Batter’s Box: Looking Forward

Scott Chu tells you all about the best hitters from Wednesday's games.

We’re near the halfway point of the 2019 season. We’ve seen our fair share of surprises, disappointments, and trends, and now it’s time for many of us to take a look to see how we can put ourselves in a position to win our leagues or, at the very least, climb up the standings. A large part of that is to evaluate what has already happened—identify the places where you’ve exceeded expectations and where you’ve failed, identify the stats or positions that have been strengths or weaknesses, things like that. The other task is to set new expectations based on what we’ve already seen and what we know about certain players. This is easily the hardest thing to do when evaluating your team because of the number of unpredictable variables like slumps, breakouts and injuries.

A good example of how difficult projecting for the rest of the season can be is Eduardo Escobar (SS/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks). Escobar had yet another strong day at the plate on Wednesday (2-4, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, SB) and continues to surprise us with his production. Thirty home runs and 100 RBI weren’t part of anyone’s preseason projection for Escobar, but here we are on June 27, and Escobar already has 18 home runs and 62 RBI. He’s been a cornerstone of the teams that acquired him (especially because they likely picked him up off waivers), and folks are likely counting on him to keep up at least some of this production to keep them in contention. It’s hard to argue much with his results—his BABIP is well within a normal range, as are some of the other luck-based metrics we tend to look at, such as his home-run to fly-ball rates. If there’s one red flag, it’s in his quality of contact data from Statcast. His barrel rate is a very pedestrian 6.8%, and he hasn’t really made any discernible changes to how well he hits the ball apart from a slight increase in exit velocity.

So how do we project a player like this? Do we trust the standard stats and believe that the 30-year-old has found something over the past two seasons that is causing his slugging percentage to jump from .449 to .489 and then all the way .540? He is hitting more fly balls and line drives than he had in the past, and Arizona isn’t an awful place to hit. He also hasn’t done anything to ruin his strikeout or walk rates. Or should we focus on the Statcast data and prepare for a seemingly inevitable downturn based on his quality of contact? While an old dog can learn a new trick, it doesn’t usually look quite like this. He set a new career high in home runs in each of the past two seasons (21 and 23, respectively), and it was hard to believe he had much more power in his bat. Statcast has somewhat verified this fact, as he’s not actually hitting the ball any harder or higher than he did in the past two seasons when he was just an OK fantasy asset.

The real answer won’t be known until September, but the task for fantasy owners today is to make their call—do you count on Escobar as a top-shelf talent, or do you not? Can you absorb a hit to power and RBI should one come to Escobar, or do you believe he can keep something close to this pace up? How long of a slump are you willing to endure for a guy like Escobar? How you answer will probably affect how you finish this season, and if you’re not thinking about it now, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

Corey Dickerson (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)—4-4, 3 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, BB. He’s hitting .324 since returning to the majors on June 8 with decent power, but the fact that he’s in a platoon in left field limits his value to deep leagues and DFS.

Kevin Newman (2B/SS, Pittsburgh Pirates)—4-6, R, HR, 3 RBI, SB. He’s outperforming his expected batting average by 53 points and his expected slugging by 102 points, but you can’t argue much with a 14-game hitting streak by the Pirates leadoff man. The batting average should remain a positive asset even if he comes back to earth a bit, and he could push for 15 stolen bases or so by the end of the season. The power is extremely suspect, though, and he might struggle to hit double-digit homers even in a full season of work.

Jose Abreu (1B, Chicago White Sox)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 4 RBI. It was a very slow start to the season for Abreu, but he has rebounded nicely, slashing .285/.310/.554 since April 19 (the start of his turnaround). He doesn’t walk much so he’s a bit of a drag in OBP leagues, but his bat control and power make him a solid player in batting average formats.

Cavan Biggio (2B, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-4, R, RBI, BB. He’s consistently finding himself in the top half of the order now, which makes sense considering his 17.1% walk rate. He’s on a nice little hitting streak, though his batting average will likely stay low because of his tendency to hit the ball in the air. Fly balls are good for his power, but they do tend to sink batting average a bit.

Willie Calhoun (OF, Texas Rangers)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, RBI. With six extra-base hits in his past seven games, Calhoun is doing what he can to stay in the lineup for the Rangers. The outfield in Arlington is extremely crowded, however, and it will be very difficult for him to keep consistent playing time through the rest of the season.

J.P. Crawford (SS, Seattle Mariners)—3-5, R, 3B, 2 2B, 3 RBI. He has three straight games with an extra-base hit and multiple RBI and looks pretty locked into the table-setting role for the Mariners for the time being. He’s slashing an impressive .367/.439/.612 since his call-up on June 14, and the former top-30 prospect could provide solid value as a middle infielder in deeper formats if he can keep up the plate discipline.

Nelson Cruz (DH, Minnesota Twins)—3-4, R, 2B, 3 RBI. A strong batting average and OBP and tons of power have been Cruz’s calling card, and while he has lost a bit of time because of injury, he continues to do what he has always done. The fact that he’s only eligible in the utility spot in most fantasy formats really isn’t an issue as he’s an elite hitter. I’m a bit worried about the sudden increase in strikeouts (his 30% strikeout rate is considerably higher than his 22.6% career rate) and drop in zone contact rate. At 38 years old, it’s quite plausible that he has lost a bit of bat speed. I don’t think it will be a big deal in 2019, but if this trend continues through the season, it raises red flags for 2020.

Jarrod Dyson (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—3-5, R, 2B, RBI, 2 SB. This was his fifth game of the season with two stolen bases. He doesn’t play every day, but when he does, he’s a big threat to steal bases. His power is basically nonexistent, but because of his willingness to take a walk and ability to limit strikeouts, he’s not ratio poison like some other speedsters (Billy Hamilton).

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/SS/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI. Make it five straight multihit games for the 25-year-old. His 188 wRC+ since his call up on May 24 is the fourth-best in baseball, and his .727 slugging is the second-best during that time. His aggressive style at the plate leaves him prone to slumps and makes him a batting average risk, but you have to love what you’re seeing from him right now.

Shohei Ohtani (DH, Los Angeles Angels)—3-3, R, 2B, BB, SB. I was recently asked to provide my too-early top 10 for 2020 drafts. I had Ohtani, who will be pitching by then, on that list. That’s how much I believe in his dynamic talents.

Dominic Smith (1B/OF, New York Mets)—3-3, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, SB. Three straight starts have led to three straight games with a home run. He’s doing his best to earn playing time in the Mets outfield, and I really hope he gets it. He was a promising prospect for quite a while and has been excellent in his 128 trips to the plate this season, slashing .339/.438/.606 with a 14.1% walk rate and a very reasonable 19.5% strikeout rate.

George Springer (OF, Houston Astros)—3-4, R, HR, RBI. Welcome back, George! He has a hit in each of his first two games back from the injured list, and this home run helps confirm that he’s feeling good. Hopefully he can return to the other-worldly pace he was on back in May.

Franmil Reyes (OF, San Diego Padres)—2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. The 40-home run mark is still well within his reach. His OBP has dropped below .300 and his batting average will probably stay below .250, but the long balls will keep coming and should help him reach close to 80 RBI as well. He has his flaws, but he’s awfully fun to watch.

Justin Bour (1B, Los Angeles Angels)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. He’s a solid DFS play when he cracks the lineup against righties thanks to his power, but that’s about it. Even with a full-time job, I wouldn’t be paying much attention to him outside of his match ups with right-handed pitchers.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres)—2-4, R, BB, 2 SB. He’s well on his way to 20 home runs and 20 steals in just 100 games. Assuming he does just that (which is far from a guarantee), he’ll fly up 2020 draft boards. I’m not saying he won’t be worth it, but it’s worth noting that growth is not necessarily linear. If he does falter at some point, it’s not because he’s some kind of fraud—it’s because baseball is hard.

Garrett Hampson (2B/SS, Colorado Rockies)—2-4, 2 R, 2B, SB. Honestly, this just makes Colorado’s infield situation more confusing. He has multiple hits and a steal in two of the past three games and has found time in center field and at shortstop. I have no idea how this will work out when Trevor Story returns (which could be as early as next week), and in most 10- and 12-teamers, I’m probably not going to try and find out. That said, a regular role for the Rockies would instantly make Hampson a player of interest to anyone needing stolen bases.

(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

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: Looking Forward”

  1. Garrett says:

    Thanks Scott. What are your thoughts on Eugenio Suarez’s slump? Are you moving Escobar for him ROS?

    • Scott Chu says:

      Hey Garrett! I answered a similar question in yesterday’s comments, but essentially I’m willing to just call it a slump as there’s no injury to point to at the moment. He’s been so good the last few years that you’re going to need to keep him, but he doesn’t need to be in your active lineup.

