• For some of you, the fantasy playoffs start this week. It’ll be a fairly small group, as most postseason matchups will get started in a couple of weeks, but it does show you just how close we are to the finish line. I’m going to focus on pitching today, as I’ve noticed people are leaving a ton of strong arms on the wire, specifically some young studs who have improved a great deal as the season progressed.

    There are both starters and bullpen arms that have been incredible assets as of late (and some for even longer) that are still available in far too many leagues. I see these arms as long-term options, beyond just a stream here or there. These guys are must roster players for the rest of the season, and they won’t be available for much longer in competitive leagues.

    George Kirby (50% Yahoo, 36.7% ESPN) 

    Kirby has been a must-roster player for a while now, and I really don’t understand why he’s still available in so many leagues. Maybe focus has really drifted at this point in the season for some but the percentages above do not reflect what Kirby has done, and he’s the highest priority add that I’ll be talking about today.

    In his seven starts going back to July 2nd, Kirby has been one of the better arms in the game. In that stretch, he has pitched to a 2.63 ERA to go along with a 1.50 FIP, and his 24.2 K-BB% is superior to Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola. The strikeouts have been nice but it’s his incredible 3.4 BB% (best in baseball among qualified starters this season) that has been his biggest asset, as he’s yet to walk more than one batter in any game this season.

    It’s not as if this came out of nowhere, as he has a 3.47 ERA on the year in 17 starts. He has allowed four earned runs or more just three times all season, and only once since May 24th. It’s also in line with what you would expect from looking at some other pitching indicators, such as his 3.39 FIP and 3.41 xERA. It’s shocking to me that Kirby is so widely available, and it’s a wrong that is sure to be corrected over the next few weeks.

    Alexis Diaz (36% Yahoo, 9.1% ESPN)

    Alexis is the younger brother of New York Mets star closer Edwin Diaz, so it isn’t all that surprising that little bro has been one of the elite bullpen arms this season as well. He has been a ratio king with a 1.74 ERA and .92 WHIP to go along with four wins, five saves, and a 33.5 K%. All of this has contributed to a top-100 season for Diaz, and it appears he could be in for even more value down the stretch.

    The Reds have used a number of pretty unsuccessful arms in the 9th inning this year, and will still occasionally go to Hunter Strickland for unknown reasons, but Diaz has been by far the best pitcher on the club, reliever or otherwise. Diaz has closed out two games in August and it looks like he will be the high leverage man for Cincy through the end of the season.

    Diaz has been a valuable fantasy asset this year even with minimal save opportunities, and now that he is getting more opportunities late in ballgames, he needs to be rostered in every league. Even though the Reds likely won’t win a ton of games the rest of the way, he should still have plenty of value.

    Aaron Ashby (25% Yahoo, 11.4% ESPN)

    Ashby is a prime example of why you dig deeper than your average traditional stats, as they are very deceiving when trying to determine how valuable he is from a fantasy perspective. If you were to just take his season totals and ignore everything else, you would see a pitcher with a 4.58 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP and only two victories in 96.1 IP. In most cases, this player would be more than expendable, but Ashby is really someone worth being patient with.

    Among qualified starting pitchers, Ashby ranks 3rd in CSW% at 34.2, behind only Shohei Ohtani and Shane McClanahan, plus we’ve seen the strikeout upside that he has displayed all year despite walking a few too many batters. He has also been very unlucky, allowing a .324 BABIP and stranding only 68% of baserunners, which is well below average.

    His last start against the Cubs is the perfect example of an Ashby game right now, as he allowed six earned runs in five innings while striking out eight. His ERA for the day was 10.80, while his FIP was 2.52 and his xFIP was 1.10. He also stranded only 30% of batters and allowed a .500 BABIP. Just brutal, but definitely something that should self correct in these last few weeks.

    I would add Ashby with confidence wherever he is available, as he is a much better pitcher when you look below the surface and he is very due for a correction in luck.

    Andres Munoz (22% Yahoo, 7.1% ESPN)

    Munoz has been lights out this season and he’s one of the best examples of a non-closer reliever who still has a ton of fantasy value. While he only has two wins and two saves on the season, he has maintained a 2.61 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while providing some of the best strikeout numbers in baseball. His 40.1 K% (75 strikeouts in 48.1 IP) is the 3rd best mark of all relief pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, trailing only Devin Williams and Edwin Diaz.

    There is always a ton of talk about the best starting pitchers to stream. Whether it be great matchups or the chance someone starts twice during the week, we tend to focus most of our attention on them and sometimes we end up ignoring some steady relievers such as Munoz. He provides roughly 10 K’s per week and rarely allows runners to score (or even get on base), which is valuable to any squad.

    Don’t get me wrong, streaming starters is an essential part of fantasy baseball, particularly this time of year. Having a spot on your roster that is reserved for this purpose is necessary and you will fall behind in most leagues if you don’t do it regularly. However, a player with Munoz’s skillset has at least equal and arguably greater value than a borderline starter does on any given week.

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