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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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Categories
2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice 2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2020 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Draft Targets Editor Note MLB Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

Sauceda's Slants: More POWA to your Outfield

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, continuing from infielders and now onto outfielders and a utility player.

(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.)

 

Jordan Luplow, Cleveland Indians

85th POWA Percentile
571 ADP (in March “Draft Champions” drafts)

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
97 153 102 172 109 99 96 108

Luplow absolutely mashes lefties, sporting a .276/.385/.635 slash line and 162 wRC+ against them across 226 career PA. In the same sample, he’s been equally bad against righties with a .207/.276/.320 slash line and 57 wRC+. It’s fair to wonder if Cleveland’s selective usage of him last season, primarily deployed against lefties, has artificially boosted his POWA ranking.

Still, the skills are compelling. He pairs above-average plate discipline — including last season, when his walk rate was 53% better than league average, and throughout the minors — with an 87th percentile barrel rate. He also possesses 77th percentile sprint speed and could sneakily chip in 6-10 stolen bases given a full season’s work.

The success of this pick will largely come down to Luplow’s ability to hit righties and secure an everyday job. According to beat writer Zack Meisel of The Athletic, Cleveland “wants to know if [Luplow] can hit righties.” When you consider Luplow’s success last season — he was 37% better than league average with the bat and produced 2.2 fWAR, good for fifth on the team despite only 261 PA — and the other healthy OF options on the roster (Greg Allen, Delino DeShields, Jake Bauers and Bradley Zimmer), it’s hard to envision a scenario where Luplow isn’t given a chance to hit right-handed pitching.

The dearth of quality alternatives may be his best shot to everyday at-bats, but the potential return of Tyler Naquin — the only alternate option currently on the roster who’s delivered at least a 100 wRC+ in the majors — from a torn ACL represents his biggest obstacle.

As Meisel said, “If he can [hit righties], then you have an everyday outfielder that should be above average at the plate — but you don’t know until it happens.” At this price, with these skills and the lack of alternatives, it might just be worth finding out.

 

Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets

83rd POWA Percentile
322 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
116 220 100 96 100 100 89 104

Nimmo strikes out too much and doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, but dammit does he walk! Since Nimmo’s full-season debut in 2017, he ranks 6th in walk rate among hitters with at least 1,000 PA, behind only — maybe you know these guys? — Trout, Judge, Votto, Soto and Harper. By wRC+, he’s been well above league average in each of those three seasons (118, 148, 114), and he’s already had a breakout of sorts in 2018, when he generated 4.5 fWAR in 535 PA. His per-600 PA pace included 19 homers, 10 stolen bases, 86 runs and a .404 OBP that season, making him a quality power-speed table-setter atop a lineup, both real and in Fantasy.

The first question with Nimmo is, can he stay healthy? He missed significant time in 2017 and 2019 with a variety of seemingly unrelated injuries — a hamstring strain and collapsed lung in 2017, and a neck injury that kept him out for over three months in 2019. He already missed time this year in spring training (version one) for an irregular heartbeat.

The second question is playing time — will he get a full complement of plate appearances? Will he be squeezed into a platoon? Despite hitting from the left side, he hasn’t shown much of a platoon split, with a 119 wRC+ in 259 career PA against lefties and a 131 wRC+ in 825 PA against righties. The Mets outfield could get crowded, with Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis each seemingly having a spot locked down, and Dominic Smith, Jake Marisnick and Eduardo Nunez also on the roster and capable of playing the outfield. That’s not even mentioning Yoenis Cespedes’ return.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Nimmo is a former first-round pick, still just 27 years old and already has a 4.5-win season on his resume. If he’s healthy and playing well, then playing time shouldn’t be much of an issue. For what it’s worth, Mets’ beat writer from The Athletic, Tim Britton, agrees, writing “as long as he’s healthy, Nimmo’s going to be an everyday outfielder.” He also believes the Mets' best lineups both include Nimmo — batting fifth against righties and seventh against lefties. He hit second, with McNeil leading off, in many lineup iterations this spring.

It’ll be interesting to see what first-year manager Luis Rojas does. By most accounts, the real question will be if Nimmo can stay healthy. If he does, he should be a profit machine for Fantasy managers. He finished 2017 as the 47th best outfielder in 5x5 — he’s currently being drafted as the 89th outfielder. Giddy up.

