Franmil Reyes (OF, Cleveland Indians), who went 5-5, with a home run, two doubles, and two runs scored, is a great example of something I’ve discussed a few times recently: a player who is being pitched differently. This is a pivotal moment in his development, so I’m just going to talk through how I’d look at it from an analysis perspective, and what I’ll be looking for going forward as I evaluate him as a player. I’m not a professional scout and don’t pretend to have inside information, but this process has served me pretty well when it comes to analyzing young hitters—particularly aggressive, hard-swinging players like Reyes.
On the most basic level, Franmil is having an awesome season. His 27.3% strikeout rate is an improvement over his career 28.2% mark, and you certainly can’t complain about a line of .323/.378/.569. Statcast has his average exit velocity clocked at a blistering 93.9 mph (putting him in the top 4% of the league), and his barrel rates are in line with what guys like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are doing this year. That said, we already knew he was hitting well, and quality of contact has never been the issue for Reyes, so this information is almost expected.
Diving a little deeper into his more problematic numbers, he’s still swinging and missing a lot—his 18.6% swinging-strike rate is the sixth-highest in baseball and is a shade higher than his season totals from years past (but as we mentioned before, it is ever so sweet when he makes contact). One of the reasons for the high swing-and-miss rate is that he’s making significantly less contact on pitches he swings at outside of the zone. Why? Well, one reason is that opposing pitchers have started mixing in fewer fastballs and more breaking pitches to try and slow him down and, to some extent, it’s working: he has just a .125 batting average and .208 slugging against those pitches and he swings and misses at 54.6% of those pitches.
Going even deeper, here’s a look at where pitchers are throwing offspeed when Reyes is behind in the count this season (first) vs last season (second):
As you can see, pitchers are trying to keep those breaking balls out of the zone when Reyes is behind, likely because word got out that Franmil will swing at them and will most likely not touch them. At the moment, Franmil is seeing enough fastballs and punishing them hard enough to make up for this deficiency, and that’s potentially sustainable unless pitchers start giving him EVEN MORE breaking balls below the zone—particularly down and away (he does well on pitches that are away but not down, though).
So what do I make of this? Well, first and foremost, Franmil is exceedingly strong and will punish fastballs. Since that’s the most common pitch he sees and the one most pitchers will need to consistently get ahead of him, he can sustain higher strikeout rates against breaking balls by being aggressive against those early pitches. Inevitably, this will lead him to fall behind at times, and pitchers are taking advantage by refusing to throw him fastballs for a strike in those scenarios, opting instead for breaking pitches low and away from him.
What can Franmil do? Well, adjust! There are a variety of ways he can do this: be more patient early to avoid falling behind, improving his pitch recognition so he can lay off those breaking balls that he can’t hit, or even changing where he stands in the box to give him a better chance at those pitches!
Which will he choose? No idea. Will he do anything at all? No idea. That said, I’ll be looking for all of it. He’s a good player without these adjustments, if perhaps a bit streaky, but this kind of adjustment could take him to a new level and I will be watching closely to see if he can do it.
Alex Dickerson (OF, San Francisco Giants)—5-6, 3 HR, 2 2B, 5 R, 6 RBI, BB. He adapted to the Colorado air quickly, with all five of his hits going for extra bases. This was the third consecutive game with multiple hits for the 30-year-old, who since the start of 2019 has a solid .841 OPS as a part-time player. Despite not playing every day, he could certainly be a useful fifth outfielder or injury replacement in deeper daily formats while he’s swinging a hot bat.
Brad Miller (3B, St. Louis Cardinals)—4-6, 2 HR, 2B, 3 R, 7 RBI. The journeyman third baseman has found new life in St. Louis, and through 20 games he has a .317 batting average with a ridiculous .619 slugging. Power has been a part of Miller’s game ever since his 30-home run season with the Rays back in 2016. Despite the gaudy numbers and batting in the heart of the Cardinal’s batting order, he remains available in over 80% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues and should be scooped up by anyone needing a replacement third baseman or an upgrade at corner infield.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, Atlanta Braves)—3-5, 3 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI. In his last ten starts, he has six home runs, 16 RBI, and a crazy 1.263 OPS. After dealing with and playing through injuries the last few seasons, Ozuna appears to be firmly entrenching himself as a top-20 outfielder thanks to his power and improved plate discipline.
Brandon Crawford (SS, San Francisco Giants)—3-6, HR, 2B, 3 R, 6 RBI, SB. Crawford has been on fire for the last two and a half weeks, slashing .365/.450/.712 in 60 plate appearances. Crawford hasn’t been relevant in mixed leagues since 2017 due to his limited power and speed combined with a sub-par batting average, and I’m not seeing much in his profile that suggests this is anything more than Crawford seeing the ball well at the moment, but NL-only managers can get excited about the hot streak if they’d like.
