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Deep Dive: What's Wrong With Shohei Ohtani (The Hitter)

Shohei Ohtani is over a year removed from Tommy John surgery and on a short year, he may have pushed a bit hard to be ready to rock and roll. This has caused another injury and now he has been relegated to an everyday role as a hitter. This will be a deep dive into the struggles of his hitting. The pitching sample was too small and there were obvious issues returning from injury so it can be chalked up to that.

Regardless, we all expected Ohtani to be a solid, five-category fantasy baseball producer as a full-time hitter. That has not been the case. In fact, he has struggled mightily. He does have five home runs and two stolen bases but he is dragging your batting average through the mud. The triple slash as a whole is a lowly .175/.250/.391.

This is not what we expected when Ohtani returned to a full-time hitting role. It is worth exploring what is going on. Let's dive in.

 

Advanced Stats

The walk rate (9.4%) and strikeout rate (26%) are pretty much in line with expectations. The walk rate is up from 2019 but, again, nothing really stands out about it. The ISO is the same as last year. The ISO is deceiving because although it is the same, the batting average and slugging percentage are way down but it's a reminder the power is still playing up all things considered.

Shohei Ohtani's wOBA of .275 is by far the worst mark of his career. It is down 77 points from 2019. Yikes! More concern is in the wRC+ sitting at 74. The average is 100 and Ohtani's wRC+ was 123 in 2019 for reference. One notable rate due for positive regression is the .175 BABIP. His career-mark is sitting at .355 so you can expect this to improve.

 

Batted Ball Data

The batted ball data is beginning to show the issues. The ground-ball rate is the starting point, as it is up to 51.6%. Ohtani had a high ground-ball rate in 2019 as well, but it is worse thus far. The ground-ball rate issues can usually be offset to a point by having plus speed which Ohtani does have with his sprint speed in the 94th percentile. It is actually a career-best 28.7 ft/sec and is good enough to be 22nd in MLB.

We have also seen a steep decline in line drive rate. With the line drive down 11.4%, this is a big factor behind the BABIP and batting average being down. The increase in fly balls is worth noting as well. It has jumped up 9.4% from 2019 to 33.9% in 2020. This would not be an issue if it weren't for it all coming from the line drive rate rather than the ground-ball rate.

With all the changes in the LD%, GB%, and FB%, we see an increase of in-field fly balls (up from 2.9% to 4.8%) and a decrease in HR/FB (down from 26.5% to 23.8%). These rates are moving the opposite direction of where we want them to move.

More notable changes are the pull and center rates. He has been more of an all-fields hitter in the past but this year he has been pull-heavy and has career-high marks in pull% (43.5%) and cent% (also 43.5%) with a career-low oppo% of 12.9%. In contrast, he had at least 30% to all fields last season. This could suggest he is pressing as he tries to figure things out.

This approach has caused his topped% to increase to 41.7% and his under% to increase to 20%. This would explain the added ground balls and pop-ups.

 

Plate Discipline

We mentioned the strikeouts have not increased much and it is surprising given what is going on because the contact rates are down across the board and the swing strike rate (or SwStr%) is up to a career-worst 16%. This is 3.1% higher than any previous SwStr%. The whiff rate is also worrisome and has increased to a career-worst 33.2%.

Contact rates:

  • O-Contact%: 58.8% - down 7.3% from 2019
  • Z-Contact%: 73.0% - down 8% from 2019
  • Contact%: 67.9% - down 7,.1% from 2019

This is a huge reason for the struggles. Ohtani just is not making contact. This is with roughly the same swing rate as 2019 that currently sits at 49.7%. So he is swinging the same amount as last season but less in the zone while sustaining the same amount of swings outside of the zone. This is not ideal.

Ohtani is seeing the most pitches in the zone than ever before to this point with a zone rate of 45%.

As you can see, they are also attacking the top of the zone and the outside of the zone more in 2020. Meanwhile, in 2019, pitchers attacked the outside of the zone more and challenged him less in the zone.

Ultimately, pitchers are attacking the zone more and Ohtani is swinging in the zone less. That can partly be attributed to the drop of his first pitch swing rate to 31.5% this year compared to the 37.4% last season. There is just a lot of things not going Ohtani's way right now.

