Last week's 5 biggest fantasy surprises: Randy Arozarena needs to make an adjustment

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It wasn't long ago that Kansas City Royals veteran Whit Merrifield looked like the biggest bust in fantasy baseball. He hit just .141 in April with zero pop. It was fair to wonder whether Merrifield, now 33, was cooked.

Fast forward to Tuesday, and Merrifield is the top-ranked fantasy player over the past 7 days. He hit .400 over his past 30 at bats, with 2 home runs and 2 steals. After an extremely slow start, he appears to have turned things around.

Seven days means little in fantasy baseball. This could be the start of Merrifield's return to prominence or a solid blip on what will go down as a disappointing season. But at least he did something positive.

At this point in the fantasy season, that's enough to keep a struggling star on a fantasy roster. If a high draft pick hasn't shown any promise nearly 6 weeks into the fantasy season, it might be time to cut your losses.

Ranks are based on standard Yahoo fantasy leagues

Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays OF

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 614

Season-long fantasy rank: 341

Randy Arozarena looks lost at the plate. The talented 27-year-old is hitting just .228/.271/.338, with one home run. This isn't a case of a Arozarena being unlucky either. He's earned those poor numbers.

There are a number of troubling trends in Arozarena's numbers. He's reaching more and making weak contact on pitches out of the zone. When he does put a ball in play, he's hitting it on the ground. Arozarena's ground ball rate is up nearly 10 percent this season. That explains his lack of home runs. He's also been abysmal against fastballs, a pitch he's typically crushed. Arozarena is hitting .253 on 4-seamers this season. He hit .323 against them last year.

Randy Arozarena with the Rays.
Randy Arozarena has been a fantasy disappointment thus far. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

All of this suggests Arozarena's mechanics and approach need some fine tuning. His 114.1 mph max exit velocity this season suggests he's still capable of hitting for power, but that won't happen until he fixes his swing.

That can happen at any moment, so it's up to fantasy managers to determine whether they can wait on Arozarena to turn things around. If your team is doing well, enjoy the stolen bases while Arozarena figures things out at the plate. But if you need more immediate help, he can be benched until he shows something more at the plate.

Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers SP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 7

Season-long fantasy rank: 85

Detroit Tigers fans haven't had much to celebrate this season. The team is 13-23, and two members of their promising young pitching trio — Casey Mize and Matt Manning — are already injured. Thankfully, the third member of the group, Tarik Skubal, is pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Skubal's stuff has never been in question. His command and control needed work as he made his way to the majors. Skubal has ironed that out this season. His 5.0 percent walk rate ranks 13th among starting pitchers.

While scouts liked Skubal's stuff, he realized he needed an arsenal adjustment. Skubal has drastically cut down on his 4-seam fastball percentage. He used the pitch 42.8 percent in 2021. That figure sits at 28.9 percent this season. That was a good move, as batters slugged .611 against Skubal's fastball last year.

Skubal has compensated by using his sinker and breaking pitches more. Skubal's curveball and changeup are being beaten into the ground more, causing his ground-ball rate to jump over 10 percent. That's also helped him limit home runs.

The improved command has also had a positive effect on Skubal's fastball. He's been able to spot the pitch higher in the zone more consistently, not allowing batters to elevate the pitch. He looks like a pitcher who is starting to put it all together.

Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox OF

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 26

Season-long fantasy rank: 34

Luis Robert came into the 2022 MLB season with extremely high expectations, but even his most ardent supporters had to recognize the risk. Robert hit .338 last season, but did so in 68 games which mostly came at the beginning and end of the season. He showed promise, but also had a .394 BABIP. Robert was drafted high in 2022 because he was going to steal a lot of bases and could morph into a superstar at the plate.

Well, fantasy managers who selected Robert can rejoice, because it looks like he's a superstar. Much of Robert's improvement began last season, when he dramatically cut down his whiff rate against all pitches. His growth against offspeed pitches really stood out, as Robert hit .231 against them in 2020 and .292 against them in 2021.

Robert has continued to make improvements in 2022. His strikeout rate has dropped to 13.3 percent, one of the best figures in the majors. That number is even more impressive considering Robert struck out in nearly a third of his at bats as a rookie.

This is the case of an uber-talented player making the leap. Robert probably got there last year, but there were enough reasons to expect regression with the bat. Those concerns shouldn't exist anymore. Robert is a fantasy superstar. If he can put in a full season, he'll win leagues, and will likely be a first-round pick in most 2023 fantasy drafts.

Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds C

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 47

Season-long fantasy rank: 128

Fantasy managers who waited on catcher may found the perfect solution in Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. Through 68 at bats, Stephenson is hitting .324/.390/.574, with 4 home runs. He's been the third-best catcher in standard Yahoo leagues this season. The performance isn't completely out of nowhere, as Stephenson put up a strong offensive season last year.

It's probably not going to last. Stephenson's trends don't look promising. He's walking less, striking out more, not hitting the ball hard, reaching for more pitches out of zone and making less contact.

Tyler Stephenson with the Reds.
Tyler Stephenson is off to an excellent start, but can it last? (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It's not all bad. Stephenson is barreling and pulling the ball more. For a guy who doesn't hit the ball particularly hard, that could help maximize his home run output. It doesn't hurt that he's playing home games in one of the friendliest parks for power either.

The catcher position is awful and fantasy managers who waited are likely scrambling for the best waiver wire option. Stephenson's hot start has probably carried a lot of teams, but it's hard to see this ending well.

Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres 1B, 2B, SS

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 536

Season-long fantasy rank: 435

It's been a rough start for San Diego Padres utility man Jake Cronenworth. He's hitting .205/.305/.318, with 2 home runs, through 156 plate appearances. He's not a guy who hits the ball particularly hard, and with the baseball not flying as far this season, that could spell the beginning of the end for one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 MLB season.

The numbers haven't been good, but Cronenworth is doing enough under the hood to suggest he'll get it together. His command of the strike zone remains strong. Cronenworth is taking walks at a career-high 11.5 percent rate. His reach rate remains elite as well.

While his strikeout rate has ballooned to 21.2 percent, his swinging strike rate is in line with his career average. That figure should drop, though Cronenworth can help that by being more aggressive on two-strike pitches close to the zone.

Cronenworth does need to make one adjustment at the plate. He's putting too much in the air to start the season. He has a 44.6 percent fly ball rate, which is much higher than his 36 percent career average. He's not pulling many of those fly balls, which is a recipe for disaster for a guy who doesn't post high exit velocities.

Cronenworth has experienced success by spraying line drives all over the field. His increase in fly-ball rate likely isn't intentional. If he can lower his launch angle, Cronenworth should go back to being the player fantasy managers expected.

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