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Red Alert: Luis Robert's 115.8 MPH Smash Means Something


In the hullabaloo of MLB’s opening weekend, you may not have noticed that Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox — he of the .337 ISO at Triple-A Charlotte — announced his presence with authority on Friday night. In the second inning of his MLB debut, Robert strode to the plate, stood 60 feet and six inches away from Jose Berrios, and proceeded to smash the first pitch of his MLB career at a velocity of 115.8 MPH. To give that achievement some context: last year, there were exactly 20 players who hit a ball harder than Robert did in his first career hit. We’ll get to their names and stats in a minute, but most of them are players you want to own.

I wrote this piece on Sunday morning, and by Sunday afternoon, Robert had added his first career home run. The dinger was a 419-foot blast that Robert smoked at 111.4 MPH. By MLB’s current leaderboards, that means Luis Robert now has the fifth and first-hardest hits of this season.

So it is that I have come here to sing the anthem of Luis Thunderclap Robert, First of his Name, Stealer of Bags, Destroyer of Baseballs and Pitchers, La Pantera and Child of Destiny.

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We Have Lift Off

 

115.8 MPH is Like Really, Really Hard

Maximum exit velocity is one of a handful of small-sample data points that has a strong correlation to outcomes. Hitters capable of slugging a single ball over 110 MPH are far more likely to see positive offensive results than those who cannot. In this case, a single batted-ball event can tell us quite a bit.

Two years ago, Rob Arthur found that for every mile per hour over 108, we can add another six points to a hitter’s projected OPS. Robert had been projected for an OPS somewhere between a .765 (The BAT X) and .808 (Steamer). With Arthur’s formula, we can push Robert’s OPS to somewhere .812 and .855.  Keep that in mind as we try to recalculate Robert’s projected value. Whatever you thought Luis Robert was before the season, it turns out that he is probably more than that.

If you’re still feeling skeptical about the significance of a single batted-ball event, here are the players who hit a ball 115.8 MPH or harder in 2019.

Player Max Velo. wRC+
Giancarlo Stanton 120.6 139
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 118.9 105
Pete Alonso 118.3 143
Gary Sanchez 118.3 116
Aristides Aquino 118.3 119
Aaron Judge 118.1 141
Jose Abreu 117.9 117
Christian Yelich 117.9 174
Yordan Alvarez 117.9 178
Kyle Schwarber 117.6 120
Nelson Cruz 117.0 163
Mike Trout 116.6 180
Bryce Harper 116.4 125
Ketel Marte 116.3 150
Josh Bell 116.2 135
Avisail Garcia 116.2 112
Mike Zunino 116.1 45
Ronald Acuna Jr. 115.9 126
C.J. Cron 115.9 101
Fernando Tatis Jr. 115.9 150
Yoan Moncada 115.8 141

That’s a list of great players. It would be easy to dismiss the less appealing names on that list (Zunino, Cron, and Garcia), but those names are critical to clarifying the range of outcomes. Even then, if Robert does generate the same 112 wRC+ as Avisail Garcia, he will have outperformed his projections with the bat.

 

To Be Young and Fabulous

Like many stars, Robert has enjoyed ample success ahead of his age group. There is a direct correlation between a player’s debut age and his career success. Some of that is the result of accumulation, but it is also because advanced and more mature competition reveals a younger player’s true talent level.

At the age of 15, Robert broke into the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s premier professional league). At that time, he was 11 years younger than the league’s average player (26.7 years). By the time he was 17, he put up an OPS of .796. At 18 years old, that number soared to 1.213.

In Robert’s 2019 campaign, he was 2.7 years younger than his competition in the Double-A Southern League and 5.9 years younger than the average player in the Triple-A International League. During that stretch, Robert hit .306 with 24 home runs, 28 steals, and a wRC+ of 146. Given what we know about how older competition helps a younger player to advance his abilities, we should have expected this type of arrival in the majors.

After all, Robert’s talent and success led the White Sox to sign him for six years and $50 million because they thought it would save them money in the long run. The team has committed to playing him every day this year, and center field may as well have his name on it.

Since 2017, there have been eight players age 22 or younger who enjoyed a 135 wRC+ in Double-A or TripleA-A and then at least 450 plate appearances for their entire rookie season:

Name Age G R HR RBI SB AVG wRC+
Juan Soto 20 150 110 34 110 12 .282 142
Rafael Devers 22 156 129 32 115 8 .311 132
Ronald Acuna Jr. 21 156 127 41 101 37 .280 126
Gleyber Torres 22 144 96 38 90 5 .278 125
Ozzie Albies 22 160 102 24 86 15 .295 117
Eloy Jimenez 22 122 69 31 79 0 .267 116
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 20 123 52 15 69 0 .272 105
Victor Robles 22 155 86 17 65 28 .255 91

Fernando Tatis Jr. misses out here because he suffered an oblique injury last year. This list, combined with the list above, gives us context for Robert’s ability to be an immediate star.

Notably, Robert won’t have the entire season, which means that if opposing teams find some glaring weakness to expose, the Chicago wunderkind will have less time to adjust and rebound. As with all players, the range of outcomes is much greater this season, but that is especially pronounced with a player whose range is so dramatic.

The simple reality is that while fantasy sports owners are used to seeing rookie running backs explode onto the scene in fantasy football, most fantasy baseball owners are skeptical about the value of a rookie player. However, as the last few years have shown us, there are going to be absolute studs who arrive at the height of their powers.

 

Valuing a Hot Asset

Before the season, Robert’s work with the bat and his forecast nine steals were enough for him to be projected as the 22nd best outfielder and 77th most valuable player for this season.

While we don’t have a meaningful sample for Robert’s average exit velocity or his barrel rate, the velocity should still have benefits for Robert’s batting average (as well as his power). For a player with Robert’s speed, the ability to hit the ball with that kind of authority prevents fielders from playing too far in as they attempt to take away weak grounders. His speed prevents them from sitting back so they can reach hard grounders.

If we combine the speed and make modest improvements to Robert’s hitting projections, we’re left with a player who looks awfully similar to Fernando Tatis Jr. If we use the Depth Charts projections, Tatis Jr. projects as the 29th most valuable hitter and the 42nd most valuable player overall.

I’m arguing that we’ve undervalued Luis Robert. Using Arthur’s adjustment and applying the rates to the rest of Robert’s stats, we get something like this:

Player R HR RBI SB Average OPS
Luis Robert 29 10 31 9 .279 .818
Fernando Tatis Jr. 34 10 30 9 .275 .835

The extra opportunities on base may lead to more steals for Robert, but I haven’t added that in, even though the numbers would suggest another half steal (enough to round up). By my values, Tatis remains more valuable, but just barely. It looks like Robert’s new projection should make somewhere between the 40th to 50th most valuable player this season. That puts him somewhere between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Starling Marte.

If you own Robert, make sure you get fair value for him in a trade. If you’re looking to acquire him, it’s likely to be expensive. The reality is that most Robert owners are already enthusiasts, and they ought to be. However, there are always owners who want to get too cute and sell high when they don’t know the value of what they have. Don’t overpay, but if you need steals and a dynamic outfield bat, Luis Robert is likely to the cheapest asset in that third tier of outfielders ranging from Giancarlo Stanton to Eloy Gimenez.

In dynasty leagues, Robert is about to make the leap to being a top-20 player. We haven’t yet seen enough to push him ahead of young stars like Yoan Moncada and Pete Alonso, but it’s easy to see him there by the end of this season.

At this point, we can say with much greater confidence that the hype on Chicago’s phenom is more than justified. The L is now leaving the station.



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2021 1st & 2nd Year Players with James Anderson - Benched with Bubba (Episode 317)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by James Anderson (@RealJRAnderson) on episode 317. The guys will go over 30+ first and second-year players. They will discuss their current ADP's in the 2 Early Mocks, what to expect of the players in 2021, and much more. They also go over some listener questions, compare Juan Soto to Mike... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 21st, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 21st, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 20th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 20th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 54: 2 Early Mocks APD Player Debates - Benched with Bubba (Episode 316)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They go over some of the positions and look at players with similar ADPs and debate. Going around the diamond discussing some players people are high on and some they are down on with a... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 18th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 17th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 17th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller... Read More


Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it. Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 16th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 16th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 15th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 15th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 14th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 14th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 53: 2 Early Mocks APD Trends & More - Benched with Bubba (Episode 315)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They dig into trends, some interesting risers/fallers, and much more. They also go over some listener questions at the end to keep the Fantasy Baseball information coming even in the offseason. Be sure to subscribe... Read More