Batter’s Box: Life of Bryan
Bryan Reynolds (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) made his MLB debut on April 20 to very limited fanfare. He was a second-round selection by the Giants in the 2016 draft, but because he lacked any “loud” skills, he was not talked about much, particularly in the fantasy community. Last night, Reynolds went 3-4 with three runs, a home run, and three RBI, pushing his batting line to .362/.418/.571. Since that April 20 debut, he ranks eighth in wRC+, third in batting average, and sixth in OBP among qualified hitters, so why the heck aren’t I giving this guy more love?
For starters, there’s evidence to suggest that some of the over-the-top production from Reynolds is luck-based. While I find BABIP to be a very limited tool (and one that has been functionally replaced in many ways by the expected stats available on Statcast), it’s a well-known stat that’s easy to take a glimpse at to determine if more digging needs to be done. Reynolds happens to have a .446 BABIP, the highest mark of any player with at least 150 plate appearances. Using that as a sign to look deeper, I went over to Statcast to see what the expected stats showed for Reynolds and how much of his current batting line was because of his quality of contact as opposed to luck. While his expected batting average is in the top 6% of the league at .302, it’s still a full 60 points below his actual batting average. Perhaps even more problematic is the 134-point gap between his actual and expected slugging percentages. Reynolds has limited home run power in his bat and plays in a home park that suppresses home runs (even with the hot start, yesterday’s home run was just his sixth on the season), so he’s been relying upon doubles to do damage. So far, that’s been working for him, as his 15 doubles are tied for eighth in baseball over the past two months. Based on his 4.5% barrel rate, very average expected slugging, and 47.1% ground-ball rate, I’m willing to bet that luck has been a significant factor in Reynolds’ success thus far.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should completely ignore Reynolds. A .302 batting average and .437 slugging are very serviceable fantasy numbers, especially when that particular player is batting right in front of Josh Bell and Starling Marte. He should remain a very decent outfielder in points formats because of his lower strikeout rate and ability to spray the ball to all fields. His counting stats, however, will likely leave a little bit to be desired in the power department, and he has very little stolen base ability, making him a tough guy to roster in 10-team formats or 12-teamers that only utilize three outfielders.
Willians Astudillo (C/3B, Minnesota Twins)—3-4, R, HR, RBI. HE’S BACK AND I’M SO HAPPY I COULD CRY. Long-term playing time will continue to be a big question mark, but those in two-catcher formats could make use of his high batting average, which is incredibly rare in a second catcher. By the way, don’t be surprised if Astudillo finds time in the outfield or at second base. Despite his lack of speed, the Twins seem to find enjoyment in trying him out all over the field, and because he hasn’t shown a platoon split, he’s not limited to just facing lefties or righties.
Michael Brantley (OF, Houston Astros)—3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. Hitting for some power, stealing bases, and hitting for a high average have always been a part of his game. Staying healthy, on the other hand, has not. The Astros have done a nice job limiting his exposure to the outfield at times and using whatever other magic pixie dust they have to keep him healthy (though they should consider using said dust on their infielders). If you have leaguemates who are concerned about his durability, you should poke around and try to take him off their hands.
Eric Hosmer (1B, San Diego Padres)—3-5, R, HR, 2 RBI. Hosmer is a perfectly acceptable first baseman and corner outfielder with some batting average and pop. The weird thing about him, though, seems to be that everyone who owns him seems to hate owning him. I don’t have any data to back that up, it just seems to be the case. I also don’t know what you should do with that information, assuming it’s even true. It’s just something I’ve noticed.
Ryan McMahon (1B/2B, Colorado Rockies)—3-4, R, 2B, 3 RBI. The Rockies are finally giving him playing time, and he’s finally doing something with it, hitting .273 with a .351 OBP. His lack of power leaves something to be desired, but being eligible at second base and playing at Coors for half of his games helps ease that pain.
Domingo Santana (OF, Seattle Mariners)—3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI. He continues to be a solid source of power for the Mariners and should get close to 30 home runs and 10 steals by the end of the season. I’m trying to make it a point to differentiate the slew of 30-home run outfielders we seem to have these days, and for Santana, the difference is in the double-digit steals and ratios. His .279 batting average is supported by his .281 expected batting average, and while his walk rate isn’t what it was in 2016 and 2017, it’s still a respectable 7.9%, which should help keep his OBP near or above .330. He still strikes out a lot (28.6% of the time), but he doesn’t strike out as much as he used to, which helps raise the batting average floor.
Chris Taylor (2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI. We will see plenty of the Dodgers utility man with Corey Seager on the IL for the next month or so, and you may find some value in him in deeper formats because of his decent power and speed. His quality of contact metrics have never been terribly impressive, though they’ve hit a low point this season. Despite the struggles, he still has a 132 wRC+ against lefties this season and has been effective against them for really his entire career. He occasionally leads off against lefties, or at the very least doesn’t hit in the bottom third of the order against them, making him a nice pivot in DFS formats in those match ups.
Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI. He’s the best in the world at what he does, and you should take time to catch him live if you haven’t already. We ignore him in this article quite a bit, as there is very little actionable fantasy news we can give you regarding Trout, but don’t let that fool you into thinking we don’t care. We do.
Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)—2-4, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB. He’s been the primary 3-hole hitter for the Brewers since May 14, and he’s hit for a respectable .277 average in that time with four home runs and 17 RBI. He still seems to have close to double-digit steals in his 35-year-old legs to go along with the 20 to 25 home runs still in his bat. He doesn’t walk that much these days, so he’s a pretty average asset in OBP leagues, but those in standard formats should still be able to find room for the veteran as a back-end outfielder.
Asdrubal Cabrera (2B/3B/SS, Texas Rangers)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. The batting average has been a bit of a drag so far this season, but he’s shown an improvement in his walk rate, bumping it up to 10.2% so far compared with last season’s 6.9% mark. He’s shown plate discipline similar to this in the past, so it could very well stick for the remainder of the season. Predictably, his bat has been heating up right along with the weather in Texas, as he has a line of .294/.368/.441 since the start of June. He should continue to be a steady performer in your infield and is a worthwhile bat to own in most formats.
Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs)—2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, BB. After a disappointing 2018 season, Contreras has solidified himself as one of the best hitting catchers on the planet not named J.T. Realmuto or Gary Sanchez. Statcast suggests the batting average and slugging are being lifted up by some good fortune, but his strong plate discipline, quality spot in the Cubs’ batting order and home run power should continue to make him a top five catcher going forward.
Jason Kipnis (2B, Cleveland Indians)—2-2, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB. He now has three or more RBI in three of his past four starts and is hitting right in the heart of the Indians lineup. The batting average will be low due to his fly-ball-heavy profile, but those in deeper leagues who need a second baseman could do much worse.
Rowdy Tellez (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. The batting average isn’t likely to improve a whole lot this season because of his unwillingness to walk and his tendency to strike out, but those in 15-team and AL-only formats in need of power might be able to get some juice out of this orange. He’s shown a really odd reverse platoon so far this season, but don’t read too much into it. It’s probably just statistical noise from the small sample sizes. Generally speaking, most in-season reverse platoons should be looked at with distrust. I don’t generally believe in them unless they repeat over two or three seasons.
Josh Donaldson (3B, Atlanta Braves)—1-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. This was his sixth home run in his past nine games, and he’s also accumulated seven runs and 11 RBI in that stretch. It was a slow start to the season, but the former All-Star may finally be breaking out in the way we had hoped he would in each of the past few injury-marred seasons.
(Special thanks to Stephen in the comments for the correction on the draft information for Bryan Reynolds!)
(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)