Batter’s Box: Britney sPearce Did It Again

To hit a walk-off grand slam in the majors is unequivocally one of the coolest athletic feats to aspire to and, if some chips fall the right way, to then...

To hit a walk-off grand slam in the majors is unequivocally one of the coolest athletic feats to aspire to and, if some chips fall the right way, to then accomplish. To do it twice in one season would be incredible. Toronto OF Steve Pearce just did it twice in a four-day span, leaving everyone wondering where this aggressive burst of power came from. Pearce is not a highly-regarded fantasy OF, being owned in just 6% of Yahoo leagues and a paltry 2.7% of ESPN leagues. He went just 2-12, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI, BB over the weekend series with the Angels, but the buzz was all about his consecutive series with chances to deliver a pair of POLLYWOGS in recent days. So where’s this been all season? Pearce usually bats fifth or sixth for the Jays, so no shocking revelation there on how he gets gifted a bases-loaded situation after All-Star cleanup man Justin Smoak does his thing. Right place at the right time for a .267 hitter with just eight homers prior to these eye-opening slams? Well, yes, in multiple senses of the word: Pearce’s walk-off Sunday helped Toronto avoid—by just one run—a sweep by the Angels (themselves likely ticked off after being dealt some stinging losses in Cleveland). Oakland is just not playing very good all-around baseball right now, so to spur the Jays on to a sweep of them at hitter-friendly Rogers Centre also seems a little easier, in context. A lower BABIP than last year’s for Pearce loosely correlates to the ISO that is flying under the radar at .195, but that still seems like grasping at straws. Both of these blasts were pulled to LF by the righty, so Bud Norris and Liam Hendriks each got burned by a guy comfortable at home with low-90s fastballs in high-leverage situations. I love the story, and Pearce’s 16.7% HR/FB ratio is perfectly fine. But ultimately, the hard contact (33.3%) and plate discipline sabermetrics do nothing to wow me into thinking I can trust this guy rest-of-season to be a steady producer. He’s a veteran player, but the stats just aren’t there in the longer term to necessitate the advice of adding him immediately. Watchlist it up, but he’s decidedly better against RHP and splits very poorly away against southpaws. Sounds like Pearce merely took advantage of a very favorable situation, which may now may not happen again soon if opposing bullpens were paying attention at all last week.

Let’s take a look at what else is going on in the world of MLB hitting:

Aaron Altherr (OF, PHI) 3-10, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K. Altherr came back two days early from his hamstring injury, which is always a great indicator of a guy being fit to hit the ground running. In back-to-back games he notched multiple hits to conclude the Houston series and to begin the Braves one, and Friday’s two-homer outing in particular was like oasis water in previously arid conditions to owners who’d stashed him on the DL. He’s only 37% owned in Yahoo leagues and 29.2% owned in ESPN leagues as of right now, and Altherr is right there with the resurgent Odubel Herrera (3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI Saturday) and call-up phenom Nick Williams in making Philadelphia’s outfield look—weirdly enough—pretty stacked right now. Altherr is averaging .290 with 16 homers, 47 RBI, 46 runs and five steals: he offers cross-category legitimacy from wherever he is in Philly’s lineup.

Cameron Rupp (C, PHI) 2-8, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, 2 K. This is about accurate for what to expect from Rupp. He has power that he’s seemed to seldom exploit to his advantage this year, but he followed up Thursday’s dual-homer outing with another jack Friday. He owns a .234 average and now 10 homers, but the counting stats over 201 AB probably aren’t enough to get you excited unless you’re in a two-catcher league. J.T. Realmuto—who went 3-4, 2 R, HR, BB, K on the same night Rupp popped off—is an example of a dominant catcher that can match and surpass Rupp’s most solid showing on virtually any night. Rupp is a backup catcher at best.

Melky Cabrera (OF, CHW/KCR) 5-9, R. Well, he went 4-5 Saturday for Chicago from leadoff to be a thorn in the Cleveland bullpen’s side, but Sunday would see Cabrera get traded back to the Royals. He’s had a great year in a White Sox uniform up until this point, and the approach has been almost sneaky with how he’s accumulated counting stats on a last-place team. He would be a worthy DH in Kansas City since lame duck Brandon Moss hasn’t done much of anything to raise any eyebrows, but Alex Gordon is also having a rough year, so it will be interesting to see how Ned Yost goes about inserting the veteran Cabrera into Royals lineups sooner rather than later. Melky has hit .295 and polished that feat off nicely with a side of 13 homers, 56 RBI and 54 runs. Chicago will miss him greatly, but this move all but signifies that White Sox brass are necessarily cashing in their chips now with their plans geared toward succeeding in the more-distant future.

Matt Davidson (3B/DH, CHW) 2-12, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB, 6 K. The 39.1% strikeout rate—and thus the BB/K ratio—is absolutely atrocious, and the stat line doesn’t leap off the page necessarily. But Davidson came up with some needed power for the White Sox on both Friday and in a walk-off effort Sunday to halt Cleveland’s win streak. He may very well be on the downturn from a current .236 average after a pretty shoddy month at the dish average-wise, but the ability to have hit 21 homers has value. He’s by no means a starting 3B, but with consciousness of matchups, you could absolutely fly him off your bench if you need a boost in jacks (and secondarily, RBI, of which he has 48).

