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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 60-game sample size filled with seven-inning doubleheaders to see what we can glean from it.

In this space, I'll take a look the leaderboard for Barrels to point out some surprising results in order to determine whether there might be carryover into 2021.

 

2020 Barrel Leaderboard

image taken from BaseballSavant

 

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, SD)

"El Niño" was supposed to be an asset due to his speed, with 20-20 or even 20-30 potential over a full season. He wasn't supposed to become one of the best power hitters in the game, especially in his second MLB season at age 21.

Tatis was the easy leader in total barrels, smashing 32 of them for a league-best 12.5% Barrel/Plate Appearance rate. Only Miguel Sano had a higher rate of Barrels per Batted Ball Event. A hard-hit rate and exit velocity in the 100th percentile? Sure, why not.

The best part of it all is that, unlike a pure slugger like Sano, he maintained a healthy 12.8% K-BB% along with a .298 xBA. Oh, the speed was still there too. His 11 steals was sixth in the majors in this brief campaign.

In the earliest of early 2021 mock drafts, I've seen Tatis go first overall and it's hard to argue against. Mike Trout doesn't run anymore and having an elite shortstop might be more valuable than Ronald Acuna or Mookie Betts in the outfield. Some might predict regression in the power categories for Tatis but I'm not betting against him.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD)

This one is surprising but not really. Seager was the top prospect in baseball before winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He launched 26 homers that year along with a 44% hard-hit rate and an excellent xslash line of .308/.385/.528. He followed up with similar numbers in 2017 and another All-Star appearance before succumbing to injury. Seager took only 101 at-bats in 2018 and then, despite an Opening Day homer, got off to a slow start in 2019. He hit one lonely homer in all of April, finishing with a .326 SLG that month. He recovered to post decent numbers but found himself more valuable in points leagues as he hit 44 doubles, the most in the National League, while his HR total dropped to 19.

Due to the diminishing power returns, Seager wasn't considered a starting-caliber shortstop by fantasy managers entering 2020. His NFBC ADP ahead of the actual start of the season was 133 overall, placing him as SS17. That allowed managers to take advantage of a discounted cost for his services including this author, who was smart lucky enough to draft him in TGFBI.

Once he settled in at the second spot in a stacked Dodgers lineup behind Mookie Betts, there was no looking back for Seager in 2020. He finished the abbreviated season third in xBA (.330) behind only Freddie Freeman and Juan Soto, fourth in xSLG (.653) behind Bryce Harper and the aforementioned MVP candidates. Of course, he also finished second in Barrel rate per PA at 12.1%. For someone not considered an elite power hitter, Seager showed that when healthy, he can be among the best.

 

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR)

A victory lap of sorts is tempting here, as I've been touting Hernandez's Statcast numbers since 2018 when he first got regular playing time in Toronto. That year, he ranked ninth with a 9.4 Brls/PA% that was higher than Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton. In 2019, his Barrel rate fell down to 6.7, ranking 74th among qualified batters. Although the power was still there with 26 HR on the season, his .230 average following the previous year's .239 made him a fringe starter in roto leagues.

2020 was a classic prime-age breakout, as his power was buoyed by a .295 xBA that led to a 59-point jump in batting average. How did his expected average go from the bottom 4% to the top 8% in the matter of a year? Small sample syndrome?

His plate discipline certainly didn't improve. His walk rate went down and his chase rate increased from 25.1% to a career-worst 30.9%. His tendency to swing-and-miss didn't get better but his bat speed might have.

The key difference in his profile is how he hit the fastball in 2020 compared to years past. His expected slash line against fastballs in 2019: .255/.371/.546. His expected slash in 2020: .372/.496/.832.

image taken from BaseballSavant

Those who think Hernandez came out of nowhere haven't been paying attention. His spot in the heart of a young lineup full of thunder reaffirms his status as a top-100 player next draft season.

 

Brandon Lowe (2B, TB)

This analysis only applies to regular-season stats, so let's just pretend this postseason isn't happening. Lowe was among the leaders in Barrel%, xSLG, and even xwOBACON in 2020. He also cut his strikeout rate down by 8.7% to 25.9%, closer to league average. The Rays are becoming a more homer-friendly club with Lowe pacing the way. In fact, he led the team with 14 HR, 37 RBI, and 36 R. The pressure of the postseason may have gotten the best of him but Lowe is just 26 and should continue to be a power bat at second base for years to come.

 

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN)

A regular on the Sprint Speed leaderboard, where he ranks in the 99th percentile, Buxton finally made consistent noise with the barrel of his bat. While Twins sluggers like Mitch Garver and Max Kepler had a letdown season, Buxton could finally be living up to his lofty expectations. It feels as if he's been a fledgling prospect for years but Buxton is also just 26.

After years of posting sub-.400 xSLG numbers, he reached .441 in 2019 and broke through in 2020 with a .551 xSLG that ranked 19th among qualifiers. The most notable difference is his newfound ability to hit the breaking ball.

image taken from BaseballSavant

The most surprising aspect of his "breakout" year was that he didn't actually improve his poor plate discipline and tendency to chase, he doubled down on it. Buxton's chase rate jumped to 48.9% which is a full 20 points higher than league average! He also got far more aggressive, swinging on 51% of first pitches, a figure that has risen every year he has been in the majors. Fortunately, Buxton's increased swings have come with increased contact both in and out of the zone. And when he hit the ball, he hit it hard as 47.9% Hard% tells us.

The other thing that stands out in his profile more so than usual is the walk rate, or lack thereof. Over 135 plate appearances in 2020, he walked a grand total of two times. That would equate to 1.5% for those counting at home. On one hand, it's frightening to consider entrusting your fantasy fortunes to someone who is hacking away at every pitch like a ballplayer in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. On the other hand, a five-tool prospect who's figured out how to hit the ball as hard as anyone and runs faster than everyone in the game that happens to be on a loaded lineup is hard to pass up on draft day.



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Statcast Hitter Leaderboard: Rolling xSLG Risers

The final Statcast numbers for 2020 will undoubtedly reap some interesting data. Small sample sizes abound, so throw in scheduling quirks, numerous injuries, seven-inning doubleheaders and a universal DH and you have the recipe for statistical outliers galore.

Fantasy baseball season has one glorious week remaining, so the best use of this space would be to find players that can help through the waiver wire as streamers based on Statcast.

Here are some hot hitters who can help based on their rolling xSLG over the past 50 plate appearances. Players listed will be below the 50% rostered threshold in Yahoo fantasy leagues.

 

50 PA Rolling xSLG Leaders

Slugging itself isn't an advanced statistic but expected statistics dig into the details of a player's batted-ball data. The players below have seen an exponential spike in expected slugging and, not surprisingly, performance as well.

All statistics  taken from BaseballSavant and are current as of September 21, 2020.

 

Kole Calhoun (OF, ARI)

.734 xSLG (+.355) in last 50 PA

Over the last two weeks, Calhoun has transformed from one of the worst regulars in baseball to one of the hottest sluggers. On September 6, Calhoun was coming off a six-game hitless streak that dropped his slash line to .186/.321/.419. Since then, he's slashing .372/.431/.930 with seven HR, 16 RBI, 11 R in the last 12 games. He's pulling the ball at a 64% clip and hitting it hard 59% of the time, so naturally it's leaving the yard quite frequently.

Calhoun has been prone to massive swings in production recently. Most notably, in 2018 he started the year batting .157 with two homers over the first three months and then clubbed 16 HR the next three months. This is a matter of ignoring the season-long stats (and the ballclub) in order to take advantage of a player on the rise.

 

Daniel Vogelbach (1B, MIL)

.596 xSLG (+.271) in last 50 PA

The Smoak Monster dissipated early in September, clearing the air for former Mariner Daniel Vogelbach to take over first base duties. He's not exactly playing like pre-All Star break Vogelbach from last year - he's better.

Over the past two weeks, Vogelbach is hitting .417 with three HR, 10 RBI in 36 at-bats with Milwaukee. By contrast, he was batting .094 with two HR, four RBI in 53 at-bats before Seattle traded him to Toronto, where he basically did not play before getting DFA'd. One thing is for sure, Vogelbach is also a streaky hitter, for better or worse. Right now, it's as good as it can get.


For roto managers, the appeal here is obviously the promise of more home runs over the coming days. The Brewers have to contend with the trio of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer over their next three games, which could be tough sledding even during a hot streak. A five-game set with the Cardinals wraps things up and could make for a slightly better time.

 

Nate Lowe (1B, TB)

.463 xSLG (+.245) in last 50 PA

If you're like me, you dropped Lowe in dynasty back at the beginning of the season when he didn't make the active roster and then refused to pick him back up again until it was too late. In redraft, most have been hesitant to even begin with Lowe until now. The Rays love jerking players in and out of the lineup, regardless of performance. Plus, Lowe really didn't do much until 9/11 when he smashed a pair of homers in a beating handed down to Boston. He's only gone yard one more time since but he is reaching base and driving in runs, so it's not as if he's a one-trick pony.

Lowe's raw power is graded at 65, so the potential has always been there. He's not selling out for power, which is a positive sign. Over his 47 at-bats in 2020, he's posting a low 18.7% FB% with a slightly above-average 40.7% Pull%. The 33.3% LD% is a welcome sight, although it would be nice to see him trade off some of those liners for long flies that could results in yardwork. With regular playing time down the stretch, he'll get a chance to showcase his power and might be worth streaming.

 

Darin Ruf (1B/OF, SF)

.662 xSLG (+.195) in last 50 PA

Former Phillies first baseman Ruf hadn't cracked a Major League roster since 2016. Injuries cleared a path for him to make an impact down the stretch and he is taking advantage. Since September began, he has four homers, three doubles, and a .400 average in 30 AB. Based on his career stats and the fact he's now 34 years old, we know this means nothing other than the fact he is enjoying a hot streak as a fill-in for a team falling out of the playoff picture. For fantasy purposes, if he's hot, he's worth a look.

All of the Giants' remaining games will be at home, first to face the Rockies and then the Padres. This is great news, as Ruf is slugging 474 points higher at Oracle Park where he's hit four of his five home runs this year. Facing Colorado is a plus but San Diego is a tougher test. Give Ruf a chance in the early portion of the week then be ready to pull the plug if necessary.

 

Austin Hays (OF, BAL)

.446 xSLG (+.185) in last 50 PA

Hays might have the least pure power of the names on this list but he may also have the highest overall ceiling. Hays was a top-25 overall prospect before 2018 and had a promising September in 2019. He started the season as the regular center fielder in 2020 but a rib fracture cost him a month. Now, he's trying to finish strong once again.

Over the past week, Hays is slashing .333/.379/.481 with a solo shot to his credit. Baltimore will keep him in the lineup every day to see if he can retain the CF job heading into 2021. A plus schedule finds them visiting Boston with its league-worst 5.80 ERA before traveling to Buffalo to face the Blue Jays where their "home park" has the highest run factor and second-highest HR factor in the majors. Hays is a better option in points league but don't be surprised if he leaves the yard another time or two as well.



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaders - wOBA Underachievers

The last days of the baseball season are almost upon us. Those who are still here reading up on advanced sabermetrics are undoubtedly scouring for the best information to make a final push to win their fantasy leagues (thanks to Rotoballer!) or are simply baseball junkies. Either way, I'm glad you're here.

As usual, this space will be used to identify starting pitchers widely available on the waiver wire that might be hidden gems or undervalued based on Statcast metrics.

This week, the focus is on wOBA-xwOBA to find the biggest underachievers and potential ratio risers. Listing a player doesn't imply a waiver wire pickup recommendation. Read each player blurb to make a determination based on the information provided. Good luck down the stretch!

 

Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

.082 wOBA-xwOBA

Another pitching prospect coming through the pipeline, Rogers was on the radar before Sixto Sanchez ever joined the fray. Rogers was the team's first-round pick in 2017 and has the chance to establish himself as part of one of the best young rotations in the game.

His first three outings were rock solid, as he stretched up to six full innings and held a 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP after striking out 10 Rays en route to a quality start. Then Philadelphia happened. Rogers got blown up and lost the trust of fantasy managers as a result. In that game alone, he gave up seven batted balls over 102 MPH, five of which went for extra bases.

While Rogers was certainly off in that game, his overall luck should be much better as he is the top underachiever in wOBA-xwOBA among starters. He kept his xBA under .200 in each of the first three starts and ranks among the leaders in that category. More importantly, his K% ranks in the 85th percentile with 26 K in 18 1/3 innings.

Rogers is rostered in just 8% of Yahoo leagues but will face the Boston Red Sox next followed by the Nationals and Yankees. Not many starters are guaranteed three more turns the rest of the way, so that works in his favor as well. Even if you don't roll with him vs New York, he has a great chance to succeed in his next two outings.

 

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

.068 wOBA-xwOBA

Small sample size has come into play all year and that is especially the case with Martinez. He was activated off the IL less than a week ago after spending a month on the shelf. Stuff has never been the issue with C-Mart, it has been command and health.

His two starts since returning haven't been promising, although neither was his first one before getting injured. Martinez has allowed seven runs on 13 hits over the last 7 2/3 IP. The good news: he only walked three batters and punched out 11.

His hard-hit rate currently sits at 54.8% which, aside from being mind-bogglingly high, is unsustainable. A far lower xwOBA than wOBA, a low walk rate, and the inevitable regression in exit velocity are factors that conspire to make him a decent streamer the rest of the season.

His velocity is down nearly three MPH on the fastball and sinker, which are certainly reasons to be wary. If he can work his arm back into shape and get his sinker to start sinking back to typical rates, he will be worth adding. Given the fact he may face the Pirates next time out, it may not matter - add him anyway.

 

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

.036 wOBA-xwOBA

The 2020 version of Boyd is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Once thought to be a great draft sleeper, Boyd burst that bubble quickly. He reached a 10.24 ERA after his fourth start by allowing four ER in his first two outings and then seven ER in each of the next two. Much of that came via the long ball, as he allowed five taters in the first four games. So much for pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.

It appeared he was turning things around in late August, allowing eight earned runs and 17 hits over a 21-inning stretch while holding batters to a .213 average and whiffing 29. Those four starts made us believe he was back...

Boyd was blown up by the Brewers and promptly dropped by thousands of fantasy managers who were ready to ride him down the stretch. Can Boyd bounce back for the final weeks of the season?

His overall Statcast profile is ugly but his season-long .366 xwOBA ranks in the upper half of all pitchers with at least 25 plate appearances against. He is underachieving compared to his unsightly .402 wOBA but it's been far from consistent. One look at his rolling xwOBA could be dizzying.

Can Boyd even be remotely trusted during these crucial final days? He faces the Royals next, who rank 21st in OPS and 25th in OBP. This is a team currently on a six-game winning streak though, buoyed by the recent return of Salvador Perez. Boyd can provide strikeouts and a chance for a solid start but the risk is high.

 

Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies

.041 wOBA-xwOBA

Eflin's name keeps popping up in this column, particularly three weeks ago as one of the leaders in CSW% (called strikes + whiffs). Fellow Phillies starter Spencer Howard also makes the cut but he was highlighted more recently and, as a rookie, is harder to trust down the stretch in fantasy playoffs.

Between the excellent 22.6% K-BB% and .298 xwOBA, Eflin really ought to be doing much better yet his ERA still sits at 5.01. Statcast believes it should be nearly a run and a half lower with a 3.5 xERA, mainly because his wOBA and BAA are 50 points higher than expected.

Eflin hardly puts batters on through shaky command but his insistence on throwing strikes can lead to opponents stringing together hits in bunches, which is why he has only one quality start on the season. His next start comes against the Mets, who have put up huge offensive numbers in the past week. But hey, what goes up must come down, right?

Eflin is a risky start next week but may be more palatable in his final start, likely to be against a Nationals team that should miss the postseason a year after winning it all.



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaders - Hard Hit Rate

The 2020 MLB season is now nearing the playoff stretch, both in real-life and fantasy. Sad as that may be, the next two weeks are crucial to all contenders.

Luckily, due to the extremely short season, those in need of help with pitching ratios in 5x5 leagues can still turn things around as opposed to most years where dramatic shifts won't take place in the standings.

To find starting pitchers who can avoid those disastrous starts and possibly give you a boost in ERA and WHIP, I will focus on Hard Hit rate. With the trade deadline gone in most fantasy leagues, I will dwindle these results down to pitchers who are available in more than half of fantasy leagues.

 

Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels

22% Hard Hit%, 5% rostered

The Angels' pitching staff has (again) betrayed them this year and will deny the game's best player from reaching the postseason. They currently have the seventh-worst league ERA at 5.15. Losing Shohei Ohtani's arm hurt but the unmitigated disasters of Julio Teheran (7.94 ERA), Patrick Sandoval (6.75 ERA), and Jose Suarez (38.57 ERA) in the rotation for 12 turns hurt far worse. Barria steps into the starter role to see if he can at least plug a hole in the dam.

He is yet to throw a quality start since his last outing of five innings was his longest. He is also yet to give up a Barrel over 18 2/3 innings this season and holds a minuscule hard-hit rate of 22%. By comparison, possible NL Cy Young winner Yu Darvish is at 27.4% and Jacob deGrom is at 32.4% while likely AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber is at 41.8%.

Obviously, hard-hit rate alone doesn't dictate success but it's a good starting point. Barria has done a great job limiting hard contact, although a low Whiff rate is a bit concerning.

 

There hasn't been an uptick in velocity or change in pitch mix to account for his early success. The one difference this year has been that he is simply attacking hitters earlier by throwing strikes. His 73% first-pitch strike rate is up by 15 points from last year and 13 points higher than the MLB average.

There could certainly be regression based on his huge change in this category. His xSLG was .532 last year and now it sits at .283, so skepticism is encouraged. That said, his expected stats are pretty and he only needs to string together a couple more solid starts to help your staff.

 

Taijuan Walker, Toronto Blue Jays

28.7% Hard Hit%, 49% rostered

As a former top-20 prospect, Walker has been on the radar for years. Unfortunately, he just hasn't stayed healthy, missing nearly all of 2018 and 2019. He came back fairly strong with his original team in Seattle this year, posting a 4.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 13.1% K-BB% in five starts. That was good enough to get him dealt to Toronto, who was in desperate need of rotation help.

His first three starts have been everything they could have hoped for. He tossed six scoreless innings in his first outing up north (in Buffalo) and then allowed two runs on six hits over 5 2/3 IP in his next start before blanking the Yanks for four frames. Admittedly, the Orioles and Red Sox aren't the fiercest offenses to face and the Yankees aren't looking too scary these days either but he'll likely face the Mets and possibly the Orioles once more to finish the year.

Walker won't post great strikeout numbers but that's not the intention of these recommendations anyway. Take the ratio help and the possible W if he's available on waivers.

 

Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

31.9% Hard Hit%, 33% rostered

Freeland had done what is remarkably rare in 2020 - strung together seven quality starts to start the season. The ability to pitch at least six innings each time without getting tattooed is something fantasy managers will gladly take. He hit a couple of rough patches that seemed to end the dream but bounced right back by shutting out the hot-hitting Padres over six innings.

Freeland also lacks in the K department, more so than Walker. His 16.2% K% is not far below his 17.8% career mark. His 4.45 xERA also implies some regression may come but he has proven to be mostly boom with just two bust starts this year. Despite an unfavorable home park, Freeland is restricting hitters to an average exit velocity of 86 MPH, a hard-hit rate under 32% and has given up six HR in nine starts. He does this by working the edges of the strike zone and nibbling on the corners.

Freeland will stay at home to face both L.A. teams before hitting the road to take on the Giants in what will likely be his final start of the year. Facing the Dodgers is always risky but Freeland can be streamed semi-confidently against the Angels and Giants.

 

Taylor Clarke, Arizona Diamondbacks

34.4% Hard Hit%, 9% rostered

Seemingly every week there has been an opportunity to take a jab at the D-backs rotation in this column, but it's time to look ahead and focus on the positive. The team has thrown in the towel on this season but someone has to fill Robbie Ray's erratic shoes.

Clarke has been solid since joining the rotation, if not spectacular. He did allow a season-high four earned runs his last time out but it was against the NL-leading Dodgers and he stretched out to six full innings, which was his longest of the year.

Clarke's improvement over last season's brief debut is noticeable because he allowed an embarrassing 12.1% Barrel rate and .518 xSLG in 2019. He ditched his sinker and has gone to the changeup more, with good results. A slight uptick in velocity doesn't hurt either.

You'll get about a strikeout per inning with Clarke, which gives him an edge over most of the other starters in this column. You may not get any wins, however, seeing as how he is on the Diamondbacks.

 

Martin Perez, Boston Red Sox

29.3% Hard Hit%, 9% rostered

Advocating for a Boston player in 2020, much less a pitcher, is a challenging task. Perez has never been more than a desperation streamer in the first place, as his career 4.70 ERA and 1.48 WHIP would indicate. That remains the case but he could be a more reliable option than most SP available in fantasy leagues.

Since moving on from the Rangers, Perez has dropped his hard-hit rate to extremely low levels of 29.7% in 2019 and 30% in 2020. Accordingly, his 86.2 average exit velocity was in the top four percentile last year and is even lower this year at 85.4 MPH. Interestingly, this corresponds with a move from being a ground ball pitcher upon entering the league to more of a fly-ball pitcher these days. He's still managed to limit hard contact and put together some quality starts, with some bad ones sprinkled in.

Facing the Rays in Tampa is a risky proposition but Perez may be worth adding for the final two weeks if he matches up with Miami and Baltimore.



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - xSLG Underachievers

We go back to expected statistics for this week's iteration of Statcast pitcher review. Previously, we looked at xwOBA risers and fallers to determine who may be due to improve or decline. This time, we'll compare xSLG (expected slugging percentage) to SLG (actual slugging percentage) to find the biggest underachievers.

Simply because a player's expected stats are better than his results doesn't mean he is sure to regress positively or that he is fantasy-relevant in any way. For example, Jordan Lyles has an xSLG 51 points lower than his SLG but his xSLG is still 72 points above league average. Plus, his strikeout rate is pathetic and all of his other Statcast numbers indicate that he's just pitching terribly. This is why we have to dig into the entire profile to determine if this difference really means anything.

I've picked a few starting pitchers with sizeable gaps between xSLG-SLG that could indicate improvement is in store. These pitchers are widely available on waiver wires so consider stashing one or two if you have a roster spot open and are willing to take a leap of faith based on Statcast numbers (and my recommendation).

 

Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

.199 SLG-xSLG

The much-ballyhooed prospect finally got the call on August 9 much to the delight of Phillies fans and dynasty managers. As it tends to happen with rookies, he was inconsistent but flashed some of the arm talent that could make him special.

He's had a hard time limiting hard contact thus far, allowing 19 hits in 11 2/3 innings with four of those leaving the park along with a triple. Lefties have been the main source of contention, going for a .423 BAA and .826 SLG so far. Amazingly, despite those four taters, he's only allowed one barrel and his xSLG is nearly 200 points lower than his SLG allowed. Additionally, his 4.11 xERA, while not great, is far better than his 6.17 ERA.

This may be little consolation but when you take a talented young player whose peripherals suggest he may show improvement, that could be reason enough to hold on if you added him in redraft.

Howard's last start was postponed so he should be on the bump against the Nationals on Monday evening. If he can survive Juan Soto or maybe just pitch around him, the Nats don't have a ton of left-handed thump. Adam Eaton is batting .228, Eric Thames is batting .221, and Asdrubal Cabrera is down to .243. Howard is still a risky stream at this point but bears monitoring a little longer.

 

Michael Wacha, New York Mets

.182 SLG-xSLG

If you glanced at Wacha's percentile rankings with no knowledge of his actual ratios this year, you might imagine he's faring well in 2020.

Even though the Whiff rate is low, he's picked up 25 strikeouts in 17 innings, good for a career-high 30.9%. He also has a 7.4% BB% that is tied for his career best. Now, the reality...

Wacha owns a 7.41 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and is allowing 2.12 HR/9. It's his four-seamer that's getting clobbered to the tune of an atrocious .958 slugging against. It should be "down" to .709 based on xSLG but that's still ugly. His velocity isn't down and the fastball spin has actually increased, although his vertical movement has flattened out a bit. That might explain why he's mostly getting hit hard in the higher part of the zone, particularly the outer part of the plate.

The change and cutter have been effective, so if Wacha can keep his heater away from the heart of the plate and work lower in the zone, there is hope for a turnaround. His groundball rate usually resides close to 50% but has dropped to 38.8% this season. The increased fly ball rate along with an inflated 20% HR/FB (his career rate is 12.2%) have been the disruptors of his ratios as a Met. This is promising as he doesn't need a mechanical adjustment so much as a more focused plan of attack to work lower in the zone with his four-seamer. Easy right?

 

Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates

.141 SLG-xSLG

Like anything else in Pittsburgh, Musgrove has been terrible, disappointing, and terribly disappointing. He was supposed to be the stabilizing force in the rotation and, in fact, many considered him an undervalued SP in fantasy drafts. Before 2020 began, we told you how he was a SIERA underachiever and potential breakout at age 27. He has been anything but solid, turning in a 6.75 ERA and 1.77 WHIP resulting in an 0-3 record.

Musgrove's repertoire is part of what makes him so attractive, as he works in six different pitches to varying degrees. He's had relative success with all of them, using none as gimmicks and not relying too much on any one. While his xstats on his pitch mix have fluctuated through the years, there are some jarring differences this season. See if you can spot the ones that stand out.

For those that missed it, here's a closer look.

That's quite the spike. In his three starts of 2020, his curve and changeup have gotten rocked, whereas they used to be the most effective part of his arsenal.

Part of the reason he has struggled could be a simple matter of injury. He hit the 10-day IL due to triceps tendinitis and hasn't pitched since August 4th, so perhaps he was feeling discomfort beforehand or wasn't fully in game shape. Plenty of starting pitchers have gone down this year already. It's a bit of speculation but the curveball in particular might have forced more strain on his arm and correlate to the injury.

If Musgrove comes back strong, it could be a different player altogether. When he does return, it may not be in a Bucs uniform though. The Braves are reportedly interested in him and it makes all the sense in the world, since they need reliable vets in their rotation and the Pirates surely want more prospects to keep building for the future. A healthy return and a move to a contender, even if the home park is a downgrade, might make for a very valuable commodity.

 

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks

.080 SLG-xSLG

I'll spare the details on Weaver's Statcast profile. Let's just say his page is a bit chilly because it's filled with blue. Among those, his .564 xSLG is in the bottom 8% of the league. The fact that it's 80 points lower than his SLG still isn't very comforting

Weaver gave up six runs and seven hits in each of his first two starts, falling apart once he got around the 75-pitch mark. Of course, it's a problem that he got to that point by the fourth inning in the first place. Since then he had shown gradual improvement in each start until another rough outing versus the Giants.

He now owns an 8.23 ERA and 1.76 WHIP, leading to a 1-5 record. For that reason, he is now rostered in less than half of fantasy leagues.

