Here we are with the second installment of our weekly Streaking piece, where I look into the best and worst performances of the past week. I’ll be looking at games that were played within the July 29 – August 4 time frame. While some of the names here are those we expected, there are others that are quite surprising, both good and bad. For specific clarification on what constitutes a hot and cold streak, have a read here.
Let’s do this.
Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot
Aaron Judge: 9 of 23 – .391, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 10 R
Aaron Judge is playing on rookie mode to start this season
SIX home runs already to start 2020 as the Yankees move to 7-1!
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) August 3, 2020
Aaron Judge had himself a week. After doing his best Gleyber Torres impression against the Orioles, he feasted on the weak pitching of the Red Sox over the weekend, including the moonshot he hit in the above video to give the Yankees the lead late. He is in a zone, he is on fire and he has helped the Yankees jump out to an MLB best 7-1 record to begin the year.
So far in 2020, Judge’s aggressiveness has improved and paid off. He is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone (74.3% now, 68.1% in 2019), his barrel rate is up to 21.7% and his Flare/Burner rate has nearly doubled, now at 34.8%. What that all means is that he is healthy, therefore he is swinging with more confidence and at a harder rate. As a result, those hits are either square-on and hit hard or have enough exit velocity to find their way to the outfield, hence the drastic batting average uptick.
Outlook: Much like Stanton last week, Judge’s future depends solely on his health. Injuries aside, he is an elite power source with the bat, and should be started week in and week out with confidence. Much like a slow cooker, you can leave him to sizzle in your lineup – set it and forget it. Despite looking fully healed from the stress fracture in his rib from the off season, he’s seen himself on the Injured List multiple times over his short career, so injuries could happen at any time.
He travels to Tampa Bay this weekend, where he sports a career .188 average over 94 plate appearances, compiling 35 strikeouts in that time. For perspective, last week, he homered off of Asher Wojciechowski, Cole Susler, Ryan Weber, Zack Godley, Matt Hall and Matt Barnes. This week, he gets to face one of the best rotations in baseball paired with one of the best bullpens in baseball, in a stadium where he’s struggled in the past. Expectations should be tempered a bit, though if anyone has the bat to break through, it’s a healthy Judge.
Donovan Solano – 12 of 26, .462, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 4 R
— All Sports Culture (@AllSportCulture) July 30, 2020
Raise your hand if you drafted Donovan Solano. Not many of you, I bet, because he came into the season with a 749 ADP. Considered to be the backup to Mauricio Dubon heading into the year, Solano came out swinging and had himself the week of his life, pounding out 11 hits in a pitcher-friendly ballpark against two teams with good pitching staffs. Judging by his past numbers, this is definitely out of the ordinary.
In fact, I’d be more inclined to say that he’s been lucky thus far. He’s swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone and making less contact than he did in 2019 when he had increased opportunities to play. He’s also swinging less at pitches inside of the strike zone and making less frequent contact with them. Finally, he has a higher rate of swings and misses this year, which shows me that if these trends continue, there will be some massive regression.
Outlook: With no real track record of success for most of his career, Solano, now 32, does get to finish off a four-game series at Coors this week, where he should continue the streak. However, that is followed by a weekend tilt at the Dodgers, then a series at Houston before coming home to face Oakland. Those are three legitimate contenders with bona fide staffs to boot. There is a slight chance he keeps this up (.330 batting average over 228 plate appearances for the Giants in 2019), but something tells me the Fairy Godmother is on her way to Los Angeles where the clock strikes midnight for Solano against the Dodgers.
Nick Castellanos – 8 of 20, .400, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 7 R
Despite playing only a handful of games this week, Castellanos looked incredible, as he’s made our own Mike Carter look good on his Dark Horse MVP pick. Going back further into the season, he’s had at least one hit in every game played, is hitting the ball hard and could have been even better with a little luck. In fact, going back throughout his career, perhaps we should have seen this coming.
