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The Cardinals Add Another Patch to Their Rotation With Jon Lester

With a 51-51 record and 2.1% playoff odds entering Friday, the Cardinals didn’t have much reason to approach the trade deadline in aggressive fashion, but they did busy themselves with incremental upgrades of their rotation. In a move that Ben Clemens broke down here, they traded righty John Gant and lefty prospect Evan Sisk to the Twins for lefty J.A. Happ, and in a separate move, they got in on the Nationals’ fire sale by adding southpaw Jon Lester in exchange for center fielder Lane Thomas.

It would be an understatement to say that the 37-year-old Lester ain’t what he used to be. After pitching to a 5.16 ERA, 5.14 FIP, and 5.85 xERA — the last of which was the majors’ worst among qualifiers — in the final season of his six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs in 2020, the team quite understandably turned down its end of a $25 million mutual option and sent him on his merry way with a $10 million buyout, all of it deferred. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Nationals, but before he could make his regular season debut, he missed time during spring training to undergo a parathyroidectomy and then tested positive for COVID-19 amid the Nationals’ first outbreak of the season. He finally took the mound for the Nats on April 30, and over the course of 16 starts, posted a 5.02 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 4.90 xFIP in 75.1 innings.

The indicators, as you’d imagine, aren’t good. Via Statcast, Lester’s fastball velocity has dropped from an average of 89.4 mph last year to 89.0 this year. Of the 113 pitchers with at least 70 innings as starters, his 14.9% strikeout rate and 6.4% strikeout-walk differential are the fourth-lowest and his 5.41 FIP the sixth-highest. This may not be the end of the line for the five-time All-Star with a pair of World Series rings, but we can probably see it from here. Read the rest of this entry »

Mets Finally Strike, Landing Javier Báez and Trevor Williams

The Mets remained on the sidelines during the frenzy of deals that went down on Thursday and early Friday, but they finally made a big move about an hour before the 4 pm ET trade deadline. In a deal with the Cubs, they acquired infielder Javier Báez, righty Trevor Williams, and cash considerations in exchange for center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 amateur draft.

The move addresses a pair of particularly acute needs for the Mets, who placed shortstop Francisco Lindor and ace Jacob deGrom on the Injured List on back-to-back days just after the All-Star break. Lindor left the team’s first game of the second half with a strained oblique, and is now two weeks into a three-to-five-week recovery period, having just returned to baseball activities as of Friday. Báez, a pending free agent, can handle shortstop duties until he gets back, then slide over to second base to form a double play combination that will be must-see TV.

Meanwhile, after deGrom skipped the All-Star Game, he landed on the IL due to a bout of forearm tightness, further exposing the team’s already-depleted rotation. In the 10 games the Mets have played since he went down, they’ve started a pitcher who left his outing and landed on the 60-day IL with a hamstring strain (Robert Stock), a reliever who was the first of six pitchers in an all-bullpen doubleheader game (Aaron Loup), and a starter who was designated for assignment for the second and third times this season the day after getting pummeled (Jerad Eickhoff). A couple hours after the deadline,’s Anthony DiComo reported that deGrom is dealing with additional inflammation and is being shut down from throwing for two weeks, with a September return now the best-case scenario. Williams is no deGrom, but he can provide some back-end stability over the next month, and he has a year of club control remaining.

The 28-year-old Báez has rebounded from a dreadful 2020 campaign, during which he hit for just a 57 wRC+ and netted zero WAR; he was vocal about the loss of in-game video to help him make adjustments. His .248/.292/.484 line this year isn’t overly impressive, but he’s shaken off a dreadful June (.157/.231/.373) with a red-hot July (.324/.355/.535), lifting his wRC+ back to 105. Read the rest of this entry »

Yankees Continue to Swing Left, Adding Anthony Rizzo

In their quest to jump-start an underperforming offense that ranks second-to-last in the American League in scoring, and to balance a lineup that has gotten virtually no production from its left-handed hitters, the Yankees continued to upgrade on Thursday. After acquiring Joey Gallo in a blockbuster deal with the Rangers, they landed Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs in exchange for two prospects, righty reliever Alexander Vizcaíno and outfielder Kevin Alcantara.

