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Fantasy Baseball Sustainable Streaks: The sleeping Gian(carlo)t has awakened

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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 9)

HOT STREAKS

Giancarlo Stanton, OF, New York Yankees

Run for the hills, Giancarlo Stanton is hitting bombs again!

Now, I like to keep the hot streak section of this column devoid of the bigger names — the stars who were taken early in most, if not all, fantasy drafts —but it's hard to ignore the eruption that has taken place in the Bronx recently. Especially when you consider the narrative that has bloomed around Stanton, that he's injury-prone, that he's not clutch, that all he does is strike out on pitches way out of the zone.

For the last 14 games at least, the mammoth slugger has turned that narrative on its head. Stanton is 25-for-his-last-60, which includes a 12-game hitting streak that featured six home runs and 12 RBIs. He's now hitting .291/.346/.564 and he's tied for fourth in homers on the season. His current .911 OPS is the highest it's been since his MVP season.

But ignore all that, because there's one stat that tends to stick out above all others: Nobody in baseball — not Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr., or any of the premier hitters in the game — is hitting the ball harder than Stanton. His hilarious max exit velocity stands at 120.1 mph, and he's averaging 98.8 this season; both are in the top ONE percent in the league (Stanton is that one percent, btw).

Yes, he's still striking out at a high clip, and his BABIP is about 17 points higher than his career mark, but with Stanton completely destroying the ball right now, prognosticators are expecting these gaudy numbers to continue throughout the season — his expected batting average is .290 with an expected slugging of .579, per Statcast.

Let's enjoy the show.

John Means, SP, Baltimore Orioles

On average, John Means was selected somewhere around the 20th or 21st rounds of fantasy drafts, way after other starters like Nathan Eovaldi, James Paxton, and German Marquez.

Means is currently ranked fifth overall in 5x5 roto leagues — how's that for value?

Means' magnificent start to the season was capped off recently by a masterful no-hitter — one that should have been a perfect game, if not for a passed-ball third strike — in which his trademark changeup (one of the most devastating pitches in baseball this season) was on full display. That historic no-no improved Means' numbers to 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA and 0.67 WHIP — and that's with allowing five homers on the season.

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means, right, hugs catcher Pedro Severino
John Means made Orioles history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This start has been incredible and Means deserves credit for turning that changeup into a wipeout pitch, but there are clear signs that Means is on an unsustainable heater right now. For one, his current BABIP is nearly 100 points lower than his career mark, so while he's limiting hard contact, he's also getting some luck when the contact is being made. His average fastball velocity is also down compared to last season, which is never something you want to see.

Those two factors are exemplified in his advanced numbers; Means' expected ERA is 2.54, and his FIP is 3.00 with an xFIP of 3.47. 

And it's at this point that everyone with Means on their fantasy team is looking at those above numbers and laughing, joyous at how good he's going to remain even when regression hits (it's me, I'm one of those managers with Means on multiple teams HAHAHAHAHA).

Alex Reyes, RP, St. Louis Cardinals

It has been a long, winding road for Alex Reyes to this point, but it's not hyperbole to say that he has been one of the best — if not THE best — closer in baseball in the early going.

Reyes is tied for second in saves with 10, has given up just one measly run in 16 appearances, and he's yet to allow a long ball, either. Reyes' minuscule 0.53 ERA would rank second behind the inhuman Jacob deGrom if he qualified.

Reyes has had a great start to the season — so maybe now is the time to start floating him to a saves-needy manager in your league.

Including this season, Reyes has played a combined 48 games since 2016. His injury history is well known, but even beyond the fear of an extended IL stint, regression is also coming in a big way for the flamethrower.

Consider that not only is Reyes' BABIP a microscopic .184 but he's also been getting out of jams and leaving men on base at a 95% clip this season. That's about as unsustainable as it gets. And while he's been effective, he's also been a bit wild, already walking 13 batters in his 16 outings.

All of those signs paint a rough picture of Reyes' rest-of-season outlook, and if there's any team with arms ready to take over the ninth-inning role if Reyes stumbles/gets injured, it's the Cardinals. Fantasy managers now have a choice to make: hang in there with Reyes when his luck starts to turn (and it will) or consider getting out now, on the trade market.

COLD STREAKS

Josh Bell, 1B, Washington Nationals

Many believed Bell’s move to the Nationals would provide the perfect bounce-back opportunity for his fantasy value. Thus far, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

Bell is hitting a measly .135 on the season, but most alarmingly, his slugging stands at just .297 — a far cry from the .569 clip he had in 2019 when he hit 37 homers with the Pirates. He's just 5-for-his-last-30 with three home runs in 2021.

He did go deep on Friday against the Yankees, but those long balls have been few and far between this season.

The strikeouts have been an even bigger problem; he's striking out at the highest clip of his career and walking less than he ever has. That is a recipe for a dismal year. He's still hitting the ball hard, however, and his current BABIP is low for his standards, so some more extra-base hits and long balls are definitely on the horizon for him. Unfortunately, when you examine the full picture, it starting to look like his 2019 was the outlier and not the norm. His expected batting average is just .232.

After being drafted in 100% of Yahoo leagues, Bell is now 61 percent rostered — down five percent from last week, so it seems like the fantasy community is losing patience — and I can't blame those who have moved on.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros

Many fantasy managers drafted Tucker in the mid-fourth-round with dreams of his power and speed potential in the middle of the Astros potent lineup.

So far, the results have been mixed — and just not good lately. Tucker is hitting just .175 on the year, with just three hits in his last 29 plate appearances. It's definitely a cold spell, made even more monumentally painful when you realize he hasn't stolen a base in nine games (he has just two on the year).

Back in 2018, down at the Triple-A level, Tucker delivered a 20-20 season, and he followed that up in 2019 with a 30-30 season. We saw the potential yet again in the shortened 2020 season when he hit nine homers and stole eight bases in 58 games.

You kind of see where this is going, don't you? It seems like only a matter of time for Tucker to put it all together, and perhaps it'll come soon. His current BABIP is just .172, and he's actually striking out less than his norm.

Once his batted-ball luck gravitates more to the mean, the hits will come and, perhaps more importantly, the stolen base opportunities. Stay the course with Tucker. 

Charlie Morton, SP, Atlanta Braves

It has been rough for Morton in the early going of the season, capped off by a horrific outing against the Phillies when he lasted less than an inning and allowed six runs — NONE OF THEM EARNED. That brutal outing came after a mediocre start against the Blue Jays when Morton allowed four runs in five innings.

When the Braves signed Morton, he was expected to be the veteran presence among their young, talented rotation who still had the stuff to lead a staff if needed. Unfortunately, with injuries littering Atlanta's starters, Morton's rough start has made matters even worse.

Listen, even though the best years of Morton's career came in his mid-30s, he's still 37 years old, in the twilight of his career. Some regression in his skills is to be expected; he's only human. Surprisingly, however, Morton's fastball velocity is nearly two ticks higher than it was last season and almost a full mile-per-hour higher than in 2019. That's as good a sign for hope as there is for his rest-of-season outlook.

He's striking batters out at an admirable clip, and he's also experiencing some pretty bad luck when it comes to keeping the ball in the ballpark. Note that his HR/9 this season is 1.31, but his career mark is 0.78. It hasn't been that high since his days in Pittsburgh.

No, Morton is not going to experience enough positive regression to become deGrom overnight, but this brutal start won't be the story of his season. His expected ERA is 3.69 — we'll take that from a starter drafted on average in the 10th round.

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