Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire
Every fantasy baseball season is a learning experience. Every year I walk away with a new nugget of wisdom that I’m able to apply the following season to make myself a better owner. For example, don’t even think about trading for Rich Hill until he’s returned from his second blister-related DL stint. And, no, this is not going to be the year that Tulowitzki stays healthy and regains his form. These were some lessons I learned the hard way, but lessons that should help me avoid making the same mistakes going forward.
One thing I may have to change about my line of thinking next season is my belief that rookies, more often than not, tend to struggle. It’s something that caused me to shy away from Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna, and Miguel Andujar this season. And, well, I’m feeling like quite the dingus now. Especially with Miguel Andujar, because I really liked him during Spring Training, but still avoided him in drafts. After going 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI yesterday, he’s pulled his season line up to .300/.331/.534 with 20 homers. That was also his 36th double of the year, which ranks him sixth in all of baseball in the category. The xStats completely back up his performance thus far, pegging him for a .304 xAVG, .368 xOBA, and 19.6 xHR. His 14% value hit rate is nearly twice the league average, so the power is legitimate, and his 81% contact rate and 9.9% whiff rate paint the picture of a hitter whose hit tool is already mature. He’s a free-swinger to be sure, as his 4% walk rate and 38% chase rate can attest. But as with literally every minor leaguer the Yankees call up these days, he seems to be blossoming into something of a star.
J.T. Riddle (SS, Miami Marlins): 3-4, R, HR, 2B, 4 RBI, BB – The Riddler is letting me down big time this year, mostly because he’s not performing well enough to warrant a cool nickname like “The Riddler.” This was a great performance, but Riddle is hitting .157 in the second half and is bad.
Jonathan Villar (2B, Baltimore Orioles): 1-3, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB, SB – I usually hate the “change of scenery” explanation for a player’s improved performance, but that doesn’t mean I’m above using it. Villar’s slashing .271/.348/.458 with three homers and two steals since getting to Baltimore. The Orioles are notoriously stingy when it comes to attempting stolen bases though, so I can’t help but wonder whether that will cap Villar’s long-term value.
Corey Dickerson (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): 3-3, 2B, BB – This was a nice performance, and has become a regular occurrence since Dickerson shaved nearly 10 points off his strikeout rate this year, but, uh, where’s the power at? After swatting 27 homers last year, he’s up to just 11 this year with about a month left to go. The .307 average is nice, but daddy wants some big flies.
Tyler Austin (1B, Minnesota Twins): 3-4, R, HR, RBI – Austin’s game plan seems to be that he looks fastball and then swings very, very hard at it, as his pitch value against fastballs is excellent. The problem is, and somebody should really tip him off to this fact: pitchers don’t just throw fastballs. The power is promising, as he’s now up to 11 homers in just 155 plate appearances, and the 25.6% line drive rate is impressive too. The 19% whiff rate and 62.4% contact rate aren’t going to cut it though. The maxim still stands: never trust a man with two first names.
Scooter Gennett (2B, Cincinnati Reds): 3-4, 3 R, 2B – Beep beep, Scooter comin’ through! Gennett is still making contact like he was early in the year, with a .290 average in August. However, he’s hit just two home runs so far in the second half after smacking 16 in the first half. This seems to just be a cold spell though as opposed to any kind of regression, as his 13% HR/FB is well below what it was last season, despite the fact that he’s making harder contact (39.7%), and hitting the ball in the year with the same frequency. I could see another 5-7 home runs down the stretch pull his end-of-season home run total up to the mid-20’s, which is about what we can expect from Gennett now.
Joe Mauer (1B/DH, Minnesota Twins): 3-5, R, HR, 2B, RBI – Joe Mauer’s like that guy you’ve worked with for 10 years, but still routinely forget exists. He’s just so… forgettable. His 50% groundball rate ensures he’ll never hit for enough power to warrant rostering, and he kind of wastes his incredible 87% contact rate by hitting it on the ground so much. Love you Joe, appreciate you Joe, but, uh… who was I talking about again?