The Cubs are reportedly picking up the remainder of Rizzo’s $16.5 million salary, about $5.5 million. That will help to keep the Yankees below the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, while improving the return for Chicago. Rizzo will become a free agent at the end of the season.

Rizzo, who will turn 32 on August 8, has fallen off somewhat relative to the form that helped him make three All-Star teams from 2014-16, but even his current performance (.248/.346/.446 with 14 homers and a 115 wRC+) represents a massive upgrade on the wheezing .201/.292/.326 (73 wRC+) production the Yankees have received from their first basemen this season, one that landed them on the position’s list of Replacement Level Killers last week. While Luke Voit led the majors with 22 homers and a 152 wRC+ last season, he’s made three trips to the Injured List this year, first for a torn meniscus in his left knee, then an oblique strain, and most recently a bone bruise in the same knee. He’s played just 29 games while failing to produce his usual power, and in his absence, fill-ins Chris Gittens and Mike Ford were dreadful (the latter was traded to the Rays in mid-June) and even DJ LeMahieu has been far short of his 2020-21 form. Read the rest of this entry »

Needing a Second Baseman, White Sox Hail Cesar Hernandez

The White Sox have been in need of a stopgap at second base ever since Nick Madrigal tore tendons in his right hamstring and required season-ending surgery in mid-June. Since then, they’ve frequently been connected to trade candidates such as Adam Frazier and Eduardo Escobar, but with both of those players dealt within the past week and the team getting nowhere in its pursuit of Trevor Story, they had to turn elsewhere to fill the spot, though they didn’t have to go far. On Thursday they acquired Cesar Hernandez from division rival Cleveland.

In exchange for Hernandez, Cleveland will receive Konnor Pilkington, a 23-year-old lefty who was the team’s third-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2018, and who had been pitching for Chicago’s Double-A Birmingham affiliate. This is just the fourth trade between the two teams have since the formation of the AL Central in 1994. In the most recent one in December 2018, Cleveland traded Yonder Alonso to Chicago for minor league outfielder Alex Call.

The 31-year-old Hernandez was in his second season with Cleveland after a seven-year run in Philadelphia, which non-tendered him following a mediocre 2019 season. After an excellent 2020 campaign (.283/.355/.408, 110 wRC+, 1.9 WAR) during which he made the prorated share of $6.25 million plus incentives, he took a pay cut, signing a $5 million, one-year deal with a $6 million club option and no buyout for 2022. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesús (Luzardo), It’s Another Marte Party

In last week’s Replacement Level Killers series, I highlighted the A’s subpar production both at shortstop and right field, noting that while the Rockies’ Trevor Story made particular sense for Oakland in light of how set most other contenders are at shortstop, the team was instead prioritizing adding a bigger outfield bat. On Wednesday they did just that, albeit at a significant cost, acquiring Marlins outfielder Starling Marte and cash in exchange for promising but underperforming lefty Jesús Luzardo.

For the A’s — who entered Wednesday at 57-46, six games back in the AL West but two games ahead in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot — this is a bold, win-now move whose full ramifications might not be felt for years. The 32-year-old Marte, who has now been traded three times in the past 18 months including near consecutive deadlines, is in the final option year of a six-year extension that he signed with the Pirates in March 2014, so he’s just a two-month rental. The 23-year-old Luzardo is a former third-round pick who entered the 2020 season as the number six prospect on Eric Longenhagen’s list, but after a solid rookie season, he’s struggled so much that he was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas long enough to delay his free agency; he has five full seasons of club control remaining. The Marlins reportedly sent along $4.5 million to cover the entirety of Marte’s remaining salary in order to add Luzardo to their stable of young arms.

