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Best Pitches from 2020

Who needs an introduction? This piece is simply about the best pitches from 2020. I looked at a number of factors when making these determinations including run value, whiff%, K%, xwOBA, and hard hit%. I’ll cover the four main pitch types: fourseam fastballs, changeups, sliders, and curveballs. Let’s start with the heater!

Best Fourseam Fastball from 2020 (Minimum 300 thrown) – Walker Buehler 

This one was extremely close between Walker Buehler and Freddy Peralta. So close in fact, that I deferred to run value per 100 pitches thrown. Here is the pertinent data.

Fourseam Fastball - Buehler vs Peralta

Pitcherrun_valuePitchesPitch%Whiff%K%xBAxSLGxwOBA
Buehler-1132353.826.134.30.1370.2160.218
Peralta-1032965.938.639.10.1690.2730.238



While Freddy generated more strikeouts via a better whiff%, Buehler induced more weak contact with a crazy-low xBA and xSLG. The tie-breaker for me was the run value. While extremely close, Buehler just edged out Peralta in this one. Buehler averaged 96.8 mph on his heater and didn’t give up a single home run and allowed just one barrel all season. Peralta on the other hand averaged just 93.0 mph which is insane considering how successful it’s been. He did allow one homer and three barrels, so that information justifies the choice of Buehler over Peralta.

Best Fourseam Fastball from 2020 (Minimum 500 thrown) – Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGOAT of course finished 2020 with the best fastball among starters with at least 500 thrown. He somehow added velocity (1.7 mph to be exact) from a year ago and this marks the fourth straight year he’s been able to improve his average fastball velocity. deGrom manages an insane 42.9% K-rate with his heater which would be a solid rate for a slider. His .186 batting average allowed was easily the best among starters with over 500 FB thrown, second best was Lucas Giolito with a .201 BA against. deGrom features three plus-plus pitches. His slider might be his third-best pitch and it manages a 45% whiff rate. His change earned a 40% K-rate and a .253 xwOBA. Even if deGrom loses a mph off his heater next year, he’s still my top SP for 2021.

 

Best Changeup from 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Devin Williams

Rookie sensation, Devin Williams provided unquestionably the best changeup in 2020. He threw it 227 times, generating a 61.2% K% with a mind-boggling 61.1% whiff rate. It allowed just an 0.032 batting average and ZERO extra-base hits. The expected metrics backed it up as well with a 0.110 xwOBA on just a 9.5% hard-hit rate. I would have loved to see what he could have done across a full 162. He was on pace for 150 strikeouts which would have ranked 55th among ALL pitchers in 2019. 




Best Changeup among starting pitchers (minimum 200 thrown) – Kenta Maeda

Of course, Luis Castillo and Lucas Giolito earn honorable mention but in my opinion, this award goes to Kenta Maeda

Maeda tossed 291 changeups this year and had the highest whiff% (45.6%) and K% (40.9%) among starting pitchers with at least 200 changeups thrown. Yeah, he was awesome but it makes Williams’ numbers above just seem impossible. Either way, Maeda’s change was great in 2020. It’s so successful because it induces so many swings outside the zone In 2020, batters chased 50.5% of the time, a career-high. When hitters actually made contact with the pitch, it was put on the ground over 2/3rds of the time and allowed just one barrel and zero homers all season. An unlikely champ but well deserving. Good luck getting him outside of the top-20 SPs next year.

 

Best Slider in 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Dinelson Lamet

“Dinelson Lamet and his equal opportunity Slider. This pitch does not discriminate based on batter handedness.”


Dinelson Lamet has this one in a runaway. He easily threw the most sliders in 2020 (559 thrown) which was 53.4% of the time. This pitch is straight nasty.  Hitter’s 47.4% whiff rate (5th) and 51.4% K% (1st) is insane considering Lamet only has two pitches. He’s allowed just three home runs against his slider since the start of 2019 with over 1,100 thrown. In 2020, Lamet allowed an xwOBA of just 0.175. This one was easy.

 

Best Slider other than the GOAT Lamet (Minimum 200 thrown) – Dylan Bundy

The Honorable Mention team includes Max Scherzer, Zach Plesac, and Luis Castillo (yes, my guy LC shows up again as he improved his slider in 2020). But, the award goes to comeback pitcher of the year, Dylan Bundy! In his first season out of Baltimore, Bundy found himself in a much better ballpark and a situation where he started throwing his best pitch more frequently. I’ve been a fan of Bundy for a while now,




The point of the Tweet is that his slider was great in 2018 and even better in 2019 by the metrics but based on Pitch Value, did not produce the same results. Trust the metrics! In 2020, Bundy threw 255 sliders and his K% of 50% matches his whiff rate. As great as his slider has been in the past, it still allowed a barrel% of around 5%. This year, he did not allow a single barrel against his slider. That led to an extremely impressive 0.162 xwOBA against. 

 

Best Curveball in 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber

Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber are essentially a virtual tie for the best curveball in 2020.

Curveball - Glasnow vs Bieber

PitcherPitchesBAWhiff%K%xSLGxwOBAHH%
Glasnow3350.1252.866.70.1980.15220
Bieber3250.09551.556.20.160.15535.3

First, let’s start with Tyler Glasnow. Wow, look at that strikeout rate! While his curve misses a ton of bats, it also induces weak contact when hitters actually make contact. The only reason it’s not the clear cut winner over Bieber’s curve is that Glasnow gave up a .277 SLG compared to a .143 SLG for Bieber. I included the xSLG for each pitch and that clearly shows that Glasnow was just a bit unlucky. He gave up three homers off his curve and while two were crushed, the other was hit at 97 mph and went 332 feet. The difference between Glasnow and Bieber’s curve is when Glasnow makes a mistake, it’s hit. Bieber has a deeper arsenal, so it’s more difficult to guess what’s coming. Glasnow has two pitches. Every once in awhile a hitter is going to guess right when Glasnow makes a mistake. The other advantage to Bieber’s curve is he buries it. See the GIF below. When hitters make contact, the average launch angle against his curve is -13 degrees! Those are worm burners. Glasnow’s while solid, is -4 degrees. Sure, Bieber gives up harder contact but if keeps it on the ground, it doesn’t matter.

via Gfycat

Now, let’s look at Shane Bieber’s breaker.

via Gfycat

I hope you enjoyed the GIFs!


AP Photo/John Bazemore)


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What To Do With 2020 BABIP Overachievers

Typically, at the midway point of the regular season, I cover BABIP outliers to buy and fade for the second half. However, since we only had a 60 game season, I’ll cover buys and fades for 2021. During the 2019 season, I wrote this piece and by in large, regression set in for most of these hitters in the second half.  Let’s apply that same thinking to these hitters for 2021. Keep in mind that the expected BABIP (xBABIP) I calculated below is descriptive, so it doesn’t mean the player’s past performance is what we should expect going forward. That being said, outliers are where there’s a much higher probability regression to set in. There are a number of factors that may not be covered in the xBABIP equation that I’ll touch on in the player blurbs below.

  • Sprint Speed
  • Shift and pull rates
  • Park Factors

Now let’s cover the BABIP overperformers from 2020. I’m going to stay away from fully analyzing Rockies’ hitters as they regularly show up on these overperformers list when discussing BABIP. Coors Field boosts BABIP by 30-35 points on average and xBABIP does not include Park Factors in it’s equation. So, we can somewhat ignore Ramiel Tapia, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and to some extent Nolan Arenado. But, more on him later.



2020 BABIP Overachievers

last_namefirst_namePlate ApperancesxBABIPBABIPxBABIP-BABIP
MullinsCedric1530.2580.350-0.092
TapiaRaimel2060.3050.392-0.087
VerdugoAlex2210.2940.371-0.077
MondesiAdalberto2330.2810.350-0.069
Bradley Jr.Jackie2170.2780.343-0.065
BohmAlec1800.3470.410-0.063
VazquezChristian1890.2830.341-0.058
SolanoDonovan2030.3430.396-0.053
PeraltaDavid2180.3190.361-0.042
ConfortoMichael2330.3710.412-0.041
CruzNelson2140.3190.360-0.041
AlbertoHanser2310.2760.314-0.038
AdamesWilly2050.3500.388-0.038
YastrzemskiMike2250.3330.370-0.037
BogaertsXander2250.2930.329-0.036
StoryTrevor2590.3210.354-0.033
WendleJoey1840.3050.338-0.033
ReyesFranmil2410.3230.355-0.032
SchoopJonathan1770.2850.316-0.031
WongKolten2080.2810.311-0.030
BlackmonCharlie2470.3170.347-0.030
McNeilJeff2090.3050.335-0.030
BrantleyMichael1870.3060.336-0.030

Cedric Mullins (OF – BAL)

Baltimore churned out some value especially late in the season with the addition of Ryan Mountacaste and to a lesser extent, Austin Hayes. Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins managed to quietly produce three homers and seven steals while hitting .270 in 153 plate appearances. However, he somehow managed a .350 BABIP with just a 31.7% hard-hit rate and an atrocious popup rate that was nearly double the league-average. Weak contact and popups appear to be Mullins’ MO early in his career. His defense could buy him some playing time, but I’m staying away from him as a sleeper in 2021.

Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS)

Verdugo has always been a high-contact hitter capable of carrying high batting averages. It was true in the minors and so far he has a .290 BA in 709 career plate appearances in the bigs. However, his xBABIP from 2020 was frighteningly low. His hard hit% declined from a year ago and his strikeout rate jumped by 7%. Typically, that combination doesn’t provide a higher batting average but for Verdugo, it did. Now, he does have one thing going for him, Fenway Park. Outside of Coors Field, Fenway allows the highest BABIP for hitters. Over the last three seasons, Fenway Park has allowed a BABIP of .327! I think it fair to say Verdugo is a strong candidate to outperform his xBABIP once again in 2021. I just wouldn’t expect a .300+ BA unless he cuts his K% below 15%.

Adalberto Mondesi (SS – KCR)

Mondesi went from an early-round bust to league winner in just two months. He’s certainly a flawed hitter but can provide fantasy gold in an era where steals are at a premium. I’d be lying if I told you I could predict where Mondesi’s BABIP will fall in 2021 but I can try! I have an issue with the .281 xBABIP spits out for him. His speed alone is an outlier that messes with the equation. In any season with over 200 PA, he hasn’t posted a BABIP below .335. He’s also improved his HH% and hit more grounders. Unfortunately, that came at the expense of line drives. In other words, his xBABIP docked him for a poor line drive rate. Line drive rates take forever to stabilize, so I’m not trusting the low mark from 2020. It’s, something to monitor but Mondesi seems safe for another .335ish BABIP in 2021.

Alec Bohm (3B – PHI)

Bohm’s rookie campaign went a bit under the radar. It’s probably because he only hit four homers and played in a Phillies team that really struggled. Obviously, a .410 BABIP is not sustainable (unless your TA), so that’s coming down. However, in the small sample, he still managed a very solid .347 xBABIP. I’ll be honest, I really like Bohm’s approach. He does everything well and he profiles as a high-BABIP hitter. If he can improve his launch angle, we are looking at a .280-.300 hitter with 25-30 HR pop. 

David Peralta (OF – ARI)

I think some people may look at Peralta’s .300 BA in 2020 and expect him to provide value there in 2021. It makes sense, he’s always been a solid BA source. But, I don’t see it that way. He’ll turn 34 next year and his quality of contact has faded the last two seasons. There’s no real upside here and he’s only attempted one steal over the last two seasons. A .270 BA with 12-15  HR and no speed feels like waiver wire fodder to me.


Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)

Did Conforto take a step forward in 2020? The simple answer is no. His barrel rate remained unchanged and his hard hit% dipped a little. He lowered his launch angle hitting more line drives and had a more all-fields approach but, come on. A .412 BABIP! Those pointing to his career sub-.300 BABIP is a bit lazy though. He dropped his pull% by 13%. That doesn’t seem like an accident. Of course, fewer pulled balls will result in fewer home runs. As a lefty though, fewer pulled pull balls with result in a higher BABIP as he’ll be able to beat the shifts. OK, so he wasn’t the same hitter in 2020. But, will he revert back, keep his changes, or fall somewhere in the middle? The latter is the most likely result. So, maybe we cant bank on 30 homers but I don’t think he’ll be a BA liability either. So, let’s say he goes .275 with 25 homers and 5-8 steals? Meh, his early ADP is around 70 so I think he’ll be over-drafted in 2021.

Nelson Cruz (OF – MIN)

Cruz goes against everything we know about aging curves. Expecting regression from a 40-year old seems obvious but we can’t simply just do that with Cruz. He’s a machine with an insane 57 homers over his last 173 games. He can’t do this forever, right? Well, there were some signs of decline. A slight dip in hard hit% and his K% increased for the second straight season. He’s always struggled against breaking balls and he took a step back against offspeed pitches as well. However, he still feasts on fastballs. His struggles against non-fastballs shows up in xBA which was his lowest in the Statcast era. There’s a real chance he strikes out 30% of the time and hits .250 with 25-30 homers next year. There’s also the possibility of hitting .300-40. For me, I’ll project .265-32.

Willy Adames (SS – TBR)

I was into Adames coming into 2020 as he was dirt-cheap in drafts. Given the depth at the shortstop position, it made sense. Adames doesn’t have great power or elite speed but coming into 2020 he was just 24 years old, showed progress in his quality of contact, and was locked in as SS for the Rays. Not much to lose at pick 300. While he did improve his barrel rate and hard-hit rate in 2020, his strikeouts went through the roof (36.1%). Strikeout rates seemed to be wonky for a lot of players in this shortened season, so I’m inclined to lean on the larger sample from 2019 in terms of K%.


However, his SwStr% and zone contact rates were atrocious. I think projecting him around his career mark of 29% seems reasonable for 2021. He’s been able to sustain moderate success despite elevated strikeout rates due to a .348 BABIP. We are talking about over 1100 plate appearances, so that’s a large enough sample to believe in his elevated BABIP profile. His Sweet spot% is very good as is his line drive rate. I do worry about his heavy-pull approach change this year but think that regresses some. If Adames isn’t going to use his 83rd percentile sprint speed to swipe bags, I think he’s just going to be a .240-.250 hitter with 20-25 homer pop. If he chips in 6-8 steals, he’s solid value. Early ADPs, per @SmadaPlaysFantasy has him going after pick 250 once again. This was a long-winded way of saying, Adames may once again be a nice value as your MI in 15 team formats.

Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)

I’ve never been a believer in McNeil’s power. He was being drafted right near D.J. LeMahieu coming into 2020 and while similar players, I didn’t get it. Here’s what I said after the 2019 season.

McNeil took a step back in terms of barrel% and average exit velocity in 2020 yet still hit .311. What’s odd is that his career xBA is .286 but his career BA is a fantastic .318. Maybe there’s something that isn’t captured in the xBA or xBABIP equation that McNeil excels at. While his metrics are poor, the one thing he does well is put the bat in the ball. He has a sub-20% whiff% against all pitch types. So, while I think he’ll maintain a solid BA, I’ll take the under on .311.

Now, to the power. He has more home runs than barrels since the start of 2019. Anyone projecting him for 20-25 homers in 2021 may be disappointed. 23 of his 27 homers over the last two years have come from the pull side. His pull% declined in 2020 and maybe there’s a rebound in 2021 but what will the ball look like? Without the juiced ball, McNeil profiles as a 12-15 homer hitter. Speed? Don’t count on it. He’s managed Just five steals in his last 185 games. Fortunately, his early ADP in is between 100-110. That seems about right. If his ADP creeps up inside of 90 overall as it was in 2020, i’ll be out.

I mentioned Nolan Arenado earlier and found it interesting that his that he didn’t show up on the underachievers list despite a lowly .241 BABIP. In fact, his xBABIP was slightly lower at .236, second lowest among qualified hitters! He was awful in 2020 but the shoulder likely had something to do with it. I’m expecting a bounce back but to 100%. There’s also the real possibility he’s moved at some point in 2021.


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2020 BABIP Outliers – What to Expect in 2021

Typically, at the midway point of the regular season, I cover BABIP outliers to buy and fade for the second half. However, since we only had a 60 game season, I’ll cover buys and fades for 2021. During the 2019 season, I wrote this piece and by in large, regression set in for most of these hitters in the second half.  Let’s apply that same thinking to the hitters below for 2021. Keep in mind that the expected BABIP (xBABIP) I calculated below is descriptive, so it doesn’t mean that’s what we should expect going forward. That being said, she’s outliers are where I expect regression sets in closer to the hitter’s actual skillset. There are a number of factors that may not be covered in the xBABIP equation that I’ll touch on in the player blurbs below including

  • Sprint Speed
  • Shift and pull rates
  • Park Factors





The table below includes a list of the largest underachievers in terms of BABIP aka the biggest gap between xBABIP minus BABIP. The minimum qualifications are 150 at-bats. You’ll notice a bunch of slow-footed left-handed batters with high pull rates. I wrote a piece last offseason covering the hitters who have been shifted on over 50% of the time and in many cases these players underperformed their xBA. Many of them you’ll see on this list below which can explain at least a portion of the difference between xBABIP and BABIP. In the cases of Matt Carpenter, Kole Calhoun, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Olson, and Max Kepler, they all qualify as pull-happy lefties with average to below-average speed. These hitters regularly show up on underperforming outlier lists so I wouldn’t necessarily expect much of a BABIP rebound as some of the others on this list. 

First I’ll touch on some elite hitters who showed up on the underachievers list. While not outliers, it’s encouraging to know that their production is very likely something they can maintain over the course of a full season. Fernando Tatis Jr., Corey Seager, Luke Voit, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Mookie Betts all underperformed their xBABIP by at least 0.030. Acuna, Betts, and Tatis are all top-5 picks next year, nothing changes for them. For Seager and Voit, I’ll be ranking both inside the top-50. Seager has a chance to hit .330 with 30 homers if healhy and Voit is a legit threat to hit 45+ homers whle hitting .275+. A few others to note include Alex Bregman, Franscisco Lindor, and George Springer. All were very unlucky in 2020. Bregman and Lindor were first round picks in 2020 but will both fall into the second round. I think both will be great values in 2021. I’ll be all over Springer in 2021. He’ll be 31 next year and has kind of been labeled as a boring veteran. I could see his ADP settle around 50 overall with some sexier options jumping him. His metrics look great and his strikeout rate has settled in below 20%. I’d peg him for a .280 BA with 35 homers.




BABIP Underachievers - 2020

PlayerPAxBABIPBABIPxBABIP-BABIP
Gregory Polanco1740.3290.1930.136
Christian Yelich2470.3650.2590.106
Nick Castellanos2420.3600.2570.103
Gary Sanchez1780.2610.1590.102
Kole Calhoun2280.3070.2110.096
Anthony Rizzo2430.3070.2180.089
Shohei Ohtani1750.3140.2290.085
Max Muncy2480.2850.2030.082
Cody Bellinger2430.3250.2450.080
Carlos Santana2550.2910.2120.079
Kyle Schwarber2240.2960.2190.077
Bryan Reynolds2080.3070.2310.076
Miguel Cabrera2310.3580.2830.075
Matt Olson2450.3000.2270.073
Joey Votto2230.3060.2350.071
Bryce Harper2440.3480.2790.069
Eduardo Escobar2220.3120.2440.068
Anthony Santander1650.3140.2480.066
Justin Upton1660.2830.2190.064
Matt Carpenter1690.3130.2500.063
Max Kepler1960.2980.2360.062

Gregory Polanco (OF – PIT)

What the hell happened to Polanco this year? He was mostly healthy but hit a dreadful .153 with a career-high 37.4% strikeout rate. He’s been riddled with injuries over the last four years missing over 200 games since the start 2017. Most recently, he dealt with offseason shoulder surgery before the 2020 season. Typically, a hitter will show poor quality of contact upon return from a shoulder injury, but not Polanco. He ended up with a career-best barrel rate and a hard-hit rate. He even managed a strong 30% line drive rate and cut his previously ugly popup%. He sold out for power, there’s no doubt but he clearly deserved better. I don’t know what to make of GP for 2021 because he’ll still be just 29 years old. He’s a lefty who was a victim of the shift and the strikeout rate concerns are real. If he cuts it below 30%, he could be a hit .250 with 25-30 homers. If he can’t fix his contact issues, he’ll see the bench or worse as he’ll be in the last year of his deal (club options in 22-23).

Chrsitian Yelich (OF – MIL)

You’re probably not surprised to see Yelich on this list. He still absolutely crushed the ball finishing in the top two percent in HH% and exit velocity. Let’s take a look at his exit velocity histogram.

The majority of his batted balls were hit over 95 mph with the two largest groups being between 100-105 and 105-110. That’s where an elite hitter wants to be. His issues were solely related to the strikeout rate. He finished with a 30.8% strikeout rate which was more than 10% worse than a year ago. He became extremely patient, to a fault. That boosted his walk rate but really got him into deep counts elevating his K%. He also struggled early in the season with a zone contact% under 75% but bounced back in September with a Z-Con% around 85-86%. I have virtually zero concerns with Yelich going into 2021 even if his strikeout rate settles in around 25%. Pep this, if Yelich would have had neutral luck with his BABIP given his expected stats, he would have hit .265. That’s w/ the ugly K% which I think comes down quite a bit. Easy buyback here.

Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN)

I made no reservations about my love for Castellanos going into 2020 especially given the move to Cincinnati. He got a massive park boost for power which came to fruition hitting 14 bombs in 60 games. That’s a 38 homer pace across 162 games or 11 more than his previous career-high. What I failed to consider is the BABIP drop he may see with a less expansive home outfield. His 2020 BABIP fell over 70 points below his career average. xBABIP still believes he’s a beast pegging him for a .360 xBABIP. I’m a little skeptical about him holding that mark and an elevated K% looms. That being said, I had him right around 50 overall in 2020 and nothing’s changed. He should still hit .275 with 35 homers and 100 RBI in 2021. 

 Gary Sanchez (C – NYY)

What are we going to do about Gary Sanchez next year? He had by far the lowest BABIP of any qualified hitter in 2020 to go with an atrocious 36% strikeout rate. We’ve seen suppressed BABIPs before from Sanchez but not like this. His batted ball distribution was BETTER than in 2019 but he did pull the ball over 50% of the time and was crushed by the shift (.218 wOBA vs the shift). Only one other time in his career has he had a BABIP this low over a 60 game stretch. That being said, he crushes the ball on contact, better than any catcher, by far. Because of his poor speed and results against the shift, he’ll likely never have another BABIP over .250 so he’s probably outside of the top-three catchers for 2021. It’s going to difficult to stomach a batting average at .200 for a full season.


Shohei Ohtani (DH – LAA)

Here’s the first player on this list who may have a massive discount. It also depends on how he’s used, whether or not he pitches, etc. Then there’s still Albert Pujols lingering for one more season. I think Ohtani was hurt this year. Before 2020, his career BABIP was .352. There’s no way that I buy Ohtani as a .200 hitter. His exit velo was down but I think that’s a product of an injury. He’s too good of an athlete in his prime to fall off that quickly. He was also suppressed a little by the shift which I don’t expect to change. He still plays in a great park for home runs to centerfield where he excels. I’ll hold firm that Ohtani is a top-50 hitter if he receives everyday at-bats.

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)

I don’t need to say much about Bellinger. His strikeout gains carried over from 2019 but he may have sacrificed some hard contact. There was also some weird stuff going on at the start of the season about him changing his swing. It made no sense and hurt his production early without a full season to recover. He’s also still running, pacing for 16 SBs across a full season which is right in line with his previous two seasons. He’s been healthy, missing only six games between 2017 and 2018. Still just 25 years old, he’ll be a top-12 pick for me in 2021.

Bryan Reynalds (OF – PIT)

Reynolds is going to be a completely forgotten man next year in drafts. He’s boring, plays for an awful team, and completely fell on his face in 2020. However, this is a guy who has never hit below .312 at any level including his rookie season in 2019 where he hit .314. He saw a jump of 6% in strikeout rate without much merit. His plate approach, chase%, and contact rates remained nearly identical from a year ago. He even boosted his barrel rate but also added more weakly hit balls. Overall, it seems like very little has changed from a year ago. The weakly hit balls are reflected in his xBABIP which at .307 is still about 70 points below his career-numbers. I think there’s a little bit of pop here and wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back with a .290 average and 20 homers with a handful of steals. Looks a little like Jeff McNeil just a lot cheaper.

Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)

So xBABIP thinks Harper should have hit .300 in 2020. So, with that being said, the soon to be 28 year old Harper would have hit .300 with 35 homers and 22 steals across a full season. Not so fast though. He’s another victim of the shift. He hasn’t outperformed his xBA since his 2017 season when he was only shifted on 21% of the time. His shift rates have been over 50% since then and continue to climb. Either way, Harper cut his K% significantly in the shortened season and is still in his prime. I’ll lock him in for a .275 BA, 35 HR, and 15+ steals. 

Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B – ARI)

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I might be in on Escobar next year. He was a complete fade for me coming into 2020. He went from being one of the luckiest hitter in terms of power in 2019 to one of the most unfortunate in 2020. Not only did he hit just four homers on nine barrels but his BABIP plummeted. I don’t think he will finish around .312 but something around a BABIP of .280 seems legit. He should once again hit in the middle of the DBacks lineup and provide solid run production. I think he’ll hit .260 with 20+ homers but will be drafted after pick 200.





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Analyzing Hitter’s Hard Hit Percentage With Whiff Rates

There are so many great metrics available at our fingertips when analyzing hitters. Certainly Barrel percentage is the best measure of a player’s power, O-Swing percentage or Chase rate is a measure of a hitter’s plate discipline. I could go on and on but while metrics like xwOBA attempt to be all-encompassing to a hitter’s value, I like to look at certain metrics in conjunction with other metrics to help draw conclusions about players. In this small sample season, not all metrics will stabilize. We cannot simply trust how a player performs this year and assume that’s his new baseline. 


The two metrics I’m looking at today are hard hit percentage and whiff rate. Hard hit% is simple. It’s the number of balls hit at or above 95 mph divided by the total number of batted balls. The league average is 34.8% this year. By itself, the metric is powerful. Just, take a look.

At under 95 mph, wOBA hovers around .200. Nothing special about that but also the harder or softer the ball is hit below 95 mph doesn’t really matter. So, obviously, we want players with a high hard hit%. The next metric I want to include is whiff rate (Whiff%). It’s simply the number of swings and misses divided by the number of swings. The league average is around 24.5%. While each of these metrics has a different denominator, together, they can tell an interesting story about a player. These metrics require approximately 80 batted balls for HH% and 100 PA for whiff% to stabilize. The league-average HH%-Whiff% in 2020 is 10.3%. Here’s the top-10 from 2019.


Hard Hit% Minus Whiff% - Top 10 2019

NameTeamHH%-Whiff%
Anthony RendonNationals34.50%
Mookie BettsRed Sox33.90%
DJ LeMahieuYankees33.50%
Justin TurnerDodgers26.90%
Michael BrantleyAstros26.70%
Rafael DeversRed Sox26.30%
Matt ChapmanAthletics26.20%
Mike TroutAngels26.10%
Tommy PhamRays25.80%
Francisco LindorIndians25.80%

Pretty good list, no? Of course, it includes Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, so that’s great. It also includes breakouts D.J. LeMahieu, Rafael Devers, and Matt Chapman. Let’s take a look at the largest surgers in 2020 among qualified hitters.

Hard Hit Minus Whiff% - Surgers

NameTeamHH-Wf% (2020)20192020-2019
Corey SeagerDodgers32.10%14.20%17.90%
Luke VoitYankees20.70%8.70%12.00%
Juan SotoNationals37.30%25.50%11.80%
Eloy JimenezWhite Sox28.50%17.30%11.20%
Mike TroutAngels35.10%26.10%9.00%
Freddie FreemanBraves28.50%19.80%8.70%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Blue Jays23.90%15.40%8.50%
Adam EatonNationals26.30%17.90%8.40%
Randal GrichukBlue Jays20.30%12.90%7.40%
Cesar HernandezIndians18.60%12.80%5.80%



Unsurprisingly, Corey Seager tops the surgers list. He’s very likely going to be a top contender for comeback player of the year. His hard hit% is an impressive 56.1% while carrying a league-average whiff rate. He currently leads the Majors in Barrel% and the only reason he’s not leading the league in homers is his launch angle. He hits a few too many ground balls, but I’m not going to complain if he continues to mash like he’s doing now.

An abdominal injury that occurred in late-July last year really hurt Luke Voit’s production down the stretch in 2019. Well, he’s healthy again and absolutely mashing. His Whiff% isn’t as bad as you’d think for a guy with a 25%+ strikeout rate at just 25.9%. If we remove his injury-riddled final two months of 2019, Voit has a .386 OBP and 47 homers across 712 plate appearances as a Yankee. This is what a healthy Voit looks like. That’ll do.

Juan Soto is tied with Fernando Tatis Jr. for the best HH-Whiff% in 2020. They are both just 21 years old! Along with Acuna, these are going to be the faces of MLB for the next decade-plus. As impressive as Soto was at age-20, he’s even better this year. At the plate, he’s the best comp to Mike Trout I’ve seen, in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms Trout next season and should be drafted as a top-5 hitter in fantasy leagues in 2021.

Speaking of young talent, enter Eloy Jimenez! He already has 42 home runs in 162 career games. The only thing he hasn’t shown yet is patience. AKA, the ability to take a walk. That seems to be a philosophy with the White Sox, especially with their young hitters. His improvements this year are solely with his hard hit% but his batted ball quality is elite. He’ll be another exciting young player to watch this decade.

The only thing keeping Mike Trout over Juan Soto is the fact that Trout is still getting better! It’s insane. He’s 29 years old, so at some point, he’s going to plateau/decline. But, 2020 is not that year. Trout is still the King.

Freddie Freeman may be having the best season of his career. He’s walking more, striking out less, and has a career-best OPS (1.016) this season. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see him perform for 162 games this year. I’d like to see a little more loft to boost those power numbers but I don’t think owners are complaining.


You may want to check in on impatient Vlad Gurrero Jr. owners to see if they are willing to part ways with him. Not every top-tier prospect becomes a star immediately despite the recent success of several phenoms mentioned in this article. He’s only seen slight improvements in ISO and wRC+ but a closer look into his underlying metrics shows major skills growth HH%, exit velocity, and BRL% despite hitting the ball on the ground more frequently. He’s also walking at a higher clip which is a good sign. He’s so close to breaking out. If he works this offseason to adjust his launch angle, I think we’ll see the .300-35 HR player we’ve all envisioned.

Adam Eaton is an odd name to this list. He’s hitting the ball surprisingly hard but they are all on the ground. He’s actually improved his HR/FB% which reflects his gains in terms of this metric but again, a 10% jump in ground ball rate kills any power gains he might have. He’s hitting a measly .215 but I think he’s extremely unlucky in terms of BABIP that sits a .252 (career-.332). I’m not buying Eaton and he’ll be 32 years old without ever really showing much power in the past.

Randal Grichuk’s gains this year are less related to quality of contact and more about making more contact. During his Cardinals career, he struck out 30% of the time. Since joining the Blue Jays, it dropped to a more respectable 26%. This year, however, he’s sitting at 21.5%. On the surface, it looks good. But, he’s still chasing pitches outside the zone at a similar clip and making the same amount of contact on pitches in the zone. That means he’s able to make contact on more ball outside the zone. So, he’s figured out a way to increase his plate coverage which explains his decrease in strikeout rate. Typically, contact on pitches outside the zone isn’t great for a hitter. That’s why I think his BABIP will regress. I think this is a positive sign for Grichuk but not sure how much I will trust him going into 2021.

Cesar Hernadez is definitely hitting the ball harder this year but it hasn’t shown up in his results. He’s pounding the ball into the ground. Even with his improved HH%, he still falls below league average. At age 30, I don’t think there’s much to see here.

Hard Hit% Minus Whiff% - Fallers

NameTeamHH-Wf% (2020)20192020-2019
Shin-Soo ChooRangers1.00%20.70%-19.70%
Yoan MoncadaWhite Sox1.10%18.50%-17.40%
Josh BellPirates6.70%22.90%-16.20%
Rafael DeversRed Sox10.30%26.30%-16.00%
Ryan McMahonRockies2.70%17.50%-14.80%
Anthony RendonAngels20.30%34.50%-14.20%
Marcus SemienAthletics8.20%20.50%-12.30%
Charlie BlackmonRockies9.00%21.20%-12.20%
Xander BogaertsRed Sox13.00%25.10%-12.10%
Starling Marte- - -3.70%14.60%-10.90%



Noooo, my beloved Shin-Soo Choo. At age-37 least year, Choo was a monster with a HH% in the 95th percentile. Despite his advancing age, he had improved his HH% for three straight seasons prior to 2020. He was due for regression, but, it’s not just HH%. He’s also whiffing about 4% more often. I hate to say it about one of the most underrated fantasy assets over the last decade, but it may be time to move on from the Choo Choo Train.

I’m disappointed to see my Dark Horse AL MVP Yoan Moncada on the decliners list. He’s never had a HH% or average exit velocities this low in his career. Personally, I think he’s hurt. Prior to August 12th, his HH% was over 40%. He then missed a game on 8/12 due to “nagging body aches.” Since then, his production has suffered. I can’t say for sure but I know a healthy Moncada would not be hitting the ball so poorly. I’ll be buying back in next season at a discount.

Josh Bell is having a miserable season after his 2019 breakout. His HH% is down a bit from last year but it’s still strong. It’s not the main culprit for his plummeting numbers. He’s simply struggling to make contact. It’s not just one pitch type either. His whiff% is up over 10% against all pitch types (fastballs, offspeed, and breaking balls) from a year ago. This will end up being a lost season for Bell. He’s still in his prime and hitting the ball with authority, so I could see him as a bounceback depending on the price in 2021.

Not even the backdrop of Coors Field can salvage Ryan McMahon’s batting average. He’s hitting just .214 with an xBA one point below the Mendoza Line. He’s been completely useless against breaking balls (0.183 xwOBA) with an insane 53.7% whiff% against the bendy pitches. His quality of contact is simply not good enough to maintain a 36% K-rate. I’m out on McMahon until he improves his contact.