 

Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks

82nd POWA Percentile
344 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
106 135 102 159 120 100 86 110

Calhoun’s rank among outfielders from the last three seasons: 43rd, 80th, 52nd

He’s currently being drafted as the 80th outfielder, or the lowest we’ve seen him finish these last three seasons.

Despite oddly projecting him for only 139 games played — he’s averaged 152 games played since 2015 — ATC still has him beating that lowly mark, projecting him to finish as the 72nd best OF this season.

Having produced at least 2.0 fWAR in five of his last six seasons, Arizona gave him a 2-year $16M deal this offseason, with a club option for 2022. Without a staggering platoon split — he’s a career 98 wRC+ hitter against lefties, 108 wRC+ against righties — and many options to push him for playing time, he should enjoy a healthy leash as an everyday regular.

Sure, his at-bats are likely to come lower in the batting order than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Anaheim, and he’ll face headwinds of a slight downgrade in terms of park, particularly for left-handed power, and lineup (although it shouldn’t be by much). Of course, there’s always the risk of “pressing” after signing with a new team.

But the skills are there. He strikes out a little too much, although he mitigates that with an above-average walk rate and a barrel rate in the top 20% among hitters. He’s also adept at avoiding poor contact. You’re not going to get the gratifying “ohs” and “ahs” at the draft table when you click the button on Calhoun, but once you’re into the 300’s, it’s rare to find this degree of playing time, skills and track record. Boring as it may be, bank the profit and don’t look back.

 

Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds

81st POWA Percentile
328 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
65 120 102 71 115 101 116 93

If Winker had a clearer path to an everyday role, he’d likely be going at least 150 picks earlier and wouldn’t be a candidate for this list. But after Cincinnati signed Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama — with top prospect Nick Senzel still prominently in the mix and Aristedes Aquino, Phillip Ervin and Josh VanMeter looming — the Reds outfield became crowded in a hurry.

Let’s be perfectly clear here, though: Winker is a damn good hitter! In 855 career MLB plate appearances, he’s slashed .285/.379/.466 with a 122 wRC+. His carrying tool is his pristine plate discipline. He’s elite — Votto-ian even! — with his unique combination of a low strikeout rate and high walk rate.

In fact, among hitters with at least 300 PA last season, there were only seven with his combination of strikeout rate (at least 30% better than league average), walk rate (at least 20% better) and hard hit rate (at least 15% better than league average in batted balls hit at least 95 MPH):

Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rendon, Max Kepler, Carlos Santana, Nick Markakis (!) … and Jesse Winker

The big question, of course, comes down to playing time. Castellanos just signed a four-year, $64M deal. Senzel was drafted by the Reds second overall in 2016 and was a consensus top 10 prospect up until his debut last season. When healthy, they’re both going to play. That leaves Winker to battle Akiyama, who signed a 3-year $21M deal this offseason, for playing time. While manager David Bell has indicated that he won’t know exactly what the lineup will look like until opening day, there are reports that he likes Akiyama at the top of the lineup when he plays. They’re both high-OBP, left-handed batters, so it isn’t a clean platoon situation.

Winker isn’t going to force the issue with his defense — I’m not sure it matters as this might be the worst outfield defense in the league regardless — and he’s shown a stark platoon split, with just a 52 wRC+ against lefties in 147 career PA. But it wasn’t that long ago he appeared on the cusp of a power breakout and part of the Reds core and, still just 26 and not a free agent until 2024, you’d think they’d want to give him reps against lefties to see if he can be an everyday guy.

Let’s also not forget that he’s now one more year removed from right shoulder surgery, something he said that had been bothering him for several years. His exit velocities, launch angle and plate discipline were all down in 2019 from 2018. There were signs that maybe he was pressing last season, swinging more both inside and outside the zone. Maybe he was still recovering from the offseason shoulder surgery. His wRC+ did jump from 100 in the first half to 149 in the second half (only 103 PA) before a back injury effectively ended his season.

For what it’s worth, the market is betting against Winker and instead believes Castellanos (92 ADP), Senzel (211) and Akiyama (265) will be the Reds regular outfield. Based on the reports that we have, I can understand why. But I think there’s a lot less clarity in this situation — particularly between Akiyama and Winker — than their current 130-pick gap suggests. At those prices, I’ll take the much cheaper player, particularly when it comes with Winker’s profile and the additional year removed from major surgery. Things happen and if they break right, this is a skillset and situation — a top 5 hitter’s park and much improved lineup — that you’ll want exposure to.

 

Derek Fisher, Toronto Blue Jays

75th POWA Percentile
592 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
142 153 104 176 125 104 108 94

Fisher is probably the longest shot on this list given he’s the only one without any sort of track record of success at the major league level. In 419 career PA, he’s been 25% below league average with the bat and failed to generate a sliver of fWAR, to the tune of a .191/.279/.369 slash line.

Despite those struggles, his per-600 PA pace during that time also includes 23 HR and 14 SB. There are some tasty skills in Fisher’s profile waiting to be unlocked. However, his middling hit tool — he earned a 40/45 present/future “hit” grade from FanGraphs — has been his biggest impediment to everyday playing time, manifesting in a career strikeout rate (36.5%) reserved only for Gallo-ian power and minor leaguers. As a left-handed batter, he was shifted on nearly 58% of his plate appearances last season, suffering a 63-point drop in wOBA when shifted versus when not shifted. There’s no question that he’s shown holes in his game.

But at least he does some other things well! His career walk rate (10.3%) is a good place to start, and last year (12.6% in 167 PA) it was 53% above league average. When he makes contact, it’s often good contact. Both his average and maximum exit velocities were a hair above average and his barrel rate (per batted ball event) was in the 89th percentile. He’s got elite speed, earning a “70” grade from FanGraphs — his sprint speed (91st percentile) and home-to-first time (94th percentile) were both in the top 10% of the league.

Now 26 and out of minor-league options, he has nothing left to prove in the minors — in 1,053 career PA in Triple-A, he’s slashed .292/.378/.525, averaging 28 homers and 23 stolen bases per 600 PA and never finishing a season with a wRC+ below 113. After being traded from the Astros as part of the Aaron Sanchez deal, Fisher might finally have his best shot to carve out regular playing time, something he never had — and was unlikely to ever get — with the Astros. He’s likely fourth in the outfield pecking order after Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez, but there are everyday DH at-bats available and Fisher could steal regular time in the outfield, allowing a questionable defender like Hernandez to regularly DH.

Given his lack of track record and secure playing time, Fisher’s success certainly feels like a longshot. But that’s more than priced into his near-600 ADP, and with his skillset and power-speed combo — ATC projects him for 21 homers and 14 stolen bases per 600 PA — he’s a worthy dart throw in uber-deep formats, and someone to otherwise watch closely early in the season.

Just Missed — Too Expensive: Andrew McCutchen (93rd, 197), Mark Canha (89th, 269), Joc Pederson (87th, 218), Shin-Soo Choo (86th, 227), Sam Hilliard (84th, 255), Austin Hays (81st, 282), Ian Happ (79th, 269), Alex Verdugo (78th, 208), Ryan Braun (75th, 175)

Honorable Mentions: Nick Markakis (91st, 488 in March “Draft Champions” drafts), Hunter Pence (82nd, 448), Jason Heyward (80th, 436), Jay Bruce (77th, 424), Alex Dickerson (76th, 427)

 

Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

85th POWA Percentile
451 ADP

K% BB% Avg. EV Barrels/BBE EV 95+ % Max EV Poor % Avg. Dist.
86 164 98 123 101 97 54 126

Usually the conversation around Belt starts around health and ballpark. For his career, he’s 21% better than average with the bat, so there’s not a ton of questions about the talent. But he’s struggled to stay on the field, averaging just 127 games per season since 2012, and the home park is so punitive — particularly for power — that Fantasy managers have avoided it like the plague.

That’s what makes the timing of this odd: he’s coming off a season where he actually played the entire thing! (He played 156 games and went to the plate 616 times.) The problem was, he just wasn’t particularly good, finishing with just 17 home runs, a .234/.339/.403 slash line and 99 wRC+, a career-low and the first time in his career that he finished below 100. Almost 32 years old now, that completes a troubling four-year trend where his wRC+ has decreased each season, from 136 in 2016, to 119, 108 and then 99 in 2019.

But many of the skills still appear intact! He reduced his strikeout rate to a career-low 20.6% while pushing his walk rate up to 60% better than league average. He’s never been an exit velocity killer, but he’s at least near league average in that regard, in addition to being in the top third of the league by barrel rate and the top 1% in terms of avoiding bad contact (batted balls defined by Statcast as “poorly topped”).

Revisiting the ballpark situation, this offseason they’ve moved the fences in five to eight feet, depending on which part of the park you’re referring to, as well as reducing the height of fences in left and center field by one foot. It’s unlikely to have a major impact, but perhaps the park will go from playing extreme to simply pitcher-friendly.

I don’t think anyone is excited to roster Belt — I don’t blame you — but he’s almost surely guaranteed everyday playing time when healthy, his park situation is likely to improve (at least marginally) and his skills are still largely intact. We’re talking about the 400’s here. Not to mention, there’s some value in a Belt selection at this point — despite the down season, he finished as the 36th first baseman last season and ATC projects him to finish 38th at the position this season. He’s currently being drafted as the 41st first baseman by ADP. Maybe there’s something there for your corner infielder slot? I have a friend who’s a Giants fan and used to perpetually name his teams, “Year of the Belt.” Maybe this is the year? Okay, probably not.

 

Closing Thoughts

It’s fun to see how a good hitting profile comes together. Sometimes it’s a carrying tool, whether that be a plus strikeout rate or an ungodly walk rate. Maybe it’s an ability to annihilate baseballs. In some cases, it’s a little bit of everything with no superstar in the profile. Whatever it is, this isn’t a “throwaway” portion of the draft. There’s a lot of value and profit to be mined — if you can pair a sound foundation with 1-2 “hits” in this range, you might be clearing out more trophy space on your shelves following the season. To do so, it helps to select for skills that make good hitters — and that’s why we target POWA hitters.

 

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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2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice 2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy & Tips 2020 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Draft Targets Editor Note MLB Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

Introducing POWA - A New Hitting Metric Stickier Than wOBA

It can be fun to look back at previous things you’ve written, gaining a window into your state of mind in that moment. I originally wrote much of this piece back in March, when baseball seemed like a distant dream. From March:

"The last few weeks have been challenging. In the grand scheme of things, our collective safety and well-being is the only thing that matters. It’s up to each of us to do everything in our power to minimize the impact of COVID-19, like staying home and informed, when possible. In doing so, perhaps there’s still a role for temporary pockets of reprieve — listening, reading, writing, among other things. Personally, I’ve found new podcasts from all the baseball personalities we know and love to be oddly therapeutic — more so than normal. I’d like to think that the two — our civic responsibilities and need for occasional “diversions” — aren’t mutually exclusive. With that, I’ve continued to occasionally draft, read, analyze, listen, write, etc. Not because I know there will be a season — I have no clue — but because, well, I need it!"

Now on the verge of return, I’m cautiously optimistic — and excited — about its return! One piece of analysis I’d been toying with all offseason, and that I’m excited to unveil as we head into this 60-game sprint, is the mental weighting of our shiny new Statcast metrics.

 

Statcast: Who's The Best?

Scroll through your Fantasy baseball-related Twitter feed and you’re bound to find numerous references to newer statistics like launch angle, exit velocity and barrels. But which ones are the best? And by how much? And how do they perform relative to “old reliable” metrics, like strikeout and walk rate?

Al Melchior and Alex Chamberlain, both of FanGraphs, took an initial pass at some of these questions back in 2018, emphasizing the importance of barrels and flyball distance for power metrics like HR/FB, ISO and Hard Hit Rate.

Building on their work — and armed with an additional season’s worth of data — I set out to test which metrics best predicted future hitter performance, as defined by weighted on-base percentage (wOBA). While not the perfect measure of 5x5 Fantasy goodness, it serves as a useful proxy for a hitter’s Fantasy value. Worst case, even if it didn’t, perhaps we can better understand who the best hitters are — that’s a skill that’s unlikely to go out of style.
 

An Attempt At Weightings: "POWA"

To do so, I pulled 2015-2019 (five seasons) data from Baseball Savant for all hitters with at least 500 PA (n = 359 season pairs). You can find the full test results here for all of the metrics tested.

Similar to our weighting of various pitching measures to create ACES, I was seeking to understand: which metrics should we use and how to weight them?

After testing which metrics in one season (“season-n”) were most predictive of the following season’s wOBA (“season-n+1”), the following combination and weightings were found to be most predictive — shown broken into two groups here, plate discipline and contact quality:

(For a description of each metric, take a gander at MLB’s Statcast glossary.)

Plate Discipline
Strikeouts (K%) 27%
Walks (BB%) 20%
Total 47%

 

Contact Quality
Avg. EV 15%
Barrel/BBE % 14%
EV95+ % 10%
Max EV 6%
Poorly Topped% 5%
Avg. Distance 3%
Total 53%

 

This seems to make sense! A near 50-50 mix of plate discipline (47%) and contact quality (53%) contributed to better future performance — thus, the formula for our new metric is:

  • Minimize strikeouts (27%), take walks (20%)
  • Hit the ball hard (measured in different ways, but combined for 48% — average exit velocity, barrels per batted ball event, percentage of batted balls hit greater than 95 MPH, maximum exit velocity and average distance)
  • Don’t hit the ball soft (5% — percentage of batted balls poorly topped)

For reasons that will become clearer in the “testing” section below, let’s call this metric: Prediction of wOBA Attempt (POWA), preferably pronounced as “POW-uh.”

