MLB Barometer: April Risers and Fallers

MLB Barometer: April Risers and Fallers

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

We're through one month of the 2021 season, which, thankfully, this year doesn't mean the campaign is already half over. Each year, I like to use this point to check in on which players have performed at a level most out of line with their average draft positions. Our Earned Auction Values page is one of my favorite tools here at RotoWire, as it offers a way to rank every player's performance under one clean number.

This week's column will compare each player's rank to their NFBC average draft position rank to see which players have deviated the most from expectations. This of course doesn't map perfectly to their performance level, as not every stat is a true reflection of how a player's season has gone. A reliever might shoot up the earned auction value leaderboard if he lucks into a pair of wins, for example, but that's far from predictive. While I'll list all the players who were in the top five in each group below, I'll try to highlight specifically those players whose performances appear to be the most earned.

This year, I'll be displaying players by position group (starter, reliever, catcher, corner infield, middle infield and outfield) rather than by round, as I've done in previous seasons. That means that for the risers, I'll be using a player's percentage of potential spots gained (i.e., a player who moves from third to second has moved half as far as he potentially could have) rather than the raw number of spots gained, as it's a lot more impressive to jump from 100 to 50 than it is to jump from 700 to 500. For the fallers, I'll stick with the raw drop in ranking. All ranks here are through the end of April, so they don't include stats from the weekend's games, though the stats used in the body of the article are up-to-date through Sunday's contests.

RISERS

Starting Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned AV Rank% of Possible Gain
Carlos RodonCWS4602794.3
Huascar YnoaATL87812985.4
John MeansBAL2124081.5
Trevor RogersMIA3476780.9
Danny Duffy KCR4578880.9

Danny Duffy, Royals: Heading into the season, Duffy's main appeal was simply that he had a fairly secure job, which kept him rosterable in deeper formats but hardly made him someone anyone was excited to draft. From 2018 to 2020, he was passable but not much more than that, posting a 4.68 ERA that came with a slightly sub-par 21.0 percent strikeout rate and 9.3 percent walk rate as well as a low 34.8 percent groundball rate. There was little reason to expect a sudden change in his age-32 season, but a sudden change has indeed arrived. His velocity has jumped by more than a tick and a half, leading to a jump in strikeout rate all the way up to a career-best 28.8 percent. He's also walking just 7.6 percent of opposing batters. Duffy is a pitcher who had several solid seasons in the middle of the last decade, and it's not as if 32 is ancient, so it's believable he could stick as a very serviceable option this year. His 0.60 ERA certainly won't stick, and a top-100 finish would be a surprise, but posting an ERA in line with his 3.68 xFIP and 3.55 SIERA would represent quite a profit given his draft position.

Relief Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned AV Rank% of Possible Gain
Andrew KittredgeTB120419384.0
Cesar ValdezBAL63213578.8
Sam HowardPIT112226376.6
Lou TrivinoOAK66815976.3
Yusmeiro PetitOAK69016576.2

Cesar Valdez, Orioles: One month of reliever numbers produces some odd results, like Andrew Kittredge moving from a complete afterthought to a top-200 player thanks to the fact that he happened to stumble into three wins. Reliever wins generally aren't the sort of things worth building a team around, but a pitcher moving from a potential closer to the clear No. 1 option is a much more sustainable way for a player to outperform his draft position. Valdez has done just that. The 36-year-old impressed with a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings last season and saved four games, but he didn't generate much interest during draft season as merely one of a handful of closing options on a team that wasn't expected to generate many save chances. He looks like the clear closer now, earning six of the team's seven saves, and the role is well-earned. He probably won't maintain a 1.42 ERA, but he's combined a solid 24.5 percent strikeout rate with a strong 5.7 percent walk rate and 50.0 percent groundball rate. That should be good enough to keep him in the job.

Catchers

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV Rank%  of Possible Gain
Carson KellyARIC2494881.1
Yadier MolinaSTLC2585479.4
Buster PoseySFGC2355576.9
Willson ContrerasCHCC1143173.5
Mike ZuninoTBC51614172.8

Carson Kelly, Diamondbacks: Kelly showed promise in 2019 with a 107 wRC+ and 18 homers in 365 plate appearances, but he fell hard last season, hitting just .221/.264/.385. That left him as a fairly unappealing option this winter, though he was fairly well-liked as a prospect and just 26 years old, so it perhaps shouldn't be too much of a surprise to see him breaking out. Anyone who says they saw him as a .339/.487/.696 hitter is lying, and he likely won't finish the year as one of the best hitters in the league, but there's a lot to like that backs up that line. He's seeing the ball incredibly well, walking 19.2 percent of the time to go with a 12.8 percent strikeout rate. His contact quality is far better than he's shown in the past, with his 14.3 percent barrel rate more than doubling his career 6.9 percent mark. His .765 xSLG suggests he may even be underachieving. Some regression is inevitable, but his dominant start looks well-deserved.