Anthony Rendon showing up on the fallers list just shows how amazing he was last year. After topping the HH%-Whiff% list last season, he’s fallen some, but still in the top 80th percentile. We witnessed his best season in 2019 and now he’s just back to his baseline performance, which is still great. I don’t have any concerns here.


Speaking of one’s best season, Marcus Semien had his in 2019. He showed steady progress over the last several years only to fall back to a 2017 version of himself this year. He’s at a league-average whiff% but was 6% better than league average last year. It’s led to a jump in K% by nearly 8%. It’s not just the strikeouts either. He’s not hitting the ball hard. It doesn’t help that his surrounding cast isn’t playing like they did in 2019. I’m beginning to think 2019 will be the outlier in Semien’s career.

Charlie Blackmon is 34 years old. At this stage of his career, his power metrics are pedestrian at best. The only thing keeping him from being Jeff McNeil is Coors Field. (Psst, I’m not a believer in McNeil’s power despite the recent outburst). He hasn’t stolen bases since 2018 and now his power appears to be declining. He’s dangerously close to being an average/runs play in fantasy. I’ll be fading him next year.

Like many Red Sox hitters, Xander Bogaerts has struggled to match his success from 2019. However, his numbers are still very good. Other than a slight dip in HH% and a small increase to his K%, he’s essentially the same hitter as he was in 2019. Much like Devers, I’m not concerned at all.

After back to back 20 homer seasons, Starling Marte‘s power metrics look more like 2017 than the previous two seasons. I was really impressed with how he improved his exit velocity on fly balls last season but it’s just not there this year. With an average exit velocity of 90.6 mph, he’s in the bottom 25% of all qualified hitters. His number one asset is his speed but he’ll be 32 years old next month his value could slip significantly if he’s unable to provide a rebound in the power department next season.


(Getty Images)

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How Concerned Should We Be About Struggling Superstars?

This piece was inspired by a poll I held over the weekend on Twitter. I asked the question on Twitter regarding the slow starts for both Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger to get a feel for how fantasy owners were handling the stress of the extremely slow starts from their first-round picks.



Both players were no-doubt first-rounders with Yelich a consensus top-three while Bellinger fell somewhere between fourth and seventh overall. While just over half of the respondents aren’t worried at all, 35% are starting to get frustrated. Now, to be fair, we are just 21 days into the season and most teams have played between 17 and 19 games thus far. That’s like performing a full assessment of a player or your team in mid-April. It just doesn’t make sense. That being said, we are nearly 30% of the way through the season (for most teams)! Decisions must be made on the fly and adjustments need to happen now!

In this piece, I want to cover hitters off to slow starts who were top-end talents, AKA first or second-round selections. Before diving into the analysis, I wanted to cite a couple of pieces for two reasons. First off, the articles provide a ton of great information but also can help determine what we should be doing with players off to slow starts. The first is Rob Arthur’s piece which studied the drag on the 2020 ball. Conclusions are in! The ball has less drag than it did in 2019 and 2017.

It’s much closer to the ball we saw in 2018. I ran some numbers as well, looking at barrels per home run (BRL/HR%) and Blast Zone Barrels per Home Run (BZB/HR%), both were down significantly. We are currently well below the 2017 and 2019 levels and sitting between 2016 and 2018 levels. The crazy part is, we started in the dead of summer when balls fly farther, so our 2020 sample hasn’t factored in cold weather. 

With this information, we can reference Connor Kurcon’s piece from Six Man Rotation “Beneficiaries of the 2019 Dragless Baseball.” Save for Nick Castellanos, Kyle Seager, and Mike Yastrzemski, many of the players who benefited the most from the 2019 ball are struggling to start 2020. Now, since this is descriptive from 2019 data, changes in approach, exit velocity, and home park can attribute to how a player is performing relative to the information provided in Conor’s piece. Oh, and then there’s the sample size thing. Most statistics and metrics have not yet stabilized but metrics such as swing%, K%, exit velocity, and launch angle have. So, for this piece, let’s focus on those metrics.


All ADPs are from NFBC from 4/1/20 – 7/24/20

Christian Yelich (OF – MIL) – 2.05 ADP
.164 BA – 9 R – 4 HR – 9 RBI – 0 SB

Typically, the first round is about the floor but these players also have the highest ceilings. You’re not expecting this type of production from a player taken in the top three of nearly every draft. The first thing that jumps out to me is the ZERO in the stolen base category. The knee is a concern and it appears running may not be something Yelich will be doing this year. Bummer. The second thing that jumps out at me is his strikeout rate. He’s currently struck out 32.8% of the time. His career-worst K% in a full season is 20.7% in 2018. It’s odd because his chase rate as career-best 17.2% which backs his 14.1% walk rate. Yelich might be a little too passive to start 2020. He’s swinging at 10% fewer pitches but also seeing fewer pitches in the zone. That will happen to MVP-caliber players. 

His extreme passiveness doesn’t explain why his zone contact rate has dipped a whopping 20%! That’s my concern. I don’t think it’s an injury because his hard hit% and xwOBACON are very strong. Let’s take to the rolling average graph!

There’s some good news and some bad news here. In 2018, when Yelich won the MVP, he had three separate 15-game rolling averages where his wOBA was as low or lower than his current stretch. The good news is, they didn’t last long and he snapped out of it quickly. He’s also had two other stretches where his reach rates (O-Swing%) were as low as they currently are. The bad news is, those stretches coincided with fantastic results (spikes in wOBA). I’m concerned about Yelich but not a whole lot since his quality of contact is still great and his plate discipline is as good as ever. I think he’s a small tweak from busting out. I’d look to acquire him at 85 cents on the dollar.
Level of concern: 10% due to the lack of stolen base attempts

 

Cody Bellinger (1B, OF – LAD) – 4.08 ADP
.167 BA – 11 R – 2 HR – 6 RBI – 1 SB

Bellinger’s Roto line looks similar to Yelich’s but for different reasons. Bellinger made huge strides in terms of lowering his K% last year and he’s kept those gains this year. In fact, his strikeout rate is actually lower (14.3%) than it was last year./ That’s on top of cutting 7.5% from his K% between 2018 and 2019. He’s actually doing a great job of recognizing pitches in the zone. His swing% has gone up nearly five percent while his chase% is nearly identical to last season. Bellinger’s issues are not with zone recognition but with exit velocity.

His exit velocity and hard hit% are in the 18th and 14th percentile, respectively. Not good. His launch angle is the same as last year but that can be deceiving. Average launch angle does not tell the whole story. Let’s take a look at his 50 PA rolling average Sweet Spot% (balls hit between 8 and 32 degrees). 

He’s only been down this far once before and it was in his rookie year back in 2017. Limiting the percentage of balls hit in the Sweet spot range is going to limit his production on batted balls. Not surprisingly, his popup% is up over 5% this year as well. But, his ground ball% is also on the rise this year. That explains why his launch angle remains unchanged from a year ago. It’s difficult to hit the ball hard when your hitting popups and grounder at low launch angle but the lack of hard contact is concerning. Typically, it relates to an injury. But, his max exit velocity is decent at just under 110 mph which is right near where he’s been in the past. It’s possible he’s sacrificing hard contact for just plain contact which is why he’s hitting so many poorly hit balls. Either way, my concern for Bellinger is slightly higher than with Yelich because he could be masking a minor injury here.
Level of Concern: 25%



 

Rafael Devers (3B – BOS) – 23.09 ADP
.175 BA – 8 R – 2 HR – 3 RBI – 0 SB

Devers has missed the last couple of games with an ankle injury. Maybe that’s to blame for his slow start but I’m not buying it. He tweaked it on Sunday, so it doesn’t explain his poor performance to date. He’s nearly doubled his K%and is walking less compared to 2019. We have to remember, Devers is still just 23 years old and went from a league-average bat in 2018 to an MVP candidate in 2019. Regression back down a little should be expected. But, let’s try to figure out what’s wrong with the young third baseman. 

His hard hit% is down a massive 15% and he’s really been struggling against fastballs slugging just .259 against heaters. Contrast that with 2019 where he had a SLG of .545 against fastballs. Let’s check the two charts below. 

The first shows his in-zone swing and miss% by year. It’s not often you see a player with higher whiff rates on fastballs compared to offspeed or breaking balls, but that’s Devers. While his whiff% in the zone against offspeed pitches has increased by 10%, it’s up 14% against heaters! The second chart shows his average launch angle by pitch type. He’s pounding fastballs into the ground. So, not only is he making less contact against fastballs but he’s also been unsuccessful in elevating them. He’s not being pitched differently either. Most of the fastballs he’s seen are up in the zone or up and out of the zone. 

This looks like one of two things. Either he’s hiding a potential injury or he played a bit over his head last year. Either way, I’m concerned. The loss of Mookie Betts hurts this team’s productivity and word just got out that a humidor was installed at Fenway Park. Fenway was already one of the worst parks for home runs over the last three seasons. Devers and other Red Sox could see a power dip as a result. Additionally, he’s not running and now has a bum ankle. He’s known to go on some heaters but providing second-round value this year seems unlikely.
Level of Concern: 25% 

J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS) – 23.76 ADP
.222-7-1-4-0 (BA-R-HR-RBI-SB)

Martinez hasn’t changed his approach or batted ball distribution all that much. He’s essentially the same guy he’s been over the last several years but without much to show through the first three weeks. The difference is his hard contact. His barrel% is right in line where it’s been the last few seasons but his average exit velocity is way down. Like, bottom 35% down. This is a guy who has finished inside the top 10% in hard hit% each of the last five seasons. He’s also been in the top 10% in terms of exit velocity in four of the last five years. The only year he fell short was last season.


I wrote him up as a faller on my Blast Zone Barrels (BZB) article when looking at three-year trends. As average exit velocities have increased league-wide, Martinez is slipping. There are several reasons for this. First, his age. He’s 32 years old and while not a dinosaur, we don’t typically see players improve their exit velocity in their 30s. Second, his ground balls have been hit weakly (76.6 mph). That’s fine because he can’t do damage with grounders. His AVG EV on FB/LD is 93 mph is in the top half but not quite the JDM we are used to. Lastly, that damn humidor news. It’s going to suppress exit velocity and power.

I think he’ll bust out but not to the 2017 and 2018 levels we are used to seeing. The humidor scares me as well. I’m not buying JDM unless I can get him for 80 cents on the dollar.
Level of Concern: 20%

Anthony Rendon (3B – WSH) – 31.82 ADP
.174 BA – 10 R – 3 HR – 7 RBI – 0 SB

Rendon seems to be pressing. A star player in a new home off to a slow start. Sound familiar Bryce Harper? First, let’s focus on the positives. He’s walking more than he’s struck out (17 BB: 12 K). That’s nothing new for Rendon who has nearly as many strikeouts as walks since the start of 2018. However, he’s swinging less often this year. His chase% is at a career-low 12.6%, so that’s great but he’s dropped over 6% on his zone contact rate. Additionally, he’s hitting everything in the air but not necessarily in a good way. His launch angle is dangerously high at 28.6 degrees. His popup rate has almost doubled since 2019.

