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Projecting Power Spikes Using Spring Stats (GO/AO)

Just before the start of the 2018 regular season, I did similar research looking at hitter’s ground out air out ratios (GO/AO). It spawned from an article Jeff Zimmerman wrote about which spring statistics have the highest correlation to the regular season. Most spring numbers don’t matter, but an increase in the percentage of balls a player is hitting in the air may signify an approach change. With an entire offseason for players to work on a change such as trying to elevate the ball more, could be important when trying to identify potential power spikes or breakouts. Last year, I wrote about Ozzie Albies, Brandon Nimmo, and Steven Duggar. So Albies was a great one and Nimmo wasn’t too bad either; I’ll take the “L” on Duggar. In addition to those three, guys like Jesus Aguilar, Kiké Hernandez, and Christian Villanueva showed up on this list; all ended up with career-highs in home runs. With a limited sample, I’m mostly looking at a minimum of 50 plate appearances and 35 balls in play for these players.

GO/AO Rates - Spring Training 2019

     
PlayerSpring GO/AOCareer GO/AOEst. Reg Season GB%Career GB%
Paul Goldschmidt0.261.1936.4%43.1%
Juan Soto0.711.0141.0%53.7%
Jose Abreu0.791.2642.0%45.6%
Brandon Nimmo0.351.2337.5%44.1%
Manuel Margot0.570.9339.7%42.6%
Kike Hernandez0.410.9038.0%40.4%
Jorge Soler0.73*1.1141.2%43.2%
Max Schrock0.76*1.02*40.5%42.5%
Garrett Hampson0.77*1.1441.8%*47.0%
*Minor League Statistics

Some players that just missed the cut who I am keeping an eye on include Clint Frazier (OF – NYY), Scott Kingery (2B – PHI), Billy McKinney (OF – TOR), Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX), Eric Sogard (2B – TOR), and Chad Pinder (OF – OAK)

Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL)
There’s not much more we can say about Goldy because he’s still a monster at the plate. His extreme fly ball approach this spring is interesting because he has never had a GO/AO ratio below 1.00 in any season. He’s almost literally hitting everything in the air this spring. Last year was his lowest ground ball rate at 38.6% but is regularly in the mid-40s. If he carries this approach to the regular season, he has a shot at his first 40-homer campaign. He might take a hit in batting average but an upside of .270-40-110 looks pretty nice.

Juan Soto (OF – WAS)
Well, this could be scary. At age-19 Soto had shown power to all fields but carried a low fly ball rate at 28.8% in 2018. This spring, It’s only been 59  plate appearances, but based on Jeff Zimmerman’s table from last year, that pegs Soto between a 43% and 44% ground ball rate. That’s potentially significant because his ground ball rate was all the way up at 53.7% last year. Now, his line drive rate was relatively low at 17.5%, so I’d expect to see that jump up to 20-22% given his profile. That would still leave a nice 5% bump in fly balls for Soto. The question remains, can he maintain a lofty HR/FB rate which was an impressive 24.7% in 2018?

Soto hits the majority of his fly balls to the opposite field. He was able to maintain a 19.6% HR/FB on those fly balls the other way which ranked seventh in all of baseball last year. Here are the names ahead of him: Aaron Judge, Jesus Aguilar, Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, and the aforementioned Paul Goldschmidt. I would say, that list depicts power hitters to a “T.” Soto’s 47.8% hard contact on those balls backs up the high home run rate to the opposite field. I was skeptical coming into the season about Soto due to a high HR/FB rate and elevated BABIP ticketed for regression (which I still believe), but I’m coming around on his power. I’m a little disappointed that I missed out on shares of Soto this year but I still think top 30 overall is just too pricey.

Jose Abreu (1B – CHW)
Is Abreu changing his approach? He’s given us a pretty good sample and he’s walked just once this spring and stuck out 12 times putting the ball in play a total of 51 times. He’s never been a patient hitter and it looks like he’s elevating the ball more as well with four homers and nine extra-base hits. Referencing Zimmerman’s data, Abreu would carry an approximate 42% GB rate compared to a career 45.6% GB%. Abreu is a notorious slow starter so it’ll be interesting to see if he can buck that trend this year with more fly balls. I’ll be watching Abreu early this year because he had some rough injuries in the second half last year curbing his production. If he can have a solid April, he could end up back around the top 30 overall with some nice value.

Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM)
Nimmo once again shows up on this list. After a 0.87 GO/AO ratio last spring, he ended up right around his career rate in the regular season of 1.35. Even with a similar GO/AO ratio, he managed a career-best 17 homers. This spring, Nimmo has really gone to the extreme hitting nearly everything in the air. The data says he should decrease his fly ball rate by nearly seven percent this year compared to last season. His power numbers aren’t off the charts with just two homers and six extra-base hits but he’s cut his strikeout rate and is hitting a solid .291. After a 2018 breakout of sorts with 53 extra base hits, it seems like Nimmo is making even more of an effort to elevate the ball this spring. I worry a little about his batting average given his patience and contact rates, but given his approach this spring we may be looking at 20-25 homers this year from Nimmo.

Manuel Margot (OF – SD)
Margot is once again putting balls in the air his spring. This approach has not worked out for him thus far in the majors and it resulted in just a 5.5% HR/FB rate in 2018. There’s hope here because while he improved his hard contact and decreased his soft contact last year, his home run rate was nearly cut in half. He was middle of the pack in terms of line drive/fly ball exit velocity last year, so there’s positive regression coming. Margot is still just 24 years old and I was invested in Margot heavily last year to my disappointment. However, Margot remains firm on putting the ball in the air this spring and it’s helped him hit .315 with three homers and eight XBH. The Padres have a crowded outfield, so Margot will need to earn his keep. I think the power should bounce back to the mid-teens given the opportunity. If he learns to be a better base stealer given his elite speed (96th percentile via BaseballSavant), there might finally be the breakout for Margot I’ve been hoping for.

Kike Hernandez (2B/SS/OF – LAD)
Hernandez mashed an impressive 21 home runs in 2018. I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, mostly due to lack of playing time. Hernandez has outright won the second base job for the Dodgers to start 2019. Given the depth of the roster, Hernandez will likely sit against tough righties given his splits. That being said, he can also play the outfield and should compile over 500 plate appearances in 2019. His improved contact rates have cut his strikeout rates each of the last three seasons. He’ll need to continue those high contact rates given his fly ball approach if he wants to remain in the lineup. I see a player that’s similar to Nimmo in Hernandez but without as much speed and more batting average risk. He’s still a great utility guy to roster as he’s eligible at multiple positions.

Jorge Soler (OF – KC)
Soler missed most of the season with an injury and has yet to accrue more than 405 PA or hit more than 12 homers in a single season. We know Soler has power, he mashed 24 homers in 2017 at Triple-A in just 74 games. He pulled that off with a 45% fly ball rate but it dipped to just 34% last year. If Soler can maintain his heavy fly ball approach, we might finally see the breakout we’ve been waiting for. He’s going to need to maintain an improved zone contact rate like he had last season and of course, requires a good bill of health. I’m sure he will struggle to maintain an average above .250 if he starts launching balls in the air at a 45% rate, but he went off the board after pick 300, so he’s basically free. If you’re in a 10 or 12 team league, he literally is free. He’s entering his age-27 season, so it could be now or never for Soler.

Max Schrock (2B – STL)
Schrock is an off-the-radar fantasy player who will start the year at Triple-A for the Cardinals. Schrock came over to the Cardinals from the Athletics and brings a contract-first approach. He’s never shown much power and has moderate speed but has never posted a strikeout rate above 9.2% at any level. Now, at age-24, he’s starting to modify his approach putting more balls in the air. Schrock previously hit ground balls over 50% of the time and looks to be elevated more the last couple of seasons and carried it into the spring. He’s a longshot to break out as he’s blocked at the moment by Kolten Wong but might be someone to keep an eye on if an injury occurs in the St. Louis infield. If Schrock unlocks some power with his high contact approach, he might just be useful in mixed formats later in the year.

Garrett Hampson (2B/SS – COL)
Hampson is currently locked into a battle for the second base job with Ryan McMahon. Both are having great springs and I smell a platoon a-brewin’. Unfortunately, the righty, Hampson would see fewer plate appearances if that is the case. Hampson has game-changing speed which is why fantasy owners are excited about him but his average to slightly below-average power could play up in Colorado. Typically, I’d expect an improvement on his power numbers from the minors but the Rockies’ minor league parks play up to power as well. Still, a jump in fly ball rate could make provide a few more home runs for Hampson over the course of the season. The range of outcomes is extremely large with Hampson. Over 600 PA, Hampson could hit 12 HR and steal 35 bases. Then again, in the short-side platoon, he may end up with a handful of HR and 15-18 SB. Given his potential approach change, I might set his HR ceiling at 15, so if you have room, go ahead and stash him if he’s on your waiver wire.

