Batter’s Box: Lucroy Me A River
It is mind-boggling to me that C Jonathan Lucroy has scored a number of runs this year (34) that is just 10 greater than the number of homers he launched in 2016. That is an unprecedented caliber of sophomore slump after being a great power threat last year with Milwaukee. He was supposed to be, hands down, one of the best 2017 fantasy backstops in the game when we were canvassing the MLB scene preseason. To say he was an abject disappointment as a Texas Ranger is an understatement: his current .253 average matches his career-worst mark from his rookie year in 2010, and any player who has failed to eclipse 40 runs or 40 RBI through 367 at-bats is just REALLY not getting it done. It’s like he forgot how to mash taters, too. His hard contact has fallen off entirely to just 21.1% this year after being mid-30s for the previous five seasons, yet he’s oddly gotten more disciplined at the plate in terms of being zone-patient and whiffing very seldom. I honestly don’t know how to make sense of it, and moving to Coors Field hasn’t helped his cause as much as I hoped it might. Now having said all that, he went 2-4, R, 2 RBI last night at Dodger Stadium and has hit safely in five of his last eight. He’s not bad for OBP league usage, but I just can’t recommend pulling the trigger on picking him up for roto formats because he isn’t producing at even a rate acceptable enough for a backup catcher. Sorry ’bout it: you have better options in Robinson Chirinos, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta, and James McCann.
Let’s take a deeper look at some other noteworthy hitting exploits from Thursday:
Brandon Nimmo (OF, NYM) – 3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB. The state of the Mets’ outfield is a travesty these days. I’ve lamented the loss of Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, and not having Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce anymore means we’re down to the skeleton crew of a freshman C-squad out there. Obviously I’m mostly joking, but it really is slim pickings from a fantasy standpoint. Nimmo is yet to crack 100 at-bats this year, and these bombs were his second and third of the entire season. His .389 average in September is fueled by three nights with three hits each, but he’s otherwise gone 1-10. He’s just not the guy you need to resurrect your lineup in playoff crunch time, although 11 RBI in his last 11 games is not a bad clip if he’s able to sustain it. He’s hopped around the order so don’t expect him to occupy a certain spot consistently as the season winds down.
Francisco Lindor (SS, CLE) – 3-6, 3 R, HR, RBI. Lindor is a .300 hitter since the break who’s one bomb away from matching his first-half HR total of 14, and that’s with three weeks left to play. He’s unsurprisingly been a run-scoring machine as well lately, doing the bulk of his late-season counting stat damage from atop the order for Cleveland (.286, 20 R, 20 RBI as leadoff since mid-July). Lindor is going to finish out his campaign as one of the premier fantasy SS-eligible players the league had to offer in 2017, arguably a close second behind the blossoming Manny Machado. He probably was enabled by Carlos Correa and Corey Seager dealing with varying degrees of injury, but he’s run with the opportunity. I don’t see him losing any appeal whatsoever come next year.
Erik Gonzalez (2B, CLE) – 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. This stat line is one of those that needs to be brought back down to Earth, unfortunately. Gonzalez is realistically only a member of the active Cleveland roster because Jason Kipnis is still on the 10-day DL, and one of his homers came off of catcher Rob Brantly pitching in garbage time of a blowout. Gonzalez has an egregious 31.0% strikeout rate and a troublesome soft contact rate of 13.4%. He’s unowned in almost all leagues, and it’s for good reason. Cleveland fans are loving the depth of the franchise’s farm system, but a healthy Yandy Diaz is the only one of the recent call-ups really registering even remotely on the fringe of fantasy relevance right now (Greg Allen, Francisco Mejia, and Giovanny Urshela being the other non-Gonzalez guys I’m referencing).
Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) – 3-5, 2 R, RBI. Two of Gregorius’ hit trio were doubles, and he hit safely in all three games of the Baltimore series. This is actually a relief for fantasy owners, as he had gone hitless in six of the preceding nine contests. Five RBI at Camden Yards brought his season total to 67, and he has hopped around a little bit within the 4-5-6 heart of the order but manages to plate nicely regardless of his positioning. His average is slightly better from the 5- and 6-spots, but 20 RBI have come from him slotting in at cleanup. What I’m saying is he’s a viable starting fantasy SS, and you should feel good about playing a 20-HR guy who hits for average to boot.
Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) – 1-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB, 2 K. It’s really a bummer that Judge has only finagled his way to nine second-half HRs when he had 30 before the All-Star break. This is the unfortunate side of fantasy baseball: we begin to nitpick the timing of a guy’s greatness rather than remember that Judge is having the second-best showing of rookie power in MLB history. Alas, this is a very “what have you done for me lately?” type of sports entertainment. His hard-hit rate since play resumed July 14 is an excellent 35.4%, but even that is a letdown when he was destroying the ball to the tune of 49.0% hard contact beforehand. On a positive note, the proportion of groundballs he’s hitting in the second half is down significantly (31.3% versus 38.0%); but ultimately, too many of his flyballs are simply landing within the ballpark now. We should have expected the regression to be brutal, since he was messing with a .426 BABIP prior to the ASG festivities, but it’s always a shock to the system when a guy was such a reliable fantasy asset for months on end and then just drops off. In any case, the dude has an incredibly bright future even if late-season rookie yips are tightening their stranglehold on his bat quite often. Designate him as a keeper without a second thought if that’s a thing your league does. Weirdly enough, Judge has been distinctly better away from Yankee Stadium in the second half, so bear that in mind when starting or sitting him.
Nolan Arenado (3B, COL) – 2-3, R, HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB. It had been exactly five weeks since Arenado had enjoyed an evening with more than three RBI, and this particular instance surprisingly came away from Coors Field against the stellar-but-plateauing Dodgers. Arenado is a top-10 overall fantasy player without a doubt, but he’d started to lose a tiny bit of elite luster for me lately. Part of that is probably attributable to an expectation that he’ll push for 120 runs and 130 RBI by season’s end because of the last two awesome years he’s had, and it’s only the latter metric of the two that he’s actually on pace to reach. In all honesty, for roto formats, Arenado has been more than fine in the second half: he’s hitting fewer doubles and triples recently, and that has hurt his fantasy stock in points formats a tiny bit. He’s still a top-tier starting 3B, and I’m just digging deep for reasoning behind a subconscious paradigm shift. Do not bench him for any reason, as his weakest split is on the road against RHP where he still bats .246. That’s a laughably great problem to have.