“My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don’t really know what’s happening down there. Who is the real hero?” (Mitch Hedberg). Mitch Hedberg was a genius, and if you aren’t aware of him, look him up ASAP.
Anyway, let’s talk about Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants), who went 4-5 with two home runs, a double, and a walk with five RBI. Belt has been about as hot as he’s ever been over the last few days, getting on base in 12 of his last 14 plate appearances with five extra base knocks and just one strikeout. In fact, he’s only struck out once in the last week.
Belt is a good example of a guy where, when I peek under the hood, I see a couple thing that all jump out at me at once. This isn’t the first Brandon Belt hot streak I’ve looked at—in fact, I’ve looked him up countless times over the last six or seven years for various reasons. Belt has always been a bit of an advanced metrics darling. His batting average has been erratic, but he’s always excelled at getting on base (.354 career OBP) and has a history of hitting a ton of doubles, particularly compared to his low home run totals (he’s never hit more than 18 in a single season). Additionally, concussions and injuries have plagued Belt and he’s played 140 games in a season just twice since the start of 2014. So what should fantasy players make of the 32-year-old as he heats up?
Due to his fairly lengthy career, it’s especially noticeable when a big change happens. First thing I noticed? His home run to fly ball rate is MUCH higher than it has ever been—it’s currently 26.3%, more than double his career rate of 11.3%. While that would suggest that this is a bit of a stroke of luck, I always try to dig one layer deeper to make sure I’m not missing anything.
Sure enough, Belt is doing something fairly interesting: swinging early and swinging at pitches that are in the middle of the zone. His first-pitch swing rate is sitting at 46.1%, which is almost 20 points higher than the MLB average and almost 10 points above what he’s done in recent history. When a veteran hitter who is known for being patient changes their approach in this way, it can create significant impacts because the opposing pitchers will be slow to adjust.
With Belt attacking pitches early in the count that opposing pitchers probably thought they’d get away with, and overall just swinging at more of the middle-middle pitches, it makes sense that he’s making excellent contact. Of course, that doesn’t mean this will last forever, it just means that what we’ve seen so far is fairly legitimate. The key to fantasy isn’t just understanding why something happened, but also whether it can keep happening. For Belt, I think to some extent it can. Being more aggressive with meatball pitches will generally lead to good results. The one thing to keep an eye on, though, will be how (and if) opposing pitchers adjust to Belt’s change in approach. Thankfully, Belt has always hit fairly well against all pitch types, and is more than willing to take a walk, which makes him a little tougher for pitches to adjust to. They can’t just throw him different pitches, and they’ll have to be willing to fall behind.
Those of you in deeper 12-team formats, particularly those that need a corner infielder, could do worse than to stream Belt and see if he can keep this up. If you’ve been relying on Jesus Aguilar, Joc Pederson, or Daniel Murphy, Belt would be a suitable replacement.
Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics)—3-5, HR, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI. Semien appears to finally be shaking off the rust, slashing .261/.320/.543 over the last ten days with four home runs and a steal. The plate discipline has also greatly improved recently as well, even if he’s not walking quite as much as last season. Despite the poor stat line at the moment, I still have him as a top-15 shortstop, especially with three very good ones currently injured (Alex Bregman, Gleyber Torres, and Bo Bichette).
Tommy La Stella (1B/2B/3B, Los Angeles Angels)—2-5, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, SB. Since being installed as the #2 hitter for the Angels back on the 9th, La Stella has been on fire, hitting four home runs and piling up 25 combined runs and RBI while walking twice as often as he’s struck out. He’s a useful fantasy contributor in deeper leagues as long as he’s near the top of the Angels lineup.
J.P. Crawford (SS, Seattle Mariners)—2-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB. That hot July seems like ages ago, doesn’t it? Crawford has been striking out a ton and these two extra-base hits were his first since July 27th. While he’s still leading off in Seattle, I’d probably cut bait in all 10- and 12-teamers. There are simply too many better shortstop options out there.
Ryan O’Hearn (1B, Kansas City Royals)—3-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. He had a good game, which is cool, but there isn’t much to see here unless you’re a rather desperate AL-only manager. He walks a little, strikes out a lot, and would need a full season to approach 20 home runs.
Evan Longoria (3B, San Francisco Giants)—4-5, 4 R, RBI, BB. The 34-year-old has a .953 OPS over his last 13 games and seems as locked in as ever, with all four of his five batted balls clocking in at over 95 mph. His limited home run upside and total lack of speed cap his upside to more of a corner infielder in deep leagues, but it’s still fun to see him out there hitting the ball well.
