Batter’s Box: Big Game Hunter

Jonathan Metzelaar recaps yesterday's notable offensive performances, including big games from Hunter Renfroe, Tim Beckham, and Michael Brantley.

Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire

Ah, September. The beginning of the end. The first step on our annual journey to the sad, barren wasteland of winter. The days will grow shorter. The nights will grow colder (unless you’re one of those beatniks living on the west coast). And baseball will cease to be for a time. But that’s okay, because the winter provides us time for reflection. And what Hunter Renfroe has been doing for the past month deserves to be thought on for a bit.

After going 2-4, 2 HR yesterday, Renfroe pulled his line up to .302/.325/.664 with 12 home runs over his last 30 games. Renfroe’s carrying tool has always been his power, but he’s made very encouraging improvements to his contact ability over the past month as well. He struck out at just a 20.9% clip in August, while also posting the 12th-best value hit percentage in baseball over that span. He’s made incremental improvements to his whiff, contact, and chase rates this year as well, and his overall hard contact has jumped over ten percentage points from last year, going from 34.6% to 45.8%. He’s also improved against offspeed pitches, posting positive pitch values against all non-fastballs. While one amazing month isn’t enough to declare this breakout sustainable, there are enough positive changes in his profile for owners to give him serious consideration as a potential sleeper heading into 2019.

Tim Beckham (SS/3B, Baltimore Orioles): 4-4, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI – In soccer, “bend it like Beckham” refers to David Beckham, and refers to the act of kicking a soccer ball in such a way that it bends mid-air into the goal. In baseball, “bend it like Beckham” refers to Tim Beckham, and is a reference to bending your hamstring past its physical limit and missing two months of the season. I think the soccer version is way cooler. Beckham hasn’t been able to carry any of last season’s success over into 2018, thanks in part to the fact that his BABIP has plummeted from .365 to .268, and his hard contact rate is currently a very sad 30.9%. I wouldn’t bet on yesterday’s performance being the start of anything exciting.

Javier Baez (SS/2B, Chicago Cubs): 3-5, R, RBI – If Baez sets his mind to it, he could easily go 30/30 this year and really drop a big ol’ cherry on the glorious fudge sundae that has been his season so far. Despite whiff and chase rates that defy logic, Baez continues to produce, and is batting .315 with eight homers over the past month.

Ji-Man Choi (1B, Tampa Bay Rays): 3-5, 2 2B – Choi has been getting an extended look with the Rays this year, and he’s flashed some pretty interesting skills. He’s spraying the ball to all fields, hitting 25.3% line drives, and mashing to the tune of a 44.3% hard contact rate. He sits against lefties, but there certainly appears to be a roughly league-average bat in here.

Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals): 3-4, R, 2B, 2 RBIRonald Acuna has really started pulling away in the Rookie of the Year race thanks to a down August from Soto, who hit just .255 for the month with a season-high 26% strikeout rate. Maybe teams have finally found a weakness in Soto’s approach they can exploit. Or maybe he’s about to turn Super Saiyan and pull off a stunning comeback here in the final month. Regardless, this was certainly a good start to September.

Logan Forsythe (2B, Minnesota Twins): 3-4, 2B, RBI – The good news is that Forsythe seems to have found a home with the Twins, and will no longer have to sell his beard clippings to Brillo pad manufacturers to make ends meet. The other good news is that he’s batting .308 over 102 plate appearances since getting to Minnesota. The bad news is, he’s hit exactly zero homers since the trade. His 2.6% HR/FB is absurdly low, but time’s running out for him to see it begin to correct before the season ends.

Whit Merrifield (2B, Kansas City Royals): 2-5, R, HR, 2 RBI – I mentioned yesterday that I thought Merrifield still had some untapped power in his bat, and later that night he went yard. Am I the next Miss Cleo? I don’t know, give me $20 and I’ll tell you. He’s now hitting .356 over his last 30 games with six homers, and it’s looking like that lowly 6.3% HR/FB is finally starting to correct here as the season winds down.

Brett Phillips (OF, Kansas City Royals): 2-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI, BB, SB – I’m honestly not sure if the Kansas City Royals are a baseball team or a charity at this point. No matter how bad their players are, they keep finding ways of getting them into their lineup. I’m looking at you, Alcides Escobar! Despite going 0-for-18 last week, Phillips continues to get regular at-bats in the outfield, and for at least one night their faith in him was repaid. He’s still hitting just .198 on the year though and should be roundly ignored in fantasy.

J.T. Realmuto (C, Miami Marlins): 2-3, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB – Shhh, nobody tell the Marlins front office this guy exists. They seem to have forgotten. Realmuto has arguably been the best catcher in baseball this year. More encouraging than this home run though is the fact that he’s stolen two bases this week, bringing his season total up to three. If he continues to swipe bags here and there, as he’s done in year’s past, he’ll boost his already high value even further.

Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): 2-4, 2 SB – Shoulders? Check. Neck? Check. Legs? Check. Yep, all Brantley’s body parts seem to be firmly attached and in good working condition for once. His 91% contact rate and 4% whiff rate this year are literally insane, and are excellent signs that vintage Brantley is back. We’ll likely never see him reach 20 homers in a season again, but he’s an all-around fantasy asset. A rich man’s Adam Eaton, if you will.

Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels): 1-3, R, HR, 3 RBI, BBKole Calhoun was one of the hottest hitters in baseball throughout the July and heading into August. He’s cooled a bit lately, hitting just .262 with two homers over his last 15 games. But don’t you dare call him Cold Calhoun, because he still produced a 118 wRC+ in August. I think the extended hot streak is likely over, but don’t dump him just yet, because he should still be perfectly useful down the stretch.

Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers): 2-4, R, HR, RBI – Odor continues his fantastic second-half turnaround, as he’s batting .307 since the break and has clubbed nine homers in his last 30 games. He won’t reach the 30-homer plateau that he made it to in both 2017 and 2016, but his improved walk rate this year and the insane amount of hard contact (46.1%) he’s making this season should make him a good target in drafts next year if this down season has caused his perceived value to dip.

Jonathan Metzelaar

Jonathan Metzelaar is a writer, content manager, and podcaster with Pitcher List. He enjoys long walks on the beach, quiet dinners by candlelight, and essentially any other activity that will distract him from the perpetual torture of being a New York Mets fan. He's written for Fangraphs Community Research and created Youtube videos about fantasy baseball under the moniker "Jonny Baseball."

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