Hello, again. Time to wrap this baby on up with the NL East. I don’t know what else to write here that I haven’t in the other two pieces. Check out the NL West Edition and the NL Central Edition if you haven’t already.
Just made myself another old fashioned, the wife is reading, and the kiddo is asleep. Let’s do it to it.
Probably not gonna surprise anyone with this pick: Austin Riley. Riley was having himself a very nice spring, but so was Johan Camargo, his competition at third. Now the DH solves all that – let the slugging prospect, well, slug. Camargo is the better glove, so there you go.
Riley showed glimpses of serious power last season, bashing 18 homers in only 80 games. My lazy and mathematically-challenged brain would double that to 36 HR in 160 games just to give a very rough idea of what we’re looking at. Of course, that’s not sound fantasy advice nor very accurate given those were his first 80 games ever in the majors. We gotta look deeper. Deep dives are king! I’m no expert delver, but let’s give this a shot anyway. He slashed .226/.279/.471 with Atlanta, but hit for a much better average all through the minors. I know that’s not very telling, but I like to at least see if someone has shown ability to hit for average somewhere, sometime. The power last season was nuts – 127 games total and 33 homers. Looking at just his AAA numbers, in 2018 he hit 12 HR in 324 PAs, but launched 15 HR in just 194 PAs last year. Then came up to the bigs and hit 18 more. That’s quite the progression in just a year’s time. His isolated power was .182 in AAA in 2018, which is pretty solid (.200 is the baseline for “great” according to FanGraphs, though it fluctuates a little relative to league averages in a given year). Anyway, his ISO spiked to .333 in 2019, which is off-the-charts good. Yes, we’re judging these numbers off fewer PAs than FanGraphs recommends, but whatever. You can see the power is there. Riley did his best Aristides Aquino when getting the call last season, slashing .324/.368/.732 with nine homers and 25 RBI in his first 18 games. Buuut in his final 62 games, he had almost the exact same production (nine HR, 24 RBI) and a yucky, yucky slash (.192/.249/.379).
The 2019 AAA Riley struck out 20.1% of the time (his best anywhere) and walked 10.3% of the time; but alas, 2019 MLB Riley struck out 36.4% of the time and walked only 5.4% of the time. He still managed a .245 ISO in the majors, which is very damn good, but the rest of his offensive metrics definitely took a nose dive as the year went on. The batted ball metrics are great: 13.7% barrel rate, 44.6% hard-hit rate, and a 20.6-degree launch angle. Riley had 7.7% barrels per plate appearance, which would be top 50 in the league if he qualified. Better than Ketel Marte, Rafael Devers, Gleyber Torres, Max Muncy, and like a ton others, of course. Those are just some big fantasy studs that stood out.
I think you all get the picture. Riley has the chops to be a fantasy force as is, but he’s got improvements he needs to make. If a pitch is in the zone, dude swings like every time (okay, 80.5%) but also chased almost 38% of the time. If he can keep barreling balls and show some more patience, then whoa nelly. They’ve got Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, and now this guy?!
These bad teams have kinda grown on me. First the piss-poor Giants, next the slightly-less-piss-poor Pirates, and now the once-again-piss-poor Marlins. They’re really testing my mettle trying to find a bat worth writing about. I’m just diving in here, from the high jump: Jon Berti. His playing time wasn’t locked in this season, but now they’ve got little excuse not to let Super Utility Man do his thang. I’m actually a Berti fan because I have a weird soft spot for weak-hitting speedsters, and I really like him for fantasy now with a DH.
We can go ahead and skip all the fancy deep dive talk. There’s nothing worth mentioning overmuch (that’s definitely the old fashioneds and English teacher in me talking, but that’s a word we need to see more often). Statcast only has sprint speed percentiles on him (98th). But just dig back through the minors stats and you’ll see very few homers, some other XBH, and well, that’s about it. There’s just zero power to be had. The beautiful thing about Berti for fantasy is you can play him just about anywhere (3B/SS/OF) and get a solid average, probably a good OBP, and a lot of steals. Sorry, but not many runs when you play for the Marlames (that one was just the old fashioneds talking) even though he fits the bill for top-of-the-order run-scorer. Berti is one of those guys who is better utilized the more hardcore of a fantasy player you are – if you set your lineup every single day like you should be doing, then you’re gonna have a lot of slots he can fill. Even more so if you’re in a league with CI/MI, since he hits both of those as well. Berti slashed .284/.356/.416 post-All-Star break, so there’s that, but he really didn’t see regular playing time until August and September, so that’s almost entirely where that slash line comes from (there’s only a point or two difference in each). But the dude stole bookoos of bases throughout the minors and had 17 swipes in just 287 PAs. I would wager he’s capable of 40 steals if given an everyday role in a full season, but that’s obviously not going to happen this year. Let’s say 20-25 if we get 100 games (looking more like something in the 80-82 range now)
Who else do the Marlins have worth watching? Maybe they keep Berti as an under-utilized Swiss Army knife and instead DH Jesus Aguilar, allowing Lewin Diaz to play first base. Garrett Cooper could also get looks. But I dunno, those guys don’t terribly excite me. I just see better fantasy options for those two, but there aren’t a lot of base stealers in baseball anymore, so Berti would really be a nice get if he does in fact see the most usage.
New York Mets
Twofold boost here: J.D. Davis and Yoenis Cespedes. The biggest fantasy boost is Davis, since he now has a guaranteed everyday spot in my mind. I feel like Cespedes was always gonna get his shot, since he should be healthy and he makes that paycheck and all, but now it’s all but set in stone that both he and Davis get at-bats regularly.
Davis was lowkey one of the very best hitters in baseball last year. He was at least 90th percentile in the following metrics: xBA (97th), exit velocity (90th), hard-hit percent (91st), xSLG (91st), and xwOBA (92nd). For funsies, I’ll add that he was 80th in barrel percentage. He swings and misses quite a bit, strikes out a fair amount, but I don’t care if he’s giving me those other percentiles. In 140 games, he hit 22 homers and 22 doubles while slashing .307/.369/.527. He posted 21 wRAA, which, for reference, falls in the “Great” range on FanGraphs. What’s his ADP, you ask? Just a cool 172.27 on NFBC. With those kinds of metrics, an everyday role should easily help him surpass that mark in terms of value. And he’s eligible at 3B and OF. As for Cespedes, we can only go off what he’s done in the past, but that’s a little murky given the injuries that have kept him away from the game for so long. Will those busted ankles let him step into his power like in the days of old? We’ll see. But if he’s anything like he was, he’ll be one of the better fantasy OFs out there. He’ll hit for average, get on base, mash homers, and drive in runs. The year 2016 was the last time he was able to give us good Statcast data, and it was hella good. Upper-echelon type stuff in all the areas a fantasy owner cares about. Even in 2017 and 2018 he showed he still had it with similar batted-ball metrics for the most part. It’s all just whether he’ll be able to do it again. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, especially if he DHs and isn’t running on those glass feet out in the field.
But mark my words, J.D. Davis will be a fantasy stud in 2020. Good lineup around him and should have every chance to build on that stellar 2019 season.
Got another pair here that should see a spike in usage: Jay Bruce and Alec Bohm. Bruce seemed like he was set to be the odd man out in the outfield assuming the recovery of Andrew McCutchen. Bohm would have been in AAA at least to start, but was always gonna get the call at some point in 2020. Now he should have a chance to play a good chunk of the time, if not every day. He can man first or third, so the Phillies have some different ways they can slot him in.
I’ll start with Bruce. The power is still very real even though he’s entering his age 33 season. Hitting 26 homers is nothing to scoff at, but when you see he did it in only 333 PAs, that should raise your eyebrows. That’s a homer every 12.8 times he stepped into the box. I like to pace things out cuz it’s fun – if we gave him 600 PAs last season, it rounds up to 47 homers. I know pacing isn’t sexy anymore, so here are some metrics that stand out to me. Barrel rate: 13.4%. Nice. Exit velocity: 90mph (his best in the Statcast era). Nice. Isolated power: .306. NICE. Batting average on balls in play: .200. Not nice, but that’s waaay below his career trends, so that at least encourages the idea of possibly maybe some batting average improvements in the future. To me, Bruce can still contribute in fantasy, but the batting average won’t ever be there. If nothing else, he’s a great DFS target (I assume he’d be cheap, cuz once again, I never have DFSed and probably never will).
Now on to young Mr. Bohm. I’m not going to get into all the intricacies and nuances of what might happen with service time and all that. It’s still up in the air. The damn season is still up in the air. So I’m just gonna assume he’s on the roster from the start. First things first, though, I’m wary of someone who’s never seen AAA pitching. Bohm is absolutely worth a late flier and could pay huge dividends, just don’t go reaching for him. And it’s not like many people are – his ADP on NFBC is pushing 600, but someone out there took him at #175 on there. I hope that was a dynasty league. It’s going to be quite the adjustment from AA to the big leagues, especially when you consider pitchers may be giving just that much more umph into each pitch since there’s really no need to try to conserve your arm throughout a season. I saw an interesting report somewhere – I forget or I’d link it, but trust me it was legit – but guys who throw a lot of fastballs had their average velocities spike in August and September because of the “end is in sight” theory. Time to just let ‘er rip. We might have that kind of mentality from pitchers from the outset.
