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Rest of Season Rankings: Where’s Your Vladdy?

Each week I get plenty of feedback on my Rest of Season rankings piece. Most of the comments I receive are of a similar vein. Many readers believe I have certain players ranked too high or too low. That is to be expected, of course. The poster child for many of their issues with my rankings so far this season seems to be one Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Several people have pointed out that I have been too low on him for several weeks. Even now that I have seemingly “come around” on Guerrero, some feel I am still not high enough on him. Whether that is the case remains to be seen. But there is a method to my madness, at least in this instance. Let us take a trip to the way back machine to help me illustrate my point.

It was the spring of 2019. Movie theaters, restaurants, and arenas were full of patrons on a nightly basis. People only wore masks on Halloween, or before a ski trip or burglary. And if someone had asked me what I knew about NFTs, I would have assumed they had mispronounced “NXT” and started talking about the Johnny Gargano/Adam Cole two out of three falls match during Takeover: New York. It was a simpler time. Anywho, back in May of that year, the NFBC launched their inaugural Memorial Day Second Chance contest. I decided I would sign up because I like throwing good money after bad. As luck would have it, I had the first draft pick in my league. It may not have been the first time I have ever had the first pick in a draft, but it sure as hell felt like it. I was pumped.

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Before that season began, someone named Mike Trout was the consensus overall number-one draft pick. He was followed in some order by Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, and J.D. Martinez in most drafts. While all those players were viable options at Pick One Part Deux, a first baseman in his early 20s was setting the baseball world on fire over the season’s first two months. Heading into Memorial Day he had 18 home runs and 48 RBI. He even chipped in seven steals and was flirting with a .400 batting average. Though he was just a fourth-round fantasy pick heading into the regular season, this second-generation star quickly exceeded expectations and was becoming an elite fantasy player before our very eyes. His peripheral numbers supported the breakout, and I was all-in. With the first overall pick in the 2019 Second Chance draft, I selected Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger homered on Memorial Day and the day after, and I felt smart. Then something happened. Well, something and nothing, depending on your point of view. Bellinger reverted to being a human being instead of continuing his ridiculous two-month pace. He hit at least five home runs in each month from June through September. But he also never hit higher than .280 in any single month after May. In all, he hit .265 with 29 long balls and had 67 RBI from Memorial Day on. Bellinger was not a bust by any means. But, as it turned out, he was also not worthy of the number one pick. Per Baseball Monster’s rankings, Bellinger was a third-round value from Memorial Day until the end of the regular season. That brings me back to Guerrero.

Many of the accolades and adjectives I used to describe Bellinger in 2019 apply to Guerrero this year. Heading into Memorial Day, the Blue Jays’ star was this year’s second-best fantasy player. His ADP in this year’s Second Chance contest was seventh overall. While that may seem reasonable given the year-to-date production, I am just not on board with it. I am not expecting him to crash and burn. We know about the pedigree, and the lineup and ballpark should continue to play in his favor. However, I also would not be shocked if he posted third or fourth round value the rest of the way. I have him as a second-rounder based on my rest of season rankings going forward. No, I am not suggesting you trade him for pennies on the dollar. I simply do not expect him to continue his current pace over the next four months.

Awesome Gausman

When this piece gets published, the top year-to-date starting pitcher in fantasy baseball for 2021 will be Kevin Gausman. No, really. Gausman currently edges out Mets ace Jacob deGrom on the strength of having two more victories. Someone once told me that deGrom does not get a lot of victories because of a lack of run support. I will look to verify that information shortly. In the meantime, back to Gausman. The reigning National League Pitcher of the Month continued his dominant run by defeating the Cubs on Saturday night. He allowed just two unearned runs and two hits over seven innings, striking out 10. With the victory, Gausman increased his record to 7-0 and lowered his ERA to a stellar 1.27. Gausman has not allowed an earned run in his last four starts and has allowed one or fewer in nine straight.

It is hard to believe this is the same pitcher who was designated for assignment in 2019 after posting a 3-7 record with a 6.19 ERA and 1.49 WHIP for the Atlanta Braves in 16 starts. But underneath the surface, Gausman had begun to adjust his pitch mix. He scrapped his sinker and reduced the usage of his slider. In its stead, he increased the number of split-finger fastballs that he threw. In 2018, he had thrown a then career-high 24 percent of splitters. He threw the pitch a whopping 37.7 percent of the time in 2019. Though the experimentation did not bear fruit during his tenure with the Braves or Reds, Gausman was on the path towards finding the formula he was looking for. He posted personal bests in WHIP and strikeout rate in 12 appearances (10 starts) last season in San Francisco.

His ADP for the 2021 season was 40th among starting pitchers. Those who took the plunge have been handsomely rewarded thus far. At the risk of throwing a bit of cold water on his scorching start, I will mention that Gausman’s expected stats are considerably worse than his actual production so far. Of the 139 pitchers who have allowed at least 100 balls in play this season, Gausman has the third-largest spread between his actual average allowed and his expected batting average allowed. He also has the sixth-highest mark between his wOBA (weighted on-base percentage allowed) and his xwOBA (expected weighted on-base percentage), and the 12th-biggest difference between his ERA allowed and his expected ERA allowed.

None of that means that Gausman is a fraud, or that he is doing all of this with smoke and mirrors. Of the 139 pitchers in the above sample, Gausman is in the top-15 in all his “expected” statistics. That puts him in some rarified air in terms of the game’s best starting pitchers. I am not expecting a major dropoff from Gausman going forward. At the same time, he has yet to pitch in Coors Field this season. He also likely has several more dates with the Dodgers. There will likely be some bumps in the road, as there are with virtually every pitcher at some point. Still, I think Gausman will at least be a solid number-two pitcher in fantasy moving forward. I currently have him as my SP19 in my latest rest of season rankings.

Rest of Season Fantasy Baseball Rankings

For more help check out Mendy’s Pitching Streamers for the coming week.

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