Batter’s Box: The Real McNeil
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about something that I refer to as “The Joe Shmo Effect.” Basically, it’s the idea that players with boring names get undervalued because, well, rostering a guy named Franchy Cordero is just more fun than rostering a guy named Michael Taylor. We want players on our rosters with cool names, who sound like they could be superheroes or Star Wars villains. There will never be a sith lord named Daniel Robertson. Though, come to think of it, “Darth Robertson” would be pretty hilarious.
Anyway, this brings us to Jeff McNeil. Based on his name, you might think he works in a bottlecap factory somewhere in Kalamazoo. But alas, he’s a major league baseball player. And after his 4-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI performance last night, I believe this may be a Joe Schmo worth grabbing. At 26 years old he’s no spring chicken, but prior to his call-up to the Mets he slashed .342/.411/.617 with 19 homers in just 88 games down in AAA. The jury is still out on whether the power will translate to the majors, as he’s managed just two homers in his first 27 major league games. But over his first 100 plate appearances with the Mets, he’s shown elite contact ability. His 10% strikeout rate would rank fourth-lowest in baseball if he qualified, and his .326 average to this point is buoyed by a not-unreasonable .315 BABIP. xStats seems to be buying in too so far, pegging him with a .291 xAVG and .341 xOBA. The fact that he sprays the ball to all fields and is boasting a 36.4% hard contact rate is very encouraging, and his 15-degree average launch angle gives me confidence that some of the newfound power he displayed earlier this year in the minors might show up sometime soon. His name’s not Reebus Flaxenbow, but there’s still a lot to like about Jeff McNeil here in the early going, and if you need batting average help down the stretch I’d recommend picking him up.
Willy Adames (SS, Tampa Bay Rays): 3-4, R, HR, RBI – Adames has been hot over his last 15 games, batting .346 with three homers and four steals. The 29.3% strikeout rate is concerning, but his whiff, contact, and chase rates aren’t bad enough that I think he’ll continue to strike out at this clip. With Darth Roberston on the DL, he’ll continue to soak up full-time at-bats at shortstop, and the power/speed combination has me interested.
Melky Cabrera (OF, Cleveland Indians): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI – The Melkman has been delivering lately, making opposing pitchers smack-tose intolerant. That’s now three straight games with a homer for Cabrera, whose path to playing time is wide open. It was only last year that he hit .285 with 17 homers over a full season, and in this Cleveland offense the counting stats should pile up as long as he continues to bat towards the middle of the lineup.
Yan Gomes (C, Cleveland Indians): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – If it weren’t for baseball, I’d never know that people were actually named things like Melky, Yan, and Franchy. Thanks, baseball! Gomes is having a solid season thanks in part to a huge spike in hard contact (29.1% to 43.8%) and line drive rate (17.4% to 24.8%). The 27% strikeout rate will tamp his average down around .250, but there are certainly worse catchers to be rostering *looks at Tyler Flowers*.
Tommy Pham (OF, Tampa Bay Rays): 3-4, R, 2B, RBI, BB – Pham’s season has had more ups and downs than… a really… long and bumpy… rollercoaster. Nailed it. The peripherals actually aren’t too far off from what they were during his incredible 2017 campaign, but he’s no longer being blessed with the .368 BABIP he had back then. Health also continues to be an issue for him, as he dislocated his finger in yesterday’s game. Dream on the upside next year, but try to temper expectations in terms of his batting average.
Dansby Swanson (SS, Atlanta Braves): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI – Instead of pretending that Charlie Culberson and Dansby Swanson are two distinct people, let’s just refer to them both as Charnsby Swanberson and accept that they’re a single entity. Charnsby’s been hot this past week, batting .360 with three homers, but the season overall has been a letdown, and if he’s not contributing a solid batting average, and he’s going to fail to reach double-digit steals, I think I’m out on him as a fantasy asset for the foreseeable future.
Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets): 1-3, R, HR, 4 RBI – Conforto’s turnaround over the past month has been encouraging, as he’s hitting .281 over his last 30 games with seven homers and a .362 OBP. The high strikeout rate and his sudden penchant for pulling the ball has me a bit cautious though, as this is not the man I once fell in love with all those years ago. Continue to enjoy the upswing in production, but don’t bank on it lasting long-term with his current approach.
Scooter Gennett (2B, Cincinnati Reds): 2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI – Meep meep! The power had kind of vanished for Gennett over the past month prior to this home run, but he’s still making plenty of contact, hitting .333 over his last 15 games. Just like a real scooter, Gennett is unstoppable as long as you don’t drop any large pebbles into his path.
Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros): 3-3, R, RBI – It’s been a bit of a lost season for Correa, and owners who drafted him early must be feeling extremely frustrated that he hasn’t managed to get hot at all this year. Even with this performance, he’s hitting .192 with no homers or steals over his last 15 games. Still, he’s talented enough that, if he finds a groove, he could carry your team to the promised land in September. So light some candles, break out the sage, and hope for some good juju.
David Peralta (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 3-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB – We always talk about regression when evaluating players, and a quick look at Peralta this year might make you think he’s a prime candidate for it. Between the .343 BABIP, 22.6% HR/FB, and 50.6% groundball rate, you might be inclined to believe there’s no way he keeps this up down the stretch. Then you realize his career BABIP is .341. And that he’s been making 47.3% hard contact this year, ranking him eighth in baseball in the category. And then it dawns on you that you no longer know what to believe anymore, and that you feel lost and alone, floating in an infinite expanse of confusion here in the post-truth era. Yeah, that’s the kind of season Peralta is having.
Khris Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics): 2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI – Davis is operating on a whole other level over the past month. This was not only his fourth homer in his last three games, but his 17th homer in his last 30 games. His 47.2% hard contact rate is a career-high, and his 25% strikeout rate is the lowest it’s been since 2014. He should easily eclipse his previous career-high of 43 homers this year. Somewhere, Jose Urena’s irrational anger at a hitter’s unrelated success is intensifying.
Kendrys Morales (DH, Toronto Blue Jays): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – Morales looked like he was done during the first two months of the season, but credit where credit’s due, he’s really turned it on since the beginning of June. He’s followed his .433 wOBA July up with a .355 wOBA August, and he’s hit five homers so far this month. I think somebody’s been eating his Wheaties™! Okay General Mills, that’ll be $500 please.
David Fletcher (2B, Los Angeles Angels): 3-5, R, 3B, 2 RBI – Hey, another Joe Schmo! Fletcher, who is an assistant professor of biology on the side, has mostly delivered as the solid batting average guy he was advertised as. Unfortunately he has just one homer and one steal over 212 plate appearances, which doesn’t fly in any format.