I nearly didn’t write this sleeper. It’s not that I don’t believe in John Means, but I’ve built a brand for over a decade that is “Guy who doesn’t draft Orioles starters.” Branding isn’t cheap, companies spend in the millions to get their name out there, and since I’m a million short of a million, all I had was my reluctance to touch an Orioles’ starter. Like Boog Powell at a buffet of rice cakes, it wasn’t that difficult to abstain. Not to be confused with Boog Powell at a BBQ buffet, which produces ab stains to his shirt. There were moments when Chris Tillman upped the level of difficulty to stay away from Orioles starters, but like Danny Cabrera things could never get that wild for me. Dan Duquette builds only winners, and Buck Showalter leads those winners to the brink of excellence like no other, but I just couldn’t! I even waited until Dylan Bundy was on a new team before fully embracing him. The branding was kept by any means necessary, until Means became necessary, as I told my marketing execs, who are interns from SUNY Albany. That’s the same school Steve Guttenberg went to! So, what can we expect from John Means for 2021 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
Psyche! Before we get into the John Means sleeper, just wanted to announce all my rankings are currently available on Patreon for the price of a Starbucks coffee, if you get one of those extra grande frappuccino jobbers. Don’t wait for the rankings to come out over the next month, and get them all now. So II, the John Means sleeper:
How did I get into trouble and start liking John Means? I sorted by xBA for 4-seamers. Trevor Bauer’s xBA was .149 on his four-seamers, that was the 2nd best for pitchers who had thrown that pitch more than 350 times. You guessed number one, didn’t you? John Means’s xBA on four-seamers was .129. The only other starter who was close, but didn’t throw it as much was Walker Buehler, who also had a xBA of .129. Only other starters under .180 were Frankie Montas and Brandon Woodruff. There were only three other starters under .200 xBA — deGrom, Mahle, Fried. Means was regularly touching 95 MPH with his four-seamer this year. The pitch, ya know, that was clocked at barely 92 MPH last year. You lower your head, and ruefully, “So, that’s how you started liking an Orioles starter.” Yeah, that’s what I’m saying!
If John Means just had a four-seamer to take your breath away, I prolly wouldn’t have bothered ruining a decade of SEO work and branding expertise by my friends in Albany, who were nice enough to invite me there for Vanguard Week. Hows’ever, John Means had the 7th best changeup in 2019. Oh, that pitch was hot garbage in 2020, but he wasn’t good either. Well, for most of the year. His September starts (29 IP) saw a 2.48 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. His season stats were marred by an egregious July/August (north of 7 ERA). So, a guy can’t start off slow after having ten months off, including a three-month shutdown? You sound like someone who hasn’t quarantined enough. So, the change was crizzap, but his curve? .178 xBA and a Whiff% of 27.8%. In his 2019 season when he had a 3.60 ERA, he didn’t even have a working curve.
Yes, there’s issues. He can’t keep the ball in the yard, which won’t be helped by his park or his division, but at least he won’t have to deal with an insanely lopsided schedule in 2021. Last year, he upped (in reverse) his ground balls and lowered his fly balls (literally). If he can keep those gains, velocity increases, and stop handing out more gopher balls than a veterinarian with weird party favors, John Means could be a top 25 starter while costing nowhere near that price. For 2021, I’ll give John Means projections of 10-13/3.78/1.10/167 in 172 IP with a chance for more.