Now that Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts finally struck out for the first time this season, one might think there aren’t any more notable zeroes for baseball fans to keep an eye on. That’s not so! As we enter the third full weekend of regular-season games, here are hitters unfortunately boasting a negative-themed zero next to a certain fantasy-relevant statistic and my thoughts, because at some point these players might not be as popular, or as much fun to own at all, and we’re always watching.
Hanley Ramirez, 1B, Boston Red Sox (0 home runs): Here we go again with this guy. Ramirez really did have an excellent 2016 season, but it’s not like he’s been the most consistent statistical option through the years, for performance or health. Ramirez is slugging .286, and yes, it’s crazy-early and he might be fine, but he has a recent track record of not always being fine. Ramirez also has yet to play the field, notable for those in dynasty formats that don’t particularly want him to be designated hitter-only in 2018. Perhaps Ramirez starts driving the baseball this weekend with a rookie lefty (Jayson Aquino) and struggling right-hander (Kevin Gausman) hurling. If he doesn’t, he’ll likely start being dropped.
Evan Gattis, C, Houston Astros (0 home runs): The lone catcher-eligible player to reach 30 home runs a year ago, Gattis enters the weekend with a strong .290 batting average and more walks than strikeouts, but the goose egg in the power column. The lack of homers combined with fewer at-bats than normal are scaring owners away. I think if Gattis would simply blast one or two homers soon, people wouldn’t panic. They shouldn’t, really. He can still be a top-10 catcher. Other players yet to homer -- it’s early, I know -- include Jose Altuve, Kyle Seager, Jose Abreu and Victor Martinez. You’re not dropping the first two, but Abreu, ridiculously so, is being dropped in some leagues and with Martinez, a .204 slugging percentage is tough to deal with. People have already given up.
Kyle Schwarber, OF, Chicago Cubs (0 games at catcher): It was made pretty clear in this blog space and forcibly on the Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast that I didn’t expect Schwarber to reach the requisite 10 games that triggers in-season eligibility for this key position until the All-Star break, at least. Why would Joe Maddon risk using him there, after all? The lure of catching eligibility had to affect Schwarber’s too-generous average live draft results. At the plate this is what he is: power with walks and whiffs, and he doesn’t figure to bat as high as .250. Perhaps this is the weekend he’ll see an inning or two behind the plate, to get people talking.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (0 RBIs): He’s been on the most-dropped list for weeks, which is what happens when someone is hitting .082 with strikeouts in half his at-bats. Buxton could have more minor league demotions than runs batted in soon, and that isn’t as exciting as the Rich Hill race of starts versus disabled list stints. There remains great upside for Buxton, but at some point, ya just gotta hit. I’d say this is a big weekend for Buxton, who went from the No. 3 lineup spot to ninth quickly, but who knows what the Twins are thinking. Fantasy owners can’t really keep him active. Others bidding to be this year’s version of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, who somehow managed to avoid a run batted in all of 2016, include awful Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin and Brett Gardner. The first two guys there are in danger of being benched as soon as the Mets and Mariners are presented with other options.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres (0 walks): We knew the rookie right fielder would have issues hitting for average, because he’s an aggressive hitter with the propensity to swing and miss and little interest in plate discipline. Let’s be clear about walks: Not everyone has to draw them. Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop drew about a walk per week last season (a 2 percent rate) and still hit .267 with 25 homers. Perhaps that’s Renfroe. But I doubt it.
