It’s easy to dismiss what Yasiel Puig and Ryan Zimmerman have done early in the 2017 fantasy baseball season.
“Oh, Puig homered off Padres pitching, including Jered Weaver twice.” “We’ve seen Zimmerman do this in short stretches, and he’s going to fade.”
Both of those statements? Valid. But also certain is that these may not be the same players we’re used to.
In fact, they may be the newest members of the fastest-rising cult in baseball: the uppercut swingers.
We’ve seen names like J.D. Martinez, Josh Donaldson and teammates of the above pair — Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy — tailor their swings to generate more lift, which has resulted in justified increases in pop.
Puig and Zimmerman may be joining them.
Man Bear Puig: Excelsior!
He failed to match the 19 homers he hit as a rookie in any of the following three sasons, but Puig made changes to his swing and approach with Los Angeles hitting coach Turner Ward, and his three home runs in his last two games — making him the major-league leader — seem to be young fruits of that labor.
“What I think about is putting the ball in the air,” Puig recently told the Los Angeles Times via an interpreter. “Or else I’m going to have no money in my pocket.”
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Hard contact was a big part of his scalding-hot rookie campaign in 2013, but it dipped in subsequent years as he battled injuries, pitchers figuring him out, certain bouts with a poor attitude, and issues adapting to being a full-time major leaguer. Ground balls were always a big part of his game, and he’s realizing that a heavy percentage is not going to help him.
Say what you will about whether his 2016 demotion to the minors straightened him out, but a tangible fix to his mechanics is something fantasy owners should buy. It restores his potential for 25-plus home runs with other elite stats. This year was a perfect opportunity to capture that upside at a ridiculously cheap price, and it may pay off, even as his pace cools down.
More flyin’ for Ryan
Zimmerman, meanwhile, has scorched the ball with similar vigor (5-for-12 with two solo home runs).
I don’t think there was enough hype for a story on MLB.com from February. After woeful home run displays in recent years, the owner of four seasons with 25 or more home runs (including 33 in 2009) was studying Statcast and other analytics data to try generating more power.
As Derek VanRiper and I talked about on previous podcasts, Zimmerman was one of the majors’ leaders in exit velocity last year, but his launch angle was woeful and hurt his extra-base-hit potential.
Well, Zimmerman easily could look to his teammate and former Met Murphy, who enjoyed similar power brilliance after adjusting his own swing and embracing his pull power with the help of New York’s hitting coach Kevin Long in 2015, who had done previous revisions on Curtis Granderson.
Murphy basically passed along these numbers to Zimmerman, who’s learning their importance. It’s catching on.
Early success often peters out, but sometimes, it takes one tweak to reveal or revive a player’s potential for the long run. These players who’ve in the past shown top-notch fantasy numbers have fallen off in recent seasons, but their initiation into the ever-expanding Lift Club isn’t as far from legit as many will argue.
I was happy to land a share of Puig and two of Zimmerman — one at $2 in an NL-only keeper, which could yield a huge profit.
Zimmerman looks like he’ll reach the 25-homer plateau again, and hitting in the middle of what could be a lethal Nationals lineup may push him toward 90 RBI again. Puig has the potential for much more across the board if he decides to try stealing bases again, though he may have to fight early on to keep himself at a productive lineup spot. Both could make a legit run to a .280 or better batting average.
Remember: Once a player displays elite skills, he owns them, and even if dormant, they may show up at any point. These two were never cheaper in fantasy price coming into this season, and opportunistic owners look ready to enjoy more of it.