Bohm’s scouting report doesn’t blow me away, but sure it’s pretty solid: 50/60-grade hit tool, 45/55 game power, 60/60 raw power, below-average speed and fielding, 60/60 arm. Minors numbers on the surface look great, but most of it comes from the low ranks and with small samples. I am impressed by the fact he maintained a low strikeout rate and good walk rate even up in Double-A. Look, I haven’t watched film on the guy. Prospects aren’t my main cup of tea, I let the prospects writers around here and elsewhere do that legwork. I’m just saying I don’t fully understand the hype on this kid based on what I’m seeing, and I don’t think it’s wise to expect he turns into a good MLB hiiter just yet, even after a hot start in Spring Training (quality of competition was very low, mind you – another knock against the hype).
I’m ready to trust Jay Bruce more than Bohm at this point, but you do you. Both should see time with this DH thing.
How fitting that we close out this series with the defending World Series champions. What a story that was. I’m not even that bummed they steamrolled my Cardinals in the process, because honestly I felt we had no business being in the playoffs anyway. And I just can’t help but be happy for a franchise when it gets its first title.
The Nationals have kind of a three-headed monster that was expected to share first base – Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, and Eric Thames. Now, all three are set to see even more time with another spot in the batting order there for the taking. All three are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning but can still swing a bat, so the DH is the perfect opportunity for these fellas.
Zimmerman seemed to take a step back last year, but he battled foot injuries off and on. The 2018 Statcast numbers were impressive – good barrel rate, hit the ball hard over half the time (!), expected metrics were very good as well. Those numbers proved that his renaissance 2017 season was no fluke. He fell back some in 2019, but still maintained a very healthy 49.3% hard-hit rate and 91.4 exit velocity. He struck out a little more and his xBA fell by about 30 points. All that said, Zim should provide some good power numbers when he plays. Maybe even a pretty solid average.
Eric Thames is definitely the least exciting of the three for fantasy purposes, but that doesn’t mean he’s a total scrub. He should get the homers and RBI opportunities playing for the Nats, but he’s kinda like Bruce in the sense that’s about all there is to look for. Thames strikes out a little too much but draws enough walks that the OBP shouldn’t be too bad – he sported a .346 OBP last season, which was nice to see after a pretty bad 2018 campaign. 2019 Thames looked much more like 2017 Thames, and some of the metrics were even better, like EV, LA, and HH%. I wouldn’t get overly anxious to roster the guy, since I think Zim and Kendrick get the majority of looks, but maybe they find more creative ways to get Kendrick in there and it’s more Zim and Thames taking turns at 1B/DH. I dunno.
Howie Kendrick is a whole different story. This guy just gets better, y’all. I’m about to blow you away with his Statcast percentiles if you haven’t seen them already: 98th for EV, 94th for HH%, 98th for xwOBA, 100th (!!!) for xBA, 98th for xSLG, 80th for barrel rate, 91st for K%, and 89th for whiff%. So basically he’s the best hitter in baseball. Not really, but can you really ask for anything more from a guy? He mashes the ball and hits for average and doesn’t swing and miss. The only thing he could stand to do a little more often is draw a walk, but I don’t give three crusty boogers about that if he’s giving me all that other goodness. I would imagine the Nats will do all they can to make sure his bat is in the lineup every single day. I sure as hell would. He can play first, second, third, or even the outfield if needed; he’s done em all before. As for fantasy, he’s eligible at least at 1B/2B everywhere but also has 3B in Yahoo. But if DH is what has to happen more often then not, so be it. All I know is of these three, Kendrick is easily the guy I’m going after. Love the bat and love the roster versatility. Can’t believe his ADP is around 415th.
Alrighty, my dudes and dudettes, that’s all she wrote on this one. Again, be sure to check out the links to the other two NL division pieces up in the intro if you haven’t given them a look-see. Until next time, stay safe out there. Try to enjoy some KBO baseball in the meantime and tell yourself MLB action will be here soon!
Find me on Twitter (@jkj0787). DMs always open for whatever you want to throw at me. Except nasty pics.