From Bad-doo to Good-doo

Scott Chu takes you through some of Sunday's most interesting hitters.

Akil Baddoo (DET): 1-4, SB.

Akil Baddoo‘s first career game in the leadoff spot went somewhat well, as he went 1-4 with a single and a stolen base, and it’s more than enough to be a flimsy excuse to talk about one of my favorite rookies (who happens to be on my favorite team).

While many remember Baddoo’s insane start to his MLB career, they likely also remember how much he struggled shortly thereafter. He hit five home runs in his first eight games but finished the month of April with a 3% walk rate and a 43.9% strikeout rate and a .242 OBP. This was somewhat expected of the 22-year-old outfielder, as he had never played about High-A and was now facing major league pitching.

What happened next is, quite frankly, exactly what I dream about when I want a young player to take a step forward. Baddoo had been mashing fastballs from day one, but his plate discipline was a major issue. Finding long-term success against breaking pitches and making significant changes to a young hitter’s approach can take a very, VERY long time, but Baddoo managed to do something spectacular—he made these adjustments almost immediately.

Akil Baddoo‘s Growth

While this kind of extreme change isn’t necessarily permanent, it’s an amazing display of a young hitter learning at the major league level. I can’t stress enough how rare it is to see a player make such a dramatic change in such a short time, particularly with respect to plate discipline. It should be noted that he’s also not hit for as much power since his debut, but in exchange, he has stolen more bases (which is easier to do when you’re on base).

Because Baddoo sits against tougher lefties, he’s a hard sell in 10- and 12-team formats at the moment, but when you see a young player make this type of improvement and also get a look at the top of the lineup, it demands your attention. 15-team managers should be ready to act now, while those in shallower leagues should have Baddoo on their watch list.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Sunday:

Taylor Walls (TB): 3-5, 2 2B, 2 RBI.

Walls now has a hit in four of his last five games after getting the call when Willy Adames was traded to Milwaukee, and while there isn’t a ton of power in his bat, his 16% walk rate in his first 50 plate appearances means Walls have plenty of chances to steal a base from the back half of the Rays order. He’s not really a consideration in 10- or 12-teamers, but managers in 15-team formats who are hurting for a middle infielder or stolen bases could certainly do worse.

Jesse Winker (CIN): 3-4, 3 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI, BB.

In his last 104 games, Winker has a whopping 29 home runs and a 169 wRC+. He has continued to hit all season long and is now tied for the National League lead in home runs with Ronald Acuña Jr. His excellent plate discipline and spot near the top of the Reds lineup has everyone wondering just how high in the outfield rankings he can climb.

Nolan Arenado (STL): 4-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB.

With any luck, Nolan Arenado‘s strong 2021 campaign will finally dispel the notion that hitters will fall apart when they leave Coors, or that they will revert to their road splits. He’s not really a 40-HR hitter anymore regardless of where he calls home, but Arenado should once again threaten to reach the 100-RBI mark and hit 30 home runs.

Donovan Walton (SEA): 2-3, 2B, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB.

It was an impressive week for Walton, who despite batting ninth for the Mariners managed to drive in five runners and score five runs over the course of seven games with a .318/.348/.682 line. I don’t think there’s much appeal here outside of AL-only leagues, but it’s cool to see him get a shot and succeed for a bit.

Cedric Mullins (BAL): 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB.

It’s a great story that continues to get better. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games and slashed an otherworldly .536/.607/1.083 with 13 hits (six for extra bases) and a stolen base last week. I’ve bumped my projection on him to something like 20 home runs and 20 steals with a .275-.280 batting average when all is said and done, and I won’t be shocked if I have to bump it up again. If anyone in your league thinks they are “selling high”, I encourage you to kick the tires. I have him just inside my top-25 outfielders for the rest of the season and would move a guy like Charlie Blackmon, Mark Canha, Mitch Haniger, or maybe even the blazing hot Tommy Pham for him right now.

Bobby Bradley (CLE): 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.

He strikes out a lot, but Bradley sure can hit the ball a long way. In 54 major league plate appearances, he’s slugging exactly .500, but it comes with a 7.4% walk rate and 37% strikeout rate. If you’re desperate for power in a 15-teamer, I suppose you could roll the dice here as Cleveland is desperate for SOMEONE to run with the first base job, but that’s about it.