Aledmys Diaz, SS, St. Louis Cardinals (0 walks): Diaz showed a strong walk rate as a rookie, but he currently owns no walk rate at all. It’s a Blutarsky-like 0.0. Diaz has three homers and three steals to his record so far, which is why he’s not a popular drop, but two of the blasts came two weeks ago in one game and two steals came Opening Day against Jon Lester. In other words, the numbers are a bit misleading. Diaz is swinging at everything, even pitches outside the strike zone. With Jhonny Peralta on the DL, that means Jedd Gyorko plays third regularly, and that saves Diaz from losing playing time at short if he doesn’t hit. But he sure shouldn’t be hitting in the No. 2 lineup spot, and the Cardinals could alter things this weekend. I actually think Diaz will soon turn things around.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers (0 stolen bases): He’s hardly the only one sans a theft, but it’s hard to believe he’s still this team’s leadoff hitter with his .159 batting average. Yes, he’s drawing walks and that helps, but he hasn’t stolen a base and most managers get fooled by that stat, too. Fantasy owners don’t expect Gomez to hit for average, and he hasn’t stolen as many as 20 bases since 2014, but still, he’s run enough to matter in recent, strange seasons. So far he hasn’t and while Delino DeShields isn’t doing much, he does lurk.
Thursday hitting notes
We need to take what Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. is doing seriously. He doubled, tripled and homered and brings a 1.041 OPS into the weekend. That can’t last, but why can’t Souza, with his raised walk rate and lower K rate, hit .280 with 25 home runs and 10 steals? He can!
It also appears time to take what Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is doing seriously. Zimmerman homered and doubled off R.A. Dickey and while the BABIP will drop a lot soon and take the batting average with it, five home runs in 15 games is quite a trick for a guy who homered 15 times in 115 games last year. The brittle Zimmerman has averaged only 90 games over the past three seasons, so he’s not a good bet to suddenly appear in 150 contests this year, but let’s be positive. Perhaps he’s healthy. He’s driving the ball again. Could he hit 25 homers?
New York Mets outfielder Jay Bruce played first base for an injured Lucas Duda and that might become a thing, depending on Duda’s health and performance. The Mets really should play Michael Conforto regularly, after all. Bruce didn’t homer against the Phillies -- he’s already smacked four blasts off them this season -- and he won’t hit near .300 for long, but another 30-homer season is coming. This isn’t all a fluke. By the way, with Yoenis Cespedes nursing a sore hamstring, Conforto will play all weekend. With the way we’ve recommended him, he’d better hit!
While we love the fact that Cincinnati Reds speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza are each on pace for more than 60 stolen bases, it continues to be clear neither are good enough hitters to deserve to hit near the top of a lineup. Lefty Wade Miley toyed with Cincinnati’s lineup Thursday, and Hamilton and Peraza were hitless yet again. Neither fellow has an on-base percentage or slugging percentage as high as .275. Speed and defense are valuable, too, but fantasy owners should have some concern that these guys lose regular playing time because they simply can’t hit. This affects Joey Votto and Adam Duvall, too. They can’t accrue runs batted in if nobody’s on base.
Thursday pitching notes
Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez delivered an uninspiring performance in Milwaukee, and worse than his eight-walk, 11-strikeout game from Saturday. Martinez issued only two walks and fanned seven, but again was inconsistent with command, failing to locate his fastball. It’s one thing for greatest player ever (Eric Thames) to homer, but there were too many hard-hit balls. Don’t bail on Martinez, but that’s three sub-par outings consecutively for a guy anointed a top-15 fantasy starter. He needs to turn this around quickly.
Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada fired six shutout innings against Boston and fanned seven, lowering his ERA to 2.63. The analytically inclined among us have been waiting for years for this guy to stop pitching well. It doesn’t happen. We’re past the point. Estrada deserves more credit, and fantasy attention.
Mariners lefty James Paxton famously held opponents scoreless in his first three outings, but the Athletics lit him up for five runs and nine hits. Did fantasy owners miss the chance to sell high? Not necessarily. Paxton did strike out eight with only one walk, and even the best hurlers have rough starts. He still hasn’t permitted a home run. Don’t overanalyze this outing.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch brought long reliever Chris Devenski into the game in the seventh inning with a two-run lead and shockingly let him finish it, which is a potentially big deal in fantasy. After all, Devenski has been so dominant but saves didn’t seem to be an option. If he can earn even 10 saves, with the other numbers, this can definitely be a top-10 fantasy reliever, just like Andrew Miller was with his 12 saves last year.