Fantasy Baseball: MJ Melendez steps up in class

·4 min read

I published the Fantasy Catcher Shuffle Up two days ago. I stand by the list. It’s a gross position. Nobody knew Tyler Stephenson would be on the IL a day later.

But I need a mulligan on one rank, and thankfully several thoughtful readers pointed it out. I wasn’t bullish on MJ Melendez, and I need to be.

MJ Melendez deserves more respect

Melendez joined the Royals in early May, and he’s quickly become an everyday fixture in the lineup. Sometimes he catches, sometimes he plays the outfield, sometimes he slots at DH. He’s started 25 of the team’s last 26 games, almost always batting fifth.

The production speaks for itself. Melendez has a .259/.339/.463 slash, with five homers in 108 at-bats. That hashes out to a 129 OPS+, 29 points above league average. His latest homer came in Thursday’s win over Baltimore.

There’s some fun on Melendez’s Statcast page. His hard-hit metrics trend to the right side of the bar, the good side. His expected average is about where his real average is; his expected slugging is actually 35 points higher. He even has surprising speed for a catcher, though he hasn’t stolen any bases yet. Nothing wrong with being young and athletic.

Perhaps I overreacted to Melendez’s slow start prior to his call-up; he was in a .167/286/.295 funk at Omaha through three weeks. But we’re talking about a guy who hit 41 homers in the minors at two levels last year, in just 124 games. Massive power potential. And he’s still just 23.

The Royals use Salvador Perez and Melendez every day, and that’s good enough for me. Welcome to the double-digit tier, rookie. The proper adjustment has been made.

'Stressburg' back in our fantasy lives

Stephen Strasburg threw 209 innings in 2019, tops in the NL. He’s made eight starts since. His first start of 2022 was Thursday, and it was a mess: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 5 K.

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Injuries have come standard throughout his career, which is why we often refer to Strasburg as "Stressburg."

I take no joy in that; just reporting the facts.

He had Tommy John surgery early in his career. A hand problem held him back in 2020. Last year it was a neck strain, shoulder inflammation and eventually surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) used to be a fantasy star
Injuries have decimated Stephen Strasburg's career in both fantasy and reality of late. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

I try to be a realist with these things. Strasburg is 33, and the Nationals aren’t going anywhere. I think it’s highly likely he’ll be used sparingly and/or be ineffective. The heart can root for a major comeback, but pragmatism should rule our fantasy decisions.

Save chasing in Arizona

If you have a strong fantasy bullpen, you’re probably ignoring the situation in Arizona. If you’re struggling for every possible save, then you have to monitor the results of Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy. It’s not fun.

Melancon still has the gig, and 11 saves, though it comes with a 6.52 ERA and 1.76 WHIP. Kennedy’s numbers are slightly better (3.57 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), though Melancon actually has a lower FIP. Both of the right-handers are 37 and near the end of their relevance.

Kennedy now has four saves after recording one Thursday; Melancon worked the eighth. Normally that would sound like a sea change, but Melancon had asked for an inning of work before the game and was handed the eighth, when Arizona was still behind. It seemed unlikely a save chance was coming.

If I had to roster either player, I’d still prefer Kennedy. But if you’re strong enough to stay away from both players, that’s perfectly reasonable.

Starting pitchers, still impossible

Next week’s Shuffle Up is going to be the starting pitchers. I know going in that it’s always an impossible exercise.

Corbin Burnes has been bad his last two starts. Gerrit Cole just threw the Home Run Derby in Minnesota. Are the best Dodgers pitchers really the inexpensive and unheralded guys? How long can Martin Perez work this sorcery? Is Tarik Skubal a full-season story? Can the Philadelphia pitchers beat their awful defense?

I haven’t decided if I’m going to offer conditional ranks for the injured. It’s so difficult with pitchers. The Mets are in such a good position with the NL East, they don’t have to rush Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom back. Stay tuned.

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