On the positive side of the ledger for Oakland, Marte is in the midst of one of his best seasons with the bat, hitting .305/.405/.451 with seven homers and 22 steals en route to 3.3 WAR. Driven by newfound plate discipline, he’s walked in 11.6% of his plate appearances, more than double his career rate; his on-base percentage and 140 wRC+ both represent career highs. He’s swinging at a career-low 31.9% of pitches outside the zone, down over seven percentage points from last year, and 4.6 points below his career mark. His 10.3% swinging strike rate is a career low. Here’s a quick look at his Statcast swing/take breakdown:

Read the rest of this entry »

Nationals’ Skid Opens Up Possibility of Scherzer, Turner Trades

With a 6–16 July dropping their record to 46–54, it’s increasingly clear that 2021 is not the Nationals’ year. Even with the Mets refusing to run away with the NL East, Washington is 7 1/2 games out of first place entering Wednesday and an even more daunting 11 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race, with cumulative playoff odds of 1.0%. The team appears likely to be sellers at the deadline, and short of trading Juan Soto, just about every player might be available, including ace Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner — though there’s no guarantee either gets moved.

“I think if we turn into definite sellers, everything will be on the table,” said general manager Mike Rizzo on July 20 when asked about his deadline approach. At the time, the Nationals were 44–49, but Rizzo said that they were taking a dual approach, talking to teams about potential acquisitions if they escaped from their tailspin. Two wins and five losses later, it’s clear that the needle points to selling, particularly with the Nationals no longer able to look to the return of Stephen Strasburg, whom the team announced will undergo season-ending surgery to alleviate neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Washington is also still without Kyle Schwarber, who may not be available for another week or two as he recovers from the right hamstring strain that has sidelined him since July 3.

The most obvious prize if the Nationals are selling is Scherzer, whose seven-year, $210 million contact expires at the end of this season. Scherzer, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Tuesday, has been worth every penny and more of that deal, helping the Nationals to their first championship in 2019, winning two Cy Young awards, and making a very strong case for a spot in Cooperstown. He’s in the midst of another solid campaign, pitching to a 2.83 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 105 innings and striking out 35.1% of hitters, matching his career-high. He’s also 74 strikeouts away from becoming the 19th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, a milestone he projects to attain by the end of this season.

Trading for Scherzer isn’t as simple as just offering up a couple of quality prospects. The biggest issue is his 10-and-5 rights (at least 10 years of major league service, the last five with the same team), which allow him to reject a trade to any team. In late June, agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports that to agree to a trade, “The reality of it is it’s going to have to lead to something.” That was taken to mean a contract extension, but Boras later clarified, saying. “When players are traded, and you refer to contract amendments, it does not necessarily mean an extension. It could be any amendment that gives him a reason to exercise his rights. That’s up to the player at the time. Max and I have never discussed the subject.”

Scherzer could use his no-trade protection to direct himself toward a team, and reportedly, he’s said to prefer the West Coast. In the epic NL West race between the upstart Giants, defending champion Dodgers, and lagging but aggressive Padres, any one of those teams could view him as the difference between a division title or playing in the Wild Card game. And for as strong as each of those contenders are, the fronts of their rotations are showing some wear and tear. The Dodgers are without Clayton Kershaw, who’s working his way back from a bout of forearm inflammation that has sidelined him since early July; he threw a three-inning simulated game earlier this week. They’re also without Trevor Bauer, whose administrative leave has been extended through at least Aug. 6 as both the Pasadena Police Department and Major League Baseball conduct separate assault investigations; a longer suspension remains possible. The Padres’ rotation has a 5.60 ERA and 4.81 FIP this month, with Yu Darvish particularly struggling (7.32 ERA, 5.95 FIP). For the Giants, neither Kevin Gausman (4.87 ERA, 4.63 FIP) nor Johnny Cueto (5.57 ERA, 4.67 FIP) have fared well in July.

Those three teams are hardly alone. Via The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, at least eight others are known to be in pursuit:

SNY’s Andy Martino was even more definitive regarding the Mets, reporting, “Scherzer does not want to play in New York… even if he did, the Nationals wouldn’t want to do that.”

