J.D. Still Stands for Just Dingers

Scott Chu breaks down Sunday's most interesting hitting performances.

J.D. Martinez (BOS): 4-6, 3 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI.

Just because it’s early in the season doesn’t mean we haven’t learned anything. I know we (or at the very least, I) always say that it’s early and not to overreact and stuff like that, but I sometimes forget to mention that some things going on are meaningful.

One such meaningful thing, in this writer’s humble opinion, is the explosion of offense from J.D. Martinez (OF, BOS), who went 4-6 on Sunday with three home runs, four runs scored, and four RBI. That by itself would be decent production for the entire young season, but he’s done even more as he now sports a video game slash line of .472/.500/1.083 with five home runs, 10 runs scored, and 16 RBI through his first eight games.

J.D. isn’t a .472 hitter (probably), but it’s outstanding to see such great results after a wholly disappointing 2021 where hit just .213 with just seven home runs and 27 RBI in 54 games. While some did question whether the 33-year-old designated hitter had anything left in the tank, the player himself pointed to a few other narratives as to why he struggled—specifically, the lack of in-game video.

As many folks may now be aware, MLB restored access to in-game video via tablets for the 2021 season, and more than a few players were thrilled by the news based on their vocal displeasure of the lack of in-game video in 2020. Besides J.D., Javier Báez was another hitter who slumped that put at least some of the blame on the lack of in-game video to make adjustments. While Baez hasn’t quite had the early season success J.D. has, he does have three home runs and three steals through nine games.

Generally speaking, the early season results are mostly used to confirm our own preseason beliefs—we take victory laps on the players we loved that started hot, and tell folks not to panic about the players we loved that started cold. That said, 2020 provided a small and unique sample compared to a “normal” season (side note: I don’t think I can even use that word without quotations anymore). In cases where players performed well outside of their expectations, like J.D. Martinez, the early season can provide an at least somewhat meaningful glimpse as to whether those small sample results are something that can stick.

In this particular case, thankfully, it does appear that J.D. continues to stand for Just Dingers, and while it’s a long season where anything can happen, I feel pretty darn comfortable projecting that it will continue to be true for quite a while longer.

Now let’s see how the other hitters did Sunday:

Cedric Mullins (OF, BAL): 2-4, 2B, 2 R, BB. Back to back multi-hit performances have extended his hitting streak to nine games, and perhaps even more exciting is that he provided some extra base power in each of his last two games and in three of his last four. Even if you accept that he’s been a bit lucky based on his expected batting average and slugging, those stats still suggest he’s been pretty darn good (.312 xBA, .500 xSLG). He should be rostered in all formats right now.

Maikel Franco (3B, BAL): 2-4, HR, 4 RBI, BB. He isn’t quite setting the world on fire like his teammate Mullins, but Franco has limited his strikeouts in the early going and taken a few walks, which is generally what we expect from the 28-year-old stop-gap at the hot corner. Despite a bit of a power surge in 2021, he finds himself on his third team in as many seasons and it’s hard to project any numbers that will provide much value outside of extremely deep leagues.

Gio Urshela (3B, NYY): 4-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI. Urshela continues to be a pleasant surprise in the Bronx, notching his third multi-hit game of the young season. While he currently bats eighth for the Yankees, there’s only so long they can keep Urshela at the bottom of the order if he continues to bat around .300 like he has for the last two seasons and is worth a look in most fantasy formats.

Bryan Reynolds (OF, PIT): 4-5. He raised his batting average from .241 to .324 in a single game—which is a sure sign that the season is still very young. He actually has a hit in all but one of his eight starts and can hopefully provide some strong batting average and passable counting stats as a back-end outfielder in four- and five-outfield formats.

Kyle Seager (3B, SEA): 4-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB. The 11-year veteran logged four hard-hit balls and got on base in all five of his plate appearances. He won’t sustain a high batting average over a full season, but we’ve seen Seager go on hot streaks for several weeks at a time and he could prove to be a useful fill-in if the losses of Josh Bell, Ke’Bryan Hayes, J.D. Davis, or Cody Bellinger have left you with a hole in your corner infield.

Taylor Trammell (OF, SEA): 2-5, HR, 3 RBI. Congrats on his first multi-hit game of his MLB career! The once-heralded prospect is no longer as exciting a name as he once was, but with eight starts already as the starting center fielder in Seattle, we’ve seen at least a few things that suggest he might have fantasy utility in some formats. While he hasn’t stolen a base yet, his speed should get him close to 15 swipes by season’s end (assuming he can get to 120 games or so) and there’s probably double-digit home runs in his bat as well. The strikeouts will make the batting average pretty ugly, but he should take enough walks to keep the OBP from being a negative (I hope).

Mark Canha (OF, OAK): 2-4, 2B, 3B, 2 R. The A’s leadoff man is a little unconventional in that spot considering his lack of speed, but his on-base abilities are obvious and he’s a strong third or fourth outfielder in all formats for the 25 home run pop and plentiful runs scored.

Luis Arraez (2B/3B/OF, MIN): 2-3, 2 R, 2 BB. Unsurprisingly, Arraez has done nothing but hit and get on base, already sporting a .357 batting average and .457 OBP. I am generally not shy about my affection for Arraez, and while the impending return of Josh Donaldson could complicate his playing time, I believe he can still get four starts a week, if not more, between middle infield and left field thanks to his to bat.