Donovan Solano (2B/3B, San Francisco Giants)—4-6, 2 2B, 2 R, 6 RBI. After piling up 13 RBI in his first eight games, the pace has predictably slowed down for Solano, as he has just 11 over his last 23 starts. The contact has faded a bit as well over the last two weeks, and even with this four-hit game he’s batting a mere .224 with virtually no power and no speed since August 16th. You can probably drop him in most 10- and 12-teamers, since there are likely better options on the wire for your middle infield. It was fun while it lasted, though.
Victor Reyes (OF, Detroit Tigers)—4-6, HR, 2B, 2 R, 5 RBI. After bouncing around the batting order throughout the season, he’s hit leadoff for nine consecutive games, tallying up eight runs scored and 14 hits with six of them going for extra bases. The departure of Cameron Maybin makes the leadoff role Reyes’ job to lose, and in 72 games at the top of the order for the Tigers, he’s hit a robust .313 with nine steals. He’s the ONLY top-80 hitter currently available in over 90% of leagues, so if you need runs, batting average, or stolen bases, this is where you can find them.
Renato Nunez (1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles)—2-6, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. A nugget on an Oriole, brought to you by Alex Fast:
Friendly reminder too:
Renato Nunez’s power isn’t just because of Camden this year. His 87% no doubter%* is top 3 in baseball. https://t.co/CHqG0qD4Y6
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) September 2, 2020
DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B, New York Yankees)—2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. LeMahieu has failed to get on base in just two of his 24 games, and the breakout power we saw in 2019 appears to be carrying over into 2020. He’s a top-10 option at all three positions he qualifies for.
Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals)—4-4, 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI. His plate discipline is great, but the improved contact and power we saw last season isn’t there. He has just three extra-base hits in 99 plate appearances and while he still holds on to some deep league value as a middle infielder due to his ability to steal a couple of bases and score some runs as the leadoff hitter, but 10- and 12-team managers can move on if they haven’t already.
Alec Bohm (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)—2-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI. It’s a small sample size, but his seven walks to eight strikeouts in 63 plate appearances is incredibly promising for the third overall pick of the 2018 draft. Hopefully soon, we can see him climb out of the bottom of the order, but even now he’s worth a flyer in 12-teamers if you need a corner infielder—especially in points leagues.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)—2-5, HR, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI. It was an excellent debut for the young third baseman, who also happens to be the Pirates top prospect. He’s a top-75 overall prospect for fantasy purposes, though I’d probably wait and see in 10- and 12-team redraft leagues.
Ian Happ (OF, Chicago Cubs)—3-6, HR, R, 2 RBI. Three straight games with multiple hits, multiple RBI, and at least one home run. The strikeout rate has improved, he’s walking a ton, and he’s doing damage to both fastballs and breaking balls. One of the bigger changes I’ve seen is that Happ is just being much more selective with his swings, and it’s working like a charm for him.
Garrett Hampson (2B/OF, Colorado Rockies)—2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. He’s been tough to gauge since losing the leadoff role for the Rockies, especially since they’ve mostly buried him at the bottom of the order. He hasn’t stolen a base for a while, and he’s hitting just .219 since the demotion, so I’m personally moving on in shallower leagues whenever possible. I’ll admit this is mostly a combination of frustration and the fact that I have zero idea what the Rockies are doing with hitters other than Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B, St. Louis Cardinals)—1-2, 2B, 3 R, 2 BB. I might have jinxed him a little, since he ended his seven-game streak of no strikeouts, but he also walked two more times. Since the Cardinals returned to action on August 15th, he now has 22 walks and just nine strikeouts in 90 plate appearances. Unbelievable.
Miguel Sano (1B/3B, Minnesota Twins)—0-5, 3 K. The .527 slugging is cool, and Statcast is always going to love him in terms of barrels per batted ball event (currently the best in baseball) and exit velocity (currently the best in baseball by a full 1.1 mph). I’m not going to say he isn’t good—he is. That said, he’s a frustrating player because he’s basically an even more extreme Joey Gallo. I’ll be the first to defend a player with a high strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate when there are elite skills, but a 42.9% strikeout rate is really, REALLY hard to carry no matter how strong you are. This is a two-category player in standard leagues, and with the Twins struggling, he’s acting more like a one-and-a-half category player. I guess you can’t drop him, but always prepare for the slumps.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire