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MLB Barometer: Cano vs. Rendon

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.


MLB Barometer

While we all wait for Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth Home Run Derby blast to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and for Andrew McCutchen to just calm down already, it seems like a good time to reflect on some of the surprise hitting performances of the first half and what they might mean going forward.

Since I've already brought him up, let's start with Stanton. The 21 home runs are no surprise, but the .295/.395/.538 line (good for eighth in MLB in OPS at the break), fueled by a .364 BABIP, seems like an outlier and a mark of a player due for second half regression. However, Stanton hit .290/.361/.608 two years ago (with a .344 BABIP), and those numbers are not at all out of line with his minor league performances. The improved walk rate should be especially stable, given that Stanton is still the only remotely scary bat in the Marlins' lineup. He's made his rep as the game's premier slugger, but provided he avoids the lower body injuries that have bedeviled him in the past this could be the season Stanton proves once and for all that he's got more than one dimension to his offensive game. I'd consider him a prime “buy high” candidate. He'll never come cheap, but in single-season leagues an owner who thinks a big batting average regression is coming might be willing to part with him for a merely reasonable offer.

Also making surprising appearances on the OPS leader board are the Cleveland duo of Lonnie Chisenhall (.328/.392/.515, good for 13th) and Michael Brantley (.322/.382/.519, good for 14th). Of the two, Brantley seems the much better bet to retain something close to his new level of production. His .319 BABIP isn't outrageous, and while his power spike is driven almost entirely by a boost in his HR/FB rate (17.6%, a massive improvement on his previous best of 6.8%) he is in his magic age 27 season when big power bumps can happen. As for Chisenhall, well, if you haven't cashed him in already his .238/.360/.310 start to July should make you a very motivated seller. He may not become a complete bum in the second half, but even his .288/.358/.477 combined June/July line is probably an optimistic projection for his second half. That .367 BABIP still has a long way to fall, based on his previous major and minor league track record.

On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Davis (.199/.309/.391) has forgotten how to make contact and Eric Hosmer (.268/.315/.362) has forgotten how to hit for power. Both seem like decent candidates for a rebound; Davis' K% is, incredibly, even worse than usual (32.0%, up from 2013's unsightly 29.6%) but his BABIP is typically on the good side of .300. Heck, even Adam Dunn didn't turn into Adam Dunn until he was 32, so Davis doing so at 28 seems unlikely. As for Hosmer, he always possessed the elevated GB% and IFFB% that were clear warning signs, but the collapse of his early season HR/FB rate has already started to correct itself. He'll likely never be an elite first baseman, but his second half should be a lot closer to his preseason projections.

RISERS

J.D. Martinez, OF, Det: In any but the shallowest of leagues you've likely missed your chance to scoop Martinez off the waiver wire, but it might be time to re-evaluate whether he's just a short-term fluke or the next Jose Bautista. Over his last 102 at-bats he's absolutely mashing to the tune of .412/.441/.812, and he says he owes it all to a re-tooled swing that he's modelled after some of the best hitters in the game (plus Jason Castro). He was never considered a top prospect, but he did put up some exceptional minor league numbers before his career stalled in Houston. The league might yet adjust to Martinez's new success, but I'd say the odds are pretty decent that he's for real as a big league hitter. Not .412/.441/.812 for real, of course, but nobody's that for real. I'd say expect another 15 home runs and a .280 average after the break, and even that might be a cautious estimate.

Lucas Duda, 1B, NYM: Quietly, Duda is cementing his spot as the Mets' first baseman and making people in New York forget that Ike Davis ever existed. After a slow start to the season Duda's hitting .296/.394/.605 with six home runs and 17 RBI over his last 24 games, and if he keeps up that run production pace he'll crack the 100 RBI mark for the first time. Dominic Smith looks a long way from the majors at the moment, so Duda will have a long leash to prove he can be at least a serviceable option at first base.

Anthony Rendon, 2B, Nationals: Who would you rather have on your roster for the rest of the season, Rendon or Robinson Cano? It seems like a no-brainer of a question but their fantasy numbers over the last month have been almost identical, with Cano holding an edge in batting average but Rendon topping him in runs and steals:

ABs BA HR RBI Runs SB
Cano 99 0.354 4 21 17 2
Rendon 104 0.337 4 19 25 5



Given their respective home ballparks and the lineups each has supporting them, not to mention the likelihood that Cano's .365 BABIP might slip somewhat after the break (he's typically in the .325 range), I don't think it's at all a lock that Cano will be the more valuable asset for the rest of 2014. And if you change the question to who will have the better season in 2015, I'll take the 25-year-old second baseman over the 32-year-old, thank you very much.

