Flexen Command

Welcome back.

I recently saw a clip of Alex Bregman walking up to some fans to take pictures. One of the fans was filming Bregman and once Bregman reached him, he stated, “I don’t want a photo with you, cheater.” Bregman reacted with a polite smirk. While we all know about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandals and how they aren’t the most liked team in MLB right now, you kind of feel bad for Bregman here. Nonetheless, cheating has been a hot topic in MLB for a few seasons now.

And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware of MLB’s recent crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances when pitching. Starting Monday, June 21st, MLB stated they will begin enforcing rules surrounding foreign substances. Umpires will check pitchers for foreign substances and have been given permission to do so whenever they please during the game. More than that, catchers will also be checked to see if they’re using any foreign substance. If a player is caught using a foreign substance, they’ll be ejected from the game and could face a 10-day paid suspension.

Tyler Glasnow recently went on the injured list with a partial UCL tear along with a flexor strain in his right elbow, potentially ending his 2021 season. Here’s what Glasnow had to say about the injury per ESPN:

“I switched my fastball grip and my curveball grip…I had to put my fastball deeper into my hand and grip it way harder. Instead of holding my curveball at the tip of my fingers, I had to dig it deeper into my hand.”

“I’m choking the s— out of all my pitches.”

He then went on to say:

“Do it in the offseason. Give us a chance to adjust to it. But I just threw 80 innings, then you tell me I can’t use anything in the middle of the year. I have to change everything I’ve been doing the entire season. I’m telling you I truly believe that’s why I got hurt.”
It appears that Glasnow believes the MLB’s decision to enforce the rules surrounding the use of foreign substances mid-season essentially caught his body off guard. And as a result, he’s now injured.

Garrett Richards is another starting pitcher who has seemingly been negatively impacted by MLB’s recent decisions. In his postgame interview on June 16th, Richards mentioned how he’s been using sunscreen since his rookie season in 2011. In his last start, he didn’t throw a single curveball, a pitch that he’s thrown 191 times this season and has allowed just a .188 batting average with a 28.5% K-BB. It’s been arguably his best offering and because of the rules being enforced, he couldn’t get a feel for the pitch, so he didn’t use it. He threw primarily fastballs and allowed four earned runs on seven hits over 4.0 innings pitched.

Whether we like it or not, these rule changes will impact certain pitchers and as a result, they’ll impact our fantasy teams. At this point, it’s hard to justify using a pitcher like Richards in fantasy when you know there’s a chance he’ll be in adjustment mode indefinitely. Be that as it may, the show must go on. We are in the midst of another long fantasy campaign and there are still pickups to be made. It’s now time to dive into a handful of players who I believe you should be targeting in your points leagues this week. And let’s hope that none of these players find themselves in a sticky situation anytime soon.

Points League Options

(players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)

Tony Gonsolin SP, Dodgers (40 percent rostered)

Ever since it was revealed that Dustin May would need Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers have been utilizing a four-man rotation and bullpen games. Having Kershaw, Bauer, Buehler, and Urías as starting pitchers has helped this approach work, and now with Gonsolin back, he should give this rotation a nice boost. So far in 2021, he’s allowed two earned runs on six hits with an unsightly 9:8 K:BB over 5.1 innings pitched. He hasn’t thrown his splitter or slider in the zone much at all this season and hitters haven’t been chasing the pitches that much either. As a result, his walks are up. However, we’ll likely see improved command/control going forward.

Gonsolin is armed with a high spin four-seamer that sits mid 90s, a strong slider and splitter, as well as a curveball. He’s also fully capable of generating whiffs at an above average rate on all of his secondary pitches. Furthermore, he throws from a borderline overhead arm slot and has always shown solid pitchability and composure when on the mound matched with a repeatable delivery. So in all, it would not be surprising to see Gonsolin perform well going forward. Don’t let his first two starts of 2021 scare you off. Reliable fantasy assets don’t grow on trees at this point in the season, so if you see Gonsolin out there, grab him and hold for now.

Andrew Vaughn 1B/OF, White Sox (33 percent rostered)

Vaughn’s natural talent has been clear since his college days. After having a .374/.495/.688 slash line with 50 HR over 596 NCAA at-bats, Vaughn was selected 3rd overall in the 2019 MLB Draft by the White Sox. He was then given just 205 minor league at-bats (.278/.384/.449) before making his MLB debut this past spring. The White Sox were convinced he was ready for MLB and so far, his performance has been just serviceable–from a results standpoint.

Over his first 179 MLB at-bats, he has a .229/.305/.391 slash line with five home runs. However, when you dig deeper, you find several reasons to remain optimistic about his rest of season outlook. He has a 114.1 max exit velocity, 11.1% barrel rate, and 51.6% hard hit rate over his first 126 career batted ball events. He’s been lighting the ball up. More than that, he’s been hitting the ball to all fields (36.5% pull/31.0% center/32.5% opposite), hitting plenty of line drives (24.6% line drive) and he’s been making plenty of contact in the zone (88.3% zone contact rate).

In sum, Vaughn has been hitting the ball hard to all fields, a lot of his batted balls have been line drives and he’s making contact with a lot of the pitches he’s seen in the zone. However, his outside swing%, or chase rate, has been gradually increasing as the season’s progressed. This could indicate that Vaughn is pressing a bit more at the plate as of late. This makes sense, as he knows his quality of contact has been strong, but the results just haven’t been consistent. In points leagues, we want home runs and extra base hits. Given Vaughn’s overall profile, it seems very much possible that the best of his production is yet to come. If you need some cheap and affordable production from your 1B/OF positions, grabbing a young stud like Vaughn might just be the ideal move.

