Batter’s Box: Ringing of the Bellinger
After going 3-4 with a home run, a run, three RBI, a walk, and a stolen base, it’s high time that we talk about Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) for a moment. Bellinger has been incredibly impressive, batting .424/.500/.882 through his 23 games with 11 home runs and 28 RBI and 12 walks to just 12 strikeouts. It’s such a stark contrast to his 2018 start, where he didn’t hit his 11th home run until June and people were wondering just how much of an outlier his breakout 39 home run/10 stolen base rookie campaign would be. Well, 2019 has shown us a newer, more patient side to Bellinger — he’s dropped his chase rate, he’s making more contact when he does chase, he’s making more contact in the zone, and he’s showing just a 5% swinging-strike rate (career rate of 12.1%). His average exit velocity is 94.3 mph, almost 5 full ticks above his averages in 2017 and 2018, and his unbelievable .424 batting average and .882 slugging percentage are actually supported by the Statcast data (.420 xBA, .853 xSLG). You can’t trade for him or add him, but you can sure as heck enjoy him. Perhaps a 2017 repeat, which looked all but impossible at times last season, is in the cards after all.
Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) — 4-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. Let’s start with the obvious point first: No, Pederson is not suddenly an all-world hitter despite his 10 home runs in 23 games. He might be a pretty good hitter now, though, and there are signs that he’s adjusting his approach at the plate based on his 8.2% swinging-strike rate (3.1% lower than his career rate) and an 81.5% contact rate (7.9% above his career rate). The 16.7% strikeout rate is a nice touch as well and is part of a greater trend where he’s lowered his strikeout rate each year since posting a 29.1% strikeout rate in 2015. I wouldn’t be trying to acquire him in a trade, as his .716 slugging likely makes the price too high (his .539 xSLG suggests he’s been legit but not like THIS), but I would be holding on if I added him, and I’d probably try to weather the storm when the inevitable slump strikes.
Josh Donaldson (3B, Atlanta Braves) — 3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB. This is the Josh Donaldson we remember in all of his power-hitting glory. It was a bit of a sluggish start, but he’s raised his batting average by 148 points over the past two weeks with a hit in 11 of his past 13 games. The elevated strikeout rate doesn’t concern me much because even if it stays around 26% to 27%, he can still be very successful, especially because the walk rate is moving up with it. He can be a top-50 player in OBP leagues and a top-75 player in standard leagues, which is great considering the price you likely paid for him.
Josh Reddick (OF, Houston Astros) — 3-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB. He’s available in more than 95% of ESPN leagues (mostly because 15 home runs and seven stolen bases isn’t that exciting in 10- to 12-team formats), but he continues to walk plenty, strikeout very little, and do a fair bit of damage against righties (.337 wOBA against them for his career). It makes him a useful DFS play when the Astros face a right-hander and an OK fifth outfield option in deeper formats.
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, Baltimore Orioles) — 3-5, R, 2B, RBI, 2 SB. He nabbed his fifth and sixth bags of the season yesterday, but I was perhaps more impressed by the three hits and zero strikeouts. He has a career 26.9% strikeout rate, which peaked at 30.3% in 2017 (the year after he had his amazing 19 home run/62 stolen base breakout), so his current 19.2% rate is exactly what we wanted to see. Even on a miserable Orioles team, there’s a path to 15 home runs and 40 stolen bases with a .260 batting average — that’s a really nice player and exactly what folks hoped for when they drafted him.
Robinson Chirinos (C, Houston Astros) — 2-4, R, 2B, RBI. I really wish I could tell you that there’s something meaningful in the early success of Chirinos — he’s hitting .271/.362/.521 and has been one of the better offensive catchers in baseball so far. He’s always shown good walk rates, but the strikeouts have been an issue and he’s prone to soul-crushing batting averages (.222 in 2018). His wimpy 83.5 mph average exit velocity combined with his extreme fly-ball tendencies indicate that his hot start is unsustainable, and the expected stats agree, giving him an xBA of .142 and xSLG of .268. Winter is coming, and he’ll be OK to cut when it arrives.
Hunter Pence (OF, Texas Rangers) — 1-3, R, HR, 3 RBI. He’s just a part-time player in Texas, but he’s got a .281 batting average that’s supported by the underlying metrics and when he does make it into games, he’s often hitting in the heart of the order. He’s a great cheap DFS play when he starts, particularly when the game is in the friendly confines of Arlington, and he’s a worthwhile scoop or throw-in if you’re in an AL-Only league. Everyone else can keep moving.
Buster Posey (C, San Francisco Giants) — 2-4, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB. It’s not been a great start, but he’s somehow below 90% ownership in ESPN and Yahoo formats, and that’s ridiculous. He’s roster-worthy in any format where six total catchers or more have to be played. Stop this madness and pick him up if you’re one of the lucky leaguemates of the owners who have cut him. His production will improve as his hips heal.
Willians Astudillo (C, Minnesota Twins) — 1-4, R, 2B, 2 RBI. My absolute favorite player is hitting .295/.313/.523, and if you’re thinking that he’s overperforming YOU’RE DEAD WRONG. His xBA of .337 is in the top 3% of hitters, and his .590 slugging suggests that he’s actually been a bit unlucky. LONG LIVE LA TORTUGA! He’s the only thing more exciting for me right now than fantasy curling, which is 100% a real thing that I’ve been working on.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)