Corner Infielders/Designated Hitters

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV Rank% of Possible Gain
Yermin MercedesCWSDH8902397.5
Justin TurnerLAD3B192995.8
Kris BryantCHC3B/OF124795.1
Nate LoweTEX1B3592194.4
Ryan McMahonCOL1B/2B/3B2151892.1

Kris Bryant, Cubs: I could spend this space gushing about Yermin Mercedes (I expanded the section to include designated hitters just so he could show up somewhere), but he's featured in this column once already, so I'll ride the Red Line north to Wrigley Field to talk about someone tearing it up on the other side of town. Bryant is back to the MVP form he showed at the beginning of his career following an awful 2020 season that saw him struggle through injuries to hit just .206/.293/.351 in 34 games. His dominance thus far provides a lesson in why it's probably smart to discount such small samples that have such easy explanations. Through 26 games, he's hitting .323/.405/.708 and is tied for the league lead with nine homers. His strikeout rate has dropped back down to 23.4 percent, just below his career numbers, while his 16.9 percent barrel rate is well above his career 9.9 percent mark. Bryant has been one of the best hitters in the league in the past, so it shouldn't surprise us too much if he winds up there again as long as his body cooperates.

Middle Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV Rank% of Possible Gain
Ryan McMahonCOL1B/2B/3B2151892.1
Eduardo EscobarARI2B/3B2762690.9
Nick SolakTEX2B/OF1621790.1
Jed LowrieOAK2B7429487.4
Jazz ChisholmMIA2B3865286.8

Ryan McMahon, Rockies: Heading into this season, McMahon was interesting almost exclusively because he plays half his games in Coors Field. Even with the boost from his home park, he was a career .237/.318/.423 hitter (good for just an 81 wRC+) who'd managed a fairly unremarkable 38 homers in 958 plate appearances. He may be figuring things out in his age-26 season, however. Through 26 games, he's already one shy of the league lead with eight homers and has hit .274/.322/.547, a line that's still good for a 118 wRC+ even after the Coors adjustment. He's cut his strikeout rate from 30.8 percent through his first four seasons to just 22.6 percent. He's also making better contact than ever, with his .565 xSLG backing up his actual slugging percentage and smashing his previous career high of .427.

Outfielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV Rank% of Possible Gain
J.D. MartinezBOSOF911100.0
Byron BuxtonMINOF110398.2
Kris BryantCHC3B/OF124795.1
Tyler NaquinCINOF7804494.5
Jesse WinkerCINOF1981294.4

Jesse Winker, Reds: Winker was someone I loved during draft season, as he'd shown both contact and power at separate times, walking more than he struck out back in 2018 while recording a .289 ISO last year. Big things looked potentially in store should he figure out a way to do both things at once, though even those high on him like me weren't predicting his .365/.419/.659 slash line. While his .424 BABIP means some regression is certainly coming, Statcast loves what he's been doing, giving him career highs in barrel rate (16.9 percent) and hard-hit rate (53.8 percent). His 21.5 percent strikeout rate is still far from his career-best mark of 13.8 percent back in 2018, but it's below his 25.1 percent mark from last year. It looks as though Winker has found the correct approach that draws the best elements from his rather dissimilar successful seasons in the past, so it shouldn't be a surprise if he winds up having a career year.

FALLERS

Note: for these categories, I've excluded players who have missed more than 10 games or made fewer than three starts due to injury, as these sections would otherwise amount to little more than a list of injured players. Players who missed more than 10 games because they got benched or demoted are included, however.

Starting Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Kenta MaedaMIN48946898
Kyle HendricksCHC79961882
Luis CastilloCIN27894867
Zach DaviesCHC237973736
Drew SmylyATL229957728

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs: Hendricks has been awful against Atlanta, a team that has scored 14 runs in 7.2 innings against him this season. A good pitcher should be beating good teams, however, and Hendricks certainly doesn't look like one at the moment. The 31-year-old had long been a litmus test for just how soft a pitcher can throw and still have success in today's game, and it appears as though the 86.4 mph he's managed so far this year simply isn't good enough. His success typically had come via walk and groundball numbers that were good enough to offset a subpar strikeout rate, but everything has taken a step back this year. His 19.4 percent strikeout rate is his lowest since his rookie season in 2014, while his 7.4 percent walk rate is a career high. Most worryingly, however, his groundball rate has fallen off a cliff to 31.6 percent after coming in at 47.5 percent through the end of last season. His 35.7 percent HR/FB rate should regress in a way that benefits him, taking some of the edge off his 7.54 ERA, but he'll continue to give up far too many homers if he can't keep the ball on the ground.

Relief Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Amir GarrettCIN254958704
Josh LindblomMIL326971645
Alex ColomeMIN173722549
Devin WilliamsMIL178688510
Jordan HicksSTL218721503

Jordan Hicks, Cardinals: Hicks' drop here came before he was pulled from a game with forearm tightness Saturday, which could see him plummet still further. He was drafted as the Cardinals' expected closer over the winter, going just ahead of pitchers like Richard Rodriguez and Matt Barnes. He hasn't recorded a single save thus far, though, with Alex Reyes recording seven of the team's eight to lock up the job. It's quite difficult to argue that Hicks deserves high-leverage opportunities at the moment. He owns a 5.40 ERA and 1.50 WHIP through 10 innings, numbers that look well-deserved given his 10:10 K:BB. Despite possessing the league's fastest fastball, Hicks has somehow never been much of a strikeout guy, whiffing just 22.5 percent of opposing batters for his career. He's instead relied on an elite groundball rate, which stands at a career-high 70.8 percent at the moment, but that's simply not enough when you're issuing free passes to more than a fifth of opposing batters while not putting many away.

