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Strike Zone

Notes: Ryan McMahon, Jake Meyers and more

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: August 19, 2021, 1:15 am ET

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Colorado’s Ryan McMahon was one of my favorite picks this spring. He cost next to nothing, so I wound up with him in almost all of my drafts, which paid off handsomely when he hit three homers in the Rockies’ fifth game of the year. He went on to finish April with eight homers. Since then, though, he’s been quite underwhelming, at least aside from his remarkable defensive numbers (Baseball-Reference has him as the NL’s most valuable defender to date). It still seems like he should be better.

McMahon’s season has checked most of the boxes I was looking for. His strikeout rate is down to 25.8% after coming in at 29.7% in his previous full season in 2019 and 34.2% in 52 games last year. He’s done a much better job of getting the ball in the air, which his groundball rate dipping from 50-51% to 37%. His exit velocity is up a tad, too. His average exit velocity is in the 85th percentile of major leaguers and his hard-hit rate is in the 81st percentile. That all suggests to me that he should have better than a 104 OPS+, which is what his current .265/.338/.465 line gives him.

Really, I shouldn’t complain. McMahon is on pace to finish with 25 homers, 80+ RBI and 85+ runs scored for a bad offense. I can handle that. I just want more. I wish McMahon would pull the ball with more frequency. Hitting to all fields works at Coors Field, but he needs to take better advantage of his power when he doesn’t have the huge outfield gaps working in his favor.

McMahon is established now, at least against right-handers. Whether he’s playing second or third, his defense, while probably not quite as good as some advanced stats suggest, should ensure that he doesn’t have to worry about his starting job for the foreseeable future. I’d like to think that he still has another gear. I’m not sure that he’ll find it before the end of this season, but he’ll likely be on my recommended list again next spring.


National League notes


- Tyler Gilbert’s no-hitter was surely the unlikeliest in my memory and perhaps even in major league history, considering that he was a minor league Rule 5 pick making his first MLB start against a fine offensive team in San Diego. Gilbert surrendered six batted balls with at least a 50% hit probability, but that’s not bad for facing 28 hitters and one doesn’t achieve a no-hitter without some luck. His mid-80s cutter did most of the work. From my view, it’s not a particularly impressive pitch, and he doesn’t really have much else to keep hitters guessing. I don’t expect him to last, but no matter what happens next, he’ll always have the no-no.


- The Reds could certainly use a healthy Nick Senzel with Jesse Winker (intercostal strain) on the IL, but they don’t feel like he’s all of the way back from his knee surgery and they chose to demote him to Triple-A at the end of his rehab assignment. Now they have top prospect Jose Barrero (formerly Jose Garcia) up, but it’s unclear whether they really have any plans for him; Kyle Farmer is poised to remain the starting shortstop and there’s no playing time available elsewhere in the infield. Trying Barrero in the outfield against lefties is an option. They’ve been reduced to using Tyler Naquin versus lefties of late, and while Naquin has rebounded from his July swoon, he’s not someone who should be starting against southpaws.


- It’s nice that Yadiel Hernandez is getting a chance to have some success with the Nationals, but he turns 34 in two months and he’s not a very good defensive outfielder. The team should turn him back into a pinch-hitter and give Lane Thomas a shot in left field. Thomas, acquired from the Cardinals for Jon Lester at the trade deadline, has flashed some fantasy potential, hitting 21 homers and stealing 18 bases in essentially a full season of play (584 PA) in Triple-A. In the majors, he’s hit five homers and stolen three bases in 147 PA, though that comes with a dreary .183 average. Thomas can be passive at the plate, causing him to strike out plenty even though he doesn’t swing and miss a lot. He hits the ball fairly hard when he makes contact, and he offers excellent speed. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a useful regular, but the Nationals have no excuse not to give him a long look. As bad as Victor Robles has been, they’re going to need two new starters alongside Juan Soto next year.


- Elieser Hernandez wasn’t quite at his best Sunday in his return from a quad strain that had him on the 60-day IL, but he didn’t need to be against the barren Cubs lineup. Hernandez was one of my favorite pitching sleepers going into the season, and his arm is plenty fresh after just 37 innings pitched this year. I don’t like the matchup he has Friday in Cincinnati -- he’s an extreme flyball pitcher and that’s a big home run park -- but if he can stay healthy, I think he’ll of some use in mixed leagues down the stretch.


- The Cubs brought up Michael Hermosillo on Tuesday after he hit .310/.448/.600 with 10 homers and seven steals in 42 games for Triple-A Iowa. Hermosillo was long on the cusp of the majors with the Angels, but they already had a decent center fielder and never gave him an extended try. Hermosillo’s center field defense is a big part of his game, and when combined with his ability to hit lefties, it could allow him have a nice little run as a part-timer, a la Jake Marisnick. Any chance of him proving useful in mixed leagues during the final six weeks here would probably hinge on Rafael Ortega collapsing.


