Thursday, August 23, 2018
Perhaps it’s only fitting that veteran slugger Kendrys Morales was outshined, justifiably, by the performance of Blue Jays rookie right-hander Thomas Pannone — who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his major-league debut against the Orioles on Wednesday — since his stellar run over the last three months has flown almost entirely under the radar.
The 35-year-old slugger capped off a monster three-game series against Baltimore by going 2-for-4 in the midweek matinee. He launched a solo home run, his 18th of the year, off Orioles starter David Hess in the seventh inning and has now gone deep five times in the last four days. Over his last 66 games, Morales is hitting .293 (63-for-215) with 14 homers and 31 RBI. It’s hard to believe given his recent run of success that he owned a disastrous .203/.277/.341 triple-slash line with four dingers and 17 RBI through his first 39 games of the season. So, what changed? According to Statcast, nothing. That’s the truly bizarre part of his dramatic midseason metamorphosis. Morales has essentially been the exact same hitter in terms of quality of contact and plate discipline during both stretches, yet experienced dramatically different results from a production standpoint.
Per Statcast data, Morales owned a .360 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) and a .531 expected slugging percentage (xSLG) on June 1. xwOBA is a metric formulated using exit velocity and launch angle, in tandem with strikeout and walk rate, to determine expected outcomes based on quality of contact. Since that point, he’s posted a staggering .443 xwOBA with a .636 xSLG. His performance has certainly upticked — especially from a power standpoint — in recent weeks. However, it’s worth noting that the underlying metrics reveal that Morales was still making quality contact earlier this year, even if he didn’t have the raw production to show for it in his traditional surface stats. His walk and strikeout rates hovered consistently around nine percent and 20 percent, respectively, during both periods, but he ran an absurdly-low .233 BABIP over the first two months.
According to Baseball Savant, Morales entered Wednesday’s contest with a .413 xwOBA, the seventh-best mark in the big leagues among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances this year. xwOBA isn’t designed to be a predictive metric, but it reveals that Morales recent surge is no fluke. He’s been doing this all year. It’s time for fantasy owners to start buying in, especially considering that 19 of his final 35 games come against the non-contending Orioles, Marlins and Rays pitching staffs.
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Encarnacion Homers Twice in Return
It was such a picturesque summer evening in Fenway Park that Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion took his parrot for a pair of walks, launching a pair of two-run homers against the Red Sox in his return from the disabled list on Wednesday. The 35-year-old veteran, who missed exactly 10 days with a right hand contusion, crushed a titanic 419-foot blast over the Green Monster off Red Sox starter Brian Johnson in the first inning and also took reliever Heath Hembree deep in the fifth. It was his fourth multi-homer game of the year and the first time accomplishing the feat since June 3. He’s hitting a pedestrian .232 in 446 plate appearances, but has already racked up 27 homers and 85 RBI in 105 games. Encarnacion has shown no signs of slowing down at this advanced stage of his career. Granted he’s missed some time due to injury, and seen his batting average dip this season, but he continues to produce at an elite level from a power standpoint. He’s poised to eclipse the 30-homer plateau for the seventh consecutive year and has topped 100 RBI in five of six seasons during that span.
Injury Woes Continue For Yankees
The Pinstripes’ postseason aspirations were dealt another serious blow when they placed closer Aroldis Chapman on the 10-day disabled list with left knee tendinitis on Wednesday. The 30-year-old southpaw experienced pain in his left knee on Tuesday night during a 12th-inning appearance against the Marlins. He was removed from the contest after facing just one batter. He also battled left knee discomfort in early July and was forced to skip the All-Star Game as a result. There is no immediate timetable for his return, but he’s likely to remain out until at least early September. Fortunately, the Yankees have plenty of experienced in-house options to hand the ball to in his absence. Dellin Betances appears to be the clear favorite to fill the immediate void since veteran righty David Robertson remains sidelined due to tenderness in his throwing shoulder. The hard-throwing 30-year-old righty has overcome a rough start to his 2018 campaign to rediscover the form that made him one of the most dominant relievers in the game since his full-season debut in 2014. However, the proverbial dark horse candidate for saves in New York is former Orioles stopper Zach Britton, whom the Yankees acquired at the trade deadline in late July to bolster their stacked bullpen. If the Yankees (or Betances) are uncomfortable changing his present setup role, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them hand the ball to the 30-year-old lefty instead.
Chapman isn’t the only key contributor the Yankees have lost to injury this week. They also placed shortstop Didi Gregorius, who has hit .270/.333/.482 with 76 runs scored, 22 homers, 74 RBI and a career-best 10 steals in 118 games this year, on the 10-day disabled list with a left heel contusion on Tuesday. New York will now be forced to hold off the hard-charging Athletics and Mariners in the American League Wild Card race over the next few weeks without three of their biggest bats — Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge — and their primary closer. While Sanchez is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment later this week, the latest reports on Judge are not very encouraging. He’s still experiencing pain in his fractured right wrist and has not been cleared to swing a bat. The 26-year-old superstar has been sidelined since July 26 and there remains no timetable for his return. It’s certainly not time to panic in New York, but they are on the verge of reaching a tipping point with so many injuries to key performers.
American League Quick Hits: White Sox placed Jose Abreu on the 10-day disabled list with lower abdominal pain … George Springer (quad) should be ready to return Friday … Xander Bogaerts hit a pair of solo home runs in the Red Sox’ win over the Indians … Tyler White went 3-for-5 with a solo home run in the Astros’ win over the Mariners … Roberto Osuna pitched a scoreless ninth inning in that one for his first save with the Astros … Jean Segura was pulled from that contest due to soreness in his upper rib cage … Tim Anderson belted his 17th home run of the year as the White Sox defeated the Twins … Joey Gallo launched his 33rd homer of the year in the Rangers’ win over the Athletics … Mike Minor gave up one hit over six scoreless frames in that contest … Sergio Romo netted his 18th save of the year, preserving a Rays’ victory over the Royals … David Hess tossed seven innings of one-run ball in a loss to the Blue Jays … Devon Travis belted a three-run homer in that contest … Lance McCullers (forearm) could progress to a bullpen session as soon as this weekend … Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed that Michael Fulmer (oblique) will return Friday against the White Sox … C.J. Cron cleared revocable waivers and can be dealt to any team before August 31 … David Fletcher left Wednesday’s game against the Diamondbacks with an apparent foot injury … Indians placed Rajai Davis on the 10-day disabled list … Matt Shoemaker (forearm) is on track to make a three-inning simulated appearance on Friday … Leonys Martin (illness) will miss the remainder of the 2018 season.
National League Quick Hits: Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday that Kris Bryant (shoulder) is “getting close” to beginning a minor league rehab assignment … Robert Murray of The Athletic reported that Andrew McCutchen has cleared revocable waivers … Cardinals placed Marcell Ozuna on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation … Wilson Ramos underwent an MRI on his left hand on Wednesday, but hopes to play on Friday against the Blue Jays … Brandon Morrow (biceps) will get more tests on his right arm on Friday … Wil Myers was scratched from the Padres’ lineup Wednesday due to a lacerated nose … Chris Archer (leg) is listed as the Pirates’ probable starter Sunday against the Brewers … Daniel Murphy started at second base and hit leadoff, going 2-for-5 with an RBI in his Cubs debut Wednesday versus the Tigers … Ronald Acuna swatted his 20th homer of the year in the Braves’ victory over the Pirates … Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a stolen base in the Nationals’ win over the Phillies … Stephen Strasburg surrendered five runs over four innings and settled for a no-decision in his return from the disabled list in that contest … Noah Syndergaard reeled off six innings of two-run ball with six strikeouts to pick up a victory against the Giants … Jon Gray yielded two runs over 6 1/3 innings in the Rockies’ win over the Padres … Trevor Richards struck out nine over 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Yankees … David Peralta went 2-for-4 and hit his 25th homer of the year in the Diamondbacks’ win over the Angels … Paul Goldschmidt went 3-for-3 with a dinger in that contest … Freddy Peralta tossed seven scoreless innings in the Brewers’ win over the Reds … Christian Yelich went 4-for-4 with a walk, a homer, and two RBI in that victory … Phillies acquired left-handed reliever Luis Avilan from the White Sox for pitching prospect Felix Paulino … Cubs placed Addison Russell on the 10-day disabled list with a left middle finger sprain … Cardinals optioned Daniel Poncedeleon to Triple-A Memphis … Joe Ross (elbow) allowed three earned runs over five innings in a rehab start at Double-A Harrisburg … Kyle Barraclough (back) threw a 13-pitch simulated inning on Wednesday … Adam Wainwright (elbow) threw three scoreless innings on Wednesday for Double-A Springfield.