His 18.6% K-BB% is quite good and he's not putting extra runners on base at a high clip, so it comes down to giving up hard contact; hence the high SLG percentage. The reason for Weaver's struggles is a mystery as he looks good for stretches and then implodes. Like with Wacha (above), his fastball is the pitch giving him trouble even though his velocity and spin are both up!

The entire D-backs staff outside of Zac Gallen has been lit up this year, so maybe they just need to call a technician to fix the humidor. Weaver is an enigma and too unpredictable to truly trust but at the same time it wouldn't be a shock if he started stringing together quality starts based on his plate discipline and underachieving ways.



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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.

 

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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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - CSW%

More starting pitchers bite the dust each week and fantasy baseball managers are forced to turn to the waiver wire for streamers more than ever. The other approach is to stock up on relievers and rely on a couple of high-end starters, assuming you have any left. Either way, it's crucial to find pitchers who can contribute in this short season. Wins and saves are completely unpredictable at this point and ratios are prone to massive fluctuations over small sample sizes, so it's only logical to fall back on strikeouts as an indicator of fantasy value.

One could simply look at K% but we're here to dig deeper. Last year, Alex Fast of PitcherList introduced his own metric called CSW% (Called Strikes + Whiff rate) and our own Ariel Cohen has recently dissected this stat with analysis on Whiff leaders and Called Strikes leaders. I'll take a look at some of leaders in this category that may be undervalued and/or widely available on waiver wires.

I am including relievers along with starters this week because if your fantasy teams are anything like mine, you'll take pitching help wherever you can find it.

 

James Karinchak (RP, CLE)

42.4% CSW%

Let's begin with a relatively well-known commodity, at least among RotoBallers. Karinchak has been one of the top bullpen arms this season, posting a 0.61 ERA, 0.68 WHIP while striking out two batters per inning! He is in the 100th percentile for pretty much every expected stat that exists on Statcast at the moment. He accomplishes this with exceptional spin on both his heater and curve. It has frozen many a hitter in their stance, as he is inducing a ton of called strikes.

Thus, it's no surprise that he is far and away the leader on the CSW leaderboard. While aces like Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Luis Castillo are at the 32% mark, Karinchak is a full 10 points higher. He obviously has fewer innings under his belt but he has been employed enough that he is relevant in any fantasy format outside of maybe 10-teamers.

 

Devin Williams (RP, MIL)

38.7% CSW%

Williams is a rookie who got his first cup of coffee late last year, pitching to an unremarkable 3.95 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, and 14:6 K:BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings of work. This year, he's looking like the next coming of Nick Anderson from 2019, or Corey Knebel from 2017. In just under 10 IP, Williams has 20 K while his ERA and WHIP are both under 1.00. Obviously, the sample size is tiny this year, but these numbers should at least raise an eyebrow.

He's not in the ninth-inning conversation as long as Josh Hader is around, but Knebel has looked rough this year and the door is open for Williams to work his way into higher-leverage situations. He is currently tied for the team lead with three holds so there is already some value in SV+HLD leagues. While veteran Alex Claudio is likely next in line for saves, Williams clearly has the stuff and may be the Brewers' closer of the future, possibly sooner if the Brew crew keeps losing and decides to trade him rather than extend him a contract offer after the season.

 

Kevin Gausman (SP, SF)

33.7% CSW%

Another former Oriole who I've sworn off long ago (hello Dylan Bundy), Gausman has revived himself in the Bay. Gausman is not doing anything different except throwing the ball harder. His velocity is back to 2016 levels after a three-year dip.

Strikeouts have been plentiful, as his 42 K are ninth-most in the majors, tied with Lance Lynn and Zac Gallen, more than Aaron Nola and Trevor Bauer. The question is whether he keeps it up or not. Even back in 2015-2016 when his velocity was at this level and he was in his mid-20s, Gausman was regularly at a 25% whiff rate. His 32.4% clip seems unsustainable but in a short season, it could stay close to 30% as it did last year.

It looks like many are still skeptical and some may be jumping ship after a rough last couple of starts has raised his ERA up to 4.65. The strikeouts are there and he is only rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, so if you are willing to dive in and take a chance, now is the time.

 

Zach Eflin (SP, PHI)

33.1% CSW%

For the following exercise, I'm going to ask you to ignore Eflin's actual ratios (5.12 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) and focus on the xStats (2.58 xERA, .258 xwOBA) and then confuse you further by explaining that his 2020 is nothing like his career stats.

His first two seasons in the majors, Eflin had a strikeout rate in the bottom 3% of the league. Now, it's in the top 8%. He's always been well below the league average walk rate, especially in 2017 when he was in the top 2% of the league. Now, it's up to 9.2%.

Why such dramatic differences? He's changed who he is as a pitcher. Eflin now uses his sinker more than half the time and it's helped him induce more weak contact while upping his ground ball rate. His 62.5% strand rate may see an uptick even with the whiffs he's inducing because the BABIP on those grounders may rise. This seems like a terrible thing given his already-high ratios.

The real issue Eflin faces is lefties - he can't get them out. If Eflin is facing a predominantly right-handed lineup, he can produce for you in a pinch. If there is more than one lefty slugger in the bunch, forget it. That makes him streamable in his next start against the Braves, riskier against the Nats, and a great start against the Marlins thereafter.

 

Tyler Anderson (SP, SF)

32.8% CSW%

Anderson jumps onto this leaderboard and into the collective fantasy consciousness because of one game, albeit a spectacular one. Just when you thought the complete game was dead, 30-year-old Anderson went the whole nine for a victory over Arizona. He wasn't necessarily dominant, striking out just four batters, but he stymied the D-Backs all game long.

While his CSW is high and ranks in the top 25 with our parameters, his 16.2% K% is far from impressive and won't play in fantasy. This is a case of a crafty veteran getting by with a low BABIP that is almost 60 points below his career average. Moving from Colorado to San Francisco is as positive of a move as can happen for a left-handed pitcher, but negative regression is coming nonetheless.

 

Touki Toussaint (SP, ATL)

31.8% CSW%

Another touted Braves prospect ready to disappoint in the rotation? It's too early to say but Toussaint has at least stuck around while Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson were sent down.

Toussaint has slightly above-average fastball velocity at 94 MPH but his main pitch is his curve, mainly because it's his best one. This season, it has limited batters to a .182 average with a ridiculous 50% whiff rate. His split-finger is almost as effective with a .160 BAA and 38.8% Whiff%. The problem is his slider, which has gotten battered to a .625 BAA and 1.375 SLG. He's allowed more hits against his slider than any other individual pitch type despite throwing it the least at 11.8%. While he could improve it over time, it would be nice to see him increase his two primary pitch usages, as there's not a need to work in something else to keep batters off balance. If it ain't broke...

The good news is that it has gotten better since his first start, as have all his pitches. Of course, he had nowhere to go but down.

He was lit up in his first start against the Rays and hasn't brought his ERA down much since. Toussaint has limited base hits but has walked too many batters and been done in by the long ball. Consistency with his location is the key and either harnessing the slider or focusing on his primary pitches more will help. He could be a year away from being trustworthy in fantasy unless your ratios are already blown to hell and you just want to pile up Ks.



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - Pitch Movement

In this chaotic year, MLB starting pitching is just one of the many things that make our lives as fantasy managers difficult.

As if we don't have enough to worry about in these days and times, keeping a healthy rotation intact or keeping your ratios from imploding on any given night is becoming harder by the day with key starters falling by the wayside. Still, there is always hope out there with some lesser-known names.

This week, I dive into the pitch movement leaderboard to find some of the most effective individual pitches out there among lesser-rostered starting pitchers. More importantly, I'll dive deeper into pitch mix and underlying metrics to decide whether each SP is worth rostering.

 

Pitch Movement Leaders

My goal with this column each week is to identify pitchers whose progress, or lack thereof, in certain Statcast metrics can make for actionable advice in fantasy leagues. This isn't strictly-speaking an add/drop list, but an invitation to dig deeper into each player's profile to decide whether further consideration is warranted. Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 18, 2020.

 

Randy Dobnak, Minnesota Twins

Curveball +5.3 vertical movement vs. avg (inches)

Here's your classic overachiever. Dobnak has been a revelation in his rookie year, both in reality and fantasy. After five starts, he's posting a 1.42 ERA, 0.87 WHIP along with a 4-1 record. Good thing we have Statcast to pull back the curtain and cut through the smoke and mirrors.

In addition to a pitiful 14.6% K-rate, Dobnak is below the 50th percentile in every area other than xERA. Even that betrays his success, as it says he should be pitching to a 3.78 ERA. Dobnak has gotten by with premium sink on his sinker; that pitch has the fourth-most vertical drop among all individual pitches with SP who have thrown at least 100 pitches. It's his go-to pitch but it's not one that provides the hook very often with a mere 7.8% Whiff rate. It's meant to induce grounders and soft contact, which it is doing very well. He has a 64.5% GB% and 20.2% Soft%, both well above league standards.

Those grounders may start squeaking through holes more often, however, and hitters may start looking for the ball lower in the zone the next time around. A .189 BABIP that's a full 100 points lower than MLB average is simply not sustainable. His rolling xwOBA continues to trend downward.

If there were at least solid K totals to withstand a rise in ratios, he might be worth holding in mixed leagues. As it stands, he can be streamed in good matchups against pull-happy teams but don't believe in a full-blown breakout.

 

Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds

Four-seamer +4.4 horizontal, +1.9 vertical movement vs. avg

The Reds were supposed to be an offense-heavy team with a talented but inconsistent pitching staff. Switch it around and you have an accurate gauge of Cincy's early 2020.

Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray have been lights out and both rank among the leaders in pitch movement between Bauer's four-seamer and Gray's curve. Mahle joins them with his fastball, which has a 59% horizontal break above league average as well as 12% vertical drop above league average. He utilizes the pitch 56.5% of the time, which is about 10 points lower than his first two years in the majors. Perhaps showing it less often has made it more effective, as results have been extraordinary with an .059 xBA against the pitch.

Small sample size warning: Mahle has tossed 13 1/3 innings to this point so one rough start could throw all this off. That said, he seems to be learning a thing or two from his rotation mates and will benefit from playing Central division opponents, especially in the National League. He hasn't even faced the Pirates yet... Mahle is rostered in just 4% of Yahoo leagues, so there is ample opportunity to take a chance that the breakout is real.

 

James Paxton, New York Yankees

Four-seamer +6.9 horizontal movement vs. avg

This is a good time to check in on Paxton again to see if he's worth rostering any longer. There were reports during the extended offseason that he was adding spin to his fastball. This worked wonders for Lucas Giolito and is the key to teammate Gerrit Cole's dominance. It hasn't happened though.

Paxton's 2217 spin rate on the four-seamer is actually less than last year's 2263 spin. Results have been far worse too, as he's allowing a .341 AVG and .683 SLG against his unimproved fastball. His cutter hasn't done too well either, but he throws the heater nearly 60% of the time, so it's key to his success.

One area which has improved is the horizontal movement, which ranks far above league-average.

If he had the accompanying vertical movement to complement this or the added spin rate as promised, then he could be posting much better results. Instead, we've gotten consistently mediocrity. The good news is that he hasn't given up more than three runs in any outing. In fact, he's given up exactly three ER in all four of his starts. The bad news is that he's only accumulated 14 1/3 innings over those four starts, resulting in a 5.55 ERA. He has looked progressively better and flashed with an 11-strikeout start against the Rays last week. If it's a matter of working back into form after his knee injury, then Paxton could be a steady riser.

 

Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

Sinker +4 vertical movement vs. avg

By all accounts, Valdez has been amazing since moving back to the rotation. He's also gotten completely rocked. Let me explain...

Over his last two starts, which have lasted seven and six innings respectively, he's allowed a total of two earned runs on 11 hits with a 14:4 K:BB ratio. His ERA now sits at 1.90 on the young season with a K per inning.

How does one then explain his Exit Velocity and Hard Hit rates in the bottom 3% and xSLG in the 44th percentile? Valdez is in the blue across many Statcast measures, except for two key areas: curveball spin and sinker drop.

The sinker is his primary pitch at a 57.1% usage rate and movement is what we're measuring in this particular column. Somehow, he's getting by with great ratios despite this pitch getting tagged (.354 xBA and .607 xSLG) due to some good BABIP fortune.

It's the curve which is the real star here and he needs to start throwing more to increase the whiffs. Visual evidence below:

Valdez is still youngish at 26 and finding his way on this staff. With all the injuries in Houston's rotation and the recent history the team has of developing young arms work strongly in his favor.


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WPC+ Videocast: Buy, Sell, or Hold Sluggers Based on K%?

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut evaluate Statcast data for Week 5 of the 2020 MLB season by looking at hitters whose strikeout rates have spiked in the early going.

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 Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Swing and a Miss!

Pierre and Nick dive into Statcast data to decide whether we should sell, hold, or buy-low on players who are struggling at the plate.

Players discussed:

Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

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Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds - Barrels (Week 5)

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.

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 a "barrel", and that's what we'll take a look at from the past week.

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of August 17, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/10-8/17.

 

Brandon Lowe - 2B, Tampa Bay Rays

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 94.0 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 68.2%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 31.8%

Lowe has hit well all year, but seeing him at the top of the barrel percentage chart is jarring. The 26-year-old had a solid 2019 campaign, posting a 125 wRC+, although he was plagued by a ghastly strikeout rate (34.6%). He's cut that strikeout rate down to 24.7%, and he's making the best contact of his professional career by far--his 20.7% barrel rate on the season dwarfs the 14.1% he put up in 2019.

Lowe is a legitimate source of power, and you'd do well to ride this hot streak for as long as it continues. In a short season like this, he can be a legitimate difference-maker. Right now, he's a great DFS play against lefties, who he's currently hitting an even .400 off across 29 plate appearances.

 

Willy Adames - SS, Tampa Bay Rays

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 96.5 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 60.0%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 20.0%

Look at that, another Tampa Bay Ray. I've been waiting patiently for an Adames breakout for three years now, and we may be knocking on the door. Adames' current exit velocity (91.2 MPH) and hard-hit percentage (46.3%) both stand as career highs, and he barreled up the ball three times in the last week after barreling up just 30 times in 2019 as a whole. I would warn that the excellent contact is buoying his .284 batting average a bit (.436 BABIP), but you'll certainly take the flash of power in exchange for some batting average in this season where offense seems to be at a premium.

Adames smacked 20 homers in 2019, and while I'm willing to chalk some of that up to the questionable ball construction last year, the 24-year-old shortstop could be a consistent 20/10 guy if he can keep the stroke going. For 2020, he likely won't jump off the chart in any specific metric, but he's absolutely startable moving forward unless we see some sort of steep drop-off.

 

Elvis Andrus - SS, Texas Rangers

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 92.1 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 50.0%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 15.0%

The top-notch contact Andrus made in the last week is hopefully a sign of good things to come, because he's been brutal at the plate so far in 2020. Andrus still hasn't popped a big fly yet, but you didn't draft him for the power. His .223 wOBA is the killer--if he can't get on base, he can't steal bags. Fortunately he's brought his walk rate (7.3%) back up after two rough seasons in that department, and he has suffered from some bad luck (.212 BABIP).

I'm choosing to believe the recent uptick in exit velo and hard-hit percentage is an indicator of future success for the veteran infielder. You're probably still benching him against righties, who he's hitting a paltry .148 against this year, but keep an eye on the increased hard-hit percentage.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of August 17, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/10-8/17.

 

Francisco Lindor - SS, Cleveland Indians

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 90.3 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 50.0%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 0.0%

Lindor is one of those guys you're never going to really "worry" about, especially in a short season. However, a cold start in 2020 could spell disaster if you drafted him as early as most did. Coming into today, Lindor is on pace for the lowest wOBA (.297), lowest wRC+ (83), and lowest walk rate (4.2%) of his career. The Statcast metrics may tell the tale--in 2020 he's averaging the lowest exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage that we've seen from him in the last three years.

You're not benching him, and he's probably going to figure it out sooner rather than later--he had three extra base hits last night, as a matter of fact. It's still so strange to see Lindor's name among the very worst for solid contact in any given week.

 

Rafael Devers - 3B, Boston Red Sox

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 87.9 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 31.3%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 0.0%

I could have listed several Boston Red Sox here, but I'll highlight the third baseman. Devers is fresh off a breakout season in which he hit .311 with 32 homers, all while mustering a strikeout rate of just 17.0%. In 2020, he's hitting a brutal .182 while striking out in nearly a third of his at bats (30.1%). As bad as the lack of contact is, the drop-off we've seen when he DOES make contact has been equally troubling. Devers hard-hit percentage ha fallen off a cliff, sitting at 32.7% on the season after 48.4% in 2019. He's one of the worst hitters in baseball at the moment:

I think the real Rafael Devers is much closer to the 2019 model than what we're seeing so far in this weird-as-hell season. With that said, if he's drowning aboard a sinking Red Sox ship, there isn't much incentive to keep starting him.

 

Charlie Blackmon - OF, Colorado Rockies

Week 4 Exit Velocity: 82.8 MPH
Week 4 Hard-Hit Percentage: 25.0%
Week 4 Barrel Percentage: 0.0%

Let's be clear here--Blackmon still hit .417 this week. He's not slumping by any means, but my eyebrows are raised by the relatively weak contact he's making right now. The .500 BABIP isn't going to last if he's not hitting the ball squarely, so this to me is a warning sign that he might be cooling off. The low exit velo isn't overly concerning, give that Blackmon has posted an average between 86.7 and 88.8 MPH every year of his career--his season-long velo is still 88.5, right on the money. The zero barrels in 27 plate appearances is a bit odd for him though.

You're not benching the NL batting average leader any time soon, but it's worth monitoring his advanced metrics at the very least for DFS sake given his typically astronomical pricing.

 

 



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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds - xwOBA

The season rolls on and we have more data to digest by the day. Since many regular starting pitchers have taken at least three or four turns in the rotation, I will focus on Statcast data for those who have faced a minimum of 50 batters so far. This narrows the field to 101 pitchers, nearly all of whom are fantasy relevant, in order to find the most surprising names on the top and bottom of the leaderboard for xwOBA.

While roto fantasy baseball leagues simply deal with ERA and WHIP, wOBA is one of the most telling statistics in determining how a pitcher earns his ratios. Statcast goes a step further with expected stats. While these are not meant to be predictive, they offer insight as to what statistical outcomes a player "deserves" based on a variety of factors. For a more detailed explanation of xwOBA, read here.

My goal with this column each week is to identify pitchers whose progress, or lack thereof, in certain Statcast metrics can make for actionable advice in fantasy leagues. This isn't strictly-speaking an add/drop list, but an invitation to dig deeper into each player's profile to decide whether further consideration is warranted.

 

Early xwOBA Studs

Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 12, 2020.

 

Aaron Civale, Cleveland Indians

The extreme rise (and sudden absence) of Zach Plesac has somewhat obscured Civale's excellence. Only former Indian Trevor Bauer has a lower xwOBA among SP to face at least 50 batters. Civale's fastball sits at a mere 92 MPH but it has above-average spin along with his curveball that averages nearly 2800 RPM. His Major League body of work extends to just 76 2/3 innings but he continues to show a propensity for avoiding hard contact and staying in the zone. Since his debut in 2019, Civale has walked 18 batters and allowed five barrels, resulting in an excellent 6% walk rate and 2.3% barrel rate.

Some teams simply know how to develop pitchers and Cleveland is certainly one. We've seen Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber turn into aces while Plesac looks to be on his way. With turns against the Tigers, who are bound to stop hitting at this rate, and the Pirates on tap this coming week, Civale should be rostered in far more than 71% of fantasy leagues.

 

Dylan Bundy, Los Angeles Angels

At this point, I'm resigned to the idea that Bundy is going to win the AL Cy Young award. This isn't problematic other than the fact that I avoided him as a trendy preseason sleeper and must now eat crow.

Bundy is coming off another spectacular outing, blanking the A's for seven innings while striking out 10 for the second straight start. He hasn't allowed more than four hits in any of his four games started this year. This is why his WHIP sits at 0.63 and his .234 xwOBA ranks third among pitchers with at least 50 PA against.

It is jarring to see a pitcher who turned in a .363 wOBA and allowed a league-high 41 HR just two years ago turn things around so dramatically. There is a reason for his newfound success, other than leaving Baltimore. Bundy has finally started to rely less on his mediocre four-seamer and is utilizing his slider more.

It also doesn't hurt that he's gone from the laughing stock of the American League to a legit contender in L.A. and doesn't have to face AL East lineups any more. Bundy is a former first-round pick (fourth overall) and prime breakout age (27), so everything points to this being far from a fluke.

 

Tommy Milone, Baltimore Orioles

According to xStats, Milone should be 26 points lower on his .291 wOBA, 67 points lower on his .389 SLG, and .49 lower on his 3.21 ERA. Yes, 33-year-old journeyman Milone, who rarely breaks 87 MPH on the radar gun and is on his sixth team in the past five seasons, is dominating in 2020. Because, of course he is.

It's just a three-start sample size and everything in his past profile screams negative regression but ever since his terrible .382 xwOBA in 2017, he's been steadily lowering than number each year. He's always posted a walk rate below league-average and has found a way to increase his whiff rate recently as well.

Trusting Milone may be a hard task but with the myriad of injuries and disasters among the starting pitcher ranks (see below), it's worth a shot to stream him as long as his good run lasts.

 

Early xwOBA Duds

Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 12, 2020.

 

Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves

Top prospect Kyle Wright struggled mightily in his two MLB stints, allowing 22 earned runs in 25 2/3 innings. The long ball was an issue but lack of command was the trigger, as he walked 16% of batters. That figure remains the same in 2020 and the outcome could be worse, as he's outperforming his actual wOBA by 37 points.

If there's one positive, it's that he's only been truly bad in his first start against the Rays where he gave up five runs in 2 2/3 IP. He then shutout the Mets for three frames in his next outing. In his third start, he allowed four ER over six innings to Philadelphia, but posted a 30% CSW% and allowed an average exit velocity of 88.5 MPH. I'm not saying he's necessarily on the right track yet (pun intended) or rosterable in anything other than dynasty leagues, but it's too early to give up on him for this season. With Mike Soroka out for the year and Sean Newcomb and Bryse Wilson being sent down to the alternate training site, Wright keeps his rotation spot a while longer.

 

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

Last week's column tore into Luke Weaver and Madison Bumgarner, so now it's Ray's turn. By the way, have you noticed how terrible the D-backs' rotation has been? Arizona is dead-last in the majors with a 5.87 team ERA thanks to pretty much everyone outside of Zac Gallen.

Ray's issues are nothing new. He's always been a high-K, high-BB pitcher. Supposedly, he made some mechanical adjustments this offseason in order to streamline his delivery. They... aren't paying off. Ray now sports a 10.59 ERA, 2.12 WHIP and ranks in the bottom-12th percentile for xwOBA, xERA, xSLG, Hard Hit%, and more. Hey, at least he's still getting those strikeouts!

His Zone% has been dropping for four straight seasons and currently sits at a career-low 40.4%. Guess we could have seen this coming.

Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins

Berrios owners are non-plussed with his start to 2020 to say the least. With an ADP of 66 in NFBC leagues, he cost most 12-team league managers a fifth or sixth-round selection and was likely their "safe" SP2 during a tumultuous season. Ha ha, joke's on you Berrios owners! It's 2020!

Facing the weak Central divisions was supposed to make this year even better for his ratios while he piled up wins behind an explosive offense. He didn't waste time tanking fantasy teams' ratios, giving up five runs on seven hits on Opening Day to the White Sox. He rebounded well over his next two starts but then looked rough against the Royals.

Good news is that the schedule is still mostly favorable and it's unlikely that he is reverting back to his rookie form when his .401 wOBA was nearly worst in the majors. If Berrios can induce more whiffs, he can come crawling back to the fantasy circle of trust. He gets a chance to redeem himself at home versus the Royals in his next turn and should probably remain in lineups for now.



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Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds - Exit Velocity (Week 4)

We're off and running 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.

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.

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of August 10, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/3-8/10.

 

Donovan Solano - 2B/SS, San Francisco Giants

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 89.2 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 72.2%

The journeyman Solano hasn't done much of note in his 14 years of pro baseball, but he's as hot as it gets right now. Over his last six games, Solano is hitting .417 with three doubles, and is really making solid contact every game. Solano's .556 BABIP is a by-product of that contact, and it's certainly not something I'd expect to continue throughout the entire 60-game season for the light-hitting 32-year-old. Through the first few weeks though, Solano is one of the league leaders in xBA (expected batting average) at .339.

In a season this short, you can't really wait around. Solano is a textbook case of capitalizing on the advanced metrics--you won't have to fight anyone for him and the stats here point to him heating up. If you're dealing with COVID issues or injury (spoiler: you definitely are), Solano is a great middle infield option to add.

 

Dylan Moore - 3B, Seattle Mariners

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 94.0 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 63.6%

Is Moore a late bloomer or just on a heater? The 28-year-old is among the league leaders in a number of Statcast metrics, including exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage. He's stinging the ball--that's the point here. In just 11 games he has three homers and four doubles, good for a .293 average, although he's tallied just six RBI. His 22.2% barrel percentage is top-10 in the league, and in a year where many stars are having trouble finding their footing you have to pay attention to that kind of solid contact.

Moore carries a little more risk in points leagues, as his strikeout percentage is alarmingly high (32.6%). On top of that, his walk percentage isn't off-setting it...because it's 0.0. He has zero walks in 2020. From a pure power perspective, Moore is worth adding, and given how hard he's hitting the ball his batting average should be buoyed by a nice BABIP in the immediate future.

 

Jesse Winker - OF, Cincinnati Reds

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 91.8 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 62.5%

Between the imported Nick Castellanos, blue-chip prospect Nick Senzel, and Japanese wunderkind Shogo Akiyama, it looked like Jesse Winker was going to be the odd man out in the Reds outfield this year. Thanks to the universal DH, Winker has been able to get regular at bats, and he's not wasting them. Winker hit .450 over the last week, and while six of his nine hits were singles, he's not getting lucky. Winker is smashing the ball at every turn, and he's certainly not going to find himself out of the lineup any time soon.

Winker has been hitting in the five-hole frequently, which should provide him with plenty of opportunities for RBI moving forward. The 26-year-old is just two years removed from posting a .299 batting average and .405 OBP across 334 plate appearances, so I am cautiously optimistic in this being a display of Winker's actual hitting prowess. I'd be adding him as a bench outfielder at worst across any format right now, and would be fine to start him on any given night.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of August 10, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/3-8/10.

 

Anthony Rendon - 3B, Los Angeles Angels

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 88.4 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 30.8%

Week 3 Soft-Hit Percentage: 38.5%

The $245 million man is off to an inauspicious start on the west coast, as he's hitting just .103 across his first 12 games with the Halos. In the last week, he hit a nice round .000--that is, he had zero hits in 25 plate appearances. Even when he is making contact, it's weak, as his soft-hit percentage demonstrates. His 21.8% strikeout rate is the worst mark he's ever posted in his career, and as of right now we haven't seen any signs of him improving.

