Fantasy baseball takeaways: Tejay Antone, breaking away

Scott Pianowski
·5 min read

Birds do it, bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.

I’m in love with Tejay Antone’s curveball.

The Reds had the last word in Monday’s MLB slate, scoring a 5-3 victory over the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. Jesse Winker’s breakout tour continues — his tenth-inning homer decided the game — but it was Antone’s work that made it all possible. Antone threw three scoreless innings at the best team in the world, striking out three and lowering his ERA to 0.66.

A reliever threw three innings? A non-starter threw 53 pitches and didn’t lose effectiveness? Makes you want to start hugging strangers.

CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 21:  Tejay Antone #70 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Great American Ball Park on April 21, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Tejay Antone has become a breakout star in Cincinnati's bullpen. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

A common theme in this column is the idea that we don’t have to pay up for the previous year’s relief hero; we can find freshly minted stars in every new season. Let the other guy chase Nick Anderson or Devin Williams after the ADP rises; we’ll hunt in the weeds for a better value.

Antone fits that theme. Although he had a tidy 35 innings last year, he wasn’t a hot commodity into draft season, even with Cincinnati’s uncertain closer situation. His Yahoo ADP closed at 242, and it was outside 300 in NFBC formats.

Antone’s up to 13.2 innings this year, and they’ve been dominant: 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 20 K. His 96.6 mph fastball grades as an ordinary pitch, but his breaking stuff — a mix of sliders and curves — is off the charts. His slider is the No. 6 graded pitch among 10-inning and up relievers, per Fangraphs, and his curveball is miles ahead of everyone else.

Captain hook, indeed. Pitching Ninja could run a week of Antone and no one would complain.

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Antone’s career is a meandering story, a lovable underdog. He spent five years in the minors, fell into Tommy John surgery. He was an ordinary starter in the bush leagues before finding his niche as a max-out reliever. The Reds did use him for four starts last year, but he might help the team more as a flexible, multiple-inning bullpen ace.

Antone’s still widely available in Yahoo formats; his current roster tag is 34 percent. I get it. He’s not getting starts and he’s not seeing save opportunities — at least not yet. But dominant innings are always welcome on my rosters — let’s massage the ratios every chance we get. And with Antone throwing this well, high-leverage work figures to follow. More chances for wins, and probably some saves down the road, too.

We’ll take zeroes anywhere we can get them. Baby’s got the bends. Hop on board.

Trevor Rogers, real and spectacular

Trevor Rogers is another pitcher mildly under the radar, and I get it. He’s easily confused with twins Taylor and Tyler Rogers (why do parents give their kids easily conflated names?), and the Miami pitching staff is overflowing with young, budding aces. Rogers was available in the 230 range back in March’s Yahoo drafts.

But the screen on Miami’s Rogers is quickly disappearing. He outdueled Jacob deGrom earlier this month, and Monday it was time to take down Corbin Burnes. The Fish knocked Burnes around for five runs over five innings, while Rogers worked his own bagel parade (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K).

The walkless start is especially encouraging because control has been the only Rogers problem this year. He’s handed out 10 free passes, too many over 28 innings. But he’s only allowed 18 hits and one home run, and he’s struck out 38 batters. This is what a future ace looks like. Heck, he’s an ace right now.

Rogers has stepped up his game this year, bumping his fastball into the mid-90s — it’s been his most effective pitch — and using a dandy changeup to get right-handers out. And while a 1.29 ERA is hard to take seriously, the ERA estimators back up his fast start. FIP suggests a 2.02 ERA, while Statcast data spits out 2.23. Sure, if you don’t trust the skimpy home-run rate, you’ll expect a bigger number, but Rogers’s xFIP is still a nifty 3.04.

It’s scary to think of how dominant Miami’s staff could be in a year or two. Sandy Alcantara looks like a future No. 1, Pablo Lopez misses plenty of bats, and Sixto Sanchez (perhaps the star prospect of the group) should rejoin the team shortly. Miami’s playoff berth last year was seen as a novelty fueled by the expanded playoffs, but this club figures to bang down the door in a year or two. Give me all the Marlins.

Royals reshuffle in the ninth 

The Kansas City bullpen is filled with hair-on-fire relievers, power arms who pile up the strikeouts and try to dodge the pesky walks. Greg Holland was ostensibly the team’s closer earlier in the year, but it looks like others are passing him.

Josh Staumont deserves the first look, with two saves in three days. He closed Monday at Detroit, following Scott Barlow in the seventh and Holland in the eighth. You can still grab Staumont in about three-quarters of Yahoo leagues.

I’m going to keep Barlow in some hold formats — he’s a trusted arm and the strikeout rate (18 over 14.1 innings) fits nicely in leagues that cap innings. Staumont’s strikeout clip has oddly dipped after a zesty rate last year, and he does have five walks over 12 innings. But possession of the bullpen baton is critical in saves handicapping; at minimum, Staumont seems likely to keep this gig until he makes a mess or two.