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Photo Credit:Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Top Waiver Wire Adds for the Stretch Run



We are approaching the end of July and playoffs in Head-to-Head leagues are just around the corner. Maybe you’re looking for an edge in your Rotisserie league to put you over the top. Either way, I’m taking a look at a collection of hitters and pitchers who may be available on your waiver wire. I’ll cover shallow and deep league adds to put you at an advantage over your league-mates. I’ll look at ownership rates based on FantasyPros.com ESPN/Yahoo combined.

Jesse Winker (CIN) – OF, 39% Owned
I absolutely love Winker’s approach. He’s walking more than he’s striking out and since June 1st no one in Major League Baseball has a higher OBP (.476). His .400 BABIP in that time frame is high, but when you consider his 53% hard contact rate combined with a near 35% line drive rate, it’s justifies an elevated rate. Winker doesn’t provide speed and I wish he’d hit the ball in the air more because a 32% fly ball rate isn’t going to yield more than 20 homers. Either way, he’s a great source of average/OBP, runs, and can provide some pop. Add in all leagues

Rougned Odor (TEX) – 2B, 45% Owned
If you left Odor for dead months ago, I don’t blame you. Early on, Odor somehow looked worse than his did in 2017. There was a time in May where Odor had an infield fly rate of over 35%! At that time, he also had a high quantity of weak ground balls, it was ugly. Since the start of June, he’s cut his IFFB% to a much more reasonable 10%. His hard contact has been sitting around 40% and his zone contact is up around 90%. The results are there as well, he’s hitting .300 with six home runs and seven steals since June 1. Odor is an add in all leagues right now. Add in all leagues

Ketel Marte (ARI) – SS, 22% Owned
Marte basically did nothing the first month and a half like most of the Diamondbacks, but has been solid since. Marte has improved on his O-Swing and currently has a very solid 92% zone contact rate. Since June 1st, Marte turned up the power with 8 HR, 2 steals and a .281 average. His walk rate has also improved and his 43% hard contact rate since the start of June is well above league average. Marte hits too many balls on the ground to have huge power upside but also has more speed than he’s displayed. I love players with high contact rates that have 15-20 HR upside. Grab him for solid average, 5-8 HR and a few steals. Add in 14-team and deeper leagues

Jake Bauers (TB) – 1B, 23% Owned
Bauers is another young hitter with elite plate discipline. These are my kind of players and he’s got above average speed for a first baseman. Bauers is similar to Winker because he squares up a lot balls with a 46% hard contact rate but a low 33% fly ball rate will cap his power. He does strike out a bit more than Winker but it’s still just about league average. Bauers possess above average speed which is rare for 1B eligible players. He profiles as a 15-20 HR hitter with around 10 steals and a .275-.280 average over a full season. He gets a bump in OBP leagues. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues; add in all OBP leagues



Jason Heyward (CHC) – OF, 33% Owned
Yes, I know, it’s Jay-Hey. He hasn’t been fantasy relevant for about 2.5 years and it’s not like he’s killing it this year with only six homers and one steal. However, his .284 average with a .351 OBP are at least helpful in all formats. Plus, he’s hitting .302 with four home runs since June 1. Joe Maddon has even began slotting him the two-hole at times which has boosted his run production. The last two seasons, Heyward averaged 114 runs+RBI, this year he already has 94 runs+RBI, on pace for 150. His strikeout rate is also down to a career low 10.7%, so he’s likely going to keep the batting average steady. He’s still not 12-team viable but in 15 team leagues, he can help in two-three categories. Add in 14-team and deeper leagues

Charlie Culberson (ATL) – SS, 3B, OF, 2% Owned
Culberson has basically been a utility player for the Braves this season managing only 188 plate appearances in 2018. The leg injury to Ozzie Albies has given Culberson the start at second base the last few days but he’s also been used at 3B and the outfield. As the Dog Days of summer start rolling in, Culberson could find a little bit more playing time. Since the start of June Culberson is hitting .303 with 4 homers and 2 steals in only 117 plate appearances. No one is rushing out to get him but if you need depth at MI, CI, or in the outfield in deeper leagues, he’s a good bench guy to grab. Add in deep 15-team and NL Only leagues

Garrett Hampson (COL) – 2B, 5% Owned
The Rockies prospect was called up last week after hitting 8 homers and compiling 33 steals across two levels in 2018. He’s filling in for the injured DJ LeMaheiu but could stay up if he performs well. Hampson has great speed and should continue running in the Majors. He managed to get 51 steals in High-A in 2017 so I wouldn’t be surprised if he swiped eight to ten bags if he remains up with the big club. Hampson is also not a zero in terms of power, especially in Colorado. I’d be very aggressive in adding Hampson in all leagues because of his intriguing upside but understand he could be sent back down in a couple weeks. I’d roll the dice. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues

Pitchers

Shane Bieber (CLE) - SP, 47% Owned
Bieber has been impressive in his short stint in the Majors thus far. He was sent back down during the All-Star break to continue to get work but has since been called back up. He’s been fantastic and has managed a 3.52 ERA with an outrageously inflated .362 BABIP. Bieber has given up a high percentage of hard contact, so a low HR/FB might jump up a bit. That might be OK if the BABIP regresses. Plus, he’s got above average O-Swing, SwStr rate, and contact rate compared to league average. His walk rate sits at a minuscule 4.4%, so free passes are not an issue. I love Bieber, and he’s my top add of this pitching group. Add in all leagues

Kevin Gausman (BAL) - SP, 42% Owned
Gausman continues to be inconsistent but he seems to pull things together in the second half. The timing of this isn't great after the beating by the Red Sox, but Gausman's peripherals look as good as ever. His swings outside the zone sits near 35% and his swinging strike rate is a career high 11.5%. Gausman doesn't give up a ton of hard contact in a year where hard contact is up 3% across the board. Maybe it's the 3.58 career second half ERA with a strikeout rate that's 4% higher after the All-Star break. Either way, he's due some positive regression. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues

Jordan Zimmerman (DET) - SP, 27% Owned
After an awful start to the season, I had all but forgotten about Zimmerman. Prior to this season, he hadn’t provided a K/9 over 6.0 since 2015. That’s trash for fantasy purposes. This year, he’s over 8.0 K/9. He’s lower his fastball and upped his slider usage, which is great. In his last six starts he has a 2.21 ERA with a 30.1 K-BB% and 22% soft contact rate. As long as he keeps throwing the slider over 35%, I recommend him in all leagues.

Dereck Rodriguez (SF) - SP, 25% Owned
Ivan’s son might not play the same position as his Hall-of-Fame Father, but he certainly inherited his cannon for an arm. Rodriguez is another low-strikeout pitcher, which I understand isn't exciting, but that’s where the value is on the waiver wire. Everyone wants the 10 K/9 pitchers, so there’s less available. His best pitch is probably his changeup and his sinker is by far the worst pitch in his arsenal. Rodriguez’s sinker only gets ground balls 45% of the time. Sinker’s typically don;t get swings and misses and D-Rod’s is not different, but they are effective because of the high ground ball rates near 60%. A 45% rate will not cut it. It sounds like I’m talking you out of grabbing Rodriguez, but here’s the thing. Since June 16th, he’s cut his sinker usage and has thrown more change ups. Since then, he has a 1.98 ERA! The trend is getting better as well as his change up usage is over 20% over his last two starts compared to a season low for the sinker.Whew, sorry that was long winded. Either way, he and his pitching coaches are figuring out the combination that works. Go get em in 12-team and deeper leagues

Zack Wheeler (NYM) - SP, 23% Owned
Wheeler is healthy and slinging fastballs around 97 mph and has touched 100 mph several times in recent starts. Wheeler’s 4.44 ERA, 8.89 K/9, and 3.35 BB/9 don’t exactly jump off the page at you, but he’s been better than the numbers indicate. Wheeler is generating a ton weak contact and limits hard contact. He has two plus pitches, his fastball and slider which he throws a combined 77% of the time. He’s also increased his swinging strike rate to an above average 11% and has increased swings outside the zone. Since May 22nd, Wheeler has a 3.63 ERA with a 2.99 BB/9. His SIERA and FIP match his sub-4.00 ERA and I think the best is yet to come with Wheeler. He’s intriguing in most leagues.



Tyler Mahle (CIN) - SP, 17% Owned
Mahle is a young pitcher who has given up quite a few homers but has some decent swing a miss stuff. Since June 1 he sports a 3.78 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning and his homerun rate is down 0.5 HR/9 from his season rate. Not bad but he still has an elevated walk rate. Mahle is a streamer in 12 team leagues but I'd grab him in 15-team and deeper leagues.

Michael Pineda (MIN) - SP, 1% Owned
Remember Pineada? He used to post great strikeout numbers, walk no one and give up a ton of home runs. Well, he's with the Twins now and is beginning to throw in simulated games. He's scheduled to be back by the start of September and plays in a better pitchers park and doesn't get to face much of the AL East. He's a deep league stash for some strikeout upside. It's risky, but for deep 15+ team leagues, you could do much worse.



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