What is this, “The Sandlot” or something?! Oft renowned for his fielding abilities while manning various spots in the Cubs’ infield, utilityman Javier Baez made Pittsburgh’s defense look really silly Wednesday. A Pirates error and a bad throw each allowed him to reach first and third, respectively, while Baez took it upon himself to steal both second and home. His 2-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 SB line was the best impersonation of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez I’ve seen in quite a while. He’s got a .271 average, 20 homers, 64 RBI and 60 runs to go with his eight steals for the year: all solid and respectable tallies. With a more short-term lens applied, though, you can see Baez is doing better late in the season. The .295 average he has since the All-Star break is great, and that only shows contextually how rough a start he had. Baez is trending in an aggressively good direction, as his second-half HR/FB ratio is a robust 26.3% along with a 34.7% hard hit rate during the same span. The .214 ISO he’s got in 2017 is his best yet, so the 24-year-old is only improving the power aspect of his game with a long career in front of him. He still strikes out way too much (28.6%) and whiffs with disgusting frequency (18.8%), but he’s still a legitimate fantasy contributor all the same. He’s one of the more promising infield or UTIL streamers if he isn’t quite top-12 caliber at each of his eligible positions. It’s worth knowing that Baez is incredible at Wrigley against LHP, going .348, so plug him in enthusiastically for those home matchups.
Let’s see what other sluggers accomplished Wednesday across MLB:
Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) – 8-10, 2 R, HR, 5 RBI, BB, K, 2 SB, CS. Inciarte is batting .366 this month for a .310 BA overall. He has amassed 83 total runs in very balanced fashion across the span of the whole season as Atlanta’s leadoff man. Yesterday’s pair of steals through both games of a doubleheader with Philadelphia brought his 2017 swipe count to 19, and only 16 guys have stolen more than that. Having hit just three of his 10 homers in the second half, he’s not a great power threat but consider bombs a bonus for what he does certifiably for your team’s average and speed.
Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, CHC) – 2-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 K. Owners ended up getting adequate power from Schwarber eventually now that he’s accumulated 24 home runs. But nothing other than a .300-plus September with 15-20 of both runs AND ribbies will really get me back on the endorsement train with him. The dude literally got sent down to Triple-A because he was batting so poorly, and with a mere .199 average now he’s basically become a re-imagining of First Half Joey Gallo. So, that’s like saying “God love ya for putting up with the wretched average for home runs. Who do you have on your roster compensating for him?” To his credit, he’s scored a respectable 56 runs over 362 AB, which makes sense now that he seems to be the go-to 2-spot hitter for the Cubs.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B/OF, CLE) – 4-9, R, 2 K, SB. Ramirez is having kind of an infuriating month for those of us who are aware of how exceptional he can be at the dish, and yesterday’s stat lines from a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium are a perfect microcosm of that. To go 4/4 with a run and steal only to turn in an 0-5 clunker is why he’s been a little more difficult to be patient with lately. He’s absolutely still an elite fantasy talent, but this has been his worst 30-day stretch of the year by far with a .235 clip and just seven RBI. Four of his 15 steals have been a nice addition, but the other foot drops when you realize his power has taken a backseat with only two August homers. So is it worth believing he finishes strong? That’s a solid maybe. If the season ended today, it would be his career-worst second half as far as average goes (.246), but the positive spin is that he’s dealing with a .267 BABIP since the break so it’s likely his fortune will improve. From a psychological standpoint, it’s entirely possible that he’s feeling just a bit outside his comfort zone; manning second in Jason Kipnis‘ absence is within his skill set, but 3B is his natural position and the change could be messing with his focus at the plate. Baseball’s weird and anything is possible.
Greg Bird (1B, NYY) – 2-8, R, HR, 4 RBI, 2 K. In the five games he’s played since returning from the DL Friday, Bird has gone 4-14 and six RBI after the efficient outing he enjoyed during Game 2 of the double feature with Cleveland Wednesday. Far be it from me to be all in on a guy with an abhorrent .135 average on the year, but he’s looked decent in his first MLB action of over three months and could find a nice groove with a bit of production as far as power and plating runs go. The Yankees have him understandably lower in the lineup, but he could see a promotion very quickly if he turns it on in September. My personal advice is to watchlist him at a minimum for the time being, just to be able to monitor what he can do in upcoming competitive series against Boston and Baltimore because those outings will provide a good litmus test of Bird’s real status quo as a hitter. For the bold, I could get on board with adding him in keeper leagues just in case he blows up and you can then benefit in future campaigns. He’s only owned in 14.3% of ESPN leagues and 22% of Yahoo leagues so there’s time to be patient, but I have to believe that he was a top prospect in the Yankees farm system for good reason and has just been lamentably held back by injury.
Mike Trout (OF, LAA) – 4-4, 4 R, HR, RBI, BB. Water is wet. The master was not to be deterred by either an 0-14 skid or stiffness from a mild neck injury he sustained manning the warning track Sunday. He returned to the Angels lineup Wednesday after two days of rest to go off for four hits that included a triple. Can you imagine if he hadn’t missed six weeks with that thumb injury? His HR numbers are probably going to be third-best for his career with that huge gap of time where he couldn’t pad his stats. Simply remarkable.
Eddie Rosario (OF, MIN) – 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. That’s nine bombs, 22 runs and 24 RBI in August for Rosario. I stand by the recommendation that you be among the people who bump his ownership up from just 49% in Yahoo leagues and 61.1% in ESPN leagues. His .299 second-half BA ranks 44th among qualified hitters league-wide, so getcha some of that action before somebody else snaps him up.
Mitch Haniger (OF, SEA) – 3-4, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI. Too little, too late. That’s my feeling on Haniger posting multi-hit performances at this point in the season. He’s gone just 8-38 since his most recent reactivation from the DL, and if that sounds like a loaded jab at how injury-prone he’s been, take it for what it’s worth. When Haniger’s actually been healthy, nothing has fallen into place for him to re-create the amazing April he enjoyed. His batting average has systematically dwindled from .342 on April 25 to the .248 it is now. I know I want nothing to do with Haniger right now: he’s scored a paltry eight runs in 30 games played since June 30, and he has homered just thrice in that timeframe while batting .189. Red flags for days.
Imagine if Baez ever got some lineup protection. His increased production simply coincides with regular playing time. There is probably another level that would come from handing him a real spot in the lineup but Maddon in would rather try to give Schwarb and Zobrist those gifts. I will always be hoping for a Baez trade to a team that wants him on the field. Hopefully he will still he an everyday guy after Russell returns but I doubt it
Thoughts on Brandon Phillips now in LA? Batting leadoff is always a plus. But think he’s going to somewhat of a less favorable park for hitters? LAA one of the more aggressive teams in SB attempts so that might be a plus. Does this overall change his ranking at all? He’s consistently been near the top 100. I need to pad/increase my OPS/SB categories so you think he’s worth a fantasy roster spot?