Batter’s Box: King Dididi

Everything Scott Chu thinks you need to know about Tuesday's best hitters is right here in the Batter's Box.

I bet Didi Gregorius (SS, New York Yankees) has a pretty sore back this morning after putting the Yankee’s offense on his shoulders last night (5-5, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, BB). Ba-dum-tish.

In all seriousness, it had been a pretty slow start to the summer for Gregorius after his return from Tommy John surgery back in June. In the first month of action after his season debut on June 7, he slashed a rather ho-hum .275/.298/.429 in 94 plate appearances with four home runs, 14 runs scored, and nine RBI. That simply doesn’t cut it in the current fantasy shortstop landscape, where 27 shortstop-eligible players are rostered in 50% or more of ESPN leagues (including Gregorius). It’s an incredibly deep pool of talent, thanks in large part to an influx of young players over the past few seasons.

With limited stolen base upside (he stole 10 in 2018, but something between five and seven is probably a more realistic year-to-year projection), fantasy players have to rely on his bat skills to generate fantasy value. With three consecutive 20-home run seasons under his belt, Gregorius has shown some power potential, capped off by his 27-home run campaign last season that was cut short by the injury to his elbow. While I am still surprised by the amount of power he displayed, he does have a pretty good swing from the left side and plays in the second-best park for left-handed home runs in baseball (behind only Cleveland’s Progressive Field). As one of the few consistent southpaws the Yankees feature, he routinely finds himself in the heart of the order, giving him a plethora of batters to drive in, and he takes full advantage of the opportunities by avoiding strikeouts—his 13.2% strikeout rate over the past three calendar years is sixth-best among the 48 active shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances in that stretch. He scores a good amount of runs as well thanks to his above-average base-running skills and the depth of the Yankees lineup. In his 10 games since the All-Star break, he’s slashing a much more impressive .297/.333/.541 with 14 RBI, which is a better gauge of his upside than what he had done up until then.

Yet, despite all of the great things he brings to the table, I can’t call him a “must own” in 10- and 12-team formats unless you have a middle infield spot (like in the ESPN and CBS default formats) and your league uses batting average instead of OBP (his low walk rate keeps his OBP south of .320 most years, and the modest spike we saw in 2018 hasn’t been carried into 2019 as of yet). While someone in your league might have a spot for him because of some injuries or ineffectiveness from their primary shortstop, the position is just SO deep.

That’s probably the biggest takeaway I can give you today. Shortstop is deep. You’ve heard many “experts” say that, but I want to make sure it really sinks in for you. There are 53 hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater with a 2019 score above 6.00. Almost a third of them (17) are eligible at shortstop. Six of the top 15 hitters are eligible at shortstop. There are tons of them to go around, and unlike outfielders, you probably can’t start five of them at a time (unless you happen to have a bunch of Javier Baez-like players who are eligible all around the diamond). Shortstop-only guys such as Gregorius get lost in the shuffle in shallow formats, and that’s not necessarily an error in the way we are evaluating. Shortstops who produce, once the rarest of fantasy treasures, are a dime a dozen now. If you don’t have an elite one locked up, you could even stream them! It’s unbelievable to those who have been at this game for a while, but it’s the current reality. It won’t get talked about as much as the rise in home runs, but the rise of the shortstop is just as real.

Robinson Cano (2B, New York Mets)—4-4, 3 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI. This is somehow his second four-hit performance in his past eight games. Despite the disappointing season, he’s locked into the heart of the order for the Mets and has shown recent flashes of his power and bat skills. He took some time off because of injury in June, but since coming back on June 16, he’s slugging .500 with a .278 batting average, hinting that there might be some vintage Cano left in his 36-year-old tank.

Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)—4-5, 2 R, HR, 3B, 2B, 2 RBI. His .494 slugging has been a pleasant surprise to those who grabbed him in the first round of drafts back in March, but the dip in walks and the increase in strikeouts aren’t quite as promising. It’s going to be a stretch for him to steal 40 bases for the third consecutive season because of the time he missed from injury, but he’s likely to be a first-round pick once again in 2020 because of his 20-home run power, .280 batting average, and 40-stolen base potential.

Kris Bryant (3B/OF, Chicago Cubs)—3-6, R, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s on track to finish the season with 30 home runs, a .400 OBP, and a sub-20% strikeout rate. The RBI total is a little light for an elite slugger because of hitting second in the vast majority of games, but 110 to 120 runs scored help offset that issue. He’s a top-tier talent at third base and outfield, and he’ll carry eligibility at both positions into 2020.

Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI. He’s been alternating good and bad months this season, with a wRC+ of 87 in March and April, 147 in May, 74 in June, and now a 162 in July. He’s a streamer in 10- and 12-team formats as a back-end outfielder, as you don’t want to be rostering a cold Cowboy Kole for any significant amount of time. The overall line will probably look deceptively good at season’s end, but his streakiness and limited upside are very real. Don’t be fooled!

Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s slowed down considerably since his incredibly spring, as this was just his second home run since June 6 and only his third since May 11. If you haven’t cut him in a 12-team league yet, you probably should.

Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees)—3-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI. When he plays, he’s a 6’7, 282-pound tower of unmitigated power. The issue, of course, is that he doesn’t always play. He’s about to put up a second consecutive season with fewer than 115 games played, which is going to draw some intense comparisons to his teammate Giancarlo Stanton. The real question is what people will be willing to pay for the awesome-but-injury-prone outfielder in 2020 drafts.

Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers)—3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. Ha, of course he did. Back to back three-hit nights, right when I had given up. This is why he’s such a frustrating player to own—he alternates between flashes of his brilliant power potential and flashes of his potential to slog through a month with a sub-.200 batting average. As I mentioned yesterday, you can keep him in the deeper formats, but in 10-teamers and shallow 12-teamers (such as the Yahoo default), I would consider letting someone else ride this roller coaster.

Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. Instead of being a 15-home run, 15-stolen base guy with a pretty good batting average, he seems to have morphed into a 20-home run, eight- to 10-stolen base guy with a really good batting average. In either case, he’s a top-15 shortstop in my book.

Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. The hot streak continues and is already washing away memories of the awful cold spell he suffered. He’s an undervalued third baseman who should be locked into active lineups day in and day out. The batting average is a bit down from the .283 from last season, but I’ll take 40 home runs and 100 RBI all day long.

Miguel Sano (3B, Minnesota Twins)—2-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI. He’s basically the reincarnation of Chris Carter—high walk rate, obscene strike out rate, and tons of power. There’s certainly value in that profile in OBP leagues, but it takes some intentional roster construction to roster him in batting average formats. With power being so plentiful these days, I tend to want to let someone else own him. I wonder how the Twins plan to deal with him in the future and whether they’ll seek out a less volatile third baseman?

Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics)—2-5, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI. If you were worried about the hand injury and that it might sap power, I get it—that’s what everyone says about hand injuries. The problem, of course, is that every hand injury is different, and players respond to injuries differently. Olson’s 21 home runs in 69 games should be, if nothing else, a reminder to not assume that all injuries affect players in similar ways.

Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)—2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI. He’s shown impressive plate discipline and power this month while getting plenty of runs as the No. 2 hitter for St. Louis. That being said, the Cardinals have shown time and time again that they don’t appreciate his lack of skill with the glove and will routinely bench him, especially as they get healthier in the outfield. You can use him when he looks like he’ll be starting, but he’s tough to own in weekly formats. You may need to cut him when the Cardinals get fully healthy.

Justin Smoak (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-5, R, HR, 2 RBI. He’s underappreciated in OBP formats and should put up a third consecutive season with a .350 OBP and 25 home runs. The batting average isn’t always pleasant, though, and I have largely ignored him in my 10- and 12-team leagues that use batting average. There are simply too many other options for my corner infield and utility spots.

Javier Baez (2B/3B/SS, Chicago Cubs)—2-6, 2 R, 2B, 2 SB. He’s just so much fun. He swings at everything, hits the ball hard, and is an absolute wizard with the glove (I saw him last Saturday when he tagged out a base-stealer ON THE BACK FOOT and wasn’t even looking at the runner; he was staring at the ump the entire time as if he knew he got him). Ignore the naysayers with respect to his plate discipline. This kid has elite hand-eye coordination that transcends common rules about swinging outside the zone.

(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/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 creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    The real rise of SS is at least partially due to the deterioration of SS defense. Many SS of today don’t have the skills to play a decent SS, but teams have shifted way away from defense. Its comical that we still use it in WAR and contexts like that as teams are just punting defense more than ever before – it clearly isn’t something that teams value and we probably shouldn’t either as much as we do. I think if you expected MLB caliber SS play then group would shrink quite a bit. Yes, juiced balls do benefit those with elite hand-eye the most so SS has just gotten a huge offensive boost, but SS doesn’t mean what it used to either.

    I think 2020 is the year that Trea Turner is finally not a 1st rounder. That 20 HR pop grows on trees and is overstated. I think he will finally have burned enough owners that there won’t be any left to reach for him next year. He is always injury prone and speed first – too many reasons not to waste a first rounder on him.

    Re: Sano – 40 to 50 HR pace plays on most rosters. In a league where everyone hits 20 and 30 isn’t much of an accomplishment, he is one of a few players that can move the needle – there really are only a few. There is also a clear bias everywhere towards categories v points, if you don’t have BA as a category then he might play a bit better. Points are the way to go! You know, like in the king of al fantasy sports, football. I find it odd that points is the default in FB, but not in BB.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      This is all meaningful stuff, but I’m gonna focus in on three things:

      1. Turner’s pop is probably less of his perceived value than his batting average. Most speed guys can’t hit at all, but Trea can.

