Batter’s Box: Homer to the Max

Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins), that’s the man whose name you’d love to touch, but you musn’t touch! His name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn’t fear! ‘Cause his name can be said, by anyone!”

After a productive night at the plate where he went 2-4 with 2 runs, a HR, a double, and an RBI, it’s time to pay more attention to the Twins’ leadoff man. His home run on Sunday was his seventh of the season and fourth in three days. The fantasy community has been holdings its breath for some time now, waiting for the moment that Kepler puts it all together and becomes a legitimate fantasy commodity. The key to the breakout for Kepler isn’t in his batted-ball or Statcast data, as it is for many other players. Instead it’s something much more basic he needs to learn to hit lefties. He has a career .201/.271/.333 line against them and a 60 wRC+ in 408 plate appearances, which simply won’t cut it. I wish I could say that the power surge we are seeing is a sign of a reversal of his past trends … but it isn’t. He’s 3-17 against lefties in 2019, though he does have a single home run. Even if Kepler isn’t able to turn the corner on lefties, it doesn’t appear that the Twins have any real desire to platoon his bat at this point. He may drop to the bottom of the order (as he did about a week ago when he hit eighth against Wade Miley), but if he keeps playing well, they’ll keep giving him an opportunity to get better. It should be noted that there aren’t very many lefties good enough to hide Kepler from in his own division, with just two (Matt Boyd and Carlos Rodon) who have any track record at all of big league success. He was barely a top-200 pick coming into the season, and if the power trends can keep up, he could approach 30 home runs with five to seven stolen bases and a .260/.335/.460 line that’s pushing to be a top-30 outfielder. Even if he can’t get the hang of lefties, he should stay as a top-40 to -50 outfielder throughout the season.

Hunter Pence (OF, Texas Rangers) 3-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, 4 RBI. I’ve been watching this guys for years, and his stance never seems to appear comfortable (or normal). He continues to be a part-time player (though not part of a platoon) in the Rangers outfield, and when he gets in the lineup, it’s usually in the heart of the order. That’s valuable for AL-only and DFS players, especially considering the .374 wOBA he’s put up in his 16 starts.

Melky Cabrera (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) 4-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2B, 3 RBI. I really thought the playing time would dry up by now considering the return of Gregory Polanco, but injuries to random parts of the Pirates roster will keep giving Melky a chance to play. Since April 19, he’s been the primary No. 2 hitter for the Pirates, and those in leagues with five outfield starters should consider adding him to fill their last outfield spot, especially if, like the Pirates, they need to fill in for injured starters. He’s most valuable in points and batting average formats (as batting average is his greatest fantasy strength), but he’s still useful in OBP.

Robinson Chirinos (C, Houston Astros) 1-2, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. His .151 xAVG (bottom 1% of league) and .261 xSLG (bottom 5% of league) are still really troubling. I’m not saying you have to get rid of him right now, but in 10- to 12-team formats with just one catcher, you’ll want to be ready to cut bait and run when the slump comes. And trust me, it’s coming.

Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves) 3-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. I haven’t really talked about him much yet (mostly because there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said), but the two-home run outing does help confirm the idea that there is some power in this bat though you probably won’t be 100% convinced that he can hit for power until you see if for more than one to two months (which was just about all he could muster last season).

Eduardo Escobar (3B/SS, Arizona Diamondbacks) 2-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB. He has been absolute fire for his past eight games, with five multi-hit efforts, four home runs, and nine RBI during this hot streak. I think he can put up numbers similar to last season, with roughly 20 home runs, a strong batting average, a useful OBP, and plenty of counting stats from the 2-hole in the lineup. That’s useful in 12-team leagues, particularly those with middle infield and corner infield spots. His dual eligibility also helps in those formats.

Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers) 2-3, R, HR, 2 RBI. After getting five days of rest because of an injury, Moustakas came back seemingly at 100% with three straight multihit games. He’s been crushing the ball all month and rewarding those who saw the value in taking him at or near his ADP (137.2 per FantasyPros). Thirty home runs almost seems like a lock, especially when you consider that he has 66 over the past two seasons.

Eric Sogard (2B, Toronto Blue Jays) 3-6, R, HR, 2B, RBI. No, you don’t need to add him in 10- or 12-teamers, but a .415/.478/.732 start in 10 games as the leadoff man against righties is worth noticing. It’s almost certainly just a hot-streak, but he is a nice 15-team or DFS play when he’s in the lineup (which will be somewhat frequently against right-handed pitchers). He’ll turn back into a pumpkin eventually, though, so feel free to drop him when that happens.

