At this point of our wild and crazy 60-game season, those of you still in the championship hunt in leagues that use categories have likely started moving towards targets. In years past, the final few weeks of the season were largely devoted to getting the last few counting stats as ratios were mostly stable thanks to thousands of plate appearances having already been accrued. That’s not the case here in 2020, though. Despite being mostly done with the season, ratios are still incredibly volatile, and a bad day at the plate for your fantasy team will move your collective batting average and OBP several points.
Cue José Iglesias, who went 4-for-5 with a home run, three runs scored, and four RBI for the Orioles yesterday. Iglesias has a fairly long track record of good-not-great batting average thanks to his bat control and speed. He’s always been able to slap singles right over or through the infield at a decent clip and that, along with his fancy glove work, has made him a mostly average-to-above average hitter at the bottom of his team’s order. Slap hitters like Iglesias can really heat up in the right circumstances, though, and that’s what we’ve seen in 2020. He’s seeing the ball incredibly well, and thanks to his skills, and incredibly high line drive rate, and some luck, he has the highest expected batting average in baseball according to Statcast.
Do I think Iglesias has made some crazy skill change? No, not really. Line drive rates can fluctuate pretty wildly because there’s only so much a hitter can control the launch angle of a round ball that he hits with a round bat. I haven’t noticed any major change to his swing or approach, either. It truly just appears that he’s making better contact while still making a whole lot of contact. I know “seeing the ball well” isn’t as technical as some would like it to be, but it’s truly a thing—that’s why managers use that phrase so often. Hot and cold streaks are often the result of these immeasurable traits because humans are unpredictable and weird creatures.
How does that help fantasy owners? Well, it doesn’t directly, but the fact remains that Iglesias is available in over 90% of fantasy leagues and there’s nothing to suggest that he’s due for some wild statistical correction in the near future. I doubt he’ll be ranked in my top 25 shortstops for 2021, but he certainly is right now. I doubt he’ll go on another seven-game multi-hit streak like he did in late August, but if you are in need of batting average, this might be one of the best bets on your waiver wire.
Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics)—2-6, HR, R, 5 RBI, 2 BB. Semien has turned it on over his last six games and looked much more like the excellent hitter we saw in 2019. While it may have been a disappointing season overall for him, the A’s offense is on fire, averaging six and a half runs over their last six games. With two games in Colorado coming up next, he should be able to continue to pile up some stats for at least a little longer.
Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds)—2-6, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB. With a home run in both games of yesterday’s doubleheader, Votto extended his hitting streak to six games. The days of Votto providing a stellar batting average and power are over, but as long as the Reds continue to bat him in a premier lineup spot, he should keep being a strong-but-unspectacular provider of counting stats and on-base percentage.
Ryan Mountcastle (1B/3B/OF, Baltimore Orioles)—3-5, HR, R, 3 RBI. There’s a lot to love about how Baltimore’s top prospect has performed this season, and among the most promising developments have been the success against breaking pitches and the strong plate discipline. Young power hitters generally struggle with these types of adjustments, so it’s great to see him take so well to it in the early goings. This doesn’t mean he’ll be immune from slumps and adjustments later on, but it might indicate that he has a good feel and approach for making such adjustments in the future, and that’s an excellent sign.
Tim Lopes (OF, Seattle Mariners)—3-5, 3 2B, 2 R, RBI. It was great to see the speedster perform while being called up as the 29th man for the doubleheader, and if nothing else it shows that he might be able to carve out a role for AL-only managers in 2021. If he, for whatever reason, were to come back up in 2020, he might be worth a look in very deep formats to try and grab one last stolen base before the end of the season.
Cedric Mullins (OF, Baltimore Orioles)—2-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB. It has been great to see Mullins make the most of his plate appearances in 2020 after some very disappointing major league at-bats in years prior. While there’s almost no power to speak of here (just five extra-base hits in 110 PA), he’s gotten control of the strikeouts and made enough contact to hit .273. Between the decent batting average and his ability to steal bases, there might be a decent fifth outfielder in there—especially if he continues to lead off on most nights.
Ramón Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics)—2-6, 2B, R, 2 RBI. It’s been a very rough year for Laureano, and it seems like every time I think he’s turned it around, he goes into another slump. There’s no single reason he’s struggled so much in 2020, which makes it difficult to predict what to expect from him in 2021. While he still has the talent to carry a team for a few weeks, I wouldn’t hold it against 10-team managers or those who play in three-outfielder formats if they cut ties and moved on for the final few weeks.
Colin Moran (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)—2-6, HR, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB. After starting the season hot, Moran has morphed back into the Colin Moran we expected. He’s slashed .245/.342/.402 since August 2nd and while that has some play in deep OBP leagues, he’s not really a guy to consider in standard leagues, especially when you realize that he has just eight RBI in the last month and a half. He’s worth a look as a cheap DFS play against weaker righties, but other than that you can probably look for production elsewhere.
Jake Cronenworth (1B/2B/SS, San Diego Padres)—2-4, 2 2B. I’m going to show you a rolling graph of Cronenworth’s expected wOBA, and at first glance, you’re going to think it’s a red flag because of the fairly steep downward trend. All I am going to say is that it’s not a red flag at this moment, and then direct your eyes towards the red line that shows the MLB average. This is likely an adjustment period as pitchers find new ways to attack him (which is entirely inevitable and an important part of player growth). If this is the bottoming out for Cronenworth, then we might be looking at a pretty special player. All players have up and down cycles, but if he’s already adjusting, that’s a really positive sign for his future development.
Robbie Grossman (OF, Oakland Athletics)—2-5, R, RBI, 2 SB. He’s slowed down considerably over the last month, but injuries to the heart of the A’s lineup have given Grossman a chance to hit third, and he delivered in that spot in the second game of the doubleheader. The loss of Matt Chapman and the struggles of Matt Olson will put a bit of pressure on the A’s to manufacture runs, and Grossman’s speed should make him a valuable piece of the puzzle for Oakland and for fantasy managers who need a fourth or fifth outfielder down the stretch.
Miguel Rojas (SS, Miami Marlins)—2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB. Rojas has a 183 wRC+, meaning he has been 83% better than the average player. His career wRC+ is 85, meaning he has been 15% worse than the average player over his career. His expected batting average is over .300 against fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches, he’s taking more walks, and is also hitting more line drives. I am very skeptical that Rojas will be a major fantasy contributor in 2021, but I can’t deny that he’s absolutely locked in right now and should be fired up in most formats—particularly points.
Jake Lamb (3B, Oakland Athletics)—2-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, RBI. Baseball is a fickle game. In 2016 and 2017, Lamb hit a combined 59 home runs with 12 stolen bases. Since then, he’s hit 13. Injuries have really set him back, and with his 30th birthday coming up, it’s hard to imagine him on a fantasy roster outside of 30-team AL-only formats.
Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)—1-8, 2B, 6 K. He still crushes the ball when he makes contact, but Yelich has just been unable to get a feel for hitting breaking and offspeed pitches in 2020. I’m personally willing to give a bit of a pass for 2021, as baseball players are creatures of habit and the wonky 2020 season really impacted those routines, but I will have to accept that the floor for a healthy Yelich is a bit lower than we previously thought. He’s still a 1st-round talent, and it will be interesting to see how far he falls in 2021 drafts.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire.