PT TOMORROW: NL CENTRAL—Can Matt Reynolds stick in CIN?

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds haven’t been full of success stories this season, but Brandon Drury (2B/3B, CIN) has been one (77 ct%, 125 HctX, 122 xPX, 57 BPV). Matt Reynolds (2B, CIN), a Quad-A type player who has bounced between five teams in as many seasons, may have also found a home in Cincinnati while following a similar path to success as Drury. The most notable change to Reynolds’ profile has been an increase in his contact rate (74 ct%), but he has also paired that with improved quality of contact (106 HctX, 103 xPX). Much of that has come in a June surge, which introduces risk that he is simply running hot.

The timing of that stretch might be just right to keep Reynolds in the lineup. Jonathan India (2B, CIN) is nearing a long-awaited return from the injured list. That clarifies the second base position, where Reynolds has gained the majority of his playing time. However, Reynolds has positional versatility, most notably at third base (six games started) and shortstop (10 games started).

Third base appears to be spoken for by a combination of Mike Moustakas (3B, CIN) and Drury, with one serving as a DH. But, Moustakas has struggled to both stay on the field and from a skills perspective (2 BPV). He is a realistic playing time loser if Reynolds continues to perform. Kyle Farmer (SS, CIN) is the starting shortstop, and quite frankly is the least of the Reds’ concerns (83 ct%, 114 HctX, 70 xPX, 47 BPV). Jose Barrero (SS, CIN) is also back from the injured list and awaiting a call to Cincinnati, so there likely isn’t a significant path to playing time at the position for Reynolds.  


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Chicago Cubs

David Robertson (RHP, CHC) has gone from a speculative closer during draft season to a reliable option for saves throughout the first two months of the season. He hasn’t received a multitude of opportunities due team context, converting seven of his nine opportunities while largely backing that with skill (36 K%, 11 BB%, 0.4 HR.9, 2.75 xERA). Speaking of team context, Robertson is an obvious trade candidate given that he’s on a one-year deal. Any move could have a two-layer affect. First, fantasy managers should prepare for the impending loss of saves as Robertson is no lock to be in the closer role for his new team.

Second, there will be a new closer in Chicago. Mychal Givens (RHP, CHC) has previous closer experience and has also posted positive skills (31 K%, 10 BB%, 1.9 HR/9, 3.70 xERA) in a high-leverage role (1.05 LI). He has a mutual option to remain in Chicago in 2023, which leaves his status a bit murkier for 2023.  He has a dangerous combination of home runs/walks allowed, but he’s been largely successful despite the risk.

Rowan Wick (RHP, CHC) is another familiar name that has both picked up saves in the past and recorded four saves this season. His skills are the least convincing of the options discussed thus far (24 K%, 11 BB%, 0.4 HR/9, 4.15 xERA), but he has one distinct standout trait from the other options in that he is under team control for several more seasons. To the extent that manager David Ross cares about closer experience, Wick checks the box.

Finally,  Scott Effross (RHP, CHC) is a name to monitor. He possesses superior skills to Wick (30 K%, 7 BB%, 0.3 HR/9, 3.09 xERA), yet is under team control for several more seasons. He also leads the team in holds, though many of those have come in lower-leverage innings (15 appearances in the sixth inning or earlier; 12 in the seventh inning or later). 

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have failed to make the most anticipated move of their season by promoting Oneil Cruz (SS, PIT) to the big league roster. However, that anticipation shouldn’t overshadow the way the team has overhauled its outfield in recent weeks. Jack Suwinski (OF, PIT) was covered in a column a few weeks ago, but he has delivered far more than could have ever been reasonably expected (69 ct%, 89 HctX, 140 xPX, 38 BPV) when he was recalled to full in for a brief Bryan Reynolds (OF, PIT) stint on the injured list. He’s played himself into a near everyday role in right field, and his recent jump in skills means he should be buying himself consistent playing time.

