Cheaters (Never) Prosper

Jim Chatterton covers all of Thursday's most interesting hitters.

This article is my last Batter’s Box of the season so, of course, I decided to mix it up a bit. I usually start with a deeper dive into one player but with the Astros tallying 12 runs against the Rangers, there were a slew of their hitters that popped out to me. We were all looking forward to the start of the 2020 season, to jeer and bang our trash cans whenever Houston came to town. But sadly fans couldn’t do that in person this season However, fans and baseball got some form of justice in the performance of the two faces of the cheating scandal: Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Altuve has especially struggled this season, posting a 76 wRC+. The Astros as a team have underperformed and are hovering around .500 but will still make a playoff appearance due to the expanded structure. 

Last night it certainly came together for this team with three standouts — Altuve, Bregman, and free-agent-to-be George Springer. Altuve had a fine night going 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. He’s the one that has had the most struggles in 2020 slashing .225/.288/.341. His K rate jumped a few ticks to 19.7% and his barrel rate was cut in half from last season. He’s chasing a bit more than previous seasons, struggling mostly against breaking pitches. He also hasn’t been able to hit fastballs like he has in the past. In the past week, he has started hitting more extra base hits, racking up four doubles and hitting a homer last night as well. 

Bregman has not been the elite tier hitter he normally is but he’s still been a solid bat for the Astros. Last night he nearly hit for the cycle by going 3-5, 2B, 3B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. That pesky single escaped him. He’s still had his elite eye this season striking out only 13.3% of the time and walking at the same rate. One of the fears of Bregman not continuing his dominance from last season was that his home run rate would not match well to his barrel rate. He hit 41 homers while only barreling 4.8% of batted balls. He’s barreling less this year and the home runs are not showing up. Last night was just his fifth of the year and his first in 22 games. He should have some power in 2021 but don’t expect 2019 ever again.

Lastly we have George Springer. He’s been by far one of the better hitters for Houston this season with a 145 wRC+ and 14 homers in 49 games. Last night he went 3-4, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB. He’s continuing to show why he should get some good money in the offseason. after a so-so year in 2018 he came back strong in 2019 and has really put together seven great seasons in a row. This season he’s cut down on strikeouts some more by making more contact at pitches out of the zone and taking less pitches in the zone. This aggression has continued and so have his strong outcomes at the plate, even when underperforming his xStats by quite a bit.

Let looks around at the rest of the league to see how others did on Thursday:

Colin Moran (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates) – 3-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB. Think back. All the way back to the beginning of the 2020 season. Moran was the hottest waiver wire pickup out there. He was raking left and right. But after that initial spark of the first few weeks I haven’t heard much about him. And that is due to a drop off in August (90 wRC+). The line drives and fly balls he was hitting turned into grounders with nearly a 60% ground ball rate in August. That trend has remained in September. A positive that has remained is his hard hit rate. That has remained constant around 45% this whole season. If he can figure out getting the ball back in the air again he may turn it back around.

Robinson Chirinos (C, New York Mets) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI. At the deadline the Mets dealt for a catcher that has been solid offensively for a handful of years now. Yet, he’s had one terribly unlucky season so far. Chirinos can’t seem to do anything good at the plate but with a BABIP 100 points lower than the last three seasons, luck could be at play a bit. Regardless, he’s shown no power and hadn’t hit a homer until yesterday; on a 395 foot home run that barely made it out. Maybe age has finally caught up to him but he is not hitting the ball nearly as hard or as well as he has in the past. 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B/3B, Toronto Blue Jays) – 3-4, HR, 2 R, RBI. Vlad still has not unlocked the potential we have all expected but from 2019 to 2020 he’s at least made a major leap in hard hit rate. He’s up to 49.7% hard hit balls but he’s hitting even more grounders than last year. With a fly ball percentage of 15.4 it is tough to make much damage at the plate regardless of how hard the hit is. For example, last night he hit a 105 MPH homer that traveled 412 feet but then a single at 113.9 MPH.

