By The Numbers: Shohei Ohtani, Jose Ramirez, Liam Hendriks
Valued more for his pitching prowess, the two-way star has exceeded early expectations inside the batter’s box. Through 566 career plate appearances, he’s hitting .293/.361/.564 with 34 home runs, 96 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases.
Those savory numbers come despite not truly finding his groove until late last season. Since August 1, 2018, the Japanese superstar has submitted 25 long balls, 12 steals, and a 162 wRC+ (fourth behind Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, and Cody Bellinger) in 98 games.
He hasn’t experienced any ill-effects from Tommy John surgery, which has allowed the 24-year-old to focus exclusively on one craft. He’s batting .307/.362/.564 in 49 games after notching nine homers and a 1.091 OPS in June. Given the uncertainty of the Angels risking re-injury on the basepaths, it’s also encouraging to see Ohtani already swipe four bags in five tries.
Despite his average launch angle falling from 12.3 to 3.1 degrees, Statcast gives a hearty seal of approval. The designated hitter has still barreled 19 of 132 batted balls (14.4%) with a 93.6-mph average exit velocity topped by just three hitters with 100 batted-ball events. As a result, a sterling .303 xBA and .378 xwOBA foretell no regression.
Even with the absurd expectations attached to Babe Ruth comparisons, is Ohtani not getting enough love as a fantasy stud? He had a No. 138 overall ECR with a high ranking of 116 before I bumped him up to 92. Too aggressive? Considering how his rest-of-season projections from THE BAT — taken on Wednesday evening — stack up alongside some other higher-ranked players, it might still be too tame.
The closeness to Cruz is particularly telling, as both sluggers are relegated to the utility slot. No investors should mind. Those with the fortitude to draft and stash Ohtani will continue to reap the rewards. Anyone lucky enough to roster him in dynasty leagues may have the most valuable asset in fantasy baseball when he returns to the mound.
Jose Ramirez: 90.4% Contact Rate in June
Ramirez batted .216 in June, but his contact rate tied David Fletcher atop MLB’s leaderboard. That’s up from 84.1% through May. He drew 10 walks with just five strikeouts in 100 plate appearances, but the hits didn’t follow. Neither did the power despite popping plenty of fly balls (54.1%).
Although amplified, these trends are nothing new from this year’s biggest first-half bust. This contact spike came with a paltry 86.3-mph average exit velocity, below 2019’s middling 88.2-mph mark. When paired with weak contact, his heightened launch angle (21.7 degrees this season, 23 in June) is alarming. The 26-year-old is making too many feeble outs in the air, especially for a 5’9″, 165-pound speedster who laced an MLB-high 140 doubles from 2016 to 2018.
Ramirez is making more contact, but it’s still bad contact. Forget hitting over .310 again. These tendencies have to change simply to match 2018’s .270 clip dragged down by a dreadful second half. Heck, he’ll eventually need to heat up in order to achieve his modest .251 xBA. He’s hitting .214 this season and .225 in 674 plate appearances over the last 365 days.
Yet for all his struggles, it’s impossible to give up on someone who was an MVP front-runner at this time last season. The infielder collected a 146 wRC+ in each of the last two seasons. He had increased his power exponentially each year, going from six homers in 2015 to 11, 29, and 39 before currently cratering back to five. A player with his talent and strikeout avoidance can’t stay this cold forever. Perhaps Ramirez is crawling his way to a surge by tallying two hits in four of his last nine games.
Disappointed drafters who have stuck by his side this long shouldn’t cash out for a minuscule payout. So long as you’re buying sufficiently low, acquiring Ramirez remains an intriguing gamble.
Per Brooks Baseball, his average fastball velocity increased to 97.1 mph in June. He pocketed an ineffective sinker to deploy the four-seamer on 74.1% of his pitches. Its usage rate was slightly over 58% in each of the prior months. Last month, the improved offering induced a higher whiff rate (17.1%) and .097 ISO.
His curveball and slider have netted a wOBA of .130 and .179 wOBA, respectively, so Hendriks might have discovered a winning recipe. Although Oakland activated Blake Treinen from a short IL stint Wednesday, managers shouldn’t cut Hendriks just yet. Untouchable last year, Treinen stumbled to a 4.08 ERA and 1.53 WHIP before getting sidelined with a right shoulder strain. In Wednesday’s return, he surrendered two walks and the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. While the A’s plan on giving him back the closer’s role, another bad outing or two would test that loyalty. Besides, Hendriks is dominating enough (1.29 ERA, 60 K in 48.2 IP) to utilize as a setup man. If he keeps this up, he may not stay in that role too long.
He has delivered a better bottom line than his 5.32 xFIP, 5.57 SIERA, and even his 4.62 FIP but a 3.82 ERA and 1.40 WHIP still don’t exactly scream All-Star. That doesn’t even make him playable in 12-team mixed leagues.
Perhaps that could change during the second half. While the 23-year-old righty has accumulated an atrocious 70 strikeouts in 101.1 innings, his arsenal depicts plenty more upside. He’ll enter the All-Star Game with his slider, sinker, and changeup each yielding a swinging-strike rate above 13.0% in 17 turns. He’s a hard-thrower whose fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he has already flourished in a few standout outings during a highly erratic first half.
Then again, early success from rookies Elieser Hernandez, Zac Gallen, and Jordan Yamamoto actually create a reasonable case for the last-place Marlins demoting Alcantara to the minors or bullpen when Caleb Smith makes his scheduled return Saturday. While unlikely, that scenario could force MLB to eliminate its mandate of one All-Star per team on the spot.