Puns are the Droppings of Soaring Whits

A recap of Monday's most interesting hitters.

While Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals), who absolutely dominated the young Tigers pitchers on Monday (3-5, HR, 2B, 3 R, 3 RBI), certainly didn’t have a bad season in 2019, more than a few fantasy managers were likely left wanting more, particularly in the stolen base department (he stole 45 bases in 2018). While he did manage to hit over .300 with 16 home runs and 20 stolen bases, his 45 steals from the season before were seen as his primary contribution to fantasy rosters. With stolen bases being such a valuable stat in roto and category leagues, it’s reasonable to want more of them from a player who was drafted to fill that category. If you can get past the dip in stolen bases, though, you would see where Merrifield’s true strength really lies—his unbelievable consistency. For three consecutive seasons now, Merrifield has put up fantastic numbers and, more importantly, has done it on a nearly every day basis.

Looking at just the season-long numbers, it’s impressive to see how consistent he has been. Sure, the stolen base totals have fluctuated pretty wildly, but beyond that, the batting average, quality of contact, and plate discipline remain strong and consistent year after year after year. Equally as impressive is his resistance to streakiness. For example, do you know how many times Whit Merrifield went back-to-back games without a hit or a walk in 2019?

TwiceWhit Merrifield played in all 162 games for the Royals in 2019, and he went back-to-back games without a hit or a walk twice.

Why is this important? Because baseball, and especially baseball played over a 60-game season, is erratic. It’s full of randomness, luck, and bad breaks. We need quite a bit of data and time to weed that stuff out of our numbers and find the true skills, and time is the one thing we don’t have in 2020. A player like Whit Merrifield, who routinely proves what he can do in both short and long samples, provides a reliability that is almost unheard of in today’s game of aggressive swinging and home runs. It’s also likely a key factor in him scoring 104 runs for the offensively inept Royals lineup in 2019. The 31-year-old may not get back to the 45 bases he stole in 2019, but as long as he continues to get on base at the top of a slightly improved lineup on a nearly every day basis, he will continue to put together excellent fantasy numbers.

Let’s see how every other hitter did Monday:

Maikel Franco (3B, Kansas City Royals) – 3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI I’m still skeptical that Franco can be a relevant third baseman in 12-team leagues due to the depth of his position and his history of falling short of rising expectations, but crazier things have happened. It was an impressive performance at the plate, though it’s worth noting that the Tigers young pitching completely fell apart early in the game. Still, consecutive multi-hit performances is a step in the right direction for a player who we once hoped would be a 30-home run bat.

JaCoby Jones (OF, Detroit Tigers) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI – Hitting his second home run of the season is cool and all, but the real surprise from Monday night was that Jones didn’t strike out. Jones has 20 home run and 20 stolen base potential in a full season, but his contact woes and the fact he hits ninth for the miserable Tigers offense makes him hard to recommend in most mixed leagues.

Victor Reyes (OF, Detroit Tigers) – 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI – If you read any of my pre-season work, you’ll know that I am really pulling for Reyes to continue the breakout we saw at the end of 2019 when he was one of the best in baseball at stealing bases and getting hits. After not making the starting lineup for the first two games, Reyes has hit seventh for two straight games and rewarded the Tigers with three hits, a home run, and a steal. The former Rule 5 pick has impressive speed on the base paths and can hit from both sides of the dish, and if he can continue performing like this he could eventually find himself hitting in one of the first two spots in the order. If/when that happens, he could be relevant in all formats.

Hunter Renfroe (OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – 3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBITampa fans had surely heard that he had pop in his bat, and they finally got their first glimpse of it in the form of two 420-foot home runs in the fourth and fifth innings last night. Renfroe can certainly provide power, but don’t be shocked if he has a few days off each week, and his hyper-aggressive approach can leave him vulnerable to prolonged slumps that the Rays may not be able to tolerate in 2020.

Brandon Lowe (2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – 2-3, 3B, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB – Talk about a hot start—that’s three consecutive games with multiple hits, an extra-base hit, and at least one RBI. He only played a half season in 2019, and his elevated strikeout rate and BABIP might have caused some people to overlook what he accomplished, but don’t make that same mistake. Lowe has legitimate power and speed, and even a minor improvement to his approach could lead to big gains for the young Ray. If you’re in need of a second baseman, he’s available in about 33% of leagues.