Catchers

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Danny JansenTORC303967664
Elias DiazCOLC343947604
Daulton VarshoARIC/OF226798572
Ryan JeffersMINC338888550
Martin MaldonadoHOUC454966512

Ryan Jeffers, Twins: Jeffers made for an interesting sleeper backstop during draft season due to his .273/.355/.436 line in his 26-game debut last season and the fact that the Twins like to split time very evenly between their catchers. That even split did indeed occur, with Jeffers starting 10 of the teams first 21 games compared to 11 for Mitch Garver, but he was sent down on the final day of April after struggling to a .147/.216/.176 slash line. His 30.6 percent strikeout rate last year looked like a potential red flag, and it spiked to 48.6 percent this season. When he did manage to make contact, it was poor, as he failed to register a single barrel. Jeffers showed enough in his debut last year to make him an interesting pickup when he eventually returns to the big leagues, especially as he's still just 23 years old, but it doesn't look as though he's ready just yet.

Corner Infielders/Designated Hitters

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Edwin RiosLAD3B391934543
Scott KingeryPHI2B/3B/OF366869503
Joc PedersonCHC1B/OF252745493
Miguel SanoMIN1B/3B181635454
Carter KieboomWAS3B422845423

Edwin Rios, Dodgers: Rios was a popular sleeper corner infielder over the winter after posting a .260/.338/.634 slash line in 139 plate appearances over the previous two seasons. He didn't have a clear path to regular at-bats on the Dodgers' crowded roster, but the team loves to rotate its players, so it looked as though he could start a few times a week with the potential to increase his workload if his performances remained strong. Neither his playing time nor his performance have been encouraging this season, however. He's started just 10 out of 29 games, sitting for each of the last six. It's tough to imagine him earning more opportunities, as he's hitting a miserable .085/.232/.149. Even an improvement in his .103 BABIP is unlikely to save his line, as he has an xBA of just .152.

Middle Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Francisco LindorNYMSS19643624
Keston HiuraMIL2B64573509
Scott KingeryPHI2B/3B/OF366869503
Gleyber TorresNYY2B/SS59499440
Jonathan VillarNYM2B/SS214646432

Francisco Lindor, Mets: Lindor was perhaps overdrafted as an early second-rounder in 15-team leagues coming off a season in which he hit a modest .258/.335/.415. While his offensive numbers have been consistently above-average, they stand out less than expected in the current golden era of shortstops. His 111 wRC+ in 2019 and 2020 was merely good for ninth at the position among qualified hitters. Still, few would have seen his current collapse coming, as he's opened his Mets career hitting just .171/.289/.220 through 98 trips to the plate. Some positive regression is certainly in order, as his strikeout and walk rates both sit at 12.2 percent, a strong number in both categories. His .186 BABIP will surely rise, but Statcast is hardly convinced by his quality of contact. His barrel rate sits at just 2.8 percent, leading to a modest .249 xBA and .376 xSLG. He's also attempted just one steal and was not successful.

Outfielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned AV RankSpots Dropped
Ian HappCHCOF151939788
Leody TaverasTEXOF201929728
Michael ConfortoNYMOF66659593
Daulton VarshoARIC/OF226798572
Victor ReyesDETOF291861570

Ian Happ, Cubs: Happ was having a down season even before exiting with a head injury after colliding with teammate Nico Hoerner in Sunday's game against the Reds. Happ's strikeout rate has been the primary indicator of his success throughout his career. He managed a respectable 110 wRC+ in his first two seasons despite that figure coming in at 33.8 percent, but his wRC+ spiked to 130 over the last two years as he trimmed his strikeout rate to 26.4 percent. This year, he's striking out 32.4 percent of the time, leading to a very poor .167/.307/.250 slash line. There's at least some good news here, as Statcast suggests he's getting very unlucky in the power department, giving him an xSLG of .404, but he's going to have to bring his strikeout rate down significantly if he's to return to previous form.

RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only MLB Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire MLB fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Halterman
Erik Halterman is an MLB staff writer at RotoWire. He also covers KBO, NPB and CPBL daily fantasy contests.
MLB Betting: Friday Best Bets
MLB Betting: Friday Best Bets
FanDuel MLB: Friday Targets
FanDuel MLB: Friday Targets
The Z Files: Five Surprise Arms
The Z Files: Five Surprise Arms
Collette Calls: Concerned About Pitching
Collette Calls: Concerned About Pitching
DraftKings MLB: Friday Breakdown
DraftKings MLB: Friday Breakdown
WynnBet Sportsbook: Thursday Best Bets
WynnBet Sportsbook: Thursday Best Bets