The Washington Nationals are a team of stars, a collection of big names. Harper and Turner, Scherzer and Strasburg; big-ticket items on draft day. Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez, and Ryan Zimmerman — they were all terrific last year.
So who’s leading the Washington offense these days? Matt Adams, of course.
For most of his career, Adams has been an American League player trapped in National League uniforms. He’s not a quality fielder, though you can live with him at first base or left field. The big lefty is also not much in the platoon deficit (.602 OPS), but thankfully, we live in a right-handed world. And lately, Adams has been crushing those right-handers, and making us wonder what Washington’s long-term plan might be.
Adams smacked two homers in Monday’s 8-5 win at San Diego, putting the cap on an amazing seven games: 10-for-25, seven homers, six walks, just three strikeouts. That’s a cozy .400/.516/1.240 slash for you, the top fantasy bat over this period. Adams slotted third or fourth in every start, showing what manager Dave Martinez thinks of him. Adams was just three-percent owned in Yahoo when we mentioned him last week; he’s since raced over 60 percent.
The schedule has lined up perfectly of late, as Washington faced seven straight right-handed starters. Adams even clobbered one of his Monday homers off a lefty reliever, albeit it was a rolling breaking pitch that screamed out “hit me.” (Why are lefty swings so much prettier than righty swings?)
Matt Adams has 7 HRs this month.
That’s … *checks calendar* … very good. pic.twitter.com/n18G7tndZf
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 8, 2018
We can analyze the past all day long, but all that matters is where the story is going. First baseman Zimmerman is currently day-to-day (side), though he might be ready to play Tuesday. He’s off to a terrible .194/.256/.398 start; of course, he was a monster last year. Left-fielder Adam Eaton (ankle) is traveling with the club, but it’s not known when he’ll resume baseball activities.
We’ve seen Adams go on productive runs before. He gave the Braves 291 useful at-bats last year (.271/.315/.543, with 19 homers); the club temporarily moved Freddie Freeman to third base, ostensibly for Adams, at the end of the year. Adams would occasionally flash pop with the Cardinals, but inconsistent playing time and an inability to solve lefties would cap the upside. (His 2017 spike can be easily explained — it’s a leaner and meaner Adams.)
Perhaps Adams is going to fall back into a specialty play, someone better suited for daily-switch leagues and DFS consideration. He’s only had 11 plate appearances against lefties this year, and it’s doubtful the Nats will give up on Zimmerman quickly. Eaton figures to come back at some point. There’s no DH slot to stash Adams, and only two logical positions he can play.
Nonetheless, we had fun with Adams in Atlanta last year, and I’m going to proactively dial him up against right-handed starters. The Padres actually throw lefties for the next two games, but it’s a right-handed world. About 72 percent of plate appearances in MLB this year have come against righties.
Adams turns 30 at the end of August, and he’s on a one-year deal. Like most scribes, I root for the story above all else. I’d love to see him in an American League park next year, with more paths into regular playing time. But in the meantime, he’s welcome in any of my mixed-league lineups, even with the obvious caveats.
• While Washington should have a plus offense all year, the San Francisco lineup is not to be viewed without protective eyewear. It’s an old team, a team with a handful of key injuries, and a team that will often struggle to score runs.
Heck, the Giants already had their 2018 seasonal highlight — the Perfect Panda Inning. Otherwise, this could be a road to nowhere. Come for the park and the crab sandwich, bring a sweatshirt, keep your expectations in check.
Maybe what this team needs is some youth — or at least someone young enough to be in the post-hype sleeper category. Alen Hanson, come on down — and go take some grounders at second base.
Although Hanson is just 25, he’s already been in three organizations. He showed up on the back end of the prospect clipboards in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He posted a .284/.343/.440 slash over eight long bush-league seasons, starting at age 17. He hit 16 home runs in the Sally League, once upon a time. He stole 211 bags over 737 games.
It’s tricky to take PCL stats seriously, especially for someone as “prospect old” as Hanson, but he did smash 18 Sacramento games this year (.403/.479/.661, three homers, six steals, more walks than strikeouts). Hanson got the call at the end of April, taking over for Joe Panik (busted thumb).
Hanson has started seven of the last eight games, hitting .313 with two homers and two steals. He only has one walk, but a .625 slugging catches your eye. Bruce Bochy can’t decide on a batting slot, using Hanson first, second, seventh, and eighth.
I’ve grabbed a few Hanson shares in my deeper leagues. He covers second and the outfield, and category juice is our friend. Maybe this is another player who just needed a chance to play. Hanson is free to add in 85 percent of Yahoo.
The Phillies belted Shark for five runs, a couple of homers. He’s struck out 15 batters over his 17.2 innings (good), but walked 13 (unacceptable). Until that ratio gets 3:1 or better, he’s not worth the gamble.
And in thinner leagues, I wouldn’t blame anyone who cut bait entirely. I realize secondary metrics often stump for Samardzija, but ERA is the bottom-line we use, and he’s posted 4.42, 3.81, and 4.96 ERAs the last three years. Sometimes the flaws aren’t captured under the hood, even in the age of enlightenment. You can stay on the case all you like, but maybe this one is better left unsolved.
• I don’t know what to make of Minnesota’s Fernando Romero. He’s yet to allow a run through 11.2 innings, and those 14 strikeouts jump out at you. But he’s also walked six batters, and his control wasn’t great in Triple-A, either. A heavy ground-ball tilt helps keep the ball in the park.
Romero made a couple of scouting boards this spring, but they were modest ranks (No. 97 in Baseball Prospectus, No. 68 on MLB.com). The Angels and Brewers are the next two matchups, but safer spots come when the Twins return to AL Central play. He’s unowned in about half of Yahoo leagues.