At this point in the season, I applaud you as a fantasy baseball participant if you’ve mustered the patience to wait out the hyperslump that has been Cubs OF Kyle Schwarber’s 2017 campaign. Regular readers will be well-versed in my hesitation to trust pure power guys with horrendously low batting averages (see Joey Gallo, Mike Napoli, Todd Frazier, et. al this year). Sometimes it’s arguably more pragmatic to be impatient and cut ties for more balanced results now rather than wait out a power bat’s struggles, particularly in roto since the poor average can tank your chances at a H2H win because of the surrendered category. In any case, Schwarber seems to be at least sniffing out where the beaten path might be—in order to get back on track as a hitter—even if he’s still lost in the woods and off course. He posted a 3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI effort that single-handedly did most of the work to put the White Sox away at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday. Schwarber’s day as the Cubbies’ DH was even more impressive because his two jacks and one triple each came against different pitchers. In other words, one cannot claim in this case that he took advantage of a matchup with one bad pitcher to have a flukishly lucky day, as his XBH were all off different arms. What I will argue is that Schwarber’s luck has been in almost unfairly short supply lately: he has a .212 BABIP that just has to get better at some point. Admittedly, his soft contact is higher than it should be at 22.0% but a hard-hit rate of 33.5% is not bad at all, especially when paired up with a 20.5% HR/FB ratio.
So who is Schwarber this year, really? A .191 batting average is embarrassingly low—especially through 272 at-bats—and there’s no getting around that. And yet, a slugging percentage of .434 is at least respectable even if it’s far from elite (note that Schwarber’s great ISO of .243 is actually just SLG minus BA, so ISO is inherently a bit inflated by having a poor average AND good slugging, i.e. being a pure power guy). As such, do we just have to accept Schwarber’s power when it comes and just hope for the best from a guy who’s just not catching any breaks? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, his wOBA of .318 seems way worse than it realistically is because it’s the Schwarber storyline, and hype is inextricably attached to it. We thought he’d be truly great, and he’s just been mediocre, so the expectation-reality discrepancy seems more jarring. An awesome 2015, a lost regular season in 2016 due to severe injury only for him to make a triumphant return as a DH in the World Series, and this year people have just expected him to pick up where he left off to be a dynamite fantasy asset. With a wRC+ of just 92, he is absolutely struggling just to even perform up to the standards of the relative league average. His season splits say that July is historically the month when he gets hot, though, and also that his second half should be quite a bit better than his first. He’s drastically better (.077 differential) against RHP, for what that’s worth. It’s a bummer that his postseason success in real life does nothing for you as his owner, as most fantasy championships will have concluded by late September.
The takeaway is that if you’ve waited this long for him to come around and you’ve had him stashed him on your roster, don’t give up now. The low BABIP, a BA of .280 and a SLG of .680 in the month of July, the second-half splits, and the decent plate discipline and contact numbers all say that the moderate returns on your investment in Schwarber could be just beginning to finally rack up.
Let’s take a look at what else happened with notable hitting performances around the league:
Wilmer Difo (2B/SS, WSH) – 2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI, K. Difo hit his second homer in four games Thursday, but he only has one other jack for the entire season through 146 at-bats. A .260 average is serviceable, and Difo has been moderately productive by scoring 15 runs this month for the Nats. But the lack of both power and RBI is concerning for fantasy. The fact that he’s getting significant playing time at all is because young star Trea Turner is on the 10-day DL rehabbing his broken wrist anyway. Difo is on the better end of a timeshare with Stephen Drew at short and is on the depth chart as a backup OF, but the .340-hitting Daniel Murphy isn’t going anywhere at 2B. Prepare for a possible optioning of Difo back to Triple-A Syracuse when Turner returns in roughly mid-to-late August.
Bryce Harper (OF, WSH) – 3-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. This was Harper’s fourth game this month with eight or more total bases. He’s hitting .429 in July and owns a .338 average overall. He has a chance to surpass his career-best of 42 HR from 2015 if he keeps this torrid pace up (at 27 currently). Harper’s league-leading OPS and third-best RBI total of 79 RBI are certainly weighing heavily in talks of who should end up being the NL’s MVP. If you ever bench him, you may need to be committed for psychiatric evaluation.
