Batter’s Box: Be the Hunter, not the Hunted

Scott Chu goes through some of Tuesday's best pieces of hitting.

It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and no outfield situation quite showcases that quite like the logjam in San Diego, where a plethora of exciting young bats are battling for playing time.

Last night, Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego Padres) made a strong claim for his spot in the lineup by swatting two big flies and driving in three runners in his four trips to the plate. Renfroe is a fairly interesting fantasy commodity simple because of his big power. While he has yet to log 125 games in a season, he is coming off back-to-back 26-home run campaigns and can easily eclipse the 30-home run mark if given 140 starts (though it won’t come with a very good batting average).

You would think that this power would guarantee a shot at playing time, but with Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, Manuel Margot, and Wil Myers also occupying spots in the outfield grass, any prolonged lack of success could send Renfroe straight to the pine which is exactly what happened to him last season. While I wish I could provide a rosier outlook for 2019 in terms of playing time, it’s hard to project a 125-game season for Renfroe with all of this competition, especially because his swing-and-miss tendencies will make it difficult for him to avoid in-season slumps.

In 12-plus team daily leagues, he’s potentially worth owning for his power, assuming you’ve got the time and attention span to rotate him on and off your active roster on days he makes the lineup card. Just make sure you can deal with his .240 or so batting average. I’d likely steer clear in all but the deepest of OBP formats, though he doesn’t like to take pitches and will just barely get to .300, which is really difficult to roster.

Starlin Castro (SS, Miami Marlins) 3-5, HR, R, RB: He doesn’t walk, steal bases, barrel the ball, or hit for much power, but Starlin Castro continues to be a useful fantasy middle infielder because of his contact ability and his place in the heart of a batting order (even if it is one of the worst lineups in baseball). His career triple slash of .278/.329/.400 is admittedly unexciting. But being exciting in and of itself isn’t worth any points, so we can forgive him.  Another 150-plus hit season is in the works, along with 15 or so home runs and a .270-plus batting average. To me, that’s a really nice middle infielder or utility bat in points leagues, where his pedestrian traditional counting stats are less of an issue and you can be rewarded for his above-average total base output.

Odubel Herrera (OF, Philadelphia Phillies) 3-5, 3 2B, 2 R: “Doobie” Herrera is the “forgotten” outfielder in the City of Brotherly Love thanks to the big acquisitions of some dudes named Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, but you shouldn’t forget about him for fantasy. He’s quite often the last batter on rosters in 10- and 12-team leagues because of his fairly common profile of 18 to 22 home runs and five to seven chip-in stolen bases, but there’s potentially a boost here for the 27-year-old with the influx of talent that has come to the roster. There’s surprisingly little in the way of real threats to playing time despite the two new bats in the outfield, and he’s batting in the not-too-shabby sixth spot in the lineup, which could certainly boost his RBI totals as that puts him directly behind three guys you’ve probably heard of: Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto. He’s more useful in leagues that count batting average, but he’s a safe bat that you can rely on for your fourth or fifth outfield spot, even if he isn’t likely to have a significant change in his skill set.

Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies) 3-5, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI: He’s well on his way to a fourth straight season of batting .300, which is exceedingly rare in batters who can steal 20 to 25 bases like Segura. His miraculous 2016 season, where he slugged 20 bombs and swiped 33 bags with the Diamondbacks was likely a product of the excellent hitting environment of Chase Field at the time, but now that he’s been inserted into the table-setter role for the Phillies, a shot at 100-plus runs is definitely possible.

Lewis Brinson (OF, Miami Marlins) 3-4, 2B, RBI: A post-hype sleeper, Brinson was once a top-25 prospect and the centerpiece of the deal that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee. There’s hope that the abysmal Marlins will have no choice but to let the athletic free-swinger take a full season’s worth of hacks and develop at the major league level, which could maybe bring back memories of the 20-home run, 20-stolen base potential he flashed as a prospect. He won’t be much of a redraft asset, though, until he proves he can keep the strikeout rate below 30% and/or make more consistent contact.

Josh Reddick (OF, Houston Astros) 3-3, R, BB: Man, Reddick is boring. Even when he gets three hits, he’s boring. You can basically write in 130 games played, 15 or so dingers, seven stolen bases, and a decent average and OBP. In 15-team leagues, that’s useful, especially if it’s a daily league where you can sit him against lefties. He’s really more interesting in DFS, where he’s often a wallet-friendly option as the six-hole hitter for the potent Astros.

Shin-Soo Choo (OF/DH, Texas Rangers) 2-5, 2B, 3B, R, BB: You don’t see many 36-year-olds hitting triples, but here we are. One of my favorite players because of our common ancestry and similar last names, the old guy can still hit for power and provide a bit of speed as the leadoff man for the Rangers. He’s somehow become more durable with age, playing in 149 games in each of the past two seasons after a long history of injuries. He’s particularly interesting in OBP leagues because of his double-digit walk rate that was as high as 13.8% this past season, though he also can provide an above-average batting average. People will stay away from him because of his age, but you shouldn’t he’s still a good baseball player who can provide strong stats for your team.

Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia Phillies) 2-3, HR, 2R, RBI, 3 BB: Is this finally the year he breaks out? You know what: I’m not even sure if I care. Go ahead and throw him on your bench if you need a backup at third base or corner infield, but I’m sick of waiting for this train to get on the tracks. I’m just going to accept that the past three seasons of mid to low 20s home run totals is what we’re going to get.

John Hicks (1B/C, Detroit Tigers) 2-4, RBI: He’s not actually all that interesting outside of his catcher eligibility, but I actually watched this game last night and saw him swing at five of the six pitches he saw in his four trips to the plate. The one he didn’t swing at? It was a called strike.

Orlando Arcia (SS, Milwaukee Brewers) 1-4, HR, R, 3 RBI: He had a miserable 2018 that saw him sent to the bench, but it wasn’t long ago that he was seen as a good-not-great fantasy shortstop because of his power-speed combo and acceptable batting average. There’s no reason to believe the young man can’t return to his 2017 self, and he deserves to be on your watch list going forward in 12-team and deeper formats.

Scott Chu

Scott Chu is a Senior Fantasy Analyst here bat Pitcher List and has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. He's also the inventor and mascot for Fantasy Curling (as seen the Wall Street Journal) and a 3x FSWA Award Finalist. In addition to being a fantasy analyst, he's a dad, animal lover, Simpsons fanatic, cartoon connoisseur, amateur curler, a CODA, and an attorney.

7 responses to “Batter’s Box: Be the Hunter, not the Hunted”

  1. King Donko says:

    Will you or someone else cover the west coast games in Batters Box? There’s an awful lot of talent out there as opposed to highlighting John Hicks.

    • Scott Chu says:

      Hi King, thanks for the feedback. For these pieces, I do my best to get a bit of a mix and to focus on players who are maybe lesser-known or undervalued. It’s admittedly tough for me to get eyes on the west coast games (I’m in Michigan, so those start times are at 10pm for me), but I’ll be sure to keep this comment in mind when drafting future Batter’s Box pieces to ensure that notable west coast performances don’t get missed.

      If I were to add two more names to the article from the west, I’d start with Dan Vogelbach (1B, Seattle Mariners), who went 1-4 with a HR, 2 R, and and RBI, who has plenty of power in his bat but needs to beat our Ryon Healy to get more secure playing time as the season goes on. I also could have written a bit on Enrique “Kike” Hernandez (2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers), who is leading off against LHP for the Dodgers thanks to his career 130 wRC+ against them. There’s 20-25 home runs in that bat and a .250 batting average that also comes with a 10-12% walk rate. His real value, though, is in the damage he does to southpaws. He’s spent most of his career towards the bottom of the batting order, so it’s nice to see him get boosted up against lefties. He’s a great DFS option in those situations, and is even worth platooning in 12 team leagues and/or as a bench bat thanks to his flexibility.

      Of course, the best hitter in the west was Zack Greinke. Yowza.

  2. CJ says:

    Just be aware that Shin-Soo Choo is sitting against LHP this season it seems

    • Scott Chu says:

      It has been interesting to see how the Rangers have handled the DH spot. So far, they’ve given Hunter Pence the two starts against lefties, but since the start of 2015, he has just a 91 wRC+ against southpaws. In the same time span, Choo’s wRC+ is 96 against them, and they have a nearly identical OPS (.715 for Pence, .716 for Choo). With that in mind, I’m not concerned about this playing time issue long term, though if it helps Choo continue his good health, it may not be the worst thing in the world. 130+ games is still likely, even if he platoons a bit with Pence.

  3. theKraken says:

    Maikel Franco would be a damn good player if they didn’t bury him at 8th in the order. He is a good hitter – the success he has in that lineup spot is amazing. It is the same thing that the Cubs did to Javy Baez for years… A player who doesn’t like to take walks should NEVER hit 8th in the NL. If he started every day and had a reasonable lineup spot he probably is close to 30 HR with a solid batting average and close to 100 RBI – his biggest flaw is that he burned a lot of people in the past. He has had two good years – I don’t know that we are waiting on the breakout. Personally I am always hoping for a trade to a team that wants him to succeed, because I think PHI wanted him to play the scapegoat last year but he didn’t cooperate. Franco doesn’t belong on many benches right now.

    • Scott Chu says:

      I think the biggest issue with Franco is the very high infield fly ball rate. An infield pop-up is just about as bad as a strike out (which, to Franco’s credit, he doesn’t do very often), and it’s rough to see a batter pop so many up. Based on his xBA, low walk rate, and xSLG, he’s probably something like a .260/.310/.430 hitter. That’s not BAD, it’s just not what people hoped for when he slugged 25 dingers in his first full season in 2016. Unless he starts turning those pop-ups into deep fly balls, I think it will be hard for him to consistently provide the type of batting average or power that would be needed to climb up in the Phillies’ order — he’d have to overtake Odubel Herrera (who can do pretty close to what Franco has done but with more speed and from the left side) and Cesar Hernandez (who is an OBP machine). There’s just very little opportunity to move up in what is a very, very deep lineup.

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