We’re a month into the season, and injuries are beginning to pile up. If you’re an optimist, you see this as an opportunity to show off your waiver wire acumen. If you’re a pessimist, this just confirms that like Jay and Silent Bob, the whole world is against you. Welcome to the SCFE Week 5 Hot Topics column.
This week’s column celebrates the recent release of The Fate of the Furious. This is now the eighth movie in a franchise that became a phenomenon when no one was looking. When The Fast and the Furious premiered in 2001, it was basically a car chase movie to showcase Vin Diesel. Followed up by a sequel without Vin Diesel and a third movie without anyone from the original cast (except for the Vin Diesel cameo at the very end), it seemed like that was it. But then came Fast & Furious in 2009. Fast Five blew up the box office next, and things just took off after that. But what is it about these movies? They’re basically just car chase/action/bromance movies. It’s been done before.
I attribute Fast and Furious box office supremacy to my Citizen Kane/Independence Day theory of movies. Citizen Kane is probably the greatest American movie ever made, but it’s not fun to watch. In order to appreciate Citizen Kane (and it is a masterpiece of filmmaking), you have to make an emotional and mental commitment to follow the dialogue and imagery. It’s work to watch Citizen Kane.
Independence Day (the original) is not a good movie from a critical standpoint. The plot is derivative, the dialogue is cheesy, and you can tell the actors knew no one was winning any Oscars. But every time you’re flipping through channels, if you see Independence Day is on, you’ll probably watch it if you’ve got nothing else to do. Stuff blows up real good, Will Smith throws out one-liners like a pro, and Bill Pullman gives the awesome speech before the big battle. You enjoy yourself, and you generally feel better about things than you did before. Independence Day may not be a “good” movie, but it’s entertaining and fun to watch.
So why do we keep showing up for Fast and Furious movies even though they may not be cinematic achievements? Because they’re entertaining and fun. Just like baseball. For this week, each topic will start with a quote from the Fast and Furious franchise. Get ready to live your life a quarter mile at a time with the Fantasy Baseball Week 5 Hot Topics.
Week 5 Hot Topics
Hot Topic No. 1: “Woman, I am the cavalry.”
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
This emphatic statement of purpose is from the Rock as Agent Hobbs in Furious 7. With 10 HRs in April, Aaron Judge set the precedent for rookies by tying the MLB record for most rookie HRs in the month. No more legal jokes, I swear.
After years of laying waste to their farm system with win-now trades, the Yankees have spent the last few seasons actually acquiring prospects. This year was supposed to be the debut of the first group of future Yankee stars, and so far it’s been all Aaron Judge. Like the Rock, he is the cavalry.
With his size (6’ 7” 255 lbs.), Aaron Judge could probably land a role in a Fast and Furious movie. He was the Yankees’ first round pick (32nd overall) in 2013, and power was his particular idiom from the start. Like most power hitters, however, contact is an issue.
During his cup of coffee with the Yankees in 2016, Aaron Judge hit .179 in 84 ABs and struck out in 50% of those ABs. You could say he swung and missed more than NBC in the 1990s trying to find a show for the post-Friends time slot. Through May 1 of this season, he is hitting .300 and has cut his strikeout rate down to 31%. Still not great, but it’s an improvement. His walk rate has always been 10% or better, so he can be selective at the plate.
Going forward, will Aaron Judge’s reign of terror on major league pitching continue? He’s a rookie and he will struggle when pitchers make adjustments, but the power is real. The question is whether or not he closes up some holes in his swing. If he does, the sky’s the limit. If he doesn’t, maybe you’ve heard of Rob Deer. No matter what, his ABs are must-see television.
Hot Topic No. 2: “This guy, he’s Old Testament: blood, bullets, wrath of god.”
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
One of my favorite quotes from the entire series, this gem from Fast Five describes Anthony Rendon’s brutalization of the Mets’ bullpen on April 30. If you missed it, Rendon went 6-for-6 at the dish with three HRs, five Rs, and 10 RBI. That’s an old-school beatdown. He didn’t steal a base, however. I think we’ll let him slide on that one.
A first round pick of the Nationals (sixth overall) in 2011, Anthony Rendon’s major league debut was much anticipated. A potential five-category contributor, he was a favorite of both prospect hounds and Nationals fans. He looked the part in 2014, when he put up a .287 AVG/111 R/21 HR/83 RBI/17 SB stat line in his full first season. Like Hayden Christensen being cast as Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones, a breakout appeared likely.
Also like Hayden Christensen, Fantasy owners who invested heavily in Anthony Rendon are still waiting for that breakout. At least Anthony Rendon didn’t insult the favorite childhood memories of millions. After his stellar 2014 campaign, he turned injury-prone and was one of the biggest Fantasy Baseball disappointments of 2015.
He rebounded nicely in 2016 with a .270 AVG/91 R/20 HR/85 RBI/12 SB stat line. This won him the 2016 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but the prospect sheen was off. He looks like a player who can contribute to all categories, but won’t dominate any of them. Is that so bad? Absolutely not. It’s just that when you’re a top prospect, much is expected.
On April 30, Anthony Rendon clobbered Mets’ pitching like Crump’s brother (bonus points if you get that one). Does this mean the breakout is finally here? Maybe not; and here’s why. His three HRs were his first of the season, his five Rs doubled his prior total, and his 10 RBI was twice his total for the rest of April. It was also the first multi-HR game of his career. Not exactly setting the world on fire before his destruction of the Mets.
Does this mean that game was a fluke? That kind of game is a fluke for anyone. It was, however, a dominant game by a good player. Even if he never dominates a single category, Anthony Rendon is a rare player who can put up stats in all of them.
Anthony Rendon is unowned in 25% of ESPN leagues and 14% of Yahoo Leagues. If you need a CI and he is available in your league, go get him. As long as he’s healthy, he can put up positive numbers. Just don’t expect another game like that anytime soon. But for now, we tease him a lot cause we’ve got him on the spot (extra bonus points if you get that). Welcome back to Fantasy relevance, Anthony Rendon.
Hot Topic No. 3: “If you want the career-changing big fish, you gotta be willing to put on the big boy panties and sail out to the deep water.”
Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals
This quote from the dearly departed Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 6 sums up Michael Taylor’s Fantasy Baseball status. Like Worm leaving town at the end of Rounders, you may not see Adam Eaton again for some time. With Eaton’s injury, the Nationals have an opening in a lineup primed to score gobs of runs.
For Michael Taylor, this is his best and probably last chance to crack the Nationals’ lineup. He’s 26 years old, and the prospect label is gone. He’s also been given multiple opportunities before, and he’s dropped them like third period French (thank you Ocean’s Eleven).
If you’re an Eaton owner searching for a replacement, however, Michael Taylor could be a worthwhile flyer. He has that power/speed skill set that scouts salivate over. He will also get the first shot at the CF job in that Nationals’ lineup.
So what’s the downside? Someone can’t hit for power or speed unless they actually hit the ball. Michael Taylor’s walk rate has always been below 10% and his contact rate has always been below 70%. This means he doesn’t walk much, and he swings and misses a whole lot.
That being said, if Michael Taylor gets hot for a stretch, a power/speed guy in a loaded lineup could put up some big numbers. If you’ve lost Eaton or need another OF, this is a high-upside gamble. The expression “career crossroads” is overused, but that’s where Michael Taylor finds himself. As Woody Harrelson said in Zombieland, it’s time to nut up or shut up. Stay tuned.
Hot Topic No. 4: “You never had me – you never had your car.”
Edwin Diaz, RP, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners’ recent decision about Edwin Diaz’s usage brings to mind Dom’s analysis of Brian’s driving from the original The Fast and the Furious. This could be a new paradigm for closers, or a recipe for disaster on the level of new Coke. If you don’t know about new Coke, you make me feel old.
For at least the time being, the Mariners are planning to use their closer in multi-inning situations. On April 29, Edwin Diaz recorded a four-out save to kick off the experiment. So where did this come from?
Success breeds imitation, and the Mariners probably got this idea from watching bullpen usage in the playoffs for the past few seasons. The philosophy is simple; grab a lead in the early innings and then use dominant relievers for multiple innings to keep it. Here’s the problem I see – that strategy was used over the course of a month in the playoffs. We’re talking about a six-month regular season here. Also, based on how gassed the Cubs and Indians’ relievers looked by game 7 of the World Series, this might not even work for a month. It even made Aroldis Chapman cry.
With the Mariners off to a disappointing start, they needed to try something. Edwin Diaz was elite last year, and he’s only 23 years old. This could work and Edwin Diaz could become the most-feared reliever in baseball, or it could tank and Edwin Diaz blows out his arm. Like the quote above, you can’t beat an opponent unless you know yourself. Hopefully, the Mariners know what they’ve got in Edwin Diaz.
Like the Chicago Bears trading up to draft Mitch Trubisky, the Mariners look like geniuses if it works out. Sorry, but as a Bears fan I have to say – what the hell was that? If it blows up in their face, then the Mariners probably look like WCW breaking up the Hollywood Blondes (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman). If it does work, other teams will probably follow. No matter how it plays out, it should be interesting.
There are your Fantasy Baseball Week 5 Hot Topics. Looking forward to next week, all I have to say is May 4. If you don’t get that, I feel like Jeremy Piven in PCU and you just told me that your major is Phys Ed. If I haven’t been obvious enough, next week’s column will be from a galaxy far, far away. Until then, stay classy.
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