This week I’m feeling a little shallow. The two players I’m covering are probably unavailable in very deep leagues but are certainly under-owned in smaller leagues. I’m talking 14, 15, or maybe even 16 team leagues with small benches. To my friends playing in those deepest of deep leagues, I’ll get you next week.
Tommy Joseph (8% Yahoo, 9.7% ESPN, 65% CBS) – sorry, CBS players. Tommy Joseph is assuredly rostered given his undeserved catcher eligibility. However, those of you in Yahoo and ESPN leagues should take note of the monster July the Phillies’ first baseman just had. For the season, Joseph is slashing .257/.297/.510 with 14 homers in 217 plate appearances resulting in a 109 wRC+. Provided you’re not playing in an OBP league, you can live with that kind of production.
But since the calendar turned, Joseph has seemingly transmuted into a highly selective executioner of tightly stitched cowhide. He’s improved to .319/.395/.625 over that time and seen his walk rate more than quadruple while his strikeouts have fallen by a third. The 25-year old righty also hit 6 of his 14 home runs in July.
Most notably, the strides Joseph appears to have made at the plate are relentlessly encouraging.
Notice the nearly across the board improvement in his plate discipline. Joseph’s Z-contact% ranked in the upper quarter among MLB batters with at least 70 plate appearances in July. While not quite elite, it nevertheless represents a huge jump from his first month and a half. He’s also cut his chase rate by more than 4 points, leading to better counts and fewer strikeouts.
However, the line between plate discipline and passivity is thin and while a lower chase rate is generally considered a virtue, Joseph is also swinging at fewer pitches in the zone. So are the apparent changes in Joseph’s approach a mark of well-balanced improvement or an over-compensation for his previously free-swinging proclivities?
Let’s look to his heatmaps for an answer.
We’re looking at Joseph’s Swing% with two strikes prior to July (left) and since the start of July (right). Notice his relative passivity during his first month and a half in the Bigs. Since then however, he’s become much better at recognizing strikes while also significantly reducing his Swing% on pitches way off the plate. The results? Well we’ve already talked about his improved walk and strikeout rates. But what about balls in play?
Here, we’re looking SLG% per pitch before July on the left and SLG% per pitch since making changes to his approach on the right. Prior to his adjustment, Joseph was susceptible to pitches up and away. Since July, his plate coverage has increased significantly leaving pitchers with fewer options. It’s pretty remarkable to see such a nuanced change in approach from such a young hitter. On the one hand, Joseph has become far more disciplined in most counts while showing greater aggression in the zone when facing the possibility of strike three.
More broadly (across all counts), Joseph has flattened his swing zone, eschewing pitches at the vertical extremes for those middle and middle-in. The resulting changes to his batted ball profile include a higher pull rate, harder contact, and a lower fly ball rate that’s countered by significantly fewer pop-ups. While his grounder to fly ball ratio has increased by nearly 50%, it still sits below 1.0 so I’m not worried that he’s turning into a ground ball machine.
It’s been just over 80 plate appearances since July but add it all up and we’re looking at a power bat showing significantly better results buoyed by a far more nuanced approach, specifically in two-strike counts. And with the Phillies set to flee Ryan Howard’s monstrously burdensome contract, Joseph looks particularly attractive in keeper and dynasty formats.
Joe Musgrove (11% Yahoo, 2.9% ESPN, 17%) – it’s with a heavy heart I endorse Joe Musgrove. For after two stirring 10 strikeout performances, Lance McCullers left Tuesday’s game with elbow discomfort after 4.2 encouraging innings. He’s since been placed on the 15-day DL, a disappointment for those who stashed him during his arduous shoulder rehab. But Joe Musgrove filled in admirably, facing 15 batters over the remaining 4.1 innings, striking out eight, walking just one, and giving up a single hit. Musgrove will step into the rotation while McCullers recovers and will likely replace Doug Fister if and when he returns.
In his debut, ol’ Musky Joe touched 95, mixing in a healthy amalgam of breaking and off-speed pitches. In total, he generated 11 swings-and-misses on just 66 pitches good for a 16.7% whiff rate. Hitters had a particularly tough time with his curve, whiffing 37.5% of the time. Of Musgrove’s 8 Ks on the evening, 5 came by way of the curve.
In the minors, Musgrove flashed double-digit K/9s with low walk rates leading Chris Mitchell to include him among his last KATOH Top-100. As it is often wont to do, a homer problem emerged in the high minors, a potentially alarming development considering the current MLB environment. But Musgrove’s strikeouts, mid-90s velocity, pedigree, deep arsenal, and strong supporting defense make for a mighty tempting add at this point in the season.
Quite honestly, Musgrove is worth adding in shallower league sizes as well. I’ve snatched him up already on teams in which I’ve lost McCullers and suggest you do the same. My hope is that by the time this article posts, it won’t be too late.
Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.