 

2019 POWA Leaderboard: Top & Bottom 15%

More importantly, who ranks well by POWA? Here’s a leaderboard with the top and bottom 15% POWA hitters from 2019 (minimum 30 PA):

As you might expect, that Mike Trout fellow tops the 2019 leaderboard — he’s pretty good, isn’t he? As you might also expect, he’s surrounded by a who’s who of elite sluggers: Joey Gallo, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Juan Soto and many more. At the very least, POWA passes our initial sanity check.

 

Testing POWA

Does it pass slightly more rigorous testing, however? Should we be using POWA to evaluate hitters? Or is it part of the “problem,” introducing additional noise and complexity into a world already exploding with new metrics? Let’s test and find out — specifically, we’ll test its predictiveness and season-to-season reliability (often referred to as “stickiness”).

Using the same testing sample (2015-2019 hitter data from Statcast, minimum 500 PA, n = 359 season pairs), here’s POWA’s predictiveness:

 

Without context, it’s hard to judge. Testing within the same sample, let’s compare POWA to wOBA and expected wOBA (xwOBA):

Predict wOBA_n+1
Metric_n r2
wOBA 0.304
POWA 0.270
xwOBA 0.248

 

While not quite as predictive of wOBA as wOBA itself — hence the “A” in POWA, for “attempt” — POWA did test as nearly 10% more predictive of future wOBA than the more widely used xwOBA! It tested even better against other “expected” stats, such as expected batting average (xBA) or expected slugging percentage (xSLG).

(To be fair, xwOBA and other “expected” stats weren’t necessarily designed to be predictive. According to Tom Tango, Senior Database Architect of Stats for MLB Advanced Media, xwOBA was designed to be descriptive. I surmise the results would be different — and likely better — if they were intended to be predictive.)

Still, you might be disappointed to see that you could use plain old wOBA to better predict future performance. I hear you. However, despite being slightly less predictive than wOBA, season-to-season stickiness is where POWA really shines:

 

With an r-squared exceeding 0.66, POWA is far stickier season-to-season than both wOBA and xwOBA:

Predict Itself_n+1
Metric_n r2
POWA 0.661
xwOBA 0.448
wOBA 0.304

 

In other words, if a hitter displays POWA skills in one season, they are much likelier to display those skills the following season — at least relative to skills captured by wOBA and xwOBA. Given POWA largely includes only raw skills — strikeouts, walks, exit velocities, etc. — rather than outcomes like wOBA, that shouldn’t be particularly surprising.

It may be a statistical oversimplification, but here’s another way to think about it: approximately 66% of a hitter’s POWA score can be explained by the previous season’s POWA score. By contrast, a hitter’s wOBA in one season is explained by only 30% of their previous season’s wOBA — simply put, wOBA is much more volatile season-to-season.

To recap, POWA is more predictive of future wOBA than xwOBA and more than two times stickier than wOBA. Not bad!

 

Finding POWA

So how should we be using POWA? It’s great that it identifies Mike Trout and Christian Yelich as elite hitters, but then again, we didn’t need any fancy math equations to figure that out. Instead, POWA might help us identify under-the-radar hitters going later in Fantasy drafts but with similarly compelling raw hitting talents. Stay tuned for more, when we’ll identify just who some of those late hitting targets might be … find the POWA.
 

Appendix: Methodology

The methodology used to calculate POWA is eerily similar to ACES — that is, it relies on the use of z-scores across each incorporated statistic:

  • Z-scores are calculated across each statistic (e.g., strikeout rate, walk rate, average exit velocity, etc.) using the average and standard deviation from the full 2015-2019 player universe (minimum 500 PA)
  • Z-scores for each statistic are weighted by the determined weights mentioned above in the piece:
    • 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%
    • The weighted z-scores are then summed, resulting in a hitter’s POWA score
    • Percentiles are calculated within each season (e.g., Mike Trout’s 100th percentile POWA rank in 2019 is relative to 2019 hitters only)


Win Big With RotoBaller

Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:

More 2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice