Admittedly, using monthly endpoints in the fantasy season is completely arbitrary. After all, nothing really changes in a player’s Major League season when the calendar flips from one month to another. That being said, each month allows us to chunk a player’s overall performance and notice when they have reserved trends from earlier in the campaign.
The month of May was no slouch in terms of providing notable performance. After a league-wide offensive slump in April, many hitters started to find their groove last month. Scoring across the Majors started to creep up, and we finally saw a few sluggers take over their games. But several pitchers continued their April dominance, including a very surprising hurler who posted the lowest May ERA of any qualified pitcher.
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Let’s dive in on the fantasy takeaways from some special May pitching performances.
Lowest ERA: Martin Perez (0.64)
Perez is the most surprising name in this article. After all, in his 11th Major League season, the left-hander owns the type of career ratios (4.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) that should leave him glued to mixed-league waiver wires.
Perez went 4-0 in six starts last month, tossing at least seven innings in four starts while holding opposing hitters to a .195 average. He has shown outstanding control skills this year, and his strikeout rate (which is still unimpressive) has improved to a small degree. Perez is also inducing ground balls and limiting line drives at his best rate in many years.
Until Perez fails, he is a must-start option in all leagues. I would leave him active against the top offenses in baseball, at least for the moment. There will be little trade interest in the veteran in many leagues, which means the best course of action is to ride out his hot streak with the knowledge that he may return to the waiver wire later in the season. But some Perez managers may be able to trade him right now, and I would try to make a deal for someone who was a mid-round 2022 draft pick but is off to an uninspiring start.
Lowest WHIP: Triston McKenzie (0.74)
Like any pitcher who leads the Majors in WHIP across a significant period, McKenzie enjoyed terrific BABIP luck (.157) and showed strong control skills (1.9 BB/9 rate) during May. The good fortune on batted balls leads to a knee-jerk reaction that McKenzie is soon going to experience a massive luck correction, but that likely isn’t the case. The right-hander is one of the few pitchers who has shown throughout his career that he can maintain a low BABIP. His career mark in that area is just .219 across 204.1 innings, and he has not had a BABIP over .227 in any of his three big-league seasons. McKenzie primarily induces fly balls, which leads to the occasional homer but also generates many cans of corn for Guardians fielders.
The ability to maintain a low WHIP makes McKenzie a must-start pitcher in most formats. The 24-year-old will likely have little positive or negative impact on your team’s ERA over the long run, and his strikeout totals won’t be special. But he is a solid trade target for those who want WHIP help and can’t afford to trade for an ace.
Most Strikeouts: Dylan Cease (48)
Cease edged out a pair of first-round fantasy picks (Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole) for the most May strikeouts. Admittedly, Cole made one fewer May appearance than Burnes and Cease, and he led the Majors in strikeouts per start. Cease finished May ranked third in the Majors in strikeouts this season, trailing Shane McClanahan and Burnes.
Pitchers who rack up whiffs at a high rate are terrific trade targets right now. We are starting to see scoring rise across the Majors right now, which is not surprising after teams struggled mightily to generate offense during the initial weeks of the season. Fantasy managers are now faced with a tough decision — should they continue to roll out marginal starters to move up in strikeouts, or should they limit their team’s total innings to protect their excellent early season ratios. Pitchers such as Cease are the key to accomplishing both goals, as they rack up so many whiffs that their managers can avoid low-end starters and instead use skilled relievers.
Most Saves: Liam Hendriks (10)
After ending April with four saves and a 5.40 ERA, Hendriks thrived in May. The right-hander enjoyed a memorable stretch from May 2-7, when he collected five saves. And he finished the month strong, with scoreless innings in each of his final six appearances. Hendriks showed excellent strikeout abilities (14.2 K/9 rate), control skills (2.7 BB/9 rate) and allowed just one homer during the month.
I ranked Hendriks as my No. 1 closer for 2022 drafts because of his heavy usage from manager Tony La Russa, and May was the perfect example of how La Russa is willing to handle Hendriks in an old-school way. Unless Hendriks breaks down from heavy usage, he will finish the season in the top tier of relievers.