Batter’s Box: You Don’t Know Whit
Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire
As far as getting the Batter’s Box spotlight is concerned, playing in a doubleheader is cheating, so we’re going to bypass Juan Soto’s big night for the time being. That’s right, Mr. Soto. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
No, instead we’re going to use this space to lavish some praise on Whitley David Merrifield III. A man who, based on his name, likely could have spent these prime years of his life sipping mint juleps by the pool and watching his purebred horses gallop freely across the 200 square acres of his estate. But instead gave all that up to pursue his true passion in life: baseball. Merrifield is having himself quite the follow-up to his 2017 breakout campaign, and after yesterday’s 2-4, 2 R, RBI, 2 SB he has 33 stolen bases on the season, ranking him second in all of baseball in the category. He’s currently ranked sixth among all second basemen in both wOBA and wRC+, and is third on ESPN’s Player Rater at the position, behind only Javier Baez and Jose Ramirez. Just about every facet of his game has taken a step forward this season, from his walk rate (4.6% to 8.4%) to his line drive rate (21.8% to 28.9%) to his hard contact rate (30.6% to 37.4%). And were it not for a suspiciously tiny 7.4% HR/FB rate, he might have reached the 20-homer plateau this year after falling just shy last season. At 29 years old, you do have to wonder how long the stolen base output can hold up for. But this is now two straight years in which he’s displayed excellent contact ability and speed, with good power. Don’t sleep on Merrifield next season.
Stephen Piscotty (OF, Oakland Athletics): 3-4, 2B, RBI – This is the year when every player I’ve ever criticized has started performing well in an attempt to make me look like a boob. Matt Carpenter. Javier Baez. Stephen Piscotty. It never ends. While the overall line on Piscotty is solid, with a .269 average and 23 homers, it’s buoyed by a July in which he hit eight homers with the help of a 33.3% HR/FB. Not that that doesn’t count, of course. But I still don’t think there’s anything special about Piscotty in terms of his overall talent. I guess I haven’t learned my lesson; cue the eight straight multi-homer games, baseball gods.
Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins): 3-5, R, 2B, RBI – With a .281 average and four homers and steals over 231 at-bats, Polanco is kind of pacing towards what we figured he was in the preseason, which was a high-average guy with modest, double-digit power and speed. It’s not a bad overall package, and the average is backed up by a minuscule 6.3% whiff rate and 85.4% contact rate. It’s just too bad he isn’t taking steroids anymore, because he could probably do so much better if he were roided up. It’s really a shame that MLB’s drug policy doesn’t want us to witness true greatness.
A.J. Pollock (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 3-4, 2 R, 2B, SB – Pollock has been M.I.A. for about a month now, hitting just .227 with one homer and zero stolen bases prior to yesterday’s game. Considering his injury history, it’s fair to wonder if something’s nagging him, as he posted a 117 wRC+ in July before stumbling through August with a 31 wRC+. Arizona–and most fantasy owners–could really use him down the stretch, so hopefully this is a sign of a turnaround.
Didi Gregorius (SS, New York Yankees): 2-3, 2 R, HR, 3B, 4 RBI, BB – Gregorius’s hard contact rate has shot up this season, from 23.1% to 35.6%, meaning that for once his power output seems to be the byproduct of actual skill and not devil magic. He’s also nearly doubled his walk rate this year, and still seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve at 28 years old, setting a career-high in steals already with 10.
Joe Mauer (1B, Minnesota Twins): 2-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI, BB – It’s pretty crazy that Mauer has only managed a batting average above .277 once over the last five years. Considering his complete lack of power, he’s really not somebody you should ever consider rostering.
Ketel Marte (SS/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks): 2-4, 3B, 4 RBI – I had hopes that the hard contact and increased launch angle Marte displayed late last year would carry over into 2018. Those hopes were dashed among the jagged rocks of reality. Marte has posted one of his worst groundball rates this season with a 52.4% mark, which is capping all the potential benefits of his excellent whiff and strikeout rates.
Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals): 5-8, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB – I know I called Soto a cheater earlier for stacking the box score during a doubleheader, but to his credit he hit both his home runs in the same game. The 53.8% groundball rate and ho-hum 34% hard contact rate scare me a bit–Nomar Mazara is a comp that comes to mind. But the dude is 19 years old and obviously incredibly talented, so I have faith he’ll grow enough next year to avoid a sophomore slump.
David Peralta (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 1-3, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB, SB – As Peralta approaches the 30-homer mark, it’s nice to see him using his legs again and swiping some bases. The steals are like cherries on the delicious vanilla sundae of a season he’s had this year. I’m not buying him as a perennial 30-homer threat based on his 22.4% HR/FB, but if he maintains the hard contact gains he’s made this year there’s no reason he can’t swat another 20-25 next season.
Wilson Ramos (C, Philadelphia Phillies): 3-5, 2 RBI – When he plays, he hits, with a .384 average over his last 30 games. The problem is, he’s been sitting an awful lot, possibly due to lingering issues with his wrist and/or hamstring. Still, as long as he’s producing like a top-3 catcher when he’s active, it’s hard to complain.
Rhys Hoskins (1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies): 3-7, R, RBI, 2 BB – It’s been an up-and-down season for Hoskins, who has a few months of stellar production under his belt this season, punctuated by long, terrible stretches. A brutal May, in which he posted a .161 average and .247 wOBA, dragged his overall season line down quite a bit. But here’s hoping he can make up for it with a strong finish to September.
Adalberto Mondesi (SS/2B, Kansas City Royals): 2-4, RBI, SB – The stolen base artist formerly known as Raul has struck again. That’s 21 steals in just 196 at-bats this year, and his .296 average over the last two weeks has pulled his season average up to .270. Plus he’s chipped in seven homers already. Could he be a shortstop-eligible Billy Hamilton who doesn’t torpedo your batting average and hits for power next season? In other words, not Billy Hamilton? Yes, he could. You heard it here first. Adalberto Mondesi is not Billy Hamilton.
Scott Schebler (OF, Cincinnati Reds): 2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI – Y’all know I think Scotty Schebs is hot fire, so any time the man does anything even remotely lit on the diamond I just gotta put it on blast. Did I use any of that slang correctly? Because it didn’t feel correct at all. Anyway, that’s three homers this week for Schebler. With a 40.9% hard contact rate this season I still firmly believe he’s a 30-homer bat who won’t kill you in batting average if he could just stay on the dang field.