Christian Walker (ARI): 3-7, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB.
Christian Walker had a breakout year as a 28-year-old in 2019. He hit 29 home runs, slashing .259/.348/.476 over 603 plate appearances. He maintained somewhat similar success during the shortened 2020 season as well. Last season, Walker struggled throughout. He missed some time early due to an oblique injury which may have been a season-long culprit. Regardless, his production and underlying stats fell off (a 41.1% hard hit rate compared to over 48% the previous two years). And now in his first 145 plate appearances in 2022, he looks back, healthier and more productive than before.
In yesterday’s doubleheader with the Dodgers, Walker slugged two home runs—one a 400-footer, and the other 395 to finish 3-7 with two HR, two runs scored, three RBI, and a walk. He now has three home runs in as many games and is up to nine on the season. His hard hit rate is at a career high 49% and already has a max exit velocity of 112.1 (almost as high as his 2019 max). He walks 11% of the time while striking out about 20% (both essentially career bests). Walker is being notably more patient. His swing rate has dropped from 53.7% last year to 42.9% this year. His O-Swing is a measly 23.8% (about the same as Mike Trout and Seiya Suzuki). While he isn’t making as much contact on pitches out of the zone, he is barely missing strikes, making contact on those 88.9% of the time (up over six percentage points from his career).
You may be a bit nervous about that batting average; .219 is low, but offense is down in general this year, and his BABIP is .213 (something that should come up with how well he is hitting the ball). His line drive rate is a paltry 14.3% (it has never been below 20% since the 2019 breakout).
Walker looks like he has changed his approach at the plate quite a bit to his benefit. He is crushing the ball and is starting to see better results. He is a worthy addition if hunting for a first baseman.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Tuesday:
Aaron Judge (NYY): 4-5, 2B, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
Your home run leader crushed two homers both over 410 feet, one at 112.2 MPH. He had four total hits over 100 MPH. Judge is having quite a walk year and there is nothing that is standing in his way. His hard hit rate is an absurd 65.6% with a 25.8% barrel rate. Scarily, his ground ball rate is higher than any previous season so far, so if he starts hitting his usual amount of line drives watch out. Lastly, his HR/FB rate is at 38.9% (over 10 points higher than last year) and with what is happening with this ball, this may be unsustainable.
Kyle Tucker (HOU): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 6 RBI.
Tucker added a pair of home runs, bringing his total up to seven on the season. He seems well on his way to a 20/20 season as he is already at eight steals (over half of last year). Despite the .252 average, his OBP is almost identical to last season’s. His walk rate is over 13%. He is still frustratingly hitting either fifth or sixth in the batting order.
Yuli Gurriel (HOU): 2-5, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI.
Gurriel has always been a contact hitter, striking out just 11% of the time over his career. However, his K rate is up a few ticks this year at 14% while his walk rate is below four percent. He hasn’t been hitting the ball as hard (35.6%) and isn’t barreling the ball at all (2.9%). With that, his average is down significantly at .248. A lot of his fantasy value rides on him being a near .300 hitter, and right now he is swinging more and missing more at pitches out of the zone which is an issue for him.
Jonathan Villar (CHC): 2-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB, SB.
Villar stole only his second base of the year yesterday while adding his first homer of the season. He can hit a decent amount of dingers, possibly pushing 20 as long as he gets plate appearances, but steals have been his strong suit. Last year they dipped a bit with the Mets, stealing 14 bags in 505 plate appearances, while in the shortened 2020 season he stole 16 in 207. It seems like his age may be catching up to him. If these steals don’t come, his value is shot.
Tyler Naquin (CIN): 2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI, SB.
Naquin added a combo meal last night with his third homer and stolen base on the year. The one RBI pushed his total to a surprising 20 for the season, which I think is all of the Reds’ total RBIs. He is striking out a bit more than his last season, pushing the rate a bit too close to 30%. He isn’t hitting many grounders though, with a rate of 36.6%—it’s the first season he’s had it below 40%. In a weak Reds lineup, it is hard to see much value in Naquin.
Paul Goldschmidt (STL): 4-9, 2 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
Goldschmidt filled out the stat sheet across the two games against the Mets yesterday. He had three extra-base hits including a 385-foot homer. His 49.5% hard hit rate is a solid continuation of his successful 2021 season where he finished with a 138 wRC+. So far this year he is slashing .321/.397/.530 for a 168 wRC+ with five homers and even three steals. Despite the similar fly ball and hard hit rates to last season, his barrel rate has nearly been cut in half. I wouldn’t be surprised if that rose over the course of the year if everything else stayed the same.
Michael Brantley (HOU): 2-5, HR, R, 3 RBI.
Brantley is having another standard Brantley year. He is hitting .286 with a .308 BABIP, both a bit lower than usual, but he is striking out only 11.3% of the time while walking 9.2%. He added his third homer last night while hitting second in the stacked Astros lineup. He has hit safely in each his last seven games and 11 of his last 12. He is a hitting machine and is spending plenty of time DHing so he’ll get plenty of plate appearances.
Randy Arozarena (TB): 1-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Arozarena is off to a tough start. This home run was only his second on the year while he is slashing just .230/.270/.360. His walk rate is below five percent as well. At least he has stolen six bases. A couple of things are off with Arozarena. First, his ground ball rate is at 56.4%. Last year it hovered around 50 but this is worse, especially with the 21.8% fly ball rate. Additionally, his hard hit rate is 36.6% down from last year’s 42%. He still has a max EV of 114.1 (his hardest hit ball is this season) so there may be hope yet.
Mike Yastrzemski (SF): 3-4, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB.
Yaz had three hits over 100 MPH yesterday, smoking the ball all game. He missed some time in late April and early May with COVID but he’s been red hot while playing. He is slashing .281/.371/.438 on the year with three homers and five doubles across 105 plate appearances. He is striking out only 17.1% of the time, down from about 25% on his career. He is swinging a bit less but most notably his zone contact rate is up ten percentage points from last season to 94.1%.
Tommy La Stella (SF): 3-5, 2 2B, HR, R, RBI, BB.
In La Stella’s first start of the season, he provided. He crushed a 464-bomb while also adding two 100 MPH doubles. He had missed the start of the year due to issues with his Achilles post-surgery. La Stella has never been an everyday player and on the Giants, I can’t see that changing.
Royce Lewis (MIN): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, RBI.
Lewis has began his career nicely in Minnesota, slashing .308/.325/.564 in 40 plate appearances. He added his second homer on the season, just a 362-footer but he did have a 111.7 MPH double. That 12.5% K rate is looking good too. He’s been hitting much lower in the order but I feel like that could change soon. While he was just sent back down to Triple-A to make room for Carlos Correa returning from the IL, he’ll be back at some point this season and when he is, he should be rostered in most leagues.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)