You too should be going to Jared. Jared Walsh that is. Since becoming the Angels’ everyday first baseman on August 31st, Walsh has been knocking the snot out of the ball to the tune of a .359 AVG with five HR (included a wild four HR in four straight games) and 13 RBI in 11 games. He’s been one of the few bright spots for the struggling Angels and of course, the biggest question is: is any of this sustainable? Hold on to your butts.
Coming up through the minors, Walsh was primarily known for one thing: hitting the ball HARD. According to a June Fangraphs article on the top Angels prospects, Walsh had one of the highest exit velocities in the minor leagues last year clocking in at 96 MPH. That’s insane. A largely unheralded prospect, Walsh also mashed 36 HRs at AAA last season, which warranted a cup of coffee at the end of the 2019 season. It didn’t go quite as planned as he hit just .203 with one home run in 87 plate appearances, but the underlying Statcast numbers had those paying attention salivating. In that small sample, he posted a 13.6 BBL%, 91.3 MPH Exit Velo and a 50.0 HardHit%. Check out this Launch Angle chart from last year:
It may not have led to a ton of hits but that’s exactly what you want to see from a hitter. So far this season he’s almost perfectly duplicated those numbers yet it’s led to way more production. Why? Because it’s been less about the batted ball event itself and more about when he hits the ball. We don’t have minor league numbers for this but during Walsh’s first taste of the majors last year he was pretty selective when choosing which pitches to swing at. One could argue based on his 46.2 Swing% and the fact that he swung at just 61.0% of pitches in the zone that he was likely being too selective. We all love when a hitter works counts but not if it means letting good pitches to hit reach the catcher’s glove without a swing. Walsh swung at 75.8% of meatball pitches in 2019 but so far this season he’s swung at a stellar 85.7% of the meatball pitches thrown his way and both his overall Swing% and Zone Swing% are way up without any spike in his chase rate. This leads me to believe he seeing the ball better and most importantly being aggressive when he gets a pitch to hit. It’s an incredibly small sample size but he’s barely getting picked up in a lot of leagues and I think if you need a 1B or UTL for the playoff run, it’s hard to ignore what Walsh is doing since getting a full-time job for the first time in his big-league career.
Let’s take a look at how the other hitters fared on Sunday:
Renato Núñez (1B, BAL) – 2-4, HR, R, RBI. Núñez hit his 11th home run on Sunday which pushes him up into the top 15 first basemen for the season. He’s still a liability in AVG and in any league that dings you for strikeouts, but the power is very real, he’s hitting in the heart of the Orioles lineup, and he’s hitting at a 40 HR/100 R/100 RBI regular-season pace. It’s hard to leave that out on the wire but he’s still available in a ton of leagues and if you need some power and counting stats for the playoffs (and missed out on Walsh) or want a little more proven track record, you could do a lot worse than Núñez.
Tommy La Stella (1B/2B/3B, OAK) – 1-3, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB. After his home run on Sunday, Tommy La Stella has quietly been having a solid fantasy season (hitting .277 on the season with five HRs) but has truly been on fire his last 11 games, hitting .333 with 11 runs scored while batting leadoff for the Athletics. Add in the fact that he is posting a remarkable 4.6% K Rate and a walk rate over two and half times that, he’s a must-own player especially in points leagues and that’s before we factor in that he’s likely going to be first, second, and third base eligible by the end of the week.
Albert Pujols (1B, LAA) – 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, 2 BB. This one’s special. Sunday’s home run was number 660 for his storied career which ties him with Willie Mays for fifth all time. It’s been a rough last couple of years for the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer, but one has to wonder if he could somehow put together two more 20-homer seasons and somehow get to that vaunted 700-home-run milestone. It’d be one heck of capstone to an incredible career.
Dominic Smith (1B/OF, NYM) – 2-4, 2 RBI. It’s hard to overstate how good Dom Smith has been the last few days as he’s sitting on an eight-game hitting streak during which he’s had 15 hits and 12 RBI, giving him 38 on the season. In case you were curious how impressive that total is, he is currently driving in runs at a pace that would lead to 158 RBI over a 162-game season—that’s how well he’s hitting the ball this season.
Chris Taylor (2B/SS/OF, LAD) – 3-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI. Another hitter with a ton of positional versatility having a quietly fantastic season, Chris Taylor homered for the second consecutive day giving him five on the year to go along with a .280 average and a ton of Runs and RBI. He’s bumped up his exit velocity by 1.5 MPH and has nearly doubled his BBL% from last year. It’s looking pretty legit and when you factor in that he qualifies at three positions, Taylor could be the perfect bench bat to pick up for the playoffs.
Hunter Dozier (1B/3B/OF, KC) – 3-3, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB. I will admit I was skeptical that Dozier could replicate his 2019 season but so far he’s proven me wrong. In fact, considering that he’s raised his BB% by 6.5% shows that he actually might have gotten better. He’s not available in a ton of leagues but there are still a few where he’s out there and if he is you can’t afford to not pick him up.
Eloy Jiménez (OF, CWS) – 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI. Speaking out hitters who keep getting better, it’s hard to name all the ways Eloy Jiménez has improved this year to launch himself into the upper echelon of power hitters this season as there are just too many of them. He’s started to hit to all fields this year without losing any of his power and that’s something he can carry over into next season we could be looking at a first- to second-round talent in next year’s drafts.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/OF, TOR) – 1-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB. He’s another guy who I was skeptical that he could improve from 2019, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is making me look foolish after he hit his seventh home run of the year yesterday. His power is a little down from last year but he’s made up for it by bumping up his BB% and drastically lowering his K%. He’s the real deal and the power should start picking up.
Salvador Pérez (C, KC) – 3-5, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. It’s pretty rare to see a 30-year-old catcher miss an entire season and come back to have a career year but based on wRC+ and pretty much every power metric that’s exactly what Salvador Pérez seems to be doing so far this year after hitting his fifth homer on Sunday. There’s likely some small sample size magic going on here thanks to his .372 BABIP, but it’s still pretty cool to see.
Marwin González (1B/2B/3B/OF, MIN) – 1-3, HR, R, 3 RBI. This is his second consecutive game with a home run so maybe González is starting to right the ship a bit. I’m still not on board but given his positional versatility, I can understand keeping an eye on him for the playoffs.
(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)