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he podcasts with Friends with Fantasy Benefits and contributes to Lineup Logic. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (AS SEEN IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL!!), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

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Comments


Scott Chu

Mornin’ Steve! The short answer is no, don’t do that. Myers is actually hitting the ball just fine — he’s got a .258/.301/.464 line with 5 HR and 2 SBs and a 25 HR/15 SB season is still very much in play for the 3B/OF eligible hitter.

Shaw is still a bit lost at the dish, evidenced by his elevated strikeout rate. The good news is that when he makes contact, he’s hitting it just as hard and as high as he did from 2017-2018, when he hit a combined 63 HRs. He’s also not chasing pitches outside the zone anymore than he has in the past, and he’s walking at his normal rate. The issue, really, is that he’s swinging and missing at balls in the zone. I haven’t looked to see if pitchers have found a hole in his swing, but I’ve given the tip to our talented Going Deep team to possibly look into it.

You likely spent a top 100ish pick on these two guys, so unless you’re in a shallow 8-team league with no MI or CI spots and a short bench that uses AVG instead of OBP, you have to wait and see.

Chico Estrada

Hi Scott! My Astudillo is hurt, I need a catcher.
Available are Garver, Alfaro, Barnes, Flowers, J.McCann, W. Castillo, Gomes
Who do u like? thx…..

Scott Chu

Welcome, Chico! Alfaro is probably my pick here – he’s swinging a hot bat the last few days and hits in the middle of the Marlins order. He’s also basically an everyday player. The remaining guys are mostly part-time players that are all basically in the same tier. If someone scoops Alfaro before you can, Barnes or McCann would be next on the list. Burning and churning through catchers is a decent strategy in 1-catcher formats.

Ben

Hi Scott, I’m in the same situation as above. Is Mitch Garver worth as a Astudillo replacement? His numbers aren’t bad and with Willians hurt, he should get more playing time right?

Scott Chu

He’s a catcher who isn’t in the first 2 tiers. Very little analysis required — ride him while he’s hot, then get rid of him when he’s cold. Astudillo hasn’t actually been stealing much time at catcher, though — it’s Jason Castro that he’s platooning with (Castro is a lefty).

Doug B

Garver was on fire (as far as catchers go,) as the Starter until he got hurt late last season. I think he could viably hold a poor-man’s-Wilson-Contreras status as a daily starter. He’s in a pretty solid timeshare, though, as mentioned by those much smarter than me before I said a word.

I’m watching him closely for playing time shifts, but he’s not (currently,) a 1-catcher league option for me.

I’d snap him up in a second, though, if there was any real movement towards playing him as The Starting Catcher. I’d rather stream matchups, AVG, and playing-time for the moment, personally. AVG & volume is king for the C position outside of the top two tiers, in my book.

Jack

Ok, I lied. As a guy who drafted Kepler, dropped him, watched someone else pick him up and hold for almost all of April only to drop him again a week ago, and now sees Mr. Kepler-Różycki on the wire, I have to ask — do I snag him at the expense of Franmil Reyes? Mind you, I need RBIs more than runs, and HRs have been strong for me so far, so I tend to think no. But as a start against righties only, he does seem interesting especially with Franmil dealing with that logjam at OF over in SD.

Now if Kepler ever stole a base, that would be another story…

Scott Chu

Thanks. I got it off a hair dryer.

As for the OF issues, it’s REALLY tough to call. If it’s a batting average format and you don’t need runs, Franmil has a slight edge for me thanks to the upside. If it’s OBP, give me Kepler. Don’t look for too many steals, though — he won’t get more than 5-7. It sounds like there’s quite a bit of depth on your wire, but you might also consider cutting one of your back-end SPs instead of Reyes.

Jack

Here’s a wrinkle: it’s OPS, which favors…both guys.

And yeah, it’s a 12-teamer, albeit one with larger rosters (2B/SS, 1B/3B, 5xOF).

Back-end SPs, you say? *chin in hand with wrinkled brow emoji*

Greg

Thoughts on Muncy? I used a mid round pick but with him struggling and in a platoon do you hold in a 10 team points league?

Scott Chu

I wasn’t aware Muncy was struggling!. He’s hitting .256/.347/.477 and has 101 PA so far, which is quite a bit for a guy batting in the 2nd half of the lineup. If you league punishes for Ks, he’s at a bit of a disadvantage, but he’s probably roster-worthy in that format. Admittedly he’s on the fringes in a 10-team points league, but he’s probably a top 150 player. It would really depend on who else was on your bench and who was available in free agency.

Greg

The one I was thinking about was Eduardo Escobar. Yes I lose a point for Ks and gain one for BB. With his limited playing time and KS he’s struggling.

theKraken

The Twins should lineup platoon Buxton and Kepler out of that leadoff spot. A non-terrible Buxton needs to hit closer to the top of that lineup. I am suggesting something similar to what the WhiteSox do with Moncada and Tim Anderson.

Scott Chu

You would think that they would have done that back on April 23, when Kepler was pushed down to the 8th spot against lefty Wade Miley. You’d be wrong, though — he hit 8th while Buxton hit 9th. It’s starting to look like they’re going to give him the Billy Hamilton treatment.

Mikey

Great stuff, as always! I’m hurting for an outfielder and eyeing up Danny Santana. Is there anything you can find in his profile that points to there being a chance he can be useful the rest of the year or is this just a fairy tale of starts for him?

Scott Chu

Thanks Mikey! I can’t believe Danny Santana is even back in the majors. Fun fact is that the 5’11, 185 pound Santana might be the overall smallest guy to take over 1B for any team this season, and these last 3 games are his first ever at 1B in the major or minor leagues (he’s a SS and OF by trade, but he’s been covering 1B and 2B).

He’s up because of the injuries that hit Odor and Guzman, and is making the most of it. Once upon a time (aka 2014), he made his MLB debut and stole 20 bags in 101 games while slashing .319/.353/.472. Ever since then, though, it has been . . . less than good. In his 797 PAs from 2015 to today, he’s got a .229/.264/.337 line. While the Statcast data indicates that he truly is making hard contact, there’s no reason to believe that he will be able to do this over any sustained period of time. He’s a poor hitter who has a little bit of speed and defensive flexibility. Odor is already back up, and Guzman just started a rehab assignment. When he is ready he will likely force Santana back to the minor leagues.

TL;DR — Look elsewhere.

Johnny Bravo

How do you see Christian Walker rest of season from the perspective of a 10 team points league (Scoring Similar to Draft Kings)? Normally I like to roster the exact amount of hitters to fill up a roster in order to get as many pitchers as possible, I added Christian Walker and Hunter Dozier when Judge went down, and am either going to hang onto both of them, or drop one of them for a pitcher streaming spot.

Scott Chu

“Now remember, I do my best work when I’m being worshiped as a god.”

It looks like you’ve stumbled into a pair of late bloomers in Dozier and Walker, both of whom I think are roster worthy in most formats. Statcast loves both of them, as they’re both absolutely mashing. In a points league that doesn’t penalize Ks, the easiest way to score is with total bases and RBI — two things that I think Walker is mroe than capable of providing at a high level if he continues hitting the ball with authority.

Judge’s oblique injury will keep him sidelined for at least a few more weeks, so let’s circle back in late May to see if either loses steam. It’s a non-answer, but for now, I also think it’s the right one.

Scott Chu

You’re very welcome! My own twitter handle (@chusephesquire) is also my fantasy sports handle — I don’t talk about anything else. Be warned, though — following me means seeing LOTS of tweets about fantasy curling.

Scott Chu

It’s a little closer in your format, due to the SLG category. Kepler’s job is safer and his OBP floor is a lot higher, while Franmil’s HR and SLG upside are much greater. Do what you will based on your needs.

Christian

I’m struggling in TBs and AVG/OBP, but I have a good amount of HRs SB and BBs (especially SB with Trea Turner on DL). I just got offered Springer and Sale for Pham and Ryu. Obviously the pitching side makes sense ROS even though it could hurt short term, but does the Springer move give me any help? I would get more numbers but AVG/OBP would still hurt. Just trying to see what I would gain and lose, and if you would take the trade. Thanks Scott.

Scott Chu

I really like the Springer side of that deal — by a wide margin. I really like Pham this year, but Springer isn’t really a big step down, and the main difference in value comes from SBs (which it sounds like you don’t need. Take the Springer/Sale side and run!

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