2019 At First Glance – Hitters to Target

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @FeeezeStats

Fantasy Baseball Weekly Rundown: 4/28 – 5/5

I don’t want to keep writing about Mookie Betts every week because we know how good he is and he continues to embarrass Major League pitching. I’m just kidding, I love writing about Mookie, he’s the Betts! Sorry about that, but his OPS is over 2.0 this past week, and on the season he leads the league in AVG, HR, Runs, ISO, wOBA, OPS, WAR, saving 3rd World Countries, etc. His batting average is higher than his BABIP, .363 BA with a .313 BABIP, LOL. So, yeah I “heart” you Mookie.

Meanwhile, A.J. Pollock is doing his thing with five dongs and two steals in the last week+. I actually believe he’s a damn good player and this is his talent level when healthy. The problem is, he’s almost never healthy. That being said, he is healthy and I’m not selling. You likely drafted him after guys like Starling Marte and Elvis Andrus and if he can stay healthy you are looking at a top 25 type season. Something in the vicinity of 30 home runs and 25 steals. HUMIDOR WHAT!

Kevin Pillar has got a nice power/speed stretch going with three homers and two steals this past week. Oh nice, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Pollock. A poor Pollock is that even a thing? I don’t even know and I’m half Polish. This is more or less a hot streak for Pillar. I’d pick him up for now, but I’m not buying him at this level for the rest of the season. He’s going to wear down and go back to his true talent level. That’s ok, the 6 steals could end up around 15-18 with 14-15 homers. That’s a solid forth or fifth OF, so, yes he should be owned in all 12-teamers.

Old Man Nick Markakis is doing something he hasn’t done since his days in Baltimore. He’s hitting .458 with three home runs in the last seven days and has six dingers on the year after only having eight in all of 2017. It took Markakis until August to hit his sixth homer in 2017. I checked his batted ball profile along with xStats, and if you’re wondering, no, this will not last. He has however improved his plate discipline and should be a good source of AVG and OBP (for those leagues) and should be hitting in a good spot in one of the most exciting lineups in the league. He still likely ends up around .285/.360 with 12-14 homers, no speed but probably around 85+ RBI.

Dee Gordon is hitting a crazy .630 with five steals over the last week and has taken over the league lead in steals with 14. This is what Dee does, he steals bases. Any concerns about slowing down went out the window but his .415 BABIP won’t last. Yeah, he’s a .340 BABIP guy. Ok, so he’s basically a .290 hitter with 55-60 steals. Oh, that’s exactly what I projected him for this offseason. Great!

Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor started slow this year and fantasy owners were worried. What are their numbers now?  Ramirez is hitting .293 with 9 HR and 3 steals and is walking more than he’s striking out; Lindor is hitting .283 with 7 HR and 5 steals. Sounds like they are both going to be just fine. Everyone relax.

Quick hit: Eugenio Suarez came back from a fractured thumb in like 3 weeks! How? I don’t know but It doesn’t matter, he’s killing it with 2 HR and 12 RBI in the last 7 days. He’s now got 4 HR, 20 RBI and hitting over .300 in only 16 games. He shouldn’t be available but I’m buying his breakout.

Kris Bryant and his dreamy blue eyes is 4 for his last 23. He does have a homer but to be honest, it was wind aided and was 2 rows deep at Wrigley. What’s interesting is that KB has reduced his strikeout rate and SwStr for the fourth straight year. That’s good but his FB% and launch angle are down. If you were expecting 40 HR from KB, you’re going to be disappointed. He’s more of a 25-30 HR hitter but he might hit .300, so that’s something, right?

This is the Cubs portion of the article; Javy Baez is hitting .200 in the last seven days with no homers. He has managed one steal so maybe he can weather these slumps by stealing bases. Doubtful, the Cubs are next to last in steals as a team. But he’s walking more, nope. I said this before, he had as many IBB as BB in 2017 because he hit in front of the pitcher. If he’s hitting higher in the order it’s good for his counting stats but bad for his OBP. Maddon has already moved him down after one bad week, so who knows what to expect. He’s still swinging out of the zone just as much and missing nearly the same as 2017. I’d be selling Baez and would have done it two weeks ago.

Paul DeJong is 3 for his last 16 with no homers,one run and no RBI in the last seven days. At least he’s but his K rate down to 31.7% though, right? This is the real Paul DeJong. The power is legit, but he’s going to have a lot more stretches like this one with a few hot streaks in between. They will very few and far between. I’m not buying DeJong, I’d be selling.

Rhys Hoskins was looking like a God among men through his first 70 or so games in the Majors. However, his line over the last week looks like this .083 with no homers, 1 R, 1 RBI, and an astonishing 11 strikeouts! This is just a slump, he’s still walking at just under 20%. If you thought Hoskins was going to turn into a .300 40 110 hitter in his first full season, then you will be disappointed. I think he could be that at his peak, but right now he hits too many fly balls to hit for a very high average. He’s more of a .260 hitter with 30+ homer power and great on base skills. I’d buy if someone is jumping ship.

Nick Kingham crowned as this week’s rundown pitcher of the week. I’m sorry, that was lame. Kingham ruled his opponents this week. I’ll let myself out.  2 starts with 16 Ks, 4 ER and 2 W this past week. Another Tommy John Surgery pitcher for the Pirates to ruin. His slider has been reinvented which means he’s got 3 plus pitches. He looks like the real deal. He’s not going to over power hitters but mixes in his secondary pitches very well. If it wasn’t for the 2-run jack by Domingo Santana in his last start, he’s would have completed another gem. I’m buying Kingham in all 12 team leagues and deeper.

Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole are my fifth and sixth best SPs right now. It’s way too late to buy Gerrit Cole but I believe in his stuff this year. The Pirates have got to be kicking themselves right now for not letting Cole use pine tar while pitching. LOL, I’m JK, right Tyler Bauer? Anyways, he’s got 77 strike out against 9 walks! He’s going to be very good this year but the high launch angle (18 degrees) and hard hit rate of 38% could create a few blowups in the future. Although when you strikeout everyone, does it matter? Sevy while not an dominant has given up an average launch angle of only 5.8 degrees and backs it up with a 52% ground ball rate. He’s got the safer floor than Cole by limiting home runs and keeping the ball on the ground.

Blake Snell’s like teen spirit is on a roll! I wrote that sleeper post back in December. He hasn’t given up more than 2 ER in a single start since his 2nd start of the season against the Yanks. He’s keeping his walks way down and finally missing bats like he was in the minors. You are witnessing Snell’s breakout and it Snells damn good! I’m buying him as a borderline top 30 SP. If an owner isn’t as fond of him, make an offer for him.

Sean Newcomb has put together a couple of very good starts. He’s kind of like Blake Snell back in 2017 but with more strikeout upside. He’s always had great stuff and high swing and miss numbers but his control has historically been bad. Well, he’s only walked 2 batters and struck out 16 in his last two starts. I like this kid and I’d be buying in 12 team and deeper leagues. His Zone% is up 3% so if he can keep the walks down, he’ll be very valuable. Expect some 4 IP 5 ER with 4 or 5 walk games but the good should out weight the bad.

Freezing Hurlers
David Price’s struggles hit a climax (and not in a good way) on Thursday night. He’s given up 12 ER and 19 base runners in his last 9 ⅓ innings. What’s up David? Do we need to get Dennis Eckersley to take trash about you again? I’m beginning to think Price’s best days are behind him. His average FB velocity is around 93 mph. Back when he was an ace, he was slinging it between 95 and 97 mph. His secondary offerings are just not that great. Without a dominant fastball you can see his K rate dropping and the walk rate is nearly up to 10%. I’d hold for now, he’s a good veteran pitcher. I want to see a few more starts and how he adjusts.

Carlos Carrasco serving up cookies to opposing batters in his last two starts. Tehehe. Carrasco’s skills all look to be intact. His velocity is fine, his walk rate is good, and his swings and misses are there, but the strikeouts are down (they will come back up). The only change is an increase in fly balls. His launch angle against is up 4 degrees from 2017. Maybe he gives up 2 more HRs than last year, so what. I’m not all that concerned, if a Carrasco owner is selling, I’m buying.

Jason Vargas and Chris Tillman can go back to being ignored in fantasy. Unless you’re stacking hitters against them. I wouldn’t be owning either of these guys or even streaming them. I’d actually be surprised if they are both pitching in the Majors in September this year.

Matt Harvey has been DFAed by the Mets as he refused to be sent to the minors. Wow, that escalated quickly. What a fall from grace for the Dark Knight. Back in 2015 his fastball averaged 96.7 mph and this year he averaged 92.6 mph. Here’s really the only other stat you need to know, in 2015 his xwOBA against was an incredible .255 and this year it’s .400! So basically, he turned every hitter into Alcides Escobar in 2015 and he’s turning everyone into Mike Trout now.