Cal Mitchell (OF, PIT) has only a .659 OPS since being recalled, but he has fairly impressive skills (76 ct%, 106 HctX, 116 xPX). While the results haven’t been there, those indicators suggest that he isn’t overmatched. The Pirates seem to agree, as he has started 13 of the team’s last 16 games. Travis Swaggerty (OF, PIT) has also been added to the mix and was a feature in a recent edition of PT Today. As was noted by Rick Green, the trio of Suwinski, Mitchell, and Swaggerty will fight for playing time, though the two former options appear to have a head start.

The promotion of this outfield trio also has a peripheral impact, creating additional playing time competition at second base. Tucupita Marcano (2B, PIT) originally drew the majority of his playing time in the outfield but has since shifted to being the primary starter at second base. He appears to be in a race against Josh VanMeter’s (2B/3B, PIT) return from the injured list to prove that he should stick in the majors. Marcano hasn’t done so to this point in an extremely limited sample (68 ct%, 38 HctX, 65 xPX, .238 xBA), and could lose his roster spot if he doesn’t show signs of improvement in the near future. 

 

Milwaukee Brewers

Keston Hiura (1B, MIL) has been used primarily against left-handed pitching this season, appearing in the lineup 16 times against southpaws as opposed to eight times against righties. His career splits indicate that is a mistaken usage pattern. Across parts of four seasons, Hiura has never possessed a PX above 94 against left-handed pitching, and across 2020 and 2021 he has marks of 69 and 60. Other indicators such as his ct% and OPS have also lagged with the platoon advantage.

The team is aware of this trend, h/t to Will Sammon for a recent story on The Athletic. According to the article by Sammon, manager Craig Counsell noted, “Keston, it’s challenging. It feels like it’s a little extreme right now. It’s not a great explanation for it because it’s so different from the vast majority of hitters. But obviously, this is something where we’re seeing it. It makes it a tougher fit for Keston, as well.” While a bit vague, the quote makes sense upon some further investigation. Hiura has primarily played at first and second base this season, filling in for Rowdy Tellez (1B, MIL) and Kolten Wong (2B, MIL), both of whom are lefties, against left-handed pitching.

Now would be the time for Hiura to gain a foothold in the lineup. Wong and Mike Brosseau (2B/3B, MIL) are both on the injured list and Luis Urías (2B/3B, MIL) is day-to-day. The problem is that Hiura has shown little to suggest that he is capable of taking advantage of an opportunity, regardless of the handedness of the opposing pitcher. He has a ct% below 50 in each of the last two seasons and has a negative BPV in each of the last three campaigns. Add in defensive struggles, and his path to significant playing time and success only further narrows.  

 

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are currently missing three-fifths of their starting rotation that was at the beginning of the season. Jack Flaherty (RHP, STL) is nearing a return (he’s set to make his third rehab start on Wednesday), but Steven Matz (LHP, STL) has yet to throw off a mound since hitting the injured list with a shoulder injury. Finally, Jordan Hicks (RHP, STL) is also on the injured list and provided uninspiring results as a starter to begin the campaign.

That has allowed opportunities for big-name prospects to make their big league debut (Zack Thompson, (LHP, STL) and Matthew Liberatore (LHP, STL)), but it has also created looks for more fringey prospects such as Packy Naughton (LHP, STL) and Andre Pallante (RHP, STL). Both have pitched primarily out of the bullpen to this point. Naughton has failed to throw more than 3.1 innings in any appearance, and he flopped in his chance as a traditional starter June 8 against Tampa Bay (1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER). That could preclude him from additional opportunities as a starter, but his small-sample skills are attention-grabbing (20 K-BB%, 3.48 xERA across only 13 IP).

Pallante appears to be worthy of more attention in the short-term. His arc has been more typical of a reliever converting to starter, as he has linearly increased his workload from three to 5.1 innings in the span of his last four appearances. In that same span, he’s maintained a 1.15 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Those numbers aren’t backed by a mediocre 12:6 K:BB across 15.2 frames, but a 61 GB% and 95.4 vel are noteworthy. 


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