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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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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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2019 FreezeStats Hitter Projections Revisited – Fantasy Baseball

Every year I run as many player projections as I physically can given my personal time constraints. I then compare each player’s final results to my projections at the end of the season to see how accurate (or inaccurate) I was. It also helps me determine where and why I was wrong to help correct these issues for the future. Of course, projections are extremely difficult due to the countless number of variables and the sheer length of the season. For reference, here is the link to my article from last year comparing my 2018 FreezeStats Projections to the final 2018 results. Additionally, here is the link to the Google Sheet.


You’ll notice that I use all positive values when I run my Z-Scores which is not the way your statistics professor teach you to run them. However, in this case, I’m running Z-Scores compared to the difference in a statistical category from my projection to what actually happened. So, using the absolute value of the difference is the most accurate way to go if I want to compare the accuracy of each categorical statistic for each player. In addition to the standard 5-roto categories, I also include OBP (for you OBP leaguers out there) and plate appearances. Why? Because you can’t even start a projection for a hitter without determining his plate appearances. Thus, it may be the most important statistic to project and will help determine the validity of a projection. Here is the complete Googlesheet with all the data goodness from my 2019 FreezeStats Projections. Without further ado, let’s dive into the best or worst projections.

Projections with High Categorical Correlations

Adam Jones (OF – ARI)
As it turns out, my most accurate projection (by sum of Z-scores) was veteran outfielder Adam Jones. I suppose projecting a durable veteran with consistent year-to-year numbers isn’t all that surprising. However, I overestimated a little in plate appearances. I had him for 575 PA and he finished with 528 PA. The rest looked almost identical. I pegged his home runs and steals, missed his RBI by three, runs by two, AVG by .005 and OBP by just .001. 

Kris Bryant (3B – CHC)
I was down on Bryant coming into 2019 and nearly nailed his projections. He was dealing with injuries in 2018 so there was a high probability for a rebound but I didn’t see the superstar numbers coming back and I was right. My projections matched three of Bryant’s final numbers in AVG – .282, home runs – 31, and steals – 4. I missed his plate appearance total by just six and was very close on runs, RBI, and OBP. Being a Cubs fan, I’ve seen enough of KB to know who he is. The juiced ball dwarfed his numbers a bit even though he still managed a very productive season.



Ryan Braun (1B/OF – MIL)
What do you know, another veteran! Braun always misses time. You can bank of 125-135 games from him every year. The lower plate appearance projection actually allows me to provide more accurate projections. He still has some power, speed, and decent contact rates. As I mentioned earlier, the projection starts with the PA total and goes from there. 

J.D Martinez (OF – BOS)
Martinez’s numbers did not appear to be aided by the juiced ball. This helped my projections match his final numbers. With almost five years of consistent metrics from JDM, is a player I can count on and feel confident with where his numbers ultimately lie. His elevated BABIP and high home run rate helped me peg his AVG and OBP. I slightly over-projected his home run total but the runs and RBI are once again very high hitting cleanup for a great Red Sox lineup.

Domingo Santana (OF – SEA)
This one is interesting. Domingo was granted a fresh start in Seattle making him a prime bounce-back candidate in 2019. However, I was not projecting a career-year that matched his 2017. I thought he played over his head a little bit that season. So, I lowered his home run total based on his low fly ball rate but given his quality of contact, kept his BABIP elevated. That’s how I nailed his average and home run total. Not knowing exactly where he would hit in the order threw off the run and RBI totals a some, but still relatively close. 

Adam Frazier (2B – PIT)
I was a fan of Frazier as a deep league option for batting average and runs in 2019. Unfortunately, he did not take advantage of the juiced ball and took a step back in xwOBA. I just about nailed his PA and rate stats but inflated his home run and stolen base totals expecting a step forward in those departments. 

Brandon Crawford (SS – SFG)
I’m surprised I even projected Crawford. I thought he might be too deep but he plays every day because of his elite defense. I was not a fan of his heading into the season and he actually performed worse than my projections but is was close. His metrics are extremely underwhelming and his skills are declining. I don’t expect more than 500 PA for Crawford next year and he may be out of the league by 2021.

