Batter’s Box: DeJong and the Restless
Paul DeJong (SS, St. Louis Cardinals) went 3-4 with a triple, three runs, and an RBI in Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers, making it his fourth consecutive game with an extra-base hit and his third consecutive game with multiple hits. The 25-year-old is off to an excellent start to the season, with three dingers and eight RBI while slashing .333/.396/.667 in 53 trips to the plate.
DeJong is probably rostered in your league (he’s owned in 70.4% of ESPN leagues), but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what he’s doing. Fantasy owners have a bad habit of ignoring players who aren’t on the waiver wire or their own roster after the draft. Paying attention to players across the league is one of the few ways that you can stay ahead of the pack in today’s information age. In DeJong’s case, it’s easy to simply look at the 44-point drop in batting average and 99-point drop in slugging between 2017 and 2018 and assume that this is a boring ol’ 20-homer shortstop with mediocre rate stats. While that might ultimately be the case when all is said and done, you’d be missing the fact that DeJong has settled into the three spot in the lineup, right after Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt and right before Marcell Ozuna. That’s a pretty juicy lineup spot, and it makes 80 to 90 RBI suddenly very possible.
There are also some early positives in his quality of contact metrics, as he already has six barrels in just 31 batted balls, and his xBA and xSLG indicate that the slash line has not been a product of luck — he really is hitting the ball well. Sure, we can use the small sample size disclaimer here, but if you’re a DeJong owner, you’ve got to be pleased with the early returns. If you’re not a DeJong owner, keep an eye on him. His historically boring batting line means his owners may not be overly attached to him, and you may be able to buy in at a very reasonable price if you’re in need of a shortstop or some power.
Matt Chapman (3B, Oakland Athletics) — 3-4, 3 R, HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI, BB. My early prediction that Chapman would not hit 25 to 30 home runs is looking pretty foolish at the moment, as he now has four in 16 games, which puts him on a 40 home run pace for the season. I’m going to go ahead and take the under on that, but if there’s a big takeaway from his early season success, it’s the strikeout rate. He made a nice step forward in 2018 with strikeouts, but what he’s doing in 2019 is almost unbelievable as he has just six strikeouts in 68 plate appearances, which is an 8.8% rate. Generally, we see some stabilization and reliability in strikeout rate after just 60 plate appearances, though that doesn’t mean the 8.8% Chapman is showing is going to stick. It does, however, mean that we’re seeing some legitimate growth here, which is supported by an early decrease in his chase rate and a sparkling 5.0% swinging-strike rate. Get excited, folks! This might be something special.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, St. Louis Cardinals) — 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, SB. It’s great to see Ozuna do something good after a Tuesday that saw him make possibly the most embarrassing outfield play of the decade. He recently stated to MLB.com that his arm strength was at “55 percent,” though his three dingers indicate that it isn’t sapping his power quite as much as it could be. As the No. 4 hitter for the Cardinals, he’ll continue to be a valuable source of counting stats, though keep an eye on his health and an alarming early spike in strikeouts (29.5% strikeout rate in 2019, career rate of 21.2%.
DJ LeMahieu (2B, New York Yankees) — 3-3, 2B, 2 RBI. Well, if you were worried that he’d be useless outside of Coors, that has definitely not been the case so far. He’s played regularly and has been doing what he’s always done — slapping singles and doubles and avoiding the strikeout. He’ll be a batting average asset for as long as he has a starting job, which should be at least until Didi Gregorious comes back.
Jason Heyward (OF, Chicago Cubs) — 3-4, R, HR, RBI. He’s ESPN’s most added outfielder (from 5.6% to 38.7% ownership) thanks to his .371 batting average and .452 slugging percentage in his first 42 plate appearances. This is a good time to use expected stats (which you can read a bit more about in my Fantasy 101 piece from March) to verify if those gaudy numbers are confirmed by his quality of contact. Baseball Savant’s xBA and xSLG for Heyward sit at .256 and .373, respectively, which are actually at or below his career rates. In other words, Jason Heyward is probably still Jason Heyward, which is a nonrelevant fantasy asset in all but the deepest of leagues. Save that waiver wire move for a more promising player.
Terrance Gore (OF, Kansas City Royals) — 3-4, R, 3B, 2B, RBI, 2 SB. He’s a career pinch runner and defensive replacement because of his blazing speed, but he certainly put on a show in his first start of the season. Those in AL-Only leagues should consider adding him to their bench for the 20 to 30 stolen base potential, but he’s very difficult to roster because he almost never starts. He has 22 career runs and 30 steals in 24 plate appearances across 68 games. In fact, his next plate appearance will set a new high water mark for his major league career … his current peak is 5.
Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) — 2-4, R, HR, RBI. Joc is absolutely crushing the ball right now and has been in the leadoff spot in most games for the Dodgers. Early returns suggest that he’s keeping the gains he made in 2017 and 2018 in his strikeout rate, and his approach at the plate (decrease in chase rate, increase in zone swing rate, and an increase in zone contact rate) show how exactly he’s doing that. If he can keep it up, he may be able to repeat his 148 games played in 2018 and push closer to 150 combined runs and RBI to go along with 25 home runs, making him a very useful player in most formats (and especially in OBP).
Chad Pinder (OF, Oakland Athletics) — 2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI. He’s a lefty killer who is also mashing righties at the moment. I know the people want more analysis, and I’m sure more is coming, but for now you’ll have to settle for my colleague Nick Gerli’s exceptional piece that he wrote in the preseason.
Niko Goodrum (1B/2B, Detroit Tigers) — 2-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. He hasn’t stolen a base yet, which was where I felt he could contribute most in 2019, but he has taken a big early step forward in his plate discipline, walking in 17.4% of his trips to the plate so far. He had double digit walk rates throughout the minors until he got to Triple-A, so there may be some hope that he can exceed the 8.5% walk rate he posted in 2018. His power/speed combo would go down much more smoothly if he got that walk rate up to 10%, especially with his higher than average strikeout rate.
Avisail Garcia (OF, Tampa Bay Rays) — 3-5, 2 RBI. Avi does two things pretty consistently: He hits it hard, and he hits it on the ground. So far, he’s showing a slightly elevated exit velocity and launch angle compared with his career averages, so perhaps the move to Tampa will do some good things for him. His 6’4″, 250-pound frame should have 20-plus home run power in it, and maybe this is the year he gets it? Even if it is, it’s probably only worth gambling on in 14-plus-team leagues unless he gets hot, especially with the crowded outfield/designated hitter situation out there.
Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals) — 2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. He was a “sleeper” again for what feels like the 37th time because of his power and prospect pedigree, but injuries and limited success have derailed his career. If healthy, he should get a shot to play almost every day for the Royals, which could lead to 20-plus home runs and a .330-plus OBP, but not much in the way of runs or RBI. I wouldn’t count on all of that, though, and he’s more of a watch list candidate in 12-teamers.
(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)