I find ways to connect baseball to life. I can’t help it. There is so much narrative in a single game, a single season, and definitely in a single player’s work. One of the most inspiring things is when a pitcher shrugs off a solo shot and goes back to work, striking out the side. I always think: What things in life could I be better at shrugging off? What mistakes? Miscues?
On the hitting side, where can we find inspiration? Let’s consider Gleyber Torres. Yesterday, in the first game of a double header against the Angels, he walloped his 10th home run, officially surpassing his home-run total for the entire 2021 season. He would finish the day going 2-4, with a double, HR, R, and RBI. Many fantasy managers gave up on Torres, and this is largely because of the monstrous contrast between 2021 and his outlier 2019 season, when he hit .278/.337/.535 with 38 home runs.
But the Yanks continued to roll him out there. And he wasn’t awful. He stole 14 bases last year and hit for a .259 AVG. He just wasn’t the slugger we expected. And it might be a mistake to say that he has returned to that 2019 hitter. But then again, he’s only 25. Let’s remind ourselves just how bad the contrast was between 2019 and 2021. Was it as bad as we think? He walked more in 2021 (9.7 BB%). He struck out less (slightly). His xBA, according to Fangraphs, was even better in 2021 than 2019.
Do you know the big difference? The power seemed to be gone. That was it. His ISO in 2019 was .256, the highest mark of his career. By the time we saw our way through the worst of the pandemic, in 2021 his ISO was .107, the worst mark of his career.
So what are the numbers so far this year? After something of a journey for this young hitter, his ISO is .238 in 2022. He’s being less patient, it’s true. That’s the worst that I can say about him. Because according to Baseball Savant, he’s out-thumping even his 2019 power rankings (at least when you look under the hood).
Notice every single power ranking below for the 2019 season. This was the year that saw the 38 home runs, and you might not guess that from the lack of red.
Now, look at this year’s power rankings. Doesn’t it seem like this should be the 38 home-run season?
The red sort of jumps off the page, and we’re only 50 games into the 2022 campaign. In an era where the baseball may be deadened, we are not likely to see 38 home runs again. But that doesn’t mean he’s not improving. In fact, the power numbers show he might be an ideal player to own at this time, in that smaller home park, on that great team.
And if we compare it to life, if we keep grinding and we keep pushing, maybe it’s a reminder that we can all improve.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Thursday
Travis d’Arnaud (ATL): 3-5, 2 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI.
Through the previous eleven games, d’Arnaud has moved from batting cleanup in the Braves lineup, to the 5th spot, to the 6th spot, and finally (yesterday), to the 7th. It must have felt comfortable, or it was a protest, because he launched two home runs and amassed a touchdown-tally of six RBI. His first homer netted two runs in the third inning, but with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, he hit a grand slam. Both came off Austin Gomber at Coors Field. He hit 7 home runs last year, and he’s nearly reached that total already this year. For my money, it’s the fact that he hits home runs with a solid average for a catcher that makes him worth owning in fantasy leagues. In 36 games, he’s batting .262.
Kyle Farmer (CIN): 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI, SB.
If you’re in need of a third baseman (or shortstop), you might as well ride the hot hand. Pick up Farmer for a week and see if it continues. He has hit four home runs in the last week. At a time when player batting averages are quite low, he’s batting .263. But in his last 70 at-bats, he’s hitting .300. He crushed a ball last night to the top of the Cincinnati bullpen off a mediocre fastball from Josh Rogers.
Teoscar Hernández (TOR): 2-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Teo helped me win my league last year on his way to a Silver Slugger accolade. It was nice to see him hit a home run off Johnny Cueto last night. This year he’s been struggling with injuries, the main one being an oblique strain early on. Then there was a minor hip injury. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether or not a hitter is playing through pain, but in any case, Hernandez has struggled mightily to start the season, batting .210/.282/.360. That SLG of .360 is a full point lower than his xSLG, and I popped him into my lineup last night because he was clearly starting to hit. In the last week, his AVG is .429.
Harrison Bader (STL): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Although Bader’s slugging percentage looks more like a good on-base percentage at .378, he has managed to get himself into the mix this year in that St. Louis lineup. Batting ninth yesterday, he had a multi-hit game, including a two-run shot against Mychal Givens in the final frame of a 5-7 loss for the Redbirds. I recently paid a high price for him in my fantasy league because of the speed. He’s tied for 2nd in that category (13) behind Julio Rodríguez. He’s also top-20 in sprint speed in the league, running nearly as fast as someone named Mike Trout.
Austin Riley (ATL): 3-5, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI.
I’m putting Riley in the news this morning because he was slumping in the first part of May. In his last 30 at-bats, he’s hitting .400 with 4 home runs, and yesterday’s 3-hit affair with two doubles only serves to show that he’s driving the ball again. He still has 13 home runs on the season and is a force to be reckoned with in the Atlanta lineup.
Willson Contreras (CHC): 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB.
Is there anything better than the video of Contreras telling Christopher Morel to take a moment and breathe? We love a good teammate. He must have followed his own advice last night because he was focused enough to launch a homer off Liberatore in the first inning. He’s now batting an impressive .278/.401/.530. He’s playing through injuries this year, and he’s currently listed as DTD with an ankle issue. I’m sure we’ll get more news before today’s rematch against St. Louis.
Josh Bell (WSH): 2-4, HR, R, RBI.
Bell has been steady for the entire season. He ranks 13th in batting average (.309), and 16 in OBP (.386). Heck, in the last week he’s batting .385!! And it’s not like he’s failing to help in other categories, ranking in the top-25 in RBI (29) as well. In the 7th inning yesterday, he took a 97 mph cutter from Graham Ashcroft to the opposite field, and it just cleared the wall at 356 ft. Okay, so his ISO this year is as low as it’s ever been in his career, but Bell is someone who improved as the season went along in 2021.
Michael Harris II (ATL): 3-5, 2B, 2 R, RBI.
It has only been 22 plate appearances for the 21-year-old outfielder, but he’s done well at the bottom of the Atlanta lineup. Harris is batting .286/.318/.381 so far. I bring him to your attention because in his last two minor league levels, he had an OBP above .360 and stole a combined 38 bases. If he can settle in, he might be worth monitoring as he is currently rostered in 32% of Yahoo leagues.
Ian Happ (CHC): 2-4, HR, R, RBI.
It feels like Happ is an aged veteran at this point. I see his name in the Cubs lineup and think he must be in his mid-thirties. Sorry, Ian. The pandemic has done strange things to my sense of time. The 27-year-old is on pace to hit nearly 25 home runs this season, unless, of course, he continues to hit three every two weeks, which is what he’s done recently. Happ took Matthew Liberatore deep in the bottom of the 4th inning. It was a 91 mph fastball up and slightly in.
Marcus Semien (TEX): 1-4, HR, R, RBI.
Like his former teammate Teoscar, Semien has struggled to begin the 2021 season, except he doesn’t have injuries to blame. Or does he? Some have speculated that maybe he’s playing through something, but this is probably an attempt to explain his woeful .194/.258/.281 line. It’s nice to see some power returning. In his last 30 at-bats, he has two homers and two steals while batting .267. Yesterday he hit a solo shot off Corey Kluber, and while this doesn’t mean we’re likely to get the return we were hoping for from someone with a 4th-round ADP in drafts, we can root for the guy to get comfortable in the box again. It’s tough to watch anyone struggle with their new team.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)