2019 At First Glance – Hitters to Target

If you haven’t been paying attention to the #2EarlyMocks run by Justin Mason, check out the updated spreadsheet by @Smada_bb with the results and average draft position (ADP). While opinions and influences will change these numbers come spring, it’s a solid base to start with. I’ll look at a few hitters that I’m favoring based on the early ADPs for 2019. I’ll mention my new statistic that looks at power (40-40-25), that’s 40% fly ball rate, 40% hard contact, and 25% pulled fly ball rate. I’m still working on refining it, but that’s the baseline for now.

Michael Conforto (NYM – OF) ADP 98
Conforto missed the end of the 2017 season with a devastating shoulder injury. Following offseason surgery, he was scheduled to miss at least the first month of the season. Instead, he came back just three games into the season and managed to play 151 games. His .243 average leaves a sour taste in some people’s mouth but the 27 homers look pretty sexy to me. Consider for a moment that Conforto came back at least three weeks too early from his offseason surgery and struggled to regain his power. That’s completely understandable given the circumstances. Looking at Conforto’s batted ball profile, we can see when and where things started to change. From April 5th through May 26th, Conforto’s hard contact was just 26.6%. From May 27th through the end of the season, his hard contact jumped to 39.4%. His infield fly rate was basically cut in half showing me that his shoulder was finally healthy as he was able to square balls up with regularity.

Conforto is a patient hitter who will take walks but also swing and miss some. I don’t expect a .300 average, but the quality of his contact should keep his average around .275 or .280. Conforto will turn just 26 right before the start of the 2019 season and I’m predicting a huge breakout for the Mets outfielder. I believe a 35 homer, 100 RBI season is well within reach. In OBP formats, he’s a top 50 pick thanks to his stellar 13% walk rate. Think Eugenio Suarez from 2018. Suarez’s numbers from 2018 is a very realistic line for Conforto when the 2019 season concludes. If Conforto’s ADP of 98 holds close to what the #2EarlyMocks are telling us, he should provide nice value on draft day.

Travis Shaw (MIL – 3B) ADP 106
Shaw just completed his second straight 30-homer season and he feels so under-the-radar to me. Shaw was taken just inside the top 100 last year and it feels like he’s going to be just outside the top 100 (106 currently) in 2019 thanks to a .240 batting average. Yes, that was a drag for owners this year but what was the culprit? Let’s see, he hit fewer line drives, fewer ground balls, and more fly balls. His contact rates were good, in fact, he cut down his swinging strike rate and increased his overall contact. Do you realize he had a 13.6% walk rate and an 18.6% strikeout rate in 2018? Those are fantastic! So, why did his BABIP drop from .312 in 2017 to an ugly .240 in 2018?

xStats does a very good job of categorizing batted ball types into six buckets and is more precise than FanGraphs’ three batted ball types. xStats shows that Shaw was hitting far too many popups, 24% compared to the league average of 18%. Clearly, that’s going to decrease a player’s batting average and BABIP. However, he was hitting a ton high drives which are where the homers come from but not enough low line drives which help with batting average. This explains some drop-off in batting average and BABIP, but not all of it. So maybe we can expect Shaw to have a BABIP closer to his career rate of .286. That should help Shaw raise his average at least 30 points next year to around the .270-range. Unfortunately, his stolen base total went from 10 down to just three, so we can’t count on more than a handful there. With Cain and Yelich living on-base in front of Shaw, I’d expect him to drive in another 100 runs as he did in 2017. Oh, and by the way, he gains 2B eligibility in 2019. BONUS

Aaron Hicks (NYY – OF) ADP 119
Here were the players with a higher walk rate than Aaron Hicks in 2018: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, and Carlos Santana. That’s it! Of that group, only Votto and Santana had a lower strikeout rate than Hicks’ 19.1%. He’s an on-base machine. Hicks is also one of 15 players to hit at least 25 home runs and steal at least 10 bases in 2018. It’s always been a matter of health and playing time for HIcks. With Brett Gardner’s declining athleticism due to his age, Hicks should see the majority of the work out in centerfield for the Yankees. He’s also a great candidate to hit in one of the top two spots in one of the Major Leagues most potent lineups.

