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Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds - Exit Velocity (Week 6)

We're cruising right along on our Statcast Hitter Studs/Duds series. Many fantasy baseball owners are starting to see the value of MLB's Statcast advanced stats in order to help identify potential risers and sleepers. We're approaching the midway point of this shortened season, and hot and cold streaks are beginning to expose their permanence--is a guy off to a slow start or will he not be an option in 2020?

Just as we do for pitchers, this weekly series will examine a handful of hitters who are performing surprisingly well or poorly according to sabermetrics. While we're working with the wonkiest season of all time, that will never stop us from searching for risers and fallers for possible buy, sell, add, or drop possibilities.

Each week, I will select a different metric to evaluate unexpected names at the top and bottom of the Statcast Leaderboards. Even if you aren't well-versed in Statcast, you can understand the concept of exit velocity, and that's what we'll take a look at from the past week.

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Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of August 24th, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/17-8/24.


Gregory Polanco - OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 99.0 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 66.7%

Remember when the Pirates had one of the best young outfields in the game--Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco? Man, 2016 was a long time ago. Since then, Polanco has stood as a disappointing mix of injury and underperformance, to the point that he has been widely undrafted in each of the last two years. 2020 looked like another miserable year--and with a .151 batting average, it still might be--until Polanco started smashing this week. Since we checked in last week, Polanco has posted a 1.106 OPS across 20 plate appearances, and has tallied two homers and two stolen bases among his five hits.

I'd still paint it pretty unlikely that Polanco is anything close to a locked-in fantasy starter this year, but in a season decimated by injuries and COVID-19, I have him positioned firmly on my watch list--and he should be on yours too.


Marwin Gonzalez - 1B/3B/OF, Minnesota Twins 

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 95.8 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 55.6%

Gonzalez hasn't come close to achieving to the level he did in 2017 with the Houston Astros--prompting plenty of trash can-themed jokes at his expense. He's existed as a middling utility bat mostly useful due to his multi-positional eligibility, but hasn't been much more than that. In fact, despite the excellent contact he seems to be making, Gonzalez hit just .217 in the last week.

Ignore the batting average for the moment. Gonzalez drew five walks last week, and between that and the high exit velocity we can infer he's seeing the ball pretty well. I'm willing to bet on Gonzalez in the immediate, especially given his position in the Twins lineup (which has underperformed in 2020, to be fair). Counting stats are what you're looking for from Gonzalez, and I think those will come as the season progresses. Don't expect homers or stolen bases, but in a utility role Gonzalez is going to be a solid option for plug-and-play RBI and runs scored.


Brad Miller - SS, St. Louis Cardinals

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 94.4 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 68.8%

Oh heyyyyy Brad Miller. There was a time when Miller hit 30 homers for the Rays (2016), and while that's no longer close to what we expect, this recent hot streak is certainly eyebrow-raising. Since August 17th Miller has posted a 1.182 OPS over 30 plate appearances, including two doubles, two homers and nine RBI. It seems that Miller is figuring out his power stroke to some degree, and in a shortened season I'm cool to grab the coat tails and ride that out.

In that time he's also walked seven times, which is extra sexy in OBP leagues of course. I think there is likely something to this hot start, and as long as the Cardinals keep starting him I think you have to keep using him. At the very least get him in there against righties.


Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of August 24th, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/17-8/24.


Keston Hiura - 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 82.0 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 35.3%

I noted Hiura here because I'm pretty surprised to see him on the bottom of the list. After busting out with 19 homers in just 84 games in 2019, the 24-year-old uber-prospect has continued to flash prodigious power--he's slugging .462 with seven homers this season. He still hit .292 this week with a pair of homers, so there is no apparent "slump" to speak of.

But that's the whole point, isn't it? Predicting what will happen based on what's beneath the surface. In Hiura's case, only 35.3% of his batted ball events have registered as 95MPH or over, and he's averaging a meager 82.0 MPH on those batted balls. Was this a tough week of pitching matchups or indicative of something more? We'll only know with more time, but if he has a rough set of games early in the week, I'll be slightly alarmed.


Nolan Arenado - 3B, Colorado Rockies

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 82.7 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 18.8%

In 2020, Arenado has been a shadow of the MVP-caliber we've come to know and love. As of this writing, he's posting an OPS of .714, which is bafflingly low considering it includes seven homers. It certainly seems as if he's fallen victim to some poor luck (.167 BABIP) if you look at his wOBA (.291) vs. his actual batting average (.218), but that certainly isn't the whole story. The Gold Glove third baseman is posting his lowest average exit velocity by almost two full MPH (86.9), along with the lowest hard-hit percentage of his career (33.0%).

Combine that with the lowest walk rate since 2015 (6.3%) and it seems to me that Arenado is in a bit of a funk. If there is any big-leaguer I'd bet on to figure things out within 60 games, it's Arenado. But the question still needs to be asked--how long are you willing to wait for him to "come around" in a season like this?


Rhys Hoskins - 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 83.9 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 30.8%

The 27-year-old Hoskins didn't have a bad week by any means--he hit .261 and scored eight runs while popping a pair of big flies. So why so much weak contact? If you do a bit of digging you'll see that his entire 2020 season has been...weird. He's posting the best OBP (.416) and walk rate (20.8%) of his career by a long shot, but easily the worst slugging percentage (.368) and ISO (.145). The strangest part lies in the Statcast metrics though--Hoskins' season-long marks in exit velocity (88.1 MPH) and hard-hit percentage (36.5%) are barely below his career averages.

I refuse to believe that a slugger with as much raw power as Hoskins has all of a sudden decided to become a contact hitter--especially since he's doing a bad job of it; his .224 average is the worst of his career. I'd look for his power numbers to normalize in the near future--this week's two homers could be the beginning of the resurgence.


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