Two weeks ago in this space, I featured Jazz Chisholm of the Miami Marlins. About a week after that piece was published, Chisholm was injured stealing a base against the Milwaukee Brewers. Miami placed the budding star on the Injured List with a hamstring strain. Chisholm’s stolen base came at the expense of Corbin Burnes, who I featured last week. Lo and behold, Milwaukee placed Burnes on the Injured List following the Miami start. There was no injury designation stated for Burnes, so hopefully, he will be back on the bump in short order. One thing is for certain though – I am in midseason form when it comes to my uncanny ability to unintentionally put the kibosh on a rapidly ascending fantasy asset.
So why then would I even dare to discuss one of the game’s most historically brittle stars in this week’s rest of season rankings column? It’s simple math. Like how a negative number multiplied by a negative number equals a positive number. I figure maybe the combined forces of my powers alongside Byron Buxton’s inability to stay on the field will somehow combine to reverse his recent injury history and enable him to step up to the plate at least 500 times this season. Besides, since his injury history is so pronounced, I figure if in the event he does go down, it will be a case of history repeating itself rather than something I can be blamed for. OK, that is not the only reason I am featuring the Twins outfielder this week. Truth be told, Buxton has been a dominant fantasy force so far in 2021.
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Byron Buxton History
Buxton is one of the game’s premier talents. That has been the case ever since Minnesota selected him with the second overall pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft. But it took him a while to put it all together in the Majors. Over 138 games between 2015 and 2016, hit .220 with an ugly 34.5 percent strikeout rate. 2017 gave us our first real glimpse into what Buxton could do. He played in 140 games that season and finished with 16 home runs and 29 steals to go along with a .253 batting average. He did miss some time with a knee strain and migraines, but the arrow was pointing up on his fantasy value. Then 2018 happened.
First, the migraine issue came up again. When that finally seemed settled, Buxton suffered a fractured toe and a wrist strain. He ended up playing in only 28 games that season and was so ineffective that he posted a negative wRC+. It looked like he was turning things around in 2019. He made gains concerning his hard-hit rate and barrel percentage while posting a career-low 23.1 percent strikeout rate. But once again injuries proved to be Buxton’s foil. He missed time with a concussion and a wrist contusion before a dislocated shoulder ended his season after just 87 games. Fantasy managers were growing increasingly frustrated. Buxton was solid but unspectacular. And the injuries often became too much to bear. His draft stock dropped heading into 2020, with many fantasy managers swearing off Buxton completely.
Even in a shortened 2020 campaign, Buxton could not remain on the field. He suffered a mid-foot sprain in training camp, which led to a slow start. He was just 1-of-15 through the season’s first 10 days and was hitting just .221 when Minnesota placed him on the Injured List with shoulder inflammation on August 19. But a funny thing happened on the way to Buxton becoming a fantasy afterthought. He came back in September and flat-out raked. He hit .290 in 64 plate appearances with eight home runs. After flashing mild pop throughout his career (43 career home runs in over 400 games through August 2020), it seemed like Buxton had finally found his power stroke. He finished the year with a healthy 13.5 percent barrel rate and 47.9 hard-hit percentage. He also finished among the league leaders in expected slugging percentage. Buxton averaged a home run every 10.38 plate appearances. Still, with yet more injuries piling up and with the craziness that was 2020, it was hard to tell if those gains were sustainable or if Buxton had simply had a hot month. Based on what we witnessed this past month, it would appear that not only were his 2020 gains sustainable, they were just the tip of the iceberg.
Buxton enters the weekend leading the Major Leagues in barrels per plate appearance percentage (15.8 percent) and offensive WAR (16.6) and ranks in the top 10 in baseball in many other metrics including hard-hit rate (60.7 percent), average exit velocity (94.2 MPH), and average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls (100.7 MPH). He has a career-best 20.5 percent strikeout rate and a .426 batting average. Oh, by the way, he is fourth in the Majors in defensive WAR as well. And yet, he currently does not have enough plate appearances to qualify for any official leaderboards because he was again being dealing with minor injuries. He has already missed time with a hamstring strain and patella tendinitis.
As frustrating as Buxton’s injuries are, his talent is simply too great to devalue. Even though he only has 73 plate appearances through the team’s first 25 games, Buxton enters the weekend as a first-round fantasy value. No, he will not continue to hit over .400, and he will not even contend for a batting title. But the power is legit. Buxton now has 16 homers over his last 137 plate appearances. And he still has top-10 sprint speed, which he has used to swipe three bases thus far. Sure, the injury history is worrisome, and we hold our collective breath when we see him make a diving catch in the outfield. But Buxton is so good that if he misses a game each week, so be it. I am bumping Buxton inside my top 50 when it comes to my rest of season rankings. Injury concerns and my jinxing history be damned.
Closers are the bane of many a fantasy manager’s existences. Every year we spend valuable draft capital on closers, only to see many of them fade in an instant. That appears to be the case with Rafael Montero in Seattle this season. The former Ranger has not had it thus far in 2021. Hitters are sitting on his changeup, and he has not been able to put them away. His velocity has remained intact, but his command has been a bit off. Meanwhile, Kendall Graveman has seemingly completed his transition from average starter to dominant reliever.
Graveman started 78 games as a member of the Oakland A’s from 2016 through 2019 and had a modicum of success. However, his velocity was subpar and his cutter did not have its desired effect. As a result, Graveman posted a strikeout rate just north of 15 percent in Oakland. Seattle signed Graveman to a one-year deal in November of 2019. He made two starts for the Mariners in 2020 before the team placed him on the Injured List due to a neck strain. It turns out that the strain was caused by a tumor on his cervical spine. Upon his return in September, the team decided to deploy Graveman in the bullpen. His velocity increased, and he began to tinker with his repertoire. He started throwing the cutter less while adding a curveball. The results were mixed, and there was not a ton of excitement for Graveman’s fantasy prospects heading into 2021. But when Montero began to flounder, Graveman picked up the slack. More importantly, he looked like a different pitcher on the mound. He gained an additional two MPH on his fastball and began to feature a new and improved slider. I would say the early returns have been positive.
This comes with the obvious small sample size alert, and we know how quickly things can change with relievers. Montero may just as easily get the next save chance and turn his season around. However, Graveman has certainly looked the part thus far. He has already notched three saves and has yet to allow an earned run this season. I believe that Scott Servais will continue to ride the “Gravy Train” until Graveman proves he is no longer worthy of his manager’s trust. And if that is indeed the case, Graveman could have considerable rest of season value. I have Graveman inside my overall top-250, and I believe he has top-20 RP upside going forward. I would not recommend dumping Montero if you have the room on your roster, but I would not start him until he can turn it around.
Rest of Season Fantasy Baseball Rankings
For more help in getting ready for the coming week, check out Eric Cross’s latest Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire!
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