Batter’s Box: Hot, Ketel, Smacks
Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire
I had high hopes for Ketel Marte coming into the year. I thought he’d be an excellent late-round middle-infield option, chipping in some power and speed and hitting for a passable average. I stuck with him for the first month of the year, but his slow start ultimately forced me to move on. I dropped him. But I never forgot about him. I checked in now and then to see how he was doing, the way you might pop onto an old high school crush’s Facebook page every few weeks. You know, just to see what they’re up to. How their life is going. Ugh, she married Chet? She could’ve done so much better.
My point is that everyone has these players. Guys they believe in, but can’t justify rostering until they start turning things around. Let’s call them Hot Pockets; you’re down to sink your teeth in, but you have to wait for the right time or else you’ll get burned. If Marte was one of your Hot Pockets this year, he might be close to ready. After his 2-5, 3 R, HR, 2 RBI performance yesterday, he’s got three homers and 10 RBI over his last 11 games. Though he’s only hitting .246 on the season, he’s demonstrated elite contact ability with a minuscule 5.7% whiff rate and 87.8% contact rate, and considering his speed, his .265 BABIP is due for some correction. There are definitely some reasons for concern here though–while his career-high 34.3% hard contact rate is encouraging, he’s hitting the ball on the ground a whopping 55.8% of the time. Though the fact that he sprays the ball to all fields well should mitigate the impact of the groundball rate a bit, it’s really going to cap his power potential. His measly two stolen bases are also disappointing for a guy who has flashed 15-20 stolen base potential. I still believe there’s a 15/15 guy in here somewhere. I’m just too afraid if I dive in now, I’ll end up with a mouthful of molten mozzarella.
Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox): 3-6, R, HR, RBI – I feel like a helicopter parent when it comes to Mookie Betts. What, just a .286 average over the past week? Why not .330? Just a home run and steal apiece? Why not 10? I’m not letting you stay up to watch Adult Swim anymore until I see better results.
Jesse Winker (OF, Cincinnati Reds): 1-2, R, HR, 4 RBI, BB – Winker’s always demonstrated excellent plate discipline, but hit too many groundballs to get his power numbers up to a level that made him intriguing. This year he’s doubled his launch angle though, boosting it to 14.1 degrees, which has resulted in less groundballs and way more liners and flyballs. He’s also posting a 40.8% contact rate. He has just a 5.1% HR/FB to show for it so far, but if he can carve out some more playing time he may be a guy to monitor going forward, as he appears to have made a real swing change.
Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies): 2-4, R, HR, 2B, 5 RBI – Arenado is heating up, hitting .414 with four homers and 14 RBI over the past week. He’s hit just 14 homers this year, and has just 11 xHR, thanks in part to a career-low 35.3% flyball rate. He’s traded those flyballs for line drives though, and his hard contact and value-hit rates are both above his career averages, so the power will likely rebound.
Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees): 1-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB – Is it too much to ask for the Yankees to trade for Joakim Soria so they can have a Judge, Drury, and Mexecutioner? It’s strange to see Judge quietly plugging along this year after last year’s insane coming out party. He’s certainly been solid, with 18 home runs on the year, but his groundball rate is up nearly 10% compared to last year and sits at a slightly concerning 44.6%. For a guy whose 49.4% hard contact rate ranks fourth in baseball, you want to see him elevate a bit more. His launch angle is a pedestrian 11.3 degrees right now, and unless that changes, I’m not sure another 50-homer campaign is in the cards.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies): 2-3, 2 R, SB – This was just Blackmon’s fifth stolen base of the year, and he’s been caught three times already. He’s posting a .312 BABIP compared to the .371 line he posted last year, which is partially to blame for his mortal .281 average. It’s worth nothing that his groundball rate is up to 47.4% this year and his hard contact is down five percentage points, though his contact and whiff rates are still well above average. The speed is obviously trending down at this stage in his career, but he’s still one of the top hitters in the game.
Mitch Moreland (1B, Boston Red Sox): 2-3, 2 R, 2B, RBI, 2 BB – Moreland is now hitting .292 over the past week and is posting solid hard contact rates with about league average plate discipline, though he still struggles against lefties. In other words, he’s vintage Mitch Moreland.
Jason Heyward (OF, Chicago Cubs) 4-5, R, 2B – For awhile it seemed like Heyward’s only redeeming quality was his defense and his gnarly Kratos beard, but he’s hitting .322 with just nine strikeouts and eight walks over his last 30 games. However, he has just two home runs over that time period. He’s hitting the ball in the air more and making more hard contact, but he’s got just a 5.6% HR/FB to show for it.
Yairo Munoz (SS/OF, St. Louis Cardinals): 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI – If you’re wondering if there’s any meat in this Yairo, he’s now hitting .288 on the year and making a decent amount of hard contact. He profiles as a guy who can chip in some power and speed, though nothing that will blow you away.
Austin Meadows (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): 3-4, R – Brah, Meadows has been hella choka this year, and his slash line is now up to .340/.363/.598. The 5.9% whiff rate is extremely impressive, and with a 43% flyball rate and 40.3% hard contact, expect a solid amount of home runs on top of an excellent average going forward.
Alex Avila (C, Arizona Diamondbacks): 2-4, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB – Avila smoked the ball last year with a 48.7% hard contact rate that made him a popular sleeper entering this season. He’s still posting an insane 45.8% hard contact rate this year, but he’s fallen into a timeshare with John Ryan Murphy thanks to his putrid 61.9% contact rate and incomprehensible .124 average this year in 121 plate appearances.
Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox): 2-6, R, HR, 2 RBI – This was Benintendi’s 10th home run over the past month, during which time he’s hitting .327. He’s still struggling against lefties this year, batting just .197 against them, though his .213 ISO against lefties indicates he’s at least making those hits count.
Eric Thames (1B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers): 2-5, 2 R, 3B, 3 RBI – Thames has looked really solid this year, and even if this baseball thing doesn’t work out for him in the long run, he’ll at least be able to fall back on playing Hog Rider in the live-action Clash Royale movie. He’s making 48.3% hard contact this year, which is one of the best rates in baseball, and has increased his flyball rate to 51.7%. His launch angle is also up to 19 degrees from last year’s 12 degrees. I really think there’s 40 home run power in his bat, and with Braun dealing with a new ailment seemingly every day and Domingo Santana stanking it up, he’s been getting regular reps in the corner outfield with Jesus Aguilar taking over at first. I’d invest if the price is right.
Kyle Seager (3B, Seattle Mariners): 2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI – The jig is up, Sean Penn, we know this “Kyle Seager” character has been you all along. It was a truly remarkable performance, and your multi-year commitment to the role was nothing short of impressive, but you’ve been unmasked. Seager had a nice night, but his season thus far has been a pretty big letdown, as he’s hitting .228 and just .214 over the past month.