We’ve reached that magical part of the MLB regular season schedule, you guys. Yes, there are still four months of play left before October hits. However, with two months officially in the books and Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, sample sizes are big enough to actually start drawing concrete conclusions.
Baseball is a game defined by peaks and valleys, with the goal always being to maximize the peaks while minimizing the valleys as much as possible. It’s the same strategy that works so well in sports betting, and using your Betmgm bonus code will ensure that you maximize any bit that you win when wagering on baseball. Plenty of players had an opportunity to make an impact during the month of May, but some took more advantage of it than others. The following 10 players — five hitters and five starting pitchers — separated themselves from the pack in the best way possible over the last month.
For the hitters, we’ll evaluate and rank their performances by wRC+, while we’ll be using Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) to do the same thing for the starting pitchers. SIERA will likely showcase a group of unexpected hurlers, but that’s the point — we want to get a little deeper than win-loss record and ERA to find out who is pitching well.
We’ll highlight hitters from fifth place to first place before switching to look at the pitchers in the same way. The statistic used to rank the players will be bold and italicized.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
May Stats: 1.123 OPS, .333 ISO, 9 home runs, 24 RBI, good for a 189 wRC+ in 108 plate appearances
Rizzo put together a good year in 2018, but a slow start put a damper on his overall stats. That hasn’t happened this year — he had a solid first month followed by an even better second month. He’s posted 2.3 fWAR with 15 homers and 42 RBI through 232 total plate appearances. In 665 trips to the plate last year, he produced 2.9 fWAR with 25 home runs and 101 RBI.
The first baseman has actually gotten more selective in the strike zone. After posting a 67.9% swing rate on strikes in 2018, that number is down at 60.7% in 2019. The result has been him making hard contact much more often, evidenced by a 43.6% hard-hit rate (34.1% last year).
He’s also really enjoyed hitting at Wrigley Field — in just about the same number of plate appearances, he’s posted a 187 wRC+, 1.105 OPS, and .320 ISO at home, compared to a 124 wRC+, .854 OPS, and .266 ISO on the road.
Those numbers are still really good but just on another level when the Cubs are at the friendly confines.
Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays
May Stats: 1.112 OPS, .315 ISO, 6 homers, 16 RBI, good for a 195 wRC+ in 84 plate appearances
Think the Rays are happy they finally decided to pull the trigger and send Chris Archer to Pittsburgh last summer? Yea, I think so, too.
Meadows had a terrific start to 2019, and it wouldn’t have been shocking to see him come back down to reality a bit from the 188 wRC+ he posted in March/April. Not quite, though — he just took his production to a slightly higher level instead.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) May 30, 2019
When your offensive performance is comparable to Mike Trout, you know you’re doing something right.
Meadows is armed with an incredibly high .396 BABIP, which likely has something to do with his also very-high 46.9% hard-hit rate and 29.2% line-drive rate. The outfielder’s results for this specific batted-ball event have also been eye-opening. Compared to last season, his wRC+ has gone from 317 to 365, his soft-hit rate has gone from 13.3% to 6.1%, and his hard-hit rate has improved from 40.0% to 54.6%.
So having that lift in peripherals plus hitting line drives more frequently is going to yield a high BABIP. It also helps that he’s just tattooing four-seamers. This is the most common pitch he’s seen, and he’s slashing .415/.492/.792 against it, which susses out to a 248 wRC+.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
May Stats: 1.162 OPS, .385 ISO, 10 home runs, 22 RBI, good for a 197 wRC+ in 115 plate appearances
The Cubs didn’t have the budget to make a big splash for an offense that struggled in 2018. They were just hoping Kris Bryant would return to being his normal self. After a pedestrian March/April (109 wRC+ with three homers), he’s come back with plenty of thunder.
How much thunder? Well, he’s on that 2016 National League MVP pace (actually, a little better):
Kris Bryant through 231 PAs:
2016 (MVP): .279/.364/.520, 13 HR, 40 RBI, .378 wOBA, 136 wRC+
2019: .283/.403/.576, 13 HR, 35 RBI, .408 wOBA, 155 wRC+
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) May 31, 2019
A big thing for Bryant was to get his quality of contact back on track. In 2015 and 2016, his hard-hit rate didn’t crest below 37.5%, but from 2017-18, it didn’t get above 33.0%. So far in 2019, his overall hard-hit rate is 38.5%.
What’s interesting about this power surge is that the third baseman’s batted-ball profile in May didn’t necessarily look as good as it did in March/April. His fly-ball rate stayed above 40.0%, but it also included a huge uptick in infield-fly rate (3.1% to 20.0%) and soft-hit rate (11.4% to 20.8%) while his hard contact numbers remained about the same.
Despite those numbers, his homers-per-fly-ball rate went from 9.4% in March/April to 28.6% in May. That’s baseball for ya.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
May Stats: 1.262 OPS, .368 ISO, 9 homers, 29 RBI, good for a 206 wRC+ in 119 plate appearances
I recently spent a good chunk of virtual ink talking about how Arenado went off in May compared to his first month of play. It’s not shocking that this coincided with the Rockies getting back over .500, entering June with a 29-27 record. They’re still nine games behind the Dodgers, but this resurgence has them in the thick of the NL wild-card race.
So instead of repeating a bunch of statistics about him, here are a couple of highlights to remind us exactly how good he is. First, let’s check out the defense of this six-time Gold Glove winner:
And then, you know, the dingers:
Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
May Stats: 1.238 OPS, .407 ISO, 12 homers, 31 RBI, good for a 218 wRC+ in 129 plate appearances
Josh Bell hit 12 home runs in May. He also hit 12 home runs all of last season, which took him 583 plate appearances to accomplish. That in itself tells you exactly how much better he’s been in 2019. This tweet also helps:
I also just talked about what has gone into his breakout campaign just last week. He’s been equally good at home (181 wRC+, nine homers) as he has on the road (184 wRC+, nine homers), and Bell has also been an equal opportunity masher when it comes to the type of pitches he faces.
He’s hit three or more home runs against four different offerings in 2019 (four-seamer, changeup, sinker, slider). He hit three-plus dingers against only four-seamers in 2018.