Leaning on sample size data from FanGraphs, MLB hitters are already at the stabilization rate in strikeouts and at least halfway there for walks. So let’s see who is controlling the strike zone effectively. A batter who is doing that is more likely to sustain early success and vice versa.
I looked at the top 200 hitters in plate appearances through Sunday.
Didi Gregorius jumps out with 11 walks against just three Ks. Last year he had 25 walks and 70 Ks. This is almost certainly a sign of development that Gregorius has been so transformed. Expect something far better than the very playable .796 OPS he had last year. A .300 average with 30 homers is my current projection (he was .287 and 25 last year and just turned 28).
Jose Ramirez has been a disappointment but when you walk 10 times and K just four even this early, you are very unlikely to struggle to post a high batting average. Ramirez is fly-ball crazy now — 24 thus far vs. 22 grounders/line drives. Last year, that ratio was 206 to 303. Note we need a far bigger sample for these trajectory rates to stabilize: 80 balls in play, according to FanGraphs. Ramirez will be fine.
The same holds true for Alex Bregman, also struggling in the averages but sporting a very healthy ratio of 10 walks to just eight Ks.
Trea Turner is striking out more than expected but walking much more too, with 14 of each entering play on Sunday. His ability to generate hitting counts should play big dividends and this on-base ability should keep him at the top of the Nationals lineup, feeding you plentiful runs and steals.
The major buy given his availability in half of Yahoo leagues is Yangervis Solarte, who struggles for playing time given his perceived fielding deficiencies. That bat I believe will keep him playing in Toronto. And when you have twice as many walks (10) as Ks (five), fielding fleas will be overlooked. At 30, and with only middling power, Solarte may be trying to figure out another way to revive his career. Solarte is the poor man’s Gregorius now (20-to-25 homers and .280ish)
Kris Bryant is turning into Joey Votto before our eyes. Look at his Ks/BBs since his rookie season in 2015: 199/77, 154/75, 128/95 and now 8/10. The problem is that being a Joey Votto when it comes to commanding the strike zone is a fantasy negative in that it diminishes the value of your batting average and makes you far less likely to drive in runs.
Carlos Santana is hitting just .154 but the sign of a real slump/trouble adjusting to the N.L. would be changes in his Ks and BBs and those look to be in order (8 BBs/9 Ks). That’s the exact same ratio that Reds OF Jesse Winker has and I expect mixed-league-worthy things from him this year, too.
Yoenis Cespedes has struck out 26 times. The five walks are in line with expectations. But Cespedes was a low K hitter and now is striking out an absurd 40% of the time. Even if his variance relative to recent years is half skill and half (bad) luck, that would peg him at a earned 30% K rate, far too high to hit his .290 batting average target.
Joey Gallo is 176th out of the 200 hitters in ratio of walks to Ks and Ian Happ (179) and Jonathan Villar (181) are even worse. I thought Villar was a fluke in 2016 so this doesn’t surprise me. Happ, like the other Cubs prospects, never knows when he’s going to play and thus is likely pressing, hardly a surprise. But Gallo is a big disappointment thus far in not generating enough walks (just three). The hopes that he could be the cheap Aaron Judge and maybe sock 50 homers is rapidly diminishing.
I love Ozzie Albies and was in on him all draft season. I still believe. But here’s a case where the fantasy production is masking some foundational struggles. I don’t like Albies walking 1.4% of the time at all. (His Ks are fine.) He was 8.6% walks last year and I’d give back some homers for a 10% walk rate right now. If he walked more, he wouldn’t have just one steal.
Evan Longoria has 18 Ks and one walk compared with 108 and 46 last year. Longoria appeared a value play seemingly all draft season with the fantasy community seemingly not respecting his solid hitting ability. But now that ability is reasonably in question.
I don’t like Ian Desmond, who is entitled to playing time apparently because of his absurd contract. I guess it only matters what the Rockies think but I suspect that the more at bats Desmond gets, the more damage he’ll do to all his owners in dragging down their average. That last thing you want is a .240-ish hitter (he’s .190 now) who never walks.
I thought Cardinals magic was going to sustain the breakout of Marcell Ozuna, who made strides last year in narrowing the gap between his walks and Ks. Entering Monday, he’s got 18 Ks and 1 BB. And his isolated slugging (slugging average minus batting average) is terrible. Like Longoria, Ozuna needs to tighten things up in the next three weeks or it’s going to be a long season.
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