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN): 3-4, 2B, HR, 4 RBI. If the “is this Buxton’s breakout” chatter wasn’t loud enough, his three straight multi-hit games should make that question the most talked about issue of the week. It’s a good question, sure, but the better question to me is what the new Buxton actually can do. While we previously had dreams of a 25 home run, 40 stolen base season, this new version of Buxton looks a lot more like a 30-35 home run, 15 stolen base guy. It’s not the speed you hoped for, but it’s one heckuva player.

Travis Shaw (3B, MIL): 2-2, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB. We’ll wait and see if the bruised shin he suffered in Sunday’s game costs him any time, but it’s fun to see the Mayor of Ding Dong City get some playing time and hit some ding dongs. He’s probably not going to do enough to be a staple in 10- and 12-team formats long term (unless it’s an OBP league), but he’s worth streaming if you need some pop.

Brandon Belt (1B, SFG): 1-2, HR, 2 R, 2 BB, SB. If you placed a bet on Belt getting a combo meal, you win all of the money. It’s been a slow start for the oft-injured 11-year veteran, but his on-base skills and predictable success against right-handed pitching should make him a useful part-time option in deep OBP formats and in DFS.

David Peralta (OF, ARZ): 2-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB. Despite the fact he bats fourth, there just doesn’t seem to be enough production here to get excited about outside of NL-only formats. Between his injury history, lackluster power, and limited counting stats, I’m probably avoiding him unless I’m building a DFS lineup and he faces a struggling righty.

Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B, ARZ): 2-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Oh boy, here we go. He’s already hit as many home runs as he did in his 54 games in 2020, but I’m still not ready to suggest that he’ll do anything like he did in his wildly unpredictable 2019 where he smacked 35 home runs and drove in 118 runners. If you are desperate for middle infield, sure, go ahead and stream him, but be ready to cut bait if something better pops up.

Zach McKinstry (OF, LAD): 2-3, 2B, HR, 3 RBI. His profile does not suggest long-term relevance in most leagues, but it’s hard to argue too much with his .314/.342/.629 line through his first 13 games between 2020 and 2021. If you’re in a 15-team league and need to stream a guy with contact ability and a little speed, then this is a decent fallback guy, I guess.

Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL): 2-4, 2B, RBI. The 42.4% strikeout rate is not what anyone had in mind when they bought in during the preseason, but at least the weekend brought back-to-back games with an extra base hit. I’m not panicking on Swanson quite yet, but I’m also not trying to buy low on him, either.

Alec Bohm (3B, PHI): 2-4, 2B, 2 R. While it’s been a bit of a slow start, he has a hit in six of his last seven games and continues to bat in the heart of the Phillies’ order, so keep rolling him out there. His power and plate skills are legitimate and he’s going to do a lot better than he has so far.

Manny Piña (C, MIL): 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB. I’m not sure that this performance will earn Piña any additional time over Omar Narváez, who has been hitting quite well in his own right after a disastrous 2020. Should unfortunate circumstances befall Narváez at some point this season, Piña should return to being a serviceable emergency catcher in two-catcher formats for fantasy purposes until you can find something better.

Want more analysis but also don’t want to do any more reading? Check out the PL Shorts and Hacks & Jacks podcasts, which both dropped today, for more from this writer.

 

Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

  • Avatar J says:

    Trying to figure out who to add in a 10 team OBP league – just as a streaming hitter for this week.

    Maikel Franco, Travis Shaw, Jed Lowrie, or Jorge Polanco?

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      Yo J!

      Short version — I’ll take Shaw. If I miss on Shaw, I’ll take Franco.

      Long Version:

      Shaw is interesting with six home games on the horizon (3 v CHC, 3 v PIT) and his role is locked in for the short term with Kolten Wong hitting the IL. Five of those six games are against right-handed starters, so you’ll likely get five good matchups and one not-so-good one. I think this is the best blend of talent and opportunity for this week.

      If it’s a weekly lineup and/or you want pure volume , Franco has the most games on his upcoming schedule (seven), and he has some nice matchups this week (4 v SEA, 3 @ TEX). He’s the least attractive option here in terms of skills, but I am certain that he’ll play six or seven games, which is one or two more than anyone else (probably).

      I’m not going to consider Lowrie (even though I like his upcoming series against ARZ) or Polanco (who I like in general) because playing time is a concern for this one particular week. Each have six games scheduled, but Lowie isn’t ready to play three games in a row yet and Polanco has to deal with the return of Josh Donaldson and the hot bat of Luis Arraez. I rather like Polanco as a long term add for sure (though he’s better in AVG than OBP), but it sounds like you don’t need that. While I like Polanco as much as Shaw for the whole season, he’ll play at least one (if not two) fewer games this week.

      • Avatar Scott Chu says:

        Oh! But keep an eye on that shin bruise for Shaw. I’m thinking he won’t miss any time, but if he does, it’s all Franco.

  • Avatar keptin_james says:

    Zack McKinstry doesn’t play for the KC Royals. Wrong Blue Team :)

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      Ooof. VERY wrong blue team. I guess I subconsciously assumed that if a blue team was starting some outfielder I had never heard of, it’d be KC!

      Thanks for the heads up!

  • Avatar David says:

    Escobar had a new offseason regimen and showed up in much better shape this year. Maybe not 35 homer shape and yes, the BSOHL thing is a trope, but I’d bet he’s better than 2020.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      Probably! But then again, being better than a 56 wRC+ is not much of a hurdle.

      If he’s more like the 2018 version, he’s a very average player. That’s fine, just not someone I’m watching in 12-teamers.

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