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Blast Zone Launch Angle – Climbers and Fallers

In the introduction to Blast Zone Barrels (BZB), I determined the parameters for the metric based on barreled balls that result in home runs at the highest frequency. I ran correlations and concluded that while it certainly (and quite obviously) has a strong correlation to power, it also has a moderate correlation year over year. I also took a look at outliers over the last three seasons. While Part one covered the genesis of the metric, part two will expand the metric by looking at all batted balls hit within the Blast Zone launch angle band (23-35 degrees). It’s a similar concept to what my colleague, Dan Richards wrote over at Pitcher List last season. Give the article a read, it’s very intriguing. 

Part Two of this series will hopefully provide a little more value for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. First, a quick reminder of the parameters of a BZB. It’s a barreled ball hit between 23 degrees and 35 degrees of launch angle. But, what it ignores is the balls hit at those launch angles that do not qualify as a barrel. In other words, balls that are hit at ideal launch angles for home runs without the extremely high exit velocity. The table below displays the league-wide average exit velocity of all batted balls between 23 degrees and 35 degrees.



AVERAGE EXIT VELOCITY ON BALLS HIT WITHIN BLAST ZONE BARREL LAUNCH ANGLE (23 -25 DEGREES)

2017 (AVG EV) 2018 (AVG EV)

2019 (AVG EV)

90.6 MPH 90.9 MPH

91.3 MPH

As a whole, balls are being hit harder at ideal launch angles over the last three seasons. Part of that can be attributed to the juiced ball. It’s also likely that players are “swinging for the fences” more often which has increased power production but has attributed to the league-wide elevated strikeout rate. Knowing this, let’s look at some three-year trends. I set the parameters for at least 40 batted balls hit within the launch angle band of 23 and 35 degrees for each of the last three seasons. To be fair, I relaxed the qualifying threshold to 25 BBEs for a single season if a player qualified with 40+ BBE in the other two seasons. 

What trends would we expect in regards to average exit velocity on balls hit in this range based on age? Well, naturally, we would expect the trend for aging veterans to be declining, right? You also might expect younger hitters to improve their exit velocity. If that’s what you assumed, then you’d be correct. Shocker! Of the sample I conducted, the list featuring the largest fallers had an average age of 34.7. The List featuring the largest climbers were a hair younger than 30 at 29.7 years to be exact. Below is the list of climbers with over the last three seasons and their current age.

Average Exit Velocity of Balls Hit at Launch Angles Between 23 - 35 Degrees - Climbers

PlayerAge2017 (MPH)2018 (MPH)2019 (MPH)Diff (19-17)
Yoan Moncada2594.890.995.91.1
Starling Marte3187.092.796.89.8
Shin Soo Choo3791.394.995.84.5
Nick Castellanos2892.693.194.01.4
Nelson Cruz4096.397.399.93.6
Mike Trout2893.894.095.31.5
Kyle Seager3290.691.495.14.5
Kole Calhoun3290.891.993.42.6
Josh Bell2791.094.294.53.5
Eugenio Suarez2889.992.093.63.7
Anthony Rendon3091.992.094.72.8
Alex Bregman2690.692.694.13.5
Christian Yelich2890.793.996.45.7
Didi Gregorius3087.288.892.45.2
D.J. LeMahieu3187.59295.58.0
Jason Jeyward3086.987.690.33.4
Kris Bryant2890.991.293.82.9
Matt Chapman2794.493.998.84.4
Xander Bogaerts2785.193.7948.9



A couple of quick points. Mike Trout continues to be the best player and baseball AND is still getting better! There isn’t much he can’t do. Nick Castellanos is my boy! I covered him extensively in Part 1 and love his new landing spot. He’s going to ball out in Cincy and is essentially a J.D. Martinez clone. I included Yoan Moncada because of his huge boost in exit velocity from 2018 to 2019. Was he hiding an injury in 2018? He smoked the ball in his debut back in 2017 but fell way back in 2018. Either way, he absolutely crushed the ball at all launch angles last year and is still just 25 years old. He’s my dark horse to win the AL MVP.

Can we talk about Nelson Cruz and Shin-Soo Choo for a second who appear to be defying the aging curve? Without these two old heads, the average age of the climbers falls to 28.7 which sounds more reasonable. Now, we all know Cruz is a monster and lights up the Statcast page but how has he gotten even better from age 37 to age 39? Averaging a tick under 100 mph within the blast zone launch angle puts him third behind only Joey Gallo and Miguel Sano (both averaged over 100 mph). If you’re expecting a decline from him this year, don’t. Only an injury or God forbid COVID could stop him from crushing in the shortened season. I bet you didn’t expect to see Choo here. On average, he actually hits the ball harder at ideal launch angles than Mike Trout! Think about that for a second. Given the short season, maybe move him up a few spots. He’s certainly is not finished just yet.


Let’s touch on a couple of other veterans who could be sleepers in 2020. Kyle Seager and Kole Calhoun have both steadily increased their exit velocity on ideal launch angles. Calhoun’s playing time could be spotty and news recently came out that he tested positive for COVID. At this point, he’s slight fade until we have more information. However, Seager should hit third or fourth in Seattle, albeit in an awful lineup. Even still, he should provide pop with decent run production. Did you notice Jason Heyward in the mix here? I almost fell asleep writing his name. His metrics aren’t great but he’s shown steady improvement over the last three years. He improved his walk rate and ISO last year and his defense should keep him in the lineup most days. Maybe he can put it together for two months in 2020?

Christian Yelich is just ridiculous. At age-28, he should continue to be an MVP candidate for the next three to five years. He’s my top pick going into the abbreviated 2020 season. Would you look at Alex Bregman? His barrel rate may be brutal and he scored poorly on my Blast Zone Barrels metric, but here we are. The reason he’s been so good in addition to his unbelievable plate discipline is this. He has improved on consistently hitting batted balls at ideal launch angles with authority. He doesn’t need to hit the ball 105 mph to hit a home run. I’m fading him less as a result of this research. 

The steady growth from Eugenio Suarez over the last four seasons has been fun to watch. He’s been successful in a similar manner to Bregman but without elite plate skills. Still, given his home park and this metric, I’d expect another great season from him. Josh Bell has arrived! He didn’t quite put it all together in 2019 but had an MVP-like first half. I’m a believer that he’s closer to the first half Bell than the 2018/second half Bell we saw. I’m buying and might jump him over an aging first baseman I’ll cover below.

Finally, can we talk about the elephant in the room? Starling Marte, WTF!?! His average exit velocity on balls hit between 23 and 35 degrees jumped nearly 10 mph from 2017! That was the year he was busted for PEDs. Hmmm? Unfortunately, his ground ball rate continues to hover around 50%. But, his career-best 18.5% HR/FB rate in 2019 was certainly justified. Even with some negative regression, Marte could still provide plenty of pop. Will Marte transform into a power hitter late into his career? It would require a launch angle adjustment but could certainly prolong his career as his speed declines. Xander Bogaerts’ presence on this list is largely due to a wrist injury in 2017 that sapped his power. He’s essentially been the same guy the last two seasons and at age-27, it doesn’t appear anything is going to change. Oh, hello there D.J. LeMahieu! The research I’ve done on D.J. points his results from 2019 being mostly sustainable. Bet against him if you will but he hits the ball as hard as Trout at ideal launch angles and has the short porch in right field.

Below is a graphical representation of the largest risers covered above.

Average Exit Velocity of Balls Hit at Launch Angles Between 23 - 35 Degrees - Fallers

PlayerAge2017 (MPH)2018 (MPH)2019 (MPH)Diff (19-17)
Daniel Murphy3591.088.485.9-5.1
Yuli Gurriel3689.689.788.4-1.2
Yadier Molina3793.391.290.3-3.0
Whit Merrifield3191.790.687.8-3.9
Paul Goldschmidt3297.393.493.3-4.0
Justin Smoak3394.894.093.0-1.8
Josh Reddick3388.589.286.9-1.6
Joey Votto3691.393.490.1-1.2
J.D. Martinez3296.396.094.3-2.0
Albert Pujols4092.493.690.3-2.1
Kurt Suzuki3693.891.186.7-7.1

This is a shorter list. I won’t spend too much time on these guys because many of them aren’t fantasy relevant outside of deeper formats. Kurt Suzuki had a nice run in his mid-30s, but he may just be cooked. Yadier Molina isn’t far behind. He may be able to contribute with moderate power this year but after 2020, I think his career is just about over. Same for Albert Pujols and potentially Joey Votto. Everyone knows about Pujols but the metrics on Votto are just as ugly. Even in the favorable home park, I will not be betting on bounceback. FREE KYLE TUCKER! It’s getting embarrassing with Josh Reddick and the Astros. He’s hardly a plus defender anymore and can’t hit with a 94 wRC+ and a .134 ISO last season. Come on Astros.

Daniel Murphy’s 2019 can be attributed to a finger injury, but even the metrics from 2018 are pretty scary. Coors Field could help but I’m not betting on a power resurgence. Then again, if health is on his side for the short season, I could envision Murphy putting together a fortunate .350 BA – 7 HR type season. Yuli Gurriel’s Statcast metrics have never been great and at age-36, his exit velocity is declining. He was unbelievably fortunate in 2019 and I’d be surprised if he hit more than seven homers in 2020. Justin Smoak is interesting. He’s 33 years old and has shown natural regression in terms of BZ launch angle exit velo. However, 93.0 mph is still well-above the league average. He’ll get a boost with the DH and with his new home park, so I wouldn’t give up on him just yet, just don’t expect much in 2021.


Now to the fantasy-relevant players. J.D. Martinez went from being elite to very good. Should we be concerned? He’s 32 years old and there’s some evidence of player’s declining at that age. The Red Sox are still stacked even without Mookie Betts, but that means fewer RBI opportunities. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Nick Castellanos was J.D. part two? Well, if the trend continues, Nicky C could outperform JDM in 2020. Bold or not? Paul Goldschmidt falls into a similar category as JDM. They are the same age and have shown signs of declining. Not only has Goldy’s BZ EV fallen quite significantly since 2017, but he’s also a full mile per hour lower on average than JDM. I absolutely hate Busch Stadium for home runs and will very likely dock him given this information. I mentioned Josh Bell earlier and could see Bell outpacing Goldy in 2020. To Bell’s dismay, his surrounding lineup is awful, so I think Goldy bests him in run production. That being said, I’ll take Bell in batting average and home runs.

Finally, there’s Whit Merrifield. The late bloomer who helped players win championships in 2017 and 2018. He came out of nowhere in his late twenties to hit 19 homers and steal 34 bags back in 2017. Then as an encore, hit 12 bombs and stole 45 bags with a .304 BA in 2018. In 2019, the average stayed and the power returned (somewhat to 16 HR) but his steals were cut in half. The trend in the table above is extremely worrisome. He was saved by the juiced ball last year but now at age-31, I don’t think his power will play. His sprint speed is still in the top 15 percentile but is clearly falling. Over a full 162, I’d be hard-pressed to project more than 10 homers and 20 steals. What does that mean over 60 games? How about 4 homers and 8 steals. Yikes. He’s teetering very close to contributing an empty batting average. I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s nearly undraftable in 2021.




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First Base Rankings for 2019

First Base Rankings for 2019

My first base rankings are listed below. At the bottom of the table, I’ll break down the rankings in terms of tiers and why players are in which tiers. These are standard 5×5 roto using batting average, but I will touch on some players who get a nice boost in OBP leagues because I think eventually, fantasy leagues will move in that direction. Also listed are player’s additional positions using 10 games played to be eligible. That includes Yahoo!’s ridiculous rule that a player needs only five starts or 10 games played to be eligible at a position. So, if you play in ESPN, CBS, or most other leagues, some of the multiple positions will not apply.

Rankings Updated 3/13/19.

First Base Rankings for 2019 (AVG/R/HR/RBI/SB)

Pos RankPlayerTeamPositions
1Freddie FreemanATL1B
2Paul GoldschmidtSTL1B
3Anthony RizzoCHC1B
4Joey VottoCIN1B
5Rhys HoskinsPHI1B/OF
6Cody BellingerLAD1B/OF
7Jose AbreuCWS1B
8Matt OlsonOAK1B
9Daniel MurphyCOL1B/2B
10Robinson CanoNYM1B/2B
11Joey GalloTEX1B/OF
12Jesus AguilarMIL1B
13Matt CarpenterSTL1B/3B/2B
14Max MuncyLAD1B/2B/3B
15Ryan BraunMIL1B/OF
16Edwin EncarnacionSEA1B/DH
17J.T. RealmutoMIAC/1B
18Eric HosmerSD1B
19Ian DesmondCOL1B/OF
20Jurickson ProfarOAK1B/2B/3B
21Yuli GurrielHOU1B/2B/3B
22Josh BellPIT1B
23Justin SmoakTOR1B
24Jose MartinezSTL1B/OF
25Trey ManciniBAL1B/OF
26Luke VoitNYY1B
27Jake BauersCLE1B/OF
28Brian AndersonMIA1B/OF
29Carlos SantanaCLE1B/3B
30Miguel CabreraDET1B
31Ryan O'HearnKC1B
32C.J. CronMIN1B
33Brandon BeltSF1B
34Kendrys MoralesTOR1B/DH
35Buster PoseySFC/1B
36Ryan ZimmermanWAS1B
37Marwin GonzalezMIN1B/2B/SS/OF
38Yonder AlonsoCWS1B
39Tyler WhiteHOU1B/DH
40Peter AlonsoNYM1B
41Miguel SanoMIN1B/3B
42Nate LoweTB1B
43Ronald GuzmanTEX1B
44Hunter DozierKC1B/3B
45Jay BruceSEA1B/OF
46Steve PearceBOS1B/OF
47Justin BourLAA1B
48Ryon HealySEA1B
49Mitch MorelandBOS1B
50Eric ThamesMIL1B/OF
51Albert PujolsLAA1B/DH

Tier 1 – Studs
Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt
That’s it. Typically, first base produces at least a handful of studs, but not in 2019. If you haven’t been paying attention, the first base position has gotten shallow. Even Paul Goldschmidt is past his prime and I anticipate a small decrease in production in 2019, yet he remains in the top two overall. Both of these hitters can go .300-30-100-100-8 with a little upside. That’s the reason they are here. Although neither Freddy or Goldy are in my top 10 overall and should probably not be drafted in the first round.