Manny Machado (3B/SS, San Diego Padres)—4-5, 2B, 3B, R. Manny extended his hitting streak to seven, this being the sixth multi-hit performance of those seven games. The entire Padres offense remains hot, and it’s been 12 days since they’ve been held to fewer than three runs. What a time to be alive.
Jonathan Schoop (2B, Detroit Tigers)—1-4, HR, R, 4 RBI, BB. Schoop has been one of the very few bright spots for the Tigers of late, this time knocking his seventh home run of the season. The power from Schoop is real, as he’s hit at least 20 home runs for four consecutive seasons. The batting average isn’t likely to stick around (his career number is .258), and counting stats aren’t easy to come by in Detroit, but if you need a second baseman who can hit home runs, Schoop is here for you.
Austin Nola (C/1B, Seattle Mariners)—3-5, HR, 2 R, RBI. According to the ESPN Player Rater, Nola has been fantasy’s fourth-best catcher this season thanks to his five home runs and .315 batting average. He’s currently on a six-game hitting streak and somehow remains available in about 60% of leagues, so anyone who needs an upgrade at catcher should be looking at their waiver wire to see if Nola is still there.
Christian Walker (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI. His 58.1% hard-hit rate is in the top 3% of the league, and while the walk rate is down a little from 2019, it’s starting to look like the late-blooming first baseman is pretty close to the 29-home run hitter we saw last season. The batting average may come down just a little over time, but there’s enough power and counting stats here to put him inside my top-20 at the position going forward. If he continues to show he can sustain this .295 batting average, he could even move into the top-15.
Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics)—2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB. I’m loving the walks and the home runs, but not so much anything else. He’s swinging at fewer than 20% of pitches outside of the zone and still making a decent amount of contact, plus his BABIP and expected batting average numbers suggest that quite a bit of his .170 batting average is a product of bad luck. Keep him in your lineups.
Justin Turner (3B, Los Angeles Dodgers)—4-6, 2B, 3 R, RBI. Hitting .290 or better with excellent plate discipline is just what Turner does year in and year out. The power is down a bit right now (.431 SLG), but he’s slugged at least .490 ever since becoming a Dodger in 2014, so I expect that he’ll get that number back up in due time.
Manuel Margot (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)—2-3, HR, R, RBI, BB, SB. His was his first home run of the season, and with any luck, it will help him stay in the lineup consistently down in Tampa. Margot has plenty of speed upside and a little bit of pop but has struggled to make consistent contact in his first few years in the league. He’s currently hitting .304 and is making harder contact as a Ray than he ever did as a Padre, but until he gets an everyday job, I don’t think you can add him in 10- or 12-teamers quite yet.
Brian Goodwin (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—2-4, 2B, R, 4 RBI, 3 BB. He’s on a little three-game hitting streak after going on an 0-18 skid and seems to be getting a reign on the strikeout issue that popped up during that time. Despite the strong OBP and SLG he’s posted so far, he’s more of a streamer for me in five outfielder formats.
Evan White (1B, Seattle Mariners)—3-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB. Over his last eight games, he’s slashing .333/.429/.917 with four home runs, a steal, and 12 RBI with a walk rate just over 10%. The improved numbers have helped him slide up to sixth in the batting order, and while he’s still striking out quite a bit, the power upside is worth noting in deep leagues.
Andrew McCutchen (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)—1-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB, 2 SB. The overall numbers still look ugly but McCutchen has really started to turn things around lately. He has a hit in eight of his last nine games with two home runs, three stolen bases, and 11 RBI. The walk rate is still a bit lower than usual, but it looks like he’s finally hitting his stride.
Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros)—2-4, 3B, 2 R, RBI, 2 BB. This is actually his combined line across both games yesterday, as he took two walks in the first contest. He’s only struck out twice in his last nine games while walking seven times and has a double, four triples, and three home runs to boot. Like I said earlier, I think this kid will be a star.
Yuli Gurriel (1B/3B, Houston Astros)—4-6, 2B, 2 R, RBI. He’s carried that completely unexpected power surge from 2019 with him into 2020, all while maintaining that sparkling .296 batting average. He’s inside my top-15 first baseman and I still am not sure how I feel about it.
Shohei Ohtani (DH/SP, Los Angeles Angels)—2-5, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, SB. The rollercoaster of a season for Ohtani continues, slashing just .135/.238/.243 over his last ten games. On the plus side, he does have two two-hit games in his last four and seems to have gotten control of his strikeouts again, so perhaps that’s a good sign for going forward.
Jon Berti (2B/3B/SS/OF, Miami Marlins)—0-1, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 SB. He victimized the Mets battery once again by stealing second, third, then home in the same inning after putting up a four steal game last season. Start this guy against the Mets, folks. They just can’t stop him.
Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire