Batter’s Box: The Narrative

Scott looks at a few of yesterday's best hitters with an eye on potential narratives for next season.

BALTIMORE, MD – MARCH 29: (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Stats can only tell part of the story. We can look at an almost infinite set of numbers in an endless variety of lenses, but at the end of the day, one of the most powerful things we have at our disposal is the narrative we build to explain why a player did or did not live up to expectations we had for him that season. Usually, this kind of narrative building happens during the offseason when we are all putting together our rankings and making draft decisions that will ultimately determine the fate of our fake teams, though sometimes it’s what we do during the season (like many of our great Going Deep articles) to make a case for or against a certain player’s future success.

Some players, like Chris Davis (1B, Baltimore Orioles), who went 3-5, with a home run and 3 RBI last night, are especially prone to narratives. In 2018 NFBC drafts, Davis’s ADP was 252, ahead of players like Shin-Soo Choo, Cesar Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, and Matt Chapman by managers hoping he would rebound and go back to being a 30+ HR hitter. In the 1st half, he posted an incredible 35 wRC+, meaning he was 65% worse than the average player, and a brutal .116 ISO. So far in the 2nd half, he has a 95 wRC+ and a .242 ISO. Due to Davis’s history of sudden rebounds (see 2015), I expect a wave of narratives to come out explaining why you should consider Chris Davis in drafts in 2019 should he keep up his second half to some degree (and they might be right, deepening on how strong he finishes the season). Such a turnaround would be brilliant, considering that in June, FanGraphs posted an article about how he might be having the worst season of all time and how he was benched on an objectively terrible team during that spell.

I’m not saying all this to knock Chris Davis or say you shouldn’t buy the hype (if any exists) — I only say this to point out that a player’s value is a very fluid thing, and even though we all can see the same numbers, we may all have different stories about how those numbers come to be. At the very least, you should be aware of the narratives you believe and disbelieve — it’s the best way to identify the value and risk you want on your teams.

Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals) – 3-3, R, RBI, SB – It feels like he’s been around forever after the excitement about his potential exploded back in 2014. He looked like a 15 HR/25 SB asset in what was a very weak middle infield landscape on a great team. Here we are, 4 years removed from his breakout, and have seen very little to be excited about in terms of raw statistics. Narratives have played a role in his value as well — in 2017, we thought he might have a repeat of his breakout when he was given the 2B job — but that never happened. His plate discipline and power/speed combination will keep us believing, though. He has a .373 wOBA and 137 wRC+ in the 2nd half so far with an 8.6% walk rate and 9.9% strikeout rate, which has slowly moved him out of the basement of the batting order, so as long as he’s hot, he can provide some decent value in 12+ team formats in AVG/OBP, runs and steals (he has 3 in his last 8 starts). He’s especially valuable in Points, where his contact ability will keep him out of the negatives.

Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, Baltimore Orioles) – 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – Another obvious place for a narrative, Villar was batting at the bottom of Milwaukee’s batting order and providing limited value as a speed threat in fantasy, slashing just .261/.315/.396 with 6 home runs and 14 steals in 279 PA. After being flipped to Baltimore, he was inserted in the top of the lineup and has hit .278/.352/.456 in 89 PA along with 4 home runs and 4 more steals. His pace in Baltimore is similar to his breakout in 2016, and I would expect him to be a trendy pick in 2019 drafts. You might want to believe some of that, though, particularly the power — his dismal 16.2% flyball rate in Milwaukee has jumped to a 36.4% rate in Baltimore, which helps support some of the increase in home runs.

Marwin Gonzalez (1B/2B/SS/OF, Houston Astros) – 2-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 4 RBI – The man of many positions has been a major disappointment to those who invested significant draft capital in him (NFBC ADP – 122.78) as he seems to ave reverted to his pre-breakout self. Like the players above, he’s also been having a second-half resurgence, sporting a .397 wOBA and a .294 batting average since the break with 7 home runs (he had only 6 in 296 PA in the 1st half). He’s not a great option at any position in fantasy, but his utility makes him particularly valuable in deep leagues and draft-and-hold formats. I would continue to ride this hot streak, especially while he’s batting in the 2-6 spots (which has been the case since August began), but don’t get too excited for 2019 — he’s a mostly average guy who simply isn’t that valuable in 12 team formats outside of injury replacement or bench consolidation.

Daniel Palka (OF, Chicago White Sox) – 2-4, 2 2B, RBI – Go to Baseball Savant’s Statcast Leaderboard and look at Average Exit Velocity, FB/LD Average Velocity, Hard Hit %, and Barrels per Plate Appearance. Most of the names at the top will make sense — J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis, Joey Gallo, etc. — but one name will keep coming up in the top 15 that will surprise you, and that name is Daniel Palka. This guy just swings as hard as he can, and when he connects it tends to be an absolute rocket. He’s hit 18 home runs in 93 games, though it has come with a 34% strikeout rate and a 16.5% swinging strike rate. For those in daily formats or who play DFS, Palka is a valuable player due to his .498 SLG against right-handed pitching. I probably wouldn’t think much of him in weekly leagues or those with tight benches, but if you’re in need of power and can play the match ups when he faces a righty, Palka is a nice add.

Jay Bruce (OF, New York Mets) – 1-4, R, HR, 2 RBI – He’s back, he’s boring, and he hit a dinger. We know pretty much what Jay Bruce is — a 30 HR bat with a low batting average — but he’s finally off the DL and that’s interesting (I guess). Quick note — in a recent First Pitch, Nick mentioned something like a “reverse DLH” for hitters, where it seems like they tend to do awesome in their first appearance off the DL (it came up when discussing Mazara’s recent 2 home run outing when he came off the DL). I don’t know if it’s actually a predictable occurrence, but hey, it happened this time!

Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees) – 3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI – He was traded to the Yankees from the Cardinals, and for at least one night, that trade paid off. He’s stumbled into some playing time lately and has done very little with it until now. As a prospect, he wasn’t especially exciting. He’s a classic high power, low contact bat that doesn’t walk, which makes for OK bench depth for real MLB teams, but not fantasy. I wouldn’t go adding him anywhere, but be aware that continued playing time may lead to some home runs (but brutal average and OBP).

Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners) – 3-5, 2 R, HR, RBI – He’s looking like he’ll wind up with 25 bombs and close to 10 steals when all is said and done, along with a nice average and OBP and nearly 100 RBI. That’s a really nice OF in any format. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a solid 3/4 OF in fantasy next season (100 RBI will be tough to repeat). A lot of his stats came in his scorching start to the season, but he’s been pretty good all season and especially good in August. Keep an eye on him for next year, though I wouldn’t expect another level to his game.

Yonder Alonso (1B, Cleveland Indians) – 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI – Part of last year’s “launch angle revolution”, Alonso looks like he’ll post similar numbers to last season, though with more RBI. A final line of 70 R, 28 HR, 90 RBI, and a .250 AVG is well within reach at his current pace, and that’s with a fairly unlucky BABIP that’s 25 points below his career average. It’s not sexy, but it’s awfully useful. The 90 RBI seem a bit high, and it’s a bit of a fluky stat in general, but that’s what batting 5th behind Lindor and Jose Ramirez can do for you.

Andrew McCutchen (OF, San Francisco Giants) – 2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, 2 BB, 2 SB – The power is down, which is to be expected after moving to a very tough hitting environment, but these two steals put him to 13 on the year, and he’ll still post a strong .355ish OBP with 80 runs and 70 RBI. That’s not too shabby for an older guy that might be undervalued in dynasty formats. The counting stats could rebound if the team gets a little better (and they’re the Giants, who have been known to do that). Also, if you haven’t seen it, go find his video about what it’s like for outfielders in baseball fights. Hilarious.




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.

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