What do you know, another hitter with a low BABIP following the 2018 season, catch the trend? A .264 BABIP led to a sub-.250 average for Hicks who doesn’t profile as a guy who should have such a below-average BABIP. His fly ball rate is just below 40% and possesses above-average speed. I wouldn’t put Hicks’ BABIP over .300 but somewhere around .280-.285 sounds about right. An average near .260-.265 won’t hurt you and with Hicks being a switch hitter, the majority of his plate appearances come from the left side, and that’s as good as gold for hitters at Yankee Stadium. Hicks might be a late bloomer but his barrel% has gone up each of the last two years. He’s done that while improving his plate discipline. With an O-Swing of 20.9% in 2018, Hicks ranked 7th in MLB one spot ahead of Matt Carpenter.

Can Hicks give us a 30-10 season in 2019? Well, we will have to wait and find out, but at pick near 120 overall, there’s very little risk given his numbers, park, and lineup.

A.J. Pollock (ARI – OF) ADP 75
I know, I know, another often injured outfielder. It’s difficult to quit a guy who is capable of hitting 25 to 30 homers and stealing 25 bases. Pollock is going to be 31 next year and he has played more than 140 games in a season just once in his career. That was back in that magical 2015 season where he hit .315 with 20 homers and 39 steals. MMMMM Sexy. Even with his age advancing, Pollock has still shown plenty of speed on the basepaths with 33 steals in his last 225 games between 2017 and 2018. What has impressed me, even more, is his improvement in the power department.

Pollock set a career-high HR/FB rate at 17.1% in 2018 and backed it up with a pretty remarkable 44.5% hard contact rate! Pollock is also crushing fly balls to the tune of a 50% hard contact rate and while he just falls short of my 40-40-25 mark discussed above (Pollock is at 38% FB – 44.5% Hard contact – 23% Pulled-FB), he’s damn close, which completely justifies his improved HR/FB rate. There is a downside, there always is, but in this case, it’s not a killer. He has been more aggressive swinging at more pitches outside the zone BUT still maintained an elite level 90.5% zone contact rate. Pollock might start to show his age in the speed department but a 6.7 SPD Score on FanGraphs has me cautiously optimistic that he could swipe 20 bags in a full season.

Pollock has changed his approach and might not see the .300 batting average he once peaked at but Pollock looks a lot like Hicks with a little less power and a little more speed. The injury history of both clearly are major issues so I would not pair them together, but grab one, hope for a healthy season, and reap the benefits.

Jonathan Villar (BAL – 2B, SS) ADP 127
I suspect Villar’s ADP will rise as the calendar turns over to 2019. The Adalberto Mondesi hype is out of control and I (among other fan-alyts) have been comparing Mondesi to Villar. Mondesi had a pretty remarkable run in the second half of 2018, there’s no doubt. The difference is, Villar has actually done it for an entire season back in 2016 and in the second half of 2018. Why is Mondesi going more than 50 picks ahead of Villar then? Both are on bad teams, so being conservative on the basepaths is less likely. Villar hits in a better park, so what gives? Fantasy baseball is ageist. Oh, except Villar is only 27? The Mondesi backers don’t really have a leg to stand on. I would only favor Mondesi by that significant margin in keeper and dynasty formats, but not in redrafts.

Enough about Mondesi, let’s do a quick dive into Villar. Who is the real Villar? The 2016 and 2nd half of 2018 guy or the 2017 and 1st half of 2018? Well, for S&G, let’s look at Villar’s average season over that span:

.265/.335/.410 11 HR, 40 SB, 65 R, 50 RBI

When you steal over 60 bags in a year, it will boost your average SB total. I wouldn’t be so quick to project 40 SBs from Villar in 2019 but he’s also slated to leadoff for the sad Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles will once again be one of the worst teams in baseball and have no reason to be conservative. In addition, those averages above come out to less than 500 plate appearances per season (485 PA/Season). I’m taking the over in 2019 for Villar in terms of plate appearances.

I don’t love Villar’s approach and I don’t think he’s a great ball player, but he will compile stats given the opportunity. Camden Yards is hitter friendly and I believe Villar has a floor of 10 HR and 25 SB. My projection for Villar will likely be closer to 15-35. So while owners are spending a 6th round pick in Mondesi, I’m waiting until the 10th or 11th round to grab Villar.

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