Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper among biggest 2018 fantasy surprises — and not in a good way

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New York Yankee <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8634/" data-ylk="slk:Giancarlo Stanton">Giancarlo Stanton</a> is hot as of late, so maybe there’s time for him to turn things around at the plate. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New York Yankee Giancarlo Stanton is hot as of late, so maybe there’s time for him to turn things around at the plate. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Let’s dive deep into three of fantasy baseball’s most disappointing hitters to see if there is any good news on the horizon that may be a harbinger for a return to expected levels for the balance of the season. We get our data via MLB stat provider Inside Edge.

Two of our hitters were taken in the first round. Giancarlo Stanton was projected in some places to hit nearly 60 homers and be the second-best hitter, but is well short of that pace in addition to struggling with batting average due to a career-high rate of Ks. Bryce Harper seemed poised for a career year heading into free agency and untold riches but instead has a batting average that could not have been remotely captured by even the most dire projections, though like Stanton he is hitting homers. Cody Bellinger was electrifying as a 21-year-old last year and there was a very good chance he would go on to have much better years so why not age 22? Instead, this season, he has gravely disappointed relative to ADP and there was even talk of shipping him back to the minors.

Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton has gotten very hot of late. And note that last year, he hit 38 homers after June. So he can correct his 2018 numbers in a hurry. He seems to be adjusting steadily, with a .737 OPS in March/April, .847 in May and .969 through Wednesday in June. Maybe he just needed to adapt to his new, much more demanding environment in the Bronx and also to an slate of new mound opponents. His strikeouts remain a problem though even in June.

With two strikes, he’s hitting .153 with a .331 slugging. That sounds bad but Stanton last year was .150 and .272, respectively, in those stats. Last year 50.4% of his at bats went to two strikes and this year that figure is 59.5%. Maybe like a boxer against a new opponent, he’s trying to get a feel for what he’s facing. But he’s swung at the first pitch 71 times, which is aggressive. The trouble is he’s missed on 46.5% of them vs. league average of 26%.

His well-hit is decent at .190 (average is .148 with bunts excluded). But against lefties, it’s .319 compared with just .144 (below average) versus righties. It’s these platoon splits that have really hurt him thus far. Last year, his well-hit splits were .215 vs. righties and .268 vs. lefties. I’m very confident that Stanton will have a major hot streak, which he may be in the midst of right now, and make up for the relatively slow start. You can’t expect 38 post-June homers but 25-to-30? Why not. And this is one of the best lineups in baseball, too. I fully expect Stanton to be a top 10 hitter the balance of the year.

Bryce Harper

Harper has a .206 well-hit average, which is pretty much what he’s hitting (.209). This is insane. The MLB average is .245 and the well-hit rate .148 so the batting average expectation should be 1.65 times the well-hit rate. That would put Harper at .340 in batting average. Forget about citing strikeouts as a reason since well-hit average is of at bats and includes strikeouts (the reason why I use it). The shift according to Inside Edge has cost him about 13 hits but even that gets him up to only .260; and hitting into that many outs because of the shift is in itself bad luck. Harper has 19 homers but only seven doubles so his isolated slugging is about what we would expect.

Like Stanton, Harper’s platoon numbers are bad with a .140 well-hit against lefties. He’s not suffering from a lack of aggressiveness, which we would expect given his league-high total of walks. His numbers on taking pitches in the zone are less than MLB average in all counts.

I feel at times like a Harper apologist. But there is nothing in his profile that I would expect to correlate with such a terrible batting average. Plus he even has six steals. I predict that Harper is a championship-level difference maker for the balance of the season and easily a top 10 fantasy hitter going forward. Some of this though will depend on the Nationals as a team hitting closer to expectations, too.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/was" data-ylk="slk:Washington Nationals">Washington Nationals</a>’ Bryce Harper (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Cody Bellinger

Bellinger makes it three-for-three in well-hit problems when having the platoon disadvantage. His well-hit is slightly troubling at just .165. He is too passive on first-pitch strikes (63% takes vs. league average of 58%) and he’s also taking way too many pitches in the zone with two strikes (22.3% vs. 17% average). You can say he’s a guess hitter but all hitters will confess to being guess hitters. Last year, Bellinger had a much more aggressive profile (55% first-pitch strikes taken) and also was more aggressive when ahead in the count (taking 28.6 of pitches in the zone vs. 36.5% this year). Hitters have to feast on first-pitch strikes and strikes when ahead in the count, not stand there with the bat on their shoulders.

Bellinger’s profile is a B-minus right now — not terrible. If he could just put more fastballs in play (26% compared with league average of 40%), his stats would rebound. His ISO (slugging average minus batting average) is .220, solid (though it was .314 last year). Bellinger has not gotten hot enough to take a demotion off the table. If it was, I’d bet confidently on him, too. But I worry that Bellinger will suffer psychologically from this threat. He’s the one very disappointing hitter that I’m actually worried about. I’d hold him because you never sell a player with his power and skills at age 21 low the next season. But I wouldn’t be willing to pay very close to March value for him, as I would for Stanton and Harper.

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