Justin Turner (3B – LAD)
Like Braun, Turner is a veteran talent who regularly misses time due to injury. Turner’s skills are strong and extremely consistent year-to-year. I’ve said it before, if Turner could get 650 PA, he would be a borderline top-25 player. His contact rates are strong as are his quality of contact skills, so he’d be a beast in four categories IF he ever stays healthy. So again, being accurate on his PA turned out to be the main factor in Turner’s projection. 


Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
Did Conforto disappoint in 2019? Of course not. He hit 33 homers, drove in 92 runs, and stole seven bases. That’s a great year if it was 2018 or 2015 but it was 2019. Remember, my projections were made prior to the knowledge that the ball was juiced, so I was expecting a step forward for Conforto but he didn’t quite deliver the breakout some (including myself) were hoping for.

C.J. Cron (1B – MIN)
Other than an absurdly low run total for Cron in 2019, I just about predicted his season numbers to a tee. Again, thanks to an accurate plate appearance projection, the rest of the numbers fell into place. The home run and RBI totals were just a hair higher but that may have been juiced ball aided. He’ll be an interesting sleeper in 2020 after posting a career-best 15% barrel rate and cut his strikeout rate by nearly four percent. The lineup in Minnesota remains stacked but unfortunately for Cron, Cruz still occupies the DH. If Cron can get 140 games at first base, we could be talking about a career-year that looks something like .275-32-95.

Nick Ahmed (SS – ARI)
Um, so apparently, I projected Nick Ahmed’s mini-breakout? Had I known that I did this, I might have called it out on Twitter or something. I completely pegged his 19 homers (a career-high) and nearly nailed his AVG, OBP, and steals. He was coming off a career-high 16 home runs in 2018 at age-28 but he also cut his K-rate and improved his BB-rate with the metrics to back it up. There are two ways to project this type of performance. Call it career-year and negatively regress closer to the player’s baseline or trust the skills growth from the previous season and create a new baseline. I took the later. Maybe the juiced ball had something to do with his power but Ahmed took another step forward in terms of his plate approach as well. You better believe I’m expecting more of the same in 2020 from Ahmed at age-29.

Tyler Flowers (C – ATL)
T-Flow is an interesting case. It’s not difficult to project his stolen base total but I also nabbed his home run total and was very close on his OBP. My projections essentially had his playing time at a 50/50 split with declining skills, so the fact that this projection is a hit isn’t all that surprising from a 33-year-old catcher. 

Mitch Moreland (1B – BOS)
Moreland is another part-time veteran that is extremely consistent year-to-year. I was a little lower on his PA projection and the juiced-ball certainly helped aid in his 19 homers, but otherwise, this was a close projection. He’s been the same player for the last six years, so why would he change now? Same ol’ Mitch.

Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, MIL)
Unfortunately, Moustakas failed to reach the 40-homer plateau but still have a quietly productive season. I blame the juiced ball for the slightly inflated offensive numbers but you know what you’re getting from Moose. He had no business scoring 80 runs with under 600 PA and a .323 OBP but playing in Milwaukee with the juiced ball with do that for you. 

Projections with Poor Categorical Correlations

Travis Shaw (1B/2B/3B)
Boy was I off on this one. Not by a little but probably more than anyone was ever off about anyone. Who would have guessed that a player in his prime with back-to-back 30-homer seasons would end up with just seven! He only had 270 PA, was sent to the minors and hit an embarrassing .157. Wow, just wow. To be fair, no one could have projected a decline like this but I thought he would improve! Ugh, I apologize to anyone who listened to me on this one. 


Justin Upton (OF – LAA)
This can be chalked up to the toe injury Upton suffered literally right before the start of the season. Without a clear timetable, I only had him missing about two weeks. He ended up missing a total of almost four months between the toe injury and a knee injury that ended his season. He never really got going, but if you project his home run total out, you get very close to the 29 HR I projected. 