Since he’s ultra-passive, he’s getting fewer opportunities to do damage. Most of the time he’s miss-hitting the ball getting under it a little bit. He made an approach change in 2016 to get more loft and it’s done wonders to his production. I think he’s just working through early-season timing issues. Most pitchers have been ahead of the hitters with the lack of spring/summer training. Hitters haven’t quite had the reps they are used to seeing before the season starts. I’d look to acquire Rendon on the cheap but he did blast back to back homers this week, so you may not get much of a discount.
Level of Concern: 5%

Gleyber Torres (SS – NYY) – 28.66 ADP
.154 BA – 4 R – 1 HR – 2 RBI – 0 SB

To get Torres in a 15-team format, you needed to get him right at the end of the second round or at the turn in the third. So far, his hard hit% and K% are better than a year ago but he’s been unable to barrel many baseballs. Just one to date, in fact. His batted ball profile looks identical to a year ago, so what’s the problem? Well, he’s being fed a ton of breaking balls, nearly 10% more than in 2019. He’s done absolutely nothing with them slugging a scant .043 against the bendy pitches. While he was passable against breaking balls in 2019, the expected metrics painted a different picture. His xSLG was 70 points lower versus breaking balls and his xwOBA was .282.


I think this is the league adjusting to Torres. The book is out and he needs to adjust back. He’s only 23 years old and in a similar boat to Devers. There’s plenty of time for him to figure it out and I think he’ll be a star but in a 60-game season, we don’t have time to wait for changes to take shape. On the plus side, he’s chasing less often, so he’s not far from making the necessary adjustment. Like Devers, I certainly love him longterm but feel like he’s going fail on turning any type of profit in 2020.
Level of Concern: 20%


Photo by: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)



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Shift Happens – Everyone’s Doing It (Fantasy Baseball)

We hear a lot about defensive shifts in baseball today. Teams will find ways to get a competitive advantage any way they can (cough Astros cough) and defensive shifts are one of the most popular forms of gaining that edge in baseball today. There is a multitude of shifts, infield shifts, outfield shifts, and countless strategic defensive positioning. For today’s article, I want to focus on the most popular shift. The infield shift. In 2019, not only were there more shifts than ever before but the percentage of infield shifts doubled since 2017. Infield shifts occurred on 26.2% of all pitches in 2019. Consider back in 2015, infield shifts occurred on just 9.8% of all pitches thrown. But, do they really work? I’d hope so with the increasing popularity and any team’s urge to gain an advantage. 




In order to see if the shift works, I first looked at wOBA for all players against an infield shift and against a standard infield defense. I gathered the data from any player who was shifted against between 10% and 90% of their plate appearances to eliminate some very small sample sizes. As it turns out, 190 players managed a better wOBA against the shift than against a standard infield defensive alignment while 184 hitters performed worse in terms of wOBA against the shift. So, the results clearly did not prove that the shift works and is essentially inconclusive. End of article. Just kidding!

I dug a little deeper. Over the last three seasons, I looked at all the hitters who were shifted on in at least 50% of their plate appearances. I also looked at each of these player’s batting average minus expected batting average (BA-xBA) overall. After all, the infield shift is not necessarily designed to limit extra-base hits (or home runs, obviously). Extra base hits influence wOBA much more than singles and outs. The shift is used to turn base hits (largely singles) into outs. Since xBA doesn’t account for the shift, let’s see the results, then uncover the outliers.

2019 Hitters shifted over 50% of the time - BA-xBA

PlayerYearShift%BA-xBA
Joey Gallo201994.00.024
Chris Davis201986.4-0.027
Matt Carpenter201985.9-0.003
Matt Olson201985.4-0.009
Jay Bruce201985.2-0.027
Curtis Granderson201983.4-0.033
Mitch Moreland201982.2-0.005
Cody Bellinger201981.1-0.019
Kole Calhoun201980.9-0.015
Brandon Belt201980.2-0.011
Kyle Seager201979.7-0.025
Justin Smoak201976.8-0.042
Max Kepler201973.6-0.010
Eric Thames201973.50.021
Max Muncy201973.4-0.018
Rougned Odor201973.0-0.024
Cavan Biggio201972.7-0.006
Yonder Alonso201972.7-0.033
Brian McCann201971.90.008
Rhys Hoskins201971.30.005
Jake Lamb201970.6-0.036
Matt Adams201969.6-0.001
Anthony Rizzo201968.9-0.007
Hunter Renfroe201968.7-0.002
Eddie Rosario201967.90.007
Brandon Lowe201967.40.026
Daniel Vogelbach201967.0-0.020
Joc Pederson201966.9-0.005
Kyle Schwarber201966.0-0.017
Christin Stewart201966.0-0.009
Matt Joyce201965.80.024
Freddie Freeman201965.10.003
Jackie Bradley Jr.201964.3-0.017
Mike Zunino201964.3-0.029
Willie Calhoun201963.40.001
Gary Sanchez201963.1-0.015
Stephen Vogt201962.30.009
Rowdy Tellez201962.0-0.024
Dexter Fowler201960.9-0.013
Didi Gregorius201960.4-0.009
Carlos Santana201959.70.013
Yasmani Grandal201959.00.006
Bryce Harper201958.7-0.019
Todd Frazier201958.50.011
Brian Dozier201957.9-0.002
Charlie Blackmon201956.70.020
Jose Ramirez201955.1-0.019
Neil Walker201955.1-0.010
Billy McKinney201955-0.014
Ji-Man Choi201954.7-0.002
Kendrys Morales201954.6-0.079
Shin-Soo Choo201954.50.005
Asdrubal Cabrera201954.50.019
Jason Kipnis201954.5-0.016
Josh Naylor201954.50.008
Yordan Alvarez201954.30.024
Kris Bryant201954.10.036
Michael Conforto201954.0-0.005
Aaron Hicks201953.20.009
Jake Bauers201951.20.002
Derek Dietrich201951.0-0.037
Randal Grichuk201950.9-0.005
AVG (BA-xBA)-0.0071

Joey Gallo

Despite seeing the shift on nearly 95% of his plate appearances, Gallo’s batting average of .253 in 2019 was .024 above his xBA.  What did Joey Gallo do differently in 2019 that allowed him to outperform his expected batting average? He lowered his launch angle a bit but it was still over 20 degrees. He pulled over 50% of his batted balls, so it’s not as if he was altering his approach to beat the shift. I suppose we could point to his insane 26.4% barrels per batted ball event (BBE) which was about four percent better than his previous two seasons. That’s probably not enough to account for a major shift in BA-xBA though. In 2017 and 2018, his BA-xBA averaged -.020, yet in 2019 he outperformed his BA-xBA by .024. That’s a significant swing of .044. 

Let’s check Joey Gallo’s batted ball profile in 2017

compared to 2019

Aside from putting fewer balls in play (BIP) due to an injury in 2019, Gallo appeared to have an even more significant pull-heavy approach in 2019. In 2017, his balls hit to the outfield were more evenly dispersed. This doesn’t explain the improvements in his BA-xBA. However, if we isolate his weakly hit batted balls and bunts, we see a significant difference between BA and xBA. Take a look at the left side of the infield. Gallo bunted four times in 2019 and reached on three of them. He also hit three weakly hit ground balls (<75 mph) to the left side of the infield. He reached on two of them. That’s six hits on eight balls in play. But, xBA expected only one of those BIP to end up as a hit. That’s a difference of five hits. It doesn’t sound like much except when you consider Gallo had just 61 hits in all of 2019. If we drop him to 56, his batting average falls to .232 and much closer to his xBA of .229. The question is whether or not Gallo will continue to take advantage of aggressive shifts against him. It could make the difference between Gallo finishing as a .210 hitter or a .250 hitter. Below is a scenario where Gallo successfully bunted against an extreme shift.


 

Matt Carpenter

Defenses have always heavily shifted Carpenter and for good reason. Since the 2016 season, Carp’s pulled over 75% of his ground balls topping out at a whopping 81.3% in 2019. In fact, his pulled ground ball percentage has risen every year since 2014. That’s a bad sign for an aging veteran. As a result, teams have increased the percentage of shifts against him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s shifted on over 90% of the time in 2020. In 2017 and 2018, his BA-xBA was consistent (-.015) but he nearly broke even in 2019. That’s in large part due to hitting .220 on grounders last season. This may be a good example of how pull-heavy left-handed batter without good speed earned such a high batting average on grounders.  Can he count this type of luck going forward? I wouldn’t bet on it. His speed is diminishing along with his hard contact%. I’d expect his BA on ground balls to fall below .200 making him a major batting average risk.

Jay Bruce

Poor Jay Bruce. He’s been a victim of the shift for a good portion of his career. Over the last two seasons, only Kyle Seager and Curtis Granderson managed a larger discrepancy between BA-xBA on ground balls (minimum 140 GB). Yes, he’s slow, pulls a high percentage of his batted balls, and hits from the left side. A prime candidate for the shift, no doubt.

He’s interesting though because he’s attempting to beat the shift by going over it. His 54.1% fly-ball rate ranked number one in baseball among players with at least 300 plate appearances (per FanGraphs). The good news is Bruce managed an impressive 13.4% barrels per batted ball event in 2019. The bad news, his popup rate shot up to 13%, nearly double the league-average. Unfortunately for Bruce owners, he’s going to be in a reserve role with the Phillies limiting his opportunities. If an injury, God forbid, to Rhys Hoskins or someone in the outfield, Bruce is a dark horse candidate to hit 15-20 homers in an abbreviated season. NOTE: Add in the wrinkle with the potential universal DH and Bruce could fall into additional playing time making him a DEEP league power option.

Kyle Seager

I think it’s safe to say, opposing defenses have figured out how to deploy the shift against Kyle Seager. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit just .158 on ground balls (league-average is .236). What’s more, he managed just .070 on pulled ground balls last season. Similar to Jay Bruce, Seager is another slow-footed left-handed hitter who is heavily shifted against. He’s very likely going to continue to underperform his xBA going forward.

Rougned Odor

Rougned Odor seemed to beat the shift in 2018 outperforming his xBA by .006. It wasn’t much but compared to 2017 (-.028) and 2019 (-.024), that’s a win. In 2018, he may have been fortunate but in 2019 he was a different hitter. Did he deserve better despite the shift? A quick glance at his Baseball Savant page shows some impressive batted ball metrics. His average exit velocity (EV) of 89.4 mph was top 16% while his barrels per batted ball event (BRL%) was in the top eight percent. While his strikeout rate went through the roof, there’s a reason for optimism as both those batted ball metrics are by far the best of his career. 

Back to the shift. Yeah, he was killed by it with just a .287 wOBA when shifted on compared to a .343 wOBA with standard defensive alignment. Odor is actually pulling a fewer percentage of his ground balls than in years past, so why is the shift hurting him more? Well, fewer than seven percent of his ground balls were hit to the left side of the infield and over one-third up the middle.

As you can see, defenses are still bringing three fielders to the right side of the infield and shading the defender on the left side up the middle. Then, there’s the blue dot right on the infield grass near third base. This positioning is likely to take away a bunt attempt from Odor but opens up the middle. Opposing defenses are going to have to decide between taking away the single up the middle or taking away a bunt attempt. Odor is still a highly volatile hitter but he crushed the ball in 2019 so there is value given his ADP after pick 200.

Cavan Biggio

I have my concerns regarding Cavan Biggio‘s skill set for fantasy purposes. In OBP formats, I think he holds solid value but Biggio backers may want to pump the brakes a bit in standard formats. Baseball Savant shows Biggio as slightly unlucky based on this metric (BA-xBA) but let’s take a look under the hood to find out what’s going on here. He pulled 49.4% of all batted balls in his brief MLB debut but this approach matches what he’s done over the course of his minor-league career. Additionally, 90% of the ground balls he hit in 2019 were pulled (73%) or hit up the middle (17%). He took a major hit when defenses put the shift on with a .334 wOBA against the shift and a .375 wOBA without the shift. I expect Biggio will see an increase in shifts in 2020 based on this data. 


This is going to be a mini deep dive, not because I’m anti-Biggio but because he’s so intriguing. The uber-patient Biggio managed a near-elite 8.7% SwStr% which is about 2.5% better than league-average. But, his 26% whiff rate was nearly two percent worse than league-average. This is a good example of the difference between SwStr% and whiff%. SwStr% is swing-and-misses per pitch. Whiff% is swing-and-misses per swing. Because Biggio swings at so few pitches, his SwStr% is low. Will pitchers use his patience to exploit his weaknesses? After starting the count 0-1, Biggio managed just a .630 OPS. That’s not a death sentence by any means but it’s in the bottom 30% of the league after getting behind in the count. Once ahead in the count pitchers have their entire arsenal at their disposal.

I bring that up because Biggio struggled to produce damage against offspeed and breaking pitches with a 40.8% whiff% versus offspeed pitches and a 44% K-rate against breaking balls. Of course, adjustments will be made, but Biggio doesn’t possess the elite power required (104.6 mph maximum exit velocity) to consistently beat the shift. Combine that with his shortcomings against non-fastballs and I see issues for Biggio in 2020 unless adjustments are made. I love the speed component to his game but when at the plate, he may be too one dimensional to be extremely successful now that there’s a book out on him. I’m interested to see what if any changes are made from the young second baseman in year two.

Brandon Lowe

I discussed Brandon Lowe in a recent first-half BABIP outliers peace. Well, after a bloated BABIP in the first half he plummeted back to reality in the second half. He only managed 123 plate appearances in the final three months so who is the real Brandon Lowe? Without any prior MLB experience, teams shifted on him nearly 70% of the time. That’s not a good sign because the more of a book the league has on him, the more the advantage tilts to the defense. How did he fare against the shift? Not good. A mere .311 wOBA against the shift compared to a Trout-ian .441 wOBA against standard defensive alignment. 

Someone, please tell me how Lowe managed a .273 BABIP on ground balls with the above extreme profile? He does hit the ball hard and hard contact will result in hit more often than soft hit balls, we all know this. But, if Lowe’s BABIP on ground balls corrects itself to around .215, we could be looking at a .230 hitter.

Yordan Alvarez

Yordan Alvarez showcased his impressive power to all fields in 2019 His batted ball profile is very eclectic, to say the least. That being said, I would not be surprised to see his shift percentage jump significantly in 2020. Let’s take a look at his spray chart from 2019.

The batted ball distribution for balls hit beyond the infield is beautiful. But, let’s focus on those ground balls.  You can see a high volume of balls hit between first base and second base on the infield/shallow outfield. Now, he hits the ball extremely hard but doesn’t run well. I think defenses will be able to net a few more outs on these ground balls in 2020. There’s still a pocket of balls he hits on the infield to the left of second base but they cluster near the traditional shortstop position. This is consistent with his batted ball profile in the minors. 

Kris Bryant

This one makes me go hmm? 2019 was the first year that defenses shifted against Kris Bryant over 50% of the time. It did not appear to work. Outperforming his xBA is nothing new for KB. He’s done it every year since 2015 and typically by at least 20 points. With a .386 wOBA against the shift and a .374 wOBA against standard infield positioning, you could say the shift was useless. But, why? Bryant has a relatively low hard hit%, especially for a known slugger. Hitting the ball hard yields better results, this is obvious. But, take into account Tom Tango’s research on wOBA for balls hit weakly/strong at certain launch angles. Obviously, it’s better to hit the ball hard but between 12 and 20°, the difference in wOBA between strongly and weakly hit balls is much smaller. 

When isolating Bryant’s batted balls into a 10-20° Launch Angle bucket, we find something interesting. His batting average on those balls is 0.691 and .041 higher than his xBA. These are essentially line drives. Line drives typically are hit harder than other batted ball types. The league average exit velocity on balls hit within this launch angle bucket is 93.1 mph. Bryant’s average EV on these batted balls in 2019 was just 90.0 mph. So, these balls are traveling beyond the infielders but dropping in front of the outfielders. Let’s compare Bryant to a couple of hitters who hit the ball at similar exit velocities within this launch angle band and then some of the players who absolutely smoke the ball in this range. 

Player BA xBA BA – xBA EV (MPH) Dist (ft)
Yandy Diaz 0.605 0.717 -0.112 101.0 319
Matt Chapman 0.636 0.727 -0.091 101.4 294
Kris Bryant 0.691 0.650 0.041 90.0 220
Cavan Biggio 0.875 0.774 0.101 90.7 220
Christin Stewart 0.706 0.653 0.053 90.1 217

The two columns I want you to focus on first are the BA-xBA and the exit velocity. Typically, the harder a player hits the ball, the better the result. However, in this launch angle band (10-20 degrees), that’s not exactly the case. Check out the average distance in the far right column. A line drive that travels 220 feet falls into the shallow outfield. Whereas a line drive that travels 290-320 feet falls somewhere in the back half of the outfield, in other words, near a spot where an outfielder might be positioned. A 220-foot line drive will likely fall for a hit more often than a 300-foot line drive because of the positioning of the outfielders. I could do an entire article on this but batted balls in this launch angle range is one of the main reasons Bryant outperforms his expected batting average every year.

Follow me @FreezeStats. Check out my work at FantasyPros and Pitcher List.


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Misfit Prospects to Consider: 2020 Fantasy Baseball and Beyond

I’m not a prospect guy and I would never claim to be one. I have a ton of respect for those guys/girls and there are plenty of great prospect analysts out there. Much of the knowledge that I’ve gained regarding prospects is from said experts. I’m not sure how they do it. The amount of information available for prospects is not nearly the level we get from players in the majors. Plus, there’s about eight-times the payer pool. That’s a lot to keep track of. For me, I know the top prospects like most others but I like to dig a little deeper every once in a while. I’m in a number of keeper and dynasty leagues, so I need more than just the basic knowledge of the top-50 or so prospects. For this piece, I’ve decided to look at prospects ranked outside of the top 100 and in many cases outside of the top 200. Some of these players are old for their level, so they may get glossed over. Many of them don’t have a path to playing time in 2020 but could be ready if a spot opens due to an injury, trade, etc.

Here are the parameters for my search. First, I look for players in the upper-minors, AKA Double-A or Triple-A. Or, at least players who spent the majority of the season at those levels. I want a player who isn’t striking out a bunch. Pitchers at the Major League level are much better, bullpens are managed better. It’s all but a guarantee that a hitter will increase his strikeout rate when he arrives in the big leagues. At least for the first year or two. That threshold is fluid. I’d love to get a guy with a sub-15% K-rate but if he’s a masher, then a sub-20% rate will do. I also want a player with some patience because on-base percentage is valuable and can lead to more playing time. Preferably, I’m looking for a 10%+ walk rate. I also was a nice batted ball profile, not extreme one way or the other. A ground ball rate near 40%+/- five percent is ideal. Finally, they need to produce. I want a player much better than the rest of the players around him. That means a wRC+ of 125 or better. In other words, they were at least 25% better than the rest of the league. Sounds like these guys should be stars but they are misfits. Not young enough to be considered great prospects and if they are, they have flaws in their defensive game or elsewhere.


Mark Payton (OF – CIN) – 28 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .330/.398/.662, 30 HR, 6 SB, 424 PA, 10.4% BB, 16.7% K, 148 wRC+

Payton would have been a little more interesting if he was still with the Athletics. Stephen Piscotty is dealing with an injury and Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman will be manning the corner outfield slots. I could have seen Payton crack the MLB roster given the lack of depth in Oakland’s outfield, but I digress. The Reds, on the other hand, have far too many outfielders on the MLB roster as it currently stands. Aristides Aquino will likely start in the minors and the Reds will still be carrying at least five outfielders on the MLB roster. Payton will need a series of injuries and/or poor performance from having a shot in 2020. 

However, the park is a massive upgrade and Payton is coming off a 30-homer season in Triple-A with a 45:76 BB:K ratio. His swinging strike percentages have regularly been below 10% which is a great sign. He also changed his approach cutting his ground ball rate to 35%. Prior to last season, he’d been a little more ground ball-heavy at 45%. Additionally, his HR/FB% nearly doubled, which could have been a product of the Triple-A ball. Even still, a 148 wRC+ is impressive even if it did come in his age-27 season. He seems like a nice late-career breakout if given an opportunity a la Ryan Ludwick.

 

Jake Cronenworth (SS/P – SDP) – 26 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .334/.429/.520, 10 HR, 12 SB, 406 PA, 12.1% BB, 15.3% K, 147 wRC+

I’ve been eyeing Cronenworth since the end of 2018 when he was an older prospect in the Rays Double-A system. He had speed and low walk rates. But, he also pitched! Yes, he’s a two-way player and a pretty damn good athlete. You kind of have to be to play shortstop and pitch at this level. I’m not sure how the Padres will use him but he impressed the coaching staff in the two-plus weeks of spring training we had. Hopefully, he makes the roster and contributes. Shortstop is out of the question barring an injury but they are weak at second base and he’s athletic enough to play the outfield. I could see him as a super-utility option who, in rare instances, can throw an inning or two. He needs a little more loft in his swing if he wants to hit for power but his speed is well above average. If forced into everyday action, he’s definitely an Adam Eaton type of fantasy player. He’s patient with good contact skills mixing in some speed and power. He’s a nice glue guy in deeper formats, especially NL-Only. 

 

John Nogowski (OF – STL) – 27 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .295/.413/.467, 13 HR, 1 SB, 446 PA, 14.8% BB, 11.7% K, 120 wRC+

I bent my 125 wRC+ rule for this one. The numbers aren’t eye-popping but anyone who has the ability to walk more than they strikeout is interesting in my book. His BB/K rates over the last three seasons are 1.08, 1.95, and 1.28. Yup, this is nothing new. Over that span, his swinging strike rates have hovered at or under five percent. The only players to walk more times than they struck out in 2019 were Alex Bregman, Luis Arraez, and that’s it. Maybe Nogowski is more of the latter than the former but he’s also displayed a nice ground ball/fly ball mix throughout the minors. His ISO has risen steadily since 2017. He could be a late bloomer. A right-handed first baseman is not sought after on the major league market but he strikes me as a similar bat to Jose Martinez with a better strikeout rate. This is definitely a late-round sleeper in the deepest of formats who could hit .280 with 12-15 homers and carry more value in OBP formats.



Yermin Mercedes (C – CHW) – 27 years old, NR
Double/Triple-A Numbers: .313/.382/.559, 21 HR, 2 SB, 369 PA, 10.6% BB, 17.3% K, 153 wRC+

The White Sox just signed Yasmani Grandal to a four-year deal this offseason but he’s already 31 years old. His days of catching 130+ games may likely be coming to an end soon. Mercedes’ 153 wRC+ may not be a fluke as he continued to crush this spring hitting .381 with a 1.410 OPS. Unfortunately, the White Sox are stacked with DH-type players, so he’s likely the third option behind McCann and Grandal for 2020. McCann is a free agent at the end of this season, so it’s a perfect opportunity for the White Sox to see what Mercedes can do. 

 

Pavin Smith (1B – ARI) – 24 years old, 29th ranked prospect
Double-A: 11.6% BB, 12.0% K in 123 games 142 wRC+

Smith is most likely a year away from his MLB debut but could also earn a late-season call up if he impresses at Triple-A in 2020. He hasn’t shown the pop you’d expect from a first baseman and projects as above-average raw power. However, in his two-plus MiLB seasons, he’s walked 140 times against just 150 strikeouts. The impressive plate skills are reflected in his consistent 6.5% SwStr rate as well. He’s going to need to improve in the power department and maybe he’s on his way as he dropped his ground ball rate from 49% to 44% between 2018 and 2019. If he can develop into a 25+ homer hitter, he’s going to be a valuable batting average asset at first base come 2021. As a lefty, he could also be part of a strong-side platoon. Keep tabs on Smith as he’s pavin’ the way to become a MLB regular.

