9/24 (20.0 IP): 1.80 ERA, 13 H, 4 BB, 32 SO, 3 W
The Milwaukee Brewers entered the season with pitching as their strength, yet it has been anything but that for most of the season. Brandon Woodruff himself struggled to start the season, but since he’s returned from an ankle injury in late spring, he’s quietly been one of the league’s best pitchers. His three outings over the last two weeks may have been his best as he’s really coming into his own as of late. Over two games against the Reds and one against the Yankees, he provided double-digit strikeouts in each game, a CSW no less than 32%, and a WHIP no greater than 1.00 in each contest.
Conclusion: Woodruff should be counted on down the stretch to not only pitch well but possibly provide fantasy-playoff-winning performances for those using him as the season comes to a close. Even though he struggled to being the year and battled through an injury, there’s no doubt that he’s an SP1 on most teams and worth that designation.
Oneil Cruz (PIT)
9/11 – 9/24 (53 PA): .109 AVG, 5 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB
Oneil Cruz made headlines this time last year when he debuted and hit the ball harder than most ever have. His draft price was subsequently raised, and fantasy owners were disappointed once he started the season in the minors. Since his eventual call-up to the Pirates, he has flashed his power, his defensive prowess, and more, with highlight after highlight, which has made him a fan favorite. Digging a little bit deeper past the flashiness, there are a lot of concerning red flags here in the entire package that will need to be addressed in the upcoming offseason. His last fourteen days have been great for his counting stats, but they’ve also been more concerning than they have been positive.
While striking out isn’t something new to any prospect in the majors, one as big as this isn’t always something that’s easy to hide. While in the minor leagues, Cruz’s strikeout rate dropped every year since 2019 until it reached a very pleasing rate of 22.7% earlier this year before his call-up. Since his arrival, mind you, that rate has soared to just under 40%, with no heightened end in sight, given his last fourteen days. What makes it even more concerning is that he has lowered his swings of pitches outside of the strike zone and is waiting for his pitches inside of the strike zone, which is a more patient approach. In that time, his overall strikeout rate has actually risen as he seems almost lost at the plate, not knowing what to do. This could be considered an adjustment that he’s made to big league pitching, and it’s not working. In fact, his 24 strikeouts over the past two weeks are tied for most in all of baseball, and far above most everyone else.
Conclusion: The future is undoubtedly bright for Oneil Cruz and the Pirates. He has unmitigated power with the bat and star power with his abilities. While that is something to look forward to for fans everywhere, the current product that Cruz is producing on a daily basis is someone not worth rostering until he figured out how to effectively get more hits than he currently is.
Gerrit Cole (NYY)
9/11 – 9/24 (17.0 IP): 6.35 ERA, 13 H, 7 BB, 26 SO, 1 W
Gerrit Cole has struggled over the past two weeks, with the timing of it being quite inconvenient for fantasy owners. While he’s still racking up strikeouts at a pace reminiscent of his old self, he can’t seemingly keep runs from being scored, specifically due to the long ball. Over the past two weeks, it’s his fastball that’s been the culprit of the power uptick, as it’s surrendered six home runs over a paltry 38 plate appearances. It could be bad luck or the product of bad location, considering the fastball still provided more than half of his accumulated strikeouts, but it’s still concerning nonetheless as every run surrendered means even more in the fantasy playoffs.
Conclusion: Gerrit Cole should not be benched down the stretch, as he is still open of the league’s best pitchers. That said, fantasy owners may want to have a more complete or adequate backup plan for the rest of their rotation in case his struggles to keep the ball in the park continue to happen. Depending on how the Yankees want to utilize their rotation, he should pitch twice more this season, with games against two of the Blue Jays, the Orioles, and the Rangers.
Jose Miranda (MIN)
9/11 – 9/24 (55 PA): .200 AVG, 5 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB
Jose Miranda has been one of the reasons that the Minnesota Twins remained as competitive as they did for so long, despite the number of injuries the team sustained. Overall, he’s been a success story in fantasy too, but over his past fourteen days, he’s been anything but. He’s struggling to get on base, while at the plate, he’s been scuffling to do much of anything productive. Digging a little deeper, he may be trying to force the issue, as he has grounded into a double play seven times over the past two weeks and eleven times overall in September. In fact, his groundball rate has jumped up twelve percentage points since the start of July.
Conclusion: While it’s unknown whether or not pitchers have adjusted to him, it is worth noting that he’s struggling with the curveball, which is a pitch that he’s been seeing more and more of as of late. That said, while he is a good hitter at the plate, he is likely someone to look past as we head towards the end of the season due to his inability to overcome these struggles.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)