Jose Martinez (1B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – 2-5, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB – The key for both real and fantasy managers when it comes to Jose Martinez is to get him in the lineup against left-handed pitching. That’s who he hit the home run off of on Monday, and that’s what all the stats say (163 wRC+ against lefties). While he’s no slouch against righties, the messy corner infield and DH situation in Tampa will mean playing time might come and go for Martinez. Even with that messiness, I can’t imagine the Rays signed him to sit on the bench against lefties. DFS and daily league managers should put this on a sticky note and slap it on their desk for future reference: play Jose Martinez against lefties.

Colin Moran (1B/3B, Pittsburgh Pirates) – 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI – In two games as the clean-up hitter for the Pirates, Moran has three home runs. Unfortunately, all three have been solo shots as the Pirates aren’t exactly an offensive powerhouse. Deep league and NL-only managers needing some counting stats should consider Moran, because even though the power isn’t that impressive, he still managed to get 80 RBI in 2019 and could provide plenty more of them in 2020. He’s particularly useful against righties, where he will almost certainly bat fourth directly behind Josh Bell.

Mitch Moreland (1B, Boston Red Sox) – 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI – The 34-year-old has two starts and two home runs against right-handed pitchers, and you can expect that the Red Sox will continue to trot him out there whenever a righty is on the mound. He doesn’t hit for enough batting average or do really anything else besides hit home runs against righties, so I can’t really recommend him for most 12-team leagues. In deep daily leagues or DFS, though, you could make a worse call than Moreland.

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Toronto Blue Jays) – 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBIA last minute addition to the leadoff spot due to a late scratch, Teoscar continued his hot start to the season with a second straight two-hit night. While I wouldn’t expect him to stay at the top of the lineup for long due to his higher strikeout rate and low walk rate, he’s still an intriguing fantasy outfielder for those in need of some power in many formats, particularly those that require five outfielders.

Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays) – 2-4, HR, R, RBI – He has two home runs on the season and has scored a run in all three of his starts. He is… rosterable. That’s pretty good for a catcher, honestly. I am pretty impressed that he hasn’t struck out yet, as an improved approach could help him overcome some of the struggles he faced in 2019. If you need to stream a catcher, this one is hot.

Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros) – 2-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBI Altuve has eight combined hits and walks and seven runs scored. Say what you want about the Astros—they can still score runs. Between the run scoring and the fact he already has a stolen base and a home run, we might be looking at a return to the top of the second base rankings before the end of the season.

Michael Brantley (OF/DH, Houston Astros) – 2-3, 2B, RBI, BB, SB He’s logged multiple hits in three of his first four games and at least one RBI in each contest. Unsurprisingly, hitting fourth for the Astros is a pretty sweet gig.

Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros) – 0-3, 2 R, BB, SB It’s great to see him finally get a shot to play in 2020, and while he didn’t manage to record a hit, he still made the most of his plate appearances. With any luck, this will lead to more regular at bats in 2020. That said, in 10-team or very shallow leagues, he’s hard to hold on to until we see him play consecutive games on a regular basis.

Shed Long Jr. (2B, Seattle Mariners) – 0-3, R, 2 BB, SB That’s back to back games with a stolen base, which is a good sign for those who turned to Long as a deep play at the keystone. I really like that he’s leading off because it gives him his best chance to create value with his power and speed, though his low projected batting average and OBP could be tough to manage if you don’t have other players to buoy those categories on your roster (like a Luis Arraez or David Fletcher).

Evan White (1B, Seattle Mariners) – 2-6, HR, R, 2 RBI – A dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate, White should bat somewhere near the middle of the Mariners order and hit for power. The plate discipline is currently an issue though, as evidenced by his 50% strikeout rate through four games. If he can make the necessary adjustments, he could surprise anyone who isn’t paying attention.

Matt Chapman (3B, Oakland Athletics) – 3-4, 2B, RBI He’s one of the best third baseman in baseball, and while he’s off to a mildly slow start, games like this should remind you not to panic.

Tyler Stephenson (C, Cincinnati Reds) – 2-2, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB – One of the top Reds prospects made his debut in this one and started his career off with a bang. He’s not as powerful with the bat yet as his 6’4″ frame would suggest, and playing time is still a big question mark, but it’s cool to see the kid do well in his first taste of the big leagues.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres) – 2-4, 3B, 3 RBI He has a hit in each game, an extra-base hit in three games, and already has a stolen base. While some metrics might suggest that Tatis overperformed in 2019, don’t buy that narrative. Any overperformance early in his debut was outweighed by adjustments he made in the batter’s box as the season progressed. He’s a top-ten dynasty asset for me and should be for you as well.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/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.

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