As you almost certainly know by now, baseball is back. It’s not the version we expected back in the Spring, but it’s something. We’ll (hopefully) have sixty games of sweet, sweet baseball to enjoy and today is day one of excited analysis about the action from yesterday, so without further adieu, let’s talk baseball!
While we didn’t get as much star power on Opening Day as we hoped (get well soon, Juan Soto and Clayton Kershaw), I thought for sure I’d be spending some time writing the feature of the piece about a big time star like Giancarlo Stanton (who I will talk about later, don’t worry) or Mookie Betts (who I will also talk about later). When all was said and done, though, the man who rose to the top of the class was none other than Enrique Hernandez (2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers), who went 4-5 with a home run and three singles while scoring two runs in driving in five more.
With a new season, you often hope for new story lines right away. A tweak in a swing. A more patient approach. A surgically repaired body part. SOMETHING. That’s not what we have with Hernandez, though. Let’s go over what we already know about him, then discuss what we know now.
The first thing we know about Kiké is that he can get hot. In fact, it’s something we saw right out of the gate in 2019 when he hit six home runs in March and April and had many people wondering whether he should be added to their fantasy baseball roster. We also saw him heat up in the summer months when he hit well over .300 in June and July, albeit as a part-time player.
The second thing we know about him is that he loves hitting lefties. He has a very strong 124 wRC+ against them over his career (meaning he is 24% better than league average) and the Dodgers use that knowledge to put him in a prime spot in their batting order whenever they face a left-handed starter.
The third, and for our purposes, final thing we know about him is that he hasn’t exactly put up eye-popping stats over the course of a full season. In 643 games of his major league career, he’s slashing just .243/.317/.429, and many of the positive indicators that appeared when he hit 21 home runs in 2018 faded away in 2019 when he posted a career low walk rate, a career high strikeout rate, and decreased production in virtually every category.
Despite the strong outcomes, Thursday night’s performance didn’t do a whole lot to disprove any of the things we already know. First, anyone can get hot, and there’s not a lot that stood out in the deeper metrics that indicated we’re looking at a new or different Hernandez. His three singles against the righties can generally be described as hitting the ball OK and it finding some grass. Second, that one home run happened to be in an at bat against left-handed reliever Conner Menez when the game was already out of hand, and punishing left-handed pitchers is one of the hallmarks of Hernandez’s game. Finally, even with the four hits, he only had one hard hit ball (which was his home run). As a fun fact, that home run went much higher in the air than we’d like, and just barely cleared the fence. While expected batting averages on a single ball can be a little wonky, it’s worth noting that the expected batting average on his home run was just .050. Yes, .050. On about 19 other days out of 20, that ball is an out.
I like Hernandez, actually. He’s a scrappy utility man who has clawed his way into the starting lineup on one of the best teams in baseball by carving out a niche against lefties. That said, his utility in our fantasy game is pretty limited to daily leagues where he can be used only when facing lefties, and in most mixed leagues there just isn’t enough room on the bench to roster a guy like that. Keep an eye on him in DFS, though. He’s often a strong play in that format.
Let’s see how every other hitter did Thursday:
Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees) – 2-3, R, 2B, RBI. The only real issue any fantasy manager should have with rostering Aaron Judge should be that he has had issues staying healthy. When Aaron Judge is able to put on his uniform and take the field, this is the kind of thing to expect from him on a day-to-day basis. He’s one of baseball’s premier power threats.
Justin Turner (3B, Los Angeles Dodgers) – 1-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI. Health has historically eluded Justin Turner as well, though he’s coming off of one of the healthiest season of his career, playing in 135 games. He was excellent in those games, too, placing in the top 20% of batters in xwOBA and whiff rate while playing excellent defense. As a middle-of-the-order hitter for one of baseball’s best offenses, Turner should provide excellent production in batting average and counting stats whenever he plays.
Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) – 1-5, 2 R, 2B. While he wasn’t the .300 hitter we saw prior to his injury in 2018, Seager still put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers in 2019 with 19 home runs and 44 doubles. A boatload of doubles might make you think that he’s due for more home runs, however he has always been a bit of a doubles machine and his lower launch angle suggests that he’ll likely continue to be a 20-25 home run hitter in full seasons with 35 or more doubles unless he makes some type of adjustment. While such an adjustment might boost his home run totals, that lower launch angle is also likely helping him square up the hard line drives that have helped sustain his high batting averages, so I’m more than happy to take what Seager provides as the type of hitter he already is.
Max Muncy (1B/2B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers) – 1-4, 2B, RBI, BB. The versatile infielder might only have gotten one hit, but his average exit velocity on his three batted balls was 100.4 miles per hour. That’s a hilariously small sample size, but it might indicate that Muncy is already getting locked in on for the short season and that his power will be here sooner rather than later.
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – 1-4, 2B, BB. An extra base hit and a walk is a great start to the regular season for one of baseball’s top players. He’s sixth on my personal dynasty baseball rankings, and it’s very possible that we haven’t even seen the best to come from the 24-years-old.
Giancarlo Stanton (OF/DH, New York Yankees) – 2-3, R, HR, 3 RBI. His 459 foot moonshot off of Max Scherzer was a no-doubter all the way. Once you heard the crack of the bat, you knew it was gone. That’s the kind of thing a healthy Stanton can do against even the best pitching in the league. Sure, a healthy Stanton isn’t exactly a common thing, but when we have it, it’s must-watch TV.
Alex Dickerson (OF, San Francisco Giants) – 2-4. Until I looked it up this morning, I had no idea Dickerson slashed .290/.351/.529 in 171 plate appearances last season. While the picture painted by Statcast wasn’t quite as rosy, a .271 xBA and .479 xSLG are nothing to sneeze at, and with a spot right in the middle of the Giants order, he could easily be a reliable source of RBI in deeper formats.
Adam Eaton (OF, Washington Nationals) – 1-2, R, HR, RBI. Most people probably remember him as the return for Lucas Giolito in the blockbuster trade between the Nats and the White Sox, but you should be remembering Eaton for his solid contributions to most hitting categories. His batting average and speed are probably where he gives most of his value to lineups, but his chip-in power and his spot near the top of the Nationals order should mean plenty of counting stats as well. Unless you’re in a very shallow league, Eaton should be universally rostered.