Baseball is a grind — and the fantasy version of the game is no different. And because it's a grind, baseball features streaks. Hitters can get hot at the plate, seemingly seeing beach balls thrown at them. Pitchers can get hot on the mound, too. And of course, both can get freezing cold.
In this space, we'll take a weekly look at who's hot and who's not — and whether you should believe in the streak.
(Editor's note: All stats derived before game action on Sunday, April 25)
Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland A's
The A's have been rampaging across the league, winning 13 straight, and few of their hitters have contributed more to their hot streak than Matt Olson.
The 27-year-old is 12-for-his-last-27 as of this writing, including five homers and, astoundingly, just two measly strikeouts during that span.
The A's as a whole have held mastery over the batter's box since the start of the season, ranking fifth in team walks and sixth in team home runs as of this writing. They've been a nightmare for an opposing pitcher to get out, and that includes Olson, who currently sports a 0.64 BB/K ratio.
That's all well and good, except, well, that excellent plate discipline hasn't exactly been the story of Olson's career. He owns a 25.6 percent K-rate which helps deliver a 0.42 BB/K ratio for his career. Olson hasn't struck out this little since his rookie season — when he played just 11 games.
So, while Olson can be counted on to deliver elite slugging numbers, do not expect his average to remain well over .300 for the foreseeable future. The same way the A's will eventually lose a game (Editor's note: The A's win streak came to an end against John Means and the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday) is the same way Olson's current numbers (fueled by a lofty .327 BABIP) should return to the mean — but fantasy managers shouldn't be disheartened. Considering the state of baseball in 2021, a .250/.345/.515 slash line (which would be something more in line with Olson's career narrative) with 30+ homers works any day of the week.
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs offense has found their stride the past week, but Bryant has been doing it since Day 1 this year. The talented third baseman sports a sparkling .309/.392/.632 slash line and a 1.052 OPS on the young season. He's been lighting it up the past seven games, in particular, going 12-for-27 (coincidentally, the same as Olson, though he did it in nine games) with six home runs.
Most impressively, Bryant's BABIP stands at .340 — his career mark is .339. So, he's creating his own luck and making the most of his opportunities. The 20+ strikeout percentage remains, but he's paired it with an 11.4% walk rate, which has undoubtedly helped him to that lofty OBP.
Bryant won the MVP in 2016 when he hit .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, and 121 runs. He might not repeat those numbers in 2021, but he's off to a great start nonetheless, and fantasy managers should be enjoying the eighth-round value they're getting from Bryant, who was drafted, on average, after the likes of Cavan Biggio and Matt Chapman (neither of which is hitting above the Mendoza line).
Joey Wendle, 2B/3B/SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Joey Wendle's hit streak came to an end at eight games on Saturday, but that shouldn't damper just how hot he's been at the plate. Wendle went 15-for-37 during those eight contests, delivering eight RBIs in the process. He has a 170 wRC+ in 18 games!
Most astoundingly, Wendle is striking out at the second-highest rate of his career, yet it hasn't stopped him from putting up a lofty .343 batting average. The story with Wendle is simple; the man clearly doesn't care about the three true outcomes — he just puts the ball in play, as evidenced by the high contact rates throughout his career.
With that said, that imbalanced strikeout-to-walk ratio will eventually hurt his average, and it's not like he's ever been a power hitter. His stolen base potential is nice, however, so, if you find that you're set at second base and you have other sources of speed, Wendle could represent an interesting trade candidate in fantasy leagues.
Oh, and a very quick sentence on Fernando Tatis Jr. ...
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies
Has Father Time finally caught up with Charlie Blackmon? The 34-year-old is hitting just .153 in 18 games with no stolen bases and just one homer. This, even though the Rockies have played 13 of those 18 games at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
In Blackmon's defense, the entire Rockies offense has struggled this season, but his slow start hasn't helped the issue.
Yet, there are signs of hope. For one, Blackmon's abysmal .170 BABIP has to level out eventually, considering his career mark is .335. He's also walking more than he ever has in his career, helping his chances at run-scoring opportunities. His ground-ball and fly-ball percentages are both against his career narrative, too.
Basically, Blackmon isn't experiencing favorable luck when the ball leaves his bat — and it's been leaving his bat rapidly too, evidenced by a 35.4 hard-hit percentage.
I have a feeling this slump won't last much longer. He might not deliver double-digit steals anymore but expect Blackmon's average and power numbers to increase exponentially over the coming weeks (especially as the weather gets nicer).
Yasmani Grandal, C/1B, Chicago White Sox
I don't roster Grandal in any league this season, but I can understand the frustration that could be felt with him right now. After all, Grandal is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball (he was the consensus fifth catcher drafted in Yahoo leagues) playing in one of the safest lineups in baseball.
Unfortunately, he's managed just two home runs and a .130 batting average on the season. His .286 OBP is especially hurtful too, considering that most of the White Sox's heavy hitters have OBP marks well above .330.
All that negative stuff out of the way, one need only look at Grandal's career numbers to know this won't last. His expected batting average is .240, according to Statcast, well beyond his horrid mark now, and once that rises, so too shall his overall production. Stay the course with Grandal.
Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
My cousin Luis has not had a great start to the season — definitely not the start fantasy players expected when they drafted him in the fourth round.
The 28-year-old has been getting hammered through four starts en route to an ugly 6.05 ERA and equally ugly 1.66 WHIP.
Like I've said before, whenever a good pitcher is struggling, fantasy managers should look first towards their velocity. Castillo's is over one mph less than it was in 2020 (96.2 compared to 97.6). He's still a hard-thrower, but for a starter whose wipeout pitch is a heavy changeup, having less velocity on fastballs is less than ideal.
His strikeout numbers, too, are down, with a K/9 percentage of 7.45 after two straight seasons of double-digits.
Vintage Castillo was last seen on April 7, when he threw seven shutout innings — but it came against the rebuilding Pirates. He followed that up with a losing, four-earned-run effort against the Giants.
He's definitely been unlucky, evidenced by .365 BABIP, but his advanced metrics (4.48 xERA, 4.70 FIP) don't exactly paint a masterpiece either (but hey, still better than 6.05).
My advice: Keep a close eye on Castillo's next couple of starts — particularly on his velocity. Bench him in tough matchups if you have to. If you see that his velocity doesn't increase, consider putting him on the trade market (especially if he has a good outing in the coming days).
(Oh, and no, he's not my cousin, but I like to tell people he is just to mess with them).