Jake Odorizzi, SP, TB: Lost in the Rays' abysmal season has been a remarkable turnaround for Odorizzi, who's racked up a 40:13 K:BB ratio over his last six starts (36 innings) to go along with a 2.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP after a rough April. As a Royals prospect he always seemed more hype and projection than production, but last year at Triple-A Durham the strikeouts started to arrive, and he's carried the K's forward to the bigs while also beginning to sharpen his control. The 90 mph fastball doesn't say ace, but he's cementing his spot in the middle of the Tampa rotation for the foreseeable future.

Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM: Clubs that have their Triple-A affiliates in extreme PCL hitting environments are starting to become factories for 'surprise' pitchers, simply because their numbers in the upper minors are almost doomed to be ugly. Collin McHugh (who pitched in both Las Vegas and Colorado Springs over the last couple of seasons) and Matt Shoemaker (who managed to survive throwing 423 innings for Salt Lake) both escaped their thin air exiles to achieve some major league success this season, and deGrom is the latest PCL parolee to join them. Despite a 4.52 ERA at Las Vegas last year, he's been rock-solid since joining the Mets' rotation in 2014, rattling off a 2.92 ERA and 40:12 K:BB ratio over his last six starts (37 innings). His arsenal (mid-90s fastball, solid changeup, and an improving slider replacing his fringy curve) seems legit, and he could be a very nice complement to the Mets' higher-profile arms in the middle of a rotation that seems poised to run roughshod over the NL East in the second half of the decade.

FALLERS

Kendrys Morales, DH, Min/Stephen Drew, SS, Bos: After going unsigned this offseason, both Drew and Morales found landing spots a couple of months into the 2014 campaign and have proceeded to make their fantasy owners' lives miserable ever since. Morales, at least, has chipped in with some RBI while sabotaging your batting average (.198/.216/.292 with one home run and 14 RBI over his last 106 at-bats) but Drew has simply been terrible across the board (.147/.210/.293 with two HR and four RBI over his last 75 at-bats). If you write off the month of June as their spring training you can certainly convince yourself a rebound is coming, and they can't get much worse than they've been so far, but there really isn't anything in their recent performances to indicate either of them has turned any kind of corner. Should you want (or need) to take a chance on either of their second halves, buyer beware.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Tex: Given all the blame there is to go around for the Rangers' collapse this season, Choo's weak performance hasn't gotten as much attention as it's deserved. Over his last 101 at-bats, he's hitting a weak .208/.283/.307 with three home runs, 10 RBI and 12 runs scored, and while his BABIP is well below his normal rate it is part of a downward trend over the last few years, from .353 in 2012 to .338 last year to this year's .301. It may bounce back after the break, but his days of popping a .350+ BABIP are probably over, and without those extra hits his fantasy ceiling is a lot lower than you paid for back in March.

Alex Cobb, SP, TB: While we all want young players, and especially young pitchers, to be stable investments once they make their breakthroughs, it rarely works out that way in practice. Cobb's outstanding 2013 marked him as the next Rays ace, but his ascension to top starter status has hit a rough patch over the last month, and he sports a 4.40 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over his last five starts (28.2 innings) with a weak 23:11 K:BB ratio. There doesn't appear to be anything physically wrong with Cobb, so he could easily come out of the break on fire, but it's important to remember that just because a wunderkind is on the road to greatness, it doesn't mean that road will be a straight one.

Dan Haren, SP, LAD: After two seasons with outstanding K:BB ratios but not much to success to show for it, Haren flipped the script early in 2014 by striking out fewer guys but posting a solid ERA. Alas, the strikeouts have returned, and with them the damage, as he's posted a 6.49 ERA over his last five starts (26.1 innings) despite a reasonable 1.33 WHIP and very good 26:7 K:BB ratio. The simple fact of the matter is, Haren's stuff isn't going to fool many batters any more, and if he's getting strikeouts it means he's getting too much of the plate. It sounds crazy, but if his K and BB rates start sagging, he might actually be a more viable fantasy asset. As a high K, low BB, high BABIP and high opposition ISO pitcher, he's just too volatile to use.