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Hot Hitter Rundown

He's a Vlad, Vlad Man

by Ryan Boyer
Updated On: May 3, 2021, 11:55 pm ET

The Hot Hitter Rundown is back after a lengthy hiatus. We’re still working on getting date-range searchability added to the NBC Sports EDGE Player Rater, so for this week the rankings you see below will be based on year-to-date production.

Catcher

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

Willson Contreras

C

CHI

1.75

2.65

1.74

1.05

1.76

8.95

Carson Kelly

C

ARI

1.23

2.16

1.91

-0.49

3.64

8.45

Buster Posey

C

SF

1.41

2.16

0.58

-0.49

3.88

7.54

Salvador Perez

C

KC

1.41

2.16

1.74

-0.49

2.49

7.31

Yadier Molina

C

STL

1.23

1.67

1.41

-0.49

3.42

7.24

J.T. Realmuto

C

PHI

0.54

0.21

0.91

1.05

3.25

5.96

Christian Vázquez

C

BOS

1.23

0.21

0.41

1.82

2.06

5.74

Tucker Barnhart

C

CIN

1.23

0.7

0.91

-0.49

3.16

5.52

Omar Narváez

C

MIL

0.2

0.7

0.91

-0.49

3.98

5.3

Will Smith

C

LA

1.41

0.7

0.58

0.28

1.89

4.85

 

The first name that pops here is Kelly’s. The 26-year-old backstop showed promise in 2019 in his first year in Arizona before falling flat on his face in 2020. This year, though, he’s simply been a force at the dish, boasting a barrel rate, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, strikeout rate and walk rate which all rank in the 86th percentile or higher. Never at any point this season has Kelly’s OPS drifted below 1.000. After beginning the season in the lower third of the Diamondbacks’ batting order, he’s been batting second versus lefties and fifth versus righties of late … Look at Buster! After averaging six home runs per season from 2018-19 before opting out of the 2020 campaign, Posey went out and clubbed six bombs in April. Is it just a result of him finally being healthy following hip surgery? Perhaps. Posey’s 11.5 percent barrel rate and 90.7 mph exit velocity are Statcast-era highs, and his 40.4 percent pull rate is easily his highest in six seasons. It certainly has the appearance of a guy who is now healthy and can pull the ball with authority again. His is striking out a little more than we’re used to seeing, but it’s all relative since that rate is at a still-superb 16.9 percent … Posey isn’t the only future Hall of Famer who’s turned back the clock, as Molina has been a top-five fantasy catcher so far even after missing the last week with a foot injury. The 38-year-old’s 13.7 percent barrel rate is more than double anything he’s posted previously, and his flyball rate is also way up at 47.1 percent. Like Posey, Molina has sacrificed some contact for more thump (Yadi’s strikeout rate is also still at a perfectly-fine 21.1 percent). Is it a conscious choice? …

First Base

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

1B

TOR

2.1

2.65

2.41

0.28

3.61

11.04

Nate Lowe

1B

TEX

1.06

2.16

3.07

1.82

2.53

10.64

Carlos Santana

1B

KC

1.75

2.16

2.57

0.28

2.7

9.46

Rhys Hoskins

1B

PHI

2.44

3.13

1.74

0.28

1.84

9.44

Matt Olson

1B

OAK

1.41

2.65

2.24

-0.49

3.28

9.09

Jesús Aguilar

1B

MIA

1.23

2.16

2.91

-0.49

3.02

8.83

Eric Hosmer

1B

SD

0.89

0.7

1.91

1.82

3.09

8.4

Freddie Freeman

1B

ATL

1.58

2.65

2.07

0.28

1.11

7.69

Yuli Gurriel

1B

HOU

0.89

1.19

2.07

-0.49

3.46

7.13

Trey Mancini

1B

BAL

1.23

1.67

2.57

-0.49

1.89

6.88

 

A Vlad Jr. breakout seemed inevitable at some point, and it has arrived. Vlad has always hit the ball hard, but he’s taken it to another level this year with a 94.7 mph exit velocity which is behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Pete Alonso and Ronald Acuña Jr. He’s also upped his launch angle to 9.6 degrees, which isn’t a huge number but is enough of a jump to help unlock his power … Aguilar was getting on base at a nice .382 clip through his first 17 games this season, but he wasn’t providing much thump in failing to hit a single home run. He’s corrected that in a major way in his last eight contests, going deep six times. What’s really been interesting to track has been the evolution of Aguilar’s plate discipline, as his strikeout rate has been steadily falling and walk rate steadily rising the last several years. His hard-hit rate has also been steadily dropping, but as a flyball hitter with a now-elite contact rate, it might be enough … I was all over Hosmer in drafts this spring after he finally started hitting the ball in the air more last season. It’s an investment that’s paid off thus far with top-10 fantasy production at his position. However, a look under the hood shows a guy who has not only reverted to his old groundball-heavy ways, he’s hitting flyballs at an all-time low 18.7 percent. Hosmer can still be useful with his current profile. He still hits the ball hard, he’s making more contact than ever and he bats cleanup in a great lineup. I’m much less enthused about him than I was a month ago, though …

Second Base

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

Whit Merrifield

2B

KC

1.92

0.7

2.24

5.66

2.49

13.01

Nick Solak

2B

TEX

2.27

2.65

1.58

1.05

2.88

10.42

Marcus Semien

2B

TOR

1.06

2.16

1.41

4.12

1.48

10.23

Jazz Chisholm Jr.

