If a wayward time traveler were to plop into my living room to tell me the secrets of the 2020 MLB season, there is little I wouldn’t believe, especially given how wild and wacky the season has been already. In fact, the appearance of an actual time traveler wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing that happened so far this year. That honor goes to the fact that if the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would be a playoff team. A big part of the Orioles’ success has been the hot bat of first baseman Renato Nunez, who, after homering for the second consecutive game (2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB) is off to a blistering start to the season hitting .281/.361/.594 with two HRs, nine runs, and six RBI.
Most were skeptical when Nunez finished the 2019 season with 31 HRs but his Statcast numbers all suggested that the power was legit. So far this season he has picked up right where he left off and is proving the doubters wrong. It’s not just the home runs though—he’s producing everywhere. He’s lowered his SwStr% and K% while seeing a significant boost in his AVG and a near 4.0% bump in his BB%, all without a radically high BABIP.
The key to Nunez’s success has been when he pulls the ball, he hits it hard and in the air, and this season he’s taken it to the extreme with a 64.0 Pull% and 40.0 FB%. This is a good thing as so far he’s hit .438 with a 1.063 OPS when he does pull the ball, which is nearly identical to the .410 AVG and 1.298 SLG he put up in 2019 when hitting to the pull side. A 60.0 + Pull% is likely unsustainable for an entire 162-game season but it’s not out of the realm of possibility in just 60 games. So long as Nunez is pulling the ball with authority, he has a real chance to finish as a high-end first baseman, perhaps even within the top ten based on sheer power alone.
Let’s see how some other hitters did Sunday:
Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)—4-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2B, 3 RBI. It’s good to see a big game out of Bogaerts as he has gotten off to a rough start so far in 2020 (at least by his standards). Now with three home runs on the season maybe he can prove last year’s power surge wasn’t a one time deal.
Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, BB. Judge has now homered six times over the last five games with at least one home run in each game. Many question his ability to stay healthy, but when he is upright there is no better power hitter in baseball.
Joey Gallo (OF, Texas Rangers)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB. Gallo is off to a remarkable start to the season as he is out to prove he can hit for big power AND average as he is hitting .310 a sixth of the way through the season and already hit his 3rd HR on the season on Sunday.
Daniel Murphy (1B, Colorado Rockies)—4-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI. The Rockies might finally be getting the first baseman they were looking for when they signed Murphy a year ago. After hitting his first home run of the season on Sunday he’s hitting .364 and walking at the highest rate of his career. Batting fifth in the Rockies lineup we could see a surprisingly big season from Murphy. I’ll definitely be monitoring him as he could be a valuable pickup at the shallow first base position.
Matt Kemp (OF, Colorado Rockies)—2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. Kemp isn’t playing every day for the Rockies but he’s making the most of the time he’s getting. Sunday’s home run was his second on the year and he is hitting .385 while walking at an 18.8% clip. He could end up being a good bat worth looking at in daily leagues or DFS right now.
Mookie Betts (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—2-3, R, HR, 2B, RBI. Another stud who got off to a slow start, Betts has really turned things on as he has homered in two of his last three games and has doubled in five of his last six games. He’s currently day-to-day with a swollen finger, but he shouldn’t be out long if at all and he’s swinging about as hot a bat as you can get.
Alex Bregman (3B, Houston Astros)—2-6, R, HR, 2 RBI. Bregman hasn’t exactly gotten it together yet in terms of his average but the power is there, as evidenced by his homer on Sunday. He’s still walking at an elite rate so he’s at least continuing seeing the ball well. I suspect that it will recover sooner rather than later.
Yasmani Grandal (C, Chicago White Sox)—3-4, R, 3 RBI, BB. We’ve yet to see a home run from Grandal this season but he’s starting to heat up with five hits and five RBI over the last two games. Now that he’s not facing the Indians gauntlet of a pitching staff, we should see him take off.
Wil Myers (OF, San Diego Padres)—2-4, 3B, 3 RBI. We got a vintage Wil Myers sighting as he accumulated 2 hits, a triple and three RBI in Sunday’s loss to the Rockies. Myers’ .937 OPS and 12.2 BB% are the highest of his career and he is finding a ton of early success hitting in the heart of the potent Padres lineup. I would recommend picking up Myers in case the success brought on by his swing changes turns out to be the real deal.
Hanser Alberto (2B, Baltimore Orioles)—3-5, R, 2B, RBI. Hanser Alberto continued his assault on pitching with his third three-hit performance of the season. Of the eight games he’s played in so far, he has at least one hit in seven of them and multiple hits in five games leading to a .429 AVG and seven runs scored. He won’t contribute much outside of average and runs but he has the potential to be elite in both categories.
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)