 

Trent Grisham (OF – SDP) – 23-year-old, 12th ranked prospect (Org), 50 future value (top 100)
Double/Triple-A Numbers: .300/.407/.512, 26 HR, 12 SB, 441 PA, 15.2% BB, 16.3% K, 166 wRC+

I might be cheating here because Grisham surpassed the minimum of 150 plate appearances to qualify as a prospect. He doesn’t excel in any skill but has a strong blend of above-average power and speed. Early on in his minor league career, he showed elite stolen base skills swiping 67 bags through his first 247 games of his minor league career. Since then, his speed and willingness to steal bases have declined but the power has developed. Across three levels in 2019 (AA, AAA, MLB), Grisham hit 32 home runs and stole 13 bases.

Maybe more impressive, he walked 87 times against 120 strikeouts. As a patient hitter, he showed impressive skills, spitting on pitches outside the zone and managing a SwStr% of just 8.1% in the Majors. Because of his patience, his walk rate should be north of 10% but he’ll get himself into a bunch of deep counts likely providing a strikeout rate around 25%. This approach will most likely lead to a batting average under .250 but he’ll be a valuable asset in OBP formats. The Padres acquired him to play nearly every day and he won’t have to compete against Franmil Reyes or Manuel Margot for playing time. We don’t know what the 2019 season will look like but I think he’ll play in at least 80% of the Padres games. To make projections easier, I’ll project him for 600 PA, so if the MLB season is shortened to 120 games (75% of a normal 162-game season), take 25% off the top. 

2020 Projection 600 PA: .245/.339/.445, 24 HR, 12 SB


 

Taylor Ward (3B/OF – LAA) – 26 years old, 15th ranked prospect (Org rank), 40 Future Value
Triple-A Numbers: .307/.429/.584, 26 HR, 11 SB, 104 G, 15.9% BB, 19.9% K, 146 wRC+

Another prospect that lost his eligibility last season, Ward was much more interesting before the Angels signed Anthony Rendon. Obviously, the Angels want to win now and Ward has struggled with a 34.9% strikeout rate in just under 200 major league plate appearances. It’s unfortunate because he obliterated Triple-A pitching last year to the tune of .306/.427/.584 with a 145 wRC+. In fact, here are his Double-A and Triple-A weighted runs created (wRC+) since 2017: 178, 160, 145. Maybe, he’s just a Quad-A player, especially now that he’s 26 years old. He’s not a great defender and hits from the right side, so he’s not all that appealing to other teams. He just needs a chance. Maybe he’ll be traded and get a shot for another AL team as a full-time DH. There’s value here if he earns playing time. He hasn’t had a minor league walk rate below 13.5% since the 2017 season. Additionally, he’s posted double-digit steals in each of the last two seasons. I don’t believe he’s more than a 5-7 stolen base guy in the bigs but at least he’s not a zero there either. 

 

Chas McCormick (OF – HOU) – 24 years old; 31st ranked prospect, 40 FV but with 50s across the board
Double-A: 12.4% BB, 15.1% K, 94 wRC+ Triple-A, 17.5% BB, 12.6% K, 141 wRC+ (90 mph AVG EV)

McCormick is probably my favorite prospect of this group of guys who haven’t debuted yet. He’s completely buried in the system given the depth in the outfield. Kyle Tucker can’t even find everyday at-bats with the Astros. As a 21st round pick, McCormick has a lot to prove. The numbers weren’t great at Triple-A in 2019 but he still managed a fantastic BB/K ratio. Additionally, he compiled 14 homers and 16 steals across 110 games across the Double and Triple-A. He posted strong exit velocity figures which would have been in the 70th percentile among qualified major leaguers. 

McCormick’s been pegged with a 55 raw power grade per FanGraphs Eric Longenhagen and his ground ball rate is steadily dropping. After two seasons in the 40-50% ground ball range, he dropped it to 35% in 2019. His SwStr% has sat below 9% in the upper-minors, so I think he can maintain a better than 20% strikeout rate in the majors. His above-average speed is a bonus. At a minimum, he can be a fringe starter in the league and isn’t a slouch defensively as he’s seen some run in centerfield as well, though he profiles as a corner outfielder. He won’t be interesting in 2020 if he remains on the Astros but could force his way into playing time in 2021 if he dominates Triple-A pitching. As a trade chip, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCormick put up several 10-10 type seasons with a 15-15 or 20-20 ceiling. 

 

Forrest Wall (OF – TOR), 24 years old 11th ranked prospect – Blue Jays
Double/Triple-A: 10.5% BB, 23.6% K, 60-grade speed, 126 wRC+

Yes, another talented prospect in the Blue Jays system. This one, to my knowledge, is not the son of a former major leaguer. He bats from the left side and is athletic enough to play centerfield. I’m not a fan of his strikeout rate but his SwStr% has dropped each of the last two stops at Double-A settling in at 9.4% in 2019. He hit 11 home runs and stole 14 bases in 125 games last year but his power seems to be on the rise. With his frame, he should be able to generate a little more power, so 15-20 HR is probably his ceiling. I’m more interested in his 60-grade speed. Prior to 2019, he was regularly stealing 20+ bags. As his approach continues to improve (walk rates have been on the rise), he may get more opportunities to run. The Blue Jays have a ton of depth in the outfield but outside of Lourdes Gurriel, no one seems to have staying power. Anthony Alford will likely receive one more chance to provide himself and Randall Grichuck (career 105 wRC+) and Teoscar Hernandez (career 106 wRC+) are far from roadblocks. Wall could impact fantasy rosters late in 2020 if he impresses at Triple-A but is more of a 2021 target.

Breyvic Valera (2B – SDP), 28 years old, 30th ranked prospect Padres System
54 walks/51 strikeouts across three levels including MLB; 15 HR, 10 SB across 124 games

How confident should the Padres be running Jurickson Profar and Brian Dozier out there as their primary second basemen? Profar struggled mightily last season and had trouble throwing to first base. Dozier seems like he’s about to call it a career. Enter, Valera. His prospect grades are bland across the board. None of his skills jump off the page and he showed essentially zero power until 2017 where he hit eight homers at Triple-A. His speed is middling which is reflected in his stolen base totals regularly settling in around 10-15 per season. Boring, I know, but he finally showed some promising power in 2019 with 15 home runs in 124 games. Combining mid-teens power with swinging strike rates that would be among the best in the league at least draws my interest. Here are his SwStr% among minor league stops with more than 200 PA: 2.6%, 2.4%, 2.9%, 3.0%, 3.6%. His limited MLB batted ball results are uninspiring but he’s shown well-above-average speed. He probably hits too many balls in the air to hit over .300 but a full season from Valera could yield .280, 12 HR and 10 SB.

Bonus Options

Luis Castro (MIL – 1B) 24 years old
High/Double-A: 27 homers, 15 steals across 126 games, 162 wRC+

Once again, another right-handed first baseman. Castro is likely a 2021 bet to reach the majors, especially with the delayed start to the season. He’s a good athlete who has played some third base in the past. He’s also a good base runner swiping double-digit bases with good success rates. Checking the Brewers depth chart, we see Justin Smoak and Ryan Braun manning first base. Neither is a long term solution. That could open the door for Castro in 2021 especially if he lays waste to Double-A pitching this year. He’ll need to keep his strikeouts in check as they have hovered just over 20%. He strikes me as a 25-30% guy early on in the majors but if he can blast 30+ homers, that’s okay. His power really took off last year and I’d like to see more improvement in 2020.

 

2020 Impact Power Bat

Kevin Cron (1B – ARI); 27 years old
Triple-A: 182 wRC+, 16.2% BB, 20.4% K in 82 Games

King Cron’s little bro has some massive power upside. He’s 6’-5”, 250 pounds and smoked 45 home runs in 123 games! Most of the damage was done in Triple-A, so let’s not get carried away. His approach in limited work at the major league level was awful. He chased far too many pitches outside the zone and as a result, carried a SwStr% over 20%. Not good. So, yeah, he doesn’t fit my criteria above, but Cron’s a 2020 impact bat. He’s certainly an aggressive hitter and will pile up his share of strikeouts. But, get this, of the 44 balls he put in play, he barreled 10 of them (22.7%). His launch angle was a solid 14.4 degrees and here’s what he can do if you throw 93 mph up in the zone. Christian Walker is his only roadblock. I love the power metrics Walker put up last year but he’s also a late bloomer with some swing and miss in his game. He’s far from a sure thing and I expect the DBacks to ride the hot hand as they are in win-now mode. 

ZIPS Projection: 480 PA, .248/.321/.515, 68 R, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 1 SB

Follow me @FreezeStats. Check out my work at FantasyPros and Pitcher List.


Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images


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Home Run Park Factors Part 2 – (Conversion to a Plus Metric, HRPF+)

In order to display my home run park factors in a way that is much more palatable for the readers, I’ve developed FreezeStats Park Factor for Home Runs (PFHR+) metric. It is used the same way other plus metrics are used such as ERA+ or wRC+. It measures how much better or worse a certain ballpark performs compared to the league average with 100 being average. We know if a player finishes the season with a 150 wRC+, he was 50% better than league average offensively. That’s the same premise behind my park factor metric. A park with a 150+ PFHR+ is 50% better than league average for home runs. 

All ballparks are not created equal, dimensions and irregularities within the same ballpark can vary quite a bit. So, I’ve broken the PFHR+ for each field or direction (Left-field, Center-field, right-field). The focus of directional park factors is important when evaluating a player’s tendencies and batted ball profile. It’s also interesting when looking at evaluating pitchers. I’ll analyze pitchers for my next article with respect to this metric in the next couple of weeks. For this article, I’ll cover nine hitters below who have changed teams. I’ll dive into the park change and what type of power output we can expect, both positive and negative based on the team/park change. 


First, I want to look at an example to help explain the park factors. Yankee Stadium is widely viewed as a great place to hit home runs. Part of this is true and part of it is not. It’s perception more than anything. The Yankees have some massive power bats including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. These guys are mashers regardless of where they hit. As you’ll see below, right-field is extremely favorable for home runs at Yankee Stadium. In fact, it’s ranked number one in all of baseball based on my PFHR+ when compared to all right fields! This explains much of Brett Gardner’s late-career success and Didi Gregorius’s 20+ home run power seasons. These left-handed hitters pulled a high percentage of their fly balls to take advantage of the short right-field dimensions. However, Yankee Stadium grades out slightly below-average for home runs to center and left field respectively. 

The slightly unfavorable left-field dimensions don’t hurt the right-handed sluggers on the Yankees because a 450-foot fly ball is a home run anywhere. It actually helps when looking at Aaron Judge. He’s been hitting more and more opposite-field fly balls, up to 49.5% and 48% each of the last two seasons. His HR/FB% on opposite-field fly balls last season was an incredible 37.8% which was significantly higher than his HR/FB% to centerfield. These Home Run Park Factors+ (HRPF+) bare this out. If you take a look at the table below, you can see that Yankee Stadium has a 146 HRPF+ to right field and just an 83 HRPF+ to centerfield. That means Yankee Stadium is 46% better than league average for home runs to right field but 17% below the league average for home runs to centerfield.

To give you an example of the criteria I’m looking at to determine these home run park factors, here’s a three-year snapshot of right field at Yankee Stadium (NYY) and Oracle Park (SFG), the best and worse parks for home runs to right field respectively.

