Batter’s Box: Oh, oh, oh, Ohtani!
What a special player. There was so much speculation with how Shohei Ohtani would be handled when he came over to play in MLB. Many thought his hit tool was not valuable enough to risk losing his pitching value, but luckily for the Angels and luckily for all the fans of baseball, the Angels let him hit. It has been devastating to watch Ohtani not able to pitch this season though, but he still is finding his way into the lineup at designated hitter. And that hit tool is something. Last night, Ohtani pulled off a feat no other Japanese-born player has done in MLB history. He hit for the cycle. Going 4-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, Ohtani made history.
Yes, hitting for the cycle is fun, but it is not what makes Ohtani the special hitter that he is. Since arriving to the bigs, his barrel rate is 14.9%, with a hard-hit rate of almost 50%. This season, his average exit velocity is over 93 mph. In his 31 games this season, he is sporting a 131 wRC+ with eight homers and 26 RBI, both great full-season paces. However, he still is struggling in certain places. This season, he is hitting the ball on the ground more often (over 50%) and rarely hitting fly balls (below 20%). His line-drive rate is great, but he’ll need to start getting those grounders up in the air to show off that power. His 47.1% HR/FB rate is not sustainable. As for plate discipline, Ohtani is improving. He is laying off pitches out of the zone more while attacking pitches in the zone, making more contact on both, which has cut his strikeout rate slightly.
Now that Ohtani is DHing nearly full time, his value as a fantasy player is incredibly high. He is an elite hitter who will provide solid power and drive in plenty of runs. He won’t be stealing any bases like last year and may get more rest than usual to help with his injury recovery for pitching, but he is a must-start in all leagues at this time.
Let’s go around the rest of the league to find any other player as fun and exciting as Ohtani:
Bryan Reynolds (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)—3-4, R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB. This Pirates rookie has maintained a .350 batting average over his first 48 games. This has come with a BABIP in the .400s though, something not maintainable for a rookie or really anyone. He is lining the ball hard with a 23.5% line-drive rate and nearly a 50% hard-hit rate overall. These are great but still don’t maintain his current luck. He is a good sell-high candidate.
Nelson Cruz (DH, Minnesota Twins)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. Cruz continues to be the ageless wonder. This 38-year-old has now hit five home runs in his past seven games. Not too surprising as he is on the Twins and that is all the Twins happen to do. He continues to crush the ball with a 19% barrel rate and 94.5 mph average exit velocity. He is also slightly underperforming his expected stats, being somewhat unlucky this year. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll be an offensive force.
Jarrod Dyson (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. Dyson has been fighting his way to recognition with his stolen base capabilities. His 14 stolen bases is tied for top of the NL. However, not much else is helping him. He found some pop yesterday with his fifth homer of the year and second in three games. He has some value with his stolen base production, but that is hard to count on when most of the other categories fall short.
Cavan Biggio (2B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB. Is it boring now that there’s another son of a former big league star (on the Blue Jays too)? Heck no! This is awesome! And we still get to wait for Bo Bichette! Biggio hit two dingers last night and walked again. He hasn’t hit particularly well in his first couple weeks, but when your strikeout rate is 26.9% and your BB/K is close to 1, that’s nice.
Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-5, 3 R, 2 RBI. Even though Jansen isn’t related to any former big leaguers, he still is a rookie on the Blue Jays. I checked, and apparently it’s allowed. But playing like he’s been playing this year, I’m surprised he’s still allowed to be playing in the majors. Despite hitting below .200 and with a slugging percentage lower than his OBP, he still is managing a positive WAR. His defense must be solid enough to keep him around. As for a bat, he still isn’t doing much at all even with last night’s fun. Based on his expected stats, he may be a bit unlucky, but wait until he starts putting things together before considering anything.
Elvis Andrus (SS, Texas Rangers)—3-5, R, 3 RBI. He’s back to hitting like 2016 and 2017, when he began to break out of his strictly run scoring and base stealing form. He picked his average up, his home run rate, and RBI totals, making him a much better overall option for shortstop. However, now with the shortstop position crowded, he doesn’t stand out like he did in the past. He may not be the best at anything, but he is solidly in the top 12 or 10 for many offensive stats, including OBP, SLG, and wOBA. He should be rosterable all year, even in this flooded shortstop market.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Boston Red Sox)—2-4, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. Last season, Bradley showed much promise for a bounce back to his 2016 self. He instead took another step back. Barely keeping afloat above the Mendoza line, Bradley is swinging more while making less contact. The contact has also been worse, hitting 55% of balls on the ground and rarely hitting line drives. His two hits yesterday were smoked, but just those two hits won’t be enough for redemption.
Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox)—2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI. Anderson started out the season so hot. Has he been able to keep any of it going? For about the past month, Anderson has about maintained his season’s rate stats. Not much has changed on that front. He has only two homers, two steals, and nine and eight runs and RBI respectively. He’s been moved around a lot in the lineup but mostly has been batting seventh. Not the best spot for offensive production especially on the White Sox.
Manny Machado (3B/SS, San Diego Padres)—3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. One of the more frustrating picks this year, Machado finally did something worthwhile with two homers in one night. This past month has been a struggle for him, posting a 102 wRC+ with an OPS in the mid .700s. He most notably is not making as much contact as he is used to, both in and out of the zone. He specifically is struggling heavily against any nonfastballs, which he handle well last season. He has started to handle off speed pitches much better in June, so hopefully that signals a turn around.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies)—4-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3B, 4 RBI. With his two-homer night, Blackmon keeps himself on top as one of the more consistently great fantasy producers over the past few years. He has not been stealing as many bases, but he’s turning that base stealing into power. His current .622 slugging percentage would be a career best. His hard-hit percentage has gone up 3 ticks from last year to 38.4%. However, his expected stats are all slightly below his current output and more in line with last year. Last year, of course, was still an elite season, so there is no reason to worry.
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. Bellinger finally breaks out of his mini-slump with two dingers, his first two in 12 games. You no longer have to worry about Bellinger.
(Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire)