Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire
The Los Angeles Dodgers are no strangers to reclamation projects. Over the past few seasons we’ve seen them sprinkle their magic pixie dust over bench players like Justin Turner and Chris Taylor and turn them into stars. And this year we’re seeing them transform a guy like Max Muncy from a relative unknown into downright solid starting player. I mean, Max-fricking-Muncy. That’s the name of a guy who should be working in a Blockbuster. Still. In the year 2018. And yet he’s somehow becoming a competent major league first baseman for the Dodgers.
The thing that all these guys seem to have in common is that they’re imports from other organizations. But is it possible that the Dodgers may be working their magic on one of their own this season as well? Enter Joc Pederson, and his explosive 4-5, 4 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI performance yesterday. There’s something noticeably different about Pederson’s approach this year. Part of it stems from a swing change that has seen him raise his hands and drop his body lower to get more compact. The results? A career-low 15.2% strikeout rate (a noticeable drop from his previous low of 21.1%), which is supported by a career-low 8.7% whiff rate and a career-high 78.7% contact rate. Not only that, but he’s using the middle of the field more, dropping his pull rate to 34.5% after pulling the ball nearly half the time in 2017. This has helped him improve against defensive shifts, as he’s hitting .293 against them this year compared to his .264 career average. Now he still can’t hit lefties (.118 average), but there’s a path to semi-regular playing time if he can outperform Blockbuster’s Employee of the Muncy. I think once his dreadful 2.3% HR/FB starts to correct, we could be looking at a brand new Joc Pederson.
Scott Schebler (OF, Cincinnati Reds): 2-3, R, HR, RBI – I wrote an article in the preseason about how Scott Schebler is no Joe Schmo, and while I wouldn’t say he’s been a Joe Schmo to this point, he’s certainly no Max Muncy. Schebler’s 39.8% hard contact rate is still elite, and he’s striking out an impressive 17.2% of the time, but he’s going to have to work on that six-degree launch angle if he’s going to really take that next step this season.
Travis Jankowski (OF, San Diego Padres): 2-5, 2 R, RBI, 2 SB – That’s now 10 stolen bases for Jankowski in just 31 games, putting him on a full-season pace for over 50. The improved 19.4% strikeout rate is impressive, but even with his excellent speed, do not expect a 67% groundball rate, 15.8% hard contact rate, and .387 BABIP to lead to anything good over the coming weeks.
Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago Cubs): 3-6, RBI, BB, SB – Just like Mr. Miyagi always said, the key to success in life is to sweep the leg. Ever since Rizzo’s controversal slide that almost cost Elias Diaz his leg, Rizzo’s been on fire, slashing .276/.417/.552 with two homers and twice as many walks as strikeouts. I’m not saying violence is the answer if you’re trying to break out of a slump, but… maybe it is?
Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox): 1-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB – Super Benintendo has been playing some Dong-y Kong lately, blasting five homers over his last 15 games and putting to bed any and all early concerns about his power this year. He now has a .902 OPS this season, and seems to have discovered a Link to the Blast.
Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies): 3-4, R – Story is making way more contact this season than he customarily does, but 47% of that contact is resulting in flyballs, and he has a career-high 13% infield pop-up rate. It’s not the worst problem to have when you play half your games in Coors, but it’s still not going to do his low batting averages any favors.
Matt Kemp (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): 2-3, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB – It’s tough for me to quibble too much with a .398 BABIP when this dude is making 48.5% hard contact with a 26.5% line drive rate. He’s seriously hitting .347 with nine homers this year. Seriously.
Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals): 3-5, 2 R, HR, RBI – Obi Juan keeps on waving his hand over my eyes and saying, “This isn’t the overrated 19-year-old you’re looking for.” It’s only a handful of games, but that 46.7% hard contact rate is juicier than a pile of Tauntaun guts.
Jesus Aguilar (1B, Milwaukee Brewers): 3-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB – Aguilar is sporting braces in his MLB profile picture. I hope he’s still wearing them this year, because having a player with braces is awesome, and also because he’s been kicking pitchers’ teeth in this year and it would be kind of ironic. Aguilar has seven homers over his last 15 games, during which time he’s batting .310. If he keeps this up he may hold onto the first base gig even after Thames returns.
Austin Meadows (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): 1-3, R, HR, RBI, BB – Duuude, Austin’s been snatching some rad barrels lately, and I’m not just talking about breakers. That’s now five homers for Meadows, which matches his minor league total from last year in 67 fewer games. He has just a 7.8% strikeout rate so far, and expect him to continue to steal at-bats from Gregory Polanco as long as he’s hitting like this and Polanco is scuffling.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): 2-3, R, HR, RBI, BB – Sometimes I get so used to saying a player’s full name every time I mention them, that I never stop and consider how strange their first names are in isolation. Like Marcell, for example. It’s not a weird name in and of itself, but it’s a name I imagine a professional tea taster having, not a hulking baseball player with the raw strength to literally hit a baseball straight through my body. Ozuna’s .299 average over the past month is great, but he’s hit just two homers over that span, and I just don’t see 30-homer upside for a guy who has a 52% groundball rate.
Miguel Andujar (3B, New York Yankees): 2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI – Andujar’s 49% groundball rate and 3.3% walk rate have me a little concerned, but he’s hitting .345 over his last 15 games so who’s to complain?
Aaron Hicks (OF, New York Yankees): 3-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB – It’s been an up-and-down year for Hicks, but I truly believe that if he stays healthy, he can challenge a 20/20 season. He’s up to five homers and six steals so far, and is batting .316 over his last 15 games.
Jeimer Candelario (3B, Detroit Tigers): 1-4, R, HR, RBI – It’s really unfortunate that the Cubs traded Candelario, because “Candelario in the Wind(y City)” would have been such a primo sports page headline. Anyway, that’s nine homers now for Candelario, and like I mentioned on last week’s podcast, I don’t think the end-of-year numbers for Candelario and Rafael Devers will be all that different.