Fantasy Baseball: Can July's Hottest Hitters Keep It Up?
Folks, it's hittin' season.
With the calendar having flipped to August, the weather has gotten hotter and more humid in many places, and balls are flying all over MLB ball yards right now. July is typically a time when the bats heat up, because as the weather gets warmer and the air stickier, baseballs tend to carry better. 'Tis has always been so and will always be.
For the five hitters listed below, all had Julys that were outstanding, an improvement from their first three months of the season. Are we to believe their success can be sustained for the regular season? Can they be counted on as the fantasy playoffs draw near (or are already here in some bigger leagues)?
Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco is the first of two Philadelphia Phillies on this list, and his turnaround has been remarkable. He'd been one of the worst hitters in baseball over the last two seasons, and he hadn't gotten off to a great start in 2018, losing his third base job at one point to the oft-injured J.P. Crawford.
However, since Crawford went down with a hand injury, Franco has been blistering hot. In July, he hit .330/.378/.593 with a wOBA of .404 and a wRC+ of 154. He hit seven home runs, tied for 10th-most in baseball over that stretch, just four behind July's leader, Matt Carpenter. And he continued that hot hitting in August, capped off by a walk-off bomb against the Miami Marlins on Thursday night.
OH MY MAIKY.#RingTheBell | #BeBold pic.twitter.com/8uWvU3uCk8
â€” Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) August 3, 2018
Franco's surge goes back to June 17. In his last 143 plate appearances, he's batting .331/.378/.617 with 10 bombs, and the surge has come for two reasons: he stopped hitting the ball on the ground and has started to hit to the opposite field.
In July, his ground ball rate, which is still over 50% for the season, went from 54.4% in May and 59.3% in June to 43.8% in July. Meanwhile, his opposite-field percentage went from 16.5% in May and 22.2% in June to 28.8% in July.
Franco has always hit the ball hard, but now he's elevating and not pulling off. These changes appear to be for real and should give fantasy owners confidence that the 25-year-old can be counted on for the rest of 2018.
Nick Williams, Philadelphia Phillies
Nick Williams is another young player for the Phils who is taking advantage of playing every day. With Aaron Altherr struggling and now down in AAA, Williams has produced to the point the team didn't feel the need to find another outfielder at the trade deadline, making the everyday job his. And he hasn't disappointed.
In July, Williams hit .311/.386/.511 with a wOBA of .387 and a wRC+ of 144 with 5 home runs for the Phillies. Williams' improvement has come from better plate discipline, drawing more walks and striking out less. In 83 games last season, he walked in 5.8% of his plate appearances and struck out 28.3% of the time. This year, he's walked 7.9% and struck out 23.5% of the time.
Last month, those numbers were even better, with a walk rate of 8.9% and a strikeout rate of 18.8%. Williams has been a much more patient hitter, and the results are evident in the rest of his slash line. He's an everyday player now and is providing genuine production for fantasy owners at just the right time.
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
.@RougnedOdor is the 1st player in @MLB history to walk 5 times (none intentional) and HR in one game. pic.twitter.com/wCND5hZTdZ
â€” MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) August 3, 2018
Yes, that's right, a player who, over the first four years of his career had never had a walk rate reach 5.0%, walked five times in a game, while also hitting a dinger. But, it's a signal of the improvements Odor has made this summer.
This season, Odor is walking in 8.5% of his plate appearances. While that certainly won't put him among the league leaders in that category, it is an improvement and is part of the reason his .436 wOBA last month was 10th-highest in baseball. In July, Odor batted .341/.410/.625 with 6 homers and 18 runs scored in 24 games. Overall, his wRC+ has jumped from a horrifically-low 61 in 162 games last season to 114 this year.
In short, he's gone from being a -1.0 WAR player to someone worth 2.1 WAR this season (according to Fangraphs), mainly because of improved plate discipline.
Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels
Overall this year, Kole Calhoun's numbers are U-G-L-Y. In 333 plate appearances, he's batting .208/.267/.386 with 14 bombs, a wOBA of .282, and a wRC+ of 78. Those numbers are obviously way below league average, but after a hot July, Calhoun is a player who is trending upwards.
Last month, the Los Angeles Angels' outfielder had the fifth-highest wOBA in the game (.462) and hit 10 of his 14 home runs in July. Calhoun knocked in 25 runs and scored 20 in 23 games and hit .322/.328/.759. But it's harder to find a concrete reason for Calhoun's July surge than the three players listed above.
His walk rate is about the same, and his strikeout rate has even gone up a bit. He did hit the ball in the air more in June and July compared to May (54.8% ground ball rate in May, 36.7% and 31.3% in June and July), but his numbers in June were still not very good.
It appears as though a changed stance since coming off the disabled list has made a difference in making Calhoun a bitter hitter.
Kole Calhoun has busted out of his struggles, hitting .322/.378/.759 since the beginning of July. And he just homered in his first AB for August.
A changed stance might be doing it allhttps://t.co/OLZJn6Br6g pic.twitter.com/lLaITcdopK
â€” Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) August 1, 2018
Calhoun is more crouched at the plate than he had been before going on the disabled list, and it's likely not a coincidence. Fantasy owners should continue to ride Calhoun through the playoffs as long as they can, but have a back-up plan ready as well.
Stephen Piscotty, Oakland Athletics
Did you know that Stephen Piscotty now has eight home runs in July?
He's real good. #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/nv1MvrA6rj
â€” Oakland Athletics ðŸŒ³ðŸ˜âš¾ï¸ (@Athletics) July 31, 2018
Like so many of Oakland's hitters last month, Piscotty had a hot July, batting .273/.327/.596 with those 8 bombs, a wOBA of .388 and a wRC+ of 149. He now has 15 dingers on the season, and the answer for him has been simple: hit more line drives.
Piscotty's line drive rate in July was 31.6%, up from 23.6% in June and 14.3% in May, although it hasn't really been due to a change in his strikeout or walk numbers. The reason for Piscotty's uptick in line drives is a bit harder to pin down, which makes it a bit harder to believe he'll be able to sustain the pace he showed last month.