Brian Goodwin (OF, WSH) – 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB, K. Goodwin has been an adequate hitter for Washington since his late-May call-up. Batting leadoff has limited his RBI generation of late, but a .246 average with 10 homers and 28 runs over 191 AB is perfectly fine. The reality is that Goodwin does not have a starting job when Michael Taylor, Jayson Werth and the aforementioned Harper are all healthy, and it’s even debatable whether or not he’d have a spot on the Nationals’ 25-man roster at all. His fantasy stock and upside are thus circumstantially limited to the fortunate playing-time situation that currently applies. If anything, all these OF being unavailable helps soaring veteran Ryan Zimmerman’s (he joined Harper in hitting 2 homers Thursday) chances at everyday use at 1B more likely since Washington has to use Adam Lind in left right now.
Josh Donaldson (3B, TOR) – 2-5, R, HR, RBI, 2 K. He’s unfortunately a shell of his former self right now. Thursday saw Donaldson notch his first homer since July 8 and his first multi-hit game since July 9. Granted, only having had 215 at-bats in an injury-shortened year are partly to blame for his more modest counting stats, but batting .242 isn’t helping. He’s a backup 3B at best right now, which is something that pains me to say.
Marcus Semien (SS, OAK) – 3-4, R, RBI, BB. Semien is hitting .262 this month, which I feel to be more representative of what’s he’s actually capable of. A really terrible 11-game start to the season back in April before his lengthy DL stint is dragging down his season average to .230, but that is so far in the rear-view that it has little to no bearing on how he’s actually hitting now. He’s got 12 runs and 10 RBI through 65 at-bats in July, and he’s also stolen three bases. Hitting safely in seven of his last eight seems to indicate that Semien has found a groove, and most of that has come on the road. He would be an excellent add as a backup SS to also possibly be used as a near-everyday UTIL with how he’s producing right now.
Derek Dietrich (1B/2B/3B/OF, MIA) – 2-3, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. While Dietrich is the clear reserve 3B in Miami’s lineup when Martin Prado is healthy, his grasp on the starting job solidified when Prado underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will be gone for another several weeks. The utilityman has been used at first and second a handful of times, and he’s been subbed into the OF on occasion: he has the above-listed eligibility on Yahoo, but is restricted to just 2B and 3B on ESPN. Dietrich has had back-to-back multi-hit games, but he had hit safely in just one of his last five games prior to that, so he’s far from consistent. He’s a .237 hitter on the year with just five homers now. The bulk of his 29 runs came in May and June, but his RBI have been pretty evenly distributed over the last three months, but the volume just isn’t fantasy-viable. Dietrich is not a recommended fantasy asset to own beyond the deepest of leagues, and perhaps just NL-only ones at that.
Jose Abreu (1B, CHW) – 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, K. There’s the power we’ve been missing. Two solo shots marked Abreu’s first time going yard since Independence Day. He’s got 18 overall and has an outside chance at cracking 30 on the year if he mounts a consistent streak here. On a positive note, though, the .297 average has been working for you even during the jack-less slump. He’s got 63 RBI and 57 runs scored, and Abreu is thus absolutely worthy of everyday starts in 12-teamers at 1B.
Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) – 2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, K. Gardner stole a base Wednesday, tripled and walk-off-homered Thursday, and he now has hit safely in nine straight games. That streak includes five multi-hit efforts, and he now has 66 runs on the season. Gardy’s RBI have been scarce lately, with only six in July. A .261 average is nothing to truly gripe about. He has 18 bombs on the year, and that’s a career-best for the 33-year-old. He is a versatile 5×5 all-category contributor that bat leadoff for New York, so he is absolutely useful to you.
Corey Dickerson (OF/DH, TBR) – 2-5, R, HR, RBI, K. He snapped an 0-for-14 slump with the two-hit effort at Yankee Stadium. The homer was No. 19 for Dickerson, and he’s had a lackluster July despite still having a .304 average overall. He strikes out almost a quarter of the time, and he also has what seems like an unsustainably high BABIP of .364 but he did the same thing with an identical BA two years ago with the Rockies. Considering he plays at Tropicana so often, I wouldn’t read too far into the differences between the contact numbers and GB/LD/FB splits he has now versus when he called Coors home. Dickerson is still a solid play who deserves to be owned and started on the regular.