Batter’s Box: Let the Rhythm Take You Over, Chirinos!
Last night, Robinson Chirinos danced. Around the bases. Once for a 371-foot homer and four times to first on balls. He has also danced his way into the top of the dearth of fantasy catchers. Last season, he made his name more widely known in fantasy as an ownable catcher, despite hitting .222. His 18 homers and 65 RBI put him firmly in the top 10. This offseason, he made the move over to a substantially more prolific offense, the Astros. It wouldn’t matter as much where he hit in the batting order. He’d still have the opportunity to knock in runs and get sent around the bases.
Yesterday’s line of 1-3, 3 R, HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB is the hyperbolic form of Chirinos’ season. Another home run, now with a homer in four straight games. A bunch of runs scored, only 17 to go to match his career high of 48 from last season. Some RBI as well. And finally a whole bunch of walks. This season, his OBP is .383, a good 50 points higher than his career average. What’s changed? His plate discipline numbers say not much. Almost everything is the same as last year except for zone contact, which is up about 3 points. More contact in the zone means fewer strikes, which might lead to better counts. He has cut his strikeout rate down about 9 percentage points too. The biggest factor in Chirinos’ early success is he’s repeating what he did with the Rangers in a much better lineup. The team is scoring more runs, pushing everyone around the base paths. If you’re on base almost 40% of the time with this team, you’ll score plenty of runs, something a catcher rarely does.
Let’s look around the rest of the league to see who else has been dancing around the base paths.
Dominic Smith (1B/OF, New York Mets)—2-3, R, HR, RBI. Smith is an interesting player here as he doesn’t have much fantasy value. He is mostly coming off the bench with a few starts here and there to give the starters their rest. It’s hard being the backup to Pete Alonso. Despite this, he’s been putting together an incredible year. He has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half from last year while also maintaining a 14.5% walk rate. This home run will only boost his current 1.023 OPS on the year. If the Mets find this guy regular playing time, consider an add.
Josh Bell (1B, Pittsburgh Pirates)—3-4, 2 R, 3 2B, 2 RBI. We look at Bell’s breakout season and see his 18 home runs, already six more than last year and well on his way to setting his career high, which is currently 26. However, as indicative of yesterday’s performance, Bell is hitting an absurd amount of doubles. Now with 25 on the year, Bell is on pace to pass 60, which no one has done since 1936. Can he break the single season record of 67 set by Earl Webb in 1931?
Travis d’Arnaud (C, Tampa Bay Rays)—2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB. d’Arnaud has been hopping around the majors this year and now has settled in Tampa. He got a good amount of starts for the Rays in May as Mike Zunino spent about three weeks of it on the IL. Now Zunino is back, so d’Arnaud’s starts will come less frequently. He got one yesterday and took advantage with his first two homers of the year, but that shouldn’t do anything for Zunino’s playing time.
Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals)—3-5, 2 R, HR, RBI. Through the end of April, Gordon had looked like a different player. He sported nearly a 1 BB/K ratio with a .939 OPS. His O-Swing% was great, his swinging-strike rate was great, much better than his past few years. However, through May and the first week of June he looks back to “normal.” His O-Swing% is up over 30%, higher than his career average, and his swinging-strike rate is back to 11% instead of the 7.7% it was through April. He has still put together an .811 OPS in that time, but we see the cracks showing again.
Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals)—2-5, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. Soler has had an odd season. I have seen him here and there be successful, but he has 16 home runs already? 42 RBI? His average has done enough to drive down his value, but he’s hitting comfortably in the fifth spot this season. Plenty of opportunities to drive in Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield. He has pop and has hit nine of those homers since the start of May with 25 RBI. It’s been a consistently good season for Soler, and if he keeps going like he has, he could be a nice surprise by the end of the year.
Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. Here is more Moustakas doing what he’s done this year. Two 400-foot homers at about 104 mph. Both of them off Caleb Smith, a lefty, which Moustakas has handled nicely this season. The only reason we may see a decline is if his HR/FB dips a bit down closer to his career norm.
Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)—3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI, SB. Yelich is good, and he keeps being good. There’s another home run and stolen base combo meal for you, his sixth of the year. With his current stolen base pace, he is on his way to a 30/30 at least.
Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies)—2-4, R, 2 2B, RBI. Surprise! It’s Ian Desmond! What’s he still doing on the Rockies? At least Garrett Hampson got called back up the other day. If Hampson can finally make an impact this year, the Rockies may finally have to find a new home for this liability. If you haven’t dumped Desmond yet, it’s time. There’s always hope he delivers a 20/20 season, but he hasn’t stolen a base yet and his power numbers just aren’t there despite finally learning to not hit grounders 60% of the time.
Edwin Encarnación (1B, Seattle Mariners)—2-5, 2 R, 2B, RBI, 2 BB. There is not much more to say about Encarnación aside from what I said last week. He is a perennial slugger delivering 30-plus homers and an average around .250. He has kept that up with his counting stats, hitting firmly third or fourth every day for the Mariners with a possibility to get dealt to a contender.
Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)—4-4, 3 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI, BB. Kepler went into MAXimum overdrive against Trevor Bauer with three dingers, all against him. Kepler has really come into his own this year, fulfilling the various prophecies of a breakout season from this offseason, the last offseason, and the offseason before that. With all the swing changes he made in 2018 to get more fly balls and fewer grounders, his HR/FB finally came through, up almost 10 percentage points from last year. He also has continued to increase his hard-hit rate. His BABIP has also bounced up a bit more, allowing for a respectable average to roster on a fantasy team.
Aaron Hicks (OF, New York Yankees)—2-5, R, HR, 3 RBI. Hicks owners/drafters have had to display profound patience throughout the beginning of this season. Usually drafted in the low 100s, Hicks sat on the IL until mid-May. Since his return, he’s been fine. Nothing special yet. It is still early for Hicks as he gets his own season rolling. He was drafted as a breakout candidate this year as he nearly surpassed 30 homers in 137 games with a 0.81 BB/K ratio. Frustratingly, Hicks kicked off his season striking out a ton, 31.9% in his first 10 games. However, he’s cut that down to 15.4% in his past seven games. He looks to be getting the ball rolling with a few games under his feet now, so your patience should be rewarded.
Stephen Piscotty (OF, Oakland Athletics)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI. Piscotty is a tough nut to crack. He had an incredible breakout year last season, but this season just hasn’t been the same. Notably, his HR/FB has dropped 7 percentage points, in a year where HR/FB is pretty much at an all time high. Could he see a bounce back in the positive direction there? It’s certainly possible. He’s already brought it up a bit as by the end of April it was at 10% and for his games from May to June, it’s been at 13%. Keep an eye on how Piscotty continues to make his way back to his 2018 self.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)