I did it again. I let myself get excited about Nick Pivetta’s return to the majors. And his start against the Cardinals on Tuesday encapsulated my feelings on him in general.
Pivetta gave up three runs on a pair of homers and a hit batsman in the first inning before finishing his outing with four scoreless frames. He struck out five batters along the way. He lets you down before providing just enough hope to keep him in your thoughts. It’s like the “Seinfeld” episode where George informs Elaine that he’ll often do a “leave-behind” as an excuse if it seems like the chances of getting a second date with someone isn’t looking promising. PI-VETTA! See, he’s stuck in my head again.
By the way, this pop culture reference is older than the likes of Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., and Mike Soroka. Sorry if this made you sad. Below are this week’s recommendations to make up for it.
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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, May 30th
Sonny Gray SP/RP, Reds (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
I had to double-check to make sure this percentage was accurate. I get it, Gray was terrible with the Yankees. It was the sort of showing which leads to some natural resistance to trusting him again. He was more of a wait-and-see option for me initially, but I’ve seen enough to get back on board, as the right-hander has reeled off a 3.54 ERA through his first 11 starts with Cincinnati. After hitting a bit of a rough patch, he’s won each of his last two starts while allowing one run in 12 innings. He’s fanned at least seven batters in three straight starts. Reunited with his college pitching coach Derek Johnson, Gray has moved back to relying more on his four-seamer and currently sports the best strikeout percentage of his career. He’s also boosted his ground ball rate to 55.9 percent — third among qualified starting pitchers — a good way to combat one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the game. He should be close to universally rostered in mixed leagues.
Cavan Biggio 2B, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)
Make that two sons of Hall of Famers in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Biggio earned his call-up to the majors last Friday after batting .307/.445/.504 with six homers and five steals across his first 42 games in Triple-A. The batting average really stands out. He cut his strikeout rate by roughly 10 percent compared to his previous two seasons while notching more walks (34) than strikeouts (28). It’s hard to count on him maintaining that contact rate during his first stint in the majors, but his standing as a prospect has changed in part because of a swing change geared at generating more power. He’s always been a patient hitter and has proven that he’s capable of stealing a few bags. Biggio doesn’t really have a position, but he’s interesting enough to at least see how he fares while getting his first look.
Griffin Canning SP, Angels (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)
Canning didn’t have the most superficially impressive start to his major league career, posting a 5.65 ERA through three starts, but hopefully you didn’t let that discourage you. Fortunately, there’s still a small window of time to get on board in shallower formats. Canning has allowed three hits and one run or fewer in each of his last three starts while putting up a stingy 15/3 K/BB ratio over 18 innings. This includes six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision against the Athletics on Wednesday. Canning has an average fastball velocity just above 94 mph, but his slider is his true weapon and he also gets plenty of whiffs on his curveball. He looks like a keeper for the Angels and one who could stick in fantasy rotations for a while.
Howie Kendrick 1B/2B/3B/OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 35 percent rostered)
Kendrick appeared in 40 games last year before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, but he’s roaring out of the gate in his return this year by hitting .328/.367/.595 with nine home runs and 33 RBI through 46 games. He’s amassed two homers, two doubles, and eight RBI over his last four games while increasing his batting average by 37 points. With Ryan Zimmerman not close to a return from his plantar fasciitis injury, the playing time should continue to be there. And there’s an argument that he should still have a role even after Zimmerman returns. According to Baseball Savant, Kendrick ranks among impressive company in terms of average exit velocity and his hard-hit percentage has been truly elite, so he’s earned every bit of his production so far. With his eligibility at four different positions, Kendrick is a handy plug-and-play option in most formats.
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Mitch Garver C, Twins (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
Garver was a shining light among the dreary landscape of the catcher position prior to going down with a high left ankle sprain on May 14, but he was able to begin a rehab assignment on Monday and could return within days. While he’s been dropped in a bunch of leagues during his absence, he’s someone worth waiting on in all formats. Garver owns a 1.164 OPS with nine homers through 91 plate appearances so far this season, backed up by some very positive trends. He’s experienced monster jumps in terms of average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and barrel percentage. According to Baseball Savant, he’s top-50 in all three categories among players with at least 50 batted ball events. The bar at the catcher position is quite low, so he’s well worth stashing as a part of the stacked Twins’ lineup.
Lance Lynn SP, Rangers (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)
I was tempted to put Devin Smeltzer in here after his impressive debut against the Brewers, but I want to see more before giving him the official stamp of approval. Besides, it’s not a given that he’s up for good. As for Lynn, I’m mostly seeing him as a quality streaming option. While he owns an underwhelming 4.66 ERA over 11 starts overall, his 106 ERA+ shows that he’s actually been an above average pitcher. The secondary numbers are good too, as he’s fanned 70 batters in 67 2/3 innings while walking just 22. He’s reached double-digit strikeouts in each of his last two starts and has a favorable matchup on tap for Saturday against the Royals. Lynn is definitely capable of good outings, but just don’t get too attached.
Kevin Kiermaier OF, Rays (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
Kiermaier was limited to just 98 games in 2017 and appeared in just 88 games last year while posting a career-low .653 OPS, so I wouldn’t blame you if he was an afterthought in fantasy drafts this spring. But he’s doing enough to put himself back on the map in mixed leagues. The 29-year-old has hit safely in 10 out of his last 11 games while hitting three homers and stealing three bases. It’s a reminder of what he’s capable of providing when healthy. In fact, he already has 10 steals on the year, matching his total from all of last season. Don’t look for a ton of help in the batting average department — he’s a .253 career hitter — but he’s proven that he can supply some useful counting stats.
Jesus Luzardo SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 18 percent rostered)
The injury stashes continue here with Luzardo, who threw live batting practice over the weekend as he continues his road back from a left shoulder strain. According to Martin Gallegos of MLB.com, the top prospect left-hander was hitting 96 mph during the throwing session, which is a good sign. The 21-year-old was a trendy name in fantasy drafts throughout the spring and likely would have secured a spot in the A’s rotation if he was healthy. He’s going to require a lengthy rehab assignment and will need to enjoy some success to arrive in the majors sooner rather than later, but the upside remains tantalizing. Stash and try to remain patient.
Alex Reyes SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 26 percent rostered)
While it seems like Reyes has been around forever, he’s only logged 53 innings in the majors. Of course, that’s only because of injury. Reyes missed the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery and his return last year was curtailed due to a torn lat muscle which required surgery. He even suffered a fracture on his left (non-throwing) hand with Triple-A Memphis this April after punching a wall in frustration. Not ideal, but the good news is that it didn’t keep him down for long. Reyes has already made two starts with High-A Fort Myers while allowing just two earned runs with an 11/3 K/BB ratio over 9 1/3 innings. He has another start lined up for High-A on Sunday, after which it’s possible he’s deemed ready to join the struggling Cardinals’ rotation. It’s hard to ignore the injury history here and his control warrants watching, but him and Luzardo make for solid pickups if you have the roster/bench space.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 2B/SS/OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
Cavan Biggio is understandably getting a lot of attention for his first call-up to the majors, but Gurriel has been tearing the cover off the ball since returning from Triple-A last Friday. He’s gone 10-for-23 (.435) with four homers and three doubles in just six games. Remember that he was batting just .175 (7-for-40) prior to his demotion in April and he also dealt with a case of the yips. He’s exclusively played left field since returning while mostly hitting sixth in the Jays’ lineup. He hit second on Wednesday, but that was only because Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was out of the lineup. Either way, the at-bats are there right now and he qualifies at three positions. Who couldn’t use a little versatility on their roster right now?