Paul DeJong (SS, St. Louis Cardinals): 2-4, R, 2B, 3 RBI, SB – Give DeJong some credit. He entered the year as a guy most people pegged as an all-or-nothing hitter whose .285 average from last season would regress. And that’s… pretty much exactly what happened. So give him credit, it’s not easy to live up to expectations. In all seriousness, he has made some strides this season, nearly doubling his walk rate (4.7% to 8.2%) while also significantly improving his whiff and chase rates. The main culprit behind his .242 average so far is a drop in BABIP, but considering his 38.9% hard contact rate that could start to correct at any time.
Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals): 2-5, R, HR, 3 RBI – Turner had hit a bit of a rough patch in the 15 games prior to this performance, with no home runs and just two stolen bases to show for it. Hopefully this is a sign he’s about to find his power stroke again. Turner’s losing a fair amount of hits to infield flyballs, as his IFFB% is up to 15% this year compared to 4.5% last year. His 48.5% groundball rate is also going to hurt his average, even with his elite speed. Still, with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases in the bank already, complaining about his .268 average on the season is nitpicking.
Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves): 3-4, 2 R, 2B, BB, SB – So I have to come clean: I paid Jose Urena to take Acuna out. Acuna’s recent hot streak was making my preseason prediction that he would struggle this year look embarrassing. But apparently I wasted my dang money, because Acuna is fine and has hit in every game since he got beaned. Over his last 30 games, Acuna is batting .342 with 12 homers and eight steals. Based on the 42% groundball rate and insane 24.4% HR/FB, I would not expect the power outburst to continue much longer, though when you’re making 46.1% hard contact on the season, anything can happen.
J.D. Martinez (OF/DH, Boston Red Sox): 1-2, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, SB – I have a theory that baseball is a lot like the plot of the Final Destination movie franchise–maybe you can get away with something extraordinary (like escaping death, or hitting .400) for a little while, but fate catches up with you in the end. Now I’m not trying to say that J.D. Martinez is going to get crushed by a piano or anything like that. But he’s having an absolutely insane season, batting .333 with 38 home runs before the calendar has even flipped to September. And oftentimes in baseball, when something seems too good to be true, fate intervenes and brings everything back to earth. *Hands Jose Urena a $20 bill* You know what to do.
Miguel Sano (3B/DH, Minnesota Twins): 2-4, R, HR, RBI, BB – Sano seems to have found his groove since returning from the minors, as this was his third home run this week. He’s still whiffing enough to power the entire eastern seaboard with wind energy, but if you need some homers down the stretch he’s a definite grab.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks): 4-4, 2B, 4 RBI – Goldschmidt has followed his .402 wOBA July with a .509 wOBA August, and is hitting an even .400 with five homers this month. He’s even stolen two bases, upping his season total to five, though this is a huge disappointment if you’re a Goldy owner. Unless he finishes strong in the department, I think the step back he’s taken in the category likely pushes him out of the first round in next year’s drafts.
Albert Pujols (1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI, BB – Everyone laughed when the Angels gave Pujols his 10-year/$240 million contract, BUT WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? Right, probably Pujols, because he has a lot of money. And, yeah, probably the people who first criticized the contract because Pujols hasn’t been very good lately. I’m not sure why I went down this path. Pujols is interesting, because his peripherals haven’t been too far off from what they were when he was in his prime, and he’s posting a career-high 23.2% line drive rate and 42.5% hard contact rate, the second-best rate of his career. Because he runs like he has nubs for feet though, his BABIP hasn’t cracked .270 since 2013, which is at least partially to blame for the lackluster average and .308 wOBA. There are worse guys to plug into your corner infield slot, and at least he’s gracefully declining here in the latter years of his career. I’m trying to find silver linings here, okay?