I'm not going to say you shouldn't pick up Patrick Sandoval after his complete-game shutout Friday. He was a trendy breakout pick coming into the year, has two genuine swing-and-miss pitches in the changeup and slider, and registered a season-high 24 swinging strikes in the sort of performance we've been hoping he would give us all along.
But is him finally giving it to us in (checks notes) late August some sort of validation, particularly when the opponent is (checks notes) the Tigers?
I'm generally not one to dismiss standout performances against bad teams because, well, this isn't my first day covering baseball, a sport where even the best teams win just 60 percent of their games (sometimes a little more). Still, the Tigers have been the source of a few pitcher fakeouts recently, particularly with regard to swinging strikes. Michael Kopech had 19 against them two turns ago. He's had only one other start with even 15. Aaron Civale had 17 against them last time out. He's had only two other starts with double digits.
In a year with no shortage of anemic offenses, the Tigers have ranked dead last in runs scored basically from start to finish, so you have to take any pitcher performance against them with a grain of salt. It's possible Friday just happened to be the moment when Sandoval learned to harness his stuff and stop beating himself with walks. But considering it was only the second time he had gone even six innings in his past nine starts, lowering his WHIP to a still-woeful 1.40, I remain skeptical.
I would instead opt for any of the starting pitchers featured among these eight players. I would certainly opt for Dustin May if he happens to be available in your league still. Check out what he did in his return from Tommy John surgery:
That's after compiling a 1.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 15.4 K/9 across six rehab starts. Yeah, he's insane, but at 86 percent rostered in CBS Sports leagues already, he's also not so applicable here.
So who is?
MIA Miami • #44 • Age: 25
The most impressive thing about Luzardo's start Friday is it came against the Dodgers, a team that's not only a distant first in runs scored but is also on pace for the most wins we've seen in a couple decades. He held them to one run in 6 1/3 innings for his third strong start in four turns since coming back from a strained forearm. He hasn't retained the velocity bump he enjoyed just before the injury, but he has gone the more sustainable route of throwing his best pitches more -- specifically, the changeup, which has a 50 percent whiff rate. He threw it 39 percent of the time Friday, giving him three straight with 30 percent or more. He was throwing it only about 20 percent of the time previously.
Nate Lowe 1B
TEX Texas • #30 • Age: 27
Maybe it's because he's only eligible at first base, but for some reason, Lowe's roster rate has been stuck in the 50-75 percent range for months. It's time to shed some light on what a productive season he's having. He's been particularly strong in August, raising his batting average for the month to .395 (30 for 76) after going 2 for 5 with a home run Sunday, but he first found another gear in early June, batting .323 (84 for 260) with 13 homers and a .912 OPS over his past 68 games. He's the No. 10 first baseman in points scoring and No. 6 in 5x5 during that stretch.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #35 • Age: 27
When Steele first began this nine-start run in which he's compiled a 1.47 ERA, it seemed like luck was simply breaking his way. But he's taken the bat-missing to another level here in August, recording nine strikeouts or more in three of his four starts. His swinging-strike rate is 15 percent during that stretch compared to 10 percent overall. The best of those four outings came Sunday against the Brewers in which he allowed two hits over six shutout innings. Of course, Steele also has a not-so-great 1.20 WHIP to go along with that 1.47 ERA over his past nine starts and has generally struggled to throw strikes consistently. At this point, he probably needs to be rostered, though, particularly if you can take advantage of his relief pitcher eligibility.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #23 • Age: 27
Peterson's return to the rotation Saturday didn't go as hoped, but one reason for optimism is his pitch selection was off. He threw his best pitch, the slider, only 26 percent of the time. In the six before getting bumped for Jacob deGrom in late July, he threw it more like 35 percent of the time and registered a 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 13.6 K/9. It's a genuinely special pitch with a near 50 percent whiff rate, so as long as Saturday's pitch selection doesn't become a trend, things should go better for Peterson moving forward. It's true he was optioned back to the minors after the start, but only for procedural reasons. He's expected to take every fifth turn with Carlos Carrasco sidelined by a strained oblique.
TB Tampa Bay • #43 • Age: 28
With a 3-for-4 performance Sunday, Ramirez is 9 for 21 (.429) with a home run in five games since returning from a fractured thumb, picking up right where he left off in July. Altogether, he's batting .407 (33 for 81) in his past 21 games, but with only two home runs, which limits his utility in Fantasy. Still, there's a place for a genuine batting average standout, which Ramirez may be with his low strikeout rate and up-the-middle approach. Statcast has him in the 98th percentile for expected batting average, after all. The Rays seem pretty committed to playing him, too, having sat him only once since his return.
STL St. Louis • #21 • Age: 25
Nootbaar deserves kudos for his play over his past 32 games, during which he's batting .322 (29 for 90) with five homers, two steals, a 1.064 OPS and several more walks (23) than strikeouts (16). The Cardinals have taken notice, no longer sitting him against left-handed pitchers and even batting him leadoff against righties. It's from that spot that he went 1 for 3 with two walks and a homer Sunday, capping a four-game stretch in which he went 6 for 12 with two homers and seven walks compared to one strikeout. He's a fine hot-hand play for the Cardinals' eight-game week beginning Monday, but you may find that he's useful even beyond that, particularly in points leagues.
Jake Fraley LF
CIN Cincinnati • #27 • Age: 27
Fraley, you may remember, actually got some sleeper mentions after coming over from the Mariners in the Jesse Winker trade. He always showed good on-base skills while contributing some stolen bases in Seattle, and his home/away splits suggested a park upgrade could be transformative. Well, after a sputtering start and a lengthy absence for a knee injury, it all seems to be coming to fruition now. The 27-year-old had a huge performance Sunday, reaching five times, including thrice on walks, while homering for the fourth time in six games. In all, he's batting .357 (20 for 56) with six homers and one steal since coming off the IL, walking as many times as he's struck out (10). He also started against the last left-hander the Reds faced, which may be a sign that they're beginning to believe as well.
WAS Washington • #36 • Age: 27
Having spent six years in the Marlins organization before briefly dropping out of baseball in 2020, Garrett finally broke through as a 26-year-old for the Diamondbacks' Triple-A affiliate this year, earning a call-up last week. He's played more than expected so far, starting four of the team's five games since arriving and collecting multiple hits in three of them. The exit velocities have been consistently high and the strikeouts haven't presented a problem, but of course, we're talking about a tiny sample. Still, as lacking as the outfield has been this year, Garrett is already worth a look in leagues that require five of them, such as standard Rotisserie. If his Triple-A numbers are any indication, he's capable of contributing both power and speed.