Guys to Buy: Four Players Having Breakout Seasons

Today I’m going to dive into the stats behind four players that I think are either in the midst of or ready to have breakout seasons. They run the gamut in ownership from 20% to 75%, so some may be available on your waiver wire while others may be rostered, but those that are owned in your leagues are good targets for trades as the current owner likely undervalues them. As always, I’ll include a craft beer review and recommendation for your sipping pleasure.

From most owned to least owned, here are 4 players that are breaking out, and that you should strive to roster in all formats:

Brett Gardner, OF (NYY) – 75.5% owned

Season: .266/.349/.512, 41R, 13HR, 29 RBI, 6 SB

I’m happy to eat my words here, as I have been wary of Gardner’s fantasy success this season despite my Yankee fan-happiness at his surging stats.

brett eating gloves
Gardner demonstrating how I should be eating my words. Photo credit: AP.

Gardner isn’t a typical breakout candidate, as he’s 33 and established. However, there are some key elements to his season that indicate this success at the plate, especially in his power numbers, is sustainable.

First and foremost: the power. Gardner is on a tear this season after a slow start: since April 29th, he’s gone deep 13 times, including 3 multi-home-run games!! Wowsers! We often forget that Gardy can go deep when he wants to (especially in Yankee Stadium), as he’s posted 17 and 16 season home runs in 2014 and 2015, respectively. That being said, he’s on pace to smash his career highs, and I don’t think it’s a fluke.

Gardner has a career average Hard-Hit Percentage of 23.9%, with his highest Hard-Hit Percent season being posted in 2014, when he launched the 17 aforementioned home runs. This season, Gardy is crushing the ball to the tune of 37.1% Hard-Hit. Almost as important, the lefty is pulling the ball at a career high 43.4%, up from his career average 35.2% pull rate. This is especially useful in Yankee Stadium with it’s short right porch, as lefty’s who pull can leave the yard easily.

Diving even deeper, Gardy is actually due for some positive regression, as his current .290 BABIP is a CAREER LOW (career avg. .316 BABIP). Some of that could be due to his aging and (slightly) diminished speed, but at the very least he’s certainly not due for negative regression. The only knock on him right now is his lack of steals: he only attempted one steal (and was caught) in May, but he’s already swiped a bag successfully in the first week of June, so expect him to finish with his usual 20+ SB (currently 6/7 on the year).

Gardy is posting his usual 11% BB rate, so he’s getting on base plenty, using his still-well-above-average speed and a potent Yankee lineup to score 41 R this year. Expect this success to continue, and buy him now if possible. Gardy is well on his way to posting the best season of his career, and his peripherals suggest these numbers are well-deserved, and could even improve. Hitting leadoff for the dangerous Bronx Bombers ensures he’ll get his fair share of Runs as well as plenty of pitches to hit, as no one wants to pitch around Gardy with Sanchez, Judge, Holliday, and Castro lurking behind him.

The verdict: buy now. Gardy has always been a strong AVG/OBP/R/SB producer, but his added power and changed approach at the plate give him HR and RBI ability, grab him ASAP.

Domingo Santana, OF (MIL) – 47.1% owned

Season: .284/.372/.500, 35 R, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB

Hopefully you were listening two weeks ago when I recommended picking him up, as he’s almost tripled in ownership since that time, and for good reason.

Sunday Santana has an 8-game hitting streak with 3 homers, 8 R, 5 RBI, and 1 SB over that time. Half of his games during this hit streak have been multi-hit performances. He’s seeing the ball much better; dropping his K% by over 6% since last season, and raising his BB% from 11 to 12% in the process. The scary thing is that he’s actually gone down in his Hard Hit Percentage from 38.5% in 2017 to 35.6% this season, and his BABIP is in line with career numbers, indicating regression is not coming.

He’s been hitting 5th in the potent Brewers lineup, so his RBI chances will continue to be there. The young outfielder is just 24 years old and playing in his first full big league season, already equaling his 2016 HR total and surpassing his R and RBI totals from last season in 20 fewer games.

Domingo is breaking out in a big way, and should continue to be a great fantasy option moving forward. His Position Rank on ESPN is 9, and while it’s unlikely he finishes the season as a top 10 OF, top 20 is certainly possible. Grab him now, because the next time I write about him his ownership rate could have doubled again.

The verdict: buy now. Sunday Santana is hitting in the heart of a good Brewers offense and all his numbers and peripherals point to him hitting for AVG and power, and for him to only keep getting better. He’s only 24 years old.

