We’re nearing the All-Star Break! There’s only 1 week of half-assed work before our national (pronounce that with a long “a”) BBQ and then some recovery days. Then it’s everything we’ve been waiting for: the Home Run Derby! Also the All-Star game, but who actually cares for that anymore?
Why do I talk about the All-Star Break two weeks before it’s happening? Because this Week 13 marks the ACKSHUAL halfway point of the MLB season. A little bit more than a month left until the MLB trade deadline — and probably your fantasy baseball trade deadline as well. I almost wrote “fantasy football” in that last sentence because many multi-sport managers are turning their attention to another sport entirely. If you’re a bold one, make your fantasy baseball trades now before Tommy from HR is debating whether to draft Bijan Robinson in the first round.
Midway points always make writers nostalgic for a recap. The main characters yearn for their origin stories and look forward to the ways in which they’ll topple the big bad. In this spirit, I start the week off with Corey Kluber, who just hit the IL with shoulder inflammation. For those who read my pre-season work, Kluber was my choice for deep-as-hell SP who would return big dividends. It’s fair to say that Kluber’s time in Boston didn’t pan out. After finishing 2022 just outside the top 60 SP with Tampa Bay, Kluber went to Boston, which seemed to be the place where pitchers went to die in 2023. There’s a non-zero chance Kluber struggled with shoulder inflammation all year — his velocity was down compared to 2022. And for the folx who shout from the rooftops about the importance of spin rate — well, Kluber’s spin rate was up for his most important pitches compared to 2022. Location, location, location. ENYWHEY. After demonstrating the fruitlessness of counting categories by notching a save despite allowing 3 homeruns and 4 earned runs with a 2.00 WHIP, the Sox sent Kluber for a cooldown on the IL. See the calendar that starts this article. Kluber will benefit from some extended team time off and return after the All-Star Break, probably just in time to be traded to a smaller market team that could use some veteran bench presence. Sic transit gloria.
Shane McClanahan has struggled with back tightness over his last few outings. You know what the shoulder’s connected to? That’s right! The elbone! Also the back. The Rays hope that McClanahan avoids the IL, but pitching right through the injury would be very un-Rays-like. The Rays loooove giving their pitchers a break, and back tightness isn’t something that trainers want to mess around with. At the time of writing, SMC is taking extra reps from flat ground and had his next start pushed back. With the timing of the All-Star Break, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays’ thought process is: 1-2 more starts with an IP cap at 5 IP, and then have SMC rest over the break and see where he ends up. No worries for your fantasy team…yet.
Aaron Nola is doing this weird thing where he’s unhittable for a game followed by massive strikeouts accompanied by massive damage from batters. When we look at the combined stat lines, things look fine. Over his last 4 games, for example, we see a nearly 12 K/9 to a 2.75 BB/9, with an ERA below 3.50 and a FIP nearly at 3. But fantasy managers are certainly frustrated because, in two of those games, he allowed a combined 10 runs. Nola’s making his case to strike the Top 20 SP — he’s SP28 on the Player Rater at the time of writing, which is perfectly fine — but managers want more stability out of a guy that was a consensus Top 10 SP.
Eury Perez is on a tear right now, but the Marlins sound like they’re going to give him a break according to Grey’s favorite fishwrap writer Craig Mish. Perez is barely out of high school and the Marlins have effectively started his rookie clock by leaving him in the majors. But for certain, they’ve got stats-minded scouts who see the same data that we do and are probably worried. Over his recent span of success, Perez has a 0.33 ERA…with a 4.14 xFIP. That means, his expected performance is closer to a streamer than the Top 20 SP that he’s been cosplaying as. Perez’ BABIP over his time as a starter is still .232 (which is way below average) and he’s allowed a 16% barrel rate over his past two starts. There’s a lot to like about Eury Perez, but rookies rarely put a compelling fantasy season together over the entire span of a season. We’re seeing cracks in the numbers and we’ve got reports of management indicating a slow-down in Perez’ activity — that means bold managers may want to shop Perez while he’s on his hot-streak.
Luis Castillo is quietly having a really tough time. Since May, he’s 2-6, and his true skill stats are 1 to 1.5 runs higher than his ERA. Although he put up a run of 3 quality starts against [checks notes] the Pirates and Athletics…OK…he’s gone on to allow 5 homers and 11 walks in his last three starts. Probably what’s most worrying is his BABIP over the past three games is under .200, with a paltry line drive rate to go along with it. You know how batters can torch a pitcher without hitting line drives? They hit home runs. There’s still a lot to like in Castillo’s deeper numbers — that low line drive rate, and his swinging strike rate surging towards 20% in multiple games. But on the whole, Castillo’s numbers are looking pretty shaky for a second half rebound.
Triston McKenzie has a UCL sprain and is off to the IL. Images of Jacob deGrom are flashing through your head right now, aren’t they? I’ll keep pointing to the calendar at the top of this article, not because it makes you scroll past more ads, but because the All-Star Break is coming. UCL sprains mean there’s a tear or stretching of the UCL ligament in the elbow. This is the precursor to Tommy John surgery. In recent memory, Zac Gallen is the only notable fantasy-relevant starter who has rehabbed a sprained elbow ligament instead of going under the knife. The Guardians probably have this thought process in mind: let McKenzie rest through the All-Star Break, and then take another MRI when the swelling is lessened. They’ll let him test out his elbow and determine whether he should be a Roleless Rob for the rest of the year, or whether to go under the knife and return in [does napkin math] 2025. Yeesh. McKenzie had spent much of the past year on the IL with a shoulder injury, and just like I wrote above by plagiarizing the great kid’s song, the shoulder is connected to the elbow. Young pitchers compensate for injuries in one location by over-relying on another joint (see Tyler Glasnow, who also ended up on the Tommy John list). I’d recommend redraft fantasy managers move on completely from Triston McKenzie in 2023 — there’s an enormous amount of risk. Dynasty managers can hold, but you’ll most likely see McKenzie back in action 18 months from now.