- As they’ve already done with Justin Steele, the Cubs are about to add Keegan Thompson to their rotation after a successful earlier stint in the bullpen. Thompson has a 2.21 ERA in 26 relief appearances and one start in the majors this season, but he was sent down at the end of July in order to get stretched out to start. He’s since pitched 14 2/3 scoreless innings in four starts for Triple-A Iowa. Thompson’s improved cutter should give him a chance to succeed in longer outings if his velocity holds up. He’s probably not going to be of any use in mixed leagues with the Cubs’ current roster supporting him, but he’s interesting to me as a potential 2022 sleeper.

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American League notes


- The Twins demoted Trevor Larnach for the crime of hitting like Brent Rooker, which was kind of odd given that Booker is still starting and actually hitting second almost every day. The 24-year-old Larnach was in a rut and his problems versus major league breaking balls weren’t going to disappear, but it seemed like the best way for him to overcome those was to face more major league pitching. Still, more important than that is that he won’t accrue major league service time while playing in Triple-A, something that could pay off financially in the long run. It will be interesting to see if the Twins recall him next month if he turns it around quickly in Triple-A. My guess is that they won’t.


- The other Twins thing that bothers me: why the heck won’t they play catchers Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers at the same time? They have a third catcher sitting around in Willians Astudillo, so there’s no risk involved. I’ll give them a pass this week, since the ailing Josh Donaldson has started at DH the last four days, but before that, they had started together just once since Nelson Cruz was traded. Garver is hitting .237/.340/.532 this year (that’s the best line of anyone on the active roster), yet he’s playing only half of the time. Jeffers is at .232/.316/.522 in 44 games since returning from the minors at the beginning of June. Rooker, the most frequent DH option, is hitting .202/.260/.421.


- It’s hard to argue with 15 2/3 scoreless innings, but Luis Gil is an extreme flyball guy with a history of control issues and only two major league pitches. His fastball is truly excellent and his slider is quite good, too, so I wouldn’t call his early success a fluke. However, it’s only a matter of time before some of the flyballs he gives up start leaving the park. I’m skeptical that he’ll remain a mixed-league asset down the stretch.


- Losing George Springer (knee) again was the last thing the Blue Jays needed, but it’s a good thing for the fantasy values of Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., both of whom were losing significant playing time to Corey Dickerson. All three should start against most righties for now.


- The Jays promoted Otto Lopez when Springer went down Tuesday, picking him over the more heralded Kevin Smith because he was already on the 40-man roster. However, word came down later that Smith would be joining the team Wednesday. Smith emerged as a fine prospect in 2018, stumbled badly in Double-A the following the year and reemerged as a force this season, hitting .286/.371/.576 with 19 homers and 16 steals in Triple-A this season. His K:BB ratio went from 5:1 in Double-A to barely over 2:1 this year. He just might be the Blue Jays’ best option at third base the rest of the way, and he’s worth a flier in the hopes that the Jays will stick with him after Cavan Biggio returns.


- Astros manager Dusty Baker flip-flopping Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers in the outfield on Monday was a tiny move with potentially significant ramifications. Baker showed a strong preference for McCormick over Meyers as his center fielder after Myles Straw was traded (Meyers didn’t get his first start until his 10th day in the majors), but he’s been forced to use both recently with Kyle Tucker on the COVID IL. Initially, he was playing McCormick in center and Meyers on right, but those two switched spots on Monday, with Meyers again playing center Tuesday. Meyers is batting .292/.346/.625 in 26 plate appearances since his callup, and if Baker thinks he’s the better defender of the two, one would imagine he’ll remain a regular after Tucker returns. That makes him an excellent pickup in mixed leagues. Meyers was batting .343/.408/.598 with 16 homers and 10 steals in 68 games in Triple-A before his callup.


- I wasn’t all that optimistic about Yohel Pozo getting a chance in Texas, but I squeezed him into the August catcher rankings just in case. Now the 24-year-old is up, and he has made four straight starts at DH, going 4-for-15 with a homer. Pozo was hitting .337/.350/.608 with just 33 strikeouts and six walks in 280 plate appearances in Triple-A. He swings at practically everything and makes a lot of hard contact, but one imagines major league pitchers will do a better job of exploiting his approach than Triple-A hurlers did, and that he’s a subpar catcher will really hurt his prospects of a long-term career in the majors. Still, he’s a fun player, and he should be of use as a second catcher in two-catcher mixed leagues as long as the Rangers continue to use him.


- The reports from Nick Anderson’s minor league rehab have been quite good, and while it’d be nice to ease him back into a big role in his return from an elbow injury, he could be a candidate for saves in the depleted Rays pen right away upon being activated. Those chasing saves should consider picking him up.


- It’s looking like Mariners manager Scott Servais just isn’t comfortable with Diego Castillo in the ninth; Castillo hasn’t pitched in that inning since getting his first and only save for Seattle on Aug. 3. Both Drew Steckenrider and Paul Sewald have saves since then, and Steckenrider also has two wins. Even though Steckenrider worked the seventh in front of Castillo and Sewald (who got the save) in Tuesday’s win, he seems like the best bet of the Mariners relievers at this point.


- Obviously, Joe Barlow is the pitcher to roster in the Texas bullpen right now. He’s gotten both Rangers saves since he came recommended last week.