You're not cutting Anthony Rendon, but I'd start to consider other options at third base if you've got them--you can ill-afford to sit on a player this remarkably cold in a season that's already one third of the way over.

 

Eugenio Suarez - 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 88.1 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 30.8%

Week 3 Soft-Hit Percentage: 30.8%

I am a long-time Eugenio Suarez stan, so it pains me to report that he's hitting just .132 through 16 games, and has just two home runs. Suarez's hard-hit percentage is only one aspect of his poor Statcast profile:

However, I am not ready to dismiss Suarez just yet. His exit velocity has never been particularly high, as he's only exceeded a season average of 90+ MPH once in his career (2018). I am encouraged by his high barrel percentage, as that should yield more homers in due time. His walk rate (18.2%) is actually the highest it's ever been, and he's seen no real increase in strikeout percentage either, so I have less concern here than with others.

I'm in "wait it out" mode with Suarez, because he's very capable of a hot streak that you will kick yourself over if you miss out on.

 

Eddie Rosario - OF, Minnesota Twins

Average 2020 Exit Velocity: 85.4 MPH
Week 3 Hard-Hit Percentage: 30.0%

Week 3 Soft-Hit Percentage: 30.0%

Eddie Rosario is an extremely peculiar case this year. He's striking out in just 10% of his at bats, which is one of the best marks in baseball--but he's not yet barreled up a ball. He does have three home runs, but so far none of the balls he's struck meets the actual metrics to qualify for a barrel. So far he's posting the worst average exit velocity of his career (85.4 MPH), and the rest of his metrics follow suit after that--hard to post good numbers if you're not striking the ball well.

Rosario will level out in one direction or another, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt hitting in the middle of a potent Twins lineup. For now, absorb the poor batting average (.208), enjoy the nice walk rate (11.7%) and sit tight.

 



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Plate Discipline Standouts for 2020

Last year, I unveiled a new weighted index statistic for hitters – mPDI, which mirrors a famous quote by Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux:

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”

If we consider the inverse of Maddux’s quote, the key to hitting would be to swing when the ball is in the zone, and to lay off when the ball is out of the zone. That sounds easy enough right?

 

mPDI Matrix

Luckily, my mPDI statistic for hitters attempts to emulate this. mPDI (for hitters) is a metric which quantifies the percentage of the time in which hitters demonstrate this plate discipline skill.

Each and every pitch thrown at a baseball game can be classified into one of the following tracked six outcomes:

Outcome A Outcome B Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E Outcome F
Zone? Out of Zone Out of Zone Out of Zone In Zone In Zone In Zone
Swing? Swung On Swung On No Swing Swung On Swung On No Swing
Contact? No Contact Contact Made No Swing No Contact Contact Made No Swing

Named after the legend, and closely resembling his quote - The Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for hitters is defined as:

Outcome C + Outcome D + Outcome E
Total Pitches

An awful mPDI would be one in the low .600s, while an elite one would be near .750. An mPDI of .685 was the average for 2019.

Prior to the 2019 season, I used mPDI to uncover a number of plate discipline breakouts such as Jeff McNeil and Josh Bell. In this article, I’ll give you a few player candidates to look out for in the 2020 season.

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR)

First, it might help to glance over at the mPDI leaderboard for 2019. Below are the top plate discipline batters with a minimum of 175 plate appearances:

Player mPDI
Jordan Luplow .764
Luke Voit .755
Cavan Biggio .754
George Springer .750
Curt Casali .747
Khris Davis .746
Christian Walker .744
Joey Votto .742
Mike Tauchman .742
Brandon Belt .740
Yandy Diaz .738
Guillermo Heredia .738
Carlos Santana .737
Brandon Nimmo .737
Anthony Rendon 736
Corey Seager .736
Robbie Grossman .736
Juan Soto 735
Marcus Semien .735
J.D. Davis .735
Chance Sisco .734
Ryan McMahon .733
Josh Donaldson .733
Jason Castro .731
Freddie Freeman .730

Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio has a very distinct offensive player profile - power, speed and patience. Throughout the minors, he has shown the ability to hit for a moderate amount of power, as well as to steal a fair number of bases. ATC has projected the sophomore to amass 8 homeruns while swiping 6 bags. He is a legitimate full season 20/20 threat – a valuable player for fantasy baseball – especially in rotisserie formats.

But what grabs my attention is his plate discipline. In 604 plate appearances between the majors and minors in 2019, Biggio walked a fantastic 105 times – for a 17.4% BB% rate.

2019 MLB Walk Rate Leaders:

Only Mike Trout, Yasmani Grandal and Alex Bregman had a higher walk rate than Biggio in the majors last year (minimum 300 PA).

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Cavan Biggio 430 .754 .486 .039 .229

Looking deeper at Cavan’s plate discipline outcomes, it his Outcome C which is eye opening (out of the zone, no swing). For players with more than 200 PA, no one had a higher Outcome C component. Biggio hardly swings at would-be balls.

Unfortunately, his batting average is well below where it should be. ATC projects him for a mere .236 BA this season with a rather large 27% strikeout rate. But look out – if he is able to cut down on his swings and misses, Biggio is a star in the making. So far in 2020, he has 2 HRs and a steal – picking up right where he left off. Keep your eye on this plate discipline stud.

 

Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Oscar Mercado 482 .726 .398 .033 .294

While Biggio might excel in his out of zone skills, Oscar Mercado is elite within the strike zone. His Outcome E (in the zone, swung on, contact made) is one of the best in baseball. Similar to Jeff McNeil – Mercado is superb at recognizing when pitches are in the zone. While swinging at would-be strikes, he is able to make contact 9 out of 10 times. He is a true Maddux plate discipline stud!

In only 438 at bats in 2019, Oscar Mercado hit 15 homers and stole 15 bases. He exhibited more speed in the first half, but more power in the second half. ATC projects Mercado for 6 HRs, 8 SBs and a .264 batting average in the short season.

Thus far Mercado is struggling mightily with just three hits in 35 at-bats, but his BABIP is extremely unlucky to start 2020. Mercado, a speedster, is used to BABIPs in the low .300s. This season he is at just a .154 mark, which means that he will be on the base paths in short order.

Give it a little time if you own him in fantasy, or if another owner is impatient – now is the time to pounce on this mPDI gem.

 

George Springer (OF, HOU)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
George Springer 556 .750 .440 .054 .256

George Springer is hardly a surprise breakout player. The 7-year veteran already has 163 major league homers and a World Series title. But with an elite mPDI of .750 (4th in all of baseball), I felt the need to write a few words about him.

The name of his game is OBP. Among qualified players in 2019, Springer had the 15th highest on-base percentage at .383. He does so by both hitting for average, as well as walking at an elite pace (12% BB% in 2019). When he does make contact, he does so with authority. He had a 45% hard contact rate last year finishing with a 156 wRC+ (he is 56% better than the average hitter).

I personally own Springer on a number of my fantasy teams. Even though he was an early-round pick in 2020, I still believe that he is undervalued. Batting leadoff on Houston, Springer is a lock for a 100 run season in a normal year. mPDI further verifies my intuition about the Astros’ stud outfielder.

 

Christian Walker (1B, ARI)

Name PA mPDI Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E
Christian Walker 603 .744 .422 .058 .263

Christian Walker broke out in 2019 with 29 HRs in 529 at-bats. In addition, he also stole eight bases - which made him extremely fantasy relevant, particularly in rotisserie leagues.

In 2019, Walker only hit for a .259 batting average. We might have glanced quickly over him, if not for a .744 mPDI. A top Maddux Plate Discipline Index highlights his superb plate discipline. Like Cavan Biggio, his strikeout rate is on the high side, but so is his walk rate. While the strikeouts will cap his batting average, an 11% walk rate will prop up his on-base percentage.

Superior to one aspect of Biggio’s skill set, Walker’s power stroke is legit. He now has shown a greater than 20% homerun to flyball rate in each of his prior two seasons, while his flyball percentage remains high. Walker also lights it up on the Statcast leaderboard with elite exit velocity. 25-30 HRs are what Christian is capable of in a full year of play, and he has been getting the lions share of playing time thus far in 2020. To start the season, he has amassed 13 hits in his first 41 at-bats – a .317 BA.

Walker isn't due for the magnitude of breakout that Josh Bell exhibited in 2019, but I would still keep an eye out for this streaky Arizona first baseman.



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Batting Stance Adjustments Leading to Early Breakouts

It has been a wild and crazy season, to say the least, to start 2020. With samples still very small, the numbers are off a lot of the time in one direction or the other. This is why diving in and finding tangible change can be the difference in the production sustaining or it being a hot streak. This drove me to look into swing mechanics and launch angle changes to a few hot starters. Next thing you know, there were five I have found so far.

We will take a look at the swing changes and the underlying numbers that are showing changes to follow. If or when production follows a tangible change, I buy in. Let’s see what these five players who have made some adjustments look like under the hood.

The last thing I want to note is that I am not a scout and do not pretend to be. I simply find the obvious changes and show them. The big takeaway for me here is digging into the numbers following the changes.

 

Eric Hosmer (1B, SD)

Unfortunately, Eric Hosmer has missed most of the year due to a stomach ailment. He is currently on the IL. He could be a solid hitter this year if in fact the fly-ball tendencies continue. There is not much to add in terms of changes in the numbers or production due to the lack of games played and overall available data.

This is just simply something to monitor and if your are in a position to take on a stash to your team, buy low or pick him him off the waiver wire if he has been dropped.

 

Carlos Correa (SS, HOU)

Carlos Correa continues to hit well to start the year. He is currently slashing .389/488/.639 and we have seen imoproved plate discipline as well. The early walk rate is a career-best 14.0%. The strikeout rate is also down to 18.6%. The lowest it has been since 2015.

He is chasing a lot less to start the year. With an O-Swing% of 26.1% and a swinging strike rate of just 8.7% he is showing the plate discipline but also not swinging through a lot of pitches either. He has managed to increase his O-Contact rate and keep his Z-Contact rate similar to last season's rate. This shows he is being selective and when he swings, contact is made.

The launch angle has come down a bit to 18.6 degrees. This is still a career-high mark and with it the ground ball rate continues to remain low. Currently sitting at 28.6% while the line drive rate is heavily benefited by this. This will play well to the batting average and BABIP sustaining a bit.

We are finally seeing the potential and health come together. With these changes, I buy in on Correa for the 2020 season.

 

Kyle Lewis (OF, SEA)

This is one of the more noticeable swing changes entering 2020. We have seen Lewis jump to an unsustainable start in 2020 but that does not mean he can't hold on to some of the production. He was a target for late power, but with the new approach and swing, it could lead to less home runs but also less of a hindrance on the batting average as well.

Currently, Lewis has three home runs and a triple slash of .375/.423/.583. He is on an absolute tear. The expected stats show regression but he could still sustain solid production. The big red flag is the strikeout rate. It is at 36.5%. Similar to last years start. He also whiffs a bit much so the whole in the swing is very real. Unfortunately, the average launch angle has since dipped from 6.6 degree when the tweet went out, to just 1.1 degrees. This is concerning. It has caused the ground ball rate spike back up to nearly what it was in 2019.

The line drive rate (44.8%) is amazing and will lend itself to sustaining a better batting average than expected but the swing-and-miss will combat that notion. He does have plus-speed as well and will further assist the BABIP and batting average floor.

We also see improved plate discipline with the chase rate (25.9%) down 7.8% from 2019. The SwStr% also dropped 2.7% down to 15%. Which is still higher than we want to see but still an improvement and something positive to note.

He is also swinging less but making similar contact so that could help explain the dip in SwStr%. Ultimately, he is a sell high candidate. I expect a decent year but the peripherals suggest he could be in for a bit of a fall from grace. If you can't find a buyer, ride the hot streak until the wheels fall off.

 

Wil Myers (OF, SD)

Wil Myers has always been a player I could not quit. He made mention of pivoting his back foot and we can clearly see it occurring here. He is still striking out more than we would like. That issue started last year.

He has stolen a base and hit three home runs to date, so that alone already provides value at his ADP entering this year. He has adjusted the ground ball rate since this tweet went out. It has improved to currently a career-best 34.8% with most of the improvement going towards the fly ball rate.

Myers has also started hitting the ball up the middle. pull rate is down 7.4% and the cent% is up 7.1%. Almost an exact trade off. He has also improved the plate discipline. Chasing the ball a lot more and decreased his awing strikes. He has done so, while also improving his contact rate overall and in the zone.

The statcast date is all positive as well. Every metric for hitting is in the 74th percentile or better. With the exception of whiff% that is. This explains the strikeouts. Wil Myers is back and you should be starting him with confidence moving forward. At the very least, take advantage of the market and need for steals and shop him.

 

Bradley Zimmer (OF, CLE)

Bradley Zimmer has pedigree and offered promise a couple of years ago. He has since battled through injuries and has been left behind in the minds of fantasy owners. He is finally back from injury and playing semi-regularly. He has made a swing adjustment two-straight seasons.

The big reason this is worth noting was the abrupt increase in the launch angle. He is attempting to elevate the ball more. This is not surprising as the league has made this transition as a whole.

The launch angle currently sits at 29 degrees even. This is after posting seasons with: 0.6, 5.3 and 8.2 degrees. In response, you have seen a huge drop in ground balls (37.5%) and the bid jump taking place in fly balls (37.5%). With this, the pull rate has climbed tremendously as well. Up to 43.8%, he is committing to the fly ball revolution.

With playing time up in the air and inconsistent, it is hard to make room on your roster right now but it is worth monitoring and if the production begins to follow, scoop him up.

 

Nick Castellanos (OF, CIN)

I posted this the morning before Nick Castellanos took Bieber deep for his sixth home run of the season. He is on an absolute tear. The Statcast numbers (broken down in the thread) show it. Everything seems sustainable to a point. Sure, he will regress a bit but with this swing change, came a launch angle increase which in turn increased the fly balls. That change will be the catalyst for sustained production. He also began pulling the ball more. Combining the two in this park will greatly benefit the power production.

 

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, SD)

This thread is fully up-to-date as I am writing this article. It breaks it all down. He has improved his plate discipline early on this year. Tatis Jr. also increased his launch angle and has been more of an all-fields hitter. This allows for him to outproduce certain metrics.

Regardless, he has been every bit worth of that late first or early second-round pick you had to use on him. With three home runs and three stolen bases early on, he is providing everything you were hoping to get from him and more.



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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds - Exit Velocity

It's fair to say we have enough Statcast data now to dig into the numbers and start identifying early risers and fallers. Many starting pitchers have only taken two turns in the rotation, so the safest place to start is with average exit velocity numbers. In future installments, we'll get to barrels, expected stats, and much more.

As always, one metric alone doesn't tell a full story. Some pitchers may be good at limiting exit velocity but carry no fantasy relevance, while you could find some excellent pitchers near the bottom of the leaderboard. It goes without saying that Alex Cobb and Ivan Nova don't belong on fantasy rosters, so there's no need to get into that.

My goal with this column each week is to identify pitchers whose progress, or lack thereof, in certain Statcast metrics can make for actionable advice in fantasy leagues. This isn't strictly-speaking an add/drop list, but an invitation to dig deeper into each player's profile to decide whether further consideration is warranted.

 

Exit Velocity Studs

Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 3, 2020.

 

Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay Rays

In a year-end review of the exit velocity leaders at starting pitcher last year, Ryan Yarbrough was the first name mentioned by our Mike Schwarzenbach.

And I quote, "Yarbrough's 84.1 average exit velocity was a whopping 1.1 mile per hour better than the next closest pitcher, a big difference when you consider the range between the top and bottom pitcher is just 6.7 MPH."

Guess who's atop the leaderboard again in 2020?

Yarbrough makes a living out of limiting hard contact, so it would be a shock to the system at this point if he wasn't among the leaders. This hasn't translated to fantasy dominance, however, because of a strikeout rate barely above 20% each of the last two years. That area hasn't improved in his first two starts, it's actually gone down to 15% yet his strand rate has gone up.

Yarbrough will never overpower hitters with a cutter/sinker combo that averages 84 and 88 MPH respectively. He is a pitch-to-contact craftsman who is doing what he should - induce groundballs. He has increased his GB/FB rate from 1.04 in 2018 to 1.22 in 2019 to 2.43 this season. Yarbrough is a solid back-end rotation arm for ratio help as long as you can live with the low K totals.

 

Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' Opening Day starter (as we all expected) is quite the opposite of Yarbrough. Despite relying on the same sinker/cutter combo, he comes equipped with a fastball that can give hitters nightmares.

May is capable of blowing away opponents when his control is on. What's surprising is that in his first two starts, his whiff rate is down in the 18th percentile while his exit velocity is in the 91st percentile. Fantasy managers would probably like to see more Ks even at the expense of the occasional bomb. Still, it should be encouraging to see that a young pitching prospect known for a powerful arm is keeping things under control while not allowing a single barrel yet.

 

Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers

My WPC+ pod co-host Nick Gaut brought Turnbull to my attention this past weekend, so it's only right that he pops up on the leaderboard. Turnbull is allowing the 10th-lowest exit velocity to batters and his 86 MPH average FB/LD exit velocity is the lowest of any pitcher (with a minimum of 25 BBE to eliminate riff-raff and relievers).

It's a small sample size of two starts, but so far Turnbull has shown some interesting trends by increasing usage of his four-seamer and drastically increasing the vertical movement of his changeup, which has made him more effective against left-handed batters. Playing in a favorable pitcher's park and in a weaker, strikeout-prone division both work in his favor as well.

To hear Nick explain it much better, you should just watch our latest pod on Youtube or listen here for the last five minutes. You should really stay for the whole thing though.

 

Exit Velocity Duds

Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 3, 2020.

 

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks

With a threshold of 25 batted-ball events, Weaver is dead last in terms of exit velocity for pitchers. He has the worst Barrels/BBE rate among such pitchers at 20%. When one out of every five balls put in play are absolutely smoked, there's a problem.

Both his starts so far have been identically bad. He coughed up six runs on seven hits against the Padres and then repeated the feat against the Dodgers, mostly thanks to a pair of disastrous innings. Both times, Weaver gave up a run in the first, settled down, then fell apart three frames later.

Although Weaver is in his fifth Major League season and will turn 27 in a couple of weeks, it appears that a lack of focus is the culprit. Although manager Torey Lovullo would disagree. "I don’t think it’s a lack of focus, I don’t think it’s a lack of stuff. I just think it’s probably making some mistakes at the wrong time."

Whatever the reason, Weaver has torched some ratios in fantasy leagues and can't be trusted until he puts together a quality start or two.

 

Madison Bumgarner, Arizona Diamondbacks

Yeah, it hasn't been a good start to the season for the D-backs pitching staff. They have the fifth-highest ERA in the majors (5.44) and fifth-highest WHIP (1.44). Who would have thought Merrill Kelly would be the anchor of this group?

Bumgarner has allowed five barrels and 13 hard-hit balls (over 95 MPH) in two starts. While he improved in his second start compared to a terrible Opening Day performance, there is definitely reason to be concerned, as his fastball velocity is down in both starts of 2020.


When asked about the velo drop, MadBum had no good answer. The veteran could need more time to get his arm back into midseason form, so another couple of starts might show improvements. Of course, by that time we'll be midway through this season already with just a few weeks to go. He's a shaky hold right now, but keep a close eye on his velocity.

 

Hyun Jin-Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays

There was a healthy amount of skepticism about Ryu repeating last year's Cy Young runner-up success after moving to Toronto. The Rogers Centre had the highest HR factor in the majors last year and was 12 spots higher than Dodger Stadium in run factor. Turns out that doesn't matter since the Jays aren't allowed to play in Canada, so they've yet to play a true home game. At some point, they'll supposedly play in Buffalo's minor-league venue, which doesn't promise to be pitcher-friendly. Derek Carty tweeted an incredibly insightful thread on this topic.

That aside, Ryu hasn't looked very good on the road in his two starts so far. He failed to complete five innings in either start and currently sports an 8.00 ERA. His ground-ball rate has dropped and batters are making harder contact at an average clip of 90.2 MPH. Due to the recently postponed series with Philadelphia, Ryu should get his next turn at Truist Park against the Braves before traveling to Fenway to face the Red Sox and then conceivably facing the Rays twice more. This coming start could be a dangerous one, but Boston's offensive woes could make for a nice rebound. If he struggles in either or both of his coming starts, it's clearly panic time.



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Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds - Barrels (Week 3)

We're off and running 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.

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 "barrels".

 

Overview

Mike Petriello of MLB.com gave a great breakdown when the stat was first introduced in 2016, but in layman's terms a "barrel" is a high-value strike on the baseball with the bat. For something to qualify as a barrel, the strike typically has a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that yields a .500+ batting average ad 1.500+ slugging percentage. You know a barrel when you see one:

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of August 3, 2020

 

Colin Moran - 2B/3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Total Barrels: 6
Barrels per PA: 17.1%

See all this red?

Red is the good color in this chart. After hitting a career-high 13 homers in 2019, Moran has popped five in just 35 plate appearances and is a top-10 hitter in almost all of these categories through the first couple weeks. Neither you, nor I, nor Colin Moran's mother believes that this power surge is the start of something sustainable, but even with some significant regression, it's pretty clear that Moran has taken a step forward at the plate.

For fantasy purposes, Moran is never going to be a fantasy stud as long as he's in the Pirates offense, but there is something to the kind of batting average he can provide over 60 games. He's only hitting .273 on the season, but that's with a .222 BABIP. If he keeps making above average contact like this, we could see him flirt with .300. Plus, another seven homers in the next 50ish games? Totally doable.

 

Mike Yastrzemski - OF, San Francisco Giants

Total Barrels: 4
Barrels per PA: 8.7%

*NOTE: Was literally just finishing this exact portion of the article when Yastrzemski went yard again, so add at least one to his barrel and home run totals.

I'll spare the pomp and circumstance about his lineage and dive right into the fact that the 29-year-old sophomore outfielder for the Giants has been one of the best all-around hitters in the National League through 10 games. The excellent contact combined with just as many walks as strikeouts (11) has Yastrzemski in the top 8% of the league in xwOBA (.420).

The lefty outfielder smacked 21 homers in just 411 plate appearances last year, so the power surge isn't all that surprising. I'm more interested in his 23.9% walk rate, which is up significantly from the 7.8% he posted last year. Small sample sizes and all that, but if Yastrzemski can maintain the excellent contact while improving his ability to get on base, he could turn into an extremely useful fantasy asset in pretty much any format.

 

Trent Grisham - OF, San Diego Padres

Total Barrels: 4
Barrels per PA: 8.9%

*NOTE: Can't make this up--Grisham went yard too tonight. At least I'm picking the right guys to follow, right? Another +1 for both barrels and big flies. 

The 23-year-old profiles as a decent fantasy combo hitter--little bit of power, little bit of speed, above-average on-base abilities. After an inauspicious debut with the Brewers across 183 plate appearances, Grisham has flashed all of the aforementioned abilities in 2020. After barreling just six times in 111 batted ball events (BBE) last season, Grisham has already centered it up four times in just 28 BBEs. Grisham has increased his numbers in just about every Statcast metric, and it's yielded a 164 wRC+.

I'm in on the increases as legitimate, as Grisham is still evolving as a hitter after slashing through the minors at a decent clip. There is a bright future here, and if the elevated contact rates get him on base more often, the runs and stolen bases can follow.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of August 3rd, 2020

 

Pete Alonso - 1B, New York Mets

Total Barrels: 1
Barrels per PA: 2.1%

Little too warm for the Polar Bear perhaps? I'll see myself out.

Alonso is hitting a paltry .175 in 2020, and only has one homer to show for the increased strikeout rate that is helping that batting average down the basement stairs (31.9%).  After being one of the league leaders in barrels in 2019 (66), Alonso has only hit the ball squarely once, resulting in his lone home run. Let's bring that fancy Statcast chart back and see if we can find any red:

Not great, Bob. Alonso is certainly not this bad a contact hitter, but I think it's fair to expect some regression after his historic rookie season. Small sample size once again, but the increased strikeout rate combined with a lower walk rate (8.5% down from 10.4%) indicates that Alonso may be pressing a bit at the plate. It's 60 games, so I'm obviously not sitting here advising you to drop or trade Alonso, but it's worth monitoring his batted ball progress to see if you can predict a statistical turnaround.

 

Gleyber Torres - 2B/SS, New York Yankees

Total Barrels: 1
Barrels per PA: 3.2%

The young Yankee shortstop is off to a frosty start at the plate, with career-low marks in almost all of the important metrics, both advanced and otherwise. Weirdly enough, Torres is making more contact than ever--it's just weak as can be. His 12.9% K-rate is in the top 15% of the league, but his exit velocity is brutal--just 86.5%, with a 20.5 sweet spot percentage.

Torres' power numbers last season were always pretty likely to regress, but this is pretty rough. I believe it's only a matter of time before Torres starts to heat up, but in a 60-game season, how long can you really afford to wait?

It's Gleyber, you can wait a little bit. I'm just saying--he's gotta start barreling it up.

 

Matt Olson - 1B, Oakland Athletics

Total Barrels: 1
Barrels per PA: 2.7%

The slugging Athletics first baseman has been prettyyyyy, prettyyyyy bad statistically. One homer, .133 batting average, a miserable 32.4 strikeout percentage, and eight combined R/RBI have yielded brutal results for fantasy owners so far, but all hope is not lost! Olson is actually in the 84th percentile as far as exit velocity is concerned (92.9 MPH), and he's rocking an excellent 18.9% walk rate.

Olson has to elevate the ball a little more (14.6 degree average launch angle) if the homers (and barrels) are going to return in any capacity, but the solid exit velocity has me hopeful that this is a brief cold spell versus a look at what his abridged 2020 will be.



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WPC+ Videocast: Week 3 Statcast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut evaluate Statcast data for Week 3 of the 2020 MLB season by looking at exit velocity risers and fallers for hitters.

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 Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Exit Velocity Variations

Pierre and Nick dive into Statcast data to find the biggest risers and fallers from late 2019 to early 2020 in terms of exit velocity.

Players discussed:



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

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Early Week 1 Exit Velocity Hitter Studs and Duds

We're off and running on our Statcast Hitter Analysis! 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 know exit velocity. Even the crustiest of old-school baseball announcers has incorporated this term in his vernacular if nothing else related to sabermetrics. To kick things off take another look at this important stat by examining the last month's worth of data to find risers and fallers for possible buy, sell, add, or drop possibilities.

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. 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. This week, we look at exit velocity averages from the first few games of 2020 to see if we can find some early bats to watch. Hot takes ahoy!

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of July 27th, 2020

Jaylin Davis - OF, San Francisco Giants

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 100.1 MPH

Davis has an opportunity in the early goings for the Giants, who many figure to be non-contenders in 2020. Davis has just two hits in his nine official at-bats so far, but he has four hard-hit (95+ MPH) balls out of five batted ball events. While his luck hasn't been great so far, he's tattooing the ball when making contact.

Let's be clear, I'm not betting the house that Davis is suddenly a fantasy stud. However, with starters dropping like flies across the leagues due to COVID-19 and injury, this kind of outstanding contact early is worth monitoring.

Kyle Tucker - OF, Houston Astros

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 97.2 MPH

With Yordan Alvarez on the shelf, Kyle Tucker should see a healthy amount of at-bats over the first few weeks of the season. He has just five plate appearances so far, but that includes four batted ball events--three of which qualified as hard hits. Tucker has always been a touted prospect in the Astros organization, but he's had trouble finding at-bats at the big league level up until this point.

After smashing 34 homers at the AAA level in 2019, the elevated exit velocity is not surprising. However, his ownership percentage indicates that he may have been slept on in drafts--he's worth a speculative add right now.

Leury Garcia - OF/2B, Chicago White Sox

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 94.2 MPH

Garcia has the second base job all to himself in the south side of Chicago, and so far he's running with it. The typically light-hitting Garcia has already smacked two homers and has four total hard-hit balls out of eight batted ball events so far. The 29-year-old is coming off his first season as a full-time starter, and he's continued to put up numbers in 2020.

Despite hitting at the bottom of a much-improved White Sox lineup, if Garcia can continue these kinds of contact levels for an extended period he could be worthy of a MI spot in your lineup--especially with 15-steal potential. A .275+ batting average along with 7-8 steals would be an excellent return over 60 games.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of July 27th, 2020

Joey Gallo - OF, Texas Rangers

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 89.4 MPH

Coming off a 2019 season that saw him improve his batting average by over 50 points year-over-year, Gallo was drafted as a power source who WOULDN'T murder your batting average as well. He set a career-high in average exit velocity last season (94.7 MPH) and that yielded a ludicrous .368 BABIP over the 70 games he played.

If that exit velocity comes back down, we could see that BABIP drop again, which could turn Gallo into the 40-homers-and-nothing-else hitter we saw through the first 2+ years of his career. It will be worth monitoring his exit velo in the coming weeks to see if he's squaring the ball up as much as he did last year.

Eugenio Suarez - 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 89.0 MPH

I was all-in on Suarez after his career 2019 season, and I stand by the belief that he's got a top-five ceiling at the position. With that said, he's off to a rough start in 2020. He doesn't have a hit yet in 2020, and while his average exit velocity isn't much lower than his 2019 average (89.4 MPH), he hasn't barreled a ball up yet in seven BBE.

With a shortened season, no player can afford a slow start. Give Suarez another week to figure it out, and see if he can start putting better wood on the ball immediately. If the exit velocity stays down, the power may not appear as quickly as you need it to in a 60-game season.

Trea Turner - SS, Washington Nationals

Avg. 2020 Exit Velocity: 88.0 MPH

It's certainly early, but we're here for the hot takes. Turner has only one barrel in nine batted ball events in his first 11 at-bats, and that was a 105.4 MPH homer. Outside of that homer, he has been making weak contact across the board. Something to consider with that weak contact is that Turner's average launch angle in 2020 is far above what his career numbers have been. Could Turner be looking for more homers in lieu of better contact? I'm not ready to declare that just yet.

You're obviously giving a superstar like Turner the benefit of the doubt, but my eyebrows are raised after a weak first series.



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Exit Velocity Hitter Studs and Duds Heading Into 2020

Welcome to this year's first iteration of Statcast Hitter Analysis. 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 know exit velocity. Even the crustiest of old-school baseball announcers have incorporated this term in his vernacular if nothing else related to sabermetrics. To kick things off take another look at this important stat by examining the last month's worth of data to find risers and fallers for possible buy, sell, add or drop possibilities.

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. 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. This week, we look at exit velocity averages from the 2019 season to see if we can unearth some bats to watch as we head into the abbreviated 2020 run.

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of July 22, 2020, and display hitters who achieved the minimum BBE.

Shin-Soo Choo (DH, Texas Rangers) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 91.9 MPH

The veteran outfielder has been a quietly consistent producer for the Rangers for the last three seasons, posting at least 146 games played, 20 homers and an OPS over .780. He's been the definition of a mediocre depth outfielder for fantasy, but even at age 38, I think we can expect at least enough to warrant a spot on fantasy rosters regardless of format. I was surprised to find out that he posted a top-20 average exit velocity last year--his 91.9 MPH mark put him just ahead of D.J. LeMahieu and Bryce Harper, believe it or not.

Coming off of a 24-homer, 15-steal season, I think that we can expect Choo to continue to produce. At 38, the 15 steals is probably optimistic, but if he can produce 22+ homers and a wOBA over .350 (he's averaged a .354 mark over the last two seasons), you should feel comfortable putting Choo in your fifth outfielder spot every day.

Ryan McMahon (2B, Colorado Rockies) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 91.8 MPH

McMahon had a nice season as a regular starter for the Rockies last year, as he smacked 24 homers and drove in 83 runs. Obviously you can take the Coors Field factor into account, but the elevated exit velo gives me optimism that McMahon can repeat his production from last season. McMahon's hard-hit percentage has jumped every year he's been in the league, peaking (so far) at 44.1% in 2019. Over 60 games, I think it's fair to project him for at least eight homers and a similar .250 batting average.

He's currently the Rockies starting second baseman, has third base eligibility on some sites and he's getting work at first base as well. If he can take a step forward in plate discipline, McMahon could jump into the top 12 at the keystone.

C.J. Cron (1B, Detroit Tigers) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 91.1 MPH

The 30-year-old slugger had a solid 2019 across the board, especially when you take a look at the advanced metrics. In 125 games with the Twins, Cron set a career-high in hard-hit percentage (41.1%) while also posting his lowest strikeout rate in the last three seasons (21.1%). The better contact didn't result in a batting average jump, but I believe his below-average BABIP (.277) played a big role there.

Cron is likely locked in as a .250-.260 hitter, and hitting in the middle of the rebuilding Tigers lineup won't yield many counting stats. However, if he can continue to cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining his improved contact, we could see 10 homers in this shortened season. That should make him a nice utility addition, especially in roto formats.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of July 22, 2020, and display hitters who achieved the minimum BBE.

Victor Robles (OF, Washington Nationals) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 83.3 MPH

I was very surprised to see the young and talented Robles towards the bottom of the exit velo list for 2019. Coming off of a 17-homer, 28-steal season there is plenty of reason to like him heading into 2020, especially as a roto asset. He was ahead of only Billy Hamilton in exit velo last season, which casts a bit of doubt for me when considering his power potential for 2020.

Robles still managed 3.2 barrels per plate appearance, which is actually pretty high given his exit velocity. For that reason, there isn't too much concern for alarm, but I think it's worth tracking his exit velocity and hard-hit percentages from the first couple weeks of the season.

Kevin Newman (SS, Pittsburgh Pirates) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 85.3 MPH

The 26-year-old Newman burst onto the scene (at least as much as one can in Pittsburgh) with a .308 batting average along with 12 homers and 16 steals in 2019. That batting average is the main fantasy asset here, but with a .333 BABIP and the bottom-15 exit velocity, I'm concerned there might be a downturn in that area for Newman in 2020.

If that batting average dips, his wRC+ will likely dip below the 110 he had last year, making him no more than a league-average shortstop. With almost no opportunity for counting stats, Newman is a desperation middle infield add at best for me.

Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals) - Avg. 2019 Exit Velocity: 86.2 MPH

Staying healthy has always been an issue for Wong, but hopefully he'll be able to get all 60 in this season. The veteran second baseman has always had that 20/20 potential--or so it seems. However, he managed just 11 homers across 148 games last season, and he's never managed more than 12 in a single season.

Strangely enough, he posted a career-high hard-hit percentage (34.0%) to go with that low exit velocity. That indicates some inconsistency, and I think his 2020 season success will be determined by whether or not he can lock in on a hot streak. You could certainly say that about any player across 60 games, but for Wong, I don't think there is a high enough ceiling to justify holding on through a cold spell.



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Statcast Sleepers - Relief Pitchers to Target

This is the first edition of our weekly series on Statcast Pitcher Analysis. Normally, I will select a different sabermetric evaluation method to identify undervalued and/or overvalued pitchers. Since we have less than a week's worth of data under our belt for 2020, let's take one more look back at last year's Statcast data to find pitchers who could provide unexpected value.

To take things a step further in this unique season, I will focus on an increasingly important facet of fantasy teams - relievers. Most non-closers don't find their way onto fantasy rosters in a typical season, but the lack of depth in some starting rotations and concerns over pitch counts early in the year have made middle relievers and setup men more valuable.

Finding RP who can stabilize ratios while providing a nice floor for strikeouts (a.k.a. JB's Bullpen Method) is a smart way to approach a shortened 2020 season that has already been full of surprises. That said, here are some relief pitchers who posted impressive Statcast numbers in 2019 that could be worth adding or watching.

 

xBA Leaders

Dan Altavilla, Seattle Mariners

It's probably best to avoid the M's bullpen altogether. There might not be many saves to go around and it will be spread among several relievers. That said, many fantasy managers play in 16-team, AL-only leagues, or are simply desperate for saves wherever they can be found. It's not a promise that Altavilla will collect any, but he's part of a committee that could lead to some opportunities. Yoshi Hirano is on IL (undisclosed), so the door is open for whoever steps up. The competition is Matt Magill, who has all of five career saves, so there's a chance for Altavilla to assert himself.

He uses a straightforward fastball-slider combo to attack hitters. Both get good horizontal movement, but it's his velocity that is his main tool. The four-seamer averaged 96.6 MPH last year and had good spin too. As for Altavilla's Statcast profile, he had the fourth-lowest xBA among all pitchers who faced at least 50 batters and sixth-lowest xSLG. He's shown steady progress each year and could breakthrough given the chance.

Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds

Sims is another former Braves pitching prospect who was moved to make way for the new wave of arms. He made a couple of lackluster starts in 2019 before transitioning to the bullpen in Cincy with good results. His ERA has been rather unappealing; last year's 4.60 is the best yet and his career MLB ERA is 5.45. In strictly relief appearances, it lowers to 3.42.

courtesy of baseball-reference.com

Sims has all of 117 innings of experience and is just 26 years old, so it's only fair to see what he can do in his new role for the length of a (shortened) season. He may serve as a "follower" that piggybacks after starting pitchers, which means the likelihood of relief wins is higher than saves or even holds.

Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins

Garcia is part of a bullpen overhaul by the Fish in an attempt to acquire relievers who actually find the strike zone. Garcia has a healthy 4.9% walk rate in his career but also manages to limit hard contact, with a 27.3% Hard% last year. His 2.85 ERA was also in the top 4% of the league.

Garcia's strikeout rate has fluctuated wildly in his tenure with the Dodgers but it was a solid 26.7% in 2019 when he saw his most extended Major League action. Strikeouts and solid ratios are the best hope for fantasy relevance in 2020, as he is currently behind Brandon Kintzler and Brad Boxberger (possibly Ryne Stanek too) in the pecking order for saves.

 

xSLG Leaders

Darwinzon Hernandez, Boston Red Sox

The lowest xSLG of 2019 belonged to Hernandez, who didn't allow a single barrel. It's a small sample, as he only completed 30 1/3 innings of work, but it's still impressive considering he faced the likes of the Yankees, Rays, and Twins multiple times. His repertoire isn't complicated - it's 75% fastball and 25% slider. Those two pitches work well together, seeing as how the fastball averages 95.5 MPH and the slider has superior vertical movement. He underachieved on his actual SLG allowed by .120, meaning that his ugly 1.75 WHIP should have been much better.

It looked as if Hernandez might be out a while due to COVID, but he was cleared a couple of days prior to Opening Day. He's currently on IL as of July 14 so that he can work his way back into shape, much like Eduardo Rodriguez. It may be another week or two before Hernandez is ready to take the mound but once he does, he could solidify a shaky pen and provide help to fantasy owners.

Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants

I saw what transpired on Opening Day, so rest assured I don't have blinders on while writing up this analysis. Rogers got lit up by the Dodgers to the tune of four earned runs in less than an inning of work in his 2020 debut. Not a great way to show that you deserve the ball in pressure situations. Still, it's just one outing against the best lineup in the National League, so let's proceed by assuming it won't happen again.

The twin brothers of Twins closer Taylor Rogers has the pedigree and the delivery to keep hitters off balance. Anyone who grew up watching Dan Quisenberry or Gene Garber knows what I mean.

Rogers mixes a sinker with a curve to keep hitters off balance. His 1.02 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .180 xBA, and .233 xSLG would be considered outstanding if not for the fact he only faced 70 batters in his rookie year. His 90.1 MPH average exit velocity on fly balls/line drives is also encouraging and supported by a low HR rate throughout the minors of 0.35 HR/9.

Although he looks like a player to avoid based on his disastrous start to the season, he still has value in Holds leagues and will remain in consideration for late-inning work until Trevor Gott proves he can hold down the job.

Aaron Bummer, Chicago White Sox

Bummer's Statcast profile is full of red - the good kind. He posted a 1.5% Brls/PA rate, .200 xBA, and .274 xSLG in 2019.

The former Nebraska Cornhusker is presumably second in line for saves behind Alex Colome, which makes him a player to keep close tabs on in 5x5 leagues where multiple RP slots are required. He picked up his first hold of the year in a victory over the Twins and already has value wherever holds are counted.



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WPC+ Videocast: Opening Weekend 2020 Recap

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut recap the action from Opening Day and the first weekend of MLB action for 2020. They identify early risers and fallers, review Statcast numbers, and discuss major injuries.

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 Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Is It Too Early to Panic?

Pierre and Nick recap the first week of actual regular-season action.

Players and topics discussed:



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

Win Big with RotoBaller in 2020!

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Sauceda's Slants: Finding POWA in the Infield

We recently introduced our new hitter metric, POWA (which stands for Prediction of wOBA Attempt), to more appropriately align and weight new Statcast metrics to better predict future performance.

You can read the introductory piece for the full details and a 2019 POWA leaderboard, but the gist of it is:

  • POWA is nearly 10% more predictive of future wOBA than expected wOBA (xwOBA)
  • POWA is more than two times stickier season-to-season than wOBA
  • The weightings were determined based on optimizing predictiveness to next season’s (“season n+1”) wOBA:
    • Plate Discipline — 47%
      • Strikeout Rate (K%) — 27%
      • Walk Rate (BB%) — 20%
    • Contact Quality — 53%
      • Average Exit Velocity — 15%
      • Barrels per Batted Ball Event — 14%
      • % of Batted Balls Hit 95+ MPH — 10%
      • Maximum Exit Velocity — 6%
      • % of Batted Balls Poorly Topped — 5%
      • Average Distance — 3%

 

Explanation

POWA Index: Intro | Infielders | Outfielders

In the introductory piece, we saw names like Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto fill the top 1% of the POWA leaderboard. We certainly didn’t need a new metric to tell us that those guys are elite hitters. But we also saw some fun surprises, like Dodgers’ prospect Edwin Rios in the 99th percentile! (Even if only a tiny 56 PA sample.)

And that’s the fun of something like POWA — identifying less celebrated hitters who possess outstanding raw skills, whom the market isn’t pricing at a premium. Maybe, just maybe, they’re poised to deliver outsized Fantasy value.

To identify who that might be, let’s adapt an idea from FanGraphs’ Mike Podhorzer and build an entire hitting lineup comprised of only late gems. To do so, we’ll use the following rubric:

  • ADP after pick 300 (equates to < ~$2 cost in auctions), based on the latest “Sprint — Main Event” NFBC ADP (7/10-7/20, n = 14 drafts)
  • Top 25% by POWA in 2019
  • Projected ATC OPS of at least .700 — research by Jeff Zimmerman found that hitters projected for an OPS below .650-.700 were at greater risk for losing playing time and/or being sent down to the minors (“sucking risk”)
  • NFBC Rules: 14 hitters — 2 C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, CI, MI, 5 OF, UT

Admittedly, this exercise is slightly more tailored to round out rosters in deeper formats — 50-round draft and holds, “only” leagues and deeper mixed leagues. For those in shallower formats, some of these hitters may make nice endgame selections but others may be best served as early “watch list” candidates. To combat this, in select cases where applicable, I’ve listed POWA-friendly hitters as “Just Missed — Too Expensive.” While their current sub-300 ADP precludes them from this list, they’re still going late (well after pick 200) and showing tasty, top-third POWA skills.

Having said that, before we feel that we’re digging too deep here, it’s worth reminding ourselves that you could have built a pretty reputable squad choosing only players that went after pick 300 last season (and probably every season)! And as our esteemed colleague, Ariel Cohen, pointed out on a recent “Beat The Shift” podcast, the shorter season will create conditions for more variable seasons — there’s less time for proven studs to differentiate themselves and so perhaps we see more unexpected “spike” seasons from later picks like some of those on this list.

Who that might be, though? Let’s build our POWA lineup to find out! Applying the criteria above leaves us with a pool of 35 hitters — here are my favorites, starting today with infielders. Outfielders will come next in a separate piece.

(STATISTICAL NOTE: All indexed stats referenced below are calculated from Baseball Savant data, where 100 equals league average and higher is better, except for strikeout rate and poorly topped percentage, where lower is better. Indexed figures are based on all players with at least 30 PA in 2019. Percentages indicate that metric’s POWA weighting — e.g., 27% weighting for strikeout rate. Unless otherwise indicated, projections are from ATC’s full-season late-March iteration, which rated as the best projection system from 2019. Much of the injury information was initially gathered from Derek Rhoads’ awesome injury dashboard tool. Park factors are from ESPN. Where possible, hitters are sorted by their POWA percentile.)

 

C - Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals - 70th POWA Percentile

354 ADP

27% 20% 15% 14% 10% 6% 5% 3%
K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
49 79 98 92 90 98 68 109

Okay, catcher is going to be different. I know my two selections don’t perfectly match the criteria above, but catcher can be rough, and they were too close not to include. In the case of Suzuki, he’s just outside the top 25% by POWA. Oh well, for our intents and purposes, he belongs here.

Here’s why I included him:

Suzuki’s end-of-season rank among catchers the last three seasons: 12th, 8th, 10th

His PA totals in those seasons: 309, 388, 309

ATC is currently projecting him for 331 PA and to finish as the 11th best catcher. He’s currently being drafted as the 22nd catcher.

You’re not going to win your league by rostering Suzuki, but if you’re paying down at catcher, he’s a great endgame target likely to deliver surplus value and a stat line that won’t hurt your team — nothing to sneeze at from a catcher.

Now 36 years old, maybe this is the season it all falls apart. Nationals manager Dave Martinez has already named Yan Gomes the primary catcher, estimating Suzuki will play 40% of the time. Maybe that’s enough to keep him below 300 PA for the first time in three seasons, a stretch where he’s ranked 6th among catchers by wRC+ and has been at least 5% better than league average with the bat in every season.

Even so, Steamer projects Suzuki to finish 16th among catchers despite the lowest full-season PA projection (265) of any system hosted on FanGraphs. While you’re unlikely to get much more than the full-season equivalent of 300 PA, they will be of good quality. Suzuki’s approach at the plate may be the perfect representation of his solid, if unspectacular profile — with his superb strikeout rate (11.7% in 2019) and ability to avoid poorly hit balls, he presents a nice floor to solidify your catcher situation late.

 

C - Jason Castro, Los Angeles Angels

88th POWA Percentile
355 ADP

27% 20% 15% 14% 10% 6% 5% 3%
K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
133 146 104 244 131 101 77 120

Castro would have qualified for this list if it weren’t for his projected OPS of .697 from ATC. (What’s going on here, Ariel?!) I promise I’ll stick closer to the criteria for the rest of this list, but Castro was hard to ignore.

He’s produced at least 1.6 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) in six of the last seven seasons and after signing a one-year deal worth $6.9M this offseason, he’ll enjoy the majority of playing time at catcher for the Angels, with Max Stassi (18th percentile by POWA) and Anthony Bemboom (1st percentile) unlikely to push him for playing time beyond the backup role.

While the strikeout rate is well below average, his walk rate was 46% above average and he slayed baseballs last season. Among those with at least 150 batted ball events, Castro ranked 6th in barrels per batted ball event (Barrels/BBE) — 144% better than league average! — and 11th in barrels per plate appearance (Barrels/PA).

A career .231 hitter who strikes out more than 30% of the time, you should expect a poor batting average but as the 23rd catcher drafted, he represents one of your last chances to grab a quality, everyday option.

Just Missed — Too Expensive: Carson Kelly (86th POWA Percentile, 239 ADP), Travis d’Arnaud (76th, 273)

Honorable Mentions: Victor Caratini (78th, 385), Stephen Vogt (74th, 446)

 

1B - Justin Smoak, Milwaukee Brewers

97th POWA Percentile
352 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
88 192 103 156 111 101 80 119

Smoak does essentially everything you’d want in a hitter. Look at all the “green” (or numbers substantially above league average) from his 2019! His strikeout rate was 12% better than league average. His walk rate was 92% better, good for top 3% in the league! While his average exit velocities were roughly average, his barrel rates were excellent — at least 50% better than average. Perhaps it’s his ability to work the count that’s putting him in a good position to crush baseballs — he led the league in percentage of pitches seen while ahead in the count. His 2017 showed his upside, a season where he finished as a top 50 hitter and earned over $18 for Fantasy managers.

Why was his 2019 stat line — .208/.342/.406 and a 101 wRC+ in 500 PA — so uninspiring then? And why, aside from 2017, are we often left feeling that the whole is less than the sum of the parts with Smoak?

For starters, it seems like bad luck was at least partially a factor last season — among hitters with at least 500 PA, Smoak’s .223 BABIP ranked 2nd worst across MLB. Smoak’s expected stats, which are based on the exit velocities and launch angles of his batted balls, suggest his batting average (.250 xBA) and slugging percentage (.495 xSLG) should have been roughly 40-100 points higher. Even with 2019’s career low factored in, his career BABIP is .266 — whatever the case, .223 seems punitive.

That said, his sprint speed ranked in the 1st percentile and his 42.7% flyball rate ranked in the top 25 — a good recipe for power, sure, but not great for turning more batted balls into hits. His at-bats from the left side (he’s a switch hitter) were shifted over 90% of the time, but the results of those shifts have been historically uneven for him.

Moving from Toronto to Milwaukee, Smoak should benefit from a better run environment, both in terms of the ballpark and lineup around him. With a career 110 wRC+ against righties (92 wRC+ against lefties), he’ll likely hold the strong side of the platoon at first base to start the season, but will have to perform with Avisail Garcia and Ryan Braun also on the roster and needing at-bats.

He dealt with a stiff neck early last season and an injured quadriceps in June sent him to the injured list (IL), and he never seemed to recover at the plate. Now, particularly at 33, there’s no guarantee that he’ll bounce back. His hold on playing time appears firm for now, but after signing a modest 1-year $5M deal (with a 2021 team option), he may not have the luxury of a slow start. Still, even if it was only once (2017), he’s demonstrated a ceiling worth chasing. The skills are in place, and the price is right.

 

2B - Robinson Cano, New York Mets

78th POWA Percentile
351 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
68 72 103 105 130 102 119 94

After the Mets traded Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn (among others) to acquire Cano and Edwin Diaz — and get off Jay Bruce’s contract — Cano promptly turned in the second worst season of his career by wRC+ (93) and his worst since 2008 (86) when he was with the Yankees. (LOL Mets … sorry Mets fans.) He’d mostly been an iron man throughout his career with both the Yankees and Mariners, until 2018 when he was hit by a pitch and broke his right hand, and then was subsequently suspended two days later for testing positive for a banned substance.

Prior to that point, and even when he returned, performance wasn’t really a question — it was a relatively small 348 PA sample, but he was pretty good!

Cano’s 2018 (600-PA pace): 17 HR, 76 Runs, 86 RBI, .303/.374/.471 and 135 wRC+

Last season, his first with the Mets, both health and performance became a question. He battled lower body injuries — both to his left quad and hamstring — and finished the season with a .256/.307/.428 slash line in just 423 PA.

Now 37, this all could unravel quickly. Bounce backs are tough bets, particularly at his age. When you add the dark cloud of a substance abuse suspension, your mind really starts to wonder — all fair points.

But he’s still just two seasons removed from nearly finishing as a top 10 Fantasy second baseman. And he was 35% above average with the bat in a shortened 2018, including a 130 wRC+ when he returned from injury and suspension that season. Both his strikeout and walk rates went in the wrong direction last season, but he’s never been a plus walker and his strikeout rate was still 30% better than league average.

His exit velocities fell from 2018 but were in line with his 2015-2017 figures and still above average, particularly his ability to hit balls greater than 95 MPH. His expected stats indicate a hint of poor luck, as both his expected batting average (.280 xBA) and slugging percentage (.450 xSLG) were nearly 25 points higher than his actual figures.

ATC projects Cano to finish as the 32nd second baseman — that won’t get you out of bed in the morning, but it’s also based on just 501 PA. If he can use this extended offseason to get healthy and rested, and put together close to a full season, he should be able to deliver nice value to your middle infield.

For better or worse, he’s likely to play every day, or as often as he can handle, and hit in the middle of a frisky Mets lineup. Combined with Cano’s track record and skills — age be damned — it’s difficult to find that elsewhere at this point in drafts.

 

SS - Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

79th POWA Percentile
228 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
95 114 102 143 117 99 84 108

I know he’s going well before pick 300, but despite the enviable depth at shortstop this season, Swanson is the only SS-eligible player currently going after pick 200 that meets our criteria!

The former first overall pick back in 2015, Swanson forced his way to the top of the lineup last season (hitting second) before an injury to his right heel knocked him out of the lineup for the next month. Before the injury, he’d been on a tidy 600-PA pace:

.265/.330/.468, 24 HR, 89 Runs, 79 RBI, 10 SB

Of course, that was while hitting second for many of his plate appearances. He’ll have to hit his way back to the top half of the lineup, but even if he does, barring injury, it’s hard to foresee him supplanting Acuna, Albies, Freeman or Ozuna in the top four.

Still, some of the changes behind Swanson’s mini-breakout suggest promise if he can stay healthy — he improved his plate discipline, worked himself into better counts and punished pitches, particularly fastballs, in those counts.

He does nearly everything at least a little above average: both his strikeout and walk rates are above average and although his average exit velocities are nothing special, he can really sting the ball — both his barrel rate and percentage of balls hit greater than 95 MPH were top five among shortstops. (He also doesn’t hit poorly topped balls very often.)

Add in a dash of luck — Swanson’s expected batting average (.271 xBA) and slugging percentage (.480 xSLG) were approximately 20 and 60 points higher, respectively, than his actual figures — and you have a compelling recipe for a full season breakout.

 

3B - Maikel Franco, Kansas City Royals

84th POWA Percentile
402 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
59 102 101 98 107 104 109 95

Franco’s 2015 debut as a 22-year-old — a .280/.343/.497 slash line, good for a 129 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR in 335 PA — gave us just enough of a “taste” to keep chasing a full season repeat. It never came. He’s been a league average bat only once since then (a 105 wRC+ in 2018) and otherwise well below average: 92 (2016), 76 (2017), 70 (2019).

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: he just hasn’t been good. After being sent down to Triple-A at one point last season, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Phillies non-tendered him this offseason. He’s since signed a one-year, $2.95M deal with the Royals, presumably to start at third base. The Royals were one of the worst five teams in baseball last season and they don’t project to be demonstrably better this season, so Franco’s job is likely relatively safe.

The opportunity is likely to be there, but Franco is moving from a passable lineup to a bad one. Worse, he’s expected to start low in the batting order. While Kauffman Stadium has been a sneaky-good run environment, it’s one of the worst parks for homers — certainly much worse than Citizens Bank Park. That’s not a great formula for a hitter who needs to hit for power to provide Fantasy value, although perhaps the move could be a good buoy for Franco’s batting average.

After all, his skills portend a quality batting average. Among hitters with at least 400 PA last season, Franco strikeout rate was in the top 30. Among those 30, his isolated power (ISO) ranked 13th. It’s a bit of a unique combination of low strikeouts and power. He paired that with a roughly league average walk rate, drawing walks at a career-best 8.4% clip.

He also raised his launch angle to a career-high 14.9 degrees. It didn’t result in more power — instead, his popup rate spiked to nearly 15% — but it was a noteworthy development for someone who had previously hit groundballs closer in line with that of a slap hitter than a power hitter. Despite the broad frame, he won’t dominate Statcast exit velocity leaderboards, although he’s at least league average in that regard.

Franco is an interesting case. How often do you see 22-year-olds produce in the majors as 29% better than league average, only to be non-tendered a few years later? He’s still just 27, tweaking and improving under the hood. Could he go the way of new teammate, Hunter Dozier, and have a 27-year-old mini-breakout? It’s an interesting question that might be worth finding an answer to at this point in drafts.

Just Missed — Too Expensive: Yandy Diaz (93rd, 273), Brian Anderson (80th, 225)

Honorable Mentions: Rake Jake Lamb (89th, 409), Brad Miller (85th, 659 in March “Draft Champions” drafts), Kyle Seager (83rd, 327), Asdrubal Cabrera (76th, 424)

 

CI - Daniel Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners

93rd POWA Percentile
440 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
111 200 101 153 106 103 73 118

*Scroll up to Smoak, Justin*

Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V.

You really almost could!

Keen eye? Walk rate in the top 2% of the league; second in the league — behind only Smoak! — in percentage of pitches seen while ahead in the count. Check!

Prodigious power? 80th percentile in barrels per batted ball event rate. Check!

Slow as molasses? 3rd percentile sprint speed. Check!

Where Vogelbach diverges is also what lowers his batting average ceiling relative to Smoak.

First, he’s got more swing and miss in his game, with a strikeout rate that’s 11% worse than league average. Second, he was slightly more extreme in his flyball-heavy approach, ranking 11th in flyball rate (44.8%) among hitters with at least 500 PA. Third, it could be noisy in a one-season sample, but he was much more negatively impacted by the shift — he was shifted on 67% of his PA and his wOBA when shifted was more than 25 points lower than when not shifted. Lastly, hitting only from the left side, Vogelbach has much more of a pronounced platoon split, with a 129 wRC+ against righties (530 career PA) but only a 56 wRC+ against lefties (174 career PA).

Worse, Vogelbach has less of a track record in the majors, and arguably a less secure playing time situation. He also really struggled in the second half of last season — after hitting a 126 wRC+ in the first half, his strikeout and walk rates both cratered and Vogelbach struggled to a 68 wRC+ in the second half.

Still, there’s quite a bit to like with his profile! To start, I think a shorter season might benefit him. While there was a chance the Mariners’ young hitting talent — namely Jarred Kelenic and maybe Julio Rodriguez — might have forced their way to the big-league roster with a full season to do so. With a shorter season, I think the Mariners front office will be more inclined to chock it up to a lost year and avoid starting their service clocks.

With Evan White locked in at first base, Vogelbach's only real path to everyday at-bats is at DH. He should be able to lock that down — Steamer projects him has the M’s best hitter by wRC+ and tied for 8th in fWAR among all Mariners — but some questions remain: first, can he correct whatever bothered him in the second half last season? Second, can he force his way to face lefties and thus more plate appearances?

Even with his struggles last season, he still finished with 1.6 fWAR and as 11% better than league average with the bat. Also, let’s not forget that this was his first extended chance in the majors — he mashed in the minors, finishing with 60 home runs in 1,488 PA in Triple-A alone, and never below a 122 wRC+. With a full year of major league plate appearances under his belt, it’s not farfetched to think he can adjust. In spring, he talked about his offseason focus being improving “dominating” against lefties. There’s a good player in here with compelling skills, and the cost to acquire him for your Fantasy team is absurdly low.

Just Missed — Too Expensive: CJ Cron (86th, 199), Joey Votto (85th, 271), Renato Nunez (78th, 280)

Honorable Mentions: Edwin Rios (99th, 442), Mike Ford (95th, 577 in March “Draft Champions” drafts), Ji-Man Choi (93rd, 437), Mitch Moreland (89th, 450), Ryan Zimmerman (82nd, 651 in March “Draft Champions” drafts), Jesus Aguilar (82nd, 369), Miguel Cabrera (80th, 318), Matt Beaty (80th, 449), Eric Thames (76th, 309)

 

MI - Howie Kendrick, Washington Nationals

95th POWA Percentile
240 ADP (up from 353 ADP in March “Draft Champions” Drafts)

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
55 89 104 162 136 103 93 102

Howie chose his age-36 season to generate the most Fantasy dollars he’s earned since he was a Dodger in 2014. If he were likely to secure more bankable playing time, he might have grabbed the 2B slot on this list ahead of Cano. While that didn’t stop him last season — he finished as a top 15 Fantasy second baseman and generated 2.9 fWAR in just 370 PA — it’s probably the prudent approach not to buy the repeat of such an outlier season.

Despite the loss of Rendon, Washington has a crowded depth chart and an excellent projected bench of Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael A. Taylor. If Carter Kieboom wins the opening day third base job, all those guys will be battling for fill-in plate appearances behind starters. That said, if the condensed season sprint drives more bench utilization, then Kendrick might have a clearer path to more plate appearances than he would relative to a typical season.

With an elite strikeout rate and top 20% barrel rate, Kendrick should provide a nice mix of plus batting average — he hit .344 last season and he’s hit .322 in 708 PA since joining the Nationals in 2017 — and passable power across two positions (1B/2B).

He’ll turn 37 this season and while his skillset has aged well thus far, it’s fair to wonder at what point things might degrade quickly. Still, Steamer has him projected for the second-best wRC+ on the team and, like in real baseball, he should be a solid fill-in for Fantasy teams — particularly in deeper daily leagues or leagues where you’re not forced to commit to a starting lineup for a full week. I prefer to shoot for more upside with my later picks, and I’d like to see Kendrick’s price fall a bit more before grabbing him, but if you’re looking for late batting average help eligible at both MI and CI, Howie might be your guy.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Aledmys Diaz (86th, 564 in March “Draft Champions” drafts)
  • Brian Dozier (79th, 595 in March “Draft Champions” drafts)

 

Stay tuned for the upcoming piece about outfielders and more…

Make sure to poke around the full leaderboard on RotoBaller to see what other late gems you can find — let me know on Twitter (@RotoPope) if there are some standout options that I missed!



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Underpriced Hitters According to ATC Projections

While nothing is guaranteed, we can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball is back, baby! Summer camp (I refuse to call it Spring Training 2.0) has now begun and Opening Day is set for July 23/24. Coming with the return are seismic changes; a universal DH, limited opponents, a free runner in extra innings, and - in case you missed it - only 60 games!

All these new changes mean we have to throw out all of our old projections. Luckily, RotoBaller has 2019's most accurate ranker, Ariel Cohen, to give us his updated ATC projections. I took those projections and turned them into fantasy dollars, ranking them accordingly. By comparing these rankings to the latest NFBC ADP data, we can see which players ATC likes at their draft price, and who should be passed on.

We'll start with our dessert first and take a look at some of the bargains in the top-100 according to ATC. Projections aren't foolproof and there is bound to be some wild stuff in this short-sample season. But since it's release, ATC has proven to be one of the best forecasting systems available and it's wise to pay attention to some of the price discrepancies that it has found. Let's get started.

 

Methodology

To work out the fantasy values, I applied a z-score methodology to ATC projections, first running the projections through the Fangraphs auction calculator and taking the 210 hitters who were valued above negative five dollars. I then applied my own z-score method to this revised player pool.

Slotting each player into their most important eligible position left me with the following distribution:

Positon Total Starters Below-Replacement
C 22 12 10
1B 21 16 5
2B 30 20 10
3B 30 20 10
SS 29 25 4
OF 76 60 16
DH 3 3 0

Along with my calculated dollar values, I used NFBC ADP's since April 15th, which left me with a sample pool of 30 drafts. Below are the 70 hitters being drafted within the top-100, along with what number hitter they're being drafted as, what number hitter ATC projects them as, and the difference between the two ranks:

Name POS ADP ADP  Rank ATC Rank ADP - ATC
Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 1.4 1 2 -1
Mike Trout OF 2.3 2 1 1
Christian Yelich OF 2.6 3 4 -1
Cody Bellinger 1B, OF 4.3 4 3 1
Mookie Betts OF 5.7 5 5 0
Francisco Lindor SS 8.3 6 9 -3
Juan Soto OF 10.2 7 6 1
Trea Turner SS 10.2 8 15 -7
Trevor Story SS 12.2 9 12 -3
Nolan Arenado 3B 14.7 11 7 4
Jose Ramirez 3B 14.7 10 11 -1
Alex Bregman 3B, SS 15.3 12 14 -2
Freddie Freeman 1B 16.9 13 13 0
Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 17.1 14 23 -9
Bryce Harper OF 20.7 15 16 -1
Anthony Rendon 3B 22.4 16 17 -1
Rafael Devers 3B 22.7 17 10 7
J.D. Martinez OF 23.5 18 8 10
Starling Marte OF 25.2 19 20 -1
Gleyber Torres 2B,SS 28.8 20 34 -14
Ozzie Albies 2B 31.3 21 25 -4
Javier Baez SS 31.9 22 22 0
Pete Alonso 1B 32.7 23 28 -5
Austin Meadows OF 34.8 24 30 -6
Adalberto Mondesi SS 35.8 25 62 -37
Ketel Marte 2B,OF 36.0 26 45 -19
Xander Bogaerts SS 37.3 27 27 0
Jose Altuve 2B 37.6 28 26 2
Jonathan Villar 2B,SS 42.2 29 78 -49
Keston Hiura 2B 43.3 30 35 -5
J.T. Realmuto C 44.0 31 24 7
George Springer OF 44.8 32 19 13
Matt Olson 1B 45.1 33 52 -19
Bo Bichette SS 49.7 34 58 -24
Charlie Blackmon OF 51.5 35 38 -3
Yordan Alvarez OF 52.0 36 18 18
Whit Merrifield 2B,OF 55.7 37 29 8
Aaron Judge OF 56.4 38 43 -5
Manny Machado 3B,SS 56.8 39 36 3
Eloy Jimenez OF 59.9 40 31 9
Kris Bryant 3B,OF 60.4 41 39 2
DJ LeMahieu 1B,2B,3B 61.0 42 49 -7
Yoan Moncada 3B 62.0 43 57 -14
Anthony Rizzo 1B 64.9 44 32 12
Max Muncy 1B,2B,3B 65.0 46 66 -20
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3B 65.0 45 65 -20
Nelson Cruz DH 68.4 47 33 14
Giancarlo Stanton OF 68.7 48 41 7
Jose Abreu 1B 70.9 49 48 1
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 72.0 50 44 6
Eugenio Suarez 3B 72.5 51 42 9
Victor Robles OF 73.3 52 54 -2
Ramon Laureano OF 77.4 53 73 -20
Tommy Pham OF 78.5 54 51 3
Luis Robert OF 79.0 55 81 -26
Joey Gallo OF 80.2 56 55 1
Jeff McNeil 2B,3B, OF 80.7 57 64 -7
Jorge Soler OF 85.6 58 59 -1
Marcus Semien SS 87.0 59 56 3
Mike Moustakas 2B,3B 87.3 60 60 0
Nick Castellanos OF 87.9 61 46 15
Josh Bell 1B 89.7 62 47 15
Matt Chapman 3B 90.0 63 53 10
Tim Anderson SS 90.4 64 58 6
Marcell Ozuna OF 91.7 65 40 25
Eddie Rosario OF 92.4 66 37 29
Josh Donaldson 3B 92.8 67 50 17
Gary Sanchez C 94.8 68 72 -4
Miguel Sano 3B 99.5 69 83 -14
Franmil Reyes OF 99.7 70 63 7

 

J.D. Martinez, OF - 23 ADP

ATC Projections: 232 PA - 14 HR - 34 R - 39 RBI - 1 SB - .299 AVG

Martinez is one of the paragons of the type of player I'm gravitating towards this wild, wild west of a season. Similar fantasy contributions across the three non-SB categories and a hit tool that puts an elite average on the table.  While I don't think that batting average will be quite the driver of value relative to the other hitting categories that ERA and WHIP will be to pitchers, I think it has the best chance to be the game-changer category for hitters.

Tim Anderson's .335 AVG was best in baseball in 2019, with only four players batting over .320, and 19 finishing over a .300 AVG. After 60 games in 2019, four players had Anderson's mark beat, with Cody Bellinger leading the league with a .376 AVG, 11 players topping .320, and 29 players finishing over .300. There are going to be some crazy batting average spikes that make the fantasy superstars of 2020 and I want to collect as many hopefuls as I can.

The 32-year-old Martinez certainly fits the bill, having finished over a .300 AVG the past four seasons, and five of the last six. There was also the .330 AVG that Martinez put up in his spectacular 2018 campaign. I don't think he has another .330 season in him for a regular year, but for 60 games? Zero people should be surprised if Martinez bats .350 in 60 games. This isn't really about hoping that he will, it's about knowing that his skillset gives him a better chance than most.

Best Case Scenario

Pretty much what ATC is projecting but with an unsustainable batting average? Looking at his rates, ATC sees Martinez as essentially the same player in 2020 as he was in 2019, only with slightly more power (+1 HR). That was good for the 20th-best hitter and 9th-best outfielder according to the Fangraphs auction calculator. This was a fairly poor result given his first-round draft price prior to the season.

The first round price is gone, however, with Martinez now slotting in towards the back of the second round. That makes him a big bargain in ATC's eyes. Other players may have bigger gaps in their value but Martinez is a first-round player according to ATC and anytime you can get first-round production anywhere else, you have to call it a big win.

But what if he does crank up the average in this truncated season? Giving Martinez five more hits moves him to a .324 AVG and the #5 hitter. If we shoot for the stars and give him 10 more hits (.348 AVG), he moves up to the #2 hitter. Wishful thinking? Sure. But not off the table.

 

George Springer, OF - 45 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 13 HR - 37 R - 32 RBI - 2 SB - .276 AVG

The perennially underrated George Springer gets some ATC love! The above line made Springer the 18th hitter and ninth OF according to my valuations, one spot behind Bryce Harper and one spot ahead of Starling Marte, who is being taken 20 picks earlier. Springer is coming off the best season of his career, setting highs in HR (39), RBI (96), and batting average (.292). Normally I avoid paying for a player who's coming off of a career year but Springer's 2020 draft price didn't spike nearly as much as his 2019 performance did; he's moved from a 60 ADP in 2019 to a 45 ADP this season.

Springer gives you a bit of everything, albeit very little in stolen bases, but his biggest projected contributions are in HR and R. Projected for the ninth-most runs scored, you don't have to squint very hard to imagine Springer continuing to put up top numbers in the category. He's locked into batting leadoff for one of baseball's most dangerous offenses, trashcan or not. Runs shouldn't be an issue.

At first blush, you might think that ATC is being too aggressive by projecting Springer to hit the 14th-most home runs (and the same as Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, and Christian Yelich), especially following a year where he hit 39 HR in 556 PA after hitting just 22 HR in 620 PA in 2018. However, ATC isn't projecting the high HR/PA rate that Springer put up in 2019 or the low that he had in 2018, but rather closer to the happy-medium rate that he ran in 2017:

Season PA HR HR/PA
2017 629 34 0.054
2018 620 22 0.035
2019 556 39 0.070
ATC 233 13 0.056

I'm comfortable with that rate, especially since Springer had a 14.3% Brl% that was easily a career high. That was good for the top 7% of baseball, while his xSLG, wOBA, xwOBA, and xwOBAcon were all in the top 4%. The biggest knock against Springer often has to do with the number of games he misses, but in a 60-game season, those aren't as big of concerns for me.

Besides the favorable projections and draft price, what I really love about Springer in this shortened season are the hot starts that he's proven capable of having.  Example? Since 2016, Springer has averaged 13 HR in April and May. That's the sixth most in baseball over that period, trailing only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, and Khris Davis. You've heard of those guys, right? How has he fared in the other categories?... To the Hot Start Index*!

*patent pending

In this bizarro season, I'm looking for guys who have proven capable of hitting the ground running when the season starts. With that in mind, I took a look at performance in just April and May since 2016, ranking players each year in each of the five roto categories.

Since 2016, Springer has averaged the following in April/May:

13 HR - 39 R - 35 RBI - 3 SB - .285 AVG

Comparing the above to the rest of baseball over the same period, where does Springer rank? Here are the players with the top-five average ranking:

Name Avg Rank HR rank R rank RBI rank SB rank BA rank
Mike Trout 3.6 1 2 3 7 5
Mookie Betts 8.8 10 1 11 6 16
George Springer 17.6 6 3 7 40 32
Charlie Blackmon 19.6 20 7 17 44 10
Christian Yelich 21.4 25 10 34 23 15

That's the hot stuff, right there. Looking at ranks in this way is a bit simplistic but it's hard to deny that Springer likes to do a heavy spring raking.

Best Case Scenario

Here's a fun fact; ATC projects Springer for 233 PA, which coincidentally is his exact average for April/May from 2016-19. So let's just make our best-case scenario one where Springer puts up the same four-year averages in April and May from above. They're mostly small additions to his ATC projection: 2 runs, 3 RBI, 1 SB, and two more hits...The results are in.

Remember, Springer already started out pretty good, clocking in as the projected 19th-best hitter while being drafted like the 32nd. Moving him to his four-year average by adding the numbers above, however, moves him into an elite tier. With the additions, Springer would project as the 11th-best hitter, finishing just ahead of Jose Ramirez, Trevor Story, and Freddie Freeman.

 

Eddie Rosario, OF - 92 ADP

ATC Projections: 215 PA - 11 HR - 30 R - 33 RBI - 2 SB - .282 AVG

Here's the thing; all the above projections have done is throw more fuel on my Eddie Rosario fire that hasn't stopped burning all of this extended offseason. Being drafted as the 66th hitter, Rosario lit things up in 2019, slashing .276/.300/.500 with 32 home runs, 91 runs, 93 RBI, and 2 SB.

Batting cleanup, Rosario was a monster cog in Minnesota's offensive juggernaut, even as he battled a lingering ankle issue in the second half. Rosario went from an .841 OPS prior to going on the IL in late-June, to a .750 OPS in 266 PA following his return. But Rosario is now fully healthy and still in the middle of a Twins lineup that could be even better with the offseason addition of Josh Donaldson.

Best Case Scenario

I was high on him before and I'm even higher now, placing Rosario #40-overall in our latest RotoBaller rankings. I think the above projection feels pretty realistic and it would only need to be a little better to justify my ranking. But we're here to dream bigger. What if Rosario puts up the same numbers as he did in April and May of 2019?

2019 April/May: 229 PA - 17 HR - 39 R - 49 RBI - 2 SB - .277 AVG

Admit it, you didn't remember just how on fire Rosario was last year. How good? Giving him the above numbers moves him from being the projected #37 hitter to the #4 hitter, finishing behind only Trout, Acuna, and Yelich. That's how good.

 

Nelson Cruz, DH - 68 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 9 HR - 32 R - 29 RBI - 4 SB - .268 AVG

Do you hear that? Somewhere RotoBaller's Nick Mariano is softly weeping tears of joy at ATC being on board with his love of Cruz's awesomeness. Wait...(checking the recently updated RotoBaller ranking and sees that I actually have Cruz ranked higher than other Nick)...It looks like I'm weeping tears of joy too! And not softly. Because when Mariano and Ariel Cohen - fantasy baseball's most accurate rankers from 2018 and 2019 - both agree with your assessment, you're probably on the right track. Huzzah!

I don't care if Cruz is now 40 years old. In a wacky season where anything could happen, I'm looking for players with track records of consistent performance. It doesn't get much more consistent than Cruz:

Season G PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA wRC+
2014 159 678 40 87 108 4 0.271 0.370 137
2015 152 655 44 90 93 3 0.302 0.396 158
2016 155 667 43 96 105 2 0.287 0.383 148
2017 155 645 39 91 119 1 0.288 0.385 146
2018 144 591 37 70 97 1 0.256 0.361 133
2019 120 521 41 81 108 0 0.311 0.417 163

I'll personally always have a soft spot for Cruz because of how he alligator-armed David Freese's triple in the 2011 World Series but how can you not love that kind of fantasy performance? You can basically book 40 HR, 100 RBI, and 80-90 R, along with a majority of the games played.

Cruz did play in his fewest games since 2013 due to two separate wrist issues but neither the three weeks missed in May or the two weeks in August seemed to affect the slugger:

Period OPS
Opening Day - May 12th 0.862
June 4th - August 8th 1.145
August 19th - End of Season 1.023

Cruz is set to bat third in one of baseball's most dangerous lineups, being preceded by Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and followed by Josh Donaldson, the aforementioned Rosario, and Mitch Garver. That lineup is not just overpowered but one that should be well-served by the limited schedule that teams will play in 2020.

Here are the teams that Cruz and the Twin will be playing in 2020, ordered by their 2020 rotation's ERA in 2019:

Opponent Games % of Schedule Rotation ERA
Pittsburgh Pirates 4 6.7% 5.30
Kansas City Royals 10 16.7% 4.98
Detroit Tigers 10 16.7% 4.94
Chicago White Sox 10 16.7% 4.34
Milwaukee Brewers 4 6.7% 3.95
Chicago Cubs 4 6.7% 3.87
Cincinnati Reds 4 6.7% 3.75
St. Louis Cardinals 4 6.7% 3.57
Cleveland Indians 10 16.7% 3.45
KC/DET/CHW/PIT 24 40.0% 4.89

Best Case Scenario

Barring injury, I find it hard to believe that Cruz won't again be dropping fantasy bombs in 2020. Skills, lineup, opponents; all of these are already wildly in Cruz's favor. If Cruz does his typical Cruz things, he'll far outearn his draft price. In only 120 games in 2019, Cruz finished as the #25 hitter in 5 x 5 leagues according to the Fangraphs auction calculator, finishing just ahead of Starling Marte.

It's hard to give a 40-year-old player the same production rates as last season, but once again, we're here to dream big. Plugging in Cruz's per-PA rates from 2019 results in the following line:

16 HR - 32 R - 42 RBI - 0 SB - .306 AVG

That is a bump up from ATC of three home runs, four runs, six RBI, and four hits. Those bumps would move Cruz from the projected 33rd-hitter according to ATC, to the 8th-highest hitter, finishing just behind Nolan Arenado and just ahead of J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers. Once again, Cruz is going in the sixth round of 12-team league drafts.

 

Marcell Ozuna, OF - 92 ADP

ATC Projections: 224 PA - 11 HR - 29 R - 34 RBI - 3 SB - .272  AVG

If you thought I was going to skip by Ozuna even though he's projected to be the second-biggest bargain in the top-100, allow me to say, "Welcome, new reader!" Pandemic or no pandemic, I refuse to slow down my personal Ozuna hype-train.

All it took was one soft year to make fantasy players drop Ozuna after he finished as the 64th-best hitter according to Fangraphs auction calculator, playing in just 130 games. He still managed 29 home runs, 80 runs, 89 RBI, and 11 SB. Solid stuff but Ozuna was really dragged down by a career-low .241 AVG.

However, that might have had something to do with the two fractured fingers that caused him to miss the entire month of July. Ozuna batted .312 in 2017, .280 in 2018, and was batting .260 prior to breaking his fingers while diving back to first base on June 28. He returned on August 4 and proceeded to post a .214 AVG over his final 223 PA, with just a .729 OPS. I'm no pro but sources tell me that messed up fingers make it hard to hit.

Ozuna's final line may have been disappointing but his Statcast profile was a completely different story. Think I'm exaggerating? Roll that beautiful bean footage:

 

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Wait, that's not it. I meant that beautiful Statcast footage:

Season

Brl% Exit Velo LA xBA xSLG wOBA xwOBA xwOBAcon Hard%
2015 6 91.8 7.6 0.272 0.428 0.302 0.324 0.393 45
2016 7.8 90.7 10.8 0.278 0.466 0.330 0.344 0.397 41.5
2017 9.3 90.7 10.1 0.287 0.519 0.388 0.372 0.445 45.2
2018 9.7 91.5 10.8 0.291 0.499 0.327 0.359 0.415 44.9
2019 12.6 91.8 13.5 0.288 0.548 0.336 0.382 0.449 49.2

Ozuna's hard-hit rate was in the top 4% of baseball, his average exit-velocity was in the top 7%, and his xSLG was in the top 9%. He may have only managed a .241 AVG but his .288 xBA was basically on point with recent history, and Ozuna had a career-low .257 BABIP.

Best Case Scenario

Does everyone really think that Ozuna is going to have a brutal batting average again? Because I don't. And while I'm mostly on board with his ATC projections, I think there's some more left in that production tank. The Cardinals offense was mediocre in 2019, finishing with a .314 wOBA that was the 12th-lowest in baseball. Now, Ozuna goes to a high-powered offense where he'll bat cleanup and be preceded in the order by Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna Jr. And with a season that won't start until late-July, Ozuna will be playing all season in Hot-lanta weather. And speaking of hotness, going back to the Hot Start Index from above, Ozuna dominates early in the season, finishing with the eigth-highest average rank across the roto categories.

Let's do as we've done before and give Ozuna the production rates from 2019, over the 224 PA that ATC is projecting. That would give him the following line:

12 HR - 33 R - 36 RBI - 5 SB

Not that big of an upgrade, with just one home run, four runs, two RBI, and two stolen bases. Those additions, however, would move Ozuna from the 39th-highest projected hitter to the 18th-highest. But what about his average? Truthfully, I think ATC's projected .273 batting average is probably about right. But we're not here for his above-average scenario, we're here for the best-case.

Giving Ozuna three more hits brings him up to a .287 AVG that's more in line with his .288 xBA from 2019. That would bump Ozuna up even higher, with him projected as the 15th-highest hitter.



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Overpriced Hitters According to ATC Projections

RotoBaller is fortunate to have 2019's most accurate ranker, Ariel Cohen, to give us his updated ATC projections. I have taken those projections and turned them into fantasy dollars, ranking them accordingly. By comparing these rankings to the latest NFBC ADP data, we can see which players ATC likes at their draft price, and who should be passed on.

We'll start with the veggies first and take a look at players being drafted in the top-100 who don't appear to be worth their current cost. Projections aren't foolproof and there is bound to be some wild stuff in this short-sample season. But since its release, ATC has proven to be one of the best forecasting systems available and it's wise to look at some of the price discrepancies that it has found.

For a look at the underpriced hitters, check my previous article here.

 

Methodology

To work out the fantasy values, I applied a z-score methodology to ATC projections. I first ran the projections through the Fangraphs auction calculator and made my cutoff line at -$5.0. This left me with 210 hitters above the cutline. I then applied my own z-score method to this revised player pool, turning the z-scores into fantasy dollars based on a 67/33 hitter-pitcher split.

Slotting each player into their most important eligible position left me with the following distribution:

Positon Total Starters Below-Replacement
C 22 12 10
1B 21 16 5
2B 30 20 10
3B 30 20 10
SS 29 25 4
OF 76 60 16
DH 3 3 0

Along with my calculated dollar values, I used NFBC ADP since April 15th, which left me with a sample pool of 30 drafts. Below are the 70 hitters being drafted within the top-100, along, what number hitter they're being drafted as, what number hitter ATC projects them as, and the difference between the two ranks:

Name POS ADP ADP  Rank ATC Rank ADP - ATC
Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 1.4 1 2 -1
Mike Trout OF 2.3 2 1 1
Christian Yelich OF 2.6 3 4 -1
Cody Bellinger 1B, OF 4.3 4 3 1
Mookie Betts OF 5.7 5 5 0
Francisco Lindor SS 8.3 6 9 -3
Juan Soto OF 10.2 7 6 1
Trea Turner SS 10.2 8 15 -7
Trevor Story SS 12.2 9 12 -3
Nolan Arenado 3B 14.7 11 7 4
Jose Ramirez 3B 14.7 10 11 -1
Alex Bregman 3B, SS 15.3 12 14 -2
Freddie Freeman 1B 16.9 13 13 0
Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 17.1 14 23 -9
Bryce Harper OF 20.7 15 16 -1
Anthony Rendon 3B 22.4 16 17 -1
Rafael Devers 3B 22.7 17 10 7
J.D. Martinez OF 23.5 18 8 10
Starling Marte OF 25.2 19 20 -1
Gleyber Torres 2B,SS 28.8 20 34 -14
Ozzie Albies 2B 31.3 21 25 -4
Javier Baez SS 31.9 22 22 0
Pete Alonso 1B 32.7 23 28 -5
Austin Meadows OF 34.8 24 30 -6
Adalberto Mondesi SS 35.8 25 62 -37
Ketel Marte 2B,OF 36.0 26 45 -19
Xander Bogaerts SS 37.3 27 27 0
Jose Altuve 2B 37.6 28 26 2
Jonathan Villar 2B,SS 42.2 29 78 -49
Keston Hiura 2B 43.3 30 35 -5
J.T. Realmuto C 44.0 31 24 7
George Springer OF 44.8 32 19 13
Matt Olson 1B 45.1 33 52 -19
Bo Bichette SS 49.7 34 58 -24
Charlie Blackmon OF 51.5 35 38 -3
Yordan Alvarez OF 52.0 36 18 18
Whit Merrifield 2B,OF 55.7 37 29 8
Aaron Judge OF 56.4 38 43 -5
Manny Machado 3B,SS 56.8 39 36 3
Eloy Jimenez OF 59.9 40 31 9
Kris Bryant 3B,OF 60.4 41 39 2
DJ LeMahieu 1B,2B,3B 61.0 42 49 -7
Yoan Moncada 3B 62.0 43 57 -14
Anthony Rizzo 1B 64.9 44 32 12
Max Muncy 1B,2B,3B 65.0 46 66 -20
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3B 65.0 45 65 -20
Nelson Cruz DH 68.4 47 33 14
Giancarlo Stanton OF 68.7 48 41 7
Jose Abreu 1B 70.9 49 48 1
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 72.0 50 44 6
Eugenio Suarez 3B 72.5 51 42 9
Victor Robles OF 73.3 52 54 -2
Ramon Laureano OF 77.4 53 73 -20
Tommy Pham OF 78.5 54 51 3
Luis Robert OF 79.0 55 81 -26
Joey Gallo OF 80.2 56 55 1
Jeff McNeil 2B,3B, OF 80.7 57 64 -7
Jorge Soler OF 85.6 58 59 -1
Marcus Semien SS 87.0 59 56 3
Mike Moustakas 2B,3B 87.3 60 60 0
Nick Castellanos OF 87.9 61 46 15
Josh Bell 1B 89.7 62 47 15
Matt Chapman 3B 90.0 63 53 10
Tim Anderson SS 90.4 64 58 6
Marcell Ozuna OF 91.7 65 40 25
Eddie Rosario OF 92.4 66 37 29
Josh Donaldson 3B 92.8 67 50 17
Gary Sanchez C 94.8 68 72 -4
Miguel Sano 3B 99.5 69 83 -14
Franmil Reyes OF 99.7 70 63 7

 

Matt Olson (1B, OAK) - 45 ADP

ATC Projections: 230 PA - 14 HR - 30 R - 36 RBI - 0 SB - .257 AVG

Now up to a 45 ADP from a 66 ADP in January, the Matt Olson hype train is for real! Being drafted behind only Freddie Freeman and Pete Alonso at first base, Olson excels in home runs and RBI, with his projected 14 HR tied for the eighth-most and his 36 RBI projected as the 13th highest.

Hitting in the middle of a potent Oakland lineup, Olson's projected run total is solid but he carried a z-score only slightly above average in the category. The problem with looking for more is that while the top half of Oakland's lineup is really strong, the bottom half is less so. Olson is followed in the order by Mark Canha, Khris Davis (who may or may not be mentally broken), and Stephen Piscotty. Those guys will hit plenty of bombs in plenty of the alternate timelines in the multiverse...And strikeout 50% of the time in plenty more.

Best-Case Scenario

Five more hits? That doesn't sound like a lot but it would jump Olson to a .282 AVG and would make him the #27 hitter; just slightly ahead of Alonso. While that would represent a career-high (previously his .267 AVG from last season) it's not that outlandish of a number is such a short sample of games. Especially seeing that Olson posted a .276 xBA in 2019, along with a 14.5% Brl% that was in the top six percent of baseball.

 

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC) - 56 ADP

ATC Projections: 239 PA - 5 HR - 30 R - 22 RBI - 8 SB - .288 AVG

I'm not sure any positon has more volatility than second base and I think Ozzie Albies might be the only player I totally trust. Merrifield's line is fine but just not fine enough to justify a near top-50 draft price. He's far below average in the power and RBI departments, with 19 second basemen projected to hit more than Merrifield's five HR and 18 projected for 22 RBI or more. While he's projected for more stolen bases than all of his peers, thefts don't appear to be a major value driver in a short season.

Where Merrifield really shines is in the batting average department, with a .288 AVG over 239 PA. But he has the misfortune of playing a position where multiple players have similar hit tools, with Luis Arraez, Jose Altuve, DJ LeMahieu, Ketel Marte, and Howie Kendrick all projected for a more valuable mark.

Best-Case Scenario

Like we'll see with his teammate later, what Merrifield really needs is a better team. Or, at least a better offense. Leading off for the Royals, Merrifield is followed by Mondesi and Jorge Soler, so perhaps his runs scored could bump up. But the bottom of the order includes the likes of Maikel Franco and Nicky Lopez, likely dashing any hopes of Merrifield dramatically increasing his RBI total. Likewise, thoughts of a dramatic power surge are also probably foolish.

Merrifield only stole 20 bases last season but he did steal 45 bases in 2018 and 34 in 2017. If he dials back the clock and steals 12 bases instead of the projected eight, Merrifield would jump from hitter #66 to #44. If you give him a .301 AVG by adding three more hits (Merrifield hit .302 in 2019 and .304 in 2018) then he would move up to hitter #27. But that's a lot of ifs for someone currently being drafted as hitter #36.

 

Ketel Marte (2B/OF, ARI) - 36 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 9 HR - 31 R - 28 RBI - 3 SB - .294 AVG

After starting to break out in the second half of 2019, Marte went full ham in 2019, finishing with 32 HR, 92 RBI, 97 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases. But ATC (and other systems) don't seem to agree, with Marte projected to be the #45 hitter while he's being drafted as the #26 hitter. I think Marte is someone who the projections haven't yet captured the player he was in 2019, instead projecting him to be a combination of the player he was in years prior. If you believe that the 2019 version of Marte is the version we'll get in 2020, he'll far surpass his current projections.

Best-Case Scenario

This is easy. Marte just needs to rinse-and-repeat 2019, especially in the power department. ATC projects a home run every 26 PA after Marte hit one every 19.6 PA in 2019. That pace would equate to 12 HR in 2020 and would move him from the projected #45 hitter to #29, putting him right near his draft price.

After a .329 AVG and a .299 xBA that was in the top six percent of baseball, his projected .294 AVG is closer to the floor than the ceiling for me. Giving Marte five more hits (and a .318 AVG) would move him from the #45 hitter to the #26 hitter, which is exactly where he's being drafted. If you give him the extra hits and home runs, then Marte moves up to the #17 hitter, right behind Bryce Harper and Trea Turner.

Even if you don't get either the power or average from last year, I still think Marte could earn his draft price by accumulating more RBI then ATC calls for. The difference is the addition of Starling Marte, who will leadoff in front of Ketel after leadoff was mostly being handled by Jarrod Dyson and Adam Jones in 2019. Both Dyson and Jones posted a .313 OBP last season, while Starling Marte had a .342 OBP.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC) - 36 ADP

ATC Projections: 199 PA - 6 HR - 25 R - 23 RBI - 17 SB - .250 AVG

Perhaps speed doesn't kill? Even though Mondesi's 17 stolen bases lead the projections, they're not enough to make up for his failings everywhere else. His projected line certainly doesn't look bad, just mediocre. The .250 AVG seems low seeing that he's hit .276 and .263 the past two seasons but Mondesi also had a paltry .237 xBA in 2019 and was back up to a 29.8% K-rate. And to steal bases, you actually have to get on base; Mondesi posted just a .291 OBP in 2019 and is projected by ATC for a .287 OBP in 2020.

While his average exit velocity was up slightly, both Mondesi's barrel and hard-hit rates fell, so expecting much more than his projected six home runs is probably unwise. Of the top 100 players, only Whit Merrifield (five) is projected for fewer. If you're looking for Mondesi to be a good source for RBI and runs scored while hitting out of the two-hole, do keep in mind that the Royals are projected to be one of the league's worst offenses even with the blossoming Jorge Soler and a returning Salvador Perez.

I'll admit that I thought that his speed would be a bigger weapon in a shortened season than it appears to be. But maybe I shouldn't have been after my work on pitcher values for the first 50 games of 2019. Just like strikeouts for pitchers, and many of the other counting stats, a short season doesn't give Mondesi's stolen base advantage enough time to compound its fantasy value and really separate from his peers. Like a pitcher who gets by with just his extreme whiffery, speed alone won't be enough to carry players in fantasy in this 60-game sprint.

Best-Case Scenario

While more home runs or a higher batting average would obviously jump Mondesi's value, his best chance for earning back his draft price may lie with his teammates being better. A better offense around him would lead to more runs and RBI but also to more plate appearances. More trips to the plate mean more chances to get on base and then steal one. Out of the current projected number-two hitters in baseball, Mondesi's projected 199 PA trails everyone but Evan Longoria, Niko Goodrum, and Matt Carpenter.

 

Bo Bichette (SS, TOR) - 50 ADP

ATC Projections: 230 PA - 8 HR - 31 R - 25 RBI - 7 SB - .275 AVG

I hate to throw cold water on the generational party going on in Toronto but a 50 ADP is getting a little out of control for the progeny of Dante. Bichette lit Canada on fire in his 212 PA debut, with a .311 AVG, 11 HR, 32 runs scored, and a record-setting doubles streak. But while he doesn't hurt you anywhere, Bichette also isn't projected to have any standout fantasy traits, with z-scores that are around average in every category except for stolen bases.

Bichette's projected line isn't the problem, it's his price. Shortstop is incredibly deep in 2020 and using a fourth or fifth-round pick on someone with just over 200 PA in the big leagues is a risky move.

Best-Case Scenario

ATC's projections for 60 games in 2020 look a lot like Bichette's 46 games in 2019. The key differences are less power and less average. If Bichette hits 11 HR in 60 games like he did in 46 games last year and has a .299 AVG (five more hits) after hitting .311 in 2019, then his value would jump to the #21 hitter and #5 shortstop.

 

Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW) - 62 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 9 HR - 32 R - 29 RBI - 4 SB - .268 AVG

After two ho-hum years in 2017-18, Moncada broke out for real in 2019, slashing .315/.367/.548 with 25 HR and 10 SB. Moncada hit 8 more home runs in 90 fewer plate-appearances and his .315 AVG was a fa-ar cry from a .235 and .231 AVG in the previous two seasons.

He didn't just show up on the fantasy stats, as his Statcast profile in 2019 basically got a Maury Povich-level makeover:

Season Barrel % EV (mph) xBA xSLG xwOBA xwOBAcon Hard%
2017 9.6 88.5 0.227 0.394 0.322 0.417 35.2
2018 9.6 90.6 0.219 0.389 0.302 0.411 44.2
2019 12.2 92.8 0.291 0.524 0.362 0.478 47.9

Moncada's 92.8 mph EV was in the top-3% of baseball, his xSLG and xwOBAcon were both in the top-8%, and his .291 xBA was in the top-10% after his .219 xBA the year prior was in the bottom-6%.

However, even with a career-best season, Moncada still only finished as the ninth-best third baseman in 12-team leagues, according to the Fangraphs auction calculator. But it wasn't his performance that kept Moncada from returning top-level value, it was also a strained hamstring that caused him to miss three weeks in August.

However, even prorating his fantasy earnings according to the 650 PA he had in 2018 wouldn't have moved him into the top tier. At 650 PA, Moncada would've gone from $19.7 in earnings to $22.9 but would've only moved up to the #7 third baseman, leapfrogging Yuli Gurriel but still behind Eduardo Escobar. And that's the issue with Moncada; after earning so relatively little in a breakout season, how much would his profile need to improve to earn a fifth-round draft price?

Best-Case Scenario

ATC believes in the power, projecting Moncada to hit home runs at basically the same rate as in 2019, and I'm apt to agree given his fancy new Statcast profile. And ditto on his stolen base rates and totals; 4-5 SB seems about right.

However, ATC projects him for lower rates in terms of his RBI and runs scored and on that point, I disagree. Plugging last year's rates into this year's plate-appearances would give Moncada four more RBI and three more runs scored than what is being projected. These categories are heavily dependant on lineup spot and supporting cast; Moncado is batting second in a lineup that is balanced and looks quite dangerous:

Order Player Bats
1 Tim Anderson R
2 Yoán Moncada S
3 José Abreu R
4 Yasmani Grandal S
5 Edwin Encarnación R
6 Eloy Jiménez R
7 Nomar Mazara L
8 Luis Robert R
9 Leury García S

Moncada is in a cushy spot for racking up runs scored with a slew of dangerous bats coming after him. Even if Tim Anderson falls back to earth and drops in the order, Moncada should still have plenty of RBI opportunities as Luis Robert would be Anderson's logical replacement. Robert is an on-base machine, posting over a .350 OBP in Double- and Triple-A in 2019. And Leury Garcia is certainly the weak link in the nine-hole but he's essentially a placeholder for Nick Madrigal, another on-base savant, and who posted a .400 OBP at the two highest levels of the minors last season.

If you instead give Moncada the RBI and run rates he posted in 2019 (adding four RBI and three R), he moves from the projected #57 hitter to the #39 hitter. I don't necessarily love Moncada but I do love that lineup and am more apt to grant him those extra stats. The real question, however, is do you believe the batting average?

It's hard to trust a .315 AVG that followed a .235 and .231 AVG the previous two seasons. Especially when it comes with a .400 BABIP. While his .299 xBA is very encouraging, it's the across the board increase in performance against every pitch type that leaves me most hopeful that Moncada can outhit the .268 AVG that ATC is projecting. Not only did his numbers go up against fastballs, breaking, and offspeed pitches but the increases were backed up by his x-stats:

Year

Pitch Type

BA xBA SLG xSLG wOBA

xwOBA

2018 Breaking .179 .174 .286 .283 .236 .234
2019 Breaking .267 .254 .411 .396 .304 .293
Difference .088 .080 .125 .113 .068 .059
2018 Fastballs .265 .240 .456 .438 .349 .335
2019 Fastballs .337 .308 .602 .587 .419 .397
Difference .072 .068 .146 .149 .070 .062
2018 Offspeed .216 .214 .371 .375 .282 .283
2019 Offspeed .327 .300 .606 .542 .408 .368
Difference .111 .086 .235 .167 .126 .085

Let's not get carried away and give him a repeat of the .315 AVG from 2019 but five more hits are reasonable, giving him a projected .292 AVG. Along with the counting stat bumps from above, this batting average increase would push Moncada to the projected #19 hitter and #5 third baseman, only trailing Arenado, Devers, Ramirez, and Rendon.

With 17 eligible players being drafted in the top-100, I think third base is sneakily tricky. The position is top-heavy and if you don't get one of the top four listed above, then you'll be faced with a lot of guys who all have question marks. Uncertainty is fine but becomes more dangerous when you talking about top-100 picks. I don't love Moncada and wish his draft price was about a round later but I could see my way towards him if I don't get one of the top guys. Hitting in the middle of a lineup I absolutely love, Moncada could return elite value if he keeps his upgrades from 2019.

Now that we've gotten our veggies out of the way, we'll head over to dessert next time out and take a deeper look at some of the biggest values that ATC sees in the top-100. Thank you for reading.



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Underpriced Pitchers According to ATC Projections

While nothing is guaranteed, we can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball is back, baby! Summer camp (I refuse to call it Spring Training 2.0) has now begun and Opening Day is set for July 23/24. Coming with the return are seismic changes; a universal DH, limited opponents, a free runner in extra innings, and - in case you missed it - only 60 games!

All these new changes mean we have to throw out all of our old projections. Luckily, RotoBaller has 2019's most accurate ranker, Ariel Cohen, to give us his updated ATC projections. I took those projections and turned them into fantasy dollars, ranking them accordingly. By comparing these rankings to the latest NFBC ADP data, we can see which players ATC likes at their draft price, and who should be passed on.

We've already covered the mispriced hitters, so now it's time for the pitchers. While there's always a chance that a projection will go bust, since it's inception ATC has proven to be one of the most reliable models available. With that in mind, it's the wise fantasy player that keeps these projections in mind to try and hunt bargains wherever you can find them. Let's start with the pitchers who are projected to outearn their draft-day prices.

 

Methodology

To work out the fantasy values, I applied a z-score methodology to ATC projections, first running the projections through the Fangraphs auction calculator and taking the pitchers valued above negative 10 dollars. I then applied my own z-score method to this revised player pool and ranked the players accordingly.

Along with my calculated dollar values, I used NFBC ADP's since April 15th, which left me with a sample pool of 30 drafts. Below are the 56 pitchers being drafted within the top-150, along with what number pitchers that they're being drafted as, what number pitcher ATC projects them as according to my valuations, and the difference between the two ranks:

Name POS ADP ADP Rank ATC Rank ADP - ATC
Gerrit Cole SP 6.4 1.0 2 -1
Jacob deGrom SP 8.9 2.0 1 1
Walker Buehler SP 15.0 3.0 5 -2
Max Scherzer SP 17.0 4.0 3 1
Justin Verlander SP 19.6 5.0 4 1
Jack Flaherty SP 22.7 6.0 7 -1
Mike Clevinger SP 25.0 7.0 8 -1
Shane Bieber SP 27.1 8.0 6 2
Stephen Strasburg SP 30.1 9.0 14 -5
Clayton Kershaw SP 41.2 10.0 11 -1
Luis Castillo SP 41.6 11.0 13 -2
Lucas Giolito SP 46.8 12.0 31 -19
Patrick Corbin SP 48.4 13.0 20 -7
Josh Hader RP 51.6 14.0 12 2
Charlie Morton SP 52.6 15.0 9 6
Blake Snell SP 52.7 16.0 10 6
Chris Paddack SP 52.9 17.0 15 2
Yu Darvish SP 55.7 18.0 18 0
Tyler Glasnow SP 65.4 19.0 21 -2
Zack Greinke SP 65.8 20.0 16 4
Aaron Nola SP 67.4 21.0 30 -9
Kirby Yates RP 69.2 22.0 17 5
Jose Berrios SP 74.1 23.0 33 -10
Jesus Luzardo SP 77.3 24.0 41 -17
Aroldis Chapman RP 79.2 25.0 24 1
Brandon Woodruff SP 82.4 26.0 37 -11
Roberto Osuna RP 82.7 27.0 22 5
Trevor Bauer SP 87.3 28.0 48 -20
Liam Hendriks RP 90.9 29.0 19 10
Frankie Montas SP 93.8 30.0 64 -34
Sonny Gray SP 96.5 31.0 50 -19
Kenley Jansen RP 97.9 32.0 29 3
Taylor Rogers RP 101.9 33.0 23 10
Corey Kluber SP 105.2 34.0 46 -12
James Paxton SP 105.9 35.0 49 -14
Brad Hand RP 108.3 36.0 38 -2
Edwin Diaz RP 113.6 37.0 27 10
Ken Giles RP 115.4 38.0 25 13
Lance Lynn SP 116.2 39.0 74 -35
Mike Soroka SP 116.7 40.0 35 5
Zac Gallen SP 122.6 41.0 69 -28
Dinelson Lamet SP 125.6 42.0 62 -20
Shohei Ohtani SP 125.9 43.0 70 -27
Hector Neris RP 127.6 44.0 42 2
Julio Urias SP 129.4 45.0 65 -20
Nick Anderson RP 130.3 46.0 26 20
Raisel Iglesias RP 132.5 47.0 47 0
Zack Wheeler SP 135.0 48.0 61 -13
Madison Bumgarner SP 139.6 49.0 92 -43
Max Fried SP 140.7 50.0 44 6
Alex Colome RP 143.4 51.0 72 -21
Brandon Workman RP 144.3 52.0 36 16
Craig Kimbrel RP 144.7 53.0 66 -13
Hansel Robles RP 147.0 54.0 58 -4
Hyun-Jin Ryu SP 148.3 55.0 32 23
Eduardo Rodriguez SP 148.8 56.0 57 -1

Just as I'm targeting hitters who contribute in all categories and have high-average potential, I want pitchers who fit a similar bill. Strikeouts are fine and I'd rather have someone on a contender than a basement dweller because of the added win potential. But I believe ratios - and ERA in particular - are going to be the biggest value-drivers for pitchers.

With that in mind, we'll take a look at each of the biggest bargains according to ATC to see how each pitcher rates. Not all categories will be created equal in this shortened season and skills that may have carried your pitchers in the past may not provide the same support with only 60 games to prove themselves. Let's see who may shine the most, relative to where you're drafting them.

 

Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays - 52 ADP

ATC Projections: 66 IP - 5 W - 76 SO - 3.41 ERA - 1.17 WHIP

We keep waiting for Morton to turn back into a pumpkin but instead he's gotten better and better with every year since he escaped Pittsburgh three seasons ago. Those that thought Morton might leave his new magic in Texas after leaving Houston for Tampa Bay were sorely mistaken. The 36-year-old right-hander finished as the #9 starting pitcher according to the Fangraphs auction calculator, with 16 wins and 240 strikeouts in 194.2 IP, and posting a 3.05 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

Wins

While not as important as the ratios, wins will (unfortunately) will be even more important. In this department, Morton doesn't worry me, collecting 45 wins over the past three seasons. He'll never be confused for some workhorse that's a threat to go the distance every start but Morton isn't as big of a short-shifter as your impression may be. Morton pitched seven innings in seven of his 33 starts in 2019, six innings in 14 starts, and five innings in seven starts.

Strikeouts

No worries here, with Morton posting a career-high 30.4% K-rate, making it the third year in a row that he's set a new career-best in the metric. On the back of a variety of fastballs and one of the game's best curveballs, I don't suspect whiffery will become a problem for Morton anytime soon. The curve had a 41.3% K-rate in 2019, while his four-seam posted a 37.9% K-rate.

ERA/WHIP

Normally, I would have no worries about Morton's ratios. He just finished posting a 3.05 ERA that was backed up by a 2.81 xFIP and 3.28 xERA that was in the top-10% of the league. His 3.54 SIERA was a bit higher but that's just picking nits, to an extent. And Morton's 1.08 WHIP was a career-low, as he dropped two-points from his walk-rate in 2018, finishing with 7.2% BB%.

The issue with Morton (and the other pitchers in the AL East) is that he won't do much escaping from difficult opponents and hitter's ballparks with the specialized schedule. And while Morton does strikeout lefties at a higher rate than righties, he also has a much bigger home run problem; he had a 0.36 HR/9 against right-handers last season and a 1.06 HR/9 against left-handers.

If lefties hit you hard, this is not the schedule (or the park factors*) you are looking for. Considering both home runs and overall runs, only the Mets and the Marlins can truly be called pitcher parks, with every other stadium finishing in the top-10 of one, or both, of the factors. Morton already dealt with the AL East meatgrinder last season but will add Washington, Philadelphia, and Atlanta this season. Here is the Rays 2020 schedule, along with the 3-year park factors for left-handed batters:

Opponent Home Road % of Road 3 YR HR 3 YR Run
Orioles 3 7 23.3% 10 14
Yankees 4 6 20.0% 2 13
Red Sox 6 4 13.3% 28 8
Blue Jays 7 3 10.0% 12 21
Mets 0 3 10.0% 22 25
Marlins 3 3 10.0% 29 29
Nationals 2 2 6.7% 8 4
Braves 2 2 6.7% 16 6
Phillies 3 0 0.0% 4 19

*Baseball Prospectus 3-Year Park Factor ranks for LHB

As you can see, the schedule is not as balanced as you may have assumed, both between home/road balance within the division and games played against teams out of the division. There's good and bad in the above for the Rays. In terms of interleague, they get six games against the Marlins and don't have to play in Philadelphia. Within the AL East, however, the results aren't as favorable. Seven of their 10 games against the Orioles are in Baltimore and six of their 10 against the Yankees are in New York. They do get a slightly better deal only going to Toronto three times but I still think the bad outweighs the good.

Best Case Scenario 

Even with the ballpark and opponent concerns, we're not doubting Morton and his Uncle Charlie in this hypothetical best-case season. Let's assume he's ageless and make some upgrades, using his production rates from 2019 and ATC's projected innings. That would bump him up to:

6 W - 82 K - 3.05 ERA - 1.08 WHIP

There aren't any seismic bumps with the above line but it would be enough to make Morton the #5 pitcher, giving you just over the value of Walker Buehler, and trailing only Cole, Verlander, deGrom, and Scherzer. While I do worry about his east-only schedule, Morton has all of the ingredients to return big-time value in a shortened season. If you're on a winning team and have an ERA pedigree, then you're on my radar when the price is right.

 

Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays - 53 ADP

ATC Projections: 62 IP - 5 W - 78 K - 3.34 ERA - 1.18 WHIP

From one Ray to another. After winning the AL Cy Young award in 2018 (and ascending to the fantasy elite) Snell fell flat on his face in 2019. Snell posted a 4.68 and 1.27 WHIP in only 107 innings and missing most of the second half after having surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow.

However, as I detailed early this year, Snell was likely hurt long before having surgery in late-July and this significantly affected his performance. Long story short, Snell absolutely cruised through April and May, pitching as good or better than he did in 2018.

GS IP K% BB% GB% WHIP ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2018 31 180.2 31.6% 9.1% 44.7% 0.97 1.89 2.95 3.16 3.30
April/May 11 61.2 34.9% 7.1% 45.3% 1.04 3.06 3.08 2.82 3.16
June/July 9 39.1 30.3% 10.3% 34.3% 1.58 6.18 3.88 3.91 4.03

Not only did Snell get absolutely torched in June, he got smoked while his velocity ticked down and he completely went away from the heavy curveball/slider approach he had used prior. After looking at his heatmaps, it's easy to see how his injury may have been affecting his movement:

After digging deeper, it seems to be quite obvious that Snell was pitching hurt for a long time and had the results to match it. All signs have pointed to Snell being completely healthy for 2020 even though Tommy John can always be lurking right around the corner.

Best Case Scenario

That he's exactly like he was in April and May? Because that was the best Snell we've ever seen and I think it was only derailed by his elbow issues. Let's take Snell's numbers from last April and May and extrapolate them out to this 60-game season.

Applying my z-score methodology to the ATC projections already makes Snell a big buy for me, with the left-hander clocking in as the ninth-best starting pitcher. But when applying his pre-injury numbers from last season to ATC's projected innings, he becomes an even bigger treasure:

62 IP: 5 W - 83 K - 3.05 ERA - 1.05 WHIP

The improvements shake out to five more strikeouts, two fewer earned runs, and eight few combined hits and walks. This would move Snell from the #9 starting pitcher to the #5 starting pitcher. While it's not unrealistic in a shortened season, the ratio improvements are a little much for me.

I still like Snell considering the price but he has enough bad marks against him in a shortened season that I'm shying away. I'm confident in the strikeouts but not in the wins. Snell only threw 23 pitches in his recent spring outing and it's just the second time he's faced live hitters since needing a cortisone shot prior to original spring training. It's hard to be confident that Snell will line for many wins given where he seems to be in his throwing program.

 

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics - 91 ADP

ATC Projections: 25 IP - 1 W - 12 SV - 34 K - 2.95 ERA - 1.09 WHIP

Running ATC projections through my valuations, Hendriks is just one of many closers that appear to be undervalued. This makes sense to me, as relievers will now be responsible for a greater percentage of innings pitched, thereby increasing their relative fantasy value. Not only that, but multiple teams have already stated that many starters may be limited in their first trips through the rotation, meaning relievers will be responsible for an even bigger slice of the innings pie.

The thing is, is that the increasing value of relievers is not being ignored. Hendriks 91 ADP from above is from NFBC drafts since April 15th, which is far enough back to give us a robust sample size. However, the 13 drafts that have taken place since July 1 (aka after the shortened season was confirmed) tell a different story for Hendricks and the rest of the reliever class. Here are the top-30 relievers and their change in ADP:

Name Old ADP New ADP Diff
Josh Hader 52 47 5
Kirby Yates 69 61 8
Aroldis Chapman 79 65 14
Roberto Osuna 83 67 16
Liam Hendriks 91 74 17
Kenley Jansen 98 78 20
Taylor Rogers 102 84 18
Brad Hand 108 88 20
Edwin Diaz 114 99 15
Ken Giles 115 102 13
Raisel Iglesias 133 112 21
Craig Kimbrel 145 120 25
Nick Anderson 130 120 10
Hector Neris 128 125 2
Brandon Workman 144 127 17
Hansel Robles 147 127 20
Alex Colome 143 128 16
Jose Leclerc 155 137 18
Archie Bradley 158 143 15
Keone Kela 182 149 33
Sean Doolittle 182 162 20
Joe Jimenez 189 163 26
Will Smith 178 166 12
Ian Kennedy 196 170 26
Giovanny Gallegos 177 171 6
Mark Melancon 193 173 20
Brandon Kintzler 264 225 38
Seth Lugo 285 264 21
Emilio Pagan 300 266 33
Mychal Givens 322 269 53

The reliever market is changing in a hurry and it's hard to disagree with the fluctuations. Not only will they pitch a bigger percentage of innings but with only a two month season some of the uncertainty that goes along with drafting closers is diminished. Two months means there isn't as much time for established closers to lose their jobs. That makes me more confident in bumping up relievers, particularly the top-tier.

After a dominant 2019 in which he usurped Blake Treinen for the top spot, Hendriks has firmly placed himself in the upper crust of closers. He finished the season with 25 saves in 32 chances, striking out 124 batters in 85 innings, with a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. Hendricks seems to have a firm grip on the job for 2020 and Oakland is again set to have a contending team that should afford him plenty of save opportunities.

Best Case Scenario

The best case for fantasy players might be one where he simply doesn't get drafted in the 70s like he has been lately. But even with the rising price, I think Hendriks will give you a solid ROI with what ATC is projecting. But this is about dreaming bigger. We don't have to give him a repeat of his 1.95 ERA but how about if we swap in his 2.58 SIERA for the 2.95 ERA that ATC projects? His projected 1.09 WHIP can be left alone, as it's only a moderate rise from last year. The ERA change would bump Hendricks from the projected #21 pitcher to #16.

Trying to predict the number of saves that closers will have in only 60 games is a dangerous proposition. ATC projects Hendricks to have 12 SV, which is tied for the third-most. But let's be real; save numbers will likely go higher than what the projections are conservatively calling for, only projecting the leader to finish with 14 SV. After 60 games in 2019, Kirby Yates led the league with 22 saves, with five players having between 16 - 19 saves. If we give Hendricks the aforementioned ERA bump (which was the difference of just one less earned run) and give him 15 saves instead of 12, then the A's closer would move from the #21 pitcher to the #15 pitcher.

If you notice, taking away one earned run improved Hendricks' value by more than adding three more saves. That's just more evidence for me that ratios are what's going to rule the day with pitchers, relative to counting stats like saves and strikeouts. If I were an ABBA song in drafts, I'd definitely be "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (More Closers in My Draft).

 

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins - 102 ADP

ATC Projections: 24 IP - 1 W - 12 SV - 28 K - 3.12 ERA - 1.08 WHIP

I'm admittedly pretty annoyed that I don't have more shares of Rogers. I'd gotten a few here and there but I'd only really ramped up my targeting of him in my last few drafts before the pandemic shut it all down. Since then Rogers' draft price has only risen, going from a 112 ADP in the last week prior to spring training shutting down, to a 102 ADP since April 15th. And in the small sample of drafts we have since July 1, he's risen even more, with an 84 ADP. The great reliever inflation has been brutal.

Rogers did struggle more in the second half, posting a 3.59 ERA that was a far cry from the 1.82 ERA he put up in the first half. However, while his ERA fluctuated, his SIERA stayed steady. Rogers had a 2.74 SIERA in the first half and a 2.48 SIERA in the second half. His job security also got locked in more as the season went on and Rogers now enters 2020 with only Sergio Romo and Trevor May lurking behind him. It's not just his hold on the job that I love; Rogers also has serious skills.

The left-hander posted a 32.4% K-rate in 2019 that was in top-10% of baseball and a minuscule 4.0% BB% that was in the top-2%. In fact, among qualified relievers, Rogers had the fifth-lowest walk-rate; when looking at just closers, Rogers had the lowest rate by almost a full percent over Roberto Osuna.

Besides the skills and besides his supposed lock on the job, what makes me most excited is the team that he's on. After their record-setting offensive performance in 2019, the Minnesota Twins are loaded up even more after the addition of Josh Donaldson. And while the Twins rotation is solid, it still consists of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, and Rich Hill; these guys aren't going to throw a lot of shutouts. Big offense plus occasionally shaky pitching could equal lots of opportunities. Especially against this cupcake schedule:

Best Case Scenario

ATC is projecting Rogers for a 3.12 ERA but as I've mentioned, best-case scenarios for me are going to involve stronger ratios. So let's say Rogers puts up an ERA that's more reminiscent of his steady 2.63 SIERA from 2019. Rogers is the #23 pitcher according to my ATC valuations but would jump up to the #19 pitcher if you gave him one less earned run (and 2.63 ERA). And given the team around him (and the schedule they're playing) taking the over on a projected 12 saves doesn't seem to be a horrible bet. Bumping Rogers up to 15 saves (along with subtracting one earned run), would move him up the #17 pitcher.



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Batters on a Diet: Sweet-Spot% Fallers

Last week, we talked about players who increased their proclivity to hit the ball between eight and 32 degrees in a stat known as sweet spot percentage. This week, we focus on some players whose sweet spot percentage decreased.

But not all decreases in a stat are made equal. The players below all saw their sweet spot percentage decrease, as well as their overall production. But their experiences otherwise differed greatly. Examples:

  • Overall launch angle may have increased
  • Overall launch angle may have decreased, but less significantly than SwSp%
  • Their exit velocity/hard hit percentage may have decreased far more than any launch angle issues
  • Their sweet spot percentage may still have been decent, but they relied on it enough that their overall offense still suffered
  • Their overall 2019 production differed greatly; some stayed good, some became bad, some became bad, but still got good results

While experiences may vary -- as we said in the first part of this two-parter, it's not the be-all and end-all -- the fact that all of these players lost both sweet spot percentage and overall value does show the importance of the stat.

 

Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA)

Simmons is an extreme example of how much finding the sweet spot can matter. Even though his launch angle increased in 2019, his sweet spot percentage decreased. As a result, his barrel rate and x-Stats decreased as well.

Year Brl% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG xwOBA (Contact) Hard Hit% K%
2018 4.1 87.8 7.7 28.5 .288 .403 .326 36.3 7.3
2019 1.7 87.7 9.4 19.1 .238 .321 .290 33.6 8.7

Simmons' low K rate has always made batting average one of his better statistics, but his dismal SwSp% contributed to a whopping 50-point decrease in xBA and a drop from .292 to .264 in his actual average, with a BABIP decline from .300 to .277.

Simmons is now on the wrong side of 30. While his defense remains great, his DRS of 12 last year was actually a career-low. If his defense falters much more and he can't start finding the 8-32 angle range to up that BA, his leash will be short in 2020.

 

Wilson Ramos (C, NYM)

For years, Ramos has hit the ball low, never exceeding 5.9 degrees in the Statcast era. Last year was a career-low in both launch angle (exactly zero) and sweet spot percentage, the latter at 26%.

In the past, Ramos has produced reasonable offense despite the launch angle concerns, in part because he found the sweet spot more like a third of the time, peaking at 34.2% in 2018. But if his average angle is going to be in the low double-digits, he has to find double-digits closer to that one-third of the time than the one-fourth.

Year LA SwSp%
2015 4.5 30.6
2016 4.8 33.4
2017 5.9 32.6
2018 4.4 34.2
2019 0.0 26.0

One of these years, Ramos will no longer be able to catch. He's 32 now. You don't have to worry about that this season -- even if he did stop catching but kept playing, he'd be C-eligible -- but when that time finally does come, realize that for years now, his position is what has made him a useful fantasy player.

 

Tommy Pham (OF, SD)

Pham was a monster when making contact in pretty much every way in 2018. In '19, he was still solid, but not nearly as good.

Year Barrel% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG xwOBA (Contact) Hard Hit%
2018 10.1 92.8 6.7 38.7 .292 .508 .470 49.9
2019 7.9 90.8 5.1 29.7 .277 .462 .394 44.8

His 6.7-degree launch angle in 2018 was the least outstanding element that year, but it still came with a quite good 38.7 SwSp%. If you look at his '19 launch angle, it went down some, but his sweet spot percentage is what really cratered.

Pham had by far the best 2019 at the plate of anyone in this article, hitting .273/.369/.450 in a 21/25 HR/SB season.

 

Matt Carpenter (3B, STL)

Launch angle was significantly less of a factor in Carpenter's 2019 decline than his exit velocity. Nonetheless, it played a role as his entire contact profile collapsed.

Year EV HH% LA SS% Barrel% xwOBA (Contact)
2018 89.6 44.7 20.4 44.4 13.7 .477
2019 87.2 31.1 18.1 37.2 7.8 .391

Although he found the sweet spot less often, down about seven percent (16% relative to the '18 figure), he had many more problems making solid contact, with a hard-hit percentage down over 13 points (30% relative) and a barrel rate down six (a whopping 43% relative).

Carpenter still has two declines to fight. Even if he staves off a further exit velocity decline, it can't come at the further expense of launch angle, or his problems will continue at age 34.

 

Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, COL)

Murphy remained excellent at finding the sweet spot, but for a declining player, losing any attribute matters. It's become especially important for Murphy, who stopped hitting the ball hard in 2018 but maintained an ability to make good contact by x-Stats. In '19, that stopped too.

Year Barrel% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG Hard Hit% K%
2017 4.8 89.6 17.3 39.6 .301 .498 41.6 13
2018 4.8 87.6 16.3 42.3 .305 .459 28.5 11.4
2019 2.4 86.3 14.8 36.7 .250 .371 28.1 15.5

Murphy's front-line production stayed reasonable in 2019, although it did decline: .279/.328/.452. However, he did that with home games at Coors, and the underlying data became extremely concerning. Launch angle/sweet spot is all Murphy has left, and if it declines much further, he'll be done as a useful fantasy asset even with the home park advantage. Given where his defense is, he has much less room for offensive sputtering than, say, Simmons.

 

Conclusion

Each of these players -- except maybe Pham -- has multiple warning signs entering 2020. There aren't too many examples of players who lose in sweet spot percentage and gain overall.

Thus concludes our journey through the ups and downs of sweet spot percentage. The chicken and egg question -- is sweet spot percentage a symptom or cause of a struggling hitter -- was beyond scope here. But if launch angle is a cause, as it's usually discussed as, then sweet spot percentage likely is too.

Either way, the main upshot is, sweet spot percentage will tell you things that launch angle alone doesn't. Do not ignore this lesser-known Statcast measurement in your analysis of players.

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Evaluating OAA for Pitchers Changing Teams (AL and NL-Only)

Earlier this preseason, I looked deeper into Statcast’s new Outs Above Average (OAA) leaderboard, which identifies the best defensive infielders in the league. I used 2019 OAA to look at how a pitcher's new defense will affect his value in the 2020 season.

The first article evaluated pitchers drafted inside the top 300 picks, so this article will look at players being taken later on. Hopefully this can help to identify some late-round targets in deep mixed leagues or some values for AL-only or NL-only leagues.  

Let's take a look at some late-round pitchers who could see a value increase thanks to improved defense behind them!

 

Alex Wood

(From Cincinnati Reds to Los Angeles Dodgers)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 28.2/38.2/33.6

Alex Wood is currently penciled into the Dodgers' rotation and will get the benefit of last year's 15th-ranked defense. Corey Seager finished 28th, Justin Turner finished 36th, and Max Muncy finished 78th. However, unlike David Price, Wood sees a downgrade on team infield defense as the Reds ranked ninth last year at 14 Outs Above Average. He barely threw for Cincinnati last year, but to the extent that defense was being factored his value this year, the change is not a positive. Yet, the one major positive is that he’ll see a big park boost as Great American Ballpark is great for hitter's power, and Wood will be far likelier to accumulate wins, provided he can remain in the rotation.

Takeaway: Wood only pitched 35.1 innings last year, so defense certainly wasn't a factor; however, he did finish with a 3.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP on a much similar Dodgers team in 2018, so he's not a bad flier late in drafts. However, the main concern with Wood is always going to be the way the Dodgers manipulate their rotation. If you were going to take a chance on him in Los Angeles then their slightly worse defense than his previous team shouldn't stop you.

 

Homer Bailey

(From Kansas City Royals to Minnesota Twins)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 21.7/44.3/34

Homer Bailey finds himself in a tough spot. The Twins finished 26th as a team in OAA last year. Newly-signed Josh Donaldson is strong at 3B, finishing 18th in OAA, but the rest of the infield is a concern. Miguel Sano, his new first baseman, finished 118th, Luis Arraez finished 128th, and Jorge Polanco finished 138th. That's not good for Bailey, who depends a lot on his defense. He has a career K% under 20% and a GB% just under 45%. He relies on his defense far more than new teammate Kenta Maeda and only seemed to become a useful fantasy starter in the second half of last year as he upped his splitfinger usage. Well, splitfinger-fastballs lead to more groundballs, which might not be such a great idea with this defense behind him.

Takeaway: I wasn't really in on Bailey's bounceback before diving into OAA, so this isn't encouraging me to jump on board.

 

Wade Miley

(From Houston Astros to Cincinnati Reds)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 20.5/49.7/29.8

This wasn’t s great move for Miley, defensively speaking. We already discussed the infield talent that was behind him in Houston, which was instrumental in the success of a pitcher with a near 50% GB%. Now he moves to a hitter-friendly ballpark and will pitch in front of a defense that, while fine in their own right, was 13 outs worse than the Astros last season. In fact, Miley benefited from the fourth-best OAA of all pitchers in baseball while he was on the mound in 2019, an impressive seven outs above average.  He will likely see a boost with the Reds signing Freddy Galvis to play shortstop since Galvis was the 10th-best infielder last year based on OAA and Mike Moustakas, who ranked 79th last year as a third baseman but was four outs better in limited time at second base, where he will play in Cincinnati. If he can show the same growth there over a full season then the Reds will field a solid enough defense, but it's hard to believe he'd benefit from the same level of defense that he had last year.

Takeaway: I had been viewing Miley as a popular late-round sleeper since a few end-of-year starts when he was reportedly tipping pitching late last year torpedoed what was otherwise a phenomenal season with a new cutter. Seeing the elite defensive support he had last year makes me a bit suspicious that his pre-tipping numbers are repeatable, but even if he regresses slightly from his peak performance last year, Cincinnati's strong defense makes him a safe-floor pitcher late in drafts, especially at his ADP. Just don't bank on a repeat of early 2019.

 

Kyle Gibson

(From Minnesota Twins to Texas Rangers)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 24.8/51.4/23.8

We talked about Minnesota’s potential for a middling defense above, but the 28th ranking was especially harmful to Gibson last year as Minnesota started Sano at 3B and C.J. Cron (ranked 74th) at 1B, which likely contributed to Gibson pitching to a career-high .330 BABIP and ranking as the 192nd pitcher in terms of OAA while he was on the mound. While a move to Texas seems like an improvement, since they finished much better as an infield defense, ranking 13th overall by OAA, it’s important to remember that they played more than half the season with Asdrubal Cabrera giving them strong defense at 3B. Cabrera was the 20th-ranked infielder in all of baseball last year by OAA, while his likely replacements, Todd Frazier (90th) or Danny Santana (117th) are likely to be a significant downgrade. To pile on, presumed starting first baseman Ronald Guzman only played in 81 games last year but also graded out as a below-average fielder by OAA, so a full season of him at first base will not benefit Gibson either.

Takeaway: Gibson is a groundball pitcher, with GB% totals around 50% in each of the last three seasons, so pitching with a shaky defense behind him will not be beneficial. However, he's had a bad defense behind him in years past as well and managed to salvage some fantasy value. I wouldn't bank on a return to the .285 BABIP and 3.62 ERA of 2018, but an ERA around 4.50 with a 20-plus K% is possible, which will keep him on the streaming radar.

 

Jordan Lyles

(From Milwaukee Brewers to Texas Rangers)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 18.5/40.3/41.3

Jordan Lyles is a more interesting case of the new Rangers pitchers. The first half of his season last year, in Pittsburgh, was not pretty. He had a 5.36 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 82.1 innings. His xFIP was markedly better at 4.39 and he had a near-identical BB% (9.1) and better K% (24.9) than he would post in Milwaukee to finish out the season (23.5). Unfortunately, OAA can't yet be sorted by splits, so we can't find out how much better his OAA was while pitching for Milwaukee as opposed to Pittsburgh, but the Brewers finished as the 19th-best defense by OAA while Pittsburgh came in at 27, so we can assume there was a slight improvement in play behind him.

The big difference appears to be an unsustainable .225 BABIP in Milwaukee and throwing to Yasmani Grandal, who Lyles has said helped make him a better pitcher. Part of that help was cutting back on the usage of his fastball and throwing the curve more. As a result, Lyles raised his FB% and cut his GB% and LD%, which would mean he’d be less affected by Texas’ mediocre infield defense and more helped by the move from Miller Park to the new domed stadium in Texas. Of course, the key determining factor will be that Grandal did not move with him.

Takeaway: It’s clear that the elite defensive veteran catcher helped Lyles unlock a new level, so Lyles will need to carry that over into his rapport with Robinson Chirinos, who is a decidedly worse defensive catcher. I’d expect Lyles to have a season somewhere in between his Pittsburgh half and his Milwaukee half, which a high 4s ERA but solid K% and a good shot at double-digit wins.

 

Martin Perez

(From Minnesota Twins to Boston Red Sox)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 22.8/48/29.3

Perez is another pitcher moving on from Minnesota; however, he was less impacted by the poor defense as he finished 2019 with the 108th OAA while he was on the mound, good for one out above average. At times last year, Perez seemed like he was going to break out thanks to his newfound velocity, only he couldn’t quite sustain any success. Some of that may have had to do with the aforementioned defense, especially as a pitcher with a GB% near 50% in every major league season, but Perez's .316 BABIP was pretty much in line with his career numbers, and we already covered that he received average defense behind him. Regardless, his move to Boston will undoubtedly provide him with a better infield defense and a spot in the rotation thanks to the David Price trade and Chris Sale battling an illness.

Takeaway: Perez's struggles last year had more to do with his command, as evidenced by his 1.52 WHIP and 9.2% K-BB%. The better defense behind him isn't a bad thing, but it's not going to automatically make him a reliable fantasy starter. He's going to need to stop giving up so many free passes. However, the 4.66 FIP from last year suggests that Perez could become relevant in 12 to 15-team leagues if Boston has unlocked an uptick in his K% or the ability to throw to Christian Vazquez, Baseball Prospectus' fifth-ranked framer, leads to an improvement in his overall command. If you see growth in either of those areas early on, it would be wise to add Perez and see if it sticks since he has a good chance at wins and solid innings in his new home.

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Kings of Candy: Sweet-Spot Risers

Sweet spot percentage (SwSp%) is not the best-known Statcast measurement. It doesn't care how hard you hit the ball, just at what trajectory. Well, it doesn't care about that either, it's just a statistic, it has no capacity to care about anything. But what it measures is the number of times a hitter's contact is between eight and 32 degrees in launch angle. Hit the ball 15 mph or 115 mph, if it's in that launch angle range, your SwSp% goes up.

Despite its limitation, the utility of this stat should be clear. The higher your sweet-spot percentage, the less often you kill worms with ground balls or send easy pop flies high into the sky. In a sense, it is a cousin of the better-known hard-hit percentage, which cares about exit velocity while ignoring launch angle. If two players have the same exit velocity, hard-hit percentage can tell you who is making the most of that exit velocity; similarly, if two players have the same launch angle, sweet-spot percentage can tell you who is making the most of that launch angle.

Today we will look at players whose sweet-spot percentages went up between 2018 and '19. Then later, those who saw their sweet-spot percentage go down.

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR)

Biggio isn't exactly a "riser" because he was a rookie in 2019, but did you know he had the highest sweet-spot percentage in 2019 among players with 200+ batted ball events (BBE)? At 44.2%, Craig's son beat out some guy named Mike Trout by one-tenth of a percent. Biggio's angle of 20.1 degrees ranked sixth, and it's good to see that it didn't come with a whole bunch of pop flies.

Biggio also had a decent 40.4% hard-hit rate. Unfortunately, the hard hits and sweet angles didn't come in the same plate appearance as much as you'd like, as his barrel rate was just 4.9%. His average exit velocity on balls in the air was 91.8 mph.

If Biggio can retain the same swing path and add oomph when he does connect, he should meet expectations this coming season.

 

Trey Mancini (1B, BAL)

No player improved more from 2018 to 2019 at finding the sweet spot than Mancini. (Among players with 200+ BBE both seasons. Thanks to Statcast and VLOOKUP for making this easy to find). Mancini jumped from 27.6% in 2018 to 36.4% in '19, a gain of nearly nine percent.

Mancini's improvement in finding the correct angle was all the more surprising because his average angle, at 7.8 degrees, was just below the cutoff for this stat. When he did go to the air, however, he blasted the ball at 95.8 mph on average. Despite the low overall angle (albeit itself higher than in 2018), Mancini improved his OPS by nearly 200 points.

Given his naturally low launch angle, one suspects the key for Mancini will be to continue getting the ball into the teens more often and the single digits less often.

 

Avisail Garcia (OF, MIL)

Second, after Mancini with an 8% jump, was Cody Bellinger, but not much needs to be said about him. Third was Avisail Garcia's 7.5% improvement. They were the only three players above a 6.4% gain.

Like Mancini, Garcia also keeps the ball somewhat low, with a 9.8 launch angle last season. Unlike Mancini, that was essentially unchanged from 2018 when Garcia averaged 9.6 degrees. His exit velocity and hard-hit percentage both down-ticked slightly, but he maintained a similar xwOBA on contact and his xSLG went up 38 points (thanks in part to a decrease in strikeouts). In part that was due to finding the sweet spot more often.

Like the last two risers, Garcia is on a new team this year. He will probably split time with Ryan Braun at the year's start, but the path to a full-time job is possible. Garcia will need his sweet spot percentage to hold or improve while his exit velocities to rebound and for the 36-year-old Braun to struggle.

 

Delino DeShields (OF, CLE)

After Garcia, the player at a 6.4% jump was DeShields. He has never hit at the major league level and will be in a fight for playing time in Cleveland, but the gain in sweet spot percentage was a start that coincided with a launch angle gain from 3.7 to 10.6 degrees. His exit velocity also improved but was still terrible at 82.9 mph.

DeShields is an example of how no one element of hitting on its own can save a player. Launch angle can't help if you're hitting the ball too softly.

The sweet spot range of eight to 32 degrees may not even be accurate for a player like DeShields, the classic light-hitting speedster. He has a worse than average chance at getting 32 degrees over someone's head and a better than average chance of between out a zero-degree grounder. This idea should work in the inverse as well, where a statuesque power hitter will want to err higher than lower. The same stat doesn't always mean the same thing for every hitter.

