I don't want to be a downer about Zack Gelof. I don't want to be a downer about anybody!
Nevertheless, I have concerns. Yes, his big-league career is off to a brilliant start. His two home runs Sunday give him eight to go along with six stolen bases in just over 100 plate appearances -- and this after he slashed .304/.401/.529 at Triple A Las Vegas, with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 69 games. Nice!
But he did some other things at Triple-A Las Vegas that trouble me. His 95th-percentile exit velocity was 105.5 mph -- less than Luis Matos, actually, and all our worst fears about his power production seem to have come true. Even worse is that Gelof's zone contact rate -- the number of times he connects when he swings at a pitch in the zone -- was only 74 percent, which is about as bad as it gets. No qualifying major-league batter has a rate that low. So basically, he misses a lot of hittable pitches and doesn't make the most impactful contact when he connects. I've switched to the present tense because, yes, both traits have carried over to the major leagues.
So how has he had so much success so far? The high barrel rate tells part of the story there, which may turn out to be just a reflection of how "hot" he is. Or there may be more to it than that, which I'll get to in a bit. The long and short of it, though, is that while I'm skeptical Gelof can sustain this level of production, I also recognize that he's a hot hand at a time of year when that may be all you need.
It's why I'm still obliged to include him among today's Waiver Wire claims. Let's begin, though, with a few pitchers who made noise over the weekend.
CLE Cleveland • #63 • Age: 24
Saturday's start makes it two straight with double-digit strikeouts for Williams, 22 over 12 innings in all. But these outings have a couple more things in common. One is that the control is greatly improved, with just one walk between them. The other, and perhaps more notable, is that the velocity is up, his fastball in particular standing out with an average of 97.1 mph Saturday. It seems to match up with what Williams said following his 12-strikeout gem last time out: "I don't think I was being too fine today." Pitching coach Carl Willis had noted that up to that point, Williams had been nibbling, trying to avoid the sweet spot rather than going after hitters. It's a cliche for young pitchers, but it's understandable on a human level. He was pitching not to fail rather than to succeed. Now that we know what the latter looks like, watch out.
Nick Lodolo SP
CIN Cincinnati • #40 • Age: 25
It's kind of refreshing how rostered Lodolo has remained even while being out since early May with a stress reaction in his leg and even after struggling so badly in his seven starts. But it goes to show you how desperate Fantasy teams are for quality pitching, which is also why the other 40 percent of CBS Sports leagues should take note that he's gearing up to return. He began a rehab assignment Friday, striking out four over two scoreless innings in Rookie ball. But wait, isn't he likely to do more harm than good when he returns? True, he was getting burned by the long ball early on, but he was still throwing tons of strikes and getting tons of whiffs. Particularly after all this time to regroup and recollect, he has a good chance of living up to the preseason hype still.
Steven Matz SP
STL St. Louis • #32 • Age: 32
Matz has allowed a combined three earned runs in his past four starts, all six innings in length. That's reason enough to pick him up, given the current pitching shortage in Fantasy Baseball. Even if you're skeptical he can sustain it over the long haul, it's reasonable to think he will against the Mets next time out, and he gets the Pirates after that. Has he made any obvious changes to fuel this turnaround? No, but we've seen Matz have stretches of Fantasy relevance in the past. This seems like one of those enjoy-it-while-it-lasts scenarios that doesn't require much deeper thought. Just don't get too attached.
Zack Gelof 3B
OAK Oakland • #46 • Age: 24
Gelof's arrival for the start of the second half was overshadowed by Tyler Soderstrom's, but it's no contest which has been more valuable in Fantasy Baseball so far. With two more home runs Sunday, Gelof is up to eight to go along with six stolen bases in just 105 plate appearances. His Triple-A output was stellar as well, albeit in a hitter's haven in Las Vegas. He's no longer in such a venue nor getting much help from his supporting cast, but he's done well to carry himself so far. There are reasons for concern, such as a bad strikeout rate and even worse zone contact rate, and his high-end exit velocities are rather uninspiring. With high fly-ball, line-drive and pull rates, though, it may just be that he angles the ball in a way that's optimized for damage. He's hot right now, if nothing else, but don't assume it'll last forever.
DET Detroit • #30 • Age: 26
Carpenter's stock continues to rise in Fantasy faster than his roster rate can keep up. With a three-homer weekend, including one off left-hander Chris Sale, he's up to 15 for the season and 21 in just 106 games as a major-leaguer (this after hitting 30 in 98 games as a minor-leaguer last year). The home run off a lefty is notable because he's now started against five of the past six the Tigers have faced, ending his platoon concerns from earlier in the year. He's striking out at just a 22 percent rate, which helps contribute to his 75th percentile xBA and 84th percentile xSLG. He's held back by his lineup and supporting cast, sure, but he's coming off a 34.5-point week and is now probably worth a look even in some three-outfielder leagues.
SEA Seattle • #62 • Age: 24
You can't complain about a big-league debut in which a pitcher allows just two hits, even if he ends up with just as many walks as strikeouts (three). Nerves most certainly played a part, and Hancock did well to limit the Padres to an 83.6 mph average exit velocity while putting the ball on the ground 64.3 percent of the time. Strikeouts probably aren't going to be his game anyway seeing as he had about one per inning over his minor-league career, though his 13 percent swinging-strike rate at Double-A this year was pretty solid. He doesn't throw especially hard and doesn't have a wipeout pitch, but he could be a workhorse stabilizer type who still has a role in Fantasy. If he delivers in his two starts this week, the first being against the Royals, you might not get another chance at him.
STL St. Louis • #52 • Age: 24
It's easy to dismiss Liberatore's two-hit gem at the Rays on Thursday given how uninspiring his major-league career has been up to this point, but notably, it was fueled by an increase in velocity of 1-1.5 mph across the board. And the Cardinals are giving the impression it's something he can sustain, brought about by a mechanical adjustment that finally clicked after weeks of lower body work. The key, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is the way he pushes off the pitching rubber. "It's a little bit of tempo," said Liberatore. "It's a little bit of confidence and trust. It's a little bit of the core and glutes being strong enough to dominate the move rather than the quads and lower back. And I felt like I was a lot more centered." Maybe it turns out to be a one-hit wonder, but for a 23-year-old with a prospect pedigree, it's reason to take a flier.
OAK Oakland • #22 • Age: 23
Typically, power/speed prospects, unless they're in the top echelon, are as high-risk as they are high-reward, and for most of his minor-league career, Butler fit into that category. But he had a more-than-respectable 18.9 percent strikeout rate between Double- and Triple-A this year, which helped fuel his rapid rise to the majors Friday. So far, he's 2 for 12, but with as many doubles as strikeouts (two), and on a team with nothing doing offensively, he'll get every opportunity to sink or swim. He did have an uninspiring 79.5 percent zone contact rate in his brief stay at Triple-A, so it's possible the higher-quality stuff in the majors brings him down to size. But nothing is guaranteed with prospect call-ups these days, right? The point is that Butler has both upside and opportunity and deserves more attention than he's getting in five-outfielder leagues right now.