In 2020 thus far, he has increased his line drive rate to 46.4%, he’s lowered his ground ball rate to 28.6%, he’s doubled his barrel rate to 28.6% and is pulling the ball more. His increased patience at the plate (9.3% walk rate) is anchored by the fact that he’s waiting for his pitch. His O-Zone swing rate of 35.7% is down significantly from his 2019 totals, as he lets pitchers pitch to him, not around him. All in all, he’s been a smarter batter who is taking control of his at bats and making the most of them.
Outlook: Castellanos has been crushing fastballs to the tune of .417 and four home runs this season. He hammered one on the inside part of the plate off of Shane Bieber just last night. Thus far he’s gone up against the pitching of the Cubs and the Tigers (twice). While he will be facing some elite pitching when he finishes up against the Indians and then the Brewers, the next few series after that versus the Royals and Pirates look to be prime opportunities to take advantage of weaker opponents. While there should be some regression to the norm, it looks like he’s taken the next step forward in his progression. That said, he’s always been one to hit the ball hard, even against the breaking pitches. Look for his ascension to continue, making our own Mike Carter looking even smarter than he already is.
Christian Vazquez: 7 of 24, .292, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R
Christian Vázquez has hit 4 HR and played in only 5 games this season. He has tied the Red Sox record for most HR in a player’s first 5 games of a season, matching Jackie Jensen (1954 & 1958) and Bobby Doerr (1941). (Source: @EliasSports)
— Red Sox Notes (@SoxNotes) July 31, 2020
I’ll be honest, I was off on him entering 2020, but it looks like I was wrong. While two of his last three seasons prior to 2019 had him hovering around the Mendoza Line, Vazquez has slowly lowered his strikeout rate from his earliest days and is seeing the ball better. Known more for his arm back as a prospect, I was always more of a fan of Blake Swihart (gulp) instead of Vazquez, so that could have led me astray. Still, this season he is mashing and smashing to the tune of .314/.333/.686 and four home runs.
While his ground ball rate has been abysmal (51.7%), he’s been seeing the ball better as evidenced by the drop in his chase rate (28.2%) and his increased chase contact (80.0%). Also, both his increased barrel rate and walk rate are encouraging and coincide with him making better choices when at the plate.
Outlook: Vazquez is penciled in as the starting catcher for the Red Sox and his job is quite secure. His approach at the plate has diversified in that he is not only seeing various pitches well, but attacking them when he sees fit. Albeit a small sample, he’s done well against the Breaking Ball thus far, and is still in line with his career averages against the fastball. His recent surge in 2019 and present-day could be due to the “Super Happy Fun Ball.” So as long as it’s still in play in baseball, so too should you play Vazquez. He leads all catchers in home runs, is tied for second among catchers with the most hits and runs scored, and will consistently play. Start him with confidence, but don’t be surprised with some regression.
Right Back At It
Last week, I highlighted some big name players who were slumping out of the gate. Some snapped out of it, while others remained. These are the players that broke out of that early-season slump and look to be on their way back to where we thought they would be.
Mookie Betts – 8 for 21, .381, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R
Betts’ barrel rate has gone up significantly from 3.1% to start the year to 16.7% now. There was some off-season news of the outfield renovations giving batters difficulty seeing the pitches leave the pitcher’s hand. Betts was 3-for-20 to start the year at home, and has gone 10-for-25 with two home runs and five doubles since. If batters’ eye was indeed the issue with Dodger Stadium, once he figures it out, watch out. He did have finger soreness which caused him to miss some action, but was available to pinch run. He should be back in no time.
Ronald Acuña Jr. – 9 for 27, .333, 1 HR, 4 RBI, (4 doubles), SB
He’s starting to hit the ball harder, as evidenced by his Hard Hit % more than doubling since the start of the season (now sitting at 50%). He’s catching up to fastballs and making better contact on them (no strikeouts on fastballs in August). Basically, he was off to a slow start and looks to be steadily getting back to his elite ways.
Jorge Soler: 8 for 25, .320
The power will come. Why? His Barrel rate is at 22.2%, his Line Drive rate is at 40.7%, His Flare/Burner Rate is at 29.6%, he’s walking more and chasing less. These are all improvements from his 2019 numbers, yet he sits at just two home runs. It will happen. It has to happen. You may still be able to buy him on the cheap.
Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Pete Alonso: 6 of 26, .231, 10 K, 2 RBI
It’s been a rough start to the year for the 2019 home run champion, as he’s come out of the gate to the tune of a .174 batting average with 18 strikeouts. The biggest difference thus far has been his inability to make good contact with fastballs. Last season he smashed them to the tune of a .294 batting average and 34 home runs and a 22.7% Whiff rate. This season he’s seeing an uptick in fastballs against him, yet batting a mere .154 with a 29.9% Whiff rate.
It would seem that he’s just not seeing the fastball, which looked to be his primary pitch in 2019. With almost no launch angle against them, while striking out a ton and a minimal hard hit rate, he’s not going to snap out of this until he gets better against the fastball.
Outlook: He’ll bounce out of this funk soon enough. A nice home stand versus the Marlins and the Mets might do the trick. Perhaps he’s overthinking things, or perhaps he’s slow out of the gate. He’s also been abysmal on the road this year (.105 vs .278 at home), which is the opposite from his 2019 season where he thrived on the road. He should snap out of this funk soon and produce for those who invested in him, but not quite his 2019 level of powerful dominance.
Eugenio Suarez: 3/22, .136, 7 K, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Last season Suarez improved on his already promising 2018 ascension and turned in a 49 home run season, surprising some at how well he played all season. Coming into 2020, owners expected similar type production pro-rated over 60 games, but haven’t seen anything close to his numbers from last year.
If we were to assume that 2019 was an anomaly compared to the rest of his career, then his Barrel% against fastballs is still somewhat better than what he’s been producing over the rest of his career. That said, he’s not seeing, recognizing or properly assessing where and when the off-speed and breaking pitches are going and simply doesn’t know what to do with them.
Outlook: Suarez has been a difficult one to predict. His strikeout rate and walk rate are about the same as last season, his Launch Angle has improved and he’s swinging less at pitches outside of the strike zone. All that considered, he’s looking terrible at the plate. He recently re-assessed himself:
“I don’t try to swing at a bad pitch. My swing is not right right now, and like I said, right now, the barrel is not on the ball, but my mind, I see the ball very good. I see the ball so good. I don’t want to swing at a bad pitch. I take my walks. That helps my team. The guy coming behind me can do something if I got on base. We play collectively. Walks, for me, is very good, because they’re good signs to tell people I don’t want to chase your breaking ball in the dirt. I just want to see the ball good and put a good swing on it.”
I think he’ll get back to his old ways soon, but I wouldn’t expect 2019-type production. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Third base has its ups and downs, and Suarez was drafted as the 12th third baseman off the boards in drafts, with an ADP of around 74. Those who have him are invested and rightly so. They also probably don’t have a viable option on the bench with as much power potential as Suarez. Hang in there and know that the self-aware Suarez will right the ship.
Gary Sanchez: 2/17, 9 K
This might be the most frustrating player on the list for owners because, chances are, they invested heavily in Sanchez. The catching position is one that has polarizing beliefs behind it, as some owners like to invest early in drafts while others like to wait until later. For someone who had the 78th overall ADP, batting .080 on the season with 14 strikeouts and just one walk isn’t the sort of beginning owners had in mind.
What’s noticeable about his plate discipline is that he’s swinging less frequently and making less contact on those pitches within the strike zone in 2020. The most worrisome stat of them all is that he’s seen 115 pitches in 2020 over his 27 plate appearances. That averages out to 4.26 pitches per at bat. For someone who has a total of 14 strikeouts, that’s not good at all.
Outlook: Right now, Sanchez is too valuable behind the plate to be benched for anyone else. Here’s what Gerrit Cole said about his framing techniques:
While framing doesn’t help you in fantasy, it does demonstrate that Sanchez will get himself the playing time and at bats to get back to his old ways. It’s encouraging that he did get his first two hits of the season over this past week, but he still needs to wait for his pitch as his meager walk rate of 3.7% is uncharacteristic of him. Unfortunately, he’ll have to do it the hard way, as he plays the Rays three times and the Mets twice before Labor Day. It is far too early in the season to panic as we’ve only played two weeks. Trust the process, trust the talent and trust that he goes back to his more patient ways and figures this thing out.