Pete Alonso (1B – NYM)
Here is an example of what a poor plate appearance projection can do. I never adjusted his plate appearances up after the Mets announced Alonso would start the season with the big club. I had him at 410 PA compared to his amazing 693! I projected Alonso for 24 homers in those 410 PA which projects out to 41 home runs in 693 PA. Considering my projection was pre-juiced ball, that isn’t an awful total. Also, I had his AVG in the .240s because I thought he would have a 29-30%% K rate in the majors. So kudos to Alonso for smashing even my relatively lofty expectations on the way to the 2019 Rookie of the Year.

Joey Gallo (OF – TEX)
Gallo is another injury case but also made a change in approach. He significantly lowered his launch angle (and fly ball rate as a result) which improved his BABIP and batting average. He maintained mammoth power and a strikeout rate far north of 30%. The injuries caused him to miss a ton of time so my projections pegged him for twice as many PAs. If you double his R, HR, and RBI, it’s a win on my end. I’ll take it, I guess. 

Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY)
This will be the last injury guy that I’ll talk about. Of course, I’m going to miss on guys that lose huge chunks of the season due to an injury. The difference between Hicks and players who were hurt after the season already began is number one, his history and number two, he was questionable to start the season due to a back injury suffered during spring training. Back injuries linger and I failed to adjust my plate appearance projection for Hicks docking him only two weeks of playing time. Going forward, in regards to players with injuries in the preseason (especially back, obliques, or arm injuries for pitchers) I’m going to downgrade and try to stay away from no matter how much I may love them. Other players I missed due to injury (after the start of the season) include Andrew McCutchen, and Mitch Haniger. 

Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM)
I wasn’t expecting another step forward from Nimmo even though I projected his 2018 breakout. I thought he was good in 2018 but out-performed his metrics. Nimmo is technically an injury case but he was healthy through the first two months of the season and he was terrible. I expected a little bit of negative regression but what we got was a strikeout rate north of 30% and no power to speak of. He’s a curious case for 2020 as he’ll only be 27 and be dirt cheap. I suspect I may be back in after pick 250. 


Ian Kinsler (2B – SDP)
Nope, nope, nope! It’s safe to say Kinsler’s career is over. I’m not entirely sure what I saw in Kinsler’s profile that made me think Kinsler could hit .250 with 17 home runs at age-36. This was a poor projection and I’ll be the first one to admit it. 

Jorge Soler (OF – KCR)
Here is a projection that I was far too low on. I would imagine, most people were. I mean, he led the AL with 48 home runs for crying out loud! One issue for me was his strikeout rate that improved in 2018 but I wasn’t fully buying it. Also, his previous HR/FB rates were relatively pedestrian. There was nothing in his profile that showed an improvement that would result in a 20%+ HR/FB. Now, to my credit, I noticed his increased launch angle in the spring and I projected a potential power breakout, just nowhere near the final results. I guess I should have listened to myself but ended up with only one share.

Jose Peraza (2B/SS – CIN)
I was fading Peraza in 2019 and I owned him nowhere, that’s the positive side of things. His metrics were awful in 2018 and he “lucked” his way to 14 home runs. I dropped him to just nine HR which was correct but still projected him for 25+ stolen bases which is where I missed. That and the batting average. He just straight tanked. 

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)
Ranking Rhys Hoskins over Cody Bellinger was a huge mistake. Where I missed with Bellinger is making the determination that his true skill level fell closer to 2018 than in 2017. I failed to realize that we were dealing with a 23-year-old phenom who hit 39 home runs as a rookie. He made strides from year-1 to year-2 by cutting his strikeout rate but made an unpredictable jump from year-2 to year-3. That’s my mistake. I projected him closer to a 25% strikeout rate and he finished with an impressive 16.3%! Amazing. That will add about 30 points to one’s batting average. Combine that with the juiced ball and you have the 2019 version of Cody Bellinger. I don’t expect 47 homers again, but 40 seems about right.

Rafael Devers (3B – BOS)
Devers is another young player where I failed to project significant improvements. While I did expect improvements in batting average and home runs, it was nowhere near the jump he made in 2019. So while I wasn’t completely out on Devers, I just missed on his superstar breakout. Oh well. My lesson learned is that maybe year-three is the time to buy into a young prospect who had high pedigree regardless of the previous year’s performance. 