Beyond Scherzer’s 10–5 rights is the money factor, which is both considerable and complicated. Here’s MLB Trade Rumors, with input from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

The roughly $11.8MM remaining of Scherzer’s $35MM salary for 2021 is entirely deferred until 2028, so a new team wouldn’t have to pay that money out for seven years. However, Scherzer’s luxury tax number would also be around the $11.8MM mark, which is certainly a factor for teams trying to avoid a tax payment. Scherzer has another $7.5MM in signing bonus money due this September, but Rosenthal notes that this bonus payment “is solely the Nationals’ obligation.”

Right now, the Dodgers are the only team over the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, but the Red Sox, Astros, and Padres would all cross it if they acquired Scherzer without subtracting elsewhere, as would the two New York teams.

As if all of that weren’t daunting enough, Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday due to inflammation in his right triceps, which he believes is related to swinging a bat in the wake of his mid-June stint on the IL for groin inflammation. The good news is that he underwent an MRI last Friday, which revealed no strain or other structural damage.

As for what Scherzer could bring back in trade, two years ago Baseball America‘s Cameron Levy evaluated the previous four deadlines worth of deals (2015–18), which included the rentals of David Price (traded from the Tigers to the Blue Jays in ’15) and Darvish (traded from the Rangers to the Dodgers in ’17). Levy concluded, “As far as pitchers on expiring deals, frontline starters set to become free agents at the end of the season generally bring back one Top 100 Prospect and a top-30 player from the other team’s system.” In the Price deal, the top-ranked prospect, Daniel Norris, entered the season 18th on BA‘s list, though Matthew Boyd, 29th on the Blue Jays’ list at the outset of the season, has had more success in the majors. The Darvish return was headlined by Willie Calhoun, who was 92nd on BA‘s preseason list but vaulted to 36th the next year. The Astros’ August 31, 2017 acquisition of Justin Verlander, who wasn’t included in the study because of the different deadline and less time remaining, was headlined by Franklin Pérez, who entered the season 54th on BA’s list and climbed to 35th the next spring.

Still, it’s clear the market for Scherzer’s services is a busy one. Per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, there’s a belief that a deal could happen as early as Wednesday night.

Beyond the availability of Scherzer, the biggest question regarding the Nationals is whether they’ll trade Turner. He didn’t appear to be available until MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported on Tuesday that Nationals ownership doesn’t plan to extend the 28-year-old shortstop, who can become a free agent after the 2022 season:

The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes reported that Turner is drawing heavy interest from teams “but would need to be presented with a total no-brainer of a deal.”

Turner is in the midst of a stellar campaign, hitting .320/.368/.519 (136 wRC+) with 18 homers and 4.2 WAR, a mark that ranks third in the league behind Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. Including last year’s shortened season, he’s hit .327/.378/.546 with 30 homers, 33 steals, a 145 wRC+ and 7.0 WAR in 155 games; among shortstops, only Tatis has a higher wRC+ or WAR, and only Tatis and Marcus Semien have more homers. As Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story look to their big free-agent paydays this winter with Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million deal as a yardstick, it’s clear that Turner is in line for a major deal. The fact that he’ll be heading into his age-30 season, though, and that injuries and bad timing have limited him to just two seasons of 100 or more games (this will be the third) during his seven-year career, probably leaves him short of a Lindor-sized haul.

While players with a year of club control remaining bring back bigger hauls than rentals, Turner fell off our Trade Value Top 50 list last year, then played his way back to Honorable Mention this year. As an impact player, he might net a couple of Top 100 prospects, perhaps with a 60 FV type in the mix, though it’s unknown if that would be enough to compel the Nationals to deal him. The chances of them doing so anyway were lowered on Tuesday, when he left their game against the Phillies after the top of the first inning because of a positive COVID-19 test. If he’s not vaccinated — manager Dave Martinez declined to comment on whether he was but noted that vaccinated players, coaches and staffers don’t get tested regularly (ahem) — he’ll miss a minimum of 10 days.

