We’ve been on a nice roll here at DLR&F. Lucas nailed it with a couple of starting pitchers rostered in less than 40% of leagues last week. James Paxton now has a 2.45 ERA and 14:3 strikeout to walk ratio in 11 innings, and Michael Wacha has allowed just a single earned run in his last 25 innings. Both were great recommendations from Lucas Spence last week who paid immediate dividends.
Meanwhile, I am considering retiring after my Christopher Morel recommendation from two weeks ago. Morel has played 11 games since that fateful day, and has amassed a ludicrous .370/.396/.957 triple slash with eight long balls and a stolen base. He’d probably have more steals if he ever had to stop at first base. Morel has been so good that I refuse to recap any of the other players I mentioned. He has struck out in more that 40% of his at bats, but I can’t hear that over the sound of nine homers in twelve games.
Brandon Marsh, OF, Philadelphia Phillies.
When the calendar flipped to May, Marsh was slashing .329/.418/.647. That’s good. At the start of this week, that line has fallen to .262/.381./477. Still respectable season rates to be sure, but over these last three weeks that works out to a .133/.316/.156 line. That’s bad. Marsh is still hitting the ball very hard. His average exit velocity is still in the top 10% of the league as is his walk rate. He is also a fast runner placing just outside the league’s top 10% in sprint speed, but he has just three stolen bases on the season.
Additionally, his strikeout rate is poor, placing him in the league’s bottom fifth and he has slotted almost exclusively in the bottom third of the Phillies’ order, which limits his run production potential even if he was hitting well. There is a lot to like about Marsh’s profile as a hitter, and I would be quick to switch my evaluation if he were to be moved toward the middle or top of the lineup. But for now, I think it’s safe to pivot to other options.
Mauricio Dubón, 2B/SS/OF, Houston Astros
Welcome back Jose Altuve! Well, we knew this day was coming. I have nothing negative to say about Dubon. He was an excellent source of runs and batting average while batting leadoff for the Astros during Altuve’s absence. He’s posted career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to this point in the season, chipped in a few steals, and came around to score 27 times. His steady bat and positional versatility were incredibly helpful for deep leaguers dealing with a slew of MI injuries.
Rostering Dubon was a summer fling that fit into your life just perfect for a month and a half and now it’s over and you have to move on. Jose Altuve is back from the thumb injury he suffered during the World Baseball Classic, and Dubon has started just one game without even pinch-hitting since May 16th. Ce la vie. There are plenty of fish in the sea and players on the wire. We will learn from this and grow as people and fantasy managers. Well, maybe just as fantasy managers. Thanks for the good times Mauricio!
Taylor Ward, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Ward was a breakout star in 2022, slashing .281/.360./473 with 23 homers in less than 500 at-bats. Set to hit leadoff ahead of two superstar sluggers, he was typically drafted just outside the top ten rounds by managers expecting that breakout to continue. Things have not gone to plan. Ward is hitting a paltry .227/.303/.320 thus far with just four dingers and a single stolen base. His OPS is a full 200 points lower than his mark last year. And his underlying rates look similarly worse.
The table above highlights a few areas where Ward has regressed this season. His average exit velocity this year is identical to his mark last season at 90 MPH (slightly above the league average of 89.7). His strikeout rate is also nearly the same at 21.3% in 2022 vs 21.5% this season. But his barrel rate, chase rate, and expected rates have all plummeted. His walk rate has also dropped a couple of points, and sits right on the median after ranking right in the top 20% of the league last season. Moreover, he has begun losing playing time to former first-overall pick Mickey Moniak. Ward has been out of the starting lineup four times over the Angels’ past ten games.
This is a precarious situation for Ward. The Angels have the best DH in baseball, while Mike Trout and Hunter Renfroe have two outfield spots locked down. If Ward continues to be outhit by Moniak, he could see his playing time continue to diminish. Ward does not have a long track record of MLB success and Moniak has a prime pedigree and has been tearing the cover off the ball, slashing .429/.448/.893 over his small 29 plate appearance sample so far. Moniak is also a lefty batter, and Ward a righty, so a platoon situation would see Ward on the small side. If Ward is on your roster, keep a close eye on this situation, and consider a pre-emptive Moniak add.
I had to include Moniak here after listing Ward as a faller. But I’ll keep it brief since the Ward section covered him a bit already. Moniak was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and came to LAA in the Noah Syndergaard trade last season. He torched AAA to the tune of .308/.355./585 in 141 plate appearances and, as noted earlier, has performed even better in the majors since his recent promotion.
He has struck out in nearly 40% of his bats and drawn just one walk, a 11:1 ratio, but no one expects a .427 batting average to be sustainable anyway. Moniak has two swipes and three dingers already in his small sample. His exit velocity has been nothing spectacular and his hard hit percentage is also underwhelming at 21.4%. There is reason to doubt Moniak will continue to produce, but with the way Ward has struggled and the value of hitting atop the Angel’s lineup, this is a risk worth taking.
DeJong missed the first few weeks of the season due to injury, but promptly homered as part of a three-hit effort in his season debut on April 23rd. He has done nothing but rake since then, and has been a big part of the Cardinals’ recent turn-around. He’s bringing the lumber with a robust 289/.366/.627 triple slash, eight round-trippers, and a couple of swipes over just 93 plate appearances on the season. Those numbers come with a nice 9% walk rate, and a slightly discouraging, but acceptable 26% strikeout rate.
But where DeJong has really shined so far is barreling up baseballs. His 12.7% barrel rank is well ahead of the MLB average mark of 7.8% and ranks in the league’s top 15%. His hard contact of 29.5% is less impressive, but still above the MLB average and ranks in the league’s top third.
It has been a while since DeJong looked this good, but there is precedent. As a rookie way back in the golden age of 2017, DeJong posted a very exciting .285/.325/.532 line with 25 dingers in just 443 plate appearances. He had some trouble staying on the field between then and now, appearing in more than 115 games just once (the 2019 season which saw him reach the 30-homer plateau). But he looks healthy right now, has improved plate discipline numbers compared to his early years, and is playing for one of the hottest teams in baseball. If DeJong is able to remain healthy for the remainder of the season there is a lot of power potential here.
I have to admit that I did not jump on the Casey Schmitt hype train early enough, and don’t have nearly as many shares as I ought. I simply was not impressed by his single home run, three steals, and .762 OPS in 145 AAA plate appearances. Two weeks, a .353 batting average, a .902 OPS with two homers, and a steal later, and I am kicking myself.
Schmitt has benefitted from a silly .390 BABIP, but thanks to strong contact rates he still carries an xBA of .340. He has made a ton of hard contact with over 36% of his balls in play coming off the bat over 95 MPH leading to a hard hit rate in the league’s top 5%. His average exit velocity of 90.3 MPH has been almost 2 MPH above the MLB average and ranks just outside the league’s top 10%. In short, he’s been hitting the Schmitt out of the ball since his call-up.
One thing to note is that Schmitt has not drawn a walk in his first couple weeks in the majors. He did not walk a lot in AAA before his promotion, drawing just eight free passes over his 145 plate appearances, but it’s still an odd thing to see. The lack of walks is less concerning since Schmitt has struck out in just 15% of his major league at-bats so far. That is well below the MLB average rate of 22.7% and helps assuage fears of poor plate discipline skills. Schmitt qualifies at both shortstop and the hot corner, which gives him the benefit of slotting in at both middle and corner infield which can be extremely useful in leagues with expanded rosters.
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