10 Important Stories From 09/16/20 Box Scores: Breakout Bats To Buy (Lowe, Smith), Regression Warnings (Buxton) & More

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Mookie Betts ran wild against the Padres, going 2-5 with 1 R and 3 SB. Luis Castillo looked like an ace, tossing 7.0 shutout innings allowing 3 H and 1 BB, striking out 10, to earn the W. Jared Walsh continued his stellar stretch, going 2-4 with 1 HR, 1 RBI and 2 R. What else happened on the field that we need to know about? Let’s take a look:

1) Nate Lowe quietly producing for the Rays…

While Brandon Lowe (3-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R) may get all of the attention, Nate Lowe deserves some respect as well. Hitting cleanup he went 1-2 with 1 RBI and 3 BB, putting him at 7-16 with 3 HR, 8 RBI and 5 R over his past five games. He showed his power potential last season, when he hit 23 HR while adding 32 doubles split between Triple-A and the Majors last season. He’s also showing a strong approach, with a 9.9% SwStr% and 24.3% O-Swing% entering the day, while also hitting the ball hard (46.7% Hard%). The bigger question is whether or not the Rays will give him regular AB, but if they do he could be an under-the-radar producer over the final 10 days of the season.

2) The Dodgers’ Will Smith continues to show his upside…

Smith went 2-4 with 3 RBI and 1 R yesterday, suddenly raising his average to .310 with 6 HR and 18 RBI over 84 AB this season. He’s been particularly hot of late, with four multi-hit games in his past five (and 6 in his past 8). In September he’s gone 16-36 with 2 HR and 7 RBI, as he has just 5 K in the month. Entering the day he had posted a 4.6% SwStr% and 13.5% O-Swing%, and with that type of approach with the unquestioned power there obviously is a lot to love. While he’s likely going to continue sharing time with Austin Barnes, at least for now, he has the potential to be a Top 5 catcher as soon as 2021.

3) Don’t overlook the potential of JT Brubaker…

While Castillo outpitched him, Brubaker did his best to keep pace as he allowed just 1 ER on 5 H and 1 BB, striking out 4, over 5.1 IP. He was missing a lot of bats in this one (14) and has now gone at least 5.0 IP and allowed 2 ER or fewer in three of his past four starts (the other start was a disastrous 7 ER over 5.1 IP). Brubaker has long been an under-the-radar upside option, and he entered the day showing enough in terms of strikeouts (9.49 K/9), control (3.86 BB/9) and groundballs (45.6%). Hardly a must start, he’s worth considering as a potential streamer if the matchup is right.

4) What to make of another decent outing for Wheeler…

Taking on his former team, Wheeler had to settle for a no decision after allowing 3 ER on 7 H and 0 BB, striking out 2, over 7.1 IP. It seems solid on the surface, but he only generated 9 swinging strikes as his Ks have been down all season long. Just look at these numbers entering the day:

  • Strikeouts – 6.35 K/9
  • Control – 1.59 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 52.9%

It appears that he’s traded strikeouts for elite control and an above average groundball rate. While that does limit his potential value, it doesn’t eliminate it. If he can figure out how to get more swings and misses, to go along with the other skills, we’d be talking about a Top 15 pitcher or better.

5) Could Kyle Higashioka start to get more AB…

We all know Gary Sanchez has been a bitter disappointment, so the opportunity was always there. When Higashioka then delivers a day going 3-4 with 3 HR, 5 RBI and 3 R, you almost have to think that it’s inevitable. He’s now homered four times in his past 10 AB, and after hitting 20 HR in 270 PA at Triple-A last season you have to wonder if he could put together a strong stretch. The upside is limited, but in two-catcher formats it’s a situation well worth monitoring.

6) Brady Singer dazzles against Detroit, but should we buy…

Singer tossed 6.0 shutout innings, allowing 2 H and 1 BB while striking out 8. He got 13 swinging strikes as he now has 14.0 shutout innings over his past two starts (3 H and 3 BB, striking out 16). He entered the day having been plagued by home runs (1.49 HR/9), despite showing the skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – 8.19 K/9
  • Control – 3.17 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 52.9%

While the strikeout upside may not be quite this high, the rookie could make a splash over the final 10 days of the season. Don’t ignore him if you are looking for someone to stream.

7) Is it time to believe in the Orioles Keegan Akin…

Taking on the Braves Akin was spectacular, tossing 5.0 shutout innings while allowing 3 H and 1 BB, striking out 9. While his last outing against the Yankees was a complete debacle (4 ER over 0.2 IP), his start before that saw him throw 5.1 shutout innings with 8 K. In other words we’ve seen the highs and the lows, the question is whether or not he can put it together consistently. That seems rather unlikely, as there has always been questions about both his control (4.89 BB/9 over 112.1 IP at Triple-A in ’19) and ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (32.7% groundball rate in ’19, 36.4% in ’20). In other words it was a nice showing, but the risk far outweighs the reward.

8) Has Byron Buxton truly figured things out…

While he has continued to miss time due to injury, when healthy Buxton has shown his upside at the dish. After going 1-4 with 1 HR, 2 RBI and 1 R yesterday he’s now hitting .252 with 10 HR, 22 RBI, 16 R and 1 SB over 107 AB. Before we get overly excited, let’s note a few things:

  1. It’s easy to call the SB total a disappointment, as that’s likely the reason you targeted him
  2. He’s struggled with his command of the strike zone, with 27 K vs. 1 BB courtesy of an ugly 18.3% SwStr% and 52.5% O-Swing%
  3. Can he maintain a 23.3% HR/FB and should he continue on with a 52.4% flyball rate

While the results have been good, the risk far outweighs the reward at this point. Ride him while he’s hot, but consider selling in the offseason.

9) Lance McCullers shows off his stuff, despite the L…

While Kyle Gibson ultimately got the better of him (he tossed a complete game shutout, allowing 4 H and 3 BB with 9 K), it’s easier to say that McCullers was the better starter. Going 7.0 shutout innings he allowed just 2 H and 0 BB, striking out 8, as he was lifted after just 86 pitches. He had 12 swinging strikes and enough groundballs (8 groundballs vs. 5 flyballs), though with a 4.87 ERA are we really getting excited? A lot of that has been due to poor luck, given his 64.3% strand rate, as he’s shown off all of the skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – 8.12 K/9
  • Control – 3.25 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 61.0%

In other words, while the results haven’t been great when he’s healthy he’s a must use starter.

10) Is it time to lose hope with Dylan Bundy…

Taking on the Diamondbacks Bundy was bad, allowing 6 R (5 earned) on 6 H and 2 BB, striking out 2, over just 2.2 IP. While it was an ugly outing, the underlying numbers are still strong as he’s shown the skills and the luck metrics aren’t screaming for a regression (.275 BABIP, 69.0% strand rate). The bigger question is whether or not home runs are going to become an issue (42.5% groundball rate, yet just a 0.59 HR/9), and given his history (1.57 HR/9 for his career) you’d have to think it will eventually catch up to him. With only a handful of starts left in ’20 we aren’t giving up for this season, but long-term we aren’t buying the breakout.

Sources – ESPN, Fangraphs

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