Rio Ruiz (3B, Baltimore Orioles) – 3-5, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI. Whenever it is my turn to do Batter’s Box, I always have to stop at Ruiz’s name and consider putting him in the article. That keeps me thinking he’s been a solid bat this season. But it turns out he’s only good on Thursdays I guess? Ruiz is only slashing .214/.285/.417 with an 86 wRC+, a similar performance to 2019 but with some more power. Not much stands out in his profile either. He doesn’t hit the ball hard and he still strikes out too much. He’s not a stolen base threat, either. 

Pat Valaika (1B, Baltimore Orioles) – 3-5, HR, 3 R, RBI. This is a new name for me! Valaika spent some time throughout the past few seasons struggling in Colorado. He’s turned himself around in Baltimore going from a 34 wRC+ to a 101 wRC+. Still not much to consider fantasy-wise but there are major improvements here. He’s hitting the ball harder and handling breaking balls in any capacity ( which he couldn’t touch in 2019). Maybe having gotten out of Colorado does him some good.

Willi Castro (SS, Detroit Tigers) – 3-5, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI. This young rookie was brought up mid-August and had a great first game. After that initial strong start it took a few more games to settle in. But since August 20th, he’s gotten a hit in every game but four. In that span, he’s slashing .360/.398/.560 with ten extra base hits (not including yesterday). Castro is interesting. You expect him to be a contact-type hitter as he has little power and lots of speed, yet he strikes out nearly 30% of the time. He still uses his speed to get on whenever he puts the ball in play. He also hasn’t used his speed on the base paths as he hasn’t tried to steal.

Salvador Perez (C, Kansas City Royals) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI. Perez missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and in 2020 he’s picked up right where he left off as one of the top hitting catchers in the game. He’s even been better than ever in 2020. In the 140 PAs so far, he’s slashing .356/.371/.667 with a 177 wRC+. He also has two fWAR! In 33 games played! If he keeps going, this may be his second best season by fWAR despite the limited number of games played. So far the difference seems to be that he is crushing fastballs like he never has before.

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, Kansas City Royals) – 4-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 SB. Mondesi was very droppable through August as he finished that month with a 14 wRC+. He did have eight stolen bases on the year but that wasn’t enough to keep rolling him out there. But September has been a nice 180. He’s still striking out at a 30% rate, but he’s slashing .263/.317/.487 in September (not including yesterday) and has added 14 stolen bases just this month. That’s what you draft Mondesi for. So good for you if you scooped him up after he was dropped. 

Willie Calhoun (OF, Texas Rangers) – 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI. Calhoun has had a difficult year. The delay allowed him to recover from his jaw injury after being hit in the face, but then he struggled for a month before landing on the IL with a hamstring injury. Surprisingly, he came back to play and has settled in a bit more. He has seven hits in his last six games with his first home run of the year last night. 

Dylan Carlson (OF, St. Louis Cardinals) – 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI. I had to double check this line a few times since I just copied Calhoun’s and didn’t have to change a thing. Carlson is another young outfielder that underperformed expectations quite a bit in 2020. He was sent down at the beginning of the month for two weeks and has now been back for a week. In that week, he’s hit two homers, three doubles, and a triple, tallying up nine RBIs where he only totaled five before. This at least is a good sign for next season.

(Photo by: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

Jim Chatterton

Jim has written for Razzball and now is a part of the Pitcher List staff. He is a Villanova alum and an eternally optimistic Mets fan. He once struck out Rick Porcello in Little League.

One response to “Cheaters (Never) Prosper”

  1. theKraken says:

    lol a down year is no form of justice .Is Cody Bellinger being served justice? Christian Yelich? The Washington Nationals – those poor victims of the cheating scandal… We would all be best served to focus on the on-field baseball and get as far away from social media as possible… because that is the only place where that kind of “justice” exists. Simply not overachieving year after year is not representative of anything.. much like batted ball metrics – zing!

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