In more recent years, there has been a heavy debate regarding what a team wants and needs in a leadoff hitter. The Rays and Cubs have played around with using players like Yandy Diaz, Anthony Rizzo, or Kris Bryant. For the most part teams are looking for a good hitter that can get on base and not necessarily the speedy contact driven guy. Cleveland signed César Hernández (2B, Cleveland Indians) in the offseason to a one-year deal and have placed him firmly at the top of their lineup. His OBP has hovered around .350 his whole career and has been a speed threat too, usually stealing close to 20 bases. He is a decent piece to have hit in front of two of the most threatening bats in the league, José Ramírez and Francisco Lindor. When everything comes together, Hernández pulls off something like yesterday’s 2-4, 2B, 3 R, 3 RBI, BB.
Hernández looks to be in a great situation in Cleveland but there is way more to be desired to be a viable fantasy regular. First off, he’s a second baseman in a year where second is pretty deep. Second, he’s not a power threat. He hit over 10 home runs for the first time in 2018 while getting over 700 plate appearances. And for a player with little power, his batting average is not outstanding. 2016 and 2017 were his two best nearly at .300 but the last two seasons it has dropped a bit. Additionally, last year his stolen bases were under 10 for the first time since playing a full season.
Let’s bring things back to 2020. Hernández is off to a solid start slashing .319/.429/.383. The slugging could get a boost but if he’s getting on 43% of the time in front of two fantastic hitters, the runs will come. So far he is both homerless and stolen base-less. His homers haven’t been coming as he’s hitting the ball on a line. His flyball rate is below 15% when it normally is close to 30%. Unless something has drastically changed, that should improve and some home runs should come. His hard hit rate is up 10 percentage points from last year and his career average. For his stolen base numbers I am a bit concerned. This may be due to hitting in front of Ramírez and Lindor. Why worry about getting thrown out when there are two solid chances at bat for moving him around the base paths? This is just speculation though. The top of Cleveland’s lineup is usually known for stealing bases (see Ramírez and Lindor again).
Hernández is an interesting case for 2020, but I cannot see him making enough of an impact for a standard fantasy team to roster him with what else is out there.
Let’s take a look at how the rest of the league’s hitters performed Thursday:
Mauricio Dubón (2B/SS/OF, San Francisco Giants) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI. I’ve heard this name as an option for a middle infielder in NL only leagues, so it is interesting to see that he’s been getting reps in the outfield (5 appearances now this year). He’s not been much of a threat at the plate in his early career as his profile is more contact and speed focused. In these first 11 games, his high K rate (30%) and high BABIP (.368) have shown he is still someone to maybe consider in deeper NL only leagues despite this impressive showing yesterday.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies) – 2-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB. Blackmon had some question marks coming into the year with his illness. But that never stopped him. Now on a 10-game hitting streak, Blackmon has raised his average to .396, adding a couple home runs, and keeping his Ks a tad lower than his norm. Although he is not necessarily smoking the ball (23.7% hard hit rate), he’s added a bit more lift which could help his power especially hitting at Coors.
Anderson Tejeda (SS, Texas Rangers) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI, SB. Welcome to the Show, kid! What a first game for this 22 year old rookie playing in his first game above high A. After Rougned Odor went down with an injury, the Rangers called upon their 7th best prospect according the MLB.com’s ranks. He has shown a mix of power and speed throughout his time in A ball while striking out nearly 30% of the time. So far that power and speed mix is still there in the bigs adding both his first home run and stolen base of his career. This should be temporary as once Odor returns, Tejeda will be done.
JT Realmuto (C, Philadelphia Phillies) – 2-4, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. The top ranked catcher is acting like it. You may have been unlucky to draft Phillies for the early go this season but at least when Realmuto has played, he has delivered big time. Through the Phillies’ six games, he has three home runs, six runs, and eight RBIs, while batting .333. It is all standard stuff for one of the best offensive catchers playing the game right now, as long as they keep playing.
José Ramírez (3B, Cleveland Indians) – 3-5, 3B, 2 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI. Ramírez had a rough last few games with one hit in his last five, but last night was an incredible bounce back. He had an extremely disappointing first half of the year last year, but re-tinkered with his hitting mechanics and got back on track to his first round caliber play. Many fantasy players were cautious with him in the draft where I saw him fall to the late second round many times. However, with the second half bounce back last year he showed he is still that top five fantasy player we saw in 2018.
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals) – 2-4, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB. The Royals put up 13 against the Cubs yesterday. I know in baseball any lineup can go on a run like this throughout the long season, but the Royals offense can be overlooked, especially the top half. Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Salvador Perez all had excellent nights at the plate creating a dangerous 1-2-3 punch. Merrifield has started this season as classic Whit, yet one thing stands out in these first 61 plate appearances; his 1.6% walk rate and 11.5% K rate. Both of these numbers are a good chunk lower than his norms. However, his Swing% is the same as last year. It’s the contact rates that have spiked.
Maikel Franco (3B, Kansas City Royals) – 2-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Franco seems like a good fit in Kansas City, being a mostly contact kind of player, a player in the back of the lineup that doesn’t strikeout and can hit 20 home runs. Franco has struck out more than usual to start this season but he has been hitting the ball well. His two hits last night were both over 100 MPH, his 395 foot dinger at 108.3 MPH. I don’t think is a viable fantasy option in standard leagues but should be considered in deeper AL only leagues.
Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros) – 3-5, 2B, HR, 3 R, RBI, SB. We have all waited to see what the Astros true faces are after the cat got out of the bag. So far not so good. Altuve’s K rate is up nearly nine percentage points and he is hitting under .200 (albeit with a BABIP of .200). I can imagine this being a mental challenge to overcome more so than a lack of true talent.
Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves) – 2-3, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI. Freeman is off to a rough start and I could imagine after the struggles he went through with the virus not long ago. It can take a while to get back into the swing of things (pun intended). He’s still hitting the ball as hard as he normally does but his approach at the plate is quite different. His O-Contact% has dropped from high 60’s to 51.3% while his Swing% is about five percentage points lower than normal. I would chalk this up to the change in getting back on the field and should not be anything to worry about.
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, Miami Marlins) – 3-7, HR, R, 2 RBI, SB. Villar had one of his best seasons last year with the Orioles, and he gets rewarded by ending up in Miami for the 2020 season. He’s so lucky. The Marlins have only played seven games being one of the teams struck bad with the virus, but they are playing once again and Villar is at the top of their lineup. In the last two games he has swiped a bag and that is one of main reasons fantasy players drafted him where they did. He stole 40 last year and 35 the year before in 21 less games. He is a big threat on the bases and is showing that he still is in Miami.
Renato Núñez (1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles) – 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Núñez has been a solid surprise to the start of the season for Baltimore. He hasn’t been a huge standout but there has been solid production. Last night he continued this with two 400 foot homers and a third fly ball at 100 MPH that ended up as an out. His hard hit rate is up and he’s being more cautious on pitches out of the zone improving his walk rate too. He is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Jedd Gyorko (3B, Milwaukee Brewers) – 2-3, HR, R, 3 RBI. I saw his name pop up for having a solid game yesterday, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what team he was on. Turns out he’s been coming off the bench for the Brew Crew. After a rough injury filled season in 2019, he joined the Brewers in a role playing capacity. Yesterday’s two hits were ropes, both over 100 MPH. However, he is not much to sniff at unless he gets more playing time.
(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)