LINEUP OUTLOOKS: Austin Meadows benefits moving to the AL Central, plus Miller and Joe

It’s only been a week, and lineup construction continues evolving. This week’s three featured players will benefit in three different manners. Our first target of interest gained a playing time boost being traded from the American League East to a more match-up friendly American League Central. After being on the outside looking in for playing time, a hot-hitting Colorado outfielder may benefit from a similar batting order construct as his former teammate, Trevor Story, highlighted last week. Lastly, an underrated player with multiple positional eligibility may be taking over first base in Cleveland. 

Enjoy this week’s highlights and check out the quick hits at the end of the column as well. 

Austin Meadows (OF, DET)

Many hitters improve once they leave Tampa Bay since the hitter’s eye at Tropicana Field often depresses results. Meadows did not own disparaging numbers within his home and road splits, but he struggled with left-handed pitching last year, putting him into a potential platoon with the Rays. American League East rotations feature seven left-handed pitchers out of 20 rotational spots, which could have depressed playing time for Meadows. 

However, his trade to Detroit provides a much friendlier intra-divisional potential since the American League Central only features three southpaws in its current rotations, two of them in Kansas City. Noting teams still play the traditional 19 games against its division, this represents an over 20 percent gain in potential plate appearances for Meadows, even if he gets days off versus left-handed pitching. 

There’s no doubt he struggled facing them last season, as this chart clearly illustrates:

Almost 90 percent of his home runs occurred against right-handed pitching. However, keep in mind, more right-handed pitching in his new division props up his power potential. And if he improves versus left-handed pitching, Meadows could turn in a terrific season. Plus, he’s on the precipice of his power peak.

When viewing his career splits by pitcher handedness, it’s not as disparaging as last year’s results:

One cannot ignore his career .881 on-base plus slugging percentage with a .273 average facing right-handed pitching. Last, but not least, Meadows has hit second during his first seven starts with the Tigers. Not only could he garner more plate appearances against beneficial pitcher handedness, he’s hitting near the top of the lineup which ensures his counting statistics based on extra opportunities. 

Plus, of his career 23 stolen bases, he’s recorded 15 of them hitting first or second in the lineup. So there’s a chance he picks up a couple of extra steals this year as well. If the extra plate appearances versus right-handed pitching improve his season average, and he hits three-to-four extra home runs with a bonus stolen base or two, it’s possible he hits .260 or better with a chance at 30 home runs with seven stolen bases? Giddy up.

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Owen Miller (IF, CLE)

It’s easy overlooking Miller based on his limited sample last year. He struggled during his debut with Cleveland and it took him 22 games to accumulate eight hits in the majors. Entering game play on Wednesday, he led all MLB hitters with doubles (five), among his eight hits in 16 at-bats. 

He sowed these seeds with a hot spring going 11-for-33 with eight RBI. There’s no guarantee these results carry over throughout the regular season, but Miller arrived last year with pedigree as a prospect toting terrific bat-to-ball skills. He slashed .290/.355/.430 at Double-A and .297/.374/.489 during his time in Triple-A. Combining his results at the top two levels of the minors, he produced 40 doubles and 20 home runs in 766 plate appearances with 67 walks. 

Miller racked up three more hits on Wednesday, including his second home run of the season. Suggesting he can maintain this type of hot streak throughout 162 games would be frivolous. However, in some formats, he owns multiple eligibility (first and second base). He’s also taking over first base from Bobby Bradley and hitting sixth in the Guardians lineup. 

Focus on his 92.5 contact rate and 96.2 in the strike contact percentage in this limited sample. Without the fanfare of teammate Steven Kwan, Miller only generated a 4.2 swinging strike rate with elite contact so far this year. If he’s the starting first baseman for the bulk of the season, he provides sneaky RBI production in this lineup with a chance at a .265 batting average or better, plus a handful of stolen bases. For an early season flyer, he’s worth speculating on.

Connor Joe (OF, COL)

Trusting a post-hype breakout carries inherent risk. Especially when playing time in the preseason was not assured. But, during his 43 games as a starter last season, Joe hit safely in 37 of them and recorded a .297/.398/.471 slash line. In only 211 plate appearances in 2021, he produced eight home runs and 35 RBI. He hit four home runs against left-handed pitchers and right-handed ones. His .308 average against southpaws stood out while he held his own with a .277 batting average facing righties. 

So far this season, he’s hitting lead-off when Colorado faced a left-handed starter, which provides more plate appearances, along with a higher probability of scoring runs. Better news, he’s also starting when the team faces a right-handed pitcher, batting sixth. Trusting the Rockies doing the right thing with their lineup allows the jokes to write themselves. 

Joe’s fast start, and facing a bevy of southpaws early on may cement his role for the first half of the season. He’s made five starts with seven runs, two home runs, three RBI, a stolen base and a robust .316/.458/.684 slash line. Once again, this cannot continue at this pace for the well traveled veteran finally receiving a chance at playing time. 

Fantasy players will revel in his lineup spot with a left-handed starter going against Colorado, and his .288/.387/.490 line through 235 plate appearances with the team. Especially seeing his 12.8 walk rate versus a 19.1 strikeout percentage. If he hits 20-plus home runs with five-to-seven stolen bases over 500 plate appearances, Joe could also record 140 runs plus RBI. That will play. Time will tell, but here’s hoping he makes the most of this opportunity. 

Quick Hits

Everyone’s talking about Steven Kwan (OF, CLE), and for good reason. He’s hitting everything and has already moved into the two-hole of Cleveland’s lineup. Picking him for this column seemed like cherry picking, and stating the obvious. 

With Teoscar Hernández (OF, TOR) heading to the IL with an oblique injury, the playing-time door opens for Raimel Tapia (OF, TOR) and Bradley Zimmer (OF, TOR), for those seeking a possible short-term speed burst on the waiver wire.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.