Ryan O’Hearn (1B – KCR)
After a hot final two months of 2018, I expected better numbers from O’Hearn. He showed that his power was real even if it would come with a low batting average. His power was just OK and boy was he ever a batting average drain finishing below the Mendoza line. He’s a guy where I fell in love with the Statcast metrics (12.5% barrel rate, 44.2 hard hit%, solid batted ball profile, etc). I failed to notice that he was extremely poor against offspeed and breaking pitches where his whiff rate was north of 42% on both pitch types. A few good outcomes boosted the small sample numbers against those pitches for O’Hearn in 2018. In 2019, larger samples and regression set in. He actually made a few slight improvements and was unlucky against fastballs. He might just be a deep-league option in 15-team and deeper formats in 2020. Maybe.

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




Photo by: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Weekly Rundown – Jesus, this Eflin’ Soto is HOT Pham!

We are just about smack dab in the middle of the season. Most teams have played between 79 and 81 games. Ok, so let’s just double every player’s stats to figure out their final season numbers. Unfortunately we can’t just extrapolate, but it’s a fun exercise and we there is sufficient sample size to back it up. Let’s roll right into the this week’s rundown.

Hot Hitters
I almost led with JDM (see below), then 19-year-old phenom, Juan Soto blasting two more bombs last night. SOTO IS GOD! He now has 8 homers in his first 35 games as a big leaguer! Let’s marvel at his slash line of .336/.446/.621! No, that’s not Mike Trout’s line, that’s a 19-year-old’s slash. I don’t know what to say! Is a 26.7% HR/FB sustainable, probably not with his batted ball profile, but his plate discipline is that of a veteran. In keeper leagues, owners stumbled upon a goldmine. I think he ends up around .290 with 18-20 HR but in redrafts you could probably get a top 25 player for him right now. He could present an interesting sell opportunity. Let me be clear, in keeper and dynasty, you don’t take anything less than Mike Trout if you’re selling. Hell, just hold him in keeper/dynasty.

This just in, J.D. Martinez is good a hitting baseballs! After his 25th home run on Tuesday night, he now has an astonishing 71 home runs in his last 200 games! He’s on pace for 52 homers this year and has been healthy. There’s no better slugger in the game right now than JD. What might be overlooked in his game is his batting average. He hasn’t hit under .300 since 2015 when he hit .282 for the Tigers. This is a guy who understands hitting and launch angles, his high drive percentage is more than double the league average! I wish I had the guts to rank him over Stanton in the preseason, but alas I stuck JD around 15 and Stanton just inside the top 10.

Cody Bellinger has picked up the pace hitting .333 with 4 HR and 8 RBI this past week. Anyone who wrote him off after a poor first two months definitely jumped the gun. Bellinger’s 23rd birthday is next month. Look Bellinger doesn’t have a perfect batted ball profile, he swings and misses a bit too much and hits too many popups. What he does do well is hit for power, he pulls a high percentage of fly balls, so he should still hit around 35 homers this year. It just might come with a .245 batting average. The walks are coming back, so he gets a bump in OBP leagues.


Jesus Aguilar is a monster! He’s hitting .444 with 5 dingers and 7 RBI this past week. How does a 1.809 OPS sound? Pretty, pretty, pretty good. Here’s a guy with a superior batted ball profile to Bellinger. He’s older and slower than Bellinger, but that doesn’t mean the breakout isn’t real. His plate discipline could use some work, so I doubt he hits .300, but .280 with 35+ homers is possible.

Matt Carpenter kind of put that terrible April behind him and is hitting .524 with 2 HR, 5 RBI, and an amazing 10 runs in the last 7 days! Carpenter along J.D. Martinez, Betts and maybe two or three others are the only batters with more than double the league average in high drive percentage. Carpenter is on fire and probably should be hitting .290 with 20 HR right now if he weren’t so unlucky in April and part of May. I don’t love that he’s kind of selling out because his K rate is nearing 25% and he usually can’t stay healthy. If he stays hot the next couple weeks, I’d sell high on Carp.