 

Yasmani Grandal (C, CHW)

Grandal's sweet spot percentage gain was more modest than others on this list, as he went from 33.2 to 37.7%. His launch angle was the same (14.0 degrees in 2018, 13.9 in '19), so as with Garcia, we have a case of a player looking the same at the top-level launch angle, but improving a level down (the SwSp%).

Grandal also hit the ball harder, so the sweet spot gains weren't the only thing driving his much improved 2019. But they helped. That's just one piece of many in the puzzle. Which segues nicely into a conclusion...

 

Conclusion

Launch angle gets all the attention, but don't ignore sweet spot percentage. Don't ignore any Statcast measurement, really. (To a point. As many TV broadcasts have shown us, it's possible to drill too deep. The "Tuesday night road games against a left-handed reliever" type of split.)

Its main utility is going to be in judging players with similar launch angles. You'll want to take the one who more regularly finds the correct angle, who gets to a 20-degree average by hitting the ball 10 or 30 degrees, not zero or 40.

Next in this series, we'll apply these concepts to players who fell in this statistic between 2018 and 2019.

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Evaluating OAA for Pitchers Changing Teams (12-Team Leagues)

Last week, I looked at Statcast’s new Outs Above Average (OAA) leaderboard, which they’ve used to identify the best defensive infielders in the league. My initial exploration of the metric was designed to identify pitchers who might have been lucky or unlucky last year as a way of mining for bounceback value or avoiding potential busts. However, other Rotoballer writers and I have been discussing further potential value in the OAA metric as we prepare for 2020 drafts.

Today, we’re going to use 2019 OAA to look at which pitchers on new teams may see added value due to the new defense behind them or perhaps be headed for a season of frustrating fantasy owners because a bad defense inflates their ratios. We'll be discussing both the OAA of the specific infielders, meaning the number of outs each individual recorded above what an average fielder would have been able to do, and the OAA while a pitcher was on the mound, meaning the number of outs above average that the defense as an entire unit record while the pitcher was on the mound.

For the purpose of this article, we’re only going to look at pitchers changing teams in 2020 who have an ADP inside the top-300 from February 1 to the present date in Online Championships.

 

Gerrit Cole (From Houston to New York)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 20.4/40.3/39.4

Gerrit Cole is either the top fantasy starter on the market or a close second depending on who you talk to. Nothing in this blurb will change that. Cole is moving from one of the best hitter's parks to another park that favors hitters but perhaps not so drastically. However, he is moving from the third-ranked defense by OAA to the 28-ranked one. That’s no minor change. Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel all ranked within the top 60 infielders based on OAA, while Jose Altuve came in at 93rd. Now with the Yankees, Cole will have only one top-70 defender: DJ LeMahieu, who ranked 23rd. Gio Urshela finished as the 75th best infielder, Gleyber Torres came in at 129th, and Luke Voit didn't even make the top 140, finishing as the 38th best first baseman out of only 40 qualifiers.

Takeaway: Cole is obviously a high strikeout pitcher, so he doesn't rely on his defense as much as most; however, he will undoubtedly be pitching in front of a worse infield this year. If you were on the fence between taking him or Jacob deGrom, this may be enough to push Cole to #2 but that's about all you can change just on this metric and even that is splitting hairs since DeGrom pitches in front of OAA's 24th-ranked defense.

 

David Price (From Boston to Los Angeles)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 23.5/41/35.5

Price's move from Boston to Los Angeles seems to be a relatively neutral one for his value based on OAA. The Red Sox and Dodgers were literally separated by one place in the Statcast leaderboard last year. Boston boasted a solid defense, led by Rafael Devers (19th) and a collection of utility players who all provided defensive value: Brock Holt (32nd) and Michael Chavis (43rd) to name a few. Xander Bogaerts scored poorly in OAA, at 105th, but ranked 60th in 2018, which suggests he's better than his 2019 metrics.

However, the Dodgers also have a solid overall unit, as Corey Seagar finished 28th, Justin Turner finished 36th, and Max Muncy finished 78th. Plus, Dodger Stadium has proven to be more pitcher-friendly than Fenway in the past, which can't hurt. Perhaps what stands out the most is that the defense for Price specifically last year wasn't great since he finished as the 170th-ranked pitcher based on OAA while he was on the mound. That means the normally solid Red Sox defense played below-average defense for Price and would have likely indicated some positive regression even if he had stayed in Boston.

Takeaway: The OAA metrics and park factors appear to offer Price a slight bump, but his value was always going to improve a bit from last year and hinge more on health than anything else. However, his new park, paired with a strong defense and facing the pitcher instead of a DH, means that Price's value improves a bit, and he seems like a solid bet to finish as a top-40 pitcher, provided he remains healthy.

 

Kenta Maeda (From Los Angeles to Minnesota)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 21.1/40.6/38.3

Many people have been buying heavily into Kenta Maeda since his move to Minnesota because he'll likely no longer be subject to the Dodgers' aforementioned manipulation of his role and innings total. However, there is some concern about the defense he is moving to. Last season, Maeda benefited from the Dodgers defense enough to finish as the 75th-ranked pitcher based on OAA while he was on the mound, at two outs above average. He likely won't be helped like that in Minnesota, as the Twins finished 26th as a team in OAA last year. Newly-signed Josh Donaldson is strong at 3B, finishing 18th in OAA, but the rest of the infield is a concern. Miguel Sano, his new first baseman, finished 118th, Luis Arraez finished 128th, and Jorge Polanco finished 138th. That's mildly problematic for a pitcher who has a career GB% over 40. On the flip side, he does get to pitch with a much better outfield behind him as Max Kepler and Byron Buxton, when healthy, both finished in the top-15 in OAA.

Takeaway: This may be the first actionable intel we have here. Pitching with a substantially worse infield defense is an issue for Maeda, considering the support he received last year and how few Twins pitchers even came close to an above-average score in the OAA metric. Moving to the AL might also be a slight hit to his value since he'll have to face the DH, but he will also have better outfield defense and more secure innings, so I wouldn't change my valuation of Maeda too much from where I had him when he was a member of the Dodgers. I just wouldn't rocket him up my rankings based on his new home, even if we still aren't 100% of how sticky or accurate OAA is as a metric.

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu (From Los Angeles to Toronto)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 24.2/50.4/25.4

On the surface, Ryu appears to be another pitcher leaving the Dodgers for a much worse situation. The Rodgers Centre is a strong hitters park, and the turf makes the infield play much faster than other stadiums. That's not great for a pitcher who has a GB% over 50%. However, the Blue Jays finished the season as the 12th-ranked infield based on OAA; two spots ahead of the Dodgers. Their defense should also be better this year as Cavan Biggio finished 21st in OAA during his limited innings and new first baseman Travis Shaw was 70th. Bo Bichette came in at 115th and Vladimir Guerrero Jr finished 139th, so they may still provide underwhelming defense, but Ryu also finished last season as the 168th-ranked pitcher in OAA while he was on the mound, so it's not as if the Dodgers defense helped him much while he was pitching.

Takeaway: With this information, it seems clear that defense shouldn't be the reason for moving Ryu down in your rankings. However, he will be pitching in a worse home park, against a more competitive offensive division, and will now be facing a DH. His numbers last year were not built on fluky batted-ball metrics or other-worldly defensive factors, so it's possible that the hate on Ryu has gone too far. Sure, he's not likely to repeat at 2.32 ERA in the AL East, but that's baked into his ever-declining ADP. I don't love the new park and league surroundings, but if he continues to fall in drafts I'll take a chance on a pitcher whose new team situation may be being overblown.

 

Zack Wheeler (From New York NL to Philadelphia)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 21.4/43.2/35.3

Unlike the confusion of Ryu's situation, Wheeler's move was a clear net positive. Even though he is moving to a more hitter-friendly park, he gets to throw to a far superior defensive catcher in J.T. Realmuto and will pitch in front of a vastly-superior defense. The Mets infield defense was one of the worst in baseball last year by almost any metric. According to OAA specifically, Robinson Cano was their best fielder at 91st overall. Amed Rosario finished 123rd, Pete Alonso finished 132nd, and Jeff McNeill didn't see enough innings to qualify.

Now, he'll pitch in front of a Phillies defense that was five outs above average better than the Mets last year and features Rhys Hoskins (40th), Scott Kingery (72nd), and Jean Segura, who would have ranked inside the top-80 if OAA only considered his innings at 2B, where he'll play in Philadelphia. Didi Gregorious appears to be the weak link on that defense but still finished ahead of Rosario and Alonso. All good news for a pitcher with a GB% over 43%.

Takeaway: Wheeler has been a popular breakout candidate for much of the offseason and OAA only seems to be another metric that supports this. I'm all for Wheeler as a top-25 option based on his current situation and the dynamic upside of his repertoire.

 

Madison Bumgarner (From San Francisco to Arizona)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 22.6/35.8/41.6

Bumgarner's move to Arizona seems like a relatively negative move on the surface. Yes, Oracle Park is proving to be good for right-handed pull hitters, but it's still a strong pitcher's park overall, while Chase Field plays a little more favorably for hitters. Yet, Bumgarner will be pitching in front of last year's fifth-ranked defense based on OAA, as opposed to the Giants, who ranked 18th, a full 20 outs worse than Arizona. The Giants were anchored by Evan Longoria at 47th overall and Brandon Belt at 52nd, while Brandon Crawford (114th) brought the overall performance down a little. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Nick Ahmed is the fourth-best defender in the league, according to OAA, and Christian Walker finished 15th in his first year in the league; however, Ketel Marte (87th) and Eduardo Escobar (112th) are below-average defensive regulars and now Marte will see a full season at 2B.

Since Bumgarner is more of a flyball pitcher, he was helped last year by three regular outfielders who finished in the top 50 in the league based on OAA (Steven Duggar, Mike Yastrzemski, and Kevin Pillar) and received above-average defense while he was on the mound last year. In Arizona, he’ll have an outfield of Starling Marte (51st), David Peralta (63rd) and Kole Calhoun (79th), which is a minor downgrade. If that wasn't enough of a complicated back and forth, Bumgarner's Home/Road splits last year were particularly concerning now that he's outside of Oracle Park.

Takeaway: As a heavy fly-ball pitcher moving to more of a hitter's park with a worse defensive outfield, I expect a slight downgrade for Bumgarner from a defensive standpoint. His career home/road splits are also concerning, but I wouldn't change his ranking drastically, still keeping him somewhere near the top-30 starting pitchers. However, with all of the confusing back and forth metrics listed above, I have a bad feeling about Bumgarner this year. I’d rather reach for the tier of arms before him or wait a few rounds for the younger upside arms going after him.

 

Dallas Keuchel (From Atlanta to Chicago AL)

LD%/GB%/FB%: 20.1/60.1/19.6

With a GB% over 60%, Keuchel is a pitcher who heavily relies on the defense behind him. That's not exactly a positive for him coming into 2020. Last year, the left-hander pitched 112 innings with Atlanta's 10th ranked defense behind him, which allowed him to have a defensive OAA of two outs above average while he was on the mound. Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman were both top-62 defensive players, and we already discussed the elite metrics of Josh Donaldson which helped balance the 100th ranking of Ozzie Albies.

This year, Keuchel will be pitching in front of an inferior defense that ranked 17th last year, but a full 13 outs worse than Atlanta. Yoan Moncada was a strong defender, finishing 31st, but Tim Anderson finished 92nd, Jose Abreu ranked 106th, and Leury Garcia didn't see enough innings to qualify for OAA. Keuchel only has an 8.7 SwStr%, which means he allows batters to make a lot of contact. A weaker defense behind him could be a real problem.

TakeawayKeuchel was never an option I was gravitating towards, but I can't see him duplicating his sub .300 BABIP with the new defense behind him. Without the strikeouts to bump up any fantasy value, I'd be wary of taking Keuchel as I can't see any category that I can bank on consistent solid production.

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2019 Barrel Breakouts: Who's For Real and Who's Next?

As pitchers and catchers get even closer to reporting and most fantasy leagues prepare for their drafts, everybody is looking for a leg up on the competition - a way to get in on a guy before everybody else does.

In this article, we're going to look for a way to identify hitters who improved in 2019 in a way that suggests legitimate growth. One of the ways to do that is through looking at barrels.

Barrels have become a trendy Statcast metric. It basically just means the amount of time a batter hits the ball on the barrel - or sweet spot - of the bat. The more times a batter barrels the ball, the more good contact he's getting, which usually means the better the results. The other two metrics connected to barrels are Brls/BBE%, which factors in the percentage of barrels on a batter's batted-ball events, and Brls/PA%, which registers barrels for all of the batter's plate appearances. How do we decide which one to use?

 

Dissecting Barrel Data

Dan Richards produced a great article looking at the predictiveness of these Statcast metrics and discovered that Brls/BBE% is more predictive of itself across seasons since there are significantly more plate appearance results than just batted-ball events, so Brls/PA% is subject to more fluctuation across seasons. What's more, Brls/BBE% is proven to be more predictive of both HR/FB% and ISO than Exit Velocity on FB/LD.

Taking all of that into consideration, it would make sense to assume that players who made significant strides in their Brls/BBE% in 2019 would be likely to carry that growth over into 2020. Since Brls/BBE% is such a strong indicator of HR/FB% and ISO, looking at the players who improved the most in Brls/BBE% between 2018 and 2019 would show guys whose power growth was legitimate. In order to identify the hitters who experienced this much growth, I simply took the Statcast Brls/BBE% leaderboard from 2019 for players with a minimum of 100 batted ball events, identified their Brls/BBE% in 2018 and then calculated their growth.

It's rudimentary statistics work, but the hope is to find out which offensive breakouts last year seem likely to carry over into 2020.

(As a caveat, these are just guys who improved the most last year, so perennial Brls/BBE% standouts might not appear since they didn't experience any growth. Also, 2019 rookies will not appear on this list since they have no 2018 MLB batted ball events and thus can't experience any growth). 

 

Most Improved Barrel Rates from 2019

Player Max Exit Velo Avg Exit Velo Barrels Brls/ PA% Brls/ BBE% 2019 Brls/ BBE% 2018 Brls/ BBE% Growth
Jason Castro 110.5 91.5 26 9.5 17.2 6.8 10.4
Mitch Garver 109.7 91.1 35 9.7 15.5 5.6 9.9
Miguel Sano 114.2 94.4 47 10.7 21.2 11.8 9.4
Howie Kendrick 112.4 91.6 33 8.9 11.4 4.8 6.6
Jorge Soler 115.7 92.6 70 10.3 16.9 10.3 6.6
Carlos Correa 112.8 89 28 8.7 13.5 7 6.5
Rougned Odor 113.1 89.4 47 8.1 13.6 7.2 6.4
Chance Sisco 107.4 89 11 5.6 10.4 4.3 6.1
Austin Meadows 115.4 90.4 50 8.5 12.5 6.4 6.1
Nelson Cruz 117 93.7 65 12.5 19.9 13.8 6.1
Yandy Diaz 114.3 91.7 26 7.5 10.4 4.4 6
Dansby Swanson 108.4 89.8 37 6.8 10.1 4.1 6
Derek Dietrich 111.7 86.9 21 6.9 11.8 6.1 5.7
Josh Bell 116.2 92.3 53 8.6 12.7 7 5.7
George Springer 114.3 89.8 53 9.5 14.3 8.9 5.4
Jordan Luplow 108.8 89.3 20 7.7 12.1 6.8 5.3
Josh Donaldson 114.2 92.9 62 9.4 15.7 10.4 5.3
Gary Sanchez 118.3 91 52 11.7 19.1 13.9 5.2
Roberto Perez 112.8 88.3 30 6.7 11 5.9 5.1
JaCoby Jones 112.8 91.3 22 6.6 10.7 5.9 4.8

Instead of going through all 20 of the names above, I'll take a look at a few of them who I find particularly interesting or who haven't been given as much virtual ink so far in the lead-up to this season.

 

Jason Castro (C, LAA) - ADP: 341

Jason Castro's 2019 was lost in the shuffle because his teammate, Mitch Garver also broke out over more at-bats. However, Castro is worth mentioning, especially at a shallow position. Castro only had 38 batted balls in 2018, so I used his 2017 numbers when he had 250 batted balls. In 2019, Castro showed impressive exit velocity and lead the league in Brls/BBE% growth. His Hard-Hit% also improved 14%, and he showed growth in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA over his 2017 numbers. His K% did jump as he sold out for more power, pulling the ball more and hitting more fly balls.

Now that Castro has the starting job in a strong Angels lineup, and if he gets 120-150 more at-bats than last year's 275, Castro could be a 20-HR bat at the catcher position and is currently going well outside the top-300 in online championships. If you're going to wait on a catcher, he could be a great target in two-catcher leagues or AL-Only formats.

 

Miguel Sano (3B, MIN) - ADP: 120

After missing more than half of 2018 with multiple injuries and getting embroiled in domestic abuse allegations, it was easy for many in the fantasy community to write off Miguel Sano. However, he had always shown a propensity for hard contact and a consistent ability to find the barrel.

After the injury-shortened 2018, Sano made noticeable improvements, finishing second in the league in barrel %. His ISO jumped from .199 to .329, which was a huge gain from him career-best .262 in 2016, and he dropped his soft contact % from 15% to 9%. In short, Sano absolutely crushed the ball last year, putting him in the company of sluggers like Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge.

Add to that a career-high Pull% of 55.4%, and you see a massive jump in HR plus huge jumps in xSLG and wxOBACON. Yes, he still had a terrible K% - a career-worst 36.2% - so his batting average will likely never be high, but it's time to take Sano seriously as a perennial 35-40 HR bat hitting in the middle of a dangerous lineup.

If we approximate his ATC projections of .245, 35 home runs, 80 runs, and 90 RBI, Sano's RotoBaller Expected Draft Value (rbEDV) suggests that he should be taken around pick 90. Currently, a power-focused player valued at pick 90 would finish with a .261 average, 31 home runs, 79 runs, and 87 RBI. While Sano likely won't hit for that high an average, he should easily top that home run total and could even accrue more RBI, which makes his current ADP a great value.

 

Jorge Soler (OF, KC) - ADP: 85

Even though I might rather have Sano at his current cost than Soler at his, the metrics show that Soler's breakout was for real. After battling health and high expectations for years, Soler finally secured a consistent spot in a lineup and played a full 162-game season. He led the league in barrels and was in the top 2% in overall barrel% and xSLG. His Hard-Hit% improved by 8%, and he raised his launch angle from 10.9 to 15.4, which helped him climb to 48 home runs.

What's more important is that he experienced this power jump without any change to his BB% and while dropping his K% by 0.8 points. His reduced O-Swing% and improved Z-Contact% suggest a young hitter whose increased playing time is leading to a better understanding of the strike zone and more consistent quality contact.

His HR/FB% will likely decrease from the 28.1% he had in 2019, and he has had multiple years of a Brls/BBE% hovering around 10, which would suggest a slight regression to his norm in 2020, but he's another 35-40 HR bat who will have a higher average and OBP than Sano. That's five solid categories and deserving of a rbEDV of a pick in the mid-60s, which would need him to finish with a line of .259, 33 home runs, 83 runs, 93 RBI and six stolen bases. While he'll likely only earn around three stolen bases, it would be easy to see him hitting more than 33 home runs or knocking it close to 100 runs again.

 

Carlos Correa (SS, HOU) - ADP: 96

You'd be forgiven for not realizing that Carlos Correa is still only 25 years old. After bursting onto the scene as a 21-year-old, the shortstop seemed to plateau. A big reason is that he hasn't played a full season in each of his last three years. However, the underlying metrics have remained strong, with consistent K%, BB%, and exit velocity. What changed last year was that Correa found the barrel more and upped his launch angle to 12.4. The result was career-highs in SLG% with .568 and Hard-Hit% with 44.9%. He also came close to matching his career-high Pull%, which could lead to him taking advantage of the short porch in left at Minute Maid.

Health will always be a concern for Correa since he's had multiple back injuries over the last two years; however, he is still young enough to tweak his training regime to help cope with unnecessary stress and add strength where needed. With the massive improvements in quality of contact, Correa could be in for a true post-hype breakout this year. If Correa is able to reach the 30-home run, 85-run, 90-RBI projection averages with a .270 batting average, that makes him a low-80s pick by rbEDV. It's a risk inside the top-100, but if you have safety in other places in your lineup, it's not a bad risk to take. Especially since shortstop is so deep this year that it's like you'd be able to find a replacement if he did miss time.

 

Rougned Odor (2B, TEX) - ADP: 218

This is going to be a long one, but I promise it will be worth it. Odor just turned 26 a few days ago, which seems shocking since he broke into the Majors in 2014. Yes, he's struggled with strikeouts and has hit just above .200 in two of the last three years, but people continue to talk about him as if he's a finished product. At 26, he's actually just entering his prime.

He has also improved his BB% from 4.9% to 8% to 9% over the last three seasons. It's not a game-changing shift, but it's real progress, especially when paired with an O-Swing% that has dropped from 38.3% to 35.4% to 33.1% over the same span. His K% may have been high last year, but Odor is actually showing a better understanding of the strike zone. When he does make contact, he is doing so with more power, increasing his barrels each of the last three seasons before this outburst last year. Pair that with an 86th-percentile Hard-Hit% and a nearly five-degree increase in launch angle, and you have a bat that looks like it can provide consistent power.

In fact, Odor has hit 30 home runs and stolen at least 10 bases in three of the last four seasons. You're not going to get that from very many players, and certainly not any going this late in the draft. Remember that while Odor has two horrible batting average seasons in recent years, he also hit .253 in 2018, .271 in 2016, and .261 in 2016. I think it would be safe to assume that Odor will regress back closer to his career K% of 23.7%, which isn't much higher than the MLB average of 21.7% last year.

With more contact and more powerful contact, Odor could put together another 30-10 season with a batting average around .230, which, if you remove his batting average from the equation, is enough to give him a rbEDV around pick 110 (23 home runs, 14 stolen bases, 77 runs and 74 RBI). To reach that value he'd need a .261 average, which he likely won't get, but he'll also hit more home runs than that value accounts for, so how much you're willing to penalize him will depend on how your roster is constructed early. If you have a solid average floor, Odor could be a steal going as late as he is.

 

Nelson Cruz (DH, MIN) - ADP: 86

This is just another excuse to talk about the ageless wonder. Really, my words won't do justice. Just feast your eyes:

Just so much red. Even in his age-39 season, Cruz saw ridiculous spikes in barrel%, xSLG, and wOBA. His numbers across the board have remained consistent across the years, and there's no reason to expect that to change now.

You can keep expecting him to breakdown, but there's an injury risk for every player. At some point, you have to take a player who seems primed for 35-40 home runs while hitting in the middle of a seemingly dominant lineup. Based on rbEDV, I'd be comfortable taking Cruz in the early 70s.

 

Yandy Diaz (3B, TB) - ADP: 234

In his first season with the Rays, Diaz was a Fantasy Baseball Twitter darling and a popular breakout pick after he hit .298 with seven home runs and 18 RBI in March and April. Injuries limited him to only 12 games in the second half of the season, but the quality of contact was very real.

However, expectations for a power breakout need to be kept in check. Diaz got way more of the barrel last year than he had in years past, but his exit velocity, Hard Hit%, xOBA, and woBACON remained relatively unchanged. He's always hit the ball hard. He also had a launch angle of 5.4 degrees last year, which is part of the reason why the ball never seems to leave the yard with any consistency.

Diaz will hit around .270-.280 and help you in OBP leagues because he walks a lot, but don't draft him expecting a major power outburst. His ceiling will likely be around 20 home runs with no stolen bases. That's not a profile that is hard to find at this juncture in the draft.

 

Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL) - ADP: 256

We've been unfair to Dansby. Ever since he was drafted first overall and then was the headliner in the act of thievery the Braves pulled off against the Diamondbacks, we all placed expectations on him that were perhaps outsized.

The truth is that Dansby Swanson will likely never be a fantasy game-changer, but he is becoming a valuable fantasy asset. His Hard-Hit% has increased each of the last three years, along with a decrease in GB%, and a rise in Z-Swing%. What that says to me is that Swanson is becoming a slightly more aggressive hitter who is making better quality contact with his all-fields approach. His jump in barrel% and exit velocity suggest that he is beginning to evolve as a hitter as he enters his prime.

His underlying metrics even suggest more growth, with a .271 xBA compared to a .251 average and a .480 xSLG compared to his .422 actual slugging percentage. It's very likely that we could see Swanson become a 20-10 threat with a .270 average hitting near the bottom of the Braves order, which should provide him with the opportunity for 70+ RBI and 80+ runs with guys like Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies hitting behind him. That's closer to a rbEDV in the low 200s, and I'd take that from a guy currently being drafted behind Jon Berti, Luis Arraez, and more than two rounds later than Kolten Wong.

 

Josh Bell (1B, PIT) - ADP: 94

Not that you need another reason to draft Josh Bell, but you found it here. Bell's barrel% jumped 5.7% in his age-27 season, along with a 3.8-degree increase in launch angle (to 13 degrees), a .136 increase in xSLG, a .077 increase in xwoBACON, and a 8.1% increase in Hard Hit %. His Statcast profile was elite almost all the way across the board, while he still managed to keep his K% under 20%, better than the MLB average.

Perhaps more interestingly from a power standpoint, his Pull% improved by just under 9% and his FB% increased five-percent at the expense of his GB%. All this helped contribute to a career-high 37 home runs. While the upper 30s may be tough for him to duplicate given his 23.9% HR/FB, Bell seems to have cemented himself as a 30-HR threat. His RBI totals will likely be suppressed in a bad lineup, but 30 home runs, 85 runs, and 90 RBI seems feasible, to go along with a .270 average.

He'll likely only chip in one or two stolen bases, but he's proving to be a good value in drafts at 94th overall since a player with that profile has a rbEDV in the early 80s since he'll trade away some speed for a better average.

 

JaCoby Jones (OF, DET) - ADP: 465

We'll end on some deep league fun. As of right now, Jones seems locked into a starting role, and potentially a leadoff spot, on the Tigers. Since he debuted in 2016, he's had only one season with over 100 games and has never been a reliable fantasy contributor.

However, last year he tied his career-high with a .235 average, which was supported by a .250 xBA. His jump in barrel% led to a career-high .195 ISO, .430 SLG, and 11 home runs in only 88 games. The only other time he's reached 11 home runs in his Major League career he needed 129 games to do so. In fact, all of Jones' metrics last year improved enough to warrant taking a second look.

Most projection systems have him for over 550 at-bats but only see 15 home runs. I'm not sure I agree. I think that's more of a floor for Jones if he gets that many at-bats, which he seems likely to get barring injury. With the improvements to his quality of contact, I could see Jones flirting with 18-20 home runs and 12+ stolen bases to go along with 70 runs hitting at the top of a lineup.

Granted, that will come with a .240 average and middling RBI totals, but a potential 20-10 player should certainly be going inside the top 400. If you're in a deep league or an AL-only format, taking a gamble on Jones may pay off handsomely.

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