      2. 40-50 HR does play, but he’d actually have to be on the field for 140+ games to get there. That’s not something I’m confident in. Also, that 37%+ strikeout rate is just brutal in reality.

      3. Points isn’t the standard mostly because of tradition. The original leagues were all Roto so most people in fantasy started talking in terms of Roto. One thing that does make points easier in football is that we generally care about fewer stats – just yards, touchdowns, and maybe catches or interceptions. Fewer wrinkles makes points easier. For baseball, you often have to get pretty squirrely to get points to be “balanced”.

      • Avatar theKraken says:

        Thanks for the reply.
        I love points. Just saying it as a PSA. I think most people would like it if they tried it. Strange to see tradition winning the day in this progressive era. Football scoring is squirrely too, we just accept it. With points, speed guys take a huge hit so I do come from that mindset. I would imagine that people who try points might come back for more. In baseball it is not that hard – a pt per base, rbi and run. some values attached to sb and maybe a few other bits based on league settings. Pitching is weird, but something like a pt for an IP, K and some penalty for a baserunner allowed. Its not any more complex than roto IMO. I don’t like that roto makes bad players have value – like Billy Hamilton.

        In regards to Sano, you don’t have to keep him in your lineup when he is hurt. That per game production matters and it is just straight tied to health which is easy to manage. I don’t think anyone else in the game has even close to that HR rate without a massive increased cost and some obscured details like no track record or a limited exposure to same-handers. Injury prone guys are fine as long as you have a backup which I would advocate for in Sano ownership. That K rate seems to scare off people even more than it should. People said similar things of Baez swing rates. In this era of “data” people stick too strictly to limited frameworks for evaluating talent. I get that Sano Ks like a fiend and its a problem, but there is more to him that that. If he didn’t have unmanageable Ks he would be the best hitter in baseball but you can’t have it both ways. It is what it is and it doesn’t prevent him from having an .850 OPS over his career – whatever that means. He is a lot better than what he gets credit for being. Want a reason to like Sano? Have you seen “Ballplayer: Pelotero”, its a documentary largely about Sano as a child. He is really talented!

        Peak Dee Gordon hits for a lot more average than Trea Turner and people don’t seem to value that as first round material. Mallex hit .300-ish last year and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure, Dee is injured and over the hill but its a reasonable example of how Turner should be valued. Pretend we are talking about Dee three years ago or even more so 5 years ago. Drafting him in the first round would have been absurd. I am the guy that has always been saying that drafting Trea at 1.3 was a mistake – that has proven true and he has sunk a lot but he is consistently still over-drafted . At this point it is largely tradition – people are used to seeing him ranked near the of lists but I don’t think it was ever defensible. I feel like people always mention Trea’s 20 HR pop when they sing his praises. There is a considerable gap between what Turner is and what he is perceived. It all goes back to a fluky half season of production when we didn’t accept that the juiced ball era was upon us. Put him on your do not draft list and profit.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Yeah, and Didi was locked in yesterday. I would expect a few more consecutive huge games if he can keep it going as he was 100% dialed yesterday. I have not seen a player take that good of swings at every pitch in one game in my life. I thought it was clear from the first foul ball I saw him hit that he was going to have a good day.

  • Avatar Swfcdan says:

    King Didi heating up. You changed your mind on whether to offer Odor and Montas for him now? 🙂

    Alternatively who are some other good CI upgrades from Riley who could be slight buy lows. Moving Riley and Montas for ….?

    Trade deadline in a week, still got time to get something done hopefully!

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      I have not, Dan. Odor is doing some work as well, and Montas is a valuable asset for 2020 and beyond.

      Why are you hoping to move Montas? He was a solid young pitcher who isn’t hurt and who’s value is at the absolute low point.

      • Avatar Swfcdan says:

        Because I wanna try and win this year man! My team is falling away, currently 8/16. I think 8 make the playoffs. Thought Montas seemed an ideal sell to teams out of the race, to upgrade my team whether its Odor or Riley to get a big bat. Makes sense doesn’t it? Whether I can get the fit though we’ll see, not heard back from my offer for Suarez. If no good, any other good buy low CI targets?

        • Avatar Scott Chu says:

          David Fletcher is a guy I like who is under-appreciated who might be on your wire or available for nothing. If the Odor/Riley/Montas combo landed Eugenio Suarez or Jose Ramirez, I’d be elated. Dan Vogelbach is also pretty underrated and I’d be looking to acquire him for cheap.

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