Tier 2 – Fourish-Cat Guys
Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Jose Abreu, Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson
All of these guys have a weakness in addition to lack of speed. Rizzo is no longer a 30+ HR guarantee he once was but his elite contact rates tell me he will provide a .280+ batting average. Has Votto begun a steep decline or can he bounce back at age 36? I think his power gets back to 20 and his elevated line drive rate should keep him near .300.  Abreu is solid and consistent but is similar to a cross between Rizzo and Votto. xStats shows that Abreu was unlucky in terms of BABIP, I am hopeful for a near 100% bounceback from Abreu in 2019. Hoskins and Olson won’t provide the batting average of the other three in this tier, but I like their abilities to hit over 30 homers with 100 RBI which is why they are in this tier.

Tier 3 – Really? This is Tier 3?
Goes from Daniel Murphy to Joey Gallo
Murphy gets a massive bump playing in Colorado. We all know about the boost in home runs but for Murphy, it’s more about the bump in BABIP. In 2018, Rockies hitters had a .334 BABIP at home. If Murphy is a .300 hitter outside of Coors, he has a shot to hit .325 with 20 homers in 2019. Cano is similar to Murphy just not in a location that greatly benefits him which is why I prefer Murphy over Cano. Again, both are eligible at 2B but 1B might actually be more shallow.

Tier 4 – Put me in Coach
This tier goes from Max Muncy to JT Realmuto

I like all of these players, I really do, but there are either playing time concerns or injury concerns here. You can discount Realmuto because no one is playing the top catcher at 1B. Of this group, I like Muncy the most. His plate discipline is fantastic and his barrel rates were top 5 in all of baseball. Check out my piece over at Pitcher List on how he was attacked in the 2nd half. Unfortunately, Muncy has the most question marks such as playing time, adjustments, etc. He will produce if he plays every day and he’s eligible at three positions, so that’s a bonus.

Tier 5 – Mixed Bag of Meh
This tier goes from Eric Hosmer to Justin Smoak

I’m not a huge fan of this tier outside of Jose Martinez, but that’s only if he gets traded to an AL team to be the full-time DH. If that happens, his profit potential jumps up quite a bit, that being said, he likely moves up a tier. Hosmer’s ADP has dropped over 100 spots from 2018, so he’s a decent bounce-back candidate. E5 is clearly on the decline and while he still has 30 homer power, he could also hit .230. I do like Profar because of his position eligibility and the move to Oakland is a lineup upgrade but a park downgrade. Don’t sleep on Smoak either, he’s basically E5 at a discount.

Tier 6 – Corner Infield Spot
This massive tier goes from Ryan O’Hearn to Ryan Zimmerman

If you are drafting one of these players as your starting 1B, then you’re doing it wrong unless you’re in a 30 team league. I’ll highlight Brandon Belt because he’s been killed by playing at AT&T Park. If he gets traded to a team with a neutral or favorable park, I will be moving him up 5-10 spots and be grabbing him everywhere. His hard contact metrics are fantastic. The other player with upside is Luke Voit, but the Yankees still feel like Greg Bird is good. Voit is a beast and could hit 30 homers in Yankee Stadium given a chance. Keep an eye on this situation during spring training.

Tier 7 – Intriguing Young Talent
Goes from Tyler White to Hunter Dozier

Peter Alonso and Nate Lowe and my two favorites from this group. Both should be called up at some point during 2019, hopefully by June. They are both just about ready and Alonso is a top prospect with maybe the most power upside of a Major League ready prospect right now. There will be some swing and miss and lower batting average but should hit 4th or 5th once he gets the call. Lowe has a much more well-balanced approach and can hit for average, take walks, and has above average power. Keep an eye on these guys during spring training.

Tier 8 – The Rest
Goes from Jay Bruce to Eric Thames

I suppose I could see a bounceback from Jay Bruce. If E5 gets moved, Bruce could see a full slate of at-bats between 1B, OF, and DH. He was hurt most of 2018 and if healthy can still reach the 30 homer mark. Keep an eye on Thames, if he gets moved to a situation where can DH and/or play most days, his power is massive. Hopefully, you aren’t having to grab one the guys in this tier, but at this point try for upside.

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Image Courtesy of Scott Cunningham