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Fantasy Baseball Takeaways: Framber Valdez has been worth the wait

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When you talk Houston Astros, you might focus on the hitting. You might wax poetic about Zack Greinke. You might make some cheeky joke about their cheating scandal. You have all sorts of angles to consider, choose your own adventure.

It might take you a while to get to Framber Valdez, and that’s okay. His fantasy managers can keep a secret.

Valdez didn’t have his pristine stuff at Cleveland on Thursday — he walked five men, and uncorked a run-scoring wild pitch. But he nonetheless lasted seven innings and allowed just two runs, striking out six. He’s down to a 2.18 ERA for the year and a tidy 1.04 WHIP.

Talk about being worth the wait. Valdez’s 2021 debut came in late May — he missed about two months with a finger injury — but he’s been set-and-forget, right out of the box. He’s allowed three runs or fewer in every start, and he’s reeled off six straight quality ones. Given how erratic pitching can be, we need to treasure any reliable starter we can find.

Valdez isn’t a velocity god — his average fastball checks in at 92.3 mph — but he’s a wizard at inducing ground balls; his 71-percent ground-ball rate is far and away the best among starting pitchers in baseball. Heck, even if we move the qualifier down to 20 innings pitched, Valdez is still almost eight percentage points ahead of Josh Fleming (63.2), the second-place pitcher.

Ground balls are a safe way to travel. They’ll never fly over the fence, and sometimes they’ll lead to a rally-killing double play. Valdez has made this work for him, and it’s enabled him to be successful despite elevated exit-velocity and hard-hit metrics. As you might suspect, Baseball Savant and xFIP both feel he’s pitching to an ERA in the low 3s, not the low 2s.

I’m not going to quibble about that column going forward. Valdez has been one of the discounts of the year, if you were wise enough to realize a finger injury was no big deal. I had him as a $15 arm in the Shuffle Up two weeks back, but maybe that was too conservative. Let’s push him into the high teens now.

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 25: Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) pitches during the Detroit Tigers versus the Houston Astros game on Friday June 25, 2021 at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Framber Valdez has been Mr. Automatic in 2021. (Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jake Burger on order in Chicago

With the July 4th holiday on the way, can we interest you in a burger?

The White Sox need a third baseman with Yoan Moncada likely IL-bound, and post-hype sleeper Jake Burger is on the case.

If you’re an MLB draft hound, you remember Burger, Chicago’s first-round pick in 2017, the 11th overall selection. He’s been covered in bad luck for most of his professional career, suffering two ruptured Achilles injuries and later a heel injury in the rehab process. Nonetheless, Burger is just 25 and he’s been ripping at Triple-A Charlotte: .322/.368/.596, with 10 homers in 42 games. Maybe he can hit the ground running on the South Side.

If you want to kick some tires, they’re out there to kick. Burger is rostered in just two percent of Yahoo leagues.

Dominic Smith, ready to pop 

Somehow, someway, Jacob deGrom allowed three runs at Atlanta (he also struck out 14, against zero walks). Austin Riley hit an opposite-field homer. Dominic Smith conked two homers for the Mets. I’m not sure what in this paragraph qualifies as most surprising.

Maybe Smith will be a second-half surger. The Statcast data suggests he’s been unlucky; if you hash out his batted-ball profile, it suggests a .271 batting average and .436 slugging percentage (as opposed to the .249 and .384 numbers he’s carrying around). The Mets certainly haven’t given up on Smith; he normally slots in the third, fourth, or fifth position in their order.

Let’s not forget Smith slashed .299/.366/.571 for a 139-game sample over 2019 and 2020. Good times are likely ahead. You can add Smith in some medium and shallow Yahoo formats; he's only rostered in 53 percent of our world. 

Paul Sewald, shutdown reliever

The Mariners let Paul Sewald close up shop Thursday, so we’ll do the same. Sewald recorded four outs at Buffalo, putting away the Blue Jays and securing a win for Yusei Kikuchi. It’s Sewald’s first handshake of the year, though he’s been working in plenty of high-leverage spots. He already has five sneaky wins.

But even if Sewald doesn’t get more ninth-inning opportunities, he’s presenting a worthy fantasy profile. He’s carrying a 1.66 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, with 38 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Sure, he’s a 31-year-old journeyman. Okay, you had zero Sewald expectations two months ago. That’s not how this stuff works. When relief heroes pop out of the woodwork, you acquire them cheaply. And a bunch of guys always come out of the woodwork.

The save got the attention of deep-league chasers, but Sewald is still just five percent rostered in Yahoo. Let's smooth out those ratios, gamers. 

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