Patrick Sandoval SP, Angels (25 percent rostered)

The former top-10 Angels prospect has had a solid start to 2021. Over 33.1 innings pitched, he has a 3.51 ERA (4.13 SIERA) and 12.9% K-BB. He had a 5.33 ERA (4.38 SIERA) and 13.4% K-BB over his first 76.0 major league innings pitched between 2019-2020. These results appear similar, but so far in 2021, he’s made a clear change that has helped him limit runs: he’s throwing his best pitch the most. Between 2019-2020, he used his low-mid 90s four-seamer the most, but this year he knew it was time to make an adjustment.

In 2019, his changeup had a 18.9% K-BB and .239 wOBA against. In 2020, it had a 25.0% K-BB and .323 wOBA against. So far in 2021 as his most used offering, his changeup has a 32.7% K-BB and miniscule .191 wOBA against. But not only is he throwing it the most this year, he’s been commanding it well, a recipe for success.

Aside from his CH, his ground ball rate has remained above average (53.2%) and his hard pitches are averaging a career high 93.7 mph. Whether his overall command remains strong for the rest of the season is yet to be seen, but there are several reasons to be optimistic about Sandoval’s points league fantasy value. He’s yet to have a negative fantasy start this season and he struck out a career high 10 batters just 13 days ago. Don’t overlook Sandoval because of his 2019-2020 results, there’s some value to be had here.

Miguel Andujar 3B/OF, Yankees (24 percent rostered)

After his .297 batting average, 27 home run season in 2019, many expected Andjur to be a solid fantasy asset for years to come. However, injuries and inconsistent production limited him to just 109 at-bats between 2019-2020 and he quickly became a fantasy afterthought. Even more, it was rather discouraging when we learned Andjuar would also miss the beginning of 2021 due to right hand/wrist soreness. Fortunately, he made his 2021 debut on May 7th and ever since May 21st, he’s been very solid.

Over 81 at-bats, he has a .272/.302/.469 slash line with a 71.1% zone swing rate, 93.8% zone contact rate, and 80.1% contact rate. Beyond that, his groundball rate has been a tad bit high, but he’s also been hitting to all fields with solid quality of contact. All in all, his production appears to be sustainable. He’s been playing primarily in left field and he should continue to see regular opportunities for as long as he’s producing. Go add him if you’re looking for cheap offensive help.

Chris Flexen SP, Mariners (13 percent rostered)

The 26-year-old righty has had an interesting professional resume up to this point. He was drafted by the Mets in 2012 and was bouncing back and forth between the minors and the majors before joining the KBO in 2020. In 116.2 innings pitching overseas, he earned a 3.01 ERA (3.20 xFIP) and 21.6% K-BB. The competition in the KBO and MLB differs, but he was very effective nonetheless. The Mariners took note of his success and decided to sign him to a two-year deal worth $4.75M guaranteed on December 9th, 2020. They knew their rotation wasn’t going to be great this year, so adding a veteran like Flexen was a worthy gamble. And over his last four starts, he’s showing that the gamble might’ve been worthwhile.

Since May 27th (27.0 innings pitched), he has a 2.67 ERA (3.62 SIERA), 17.2% K-BB, and 55.3% ground ball rate. He’s walked just 3 batters over his last 27.0 innings pitched. There’s been a clear improvement to Flexen’s command this season and it’s helping him morph into a solid MLB starter. More than that, it’s helping him morph into a valuable fantasy asset. A rough start against the Padres on May 21st significantly hurt his overall numbers, but he’s completed 5.0 innings while allowing three runs or less in 7 of his 12 starts this season. Fantasy assets that can provide around 5-15 points a start, with upside for more, should be rostered in 12+ team points leagues. Flexen’s time in the KBO might’ve truly helped him improve his command for good, meaning this is a brand new pitcher we’re seeing this season.

Deep Points League Options

(players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)

Kolby Allard SP, Rangers (8 percent rostered)

Allard was selected 14th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft by the Braves. Scout previously predicted he’d add velocity to a fastball that was sitting 92-94 mph around 2015. They also believed he’d ultimately end up with two or three plus pitches. And while Allard had a very productive minor league career (3.19 ERA, 15.0% K-BB over 471.0 innings pitched), he may never live up to his previous hype. But that doesn’t mean he can’t become a solid real life and fantasy asset.

So far in 2021, he has a 2.93 ERA and 43:10 K:BB over 40.0 innings pitched. He’s been limiting walks at a career best rate this season, which could be the result of his improved curveball command. He’s been pounding his curveball below the strike zone this season and the pitch has a career best 46.7% K-BB and 13.3% swinging strike rate. Given this improved curveball command, it allows him to set up the pitch using his four-seamer, cutter, and changeup. In all, Allard is by no means a must-add guy. He’s more so an asset who’s likely one of the better available starting pitching options in deeper leagues. Add him if you’re desperate for some depth.

Taylor Ward OF, Angels (5 percent rostered)

The former 1st round pick, catcher, and third baseman is well on his way to a career high amount of plate appearances in 2021. After starting the season in AAA, Ward was called up on May 5th after the Angels started dealing with multiple injuries. And at this point, Ward has a chance of sticking in the lineup as a regular even when everyone is healthy. Ward has always had solid pop and in his most recent minor league season (2019), he had a .306 batting average with 27 home runs over 421 at-bats playing in AAA.

Since May 20th (88 at-bats), he has a .307/.390/.545 slash line with 11 extra base hits. To support this production, he has a 50.8% hard hit rate over this time span. More than that, he’s been swinging in the zone at a solid rate while also hitting the ball to all fields. There’s a good chance he’ll continue to hit for power while providing a solid batting average. He’s the type of player who will be overlooked, but could soon be a more valuable asset than some players who are heavily rostered right now.

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