Hitting Report: Fantasy owners should hope Justin Upton stays in San Diego
Petco Park has been one of the best stadiums for pitchers in the majors since it opened in 2004. In fact, over the last 12 seasons, including the current one, the Padres’ home has been so favored by pitchers and feared by fantasy owners, that conventional wisdom holds that nearly any hitter will suffer in San Diego. There is one hitter, however, who has been rumored to be on the move this week who apparently is better off remaining with the Padres. If you’re a Justin Upton owner, you don’t want him to get traded before the non-waiver deadline on Friday.
Upton joined the Padres this year after two seasons with the Braves. After substandard years in 2012 and '13, he enjoyed a resurgent '14 campaign, hitting .270/.342/.491 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs. When the Braves dealt him to the Padres last December, many in the fantasy community assumed his power would take a step back. This was despite the fact that he always had success hitting in San Diego as a member of the Diamondbacks.
No matter the reason Upton had success hitting at Petco previously, it carried over into this year. Upton has been a completely different hitter at home than on the road, and that’s bad news for his owners if he ultimately gets traded. Upton is slashing .297/.354/.558 with 13 of his 16 homers this season at Petco. When the Padres take their show to the road, Upton is hitting just .208/.308/.306. Yes, Upton’s slugging percentage is 252 points better, and his OPS is almost 300 points higher, at Petco than on the road.
Four months and nearly 400 plate appearances into the season, this trend is not a fluke. The stark difference in his home and road splits should have all of Upton’s fantasy owners hoping that he stays put this week. The numbers are so drastic that it would make sense to try to sell him high should a deal go down by Friday afternoon. While it would be silly to expect Upton’s production to completely fall off a cliff if the Padres send him to a contender, it would be equally silly to believe he’ll match his per-month production if he leaves a stadium that, for him, has been one of the friendliest parks in the league.
Hitters of the Week
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: .476 BA (10 for 21), 5 HR, 9 R, 11 RBIs, .522 OBP
Gonzalez got off to a good start in the Rockies’ three-game series with the Rangers last week, but he turned it up a notch when the Reds came to town over the weekend. After going 3 for 9 with a homer against the Rangers, Gonzalez had a pair of multi-homer games over the weekend, leading the Rockies to a series victory over the Reds. He kicked off the series by going 2 for 4 with a pair of solo homers on Friday in a 6–5 Colorado win. Gonzalez then put a bow on his week by getting three more hits—two of which left the yard—on Sunday, driving in six of the Rockies’ 17 runs. It has been a bounce-back season for the 29-year-old outfielder. He may never reach the dizzying heights of previous seasons because of his injury history, but he’s slashing .270/.326/.497 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs this year.
Ian Desmond, Nationals: .478 BA, (11 for 23), 4 HR, 8 R, 7 RBIs, 1 SB, .556 OBP
Desmond has suffered through a miserable 2015 season (.222/.270/.368), but you wouldn’t know it if you only saw him play last week. Desmond homered in each of the first three games of a four-game series with the Pirates, driving in five runs in the process. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they lost two of those games, as well as the series finale on Sunday against a team they could very well meet in the playoffs. The Nats did manage to take two of three from the Mets to start the week, and Desmond went 5 for 9 with a homer in that series. His line for the entire season will look terrible short of a miracle performance over the rest of the year, but he’s finally starting to look like the hitter he was during the last three seasons.
Mike Trout, Angels: .407 BA (11 for 27), 4 HR, 6 R, 8 RBIs, 1 SB, .484 OBP
Before Sunday, Trout was having a week that would be special for a lot of players, but is really just par for the course for him. In his first six games last week, he was 7 for 23 with a pair of homers, three runs, three RBIs and a steal. He proceeded to put on a show Sunday, hitting two more bombs—one of which was a grand slam—en route to a four-hit, five-RBI day in an Angels win over the Rangers. It’s entirely possible that 2015 ends up being the best year of Trout’s career to date, and remember that he could have won the MVP in all of the last three seasons. He’s slashing .315/.405/.632 with 31 homers, 64 RBIs and 75 runs. He leads the majors in homers and trails Josh Donaldson by four RBIs for the AL lead. Trout still has an outside shot to win the Triple Crown, though he’ll need some help to be the AL’s batting average champion. No matter what, though, he’s again on the short list for the MVP Award in the AL.
Hitters of the Weak
Steven Souza, Rays: .105 BA (2 for 19), 0 HR, 0 R, 0 RBIs, .190 OBP
Souza started last week in the worst way possible, taking a golden sombrero in a 1–0 win over the Phillies. In a way, the rest of his week got better. After all, he didn’t strike out four times in a game in any of his four subsequent contests, and he managed to go 2 for 4 in one of them. Still, a 2-for-19 week with nine strikeouts probably isn’t what he or his fantasy owners had in mind for him. The predictable Souza regression began a while ago and has continued unabated. He’s now hitting just .203/.294/.397 on the season. His home run pace has slowed to the point that it’s no longer worth dealing with his anemic rates unless you are in an extremely deep mixed league or an AL-only league.
Starlin Castro, Cubs: .083 BA (2 for 24), 0 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, .120 OBP
When Castro followed up his disastrous 2013 season with a strong '14 campaign, it seemed that he had developed to a point where he would be, at worst, a comfortably above average offensive shortstop. The wheels have completely fallen off this season, with last week’s performance serving as a microcosm for the entire year. Castro got two hits in the six games he played last week, striking out six times while walking just once. His already pathetic slash line fell even further and now sits at .233/.268/.302. He has been the worst offensive player by fWAR this year, checking in at -24.9. Castro’s ground-ball rate has skyrocketed to 55.8% this season, while his 15.1% line-drive rate would be a career low by nearly five percentage points. Castro isn’t the only hitter to blame for the Cubs’ recent offensive woes, but he certainly is at the top of the list.
Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox: .154 BA (4 for 26), 0 HR, 0 R, 1 RBI, .241 OBP
Sandoval actually bookended his week with good games, going 4 for 8 with an RBI and a walk in Boston’s first and last games. In the middle, however, he went 0 for 18 with five strikeouts. A lot has gone wrong in Boston this year, but the five-year, $95-million contract the team threw at Sandoval in the off-season will rate among the worst when all is said and done. What’s more, the Red Sox are going to be stuck with this contract for four more seasons. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to take on that contract given the player Sandoval is, unless the Red Sox are willing to eat all or most of the money remaining on the deal. Even at the outset, it seemed the team went a little overboard in securing Sandoval’s services, but that’s typically what must be done to get a player in free agency. Teams routinely pay up for the first couple years of a deal, knowing it will likely look like a bad contract in the final years. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it looks like they won’t even get that honeymoon phase.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Eugenio Suarez, SS, Reds
Considering the dearth of palatable options at the shortstop position, it’s hard to believe that Suarez hasn’t yet caught on with the fantasy community. In 139 plate appearances since taking over for the injured Zack Cozart, Suarez is hitting .315/.350/.485 with five homers. While the 24-year-old is likely playing a bit over his head, he did have a .348 OBP and .438 slugging percentage with Triple A Louisville before getting promoted to the majors to take Cozart’s place. No one is expecting him to turn into the second coming of Barry Larkin, and as his .391 BABIP eventually normalizes, his batting average will come back down to earth. Still, he’s owned in fewer than one of every 10 leagues, and he’s going to occupy a prime spot in the Cincinnati lineup for the remainder of the season. Even if they continue with a fire sale, Todd Frazier and Joey Votto aren’t going anywhere, and they aren’t suddenly moving from Great American Ballpark. Suarez is going to be in a good offensive environment the rest of the year and that, coupled with his performance to date, is enough to make him an intriguing player in all fantasy formats.
Sell: Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins
Yelich was a popular breakout pick heading into the season, but poor performance and an injury precluded that from happening. He has turned it on over the last month, however, hitting .357 (30 for 84) with a homer, four steals, 11 runs, seven RBIs and a .455 OBP in the last 30 days. Yelich isn’t really a power threat (18 homers in 1,259 career plate appearances), and the scuffling Miami offense makes it hard to get too excited about his run-scoring or RBI upside. He should steal somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 bags the rest of the way, but that could very well be the only area in which he brings above-average production to the table. His recent performance, as well as the name brand he brought into the season, could make him attractive on the open market right now. If I owned Yelich, I’d want to find out what I could get for him in a trade.
Hold: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
Everything has fallen apart in Detroit since Cabrera suffered a calf injury, and the team could very well end up selling key pieces in advance of Friday’s trade deadline. The Tigers did, however, get their first bit of good news in a long time when they learned that Cabrera has a very good chance of returning by Aug. 15, which is the early bound of the initial prognosis for his recovery. If you’re an owner in a redraft league who was considering selling Cabrera for healthy players who could help you in a playoff push, you should hold off on any such deal for the time being. You’re almost certainly better off getting replacement level production for the next two weeks and then getting Cabrera back in your lineup.
Javier Baez, IF, Cubs
The last time we checked in on Baez, he appeared to be on the cusp of hitting his way back into the majors. Through his first 158 plate appearances with Triple A Iowa this season, the 22-year-old slashed .314/.386/.536 with eight homers, seven steals and 29 RBIs. Just when it looked like the Cubs were getting ready to promote him, however, he broke a finger on a head-first slide, putting him on the shelf for the better part of two months.
Baez played in his first rehab game late last week and should be back with Iowa sometime this week. Assuming he hits when he returns, he could be in Chicago sooner rather than later. The Cubs still have realistic designs on a playoff spot, but their offense has been dreadful since the All-Star break. Baez was just starting to play third base before he broke his finger, a sure sign that the Cubs were set to bring him back to the majors. The team did the same thing with Addison Russell, shifting him to second base about a week before promoting him. If Baez can play third, the Cubs could get all their youngsters in the same lineup by moving Kris Bryant to the outfield. Baez could also provide depth up the middle, giving Russell and Starlin Castro some much-needed time off. No matter what, however, Baez will be immediately relevant in all fantasy formats if and when he gets the call to the majors. Those of you in redraft leagues don’t need to jump the gun, but owners in shallow keeper leagues will want to consider adding him now, assuming they can burn a roster spot for a few weeks while he’s in the minors.
GIF of the Week
Kole Calhoun has been making plenty of noise with his bat recently, ranking fourth among all hitters in standard 5-by-5 leagues over the last month after hitting .323 (32 for 99) with seven homers, 18 runs, 24 RBIs and a .364 OBP. He made an impact with the glove last week, robbing Rougned Odor of a hit that would have plated a least one run with this catch.