Separating the Whit from the Chaff

Dylan Burris takes a look at Monday's biggest hitting performances.

Whit Merrifield (KC): 3-5, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI.

It’s been a bit of a down year for Whit Merrifield, but yesterday’s performance (3-5 with a double, triple, and three RBI) gave us a reminder of what he can do.

The Royals’ second baseman has been unable to provide much power this season, compiling his lowest SLG since his rookie season back in 2016, resulting in a sub-100 wRC+ for the first time since the same period. Otherwise, he’s been remarkably on track. He’s batting .282 on the year but over .300 since the All-Star break. He remains near the top of the league in K% and Whiff% (in a good way), is right in line with his career walk rate just over 6%, and, most importantly for fantasy managers, is continuing to steal bases, though he has ceded the MLB lead to Starling Marte.

There’s nothing drastic to point to in regards to the power dropoff, and we shouldn’t pretend like power was a huge part of his game prior to this season. When you have one of the lower Hard-Hit rates in the league, you have to make every hard-hit ball count—and Merrifield has the highest groundball rate since his rookie year. Hard to hit a ball over or near the fence if you keep slapping it into the ground.

But honestly, so what? Whit may barely crack double-digit homers this season, but you didn’t draft him for his power, anyway. He’s continuing to put the ball in play and collect hits, and most importantly is absolutely demolishing the stolen base race with Marte—Whit’s second-place of 37 bags is a full 13 bases ahead of third-place Trea Turner. He’ll keep getting on base and keep stealing them—and that’s what really matters. Any home runs from here on out are just gravy.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:

Ian Happ (CHC): 3-3, 2 2B, R, BB.

This year has been truly abysmal for Ian Happ with a slash line of .195/.301/.361, but I’m still a believer. He’s continuing to walk at an elite rate and has some power in his swing if he makes contact—but this year that’s been a mighty big “if.” Aside from the strikeout problem (which isn’t going anywhere, even if he’s playing well), he’s just struggling to make good contact. The dropoff has been so sudden and stark that I have a hard time believing there isn’t a possible fix. I just don’t think it’s going to be this year. He could be a solid sleeper for next year’s draft, though.

Rafael Ortega (CHC): 1-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.

The Cubs’ new leadoff man has settled into his role nicely, slashing .345/.406/.552 with a 156 wRC+ since the All-Star break. He’s chipped in five homers and five stolen bases in that time, including last night’s walk-off shot. He’s a nice cheap source of production the rest of the way, though his power numbers are heavily skewed by a three-homer game.

Salvador Perez (KC): 2-3, HR, R, RBI, 2 BB.

Perez has been on fire since the All-Star break, smashing 12 home runs in that time with a .274/.338/.589 slash line. He’s also more than doubled his walks on the season during the second half. He’ll remain an elite catcher option in fantasy the rest of the way.

C.J. Cron (COL): 3-4, 2B, R.

One of the fantasy community’s favorite sleepers heading into the season, the Rockies slugger was slow to get going but has been dynamite in the second half. In August alone, he’s slashing .418/.494/.836 (yes that’s his SLG) with seven home runs and almost as many walks as strikeouts. It may not matter much for the Rockies, but he’s likely carrying quite a few fantasy teams down the stretch.

Yoshi Tsutsugo (PIT): 1-1, HR, R, RBI.

I know, I know. But Dylan, you say, I’ve been burned before. Hear me out: I’m not saying to go grab him. But in seven games since joining Pittsburgh, Tsutsugo has hit three home runs (including last night’s pinch-hit bomb) along with a pair of doubles, good for a .944 SLG. The strikeouts aren’t going anywhere, but if he’s able to consistently make contact against major-league pitching… look, all I’m saying is he was a five-time All Star in Japan and set records for his slugging prowess. And he’s only 29.

Matt Olson (OAK): 2-4, HR, R, RBI, SB.

Matt Olson’s dominant season just keeps chugging along. He’s up to 32 home runs on the year and he’s made enormous strides at the plate, cutting his career strikeout rate a full 10 points from 26% to just 16% this season. If that holds, Olson will have truly made the next step into the elite tier of hitters. Also, he stole a base! That’s neat.

Emmanuel Rivera (KC): 3-4, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI.

The rookie has settled into the everyday 3B spot for the Royals, hitting .286 during that time with a homer and a stolen base. It’s hard to get too excited about anyone batting in the bottom third of the lineup for a team hovering around .450, and Rivera hasn’t really amazed in his first shot at everyday at-bats. Without more production from his bat, he may not stick around in KC, but he has enough offensive pedigree to keep an eye on for the time being.

Travis Shaw (BOS): 1-2, HR, R, 4 RBI.

Shaw only had one hit yesterday but he made it count, blasting a walk-off grand slam off Dennis Santana in the 11th. Shaw is unlikely to be fantasy-relevant this season, but walk-off grand slams are pretty awesome, right?

Alex Verdugo (BOS): 3-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.

After impressing in his first (albeit abbreviated) season as an everyday player in Boston, Verdugo has taken a small step backward this season. He’s been by no means bad, but for a guy with limited power and speed, he’s only hitting .282, though with impressive walk/strikeout rates. He won’t hurt your fantasy team, but he isn’t contributing in the way you’d really want. It seems last year might have been a bit of small sample size syndrome, and this is the real Verdugo.

Giancarlo Stanton (NYY): 2-3, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI.

If you’re reading Twitter, you’d think Giancarlo Stanton was hitting below the Mendoza line. Instead, he’s slashing an impressive .267/.368/.476 with 21 home runs and the lowest strikeout rate since his 2017 MVP season. He’ll continue to be one of the best offensive hitters in the league.

 

Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Dylan Burris

Dylan has been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan since 2015. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he devotes most of his non-baseball attention to college basketball.

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