Jose Peraza is running! Jose Peraza is hitting homers! Peraza is doing it all hitting .320 with 2 HR, 4 SB, 7 runs, and 4 RBI in the last 7 days. Talk about a buffet of statistics. The things to remember here are, he only strikes out 10% of the time and is fast. He makes contact with pitches he swings at in the zone 96% of the time! If he had Billy Hamilton;s speed, he’d hit .325 with 75 steals. But he doesn’t. So I’d expect this type of production going forward. If he’s available, pick him up. He’s like a cheap Whit Merrifield. He should be good for a .270 average with 6-8 HR and 25-30 steals.

Jesse Winker has started to heat up as he’s hitting just under .500 this past week with 3 homers and 8 RBI. That’s kind of a big deal because he only has six HR on the year. I went deep on Winker in an article on the SportsDegens last week. Basically, I Winker has incredible plate discipline and doesn’t strike out much. His power is still developing but he’s increased his launch angle. He’s a must add in deeper OBP leagues and shallow leagues need to start taking notice if he gets every day playing time.

Hot Pitchers
Madison Bumgarner just ripped off a couple nice starts striking out 16 batters in 15 IP without giving up a run. Is Mad Bum back? As long as he doesn’t go on some dirt biking vacation during the All-Star break, we should be good. Look I like Mad Bum, but it’s now about a year and a half since we’ve seen dominate Bumgarner. I’m concerned about his K rate in a day and age where everyone and their mother is striking out a batter per inning or more.His .226 BABIP and 83.3% LOB probably come back to earth a little. I think he’s a 3.40-3.50 ERA guy with a solid WHIP and just under K/9.

Lance McCullers is finally tantalizing us with ace-like outings. He’s got 16 strikeouts in his last 13.1 IP with a 2.08 ERA nd a 0.85 WHIP. Speaking of strikeouts, this guy’s got em! His K rate is lower than last year, but WAIT, it’s actually the same! His K/9 is lower but his K% is nearly identical. His SwStr% is better this year and contact against is lower. He may actually be a little bit better than the numbers indicate. If can keep the walks down a bit and improve on his LOB%, he could be a top 15 SP.

Zack Wheeler has looked sharp striking out a batter per inning with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in his last two starts. His velocity continues to climb. He’s averaging 96 mph but in recent starts was sitting around 97 and touching 100 mph. The fastball is good, no doubt, but I’d like him to use his slide piece a little bit more. Opponents are hitting just .186 off it. I don’t see Wheeler as a huge strikeout pitcher which limits his upside, but a K per inning is great if he can limit walks. I’m buying Wheeler in 12 team and deeper leagues.

Shane Bieber graces this article for the second straight week as he’s earned a couple wins with 14 Ks and only 1 ER allowed in his last 13 IP. There’s a bunch of small sample numbers that are way out of whack in both positive and negative directions. What I do know, is his control is solid and his fastball is terrible. Weird! An Indians pitcher with a bad fastball! Never heard of it. Kidding, obviously. The good news for Biebs is that his slider and curve are great, he just needs to bump the usage of both pitches up near 20%. I’d be buying to see if he makes those changes in almost all leagues right now.

Zach Eflin just keeps Eflin’ dominating! He’s compiled a couple wins with a 1.50 ERA in his last two starts. His strikeouts aren’t off the charts, but he’s starting to look legit. His velocity is up and he’s always had good control. I do think Eflin has made tangible progress but I don’t think he’s a 9.0 K/9 type pitcher. I see the K9 dropping to 8-8.5/9 which is still solid, especially with the low walks. I’m concerned that as a fly ball pitcher, he’s only allowing 6.5% HR/FB without a ton of popups. There’s a few rough starts coming, but he’s ownable in 12-team and deeper leagues.

Freezing Cold Hitters
Well, it looks like I’ll be taking the L on Joey Gallo this year. Prior to last night’s game Gallo was hitting a pathetic .150 this past week without a HR or an RBI. Of course, he jacks one last night. For the month of June though, here are his numbers: .135 with 4 HR and 33 strikeouts. I get it, a .172 BABIP is part of the problem but so is only 4 homers and a 40% strikeout rate. It’s a little fluky because he had a 60% hard contact rate with a 50% pull rate but his lowest HR/FB of the season. I still think he reaches 40 HR but he’s dropped in the order and is looking more like a .210 hitter than a .250 hitter.