Jose Ramirez (2B/3B/OF, CLE) 6-14, 4 R, HR, 3 RBI, K, SB. Yawn. Business as usual. Despite an uncharacteristic 0-5 clunker on Saturday, he had what was overall a strong series at Guaranteed Rate Field. J-Ram doesn’t really have a weak spot in his fantasy game at this point, as you can rely on him for average (.320), above-average power (18 homers), excellent scoring (eight league-wide with 71 scored) and acceptable speed (11 SB). Only three players in MLB have hit more doubles than his 32, so he carries XBH clout with him into points-style matchups too.

Manuel Margot (OF, SDP) 4-12, 2 R, HR, RBI, 3 K, SB. I remember looping Margot and Seattle OF Mitch Haniger into kind of the same circumstantial category back in April: young guys getting a hot start that should have taken the league by storm if that torrid pace had continued. They both did time on the DL, and while Margot has ramped his production back up like a crescendo of music, Haniger has fallen off in production and has failed to stay healthy (although a ball to the face this weekend is hardly his fault). Margot’s willingness to try for speed along the basepaths is a nice touch that behooves roto owners to notice (since CS don’t matter), and he has four SB in July alone (11 overall). The fun part is that now he’s starting to find his power stroke, as Margot has homered three times in five games; all of this comes since a brief paternity list deactivation. A .281 average isn’t hurting you, and while he’s not turning heads with run manufacturing but it’s balanced and decent (8 R, 8 RBI this month). Margot is a very talented young CF and is managing to make himself both relevant and dynamic in the fantasy landscape, as well. Stream him as an OF in almost every instance except away versus LHP, and he could be a legitimate UTIL any day of the week.

Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) 5-9, 6 R, 4 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, K. Four homers in a road series. Cutch terrorized San Diego pitching at Petco, and the 30-year-old continues his efforts at making all those who thought his best was behind him look silly for saying so. A terrible April and slow May doomed his outlook in the fantasy public discourse, but he hit .411 in June and has gone .322 thus far in July to boost the season numbers to .292. Now with 22 homers after this ridiculous weekend outing, crossing the 30-HR mark should be a cakewalk at this rate. He’s made Starling Marte look pedestrian in his return, who’s hitting just .250 with eight runs and four steals since coming back from suspension. McCutchen’s track record this year shouldn’t be doubted at all anymore, if that discussion is even still being had. His 66 RBI are tied with Jose Abreu and George Springer for 28th-best in the league.

Joey Votto (1B, CIN) 4-10, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB, K. Votto was in the midst of a 1-14 slump just two weeks ago, and in a separate 1-13 stretch last week, but he seems to have corrected course as star fantasy 1B do: he’s now hit successfully in five straight and in six of his last seven. A batting of average of .274 in the month of July, for example, is good by most measures; for a career .312 hitter like Votto, however, it’s subpar. He continues to be an OBP monster, sitting at fifth among qualified hitters with a .428 that’s very typically helped in large part by his league-leading 78 walks. He’s two homers away from matching his season totals from 2015 and 2016, so the general message is that there’s no need to hit the panic button at all.

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM) 4-14, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB, 3 K. That’s two multi-homer games in just over a week, after Conforto sent two skyward into the stands at Safeco Field Friday, bring his total to the same 21 that the less-heralded Davidson has. The difference is that Conforto is batting .289 with 55 RBI and 59 runs. I’m digging the 41.2% hard contact but am admittedly wary of a .337 that could foretell a small collapse. He’s whiffing more than he should (11.3% swinging strikes), and his overall contact numbers are down. If he can shore up some little holes in his swing mechanics, the fantasy yield will be even bigger than it has been.

Eduardo Nunez (3B/SS/OF, BOS) 5-12, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB, 2 K, SB. Nunez wasted no time making an impact on the home fans at Fenway, as he cranked two crucial homers during Saturday’s tight win over current AL Wild-Card-race rival Kansas City. One was absolutely beautiful to the opposite field to the top of the Green Monster to give him six on the year, so homers tend to be a bonus rather than an expectation. The versatile Dominican speedster can find both real-life and fantasy success in Boston: his .312 average will surely see John Farrell finding ways to get him involved in the batting order. He currently slots as the backup to 3B Rafael Devers, 2B Dustin Pedroia and SS Xander Bogaerts on the depth chart so between maintenance days and his outfield eligibility, you don’t have anything to worry about with Nunez occupying a new home.

Andrew Todd-Smith

Journalistically trained and I have written for SB Nation. Fantasy baseball & football nerd, and there's a solid chance I'll outresearch you. I live in Columbus, pull for Cleveland and could learn to despise your team if you give me reason to. Navy veteran and wordplay addict with an expat background.

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