Even if the Nationals choose to hold onto Scherzer and Turner, they have several other players likely to be dealt; the possibility of bundling any of them into a package with one of the aforementioned names could create a more impressive return. Most notable among the trade candidates are pending free agents Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes, and Josh Harrison. Every contender is looking for bullpen help, and the Nationals can offer both a lefty and a righty with closing experience, which isn’t to say that they don’t come with dings. After a stellar 2020 with Cleveland, during which he led the AL with 16 saves and posted a 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP, Hand was solid through this season’s first half, converting 19 of 21 save chances with a 2.43 ERA (but a 3.91 FIP). After going 12 days between appearances due to the All-Star break, however, he’s been scored upon in four out of five outings, taking losses in three straight games over a six-day span and blowing three saves within a nine-day span; his ERA has risen to 3.67, his FIP to 4.40. Hudson, after a disastrous 2020 as closer (6.10 ERA, 6.29 FIP, 10-for-15 in saves), has pitched to a 2.20 ERA and 2.45 FIP in a setup role, but he missed nearly four weeks in June and July due to inflammation in his right elbow.

Gomes is currently on the IL for an oblique strain, though he’s believed to be nearing the point where he can go out on a rehab assignment. The 34-year-old backstop is hitting .266/.320/.439 (101 wRC+), though his pitch framing, which from 2013 to ’18 was 19.3 runs above average, has declined to -4.7 runs this year, his third straight below-average season. Still, he might have great appeal to a contender getting replacement-level work out of its catchers, as the Astros, Padres, and soon-to-be Guardians are. Harrison is hitting .282/.358/.406 (109 wRC+) while making 59 starts at second, 12 in left, seven at third, two in center, and one in right. After spending the first half as the team’s regular second baseman, he covered left in the final week before the All-Star break once Schwarber went down, then moved over to third when Starlin Castro was placed on administrative leave in connection with a domestic violence investigation.

As for Schwarber, whom the Nationals signed to a one-year, $10 million deal after he was non-tendered by the Cubs, the 28-year-old slugger has hit .253/.340/.570 (137 wRC+). Though he hasn’t played since July 2, his 25 homers still rank second in the NL, that after an incredible 18-game binge during which he hit 16 homers from June 12 to 29. There’s no timetable for his return, but as of July 23, he had resumed jogging and taking batting practice, with Martinez noting on July 26 that while he was making good progress, he had yet to run the bases. Thus, a team trading for Schwarber would not get an immediately available player (a situation that could actually work in its favor if it has a post-deadline roster crunch) but would have to finish overseeing his rehab. Plenty of teams could use the power boost that he would provide if healthy, even if that’s not until the second or third week of August; whoever gets him will inherit the $11.5 million mutual option and $3 million buyout in his contract.

While there are other Nationals who could be dealt, they’re less immediately enticing; Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester have both been dreadful this year, for example. Still, en route to a second straight sub-.500 season following their World Series win, the Nationals appear headed for a shakeup. We’ll soon see just how major it is.

Chris Taylor Puts the Super in Superutilityman

On Tuesday, July 20, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a double off the Giants’ Alex Wood. But he was still hungry, so he homered twice and drew a walk later in the same game.

On Wednesday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer off the Giants’ Logan Webb. But he was still hungry, so he later singled off Webb.

On Thursday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a single off the Giants Anthony DeSclafani. But he was still hungry.

On Friday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a double off the Rockies’ Chi Chi González. But he was still hungry, so he later singled off Daniel Bard.

On Saturday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a single off the Rockies’ Kyle Freeland. But he was still hungry. Read the rest of this entry »

The Weekend in No-Hit Bids and the Effect of the Sticky-Stuff Crackdown

For a brief period on Saturday night, it appeared possible that not only would the single-season record for no-hitters fall, but that two pitchers — the Angels’ Patrick Sandoval and the Astros’ Framber Valdéz — would spin no-hitters on the same day for just the third time in history. Neither was successful, but on Sunday, the Yankees’ Domingo Germán put in his own no-hit bid, one that not only fell short but turned into a debacle. While this season’s breakneck pace of no-hitters has slowed down drastically, with just one in June and none in July after six in April and May, the drop in the number of close calls hasn’t been quite as sharp, but even so, the concentration of such games from Saturday and Sunday was notable.