J.T. Realmuto (PHI): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB.

His 32.7% strikeout rate in 45 plate appearances in May was weird, but also likely at least somewhat related to injury, as in his seven games since coming back from the IL he has more walks than strikeouts and a .452 OBP. He and Salvador Perez are at the top of the fantasy catcher mountain, and I doubt that changes at any point in 2021.

Patrick Wisdom (CHC): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.

There really isn’t more to say right now. He’s not walking much and striking out a lot, but he’s crushing the ball at the same time. A fall to earth is coming (not unlike what we saw with Baddoo), and the real question will be what happens next.

Justin Upton (LAA): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.

I am still not totally sure I get the reasoning for having him lead off, but since taking that role back on May 23, he’s hitting .333/.415/.756 with five home runs (he hit fourth once on June 3, but hit first every other game). He’s still striking out a lot, but batting in front of Shohei OhtaniAnthony Rendon, and Jared Walsh is fantasy gold, and Upton ought to be rostered in all 12-team leagues and most 10-teamers.

J.P. Crawford (SEA): 2-3, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.

Crawford has put together a nice little nine-game run where he has five doubles, two home runs, and 13 combined runs and RBI with excellent plate discipline. Leading off for the Mariners isn’t as exciting as leading off for the Angels, but it’s still a lot of plate appearances and changes to generate fantasy value. I’m not really interested in 12-teamers, but he’s a nice play in deep leagues until he cools off.

Tommy Pham (SD): 1-3, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, 2 SB.

In his last 16 games, Pham has seven extra-base hits, 20 combined runs and RBI, five steals, and a 20% walk rate. Much like the two hitters I wrote up above him, Pham has also worked his way into the leadoff spot, and he is certainly the most appealing of the three. I’m not sure he can quite get to 20 home runs, as he has just four on the season so far, but he can definitely get to 20 stolen bases.

Yuli Gurriel (HOU): 3-3, R, RBI, 2 BB, SB.

My buddy Carl from work, who I wrote about back in 2019 (and I recommend you click that link to see an excellent photograph of Carl), loves telling me when Yuli is hitting well, and that means he’s been telling me darn near every single day. His underlying numbers suggest he’s not quite the insane masher we saw in the second half of 2019, but that he’s probably closer to the guy we saw in 2017 when he hit 18 home runs with a .299 batting average. Between his contact skills and strong supporting cast, he should get close to 90 RBI to go with his 20 home runs or so, and that’s a useful player in a whole lot of formats.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 2-4.

He just keeps hitting. In his four games back from the IL, he has seven hits (three for extra bases). This kid could be something special, though don’t be surprised if we see adjustment periods. After all, it’s still only been a 30 game sample in the major leagues, albeit 30 very good games.

Ryan Mountcastle (BAL): 3-5, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI.

As LL Cool J would say, don’t call it a comeback. The plate discipline still leaves a lot to be desired (10:1 K:BB ratio), but he’s on a six-game hitting streak and has a .327 batting average and .709 slugging in his last 15 games. The high strikeout rate still concerns me, but he’s certainly roster-worthy in 12-team and deeper formats that require five starting outfielders.

Anthony Santander (BAL): 3-5, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI.

While he only has one home run since returning from the IL on May 21, he has hit eight doubles and has a .333 batting average. He’s a bit rough to roster in shallower formats as all he has is power, and it comes with durability concerns, but those who are holding on in 15-teamers should start to see more home runs soon as he’s still hitting it hard at times and putting it in the air.

Victor Robles (WSH): 2-3, 2 2B, 3 R, RBI, SB.

These two hits were his first since coming off the IL on May 31, though he did manage to steal two bases in these last seven games. At this point, Robles is nothing but a speed threat and not one I am that interested in outside of 15-team leagues.

