Batter’s Box: Fyre Festival on Escobar’s Island

Everything Dave Cherman thinks you need to know about Saturday's best hitters is right here in the Batter's Box.

Let’s talk about Eduardo Escobar. The guy had a huge game last night, going 3-for-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI. He was one of the most exciting players of the first half last year, hitting .274 with 15 home runs in 97 games with the Twins before getting shipped to Arizona at the deadline; everything fell off a little bit the rest of the way. He did finish with 23 homers, but it seemed like the run was over…. UNTIL THIS YEAR.

So far in 2019, Escobar is hitting .282/.339/.536 with 24 home runs, 9 triples (he had 19 in 2750 PAs entering the year), and 157 R+RBI in 109 games. A few weeks back, Jon Metzelaar and I attempted to assess the players we thought were most primed for regression in the second half; Jon chose Escobar. And the crazy thing is, I still agree with him and he’s still right.

Despite last night’s otherworldly performance, Escobar is hitting just .224 in the second half with a 94 wRC+. Yes, the BABIP is bad, but his swinging strike rate is at a career high 12.7% while his contact rate is at a career low. I know what you’re thinking: “He’s selling out for power, so it’s natural for those numbers to go down.” Well… yes and no. Escobar isn’t a big guy, so he doesn’t have a ton of natural power—that’s why he posted just 27 home runs in his first 490 games. But his swing has allowed for more power as he’s gotten older. That all gets me to saying that he’s not a pure power hitter, so you don’t want guys like that selling out for power because there’s not a ton of power in his frame. This may be the peak of his power potential.

But we live in 2019 and you want some Statcast data, so I’ll hit you with some: Escobar is in the 29th percentile for exit velocity and the 12th percentile for hard-hit rate. He’s middle of the pack in terms of xBA and xWOBA and tops out at the 58th percentile in xSLG. xStats are not predictive—but they do shed some light on what has happened and what’s happened with Escobar under the hood doesn’t look overwhelmingly impressive. I do think Escobar finishes with 30 home runs. I also think he finishes with over 110 RBI and 80 runs, but I think the average will fall below .270 and he could hurt you there. I just don’t buy that he’s this kind of a contact hitter the rest of the way. Also, shoutout Adam Lawler for the title idea.

Scooter Gennett (2B, San Francisco Giants) — 1-for-5, R, HR, 2 RBI. Scooter’s in a weird place. He posted back-to-back incredible seasons with the Reds, but those seasons somewhat came out of nowhere, and then this year has been largely a lost one due to injury, so I wonder what sort of free agent value he has. He’ll get signed for sure, but I wonder if he’ll get the money he deserves after proving to be one of the best pure hitters in the game in 2017-18. It’s looking like Gennett is pressing at the plate right now, chasing over 46% of pitches out of the zone, well above his numbers the last three seasons.

Nelson Cruz (DH, Minnesota Twins) — 3-for-4, 3 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI. This is just getting silly. He’s got 12 HRs in his last 13 games. He’s slugging .962 in 86 second half PAs. He’s in at least the 99th percentile in exit velocity, hard-hit%, xwOBA, and xSLG. Oh, and the 93rd percentile in xBA because how dare he not give you a stellar average too. He’s a four-category monster who you can count on to me a major asset for you the rest of the way.

Josh Naylor (1B, San Diego Padres) — 0-for-3, 2 K. A former top 100 prospect, Naylor didn’t get much attention when he got called up to San Diego back in May and he’s showing why, slashing just .230/.285/.354. He’s still just 22 and there’s plenty of time for him to improve, especially because he’s a far more talented bat than this. Fun fact, Naylor came over in a trade that sent Andrew Cashner to the Marlins. The Marlins initially also gave up Luis Castillo the Padres in that deal, but when it turned out Colin Rea got hurt, Luis Castillo was returned to the Marlins, who were so desperate to get rid of him, they shipped him off six months later for Dan Straily. Man, the Marlins are bad at this whole trading thing.

