PT TOMORROW: NL East—Howie does it

Washington Nationals

Since the Carter Kieboom (SS, WAS) experiment went kaput, the Nationals have contented themselves with playing Wilmer Difo (INF, WAS) at shortstop until Trea Turner (SS, WAS) proves healthy enough to return. Meanwhile, the hot-hitting Howie Kendrick (INF, WAS) has been filling in at 1B while both Ryan Zimmerman (1B, WAS) and Matt Adams (1B/OF, WAS) are out. What happens when the injured are well?

Difo’s real-life value is his defensive acumen and versatility. In fantasy, he’s basically waiver wire fodder. Difo’s wOBA has been on a downward trend since 2016: .325, .293, .280, .265. His BPV has fluctuated between a high of 37 and this year’s low of -10. Difo has exhibited a decent amount of roto speed in the past (166 RSPD in ’17, 133 RSPD in ’18) but not this season (3 RSPD in 113 AB). Once Turner returns, Difo will return to the bench.

Kendrick has been a different story. His services have been tremendously valuable to WAS as they’ve struggled to fill in at every infield position. This year, Kendrick has played at 1B (5 G), 2B (6 G), and 3B (13 G). What’s more, he’s been one of the best hitters on the Nationals, slashing .306/.364/.553 with 15 R, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB in 85 AB. His 0.69 EYE, 138 HctX, and 73 BPV are all career highs. Even his 155 xPX is well above his 116 PX.

With a career .291 average, we know he can sustain a .300+ BA. But is the power real? According to Statcast, Kendrick is Top 9% in Exit Velocity (92.3 mph), Top 3% in xSLG (.632), and Top 2% in xwOBA (.444); all signs point to yes. If Kendrick keeps hitting anything like this, the team will continue to find him a spot in the lineup once Zimmerman and Adams return, likely at the expense of the still-struggling Brian Dozier (2B, WAS).

 

Philadelphia Phillies

After a slew of injuries in April, the Phillies are finally on the mend. Odubel Herrera (OF, PHI) is back roaming center field, while Scott Kingery (INF/OF, PHI) is nearing his return and Roman Quinn (OF, PHI) is still a few weeks off. When Kingery returns, the team will have to make some personnel decisions—who’s on the chopping block and where will the pieces fall?

The first domino to fall was Aaron Altherr (OF, SF), who was DFA’d to open up a spot when Herrera was activated from the IL on May 4. Altherr had been with PHI since the team drafted him in 2009. After a promising 2017 in which he recorded a 121 wRC+ in 412 AB, Altherr flatlined last year and looked even more lost this year. He was out of options, so the Phillies couldn’t send him down.

Once Kingery returns, the team will have to decide what to do with Phil Gosselin (INF, PHI) and Sean Rodriguez (INF/OF, PHI). Both of them are also out of options, so in all likelihood one of them will be cut. And once Quinn is ready to be activated, it’s possible that the other will be dropped as well. Based on their respective performances, Rodriguez (.316/.435/.632 in 19 AB) is making a better case to stay than Gosselin (.300/.300/.400 in 30 AB).

If the Phillies decided to keep one of those veterans, they could demote Nick Williams (OF, PHI), since he has two options remaining. The 25-year-old Williams has done little to justify his roster spot so far this year, struggling to the tune of .167/.224/.259 with 1 HR and a discouraging 2/16 BB/K rate. Perhaps some regular at-bats down on the farm would help him regain his stroke.

 

Miami Marlins

Several weeks back in this space, we covered Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara (RHP, MIA) and his prospects for playing time this season. Our opinion was much the same as that of many others: great stuff, shaky command, will probably end up in the bullpen unless he can fix his control issues. Where does Alcantara stand now, and who might replace him in the rotation if need be?

Alcantara did his best to make us eat crow out of the gate. In his first start of the season, he twirled a gem: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 6 K while picking up the win. Since then, however, the struggle has been real: 36 IP, 23 BB, 22 K. His low 57% FpK% and high 5.55 xERA spell impending doom, at least in the rotation. Even the lowly Marlins can’t abide this production much longer.

Although Zac Gallen (RHP, MIA) has gotten much attention because of his hot start at AAA-New Orleans (1.16 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 9 BB, 64 K in 54 IP), the Marlins have elected to call up Elieser Hernandez (RHP, MIA) instead, most likely because Gallen isn’t on the 40-man roster. Hernandez pitched mostly in relief for MIA in 2018, though he also started six games. His combined results were unimpressive: 5.21 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 27/45 BB/K in 65.2 IP. In Triple-A this year, Hernandez was much improved, with a 1.16 ERA (2.55 FIP), 1.13 WHIP, 11/43 BB/K in 31 IP. His 4.69 xFIP is indicative of both his luck with homers (0 HR/9) and men on base (85.7% LOB). Still, if he can carry over even some of that excellent 23.5% K-BB% from the minors to Miami, one more clunker from Alcantara could lead to a changing of the guard.