2B

MIA

0.89

1.19

0.24

4.89

2.88

10.09

Garrett Hampson

2B

COL

2.27

0.7

0.91

4.12

2

10

Eduardo Escobar

2B

ARI

2.27

2.65

1.91

0.28

1.89

8.99

Ozzie Albies

2B

ATL

1.75

1.67

1.41

0.28

1.52

6.63

Ty France

2B

SEA

2.1

0.7

1.24

-0.49

2.49

6.04

Jed Lowrie

2B

OAK

1.41

0.7

2.24

-0.49

2.18

6.04

Adam Frazier

2B

PIT

1.41

-0.76

0.74

1.05

2.93

5.37

 

Solak’s first 12 games this season weren’t pretty, as he put up a lowly .594 OPS while striking out at a 35.4 percent clip. Since then, though, he’s righted the ship in a major way with a 1.073 OPS and six long balls across his last 17 contests. After being moved down to the sixth spot in the Rangers’ lineup following his slow start, Solak has since been moved up to the two hole. Solak’s track record suggests that the plate discipline should get better, and a sprint speed in the 97th percentile points to more stolen base possibilities, as well … It was a bummer to see Chisholm Jr. go down with a hamstring injury a week ago. The power, the speed, the charisma, the hair. Jazz is just a fun player. He had been elevated to the leadoff spot for the Marlins before getting hurt, and he’s still tied for the National League lead with his seven steals (without being caught). There’s a 42-point gap between Chisholm Jr.’s xBA (.248) and his actual average (.290), which isn’t a surprise given his 31.3 percent strikeout rate. That said, the walk rate (11.3 percent) is great and the barrel rate (20 percent) and sprint speed (94th percentile) are both elite. There should still be plenty of counting stats goodness here even if the average regresses … The thing that stands out most about France is his 31.2 percent line-drive rate, which ranks fourth among 164 qualifiers. It basically matches his 30.8 percent rate from last year, so it seems to be a trend even if neither sample size is huge. The 26-year-old has scuffled at the dish lately, though, with just one hit in his last 21 at-bats …

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Third Base

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

José Ramírez

3B

CLE

1.75

3.13

1.91

2.58

2.7

12.07

Kris Bryant

3B

CHI

2.62

3.62

2.74

-0.49

3.41

11.9

Ryan McMahon

3B

COL

2.1

3.13

2.41

0.28

2.58

10.49

Justin Turner

3B

LA

2.27

2.16

2.57

-0.49

3.6

10.12

Rafael Devers

3B

BOS

1.75

2.65

2.57

0.28

2.76

10.01

Manny Machado

3B

SD

1.41

1.19

1.91

3.35

1.58

9.44

Joey Wendle

3B

TB

1.92

0.7

1.74

-0.49

2.87

6.75

Kyle Seager

3B

SEA

0.54

1.19

2.41

0.28

2.12

6.53

Alex Bregman

3B

HOU

1.41

1.19

1.58

-0.49

2.81

6.49

Gio Urshela

3B

NYY

0.54

1.19

1.74

0.28

2.6

6.35

 

Do you think some teams are regretting not pursuing a trade for Bryant more heavily over the offseason? After a two-homer game on Sunday – his season multi-homer game already in 2021 – Bryant is tied for the major league lead with his nine dingers. He’s batting an utterly absurd .400/.468/.836 with six home runs, 16 RBI and 14 runs scored across his last 14 tilts. Bryant’s exit velocity has never been anything to write home about and continues to be pedestrian, but he’s 12th in baseball with 12 barrels. Only two players have a bigger gap than Bryant between their wOBA (.463) and xwOBA (.389), so some level of regression is probably coming. There’s nothing wrong with a .389 wOBA, though … McMahon was awful during the truncated 2020 season, and his expected stats suggest that he was actually lucky to put up the lackluster numbers he did. He’s been much better so far in 2021, though, thanks in large part to a strikeout rate which he’s cut down to a much more digestible 22.6 percent (his career rate was 30.8 percent coming into the year). McMahon has also posted a 92.4 mph exit velocity and a flyball rate of 43.8 percent which dwarfs anything else he’s done. The 26-year-old could continue to put up big numbers if he can keep the swings and misses to a reasonable level …

Shortstop

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

Javier Báez

SS

CHI

1.58

2.65

2.74

4.12

1.93

13.02

Trea Turner

SS

WSH

1.23

2.16

0.74

4.89

3.2

12.22

Fernando Tatis Jr.

SS

SD

2.44

3.13

1.08

3.35

1.81

11.82

Bo Bichette

SS

TOR

2.44

2.65

1.74

1.82

2.44

11.08

Isiah Kiner-Falefa

SS

TEX

2.27

1.67

1.08

3.35

2.65

11.02

Trevor Story

SS

COL

1.92

1.19

2.07

1.82

2.78

9.79

Tim Anderson

SS

CWS

1.58

1.19

0.58

3.35

2.95

9.64

Xander Bogaerts

SS

BOS

1.41

1.67

1.58

1.05

3.76

9.46

Corey Seager

SS

LA

1.75

1.19

2.07

0.28

2.22

7.52

Carlos Correa

SS

HOU

1.75

1.19

1.24

-0.49

2.76

6.45

 

It’s rather incredible that Baez is at the top of this list even though he ranks no better than the third percentile in strikeout rate, walk rate, whiff rate or chase rate. He’s struck out 39 times this season and tallied just one walk. One! Basically, on the rare occasions where Baez makes contact, he’s hitting the ball hard, and on the rare occasions he gets on base, he’s running (and doing so successfully). It’s quite a needle to thread, so the volatility is obvious. Baez has pulled the trick off in the past before, of course, just not to this extreme … After going 4-for-25 with one home run in his first seven games back from a shoulder injury, Tatis Jr. has since put up a ridiculous 1.374 OPS with six long balls and three stolen bases in his last eight contests. Even after missing a week and a half of action, Tatis is one off the home run lead, is tied for seventh with 20 runs scored and has chipped in five steals. When factoring in the risk of re-injury with his left shoulder, now might be the right time to field trade offers for Tatis Jr. while he’s scorching hot … After a rough first couple weeks, Kiner-Falefa has exploded over his last 12 contests with a 1.055 OPS, three home runs and three stolen bases. IKF’s power ceiling will remain fairly low as long as he keeps hitting so many balls on the ground, and his runs total potential has taken a hit since he’s been moved down from leadoff to seventh against righties. The batted ball data is getting incrementally better, though, and he doesn’t strike out much. Also, thanks for the catcher eligibility, Yahoo …

Outfield

Name

Pos

Tm

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

SUM

Ronald Acuña Jr.

RF

ATL

3.48

3.62

2.41

1.82

3.56

14.88

Byron Buxton

CF

MIN

1.75

3.13

1.58

1.82

4.38

12.65

Nick Castellanos

RF

CIN

2.79

3.62

2.41

0.28

3.51

12.61

Ramón Laureano

CF

OAK

1.75

1.67

1.08

5.66

1.63

11.79

Mike Trout

CF

LAA

2.44

2.65

1.74

-0.49

4.42

10.76

Mark Canha

LF

OAK

3.48

1.19

0.41

3.35

2.12

10.55

Bryce Harper

RF

PHI

2.1

2.16

0.74

1.82

3.33

10.14

Chris Taylor

CF

LA

3.13

1.19

1.24

1.82

2.58

9.96

Jesse Winker

LF

CIN

2.44

2.16

1.74

-0.49

3.94

9.8

Jared Walsh

RF

LAA

1.41

2.16

2.57

-0.49

3.84

9.49

 

Buxton is blossoming into the superstar everyone thought he had the chance to be. Among players with at least 50 batted ball events, no one has a higher barrels per plate appearance rate than Buxton’s 16 percent mark. His 61 percent hard-hit rate ranks behind only Giancarlo Stanton. Buxton is still allergic to drawing walks, but he’s helped combat that by cutting his strikeout rate to a reasonable 21 percent. The injury risk is obviously still there, so perhaps putting out trade feelers is the prudent move. It would be difficult to stomach dealing this guy right now, though … It looked like Laureano was going to run away with the stolen base title after he swiped eight bags while being caught just once in his first nine games. He also put together a .306/.375/.500 line over that span. However, over his last 17 tilts he’s 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts and holds a .693 OPS. Laureano has gone deep in back-to-back games, and A’s manager Bob Melvin has mostly stuck with him as his No. 2 hitter even as his offense has been up and down … Remember when Angels manager Joe Maddon had Walsh on the bench for the first two games of the season? Thankfully, Maddon has since come to his senses, although Walsh hasn’t given him any choice. The 27-year-old had his second two-homer game of the season this past weekend as part of a four-hit effort. Walsh’s 87.7 mph exit velocity is below average, but he’s posted a healthy 12.5 percent barrel rate and isn’t striking out much (18.6 percent). One thing to keep an eye on is what he does versus southpaws, as the left-handed batter has done almost all of his damage against righties so far. The Angels have faced just one lefty in their last 13 games …

Ryan Boyer

Ryan Boyer is a baseball writer for NBC Sports Edge. He can also be found on Twitter.