Is It Legit: The Stretch Run

Which way is the arrow pointing on these players?

In this week’s edition of Is It Legit, we wade once again into the turbulent waters of predicting what hot and cold streaks will last.  Since a mere 20 days remain in the season, I’ll also give some added weight to strength of schedule for the games.

 

Brandon Belt

 

At the ripe old age of 32, Brandon Belt has breathed new life into his career this season.  San Francisco’s Oracle Park suppresses lefty homers more than any park in baseball, which makes one wonder what might have been in Belt had been a clean-shaven Yankee for all of this time.  With the lowest chase rate and swing rate of his career and his highest hard hit rate (52.2%) and barrel rate (20.9%) by far, its clear that not even the daunting dimensions of Oracle Park, where he’s hit five of his seven homers, can slow him down right now.  Belt has been sitting against lefties more often this season, and this approach has kept him fresh and accentuated his success against righties.  Simply being healthy is significant for a player who has struggled with injuries, especially concussions, in his career.  The Giants will play the Padres in eight of their remaining 18 games this season, who feature a rotation composed entirely of righties, so Belt figures to see even a slight bump in starts down the stretch.

Verdict: Legit.  Besides being a bit of an old man, Belt has nothing in his profile to indicate that his success has been fluky.  Expect some natural regression from his otherworldly pace, but Belt is still someone who should be universally rostered and who should continue to excel down the stretch.

 

Dakota Hudson

 

Dakota Hudson’s 2019 stat line last season screamed regression candidate for 2020, but he’s improved his skills plus gotten the help of some good fortune en route to two wins, a 3.19 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio in six starts this season.  A key to Hudson’s success has been cutting down on his walk rate while essentially doubling the usage of his very effective curveball, which makes up for mediocre movement with plus velocity.  Hudson has had better than average command this season, throws four pitches at 19% of the time or more, and he’s been very effective at generating ground balls, with a 58.3% rate.  In addition to all of these positive developments, Hudson has been outperforming his expected stats.  His xERA of 4.05 and xwOBA of .320 are significantly worse than his 3.19 ERA and .262 wOBA, and batters are hitting just .215 on balls in play.  The Cardinals are at the cusp of a grueling schedule where they will attempt to play 25 games in 20 days.  It’s tough to tell exactly how St. Louis will navigate this stretch, but Hudson will likely face the Reds, the Brewers (twice), and the Pirates, who have all underperformed this season.

Verdict: Not Legit (but also not bad).  Hudson should be solid but unspectacular.  While he isn’t likely to sustain his near 3.00 ERA, Hudson should limit damage with his ground-ball heavy approach and keep the Cardinals in games enough to potentially deliver some wins down the stretch.  A 4.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP the rest of the way with a couple wins and a 20% strikeout rate seem like appropriate expectations for him down the stretch.

 

Randy Arozarena

 

A toolsy prospect recently called up after returning from the COVID-19 injured list, Randy Arozarena has wasted little time making an impact with the Rays this season.  In essentially his first week, Arozarena has slashed .467/.556/1.067 with three homers and a steal since his August 30th call-up.  While we can’t yet take too much away from his tiny 2020 sample, we can look at his track record of success in the minor leagues.  In 92 games between AA and AAA in 2019, Arozarena hit .344/.431/.571 with 15 homers and 17 steals and also played well in 2018, hiting 12 homers and swiping 26 bases while regularly keeping his strikeout rate under 20%.  While it must be noted he hasn’t had the best stolen base success rate in the minors, he does have 94th percentile sprint speed and at this stage of the season the couple steals he could chip in might be enough to boost your team in the standings.

Verdict: Legit.  With the Rays attempting to platoon virtually every hitter in their lineup, Arozarena won’t get daily playing time, but his power-speed combination, combined with a plus hit tool should draw the attention of fantasy GMs in deeper leagues and speed deprived teams in shallower leagues looking to add a rotational player onto their roster.

 

Mike Clevinger

 

While the preceding three players on this list are playing at their peak, Mike Clevinger just hasn’t looked like himself this season.  After working his way back from a knee injury suffered in Spring Training Part I, Clevinger saw some diminished fastball velocity.  Then he had the well-documented and self-inflicted wound of breaking team protocol with Cleveland and missing multiple starts.  Now in San Diego, his velocity is back but his command is lacking.  This has led to him getting behind in counts and becoming predictable.  As a result, Clevinger’s fastball is only getting a 9.6% swinging strike rate, rather than the outstanding mark of 12.7% it achieved last season.  He’s giving up a higher hard hit rate (39.2%) than he has at any point in his career and his xERA is a staggering 5.98.  The silver lining is that Clevinger could have a shot at some wins as his four remaining projected starts are pretty favorable: against the Rockies (at home), the Giants twice (home and away), and away against the Mariners.  He’s actually been fortunate this year with over a 90% strand rate, so I wouldn’t be surprised if luck catches up with him and he has a truly bad start before the year is through.  Of course, we’ll never know which start that will be, so I’ll be rolling with him and keeping my fingers crossed as the season winds down.

Verdict: Legit (for 2020).  The verdict here is solely based on how much you believe Clevinger’s can get his command back on track before the end of the season, and with only four starts to go, time is against him.  I still think Clevinger can be a top 10 starting pitcher in the game in 2021, and will definitely be interested in him in this season damages the perception of him as an ace, but I don’t see him having enough time to find a rhythm—maybe in time for the (real life) playoffs?

 

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Brian Holcomb

Charlotte-based outdoor educator and Philly sports fan whose Pitcher List involvement stems from a decades-long fascination with baseball statistics, trading cards, and debates about player valuation. When not thinking about fantasy baseball, can regularly be found exploring the trails, rivers and rocks of North Carolina.

  • Kenneth G Moses says:

    While I have enjoyed Brian’s observations, he appears to miss the mark in a couple of the player assessments in this article. For Belt, he fails to mention that Oracle park underwent a physical transformation made necessary by the desire to remove the bullpens from the field of play. This required bringing in the power alley fences in order to make space for the new bullpen locations. The Giants have become one of the better hitting teams in MLB, and one has to attribute part of their success, and Belt’s, to this transformation.

    For Clevenger, he mentions facing the Giants twice before the end of the season as being favorable matchups. Well, he will be facing a team with the following rankings among ALL MLB teams: Runs- 5th, Hits-2nd, Doubles-6th, Triples-2nd, HR-13th, RBI-4th, Total Bases-5th, Batting Average-3rd, and OPS-6th. Hardly a pushover! I question his seeing them as a favorable opponent for Clevenger.

    • Hondo says:

      Also the standing room only section has been c,osed this year,changing the airflow.

      • Kenneth G Moses says:

        Excellent point, Hondo!

        • Brian Holcomb says:

          Very fair critique Kenneth–I could have done an Is It Legit article on the entirety of the Giants offense because I see now that most of their players are crushing it. If guys like Solano and Dickerson keep this up, I’ll be featuring them in next week’s article. Clevinger will have his work cut out for him…
          I was aware that Oracle Park moved the fences in a bit, but I didn’t mention it because I was looking at the spray chart and I believe Belt’s home runs would have been gone even with the old dimensions! He’s hit some moonshots for sure.

          • Kenneth G Moses says:

            Good point on Belt, Brian. My comment was less directed at HRs than hits in general. I would love to see an Is It Legit article on the Giants hitters…they have gone from being one of the worst to one of the best hitting teams in a single season…without adding any well known pieces to the offensive lineup. I enjoy your writing, and look forward to your next piece.

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