Raising the Baar
Lars Nootbaar (STL): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Hayden Wesneski started last night for the Cubs and he’s had a hard time getting LHB out all year (.419 wOBA allowed). Sure enough, Nootbaar blasted a 1-1 fastball from Wesneski and sent it 404 feet the other way to left for his ninth of the year. His second came against LHP Drew Smyly.
Nootbaar got a lot of steam this offseason as a potential breakout candidate. The reason? He went to Driveline! OK, there were other things, most notably a very sound plate approach. Anyway, the big breakout didn’t quite pan out. Or at least it didn’t pan out like some, including myself, imagined. That is to say more home runs. Were the expectations too lofty? Maybe. Now in fairness, Nootbaar did have two stints on the IL and I always think that any sort of lack of continuity can sideline player progress. Either way here we are 319 PA into the season and he’s just now reached 10 home runs. It’s not bad by any means but his .431 SLG, a shade down from last year’s .448, might ring hollow relative to expectations, although we shouldn’t overlook the .377 OBP — a career-high.
One of the things PLV tells us about is swing aggression, which is basically how often you’d expect a hitter to swing considering the pitch, i.e. location, count, and things like that. In that case, Nootbaar is an outlier: His -12.8% swing aggression is the second lowest among all hitters who have faced 500 pitches or more. That means he’s very passive at the plate.
For reference, his swing aggression last season, despite having thus far an identical 14.7% BB rate, wasn’t as pronounced at -7%. So I wonder if maybe the passive approach has held him back some. On that note, his decision value, the PLV metric that accounts for the value of a hitter’s swings and takes, is down this year at 50 (20-80 scale) as opposed to 60 last year. So maybe there’s some truth in him standing to gain by swinging a little more often.
Or maybe with four home runs over his last six games, we’re just now seeing his power play up. His second home run, the one against Smyly, travelled 449 feet, his longest of the year. Maybe he’s just now leaning into his power a bit more. Hey, we’ve still got two months to go.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Friday:
Triston Casas (BOS): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI.
This guy, he’s something else right now. Casas came into last night’s game hitting .365 with a 1.284 OPS in 17 games in July. His 16th of the year came on a 2-2 sinker from Logan Webb that leaked out over the plate just a bit too much and it was crunched. It actually looked like Casas was a little late on it and yet he still had enough on it to send it 435 feet (109.5 EV) to left-center– a pretty remarkable shot. He’s shown excellent plate skills backed by a 14.5% BB rate (96th percentile). And the power, needless to say, is legit (65 via PLV). I have a hunch we’ll be seeing more of this over the final two months.
Bobby Witt Jr. (KC): 4-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 6 RBI, SB.
Things were looking great for the Twins last night. They had a three-run lead in the 10th with Jhoan Duran on the mound and then the rest of the game happened: Duran walked the bases loaded for Witt Jr., who fell behind in the count 1-2 before swatting a walk-off grand slam on a 101.8 mph fastball in on the hands. Just an unbelievable swing. According to David Adler, it was tied for the fifth-fastest pitch hit for a home run since pitch tracking started in 2008. And no one has ever hit a home run on a pitch that fast that was also out of the strike zone. He’s now sixth among qualified shortstops with a .747 OPS.
Kyle Isbel also had a combo meal for the Royals. He’s shown off some speed and a low K rate in the minor leagues, but he’s well off the radar.
Marco Luciano (SF): 1-3, R.
Career hit number one for Luciano was a hard-hit grounder off Kutter Crawford that scooted under the glove of Rafael Devers. A couple of years ago, Luciano was among the very best prospects in baseball but struggles with making contact caused his stock to drop. He also dealt with a stress fracture in his back last season. Luciano struck out at a clip just under 30% in Double-A this season, so he’s probably not a great bet, right now at least, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on given his exceptional raw power and pedigree.
Joc Pederson (SF): 1-3, HR, R, RBI, BB.
He got the Giants to within a run late in the game with a blast to center. He’s shown good power (60) and he’s walking at 14.9%, the best we’ve seen from him since his rookie season in 2015. Boring, yes, but his batted-ball metrics are terrific and he’s always a good bat to have in daily leagues.
Brandon Lowe (TB): 2-3, HR, R, 3 RBI, SB.
Lowe dropped the hammer on a slider from Cristian Javier, drilling it 383 feet to right (104.9 EV) for his 12th of the year. He’s mostly had a season to forget thanks, in part, to a back injury that shelved him for about a month. However, his power is still there and a touch better this year (55 via PLV) compared to last season (50). And for good measure, the stolen base puts him two away from tying his career-high of seven.
Aaron Judge (NYY): 0-1, 3 BB.
He’s back! Start spreading the news… Oh wait, the Yankees still lost and they didn’t score and they’re fourth in the AL East? He’d better start driving himself in.
Whit Merrifield (TOR): 3-4, HR, 2 R, RBI, SB.
The Jays shook up their lineup and sent George Springer from leadoff to fifth. Merrifield was the benefactor and he did his part by lifting a solo home run against reliever José Soriano in the seventh, a 405-foot shot to left (100.9 EV) that produced the game’s final score, 4-1 Jays. Merrifield has homered in back-to-back games but you know that’s not his MO. Hitting for average and stolen bases though? Yep, the old guy still does both things really well. Speaking of batting average, he’s now eighth among qualified hitters at .305.
Marcell Ozuna (ATL): 2-4, 2B, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB.
Atlanta did what they always do: Hit dingers. Matt Olson and Austin Riley hit numbers 33 and 23 respectively. Olson is one away from tying last year’s total. Ozuna came into last night’s game amidst a woeful stretch hitting .155 with a .440 OPS over 19 games in July. His 19th of the season came on a 92 mph heater from Adrian Houser in the fourth, a solo shot to left that tied the game 4-4 (411 feet, 109.4 EV). Despite the lack of results lately, Ozuna’s PLV numbers are still pretty good: a 65 in power and 60 in Decision Value. He should still be a good source of HR/RBI provided Atlanta doesn’t add anyone at the deadline.
Abraham Toro (MIL): 3-4, HR, R, 4 RBI.
Toro got the call this past Wednesday after back spasms shipped Jesse Winker to the IL. You may recall this guy secured Justin Verlander’s no-hitter nearly four years ago with a two-run shot off Ken Giles in the ninth at Toronto. Unfortunately, that’s been pretty much it as he’s mustered just a career .636 OPS across 269 games. He had a .828 OPS this year in Triple-A, so there’s that at least.
Sal Frelick also picked up two more hits and is hitting .438 over his first 16 at-bats: A contact-over-power profile with some speed (8-for-12 on attempts this year in Triple-A).
Jake Burger (CWS): 1-3, HR, R, RBI, BB.
The Burgermeister has come back to life with four home runs in the last three games. Daniel Norris struck out Burger in their first meeting but he wasn’t so lucky the second time around when he tossed a 91 mph fastball down Broadway. Needless to say, the baseball was never seen nor heard from again (450 feet, 111.6 EV). Burger has showcased light tower power (70 via PLV). But his tendency to swing at bad pitches (35 Decision value) combined with a K rate north of 30% makes him susceptible to stretches of nothingness.
Pete Alonso (NYM): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 5 RBI.
Alonso’s three-run tater in the fifth was an absolute moonshot: 453 feet with an EV of 112.6 off MacKenzie Gore. He’s now up to 30 home runs, third behind Shohei Ohtani and Matt Olson. The .220 average though, hurts. I think it’s just an odd fluke rather than anything else but looking at his PLV numbers, his contact ability is down a bit at 50 rather than 60 last year.
Image courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis and Aaron Polcare