Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire
In baseball, numbers oftentimes tell a story. Significant changes in things like whiff rates, launch angles, and hard contact can often be signs of maturing skillsets or changes in a batter’s approach. Stats like BABIP and HR/FB% can tell us how lucky a hitter has been getting. We can often use some combination of this data to make informed predictions on how things will turn out going forward.
Except when the hitter is Didi Gregorius, a man who defies all statistical analysis and very well could be some sort of modern-day wizard. For three years now we’ve been pinning his excellent production on good luck and happenstance, predicting that he’s due for regression. And for three years now he’s been getting even better. In 2015 and 2016, Gregorius posted hard contact rates around 23%, which is 10% below league average. He also pulled the ball 40% of the time or less, subpar numbers when you’re trying to take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field. And yet he still flashed 20-homer power.
Gregorius went 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI yesterday, bringing his home run total to 13 on the year. What’s changed this season is that his peripherals have actually started to rise up to meet his production. He’s seen a huge increase in his hard contact rate, which is at 36.4% (his previous high was 27.9%). He’s pulling the ball more than he ever has. And he’s maintaining the excellent 17-degree launch angle he displayed last year. His 9.3 xHR support the power output this year to a large extent, and he very well could challenge 30 homers at this rate while also stealing more bases than he ever has; his eight steals this year are already a career-high. If you’re a Gregorius owner, just turn your brain off an enjoy the ride.
Ehire Adrianza (SS, Minnesota Twins): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI, SB – I’ve never heard of anyone with the name Ehire before, and I think Adrianza’s parents might’ve come up with his name by throwing a handful of Alpha-Bits cereal on the floor. Adrianza’s hitting .333 with three homers and a steal over his last 15 games and seems to be holding down the Twins’ shortstop job for now with Eduardo Escobar playing third base.
Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI – I’m still disappointed that Pederson isn’t Dutch, because I’m part Dutch, and I generally look for any excuse to take pride in someone else’s accomplishments. Pederson’s now hitting .294 over his last 30 games, during which time he’s hit seven of his eight homers. His contact rate has taken a big step forward this year, and he hasn’t sacrificed any hard contact to do it. He struggles badly against lefties, but if you can afford to platoon him, he seems to be in the midst of a breakout season.
Nick Markakis (OF, Atlanta Braves): 3-4, 2B, RBI – Markakis is now tied for third in the National League in batting average, and is slashing .333/.393/.500 on the year. Though he has just one homer over the past month, his eight for the season already match his entire power output from last year.
Jon Jay (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 3-5, 3 R, HR, 3 RBI – A great night for Jon Jay (if that even is his real name). Even with the move to a more hitter-friendly division and ballpark, don’t expect much more than a good average from “Jay” going forward.
Tom Murphy (C, Colorado Rockies): 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI – A popular sleeper back in 2016, Murphy fell off the map last year but was just recalled by the Rockies after hitting 16 homers in just 49 games in AAA. With Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters serving more as shallow potholes than roadblocks, the path seems clear for Murphy to potentially seize the catching job in Colorado, and the power upside is huge (though he’s flirted with K-rates in the 30% range). He’s worth a flier in deep and two-catcher leagues for now.
Josh Bell (1B, Pittsburgh Pirates): 3-5, R, 2 2B, RBI – With just a 29.6% hard contact rate and 48.1% groundball rate, the 20-homer power likely isn’t ever returning for Bell. He’s hitting .244 on the year as well, despite a .291 BABIP, and has been a big disappointment this season.
Shin-Soo Choo (OF/DH, Texas Rangers): 3-5, 2 R, HR, RBI – I’m secretly hoping Choo uses the money he made from baseball when he retires and opens up a train-themed restaurant called “Choo’s Chew Train.” He’s hitting .319 over the past month with seven homers, giving him 12 on the year in his age-35 season. He just keeps on chugging.
Matt Chapman (3B, Oakland Athletics): 3-3, R, 3 2B – Chapman’s been turning it on over the past week, hitting .455 while accumulating more walks (4) than strikeouts (3). His hard contact rates may help him overcome his propensity for strikeouts and allow him to post a usable average with solid power.
Ketel Marte (SS/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks): 2-2, 2 R, 3B, 3 RBI, BB – Ketel Marte sounds like more of a mixed drink than a baseball player, and for awhile it looked like Marte’s season was on the rocks. He’s back on the wagon though over his last 15 games, hitting .347 with three homers during that span.
Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners): 2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB – Haniger’s 15 homers are just one off from his 2017 total in 30 fewer games, and his 42% hard contact rate and 14.7 xHR point to it all being legit.
Ryon Healy (1B/3B, Seattle Mariners): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI – It’s not often that moving to Safeco can be thought of as advantageous for a hitter, but when you’re coming from the vast, desolate wasteland that is Oakland Coliseum, it’s certainly an improvement. Most of Healy’s peripherals are in line with what he posted last year, but he’s seen a boost in his HR/FB% which may be seeing a bump thanks to his new digs.
Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves): 2-4, R, 2 RBI, 2 SB – The 20 stolen bases are nice, but Inciarte’s average has plummeted over the past month, and he’s hitting just .244 now on the year. He’s not walking either, which is great for his SBot, but not your fantasy team. He’s still making plenty of contact, so this could be just some poor batted ball luck, but it’s worth keeping tabs on, as much of his value comes from his batting average.
Evan Gattis (C/DH, Houston Astros): 2-4, R, HR, 2B, 5 RBI – Gattis, everyone’s second-favorite baseball-playing troglodyte behind C.J. Cron, was off to a terrible start to the year. Then they told him to just imagine that the baseball was a prehistoric mastodon, and he went and hit .280 with 10 (!) homers over the last month. Cavemen hate mastodons.
Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves): 1-5, R, HR, 4 RBI – Yesterday was essentially a microcosm of the past month for Albies, who has hit just .219 during that time, albeit (Albies-it?) with five homers. Ozzie’s strikeout, line drive, and hard contact rates all still look good though, so I wouldn’t chalk this up as more than just a blip in what will be a stellar season for him.
Scott Kingery (SS/2B/3B, Philadelphia Phillies): 1-2, R, HR, 4 RBI, BB – Scott’s performance this year has some people wondering whether the Kingery is dead, and though yesterday’s performance was nice, he’s still hitting just .220 over the past month and may be in danger of being usurped if things don’t turn around sometime soon. The people are restless!