Wilson Ramos (C, New York Mets) — 4-for-5, R, 2B, HR, 6 RBI. Speaking of lost years, this has largely been one for Ramos. He’s flashing the ability to hit .300, doing so in two of the last three years, and hitting for moderate power, with 15 home runs in three of the last four years. He’ll probably reach the latter mark, as he’s already got 11 homers this season, but that average and overall lack of production has gotta have fantasy owners disappointed. I ranked Ramos as the third-best catcher this year, largely because I was bullish on the Mets, and that was very wrong. He’s hitting 61% of balls on the ground, while popping over 8% straight up in the air. With his 31.5% hard-hit rate, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) — 3-for-5, R, HR, 3 RBI, 2 SB. I’ve had to double check multiple times to make sure this is the same Starling Marte. Last night’s dong brings him to 20 for the year in just 450 PAs. What’s crazy is that the 20 mark ties his career high from last year, which he set in 156 more PAs. Marte is hitting more line drives than he has since 2016 while raising his hard-hit rate to a career high. I do wish he’d steal more, as he entered last night with just 14 in 98 games and he’s on pace for the fewest steals per game of his career by far. While he’s been amazing this year, I may be afraid to draft him next year in case the power dries up and the steals continue to decline. At least he’ll give you a good average along the way.

Eric Sogard (2B, Tampa Bay Rays) — 2-for-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI. When Sogard got traded to the Rays, my dad called me and asked if this guy was anyone of note. I flat out said “no.” Well, Eric Sogard, I’m sorry. With last night’s two homer game, he’s up to .303/.367/.497 over 338 PAs between his two AL East homes with 12 HRs and 85 R+RBI in 77 games. He’s even chipped in six steals. He’s stepped up his game significantly since the end of May, going .330/.376/.529 since May 29th. Over that time, he’s sporting a 5% swinging strike rate. FIVE. It helps explain his elite strikeout rate and maybe… just maybe… there’s something here. It’s always worrisome betting on a 33-year-old who hasn’t slugged .400 since his four-game 2010 season and topped out at a .273 average in 2017, but 2019 is weird. Anything can happen. It’s like a box of chocolates. It’s probably gonna be terrible, but it could be good.

Mike Tauchman (OF, New York Yankees) — 2-for-4, 2 RBI, BB, SB. When Tauchman got traded to the Yankees, a friend of mine who is a diehard Rockies fan texted me saying “you’re gonna love this guy.” Well, you were right, Ryan. He’s really stepped up among all the Yankee injuries, slashing .417/.472/.750 since the All-Star Break and a .284/.363/.506 line overall. The power is lacking somewhat, with only seven home runs in 182 PAs, but over a full season that is a very playable line. He’s still striking out far too much, at 27.5%, but that mark is down to 20% since the break. He batted second in the second game of yesterday’s double-header and he’ll continue to bat in sexy spots in the lineup as long as the Yankees are banged up.

Michael Brantley (OF, Houston Astros) — 3-for-5, 2 2B, 4 RBI. In our offseason podcast recapping my mock draft picks, Nick vehemently disagreed with me getting Brantley at pick 115, citing the injury bug. I get it. But I eventually convinced him and I think Brantley eventually convinced a bunch of fantasy owners, posting arguably his best season to date and easily his best since 2014. Yordan Alvarez’s promotion pushed Brantley into an everyday job in the field, which may worry fantasy owners but he’s got two years of a clean bill of health at this point and I’m going to continue to target Brantley aggressively next year.

Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves) — 2-for-4, 2 R, 3B, 2 SB. I’ve never seen a guy as fast as Albies with so little desire to steal bases. Last night’s two-bag game puts Albies at double digits again, but it steals feels like we should be getting way more. At the end of the day, you’re gonna be thrilled with a .287 average 20+ HRs and 15 SBs with 175 R+RBI.

Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies) — 0-for-3, CS. Since 2016, Segura’s calling card has been a .300 average; he’s failed to replicate that so far this year, but he’s close to it at .284. I know, the power is up, but as a Segura owner, you don’t really care because you wanted 20+ steals and that’s just not gonna happen it seems, as Segura is stealing fewer and fewer bags each year. Father time is inevitable. TELL THAT TO NELSON CRUZ. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT STEALS, ITALICS MAN.

D.J. LeMahieu (2B, New York Yankees) — 4-for-10, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. Since April 24th (351 PAs), he’s hitting .352/.397/.568. He’S OnLy GoOd aT cOoRs. His home and road splits have again leaned towards his home park, because Yankee Stadium is one of the other best hitter’s parks in the game but at this point, we can all finally say LeMahieu is just a good hitter overall, right? Maybe we need to rethink how we evaluate Colorado hitters when they leave the Rockies.

(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Dave Cherman

Across the Seams Manager, also a former player and umpire and New York-based lawyer who spends his free time studying advanced statistics and obsessing over fantasy trades. Will debate with you about most anything.

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