Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire
It’s amazing how volatile player values can be year-to-year. That’s what ultimately makes first-round picks so valuable; as long as they’re healthy, you can pencil them in for a certain level of production and not have to worry about it for the rest of the season. It’s also why some people avoid breakouts in drafts the following year–they haven’t built up a reputation of consistency, and therefore carry quite a bit of risk.
This brings us to Jonathan Villar, whose 2016 season came out of nowhere and was one of the bigger fantasy breakouts in recent memory. He hit .285 that year with 19 homers and 62 stolen bases, and likely won a sizable chunk of people their leagues. As you would expect, he went early in drafts in 2017, only to promptly return to Earth, slashing just .241/.293/.372 with 11 homers and 23 steals. This season was more of the same, until he was traded to Baltimore. After his 3-5, 2 R, RBI, SB performance last night, he’s now slashing .276/.351/.418 in 25 games since joining the Orioles. It may be that a change of scenery (and regular at-bats) was exactly what Villar needed. He’s even been running more since getting to Baltimore, a surprise considering how stingy the Orioles tend to be on the basepaths. The 58.8% groundball rate is still likely holding him back, as his speed can only mitigate its impact on his BABIP so much. But given that he’s now posted a HR/FB above 19% for three straight seasons, I’m kind of buying into the power not being a fluke. I’d monitor him closely in September with an eye on next season’s drafts. We saw what the upside is in 2016, but even if he settles in as a middle-infielder who hits .250 with 15 homers and 30+ stolen bases, that’s very useful in all formats.
Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI – Christian Yelich is what you would get if you genetically spliced Paul Sporer with a fruit bat. And I’m not talking about his appearance; what I mean is he has the baseball acumen of Sporer, and the freakish strength and tenacity of a fruit bat. Heh. Anyway, a career-high 25 homers for Yelich this year! The 53.9% groundball rate is still probably holding his power potential back, but yay Miller Park!
Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves): 4-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB – The hits keep coming for Inciarte, who’s batting .417 over the past week and .298 over the past month. The counting stats leave a bit to be desired though, especially in the stolen base department. After stealing 13 bases in the season’s first month, he’s stolen just 10 bases since the start of May, and has just one attempt over his last 30 games.
Randal Grichuk (OF, Toronto Blue Jays): 4-5, R, HR, 2 RBI – It’s amazing that Grichuk is keeping his HR/FB at 17.3%, which is in line with his career average, considering that he’s making a career-worst 33.5% hard contact this season. His strikeout rate is way down, falling from 30.1% to 23.8%, but it’s not backed up by changes in his whiff rate (14.1%), chase rate (35.9%), or contact rate (72.1%). He’s hitting .307 over his last 30 games, but I would not bank on that level of production to continue.
Adam Jones (OF, Baltimore Orioles): 4-5, 2 R, RBI – Jones gonna Jones. The Baltimore centerfielder is still free-swinging his way into our hearts, hitting .284 despite a 40% chase rate. His whiff and contact rates haven’t eroded at all this year, but he’s not getting as much luck with his flyballs, posting just a 8.8% HR/FB compared to the 15.7% he had last year. This explains why he’s mustered just 13 homers this season, but he’s still probably a safe bet for a .275 average and 20+ homers next year, which is… fine.
Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians): 4-5, 2 R – I don’t know if you guys knew this, but Francisco’s actual last name is “Ramirez.” His teammates started calling him Francisco Lindor after they saw him stuffing his face with Lindor truffles before games, and the name just stuck. That’s a lie obviously, why do you people ever listen to me? Lindor just keeps getting better, and his improved hard contact and line drive rates have helped him pull up his .275 BABIP from last season up, which in turn has lifted his average up to .291. He’s arguably the best shortstop in baseball.
Jose Peraza (SS, Cincinnati Reds): 4-5, 4 R, HR, 2 RBI – Peraza is now up to nine homers on the season, which is more than he hit in 2016 and 2017 combined over 215 games. I’ve mentioned this before, but the uptick in power is nearly as surprising as the downturn in stolen bases, as Peraza is up to just 20 this season. Still, if he clubs 10 homers while hitting .290 over the course of the season, that mostly makes up for the lack of speed.
Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves): 3-3, 3 R, 2B, BB – The Racist Dragon has already put up an amazing season to this point, with 21 homers, 12 stolen bases, and 90 runs in the books. It’s enough that you can mostly overlook the fact that he’s run very hot and cold this year, and has been pretty ho-hum lately, hitting .252 with one homer and two steals over his last 30 games. Hopefully this is the beginning of another scalding hot streak.
Manny Machado (SS/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers): 2-4, 4 RBI – His strikeout rate has nearly doubled since joining the Dodgers, but that’s not a huge problem when his strikeout rate with the Orioles was a measly 12.3%. His .272/.349/.469 slash since getting to Los Angeles is solid, and he’s already stolen five bases in 36 games for the Dodgers, who seem more willing to give him the green light than Baltimore was.
Ryan Zimmerman (1B, Washington Nationals): 3-4, 2 R, 3 2B, SB – Zimmerman appears to be back in 2017 form, and all it took was three months on the disabled list to get there. He’s hitting .315 over his last 15 games with five homers over that span, and his 44% hard contact rate and 18.7% strikeout rate are both improvements over what he posted last year when he hit .303 with 36 home runs. With Matt Adams out of the picture, he has full-time run at first base and is a good guy to grab for the stretch run.
Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics): 1-3, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB – He’s gonna wreck it! The man I refer to as Wreck It Ralph due to the fact that his arms are so long they practically drag along the ground when he walks has struggled to wreck much of anything this season. The 15% infield flyball rate and 19-degree average launch angle likely mean he’s been getting under the ball a bit too much this year. But anyone who makes 47.7% hard contact should still be racking up more than 24 homers and posting better than a 15.4% HR/FB to this point. I say hold the line; he did hit 13 homers last September, so who says it won’t happen again? Probability. Probability says.
Tommy Pham (OF, Tampa Bay Rays): 3-4, 2 R, BB – Just fudge my team up, Pham. Pham’s been a frustrating guy to own this season, as injuries and inconsistent production have taken much of the shine off his brilliant 2017 breakout. His .251 average this year is probably close to what you should expect going forward, as his .368 BABIP from last season was never going to last long. Still, his power/speed combination and his ability to hit the ball hard make him a good upside play if this season has caused his stock to fall.
Anthony Rendon (3B, Washington Nationals): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – It’s a shame that a broken toe robbed Rendon of so much playing time early in the year, as he’s been excellent when he’s on the field. With just one stolen base this season, it seems that his waning running game is finally coming to an end, which makes his profile very similar to Justin Turner’s now.