Stalling For Time

Recapping Saturday's biggest offensive performances

Jacob Stallings (C, PIT): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 4 RBI.

Stallings had himself the most clutch night of his young career at home against San Francisco on Saturday night, going 3-5 in Pittsburgh’s dramatic 8-6 win, including a two-run double to tie the game in the seventh inning and a two-run homer in the ninth against Jake McGee for his first career walk-off. All in all, it made for a hilarious 65% win probability added on the evening, with Stallings being responsible for both of the massive upswings towards the Pittsburgh side of this chart:

It was Stallings’ third homer and RBIs 11-15 on the season, and it’s a good excuse to give him a slightly closer look, given the offensive wasteland that is the catcher position these days. Stallings has quietly posted the seventh-most fWAR (2.2) among MLB catchers since the start of last season, nearly dead even with Yasmani Grandal and Willson Contreras despite middling defensive metrics. Power has never been Stallings’ strong suit—he only once broke a .750 OPS in the minor leagues—which is usually a problem when one has one of the slowest sprint speed in the Majors, but he’s managed to lead all catchers with ten doubles thus far in the season, which combined with suddenly-excellent plate discipline (his walk and chase rates are both in the top tenth of the league) is enough for a 129 wRC+ that’s keeping pace with Salvador Pérez and Mike Zunino despite considerably less power.

As of late, Stallings has been batting fourth in Pittsburgh’s brutal lineup, so even though he’s only a cleanup hitter on the worst team in the league, somebody has to drive in runs for the poor Pirates offense. It may as well be Stallings, who at age-31 will sneakily be one of the better catchers in baseball by the end of the season if he keeps this up.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Saturday

Xander Bogaerts (SS, BOS): 2-2, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB.

Picking up right where he left off when I wrote about him in last Sunday’s Batter’s Box, Bogaerts continues to solidify himself as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani‘s early-season MVP race, first doubling down the left-field line with a well-executed “throw the hands out at a curveball and see what happens,” and then launching an absolute moonshot over the Monster to drive in three runs and end Dylan Bundy‘s day. Bogaerts’s walk on Saturday afternoon was just his 13th of the season, and plate discipline is still the one area of his offensive game that hasn’t been fully clicking. But it hasn’t mattered much; he’s now up to a .353 batting line, with a league-leading 53 hits (giving him 303 in total since the start of 2019, third in all of baseball behind Whit Merrifield and DJ LeMahieu) and 13 doubles, keeping him on a 200-hit, 100-RBI pace for the third straight season.

Matt Duffy (CHC): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 5 RBI.

The now 30-year old Duffy is having a bit of a renaissance in 2021, slashing almost perfectly in line with his career averages after two lost seasons due to injury. Duffy was forced into starting third base duty for the Cubs when injuries to Ian Happ and Jake Marisnick forced Kris Bryant back to the outfield, and he continued making a case for staying there on Saturday, notching two barrels and a scorched double down the third baseline to give the Cubs the lead three different times over the course of the game, though it wasn’t enough to secure a win. It was enough, however, for the day’s only five-RBI performance.

Joey Wendle (3B, TB): 4-5, 3 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 SB.

Corey Seager. Freddie Freeman. Mookie Betts. José Abreu. These are all players whose wRC+ is lower than Wendle’s 132. It’s early enough in the season that Wendle’s four-hit game—his first since 2018, and fourth as a big leaguer—was enough to boost his wRC+ fourteen points, up from 118 in the Rays’ 12-5 rout of the Mets. Wendle hustled out an infield single in his first at-bat before stealing a base and doubling in three consecutive plate appearances to conclude the game. Only one of them was hard hit, and only one had an expected batting average over .400, but who’s counting? Wendle is playing close to every day, starting against righties and sometimes against lefties, and while his expected stats aren’t necessarily pretty—he doesn’t hit it very hard—a guy with 90th-percentile sprint speed and good contact ability will have games like this now and then. With regular playing time, Wendle might end up with Whit Merrifield-lite type production, if you squint hard enough.

Yandy Díaz (1B, TB): 3-4, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB.

With each passing week and month and year, the story on Yandy looks increasingly set in stone: hits the ball hard as hell, but just can’t hit it in the air enough to take advantage of it. But when you hit the ball hard, and you have a great batting eye, good things do happen, as evidenced by his three-hit Saturday, only one of which had a launch angle above seven degrees and one of which included a ground ball chopped so hard it bounced off the Tropicana turf right over Francisco Lindor‘s head. The three runs and two RBI are welcome as well—thanks to his slow foot speed and the fact that the large majority of his productive plate appearances end with him on first base, not super conducive to scoring runs. The fact that he likes hitting singles and walking doesn’t do much for RBI production, exit velocity be damned. All in all, Yandy did his part on Saturday, and now boasts a rather extraordinary .282/.410/.340 batting line since the start of 2020, with a downright kooky accumulation of two homers, 24 RBI, 29 runs scored, 50 walks, and 38 strikeouts over 290 plate appearances.