Whit Merrifield, 2B (KC) – 33% owned

Season: .288/.337/.468, 18 R, 6 HR, 18 RBI, 6 SB

Just like Domingo, I wrote about Whit before it was cool when he was sitting at 1.5% ownership, and again last week when he was getting more attention and jumped to almost 10% ownership, and now he’s sitting at 33% owned and rising, and for good reason.

Despite his underwhelming counting numbers, the majority of them have come in the past 30 days, where he’s collected 12 of his 18 R, 4 of his 6 HR, 13 of 18 RBI, and 5 of his 6 SB. He also missed the first three weeks of the season and did not play a game until 4/18, which accounts for his low overall counting stats. He found his groove a the plate in May, however, and started a 19-game hitting streak on May 13th that has culminated in his promotion to batting leadoff for KC, further raising his value as he gets more ABs and opportunities.

Merrifield is 28, but this is just his first full season on the Royals big league roster, and he’s making the most of it. He’s had a brief struggle at the plate this past week since his promotion to the leadoff spot, but he did go 2/5 with a three-run, bases-clearing triple on Tuesday against Houston.

Merrifield’s ceiling projects him as a Brian Dozier type of player at the keystone: good pop and power, and surprising speed for the position (6 SB in 7 tries this year for Whit). Merrifield hits for better average than Dozier: Whit has been a career .280+ hitter, and has stayed true to that by posting a .288 AVG this season, and that’s after a rough start. Don’t be surprised if he hits at a .300 clip or better ROS.

The verdict: buy now. Whit will give you good all-around numbers at the keystone, hitting for average, power, and stealing bases.

Now that’s a cute Royal. Image stolen from Whit’s twitter page.

Hunter Renfroe, OF (SD) – 20% owned

Season: .236/.291/.473, 25 R, 13 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB

Don’t let the “meh” slashline fool you, Hunter Renfroe is breaking out something fierce. The former 13th overall pick is just 25 years old and is quietly turning in a fabulous rookie campaign after a putrid April and a slow start.

Renfroe struggled at the plate to start the season as many rookies do, but the righty outfielder has mashed to the tune of a .326/.374/.722 slashline over his past 16 games, with 12 RBI, 10 R, 1 SB, and 5 home runs. Yummy.

While his .236 AVG leaves a lot to be desired, Renfroe batted at a clip of .309 over 623 AB in two AAA seasons, and his career worst .275 BABIP (~.330 BABIP in AA, AAA and last season with SD) along with his career high 35.5% Hard Hit percentage and career high 53.5 pull percentage show that his numbers will only continue to get better, as he’s been playing better than his counting stats indicate this season.

Hunter Renfroe profiles as a 65 grade power hitter, and proved it by mashing 30 homers in his 2016 AAA campaign, and collecting 13 in the first two months of the season this year. He strikes out at a 27.4% clip, but for a big hitter (and a rookie) that could be a lot worse. Look for him to continue to post better and better numbers as he is currently batting cleanup and figures to see plenty of RBI chances (even though he’s on the putrid Padres).

The verdict: Snap him up ASAP. Renfroe is a power hitter that could eclipse 30 HR this year. His BABIP is far lower than his career numbers and league average, and as that normalizes it will combine with his career-best Hard Hit Percentage to add more AVG and R to his impressive HR and RBI totals. He could finish as a top 30-40 OF.

The Beer

Today I’m reviewing a pilsner out of Oregon by the Crux Fermentation Project: Crux Pilz.

Picture from the Crux Fermentation Project’s site, I drank mine in the shower so I didn’t think anyone would want to see that picture.

This is described as “a new-old-world pilsner” by Crux, which they define as “This is not your father’s pilsner. It’s more like the pilsner that belonged to his stern father, the one with all the rules but who gave you treats whenever your parents weren’t looking.” I’m not really sure what that means, or how it relates to the beer itself (looking at every beer “description” you’ve ever printed, Lagunitas), but I am sure that it’s good.

This pilsner clocks in at 5.2% ABV, and is highly sessionable. I drank it out of the can so I’m not sure what the head/lacing is like, but it’s well-carbonated so I would guess a pretty big but quickly-disappearing head of foam when poured.

The taste is crisp, light, and refreshing, but not watery or weak like some American pilsners can be. My first few sips I notice how crisp and drinkable it is, with a nice, subtle bite of lemon that adds citrus flavor and mild tartness (very mild tart, not sour at all). The pilsner malts and hops add a good biscuity, bready taste to the mild floral hoppyness, which blends well with the zesty lemon.

Crisp is the main word I use for this beer, because that’s what really stood out. I just enjoyed drinking it; nice, light flavors that don’t disappear or get lost in the tasting.


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