 

Atlanta Braves

Because of their wealth of options, the game of musical chairs in the Braves’ rotation will likely continue all season. When we look under the hood, we can see some clearly-defined tiers: Max Fried (LHP, ATL) and Michael Soroka (RHP, ATL) occupy the highest rung; on the middle rack we find Julio Teheran (RHP, ATL) and Kevin Gausman (LHP, ATL); Mike Foltynewicz (RHP, ATL) is currently bringing up the rear, followed by four other pitchers who’ve combined for eight starts. So who’s on the hot seat, and who might snag that chair from him?

Foltynewicz was Atlanta’s most valuable starter in 2018: 13 W, 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 202 K in 183 IP. We should note that his xFIP (3.77) was nearly a full run higher than his ERA, hinting at some possible regression. Foltynewicz made his season debut on April 27, and so far the results have been disappointing: 5.94 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5/10 BB/K, 34 BPV in 17 IP. A few things jump out: his Dom is way down (5.4 vs 9.9 in ’18), he’s giving up way more FB (54% vs 36%), and probably most importantly, his Vel is down two ticks (94.4 vs 96.4). It’s probably too early to panic, but fantasy leaguers will want to pay close attention to that last metric for signs of a rebound.

Sean Newcomb (LHP, ATL) was recalled on May 4. He’s been pitching out of the pen (0 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 5 K in 4.7 IP), but could find his way back into the rotation. Meanwhile, most of the usual suspects (Bryse Wilson, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint) are posting mediocre minor league numbers at best, and have each been on the shuttle between Gwinnett and Atlanta, with the exception of Allard. With arguably the best numbers of the bunch (4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 12/29 BB/K in 36 IP), he could be the next to get a chance, but the Braves are hoping that all their touted young starters find their grooves soon.

 

New York Mets

With Jed Lowrie (INF, NYM) struggling to get his bat going in AAA-Syracuse, the Mets are enjoying a very temporary reprieve from having to make a decision on whom to remove from the roster to make room for the rehabbing veteran. Who’s most likely to get the axe?

According to Newsday’s Tim Healy, the Mets have said that Todd Frazier (1B/3B, NYM) will not be cut to make room for Lowrie. Frazier has struggled mightily since being activated (.143/.160/.265 with 0/17 BB/K in 49 AB), so it would appear that he’ll remain on the bench for the time being. J.D. Davis (3B, NYM) resumed as the starter at 3B, but has slowed considerably since his hot start (1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 H in his last 14 AB). His biggest limitation has been his high 53% GB rate, which is capping his power; otherwise, Statcast is still impressed with his quality of contact (.325 xBA, .539 xSLG, .404 xwOBA, 48.5 Hard Hit%). However, Davis has two options remaining, so the Mets might prefer to get him regular at-bats in Syracuse than sit him behind two other players covering 3B in Lowrie and Frazier.

Other cut options include Adeiny Hechavarria (INF, NYM), Keon Broxton (OF, NYM), and Juan Lagares (OF, NYM), who are all out of options. Hechavarria has continued to excel on defense, recently spelling Amed Rosario (SS, NYM) at shortstop while the 23-year-old was working his way through a defensive slump. As the only other true option at SS, the Mets might be inclined to keep him. The decision may well be between keeping Broxton or Lagares. Neither has distinguished himself this season: Broxton has been abysmal at the plate (.152/.220/.174 though with 4 SB in 46 AB), with Lagares only slightly so (.200/.278/.323 with 2 HR and 2 SB in 65 AB). Lagares is in the last year of his four-year contract and will be a free agent this offseason; Broxton was acquired in a trade for multiple pieces and has several years of control left. In this case, it’s possible that service time considerations could trump tenure.

One last possibility would be to send Dominic Smith (1B, NYM) back down. While it would benefit his development (and trade value) to get regular at-bats in Triple-A, Smith has been the team's best left-handed bat off the bench: he's slashing .323/.447/.387 with an excellent 0.86 Eye. His power, however, has been anemic, with a 52 PX and even weaker 33 xPX. Statcast concurs, recording a decidedly subpar 85.4 Exit Velocity and 20.8 Hard Hit%. Perhaps some time in the minors would give Smith a chance to put together his currently improved plate discipline with his historically superior power output.


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.