Venue (Rightfield) HR/BRL% (LHB) Non-BRL HR (LHB) HR/BRL% (RHB) Non-BRL HR (RHB)
Yankee Stadium 88.7% 73 77.4% 52
Oracle Park 48.7% 24 15.3% 8
League Average 73.6% 40 49.7% 13

Based on this information, you can see that both left-handed batters and right-handed batters benefit at Yankee Stadium when hitting the ball to right field and the opposite is true at Oracle Park. This is true based on the percentage of barreled balls that become home runs (HR/BRL%) and based on the total number of non-barreled home runs at each venue. The numbers seem a bit confusing and difficult to digest when displayed like this. That’s why I’ve created HRPF+. If you’re interested in the more granular data, feel free to DM me on Twitter or write in the comments below and I’ll share the Google Sheet.


Introducting HRPF+ (Home Run Park Factors Plus)

Park/VenueTeamLF - HRPF+CF - HRPF+RF - HRPF+
Oriole ParkBAL121134100
Comerica ParkDET1042897
T-Mobile ParkSEA97106103
Yankee StadiumNYY9183146
Rogers CentreTOR110101102
Target FieldMIN978294
Minute Maid ParkHOU13673129
Oakland ColiseumOAK9910184
Angel StadiumLAA8214799
Nationals ParkWSH10212485
Kauffman StadiumKCR886677
Fenway ParkBOS966875
Chase FieldARI1066897
Petco ParkSDP11011291
Citizens Bank ParkPHI11591114
Globe Life ParkTEX91110121
Citi FieldNYM110107105
Guaranteed Rate FldCHW110107113
Coors FieldCOL109134113
Dodger StadiumLAD9815095
Busch StadiumSTL8010581
GABPCIN121132136
Marlins ParkMIA868091
Tropicana FieldTBR1028295
SunTrust ParkATL88100100
Miller ParkMIL91134117
Wrigley FieldCHC10510679
Oracle ParkSFG896557
Progressive FieldCLE87108112
PNC ParkPIT7810596

Notes: Columns are sortable! Data for Globe Life in Texas is no longer valid. A new park will be used in 2020. 

Mookie Betts (OF – LAD) formerly with the Red Sox

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Fenway Park (BOS) 96 68 75
Dodger Stadium (LAD) 98 150 95

I don’t think people realize how much of a boost Betts could see in terms of his power with the move the LA. It’s important to note that while the left field HRPF+ is essentially the same in each park they play differently. Fenway allows more non-barreled home runs to left field (61 HR to 38 HR) where Dodger Stadium has a higher HR/BRL% (74% to 67.2%). That’s the Green Monster at play. The barreled balls with low launch angles smack off the high wall but balls hit at high launch angles that don’t qualify as barrels sneak over the monster. Right field is also more favorable but Betts does not have good power to right field so I don’t expect a huge boost in power production there.

Enough about left field, let’s talk about where Betts is really going to benefit. He’s going from Fenway where the HRPF+ was 38% below league-average to Dodger Stadium that plays 51% better than league-average to CF! Let’s try to quantify this. Betts has increased his fly ball% to centerfield each of the last five years (36.8% to 42.1%). I fully expect Betts, who has an elite hit tool to take advantage of centerfield. His HR/FB% to centerfield over the last three seasons is about 50% below the league average. However, when looking at his average exit velocity and average fly ball distance on fly balls to center, he falls in the top 30% of the league. That’s Fenway Park holding him back. Based on this information, I’d expect Betts to finish with a better than league average HR/FB% to center in 2020. To give some context, I’d expect somewhere between four and six more home runs to centerfield in 2020. 

Anthony Rendon (3B – LAA) – formerly with the Washington Nationals

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Nationals Pk (WSH) 102 124 85
Angel Sta (LAA) 82 147 99

Nationals Park plays surprisingly well, especially for right-handed batters, so Rendon takes a hit there. He should see some benefits to center and right field though. His batted ball profile on fly balls is pretty evenly distributed. He hit 23 of his 34 home runs to left field in 2019 with a career-best HR/FB% on fly balls to left field. I expect that number to drop However, he improved his quality of contact on fly balls to center and right, respectively but didn’t see many gains in 2019. So while I expect Rendon to hit more home runs to center and right, it should even out with a decline in homers to left. Expecting a repeat of 34 home runs is probably not wise but 28-30 seems like it’ll be in the cards.


Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN) – formerly with the Detroit Tigers

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Comerica (DET) 104 28 97
GABP (CIN) 121 132 136

I think the baseball world went nuts when they saw this overlay I Tweeted out including Castellanos’ line drives and fly balls over the GABP. 


It’s absolutely nuts. Some people were counting as many as 30 additional home runs based on the overlay. Obviously, that’s not how this works, plus he’s only playing half his games in the GABP. But, going from Comerica that plays like the worst park for home runs to centerfield at 72% below-league average to a top-five park to center is going to do wonders. Castellanos hit 41.5% of his fly balls to center last year but it’s fluctuated over the years. In the final two months of 2019, he benefited from playing in Wrigley which has a 106 HRPF+ to center, so he already took advantage over the final two months of last season. His HR/FB% has consistently been just under 14% for his career and there’s no doubt in my mind, he crushes that rate within a new career-high. I won’t peg him for a 20% HR/FB rate but would probably project him for something around 18% in 2020. Using his 2019 fly ball total, that would bring him to 34 home runs. 

Marcell Ozuna (OF – ATL) – formerly with the St. Louis Cardinals

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Busch Stadium (STL) 80 105 81
Suntrust Park (ATL) 88 100 100

I just found out that SunTrust Park had a name change and is now Truist Park. The park remains unchanged otherwise in terms of dimensions, so the park factors should be accurate. Overall, Ozuna will receive a park upgrade but it’s not as drastic as some of the players above. Ozuna was a massive underperformer based on my earned home run (eHR) metric last year, so I think he’s due for some positive regression regardless of his location. The park change just reiterates this point. His 22.1% HR/FB rate last year was the second-highest of his career but his barrel rate, hard hit%, expected metrics, etc were by far the best of his career. The question is whether or not he can keep his elite batted ball metrics for 2020. If he can, he should hit 35-40 home runs across 600+ PA, otherwise, he’s still a safe bet for 30 home runs.


Mike Moustakas (2B, 3B – CIN) formerly with the Milwaukee Brewers

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Miller Park (MIL) 91 134 117
GABP (CIN) 121 132 136

While Miller Park in Milwaukee is favorable for home runs, Cincinnati is simply the best park in baseball for home runs, as I discussed with Nicky C. Unfortunately, Moose bats from the left side limiting his overall benefit from the park change. Leftfield in the GABP is 30% better than Miller Park and right field is almost 20% better. Believe it or not, the slugger has just seven opposite-field home runs in his career. Four of those seven came last season. He did improve his hard contact on fly balls to left field, so if I was a betting man, I’d expect Mosse to hit more than four homers to the opposite field in 2020. But, where Moustakas makes his money is on pulled fly balls. His HR/FB% on pulled FBs typically sits around 35% but I have a feeling, it’ll push 40% next year. I’m beginning to think that Moustakas can hit 40-45 home runs next year. In fact, I’ll throw down a bold prediction about Moose & Casteallnos totaling a combined 80 home runs in 2020. This is bold because even if I combine both player’s career-high home run totals, we come up with 65 home runs (38 for Mosse, 27 for Castellanos). Combining for 15 home runs above their career-bests is a long shot but I think they have a chance. 

Starling Marte (OF – ARI) – formerly with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
PNC Park (PIT) 78 105 96
Chase Field (ARI) 106 68 97

Chase Field had the humidor installed before the 2018 season, so I’m not 100% confident in the data. However, one thing is for sure, Marte’s power will benefit to left field and is going to take a hit to center. Unfortunately, he regularly pulls fly balls at a below-average clip. However, he crushes pulled fly balls and line drives to the tune of 97.7 mph over the last two seasons. Those exit velocities on LD/FB put him in company with teammate Josh Bell, Edwin Encarnacion, and Khris Davis. If Marte can modify his approach and pull more fly balls, he could reach a new career-high in home runs. But, with a total of 20 pulled home runs over the last two years and 18 home runs to center, Marte’s move may just be neutral if his approach remains unchanged.

Didi Gregorius (SS – PHI) – formerly with the New York Yankees

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Yankee Stadium (NYY) 91 83 146
Citizen’s Bank (PHI) 115 91 114

We can completely ignore left field when discussing Gregorius’ power. He has NEVER hit a home run to left field and has hit just nine homers to centerfield. Now, he goes from a park that played 46% better than league-average to right field to a park that’s 14% better than league-average. Now that Didi is more than a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery, I don’t have any doubts that he’ll enter 2020 healthy. Even in an abbreviated season, he was on pace for just under 30 home runs. The switch in his home park probably leads to three-four fewer home runs to right field. The difference to centerfield is about 3% in terms of a three-year HR/BRL%, so that’s relatively minimal. If Didi is a 25-homer hitter in New York, he’s a 22-homer guy in 2020 in Philly.

Avisail Garcia (OF – MIL) – formerly with the Tampa Bay Rays

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Tropicana (TBR) 102 82 95
Miller Park (MIL) 91 134 117

Let’s see, 11% worse to left field, 52% better the center, and 22% better to right. Is this not enough for you to buy into Garcia who reached 20 home runs for the first time in 2019? He actually earned 28 home runs based on eHR last year, so if he can maintain his impressive quality of contact, he’s a bargain in 2020. He’s notoriously a heavy ground ball hitter but as I highlighted in my potential power breakouts article on Pitcher List, Garcia has decreased his ground ball in four straight seasons. It’s interesting to note that Garcia doesn’t pull many of his fly balls. Will you look at that? Miller Park plays a little less favorably to left field. It’s almost as if the Brewers saw an advantage others didn’t. Nearly, 86% of his fly balls last year went to center or right field. Here’s the spray chart from last year overlayed at Miller Park.

Miller Park plays very favorable to LCF and RCF. I feel very strongly that Garcia improves significantly on his HR/FB% from 2019 and if given 550+ PA, he should hit 25 homers.



C.J. Cron (OF – DET) – formerly with the Minnesota Twins

Park (Team) LF HRPF+ CF HRPF+ RF HRF+
Target Field (MIN) 97 82 94
Comerica (DET) 104 28 97

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Cron’s move to Comerica Park is going to kill any power he has to centerfield. Not that Target Field was all that great for fly balls to centerfield but if you remember, Cron played for the Angels prior to 2018. We now know that Angels Stadium is a homer haven to centerfield. While Cron boosted his barrel rate and hard hit% in 2019, he’s trending in the wrong direction in terms of the percentage of pulled fly balls. His pulled FB% has dropped the last three seasons from 32.7% in 2017 to 24.2% last year. He’s going to want to adjust his approach back to the 2017 version of himself to take advantage of Comerica’s most favorable part of the park, left field. His range of outcomes in terms of home runs is huge. Fortunately, he should play every day because he’s basically the Tigers’ best hitter (at worst, second-best). If his pulled fly ball rate continues to drop and his fly-ball rate to center jumps to 40%, he could end up with a home run total in the low-20s. If he gets back to his pull-heavy approach, I could see him reach 30 home runs with the potential for even more.

If you prefer the color-coded version of the HRPF+, it’s below. Although, it’s not sortable like the table above.

Follow me @FreezeStats. Check out my work at FantasyPros and Pitcher List.





Photo Source : MLB and Lou Spirito