By The Numbers: Javier Baez, Brandon Woodruff, Zach Plesac
Javier Báez has struck out on a resounding 44.9% of his plate appearances with at least one punchout in all but two games this season.
To put this terrible start into perspective, Mark Reynolds owns the dubious single-season record with 223 strikeouts in 2009. At his current pace, Báez would only need 123 games to break that mark.
Báez unsurprisingly also possesses MLB’s worst contact rate (50.4%), and it’s not particularly close. Joey Gallo has the second-worst mark at 56.8%, but at least he’s drawn 17 walks. Baez, a notorious free-swinger, has one. Not even Jacob deGrom could touch Baez’s 31-1 K:BB ratio.
When Gallo recorded a 59.1% contact rate in 2017, he became the first and only qualified hitter to fall below 60.0 (59.1%) over a full season. (Keston Hiura had a 59.3% contact rate in the shortened 2020). Baez is also swinging and missing way more than anyone else.
Before dismissing this ice-cold slump as a small-sample anomaly, remember that Báez also struggled mightily last year. Dating back to the start of 2020, he is batting .203 with 101 strikeouts and eight walks in 76 games.
Despite his basic inability to hit baseballs, Báez still has five home runs, five stolen bases, and 16 RBIs. When seeing that power and speed paired with a .203 batting average from a career .263 hitter, a shrewd fantasy baseball manager would typically seize the buy-low opportunity. This case, however, demands caution.
Without a steep turnaround, Báez could battle the Mendoza Line a bit longer. The 28-year-old is certainly streaky enough to rebound, and he has ample motivation to do so in a contract year, but these shortcomings always lurked under the surface during his peak years.
Following 76 games of disastrous contact results, it’d be a relief to see Báez crawl back to a .240 batting average. That’s far from a guarantee. It’d also be good enough to support a high-end fantasy shortstop capable of tallying a 30-homer, 15-steal campaign.
Brandon Woodruff (SP – MIL): Zero Barrels
Everyone is rightfully gushing over Corbin Burnes. He has a 0.37 ERA with 40 strikeouts in four starts. And no walks! The hardest part would be picking one impressive stat to encapsulate his historical start. Since all onlookers should be well aware of his transcendent dominance, let’s give some love to his teammate.
Woodruff was supposed to be Milwaukee’s top ace. While Burnes has passed him by in April, Woodruff is also having an exceptional start. Validating every bit of his lofty draft price so far, the 28-year-old righty has recorded a 1.96 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in four starts. As of Wednesday, he ranks eighth among qualified starters in expected ERA (2.02 xERA) and FIP (1.72).
He’s also the only starting pitcher yet to allow a single barrel.
In 2019, Woodruff also ceded the fewest barrels (13) of any pitcher with at least 300 batted balls in play. Yet he matched that mark last season despite posting a 3.05 ERA and .197 expected batting average.
Batters have failed to elevate against Woodruff’s sinker, and his four-seamer continues to dominate. It’s yielded just two hits (both singles) while brandishing an 83.9-mph average exit velocity. His slider, curveball, and changeup are also all effective secondary offerings, none of which have surrendered an extra-base hit.
The only concern, which also applies to Burnes, is a potential innings cap. Before the season, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said he was looking to tack 100 innings onto their starters’ 2020 tallies. Woodruff pitched 73.2 innings last year, and Burnes only worked 59.2 frames. It’s more troublesome for the latter, but Woodruff can remain a top-flight fantasy option at 170-175 innings.
Zach Plesac (SP – CLE): 14 Earned Runs
Plesac permitted just 14 runs in a breakout 2020. He has allowed 14 runs this season.
Of course, we have to remember the lessened 2020 schedule. Plesac has surrendered as many runs in four starts this month as eight starts last season. However, the innings gap (55.1 in 2020, 18.2 IP) is far greater, and it doesn’t help that he allowed six runs in consecutive outings. Both were against the White Sox, whom he shut out twice in 2020.
Perhaps it’s hypocritical to use April’s results as confirmation bias to chastise anyone who overpaid for last year’s fleeting success. But boy did some drafters overpay. He had a No. 77 overall ADP — going as high as 27th overall — in NFBC drafts conducted from January through March.
Plesac still brandishes a microscopic 0.96 BB/9 right in line with last year’s 0.98 rate that enamored so many drafters. He hasn’t suffered a velocity dip and has actually induced more ground balls and fewer fly balls. He didn’t get significantly worse as much as 2020 was just never sustainable.
Plesac’s strikeout rate jumped from 18.5% in 2019 to 27.7% last year, but it’s dipped back down to 17.5%. An 11.5% swinging-strike rate, however, offers hope that he can find middle ground and creep back into the low-20s. While he was never going to maintain last year’s 91.7% strand rate, his current 52.9% mark also regressed too far in the other direction. The same goes for a .328 BABIP far above his .256 career clip.
This section might have started as a Nelson Muntz style “Ha Ha!” directed at those who drafted Plesac. Those who spent a top-100 pick on the righty are unlikely to recoup that draft capital, but perhaps there’s a buy-low window if his investor is now furious at the miscalculation.
Although he’s not an ace, the pinpoint control makes him a valuable WHIP contributor. If he can get his ERA around the range of his 3.98 FIP with around 7.5-8.0 strikeouts per nine, you’ll still looking at a useful starter.
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