      That said, I’m not sure I’d be targeting him as an acquisition. I haven’t seen much of him live, so I can’t speak to his mechanics, but unless you see something fixable, I’d avoid him unless he’s on the wire.

      I’m actually lukewarm on Escobar, but if I was trying to trade him, I might try to look for a little more. Not saying you’ll get it, but I’d try. I think the expected stats are my starting point going forward on Escobar, as they match much of what he’s done in the past and I don’t see a major change in approach.

  2. Swfcdan says:

    Thanks for the reply the other day (thought I was too late).

    16 tm Dynasty league where I’m contending so buying. Lost Montas (ugh), but been offered Mikolas and C Walker for him. Seems a solid offer right? I’m expecting Mikolas rebound to continue but what about Walker. Will he still get regular ABs now Lamb returned? His metrics indicate he is pretty legit, so it’s PT rather than production I’m wondering about- he’s not warranted a benching especially for Lamb.

    • Doug says:

      Montas is for real, the changes he made in his approach to pitching had nothing to do with PED’s. I’d keep him rather than taking that deal unless you’re tight w/ strong competitors at the top of your league’s standings and you really need a flier on a pitcher-rebound to stay afloat. Lamb is completely useless vs. lefties, so you’ll get AB’s out of Walker. There are plenty of lefties in the NL West… but Lamb won’t be taking AB’s from Escobar very often, if at all, and being as streaky as Walker is (he was the same way in most of his time in the minors,) I have my doubts he’ll adapt well to the small side of a platoon. He didn’t play well in a part time role in his previous call-ups. I’m not sure what you’d point to to explain expectations of a Mikolas rebound, but I don’t share them.

      I’m just an amateur, so take my opinions as you will.

    • Scott Chu says:

      I might hold Montas. I’m not a pitching expert, but this guy I know named Nick felt he was the real deal.

  3. Doug says:

    I’m an Escobar believer and have been since watching him win the starting SS job for the Twins in ST last season (Polanco was suspended.) He went on to lead the league in doubles for quite a while last season. Prior to that, he was at best a part-time player. There’s a lot to be said for playing every day, and now he’s got a season and a half of every-day at bats under his belt. That said, he will slump from time to time, his ’16-’18 splits point to a pretty serious power deficit vs lefties (although all those numbers are WAY up in ’19, he’s absolutely crushing them this season,) and those same splits show him turning into a league average player in August and Sept, so maybe it would make sense to offload him well before your league’s playoffs.

    As far as Hampson/Story, sure, HE says he expects to be back when first eligible, but thumb sprains like his should really be allowed to heal and I’m not sure the team are quite as confident about his return as he is. From another site: “… our algorithm is showing a three week Optimal Recovery Time. Five days after getting hurt Story said his thumb is improving and he hopes to return soon after the 10 days are up. This would be way too quick. His Injury Risk remains High (33%), and he has a Poor HPF [health performance factor] (32%). Thumb sprains are very easily aggravated and can turn into a ligament tear when a player returns too quickly. It also leads to ineffectiveness at the plate and a lack of power. It’s not an injury that you should return from before it is fully healed, and there’s no way Story is close to being 100% right now. ”

    If I’m a Story owner, I’m hoping they give him the time he needs, at the very least until after the ASB, leaving at least some time to keep Hampson on rosters to rack up steals.

  4. theKraken says:

    I think it is odd to pretend that it takes Statcast data to predict a decline for Escobar. Any reasonable logic would point to a decline. It’s not like in the old days players would have a fluky first half and nobody understood that they would eventually regress towards the mean. You can have all of the batted ball and pitch discipline data – you don’t need it to tell you that he probably isn’t an MVP candidate. If you want the silver lining for where the power could be coming from in the unlikely event that he has changed it would be his 47 doubles from last year. In the juiced ball era doubles can become HR really easily. His XBH pace is roughly the same, but it is just common sense that he is a bad bet to keep hitting HR like he has. Another simple test that he fails is by taking a look at his monthly splits – the AVG and XBH have gone down every month – it sure stinks of lack of sustainability overall. He even had a huge HR total in May to help understand that the power looks fluky – but juiced balls amplify flukes too. As for what to do, I would sell if someone is buying what he is doing but I can’t imagine anyone is. He is going to be a hold as you sure won’t cut.
    Another note, Franmil Reyes OBP is always at or below .300 its why he should never have been hitting 2nd. He is the epitome of the what progressive analysis overvalues as his HR and EV overshadow his flaws.

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