With the trade deadline well behind us, that means the next major event on the fantasy baseball calendar are the playoffs. Likely one month away in most leagues, we have to come to grips that the performance of the players we have are what we are going to be stuck with for the remainder of the season.
The sample size ahead of us is much smaller than the sample size behind and for some of the players listed below plus other underachievers on your rosters, it might be time to cut bait ahead of the most important fantasy weeks of the year.
With that in mind, here are six players whose fantasy values I am watching closely based on injuries, their recent play, and team context.
TJ Friedl, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of all of the talented rookies the Cincinnati Reds have been calling up all season, TJ Feidl has been going freaking nuclear in the month of August. Through nine games, he has a .320 average with an .800 slugging percentage including three homers, a double, and a triple. He has eight RBI in eight games and is one major reason the Reds are staying afloat in the National League Wild Card race. The left-handed Friedl has been so good, in fact, that the Reds have inserted him in the starting lineup in two of their last four games against left-handed pitching, something that would have been unheard of earlier in the season or in 2022.
One primary reason for Friedl’s success this year has been his improvement against left-handers. He is slashing .305/.349/.424 against them this season. His 24.6% strikeout rate against Southpaws leaves something to be desired, but this is a player who has now entered the circle of trust and is batting second in this potent lineup every single day. He is now a top-30 outfielder on the Razzball Player Rater as well. A quick glance across different fantasy sites shows that Friedl is about 50% rostered in standard points or rotisserie leagues. That seems way too low for a player who is going to contribute in four categories the rest of the season.
Joey Meneses, 1B/OF, Washington Nationals
I was a Joey Meneses doubter from the beginning of the season, and I have no problem admitting that. I was skeptical that a 30-year-old rookie could duplicate his one homer per four games pace from 2022 especially since it came with a .371 BABIP. For about the first three and a half months of this season, I was proven right. Through July 24th, Meneses had a decent .275 batting average, but it as accompanied by a .388 slugging percentage and just six home runs.
But something happened to turn his season around after that date. Since then he has hit .315/.351/.648 with five bombs and 13 RBI in 13 games. He has been a top-40 fantasy bat over the last couple of weeks, and he cares not for the rest of the crappy lineup around him in Washington. He’ll just do it all himself, thank you very much. (Alright, Lane Thomas and C.J. Abrams have been really good as well.)
I don’t know how many people held onto Meneses through his slump, but those who had faith are getting their reward these days.
Freddy Peralta, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Speaking of players who might have been dropped long ago, Freddy Peralta was once again one of the more maddening players to roster in fantasy baseball this year. His ERA by month reads like this: 3.77, 5.61, 4.73, 3.63, and 2.77. One fantastic month, two very usable months, and two vomit months. But it’s his recent play that has me buying back in. Ever since a blow-up start against the Braves on July 21st (six runs in five innings), Peralta has been on fire. In the three games since, he has a 1.89 ERA and an incredible 33 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched. Two of his last three starts came with 13 strikeouts attached as he has mowed down the Reds, Nationals, and Rockies that span.
Strangely enough, Peralta’s success can also be tied to something besides strikeouts he does extremely well. He is usually a master at inducing flyballs but not allowing many home runs. In the early part of the season, that pattern was all out of whack. In May he gave up just 36% flyballs, but 21.4% of them left the park. By August, that number has pivoted to 54% flyballs, but just 7.7% of them became home runs. Peralta has a lot of Cristian Javier in his profile, meaning he is going to strike you out or get you to hit a weak flyball. As long as he is doing both of those things – which he has the last three starts – that’s when we get his best version.
Willy Adames, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
The home run that Willy Adames hit on Wednesday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies stopped an extremely unflattering streak. Before that blast, Adames, already in the midst of a horrific season, had a .163 batting average with zero homers, zero RBI, and zero runs over the last two weeks. Will that homer for the Brew Crew’s shortstop light a spark that can set fire to the rest of his season? Based on the other four months of 2023, the answer appears to be, “unlikely.”
After three straight seasons with respectable batting averages and slugging percentages over .450, Adames’ 2023 campaign has gone about as well the one run by Ron DeSantis. He is having trouble staying above the Mendoza line with a .201/.286/.376 slash line, including just 17 home runs after hitting 56 in the last two seasons. The problem has been his unwillingness to swing at pitches in the zone. At a 37.7% zone swing rate, Adames has by far the lowest number of his career. That number is sixth-worst in the entirety of Major League Baseball.
At just 27 years old, there is plenty of time for a rebound in future seasons, but this is a player whose fantasy value has fallen off a cliff.
Jordan Walker, 3B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals
There is assuredly a lot of blame to go around for the season-long struggles for former “cant’-miss” prospect Jordan Walker. Walker and his 23% strikeout rate and 51.5% groundball rate certainly carry some blame. The back and forth from AAA to the Major Leagues didn’t help. The constant shuffling between the third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth spots in the lineup doesn’t allow a batter to get into a rhythm. In the end, it’s a horrific confluence of events that caused the player who hit .306/.388/.510 in AAA last year to tumble to a .257 batting average this year.
And lately, it’s been even worse. His last 30 days reflect a .195 batting average with two bombs. The last 14 days? A .154 average and one homer. His 15.5% swinging strike rate would be bottom 15 in the league if he had enough plate appearances to quality. There may be no hope of saving this lost rookie season, but since there is enough pedigree here, what we can hope for is a stark discount at the draft table in 2024.
Charlie Morton, SP, Atlanta Braves
Charlie Morton has the career highlights that most pitchers can only dream of. He closed out a World Series-clinching win in 2017. He has the most wins of any winner-take-all playoff games in MLB history. We won a Game 7 to take his team to the 2020 World Series. He pitched part of a World Series game on a freaking broken leg. But none of those things get us fantasy points in 2023 and Morton is really struggling as this season winds down. His last four starts have been truly awful. In that time, he is 0-4 with a 7.32 ERA, thrown less than a strikeout per inning, and allowed 15 walks in 19.2 innings. The Atlanta Braves can give him a long leash because they are about a million games ahead of any other team in the NL East right now, but that’s ironically not what fantasy managers want.
Actually, what fantasy managers probably want right now is to drop Morton. And they should. His swing rate in the zone is way down from last year and from his career average. His Hard Hit% is up more than five percentage points over 2022 and his flyballs allowed are five percent over his career average. You add it all up and Morton is now ranked 62nd among pitchers on the Razzball Player Rater, behind such superstars as Kyle Gibson, Michael Wacha, and Yusei Kikuchi. We need ascending pitchers who will get a lot of innings for the stretch run of the fantasy season, and Morton is moving in the opposite direction right now.