Finding hitters on the wire is always challenging. We know scooping someone with a .500 AVG and a bundle of homers over a 2-3 week sample will come back to earth, but how much? Is it their one hot streak for the year or something more viable? I’ve got three surging bats to look at here. One is just north of 50% because I really wanted to talk about him. Deep leaguers will likely only be able to acquire these guys via trade, but we can dive into the backend of the player pool another time.
Max Muncy (56% at ESPN leagues), 1B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Last 30 days: .307/.436/.760, 10 HR, 14 R, 22 RBI, 1 SB, 18% BB, 22% K
I had to include Muncy; he’s absolutely out of his mind! For a detailed breakdown of LA’s latest find, take a look at Jeff Sullivan’s piece on him. I’m actually surprised he’s still so available in ESPN leagues given the nature of today’s fantasy game where it’s pick up now, ask questions later, but I guess we are dealing with a non-prospect who had 245 MLB PA of a 70 OPS+ before this. He’s reworked his hitting mechanics to include a leg kick and it has untapped a flood of power, resulting in an astonishing 13 homers in just 157 PA so far this year.
His being a Dodger no doubt adds to his appeal after their Justin Turner and Chris Taylor discoveries in recent years and everything points to some legitimacy here as far as plate approach and batted ball data (though we know the 30% HR/FB will wane). However, I do wonder if he’s beating up on a soft schedule and a garbage time accumulator. Of the 13 home runs, only two have come against legitimately good starters (Max Scherzer on 5/19, Sean Newcomb on 6/10) and one other against a good reliever (Yoshihisa Hirano on 4/30).
Meanwhile, the bulk of his damage has come in what Baseball-Reference deems as low leverage situations. He has a .349/.414/.889 line and 10 of the 13 homers in such situations (70 PA) and a .200/.385/.250 mark in the high leverage ones (26 PA). The 1.303 OPS in low leverage is the league’s best so far. Only Mike Trout (17) and Bryce Harper (12) have more homers in such situations while Jose Ramirez and Joey Gallo match Muncy’s 10. His .250 SLG is 27th-worst among 284 hitters with at least 25 high leverage PA. The walks are saving his OPS (.635), but he’s still 195th of 284.
Muncy also leads the league in OPS against finesse pitchers (defined by Baseball Reference as such: Finesse are in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts plus walks) at 1.252 with nine of his homers. I’m not sure that either of the low leverage or finesse factors are actual flaws for Muncy as both will still exist going forward, but it did surprise me to see that much of his excellence coming in low leverage and/or against finesse arms.
It’s always tough to assess players when they are running this hot because we all know it will slow down, but how much and when are tough to answer. Of course, no one wants to be left holding the bag when it happens, especially if you trade for someone like this. I’m still scooping Muncy off the wire where available as I see another 15+ homers and .260ish AVG coming, but he’ll no doubt cost much more than a player of that caliber via trade so I wouldn’t buy high in the trade realm.
Teoscar Hernandez (44%), OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Last 30 days: .258/.298/.539, 5 HR, 12 R, 16 RBI, 0 SB, 3% BB, 21% K
He isn’t performing at the same level as the other two, but I’m a big fan and I haven’t really written about him since the NFBC Sleepers piece back in January. Hernandez spent the first couple weeks in the minors, but he’s locked in a full-time role since arriving despite the glut of outfielders the Jays have accumulated. Hernandez is known for his pop after an 8 HR September call-up last year and 11 so far this year, but he also has some speed that could enhance his fantasy value over the summer. He’s only 3-for-7 on the bases so far, but has averaged 33 SBs per 600 PA with a 76% success rate.
Hernandez holds his own against righties and lefties so he shouldn’t be subject to a platoon, even when he hits some cold spells. Randal Grichuk is starting to hit (1.035 OPS, 3 HR in his last 14 days), but he shouldn’t be a major threat to Hernandez’s playing time. I could see Hernandez putting up a Domingo Santana-esque kind of season. Santana went 30 HR/15 SB last year with a .278/.371/505 line and I see 27-30 HR and 12-15 SB for Hernandez by season’s end, though his slash line won’t be as sharp as Santana’s as he just doesn’t take nearly as many walks (5% this year, 7% career; Santana was 12% last year, 11% career).
Tyler Flowers (4%), C, Atlanta Braves
Last 30 days: .281/.431/.491, 3 HR, 10 R, 10 RBI, 0 SB, 17% BB, 21% K
Flowers returned from a strained oblique to reinstate perhaps the best catching tandem in the game. Kurt Suzuki did a fantastic job while Flowers was down, posting an .891 OPS in 76 PA through April 27th (which is when Flowers returned). The duo also had a brilliant 2017 and despite being in a timeshare, I think the awfulness of the catching landscape makes both viable even in one-catcher formats with at least 12 teams. They were both top 12 backstops last year on a 72-90 team and now they are raking in the middle of a solid lineup. Quick honorable mention for a catcher-eligible John Hicks. He is due for a major playing time increase after Miguel Cabrera’s season-ending injury. Flowers or Hicks could be the life raft you’re searching for in the ocean of despair that is this year’s catching crop.