Miguel Sanó (MIN): 1-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI.

Similar to Harold Castro, who we’ll see in a moment, Sanó’s night was notable less for its overall quality than its timing, with his three-run blast in the eighth inning shooting the Twins’ win expectancy from 20% all the way to 84%, the biggest single swing of the night. Perhaps this will help spark Sanó’s otherwise dormant bat, as the big right-hander ended last season with what might have been the worst slump of his career and hasn’t gotten a whole lot better since:

With a 46% whiff rate that’s nearly double the league-average among several other reasons to be seriously worried about Sanó’s drop-off, this may his only appearance in these pages for some time.

Carlos Santana (DH, KC): 2-3, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 SB.

It was a vintage day at the dish for Santana, who walked twice to bring his league-leading total to 33 on the year, against just 26 strikeouts. All in all, Santana is rebounding nicely after the first below-average offensive season in his career in 2020, running a 153 wRC+ that would be the best of his career, and in addition to the walks, he homered for the second consecutive game on Saturday with a 405-foot smash against a cookie José Ruiz fastball, his eighth of the year. Santana has never been much of a star, but maybe it’s time to start giving a little more love to his unusual skillset—since the start of 2015, Joey Votto is the only other major leaguer with more than 100 home runs and more walks than strikeouts:

Carlos Correa (SS, HOU): 2-3, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB.

Correa was one of several Astros to have a big day, splitting six RBI evenly with Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker on the way to Houston’s fifth straight win and eighth in ten tries. Correa has slumped badly in May, slashing just .167/.273/.313, but he may have put an end to that this weekend, smoking both a homer and double each at 102 MPH against Dane Dunning and Hunter Wood respectively, scoring in both instances and drawing a walk, his fourteenth of the year. He barely has his batting average above .250, but there’s little doubt that Correa is healthy and as good as ever. His plate discipline numbers are creeping back in the right direction after a concerning 2020, running an 8.8% K-BB that’s his best since 2017 along with a Statcast page that most would be jealous of:

Joey Gallo (RF, TEX): 3-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI.

Just Gallo doing Gallo things, torching a single at 113 MPH and lining a laser at 106 MPH that left the yard for his seventh home run and 19th, 20th, and 21st RBI on the season in the Rangers’ 6-5 defeat at Houston’s hands. Gallo has been frustrating this season, rebounding somewhat from a brutal 2020 but looking more like the solid-average but flawed corner power bat we saw in 2017 and 2018 rather than the MVP-caliber center fielder we briefly saw in his injury-shortened 2019. He’s pulling the ball just 39% of the time, easily a career-low, and he’s hitting it on the ground 47% of the team, which is far and away a career-high. Overall, those aren’t the kinds of trends that bode well for hitters, especially ones that walk such a fine line when it comes to the power/strikeout tradeoff. Even more concerning, the extent to which he’s putting the ball on the ground is close to uncharted territory, save for another blip at the beginning of that 2019 season:

This blurb has mostly been an exercise in concern about Joey Gallo, but he had his A-swing on Saturday; if he starts to get it off a little more often, we’ll be seeing him here again quite a bit soon.

Tyler Wade (SS, NYY): 3-4, 1 R.

It’s not easy to play in New York, and it’s not easy to play for the Yankees. It’s especially difficult to play for the Yankees when one continues to receive playing time despite a career wRC+ of 57, as Tyler Wade has been doing as of late. It’s through no moral flaw of his that he can’t hit well enough to please fans in the Bronx, but that being the case, it’s simply become his burden to be one of the most hilariously, intensely disliked Yankees of recent memory. So for all the heat he gets, he deserves to be highlighted when he does play well as he did in registering just his second career three-hit game on Saturday, and his first since 2019. The bigger stars may steal the headlines, and deservedly so—Aaron Judge also notched two hits, including his team-best 11th bomb on the season, and Luke Voit picked up his first two hits and RBI of the 2021 season in his third game back. But today, we celebrate Tyler Wade and his three-hit game, which are few and far between enough that they ought to be savored.

Eduardo Escobar (3B, ARI): 3-5, 2 HR, 3 R, 7 RBI.

