Fantasy Baseball Takeaways: Kyle Schwarber and the hot hand

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For years, we’ve dreamt of an ideal landing spot for Kyle Schwarber. Perhaps a DH position in the American League, where he could focus on hitting, only. Yankee Stadium sounded good to me.

Alas, maybe Schwarber has found heaven in the National League. There’s no DH yet, but he’s smashing things at the top of the Washington lineup. In a time where the three true outcomes define baseball like never before, Kyle Schwarber is the face of 2021 MLB.

Schwarber has been a one-man souvenir delivery service the last two weeks. He conked two more home runs Thursday, giving him 21 on the year. His last two weeks read like one gigantic misprint — 12 home runs, 1.082 slugging percentage. He’s still hacking plenty — 17 strikeouts — but when the connections are this mammoth, who cares?

If you’ve been riding this streak in DFS and daily formats, good for you. Of course, not everyone believes in the hot hand to begin with, though recent study has started to tilt towards validation of the hot hand. It’s just difficult to define, and endpoints can come at any time.

There’s nothing fluky about Schwarber hitting homers, of course. His Statcast power profile is a racecar in the red — average exit velocity, max exit veto, hard-hit percentage, expected wOBA, expected slugging, and barrel percentage are all far right if not pinned to the right. He’s also above average in walks and a heavy source of strikeouts; this is what we expected.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Washington Nationals looks on after hitting a home run against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on June 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
A familiar June sight, Kyle Schwarber hitting another ball into the seats. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

If you have the luxury of picking the center cut of Schwarber production, the stats get even more exciting. His OPS is 320 points higher against right-handed pitching, no surprise there, and he gets a 204-point OPS boost at home. The Nats stay in Miami through the weekend, but at least Washington is facing a bunch of right-handed pitchers for the next week. Things don’t get hairy until Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw come calling in early July.

If I were shuffling outfielders this moment, I’d push Schwarber in the $18-20 range. His average isn’t an asset but it’s not a kill shot, either, and the extra at-bat is nice. And anyone ticketed for 40-plus homers is going to find a welcome spot on all of our lineups. 

What's the Astros special sauce? 

I assume you’ve picked up on this already, but perhaps not. The Houston offense is a wrecking crew. The Astros rank first in runs scored (57 ahead of the second-place Dodgers), first in average, first in OBP, first in slugging. It's also first in contact rate. This is a deep lineup, a group that can beat you a number of ways.

(Now we’ll take a brief interlude and allow you to get any Houston/trash can joke out of your system. We good? Okay, moving right along . . . )

Looking for some 2021 special sauce, I found an interesting coincidence. Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and Yuli Gurriel are all among the leaders among players who have improved their chase rate the most. In other words, these are the hitters who are spitting on borderline pitches most often, and least likely to swing at a bad offering. It’s a critical offensive skill, and they’ve all sharpened their focus this year. How, why? I’m not sure anyone can say. But they’ve made the adjustment.

Like a smart modern team, the Astros don’t have much use for the stolen base — just 23, ranking them 23rd. You can’t point to this offense doing something nefarious at home; Houston ranks fifth in home OPS, but the Astros jump to first with road games (a .292/.356/.470 slash out of a suitcase). Maybe they thrive on the jeering they get in opposing parks, I don’t know.

If you're looking for a way into this fantasy lineup, Myles Straw remains widely available (plus average, 10 steals) and Abraham Toro (crushed at Triple-A, looks fine in the majors) has a dedicated spot while Alex Bregman is out. Get to the wire.

Steven Duggar clicking by the bay 

I’d like to see the Giants find a regular spot for Steven Duggar because he’s doing some fun things. He’s played in 16 of the last 20 games, although he always slots in the second half of the lineup. No one expects him to keep his .325 average — especially with an elevated strikeout rate — but he has six homers and five steals over 123 at-bats. Category juice for the win. And San Francisco’s home park is actually a fun place for lefties to hit these days (which could be why so many Giants are trying to get the ball in the air more often).

Duggar is a solid defender, which marks lineup territory. He’s walking a moderate amount. He’s quietly the No. 20 player in Yahoo 5x5 value over the last month, and yet he trades at a modest 21 percent. There’s still plenty of time to grab a raft at McCovey Cove. The Giants look like full-season contenders, too. 

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