 

Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Doubtful that Baddoo made adjustments. He lives a very sheltered life. He only plays in very favorable matchups. He sits vs all lefties and even tough righties. He sits a lot. Notice that you are not saying how many ABs – I think you have too much SSS to get excited about anything. I am actually not a hater. I think his struggles were overblown and he is much better than any alternatives that they have. I actually like him for what he is but I doubt that he made significant adjustments. You are comparing a small sample to a smaller sample. I think they can play him everyday as they have absolutely nobody, but they seem more interested in sheltering him to facility some success than playing him every day. I think he is an exciting talent and I hope that he grows into a more consistent hitter but I doubt he is there right now. One more year of progress like this one and he will be there, but that is far from a given.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      You seem to be suggesting that I am trying to trick people. I am not. I firmly believe this was a significant change. There are even more numbers, such as what he did against breaking balls that suggest the same. 66 PA in April, 53 in May. That’s plenty for plate discipline (these usually show some reliability in about 50 PA). He was babied in April the same way in May. Only 1 player with more than 50 PA in May had a higher walk rate than Baddoo. That’s meaningful. It’s real improvement. I don’t argue he’s consistent right now or that it will be permanent — but he made real and significant adjustments since April.

      Disagreeing with me is fine – many people do it often. Please do so respectfully. If upsetting me was not your intent (and I don’t think it was), please understand that it was the effect.

      • Avatar Mallex P. Keaton says:

        I wouldn’t take this dude that seriously or his commentary too personally. He seems to be in love with himself and his diagnosis of the purported ills plaguing modern-day Major League Baseball, making these outrageously lengthy comments on most of the daily update articles on PL. He certainly doesn’t post these for anyone else’s benefit or for the feedback and/or back-and-forth banter. He doesn’t really drop any useful info or discuss any particular player’s potential fantasy utility, he gets zero feedback… And yet, like clockwork, there he is every day with these missives.

        • Avatar Scott Chu says:

          I’ve got absolutely nothing against theKraken — they’ve been coming to this column for a long time and I appreciate their readership and support. While opinionated and divisive, but it’s clear that theKraken supports the site—even if they often disagree with writers (which is totally fine, of course). I’ve written over 150 of these Batter’s Box columns, I think, and I keep doing it because I love the interactions with other folks who want to talk about baseball.

          That said, it was important to me to make sure that I shared how their comment made me feel so that I didn’t harbor resentment going forward. I was able to do that and I look forward to any and all insight and feedback for my next piece (which should be on Monday)—even if it’s vehement disagreement with my opinions.

  • Avatar Jack says:

    Mountcastle is hitting because I dropped him, just like Lux. I just dropped Solak today; do with that information what you will.

    I did scoop Wisdom because I figure worst-case I ride the wave; best-case he’s this year’s Yaz. Cubs don’t have great 6th-8th options hitting-wise so he’ll play as long as he hits, and probably longer.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      That’s usually how it works, Jack!

      Anyone hitting the way he is will play, but the real questions will come when Hoerner, Bote, and Duffy are ready to come back. That’s a lot of very average guys to choose from, and when that happens, you usually don’t see managers pick just one.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    I guess the reasoning for Upton leading off is lineup protection. Most teams in this era like to protect some rookie but they are helping out a veteran on the verge of irrelevance, which seems like a much better idea.. Its not about winning games – its about propping up the value of a single player at the expense of the team.

    I have not seen it mentioned yet that Yuli has more BB than K. If he were fifteen years younger this would be a permanent headline – it would be burned into my screen from being on every website. The fact that nobody is talking about his season yet is a good example that modern analysis is not good. 2021 Gurriel has little in common with past Gurriels. He keeps improving that K/BB ratio and he is on pace for about 75 XBH. That is easy stuff for a human to identify but I guess it doesn’t show up in batted ball data.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      The struggles of Fletcher have left them without an obvious leadoff guy, so it does make some sense they went with a guy who can walk (even if he does strike out a lot). Also, I suppose that K is better at 1 than it is at the 4-hole.

      Gurriel’s plate discipline is new and you’re right, it’s not widely discussed, though it’s come down a bit from the crazy walking in the first few weeks. Still up, but not the insane 20% it was early on. If nothing else, he’s now a 20ish HR guy with a good AVG *and* good OBP instead of a 15-18 HR guy with a good AVG and a typical OBP.

  • Avatar J.C. Mosier says:

    Your write-ups continue to be a must-read, Scott. Great addition of buy advice (related to league size).

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      Thanks, J.C.! Really appreciate it. As a shameless plug, I do more of this in the Hacks and Jacks podcast that also drops on Monday mornings and it’s *mostly* hitter-related.

  • Avatar BelowTheBenthic says:

    It was almost too obvious, but nice title 😄

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