 

Splits

Seeing how the pitchers are attacking the zone on Ohtani, it is worth noting he is 0-1 more than any count this season (46 AB and 48 PA), which further suggests he falls behind early and often. What is more concerning is that teams have started shifting more on Ohtani and it is working.

So far in 2020, Ohtani has had five games with no shift. This was a 13 at-bat sample size and he has hit .308/.308/.385 with a 90 wRC+. Nothing special but solid. However, verse a shift it has been terrible. Verse all shifts, Ohtani is hitting .136/.136/.205 with a -15 wRC+. That is just plain bad. Meanwhile, they shifted Ohtani a ton last year and he actually hit better against shifts.

Pitchers have also attacked Shohei a bit differently as well in 2020. In 2019, he crushed fastballs and breaking pitches but did somewhat struggle against off-speed offerings. Pitchers took notice and you can see the change in the attack in the pitches he is seeing.

  • Fastballs: 2019 - 56.1%/ 2020 - 52.1% = 4% less fastballs
  • Breaking: 2019 - 27.4%/ 2020 - 25.9% = 1.5% less breaking
  • Offspeed: 2019 - 16.5%/ 2020 - 22% = 3.5% more off-speed

Although he is expected to hit better against fastballs (xBA 0f .307) and breaking pitches (xBA .210 which is still not fantastic), the pitch mix change and attacking the zone more has given Ohtani trouble and he has yet to adjust it seems.

 

Statcast Data and Rest of Season Outlook

Considering the struggles, the Statcast data is not all that bad. The barrel rate of 12.9% is actually up from last season. Unfortunately, the sweet spot% did not follow and sits at 27.4%. Down 4.3% from last season. The Launch angle is also up from 6.8 degrees to 9.4 degrees. This would explain the increase in fly balls. Although the average exit velocity is down 89.8 MPH (down 3 MPH from last season), the average exit velocity on fly balls is actually up this year from 95.2 MPH to 97.2 MPH.

Between hitting more fly balls and pulling the ball more, he could be pressing and selling out for power. With his change of launch angle, the sd(LA) also became wider. Essentially the swing isn't as tight and isn't being repeated as often. The sd(LA) increased from 23 degrees in 2019 to 30.7 degrees so far in 2020.

Long term, there is zero concern with Shohei Othani. In the short term, with so many things not in his favor and pitchers adapting to him, the confidence in the bounce back is lacking. You might be able to take advantage and buy him in keeper and dynasty leagues at a reduced price.

This season is unlike any other and in a typical season, the bounce-back would not be second-guessed. We are running low on time and unless you are desperate for steals, he is someone to bench for the time being. I would not feel confident in buying low unless you had spare parts and the room on the bench to stash him. I am not ready to say drop him yet. Regardless, the best of Ohtani is yet to come but 2020 could be a lost season.



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Three NL Outfielders Set To Bust in 2020?

A good portion of busts each year are the result of freak injuries, but some players are particularly risky. Spotting those bust candidates and avoiding them early in drafts can be a difference-maker for fantasy teams. 

Although a delayed and shortened season has helped some players recover from injuries and boost their fantasy values, it’s also thrown a wrench in some player’s expected playing time and made certain players riskier. As a result, bust candidates this year may be somewhat untraditional.

National League outfielders appear to be generally well-priced towards the top of drafts this season, but the group isn’t immune to relatively high-profile bust candidates. The players below are relatively likely to fall well short in terms of production this year and should be avoided in drafts. 

 

Garrett Hampson (2B/OF, COL)

ADP: 183

Hampson showed little in 105 games last season to warrant excitement coming into 2020 and he appears to be a likely bust candidate this year. Hampson’s two primary strengths are his speed and contact ability, but neither is strong enough to make him worthy of draft consideration anywhere near his 183 ADP.

Hampson’s 8.3% swinging-strike rate from last season was solid, but his 60.7% z-swing rate resulted in a high 21.3% called-strike rate, driving a higher-than-average 26.9% strikeout rate. As a result, Hampson’s contact ability has failed to shine through, and will likely continue to do so unless his z-swing rate improves.

Combined with his abysmal contact quality, Hampson’s lackluster strikeout rate craters the value of his speed on the basepaths. Thanks in part to a lack of power indicated by his 83.2 mph average exit velocity and 25.7% hard-hit rate, Hampson posted a weak .329 xwOBA on contact last season.

Although Hampson’s speed should allow him to consistently post a wOBA higher than his xwOBA, Hampson’s poor z-swing rate and contact quality suggest that his xwOBA is likely to sit below .300 this year, and his OBP should sit below .315. Furthermore, Hampson doesn’t appear to have a clear path to consistent playing time on the Rockies depth chart. 

Hampson’s lack of clear playing time and likely-to-be low OBP combine to suggest that he’s unlikely to steal more than 20 bases in 2020 (based on a 162-game season). Since Hampson offers little else in the way of fantasy value, that makes him a bust candidate worth avoiding in drafts.

 

Victor Robles (OF, WAS)

ADP: 70

Robles posted a .745 OPS with 28 stolen bases last season, but his reliance on stolen bases make him a bust candidate this year. According to Nick Mariano’s Expected Draft Value research, hitters who steal at least 20 bases largely exist in a distinct tier, but most aren’t worth Top 100 picks without exceptional non-stolen base production.

According to Nick’s research, here’s how the most valuable stolen base-focused hitter compared to Robles’ performance from last year (Robles’ draft cost is his 2020 ADP):

Draft Cost R RBI BA HR SB
Most Valuable Stolen-Base Focused Fantasy Player 70.1 85 64 0.285 16 23
Robles 70 86 65 0.255 17 28

Robles effectively has to match his production from last season to be worth his 70 ADP. Leaving the nuances of Robles’s 2020 projections aside, his likely to be relatively unimpressive contributions in non-stolen base categories make him particularly susceptible to bust if he misses any games this year.

Based on his per-game stolen base rate from last year, Robles would have stolen 11 bases in a 60 game season. One 10-game stint on the injured list would decrease his stolen base total from 11 to 9 in a 60 game season, taking Robles’s per-season stolen base rate down from 18% to 15%. For context, that means that instead of stealing 29 bases per 162 games like he did last year, Robles would have stolen 24 bases per 162 games.

Take another look at the graph above and estimate where Robles’s expected draft value would be if he stole 24 bases instead of 28 in 2019. Sure, it could be as high as 70, but since Robles’ average is so poor that it seems unlikely. More likely, Robles’ draft value would fall below 114, where EDV calls for a stat line of .266-15-61-80-24. Missing more than 10 games would leave Robles worth little more than a late-round pick.

Robles isn’t terribly likely to miss time in 2020, but prior research suggests that he has a roughly 36% chance of hitting the IL this year. Given that missing time would demolish Robles’s fantasy value, that chance makes him disproportionately likely to bust in 2020.

 

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)

ADP: 116

Conforto was diagnosed with an oblique strain on March 11th, and although he’s taken some batting practice as recently as April, he still hasn’t been declared game-ready. Setbacks during recoveries from oblique injuries are relatively common, and it can be difficult to gauge a hitter’s status without them facing live pitching.

As a result, Conforto doesn’t seem to be out of the clear in terms of suffering a setback. If Conforto does miss time to start the season because of a setback, his fantasy value should suffer significantly. Even 10 games on the injured list would cost a player 16% of total games in a 60 game season, the equivalent of losing 26 games in a 162 game season. 

Since Conforto’s risk of a setback is high compared to other injured outfielders, his risk of being a fantasy bust this year is also especially high. Conforto’s health should become more clear during Spring Training 2.0, but until then his outsized chance of missing time makes him a bust candidate.

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Zack Wheeler - 2020 Fantasy Baseball Bust

The Philadelphia Phillies finished the 2019 season with a record of 81-81, which was only good enough for a fourth-place finish in the NL East and was nowhere near good enough for a postseason birth. The team was not pleased with the finish and subsequently made a change at the helm with the addition of Joe Girardi.

Aside from the new manager, the Phillies have also shown their win-now mentality with the additions of Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler via free agency. The addition of Wheeler is especially significant as the Phillies will look to improve upon their stater ERA, which ranked 17th in the MLB in 2019. Wheeler will slot into the number two spot in the rotation between Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

The question for 2020 is whether or not Wheeler will be able to put up the type of performance the Phillies desperately need him to have in order for the organization to return to the postseason, which they have not made since 2011. A deeper look into his advanced metrics should help shed some light on this question and tell us if he is being drafted at the correct ADP.

 

Wheeling and Dealing?

Wheeler parlayed a solid 2018 and decent 2019 season into a five-year $118 million contract with the Phillies during the offseason. 2019 was a season in which he threw 195.1 innings with a 3.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 195 strikeouts. While the nearly one strikeout per inning is respectable, the ERA and WHIP leave something to be desired. Wheeler relies on a six-pitch mix, which includes his four-seamer, sinker, slider, changeup, curve, and split-finger. A glimpse into each pitch sheds some light on what we could expect moving forward in 2020.

As you can see from the chart above, Wheeler relies heavily on his four-seamer and sinker as they accounted for 59% of his total pitches in 2019. While the four-seamer has been solid for him as noted by the .230xBA and 27.1% whiff rate it produced, the sinker has not been as effective. Wheeler used the sinker at a rate of 29%, which is almost identical to the 30% usage of the four-seamer, however, the results are much different. In 2019, he allowed an abysmal .298 average against with a .281xBA and paired those with a .488 slugging percentage all while only managing a whiff rate of 15.9%. The whiff rate is especially concerning since he relies heavily on the strikeout, yet produces the lowest swing and miss rate with the pitch.

Aside from having a rather ineffective second pitch, he now transitions to a much better hitters park. In 2019, Citizens Bank Park ranked 10th in terms of runs scored and seventh in terms of home runs, compared to his former Citi Field, which ranked 26th and 16th, respectively. In 2019, Wheeler gave up a total of 22 home runs, half of which came at home. We could certainly see this number increase (on a pro-rated schedule) in 2020. Keep in mind, this also assumes teams will be playing in their home parks during the 2020 season.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Zack Wheeler could be a risky selection in 2020. For him to achieve the most success, he will likely have to cut back on the use of his sinker and rely a bit more on his offspeed stuff as this is where he has shown a ton of success. He currently has an ADP of 108 and is being taken as the 27th pitcher off the board ahead of pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Frankie Montas, and Carlos Carrasco. While this is not a completely outrageous price to pay for Wheeler, you may be better off with one of the above-mentioned arms at this price.

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Point League Busts - Players to Fade

Points leagues can be a whole different ball game from your average roto leagues. When prepping for a points league, whether you're looking at ADP or online rankings, you're likely looking at data that is skewed by standard roto leagues. While it's good as a general starting point, some players simply perform better in one format over the other due to the differences in scoring.

We favor plate discipline and extra-base hits while devaluing steals in points leagues. Whereas steals are gold in roto and extra-base hits count for nothing unless you've altered the scoring categories. You must be particularly cognizant of your league's scoring system in points, as platforms reward categories differently. Strikeouts are punished on CBS but doubly so on ESPN. However, they're ignored on Fantrax, Yahoo, and NFBC Cutline.

With that in mind, many players will wind up being busts in point leagues, even though they could be quite valuable in Roto leagues. Here are five possible busts for 2020 that you may want to avoid in your points league.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)

There may not be a more polarizing player in fantasy baseball than Adalberto Mondesi. You can look at his .263 average, nine home runs, and 43 steals in only 443 plate appearances in 2019 and think, "Wow, this guy can be a top-15 hitter in fantasy". But then there's the 4.3% walk rate, 29.8% strikeout rate, and a .291 on-base percentage. "Send him down to Triple-A!" It's precisely this kind of profile that does not bode well for points leagues.

Remember, we want players with better plate discipline and power over speed because when a hitter takes a walk, you score a point. Mondesi, however, seems allergic to plate discipline,  finishing second in swinging-strike rate (21%), top-10 in chase rate (42.2%), and dead last in contact rate (63.4%) among the 207 hitters that accumulated at least 400 plate appearances in 2019.

This isn't what you want to see from someone with an overall FantasyPros consensus 44 ADP. The Statcast data above shows a profile that just isn't conducive to points leagues, where speed is devalued on most platforms. This combination of little power and bad plate discipline makes Mondesi one of the more overrated players in a points format.

 

Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL)

There's no doubt Goldschmidt was a bust for many fantasy owners last year, finishing his first season with the Cardinals by slashing .260/.346/.476 with 34 home runs and three steals. With a current FantasyPros consensus 64 ADP of 64, there's just too much going against Goldschmidt for me to believe he'll return good value in points leagues.

For much of his career, Goldy played in one of baseball's best hitters parks at a pre-humidor Chase Field. But Goldschmidt's move to St. Louis meant playing in a home park that ranks 30th in woba-xwoba on fly balls and line drives over the last three years. Which is another way of saying that players just tend to underperform at Busch Stadium. With that in mind, it's not surprising that Goldschmidt's 2019 triple-slash helped produced the worst numbers he's put up since his rookie campaign.

Not everything can be blamed on the stadium, though. Goldschmidt has shown a steady decline in his plate discipline over the last few seasons, a common trend in players as they age. As you can see in the chart above, his O-Swing%(chase rate) has increased every year over the last four seasons, and as a result, his walk rate has decreased in each of those seasons.

The data also shows a more aggressive approach with a slight decrease in contact rate and the highest swinging-strike rate since his rookie year. Additionally, his exit velocity on line drives and fly balls has fallen from 96.5mph in 2017, to 95.9mph in 2018, to 94.5mph last season. With these trends not going in the right direction, I'm going to fade Goldy at his current ADP.

 

Miguel Sanó (1B/3B, MIN)

Miguel Sanó gave us a taste of his massive power potential last season, hitting a career-high 34 home runs in only 105 games. While a FantasyPros 114 ADP says much of the industry hopes he can build off that, he's still not someone I'm going to trust in a points league. Getting 34 home runs in under 500 plate appearances is fantastic in a roto league, where you can add to that total with a replacement player, making it somewhat moot when his production comes. Things don't quite work like that in a points league, though.

In any head-to-head format, you need players you can count on week in and week out. And consistency is not a good part of Sanó's game. He's yet to surpass 500 plate appearances in a season as he's been limited by injuries throughout his career. He's also never had a strikeout rate lower than 35%. With that, you're going to get massive variance in his batting average and on-base percentage from week to week.

For example, take a look at Sanó OBP in 2019. Here are his numbers month by month: .320, .290, .411, .313, and .395. In a shortened season, there's a wide range of outcomes for someone like Sanó, making for a decent chance that he's a bust at his ADP.

 

Luis Robert (OF, CHW)

I want the shiny new toy just as much as the next guy. And in roto leagues, I'm in on Luis Robert. Someone with 20/20 potential, heck yeah. But don't fall into that trap in a points league because Robert has another profile that just doesn't play well in the format.

Over the last two seasons in the minors, Robert's walk rates have sat around 4-5%, with strikeout rates over 22%. This goes back to the plate discipline points players generally want to see. Can we really expect anything better in his first taste of the majors? And is it worth finding out at a consensus FantasyPros 99 ADP?

Add that to his probable position at the bottom of the White Sox lineup, with plate-appearance volume being pivotal in points leagues. Hitting at the bottom of the order with bad plate discipline is a recipe for a points league bust, particularly within the top 100 picks.

 

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC)

The final points league bust on the list comes with Royals' outfielder Whit Merrifield. Going at a FantasyPros consensus 48 ADP, that's way too rich for me in a points league. Because while he's been able to hit for an excellent average, there has been a downward trend in Merrifield's contact rate in the last three seasons, particularly on pitches in the zone.

Merrifield's Z-Contact% (contact on pitches in the strike zone) has fallen from 91.8% in 2017, to 88.4% in 2018, to 87.2% in 2019, inching him closer and closer to a league average around 85%. Paired with that decline, Merrifield's strikeout rate has slightly increased as well, going from 14% in 2017, to 16.1% in 2018, and 17.1% in 2019.

Obviously, these numbers aren't trending in the right direction. Add to that the fact that Merrifield just won't hit for much power, and you have a player I'm going to fade in points leagues. You could be getting someone like Adam Eaton, but around 150 picks earlier.

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