Valdéz had the earlier of the two no-hit bids on Saturday night. The 27-year-old lefty has generally pitched well this season, but in his first four outings of June had struggled with his mechanics and compromised his command, walking 15 in 22.1 innings, and getting tagged for 27 hits and 15 runs (13 earned). Even against a Rangers team that entered having lost 10 straight games, his command woes — which had abated somewhat in his July 18 outing against the White Sox, when he walked just two hitters in 6.1 innings — returned, but this time he was effectively wild, walking six in six innings without allowing a hit or a run; he threw just 53 strikes out of 99 pitches. Despite sandwiching two first-inning walks around a wild pitch, and walking two more in the second, he escaped both jams and kept the Rangers off the board. Only twice did he retire the side in order, but each of the other two walks he issued came with two outs.

Valdéz needed a game-high 23 pitches to get through the sixth, with the final two hitters of the frame — Nate Lowe, who walked, and Curtis Terry, who struck out looking — each battling through eight pitches. For manager Dusty Baker, it was a no-brainer to remove him even given that he hadn’t given up a hit. Via’s Brian McTaggert, “If we’d left him out there to get the no-hitter, he’d be up to 140 pitches,” said Baker, who decades ago gained a reputation for pushing his young pitchers too far, one that’s no longer applicable. “You’ve got to think logically what’s best for him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 7/23/21

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hey folks! Welcome to another edition of my chat, this one falling on the same day as my father’s 80th birthday. I’ve just completed my annual Replacement Level Killers series, the last installment of which — center fielder and DHs — went up just a couple of hours ago…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I briefly addressed the Rays’ Nelson Cruz acquisition therein, but here’s Dan Szymborski’s writeup, freshly minted for your enjoyment

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Not sure how soon we’ll have analysis of the Mets trading for Rich Hill —  I mean, Dick Mountain — but soon enough.

JD: Will Gallo be traded?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think so. He’s having an excellent season, making his 2nd All-Star team, comes with a year of club control so the return will be strogner, and he’s versatile enough to fit any team with an OF, 1B, or even DH need.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Still think the Padres and Yankees are the most likely destinations

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The 2021 Replacement-Level Killers: Center Field and Designated Hitter

For the full introduction to the Replacement-Level Killers series, follow the link above. While still focusing upon teams that meet the loose definition of contenders (a .500 record or Playoff Odds of at least 10%), and that have gotten about 0.6 WAR or less thus far — which prorates to 1.0 WAR over a full season — this year I have incorporated our Depth Charts’ rest-of-season WAR projections into the equation for an additional perspective. Sometimes that may suggest that the team will clear the bar by a significant margin, but even so, I’ve included them here because the team’s performance at that spot is worth a closer look.

As noted previously, some of these situations are more dire than others, particularly when taken in the context of the rest of their roster. As with some of the previous entries in this series, a few of these situations include midseason turnarounds where returns to normalcy are camouflaged by early-season struggles; one problem spot, that of the Rays’ designated hitters, was shored up in impressive fashion with Thursday night’s acquisition of Nelson Cruz from the Twins. As with previous entries in this series, won-loss records and Playoff Odds are through yesterday (July 22, in this case), but statistics through the day before (July 21).

2021 Replacement Level Killers: Center Field
Reds .216 .285 .342 69 -15.4 0.4 -3 -0.4 0.7 0.3
Mariners .189 .286 .339 80 -9.4 -0.2 -3.4 0.1 0.6 0.7
Yankees .186 .294 .319 74 -11.5 2.2 -0.3 0.4 0.7 1.1
Cleveland .216 .325 .343 89 -5.2 0.2 -4.6 0.4 0.8 1.2
Blue Jays .229 .287 .406 87 -5.9 -3.4 -3.8 0.1 1.8 1.9
Statistics through July 21. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

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