The only multi-homer effort of the night came in the desert, as Escobar, whose batting average remains similar to last year’s disappointing effort (.213 vs. 212) but seems to be rediscovering his power stroke as of late. He opened his night with a first-inning go-ahead two-run single and never looked back, with his ninth career multi-homer game and second career seven-RBI game lifting his totals to nine and 27 through 39 games, both easily surpassing last season’s 54-game totals. It may, however, be coming at the expense of plate discipline, which was already not a strong suit of Escobar’s. His career-high .385 xwOBACON and 34% hard-hit rate despite subpar walk and strikeout rates tell us that the power is certainly still there, but he probably isn’t the complete, All-Star-caliber infielder we saw in 2019.

Max Muncy (2B, LAD): 3-4, 1 R, 1 RBI.

Meanwhile, Muncy (sounds like a band name) is not someone who’s typically struggled with plate discipline—his chase rate is only the best in the league right now—and he continued leveraging it into a potential career year on Saturday, with three hits bringing his league-leading OBP to .417 without adding to his also-league best 36 walks. Muncy is now slashing .342/.479/.763 for the month of May along with five bombs, displaying what happens when you mix outstanding plate discipline with hard contact ability, and though the Dodgers did most of their work yesterday by dinking and dunking the Marlins to death—one of Muncy’s hits was a sub-70 MPH flare—Muncy was one of the exceptions, outputting two of the game’s five highest exit velocities.

Nick Castellanos (RF, CIN): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB.

To answer the question you might have: yes, it was a drive to deep left field. Castellanos was one of six players to record three batted balls of 100+ MPH on Saturday, and the last of them was a big one, giving Cincinnati a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th that they wouldn’t relinquish. Castellanos is now tied for second in the National League with 10 HR and 21 extra-base hits, giving him a league-best 76 total bases on the season. If he keeps picturing Rob Manfred’s face on the front of the ball, good things will keep happening!

Austin Nola (1B, SD): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 6 RBI.

Saturday was a rare-ish night in which the older Nola outshined the one pitching in Philadelphia, as Austin accounted for nearly half of San Diego’s 13 runs in their rout of the Cardinals. Nola is off to a slow start to 2021 after missing the first month of the season with a fractured hand, and he picked up his first barrel of the year yesterday after 11 games, drilling a hung changeup from Adam Wainwright over the right-field fence for a line drive three-run shot. With half of the Padres lineup seemingly on the IL, they’ll be relying on Nola to shoulder more of the offensive load than usual in the coming week or two, potentially justifying—or not!—the steep price A.J. Preller paid to acquire him nearly a year ago.

William Contreras (C, ATL): 2-3, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB.

Over in Milwaukee, it was the younger of two big-league siblings who stole the show on Saturday, with the littler Contreras mashing his third homer of the season in just his 34th plate appearance in Atlanta’s 5-1 win over the Brewers. Contreras joined Castellanos, Manny Machado, Ozzie Albies, José Abreu, and (checks notes) Chad Pinder in the “three batted balls over 100 MPH club” on Saturday (the strong suit of this club is hitting dingers, not names), and with this strong start to his career, he has a shot to push Travis d’Arnaud back to bench/first base duty when he returns later in the season. With Jeff Mathis as the team’s primary backup at the moment, Contreras is sure to get a lot of opportunities to stick in the big leagues in the coming weeks and months.

Harold Castro (SS, DET): 1-6, 2 RBI.

With two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning and the game tied at eight, there had already been 24 hits in the stomach-churning, back-and-forth fright fest of bad pitching. Harold Castro had none of those hits. On the mound was a rejuvenated Craig Kimbrel, who, along with the aforementioned Duffy and Kris Bryant has been one of few bright spots for a Cubs team that seems to want to rebuild much more than its players do. Entering Saturday, Kimbrel had allowed just five hits in 15 IP on the season, with 24 strikeouts on top of it. It’s vintage Kimbrel. But it was hitless Harold Castro‘s sixth at-bat that mattered the most in the game, somehow keeping his hands inside on a 98 MPH heater and getting the barrel on the ball, shooting it to left field—93% hit probability; not as much of a cheapie as it might look—with just the right combination of speed and distance to get the fleet-footed JaCoby Jones home with the winning run. Rock on, Harold.

 

Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Zach Hayes

Based on the South Side of Chicago, Zach is a graduate student focusing on sports, politics, and culture, while contributing baseball analysis at Pitcher List. Follow Zach on Twitter (@pinetarkeyboard) at your own risk.

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