Fantasy Baseball Sustainable Streaks: All rise for Aaron Judge

·7-min read

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, May 23)

HOT STREAKS

Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

Don't look now, but Aaron Judge could be on the verge of having the best season of his career since his MVP-level 2017.

The hulking Yankees slugger has heated up when the team has needed him most. Judge is currently on a five-game hitting streak, but it's his season total as a whole that's worth examining. Judge is slashing .307/.401/.575 with a .976 OPS at time of this writing. He has 12 homers, 25 RBI, and has scored 23 runs. Extrapolate those numbers to a full season, and you get a lot of smiling fantasy managers.

Most surprisingly though, this excellent start to the season isn't exactly being fueled by incredible batted-ball luck. His BABIP is just 14 points higher than his career mark. 

The key here (as you'll see with the second hitter on this HOT STREAKS list) is that Judge has only been striking at a rate of 26 percent — the lowest rate of his career. Compound that with his walks — Judge is my favorite kind of slugger because while he strikes out, he will happily take a walk, too — and we just might get the best batting-average season of his career in 2021.

Austin Riley, 3B/OF, Atlanta Braves

Atlanta's 24-year-old third baseman just might be the hottest hitter in baseball right now. Riley is currently enjoying a seven-game hitting streak, including four multi-hit games six RBI.

(Wildly enough, as I'm writing this, Riley 2-for-3 with FIVE RBI.)

Riley has been a highly touted prospect in Atlanta's loaded system, and if this is him putting it all together at just 24? Sheesh.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27)
Austin Riley has been tearing the cover off the ball lately. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Riley has been enjoying some amazing batted-ball luck. His current BABIP is a sky-high .421 (that is high for anybody not named, I don't know, Barry Bonds). Expect that to level out at some point. He's still striking out at a high clip — an issue that plagued him throughout the minors — but he's also walking more, helping offset the damage.

But there's one key stat that could be behind Riley's surge at the plate. He's only swinging at pitches outside of the zone 30.9 percent of the time — the lowest mark of his young career.

When his luck levels out, it's not a given that his batting average — a lofty .315 at time of this writing — will suddenly plummet, especially not if that O-Swing number maintains.

He's someone to be starting in all leagues right now, and not cutting bait once his streak inevitably ends.

Freddy Peralta, SP/RP, Milwaukee Brewers

Do you know who is currently second behind only Shane Bieber for the highest strikeouts per nine innings mark of 2021?

No, it's not Jacob deGrom, or Gerrit Cole, or Tyler Glasnow, or any of the other premier strikeout artists of the game. 

That second-place position belongs to Freddy Peralta, who has been a revelation this season.

As if the Brewers needed yet another potent starting pitcher, Peralta has been wreaking havoc on opposing hitters, compiling a 4-1 record, a 2.40 ERA, and a whopping 69 strikeouts in 45 innings. He's been effectively wild, averaging a little over three walks a start, but he's been able to limit the damage because, well, his stuff is absolutely disgusting.

Peralta now has EIGHT STRAIGHT starts with seven or more strikeouts, and he's given up more than three runs just once all season. His underlying and advanced metrics all paint the same picture and deliver the same verdict: This isn't just a hot start to the season. Peralta looks like a league-winning-type pitcher.

Not bad for someone drafted, on average, in the 18th round of fantasy leagues.

Now, I could mention what Shohei Ohtani has been up to lately ...

... and he has been up to A LOT — or, you could go check out our weekly feature on the unicorn himself.

COLD STREAKS

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Los Angeles Angels

Much was made about the addition of Rendon to the Angels this year. A Big 3 of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Rendon at the top of the lineup is hard not to get excited about.

While Ohtani has been living up to expectations (and then some) and Trout had a scorching start to the season before being placed on the IL, Rendon's production thus far has left much to be desired.

He too spent some time on the IL, but he's just 6-for-34 since returning with no home runs (he has three on the season). Startlingly, Rendon — known for being difficult to strike out — currently has the highest K-rate of his career (20%) and his lowest walk rate since 2018. His .275 BABIP is lower than his career mark, but not by a huge margin (.313).

His launch angle is now 23.2, and while it has resulted in more fly balls, those haven't converted to extra-base hits or homers. In fact, his hard-hit percentage is just 26.4% — the lowest of his career. This, even though Angel Stadium ranks seventh in park-factor homers this year.

My advice: Follow Rendon's at-bats closely going forward, see what happens when his luck begins to change. Are those fly balls turning into homers, or is it just his average going up?

He's still rostered in 97% of leagues, showing that his name and place in the Angels lineup holds value — something to consider for fantasy managers looking to trade him.

Eddie Rosario, OF, Cleveland Indians

Eddie Rosario was drafted, on average, in the late 10th round of Yahoo leagues. Much was expected from the outfielder, as he had displayed the ability to not only hit for average but also to put up admirable power and speed numbers. And while he has stolen five bases, he's gotten into an uneventful run with the bat. His average is just .212 and he hasn't hit a home run since May 3.

The last time his average was over .250 was on April 13.

One need only look towards his strikeout rate to see where the problem lies; Rosario is whiffing 18.2% of the time — his highest rate since 2017. He's also walking less than he did in 2020, when he wrapped the shortened season with a .257 average. The thing is, even .257 is lower than Rosario's career resume would outline; he's better than he's been.

His BABIP shows some lacking in the luck department; his current .244 mark much less than his .302 career BABIP. Unfortunately, Statcast currently projects him for a .220 average.

His luck should still turn, but fantasy managers may have to stand pat and wait through the slump, considering his stolen-base ability.

Steven Matz, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Steven Matz looked like he was about to have a breakout year when the 2021 season started.

That feels like 100 years ago.

Matz started the season off with three straight one-earned-run outings, but things have fallen off a cliff since then. His ERA went from 1.47 after those three starts to 4.69; he went from giving up a total of nine hits in those starts to 42 hits in his last six.

Surprisingly, Matz is throwing as hard as he did in his rookie year, when he put together a masterful season, but that velocity hasn't resulted in positive production this season.

He's definitely been unlucky; his .331 BABIP is nearly 30 points higher than his career mark, and he's giving up the lowest exit velocity of his career since 2015.

In fact, if you look at Matz's underlying and advanced statistics and then look at his ERA, it brings questions about what is going on with him. He is giving up a ton of hits, but it's not like many of them are leaving the park. He also has been walking batters, but his 1.31 BB percentage is actually the lowest it's been since 2015.

Matz is clearly not going to be a league-winning pitcher, but he's definitely not as bad as his 4.69 ERA would indicate. He's someone to hold, but fantasy managers might have already lost patience, as his rostered percentage has dipped below 50%.

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