Oh boy, Tommy Pham is hittless in his last 20 ABs. He’s been straight awful in June and wasn’t great in May. I know you don’t want to hear this but Pham was unlucky in May. So far in June, he’s just been bad. He’s expanding the zone and not being patient. His normally PHAM-tastic walk rate is below 4% and his K rate is nearing 30% for the month. I think he’s pressing and just needs a recharge because he’s still mashing the ball when he hits it. It’s all mental Pham.

George Springer Dinger is not hitting dingers these days, instead he’s only 1 for his last 25! It’s not like he’s flailing, he’s only got 6 Ks in his last 7 games. He’s pretty close to the same player he was a year ago expect he’s not hitting the ball quite as hard, hitting a few more popups and few less line drives. That’s it, though. It’s a simple tweak or one good month and he’s right back where he was last year. I’m holding and if he struggles for the next couple weeks, I might try to buy low.

Is the Eduardo Escobar experiment done? Here’s what I’ll tell you, the power is legit. He’s got a very high launch angle with very good hard contact. However, his plate discipline is trash. He’s swinging out of the zone more than 40% of the time and is swinging 54% of the time. As a result, pitchers are not throwing him as many strikes, his zone rate is down to 40% and his K rate is up to 25% in June. Cold stretches are coming but I do think he hits 25+ homers this year but at a .250ish average.


Brandon Belt just hasn’t been the same since he lost an organ last month. He did homer the other night but otherwise is hitting just .208 with 2 RBI this past week and .229 the last two weeks. It’s too bad because we were finally seeing the Belt breakout much like my pants at Thanksgiving. The good news for Belt owners is that he’s hitting the ball harder, so that’s not an issue. He’s not pulling the ball as much which has decreased his power production. I think he bounces back and if he struggles up to the All-Star break, I’d buy low.

Whit Merrifield is hitting .273 this past week which isn’t bad but without any speed or power. He actually hasn’t homered in the month of June and has only stolen 2 bases in the past 2 weeks. Did anyone think he was a 20 home run hitter? I didn’t think so, the 19 last year is going to be his career high. Look, the walk rate is up and his strikeouts are below average. He hits for a solid average and is on pace for 32 steals. You should be happy, he’s probably a .280 10 HR, 30 steal player.

Freezing Cold Pitchers
Corey Kluber had a rough start against the Cardinals this week. A 6 ER outing without getting out of the 2nd inning is very un-Kluber like. I didn’t realize that Kluber had given up 16 HR on the year already! He only gave up 21 last year and never more than 22 in a single season! Kluber is giving up a lot more hard contact than he typically does and that justifies the home runs. He’s also getting less swings and misses and is allowing a career high 90% zone contact. The thing is, he never walks anybody and his LOB% is over 80% for the second straight season. Maybe Kluber isn’t a 2.30 ERA with a 0.85 WHIP pitcher this year but he’s still a stud

Remember when Dylan Covey was a thing? I do but only because I streamed him a couple times and the results were good! Covey hadn’t allowed a home run in his first four starts this season. In his last two starts, he’s allowed 5 homers! In those two starts, he’s got a 17.05 ERA with and allowed 17 base runners in only 6.2 IP! I hope you weren’t owning him, he was a decent streamer, but now we can forget about Covey for the time being.

Ahhh Nick Pivetta. He got smoked by the Nationals (again) giving up 7 ER in less than two innings. He’s now given up 15 ER in three starts against the Nationals. I won’t make many excuses for Pivetta, he’s been giving up far to many homers this past month (8 to be exact). That combined with his normally good control has put some crooked numbers on the board. Check this out though, as bad as he’s been since 5/27, his K/9 is 11.7 and his BB/9 is 3.82. Not bad, the walks need to come down oh and by the way his BABIP in that time .391! I’m cautiously optimistic with Pivetta and still holding in 12-team leagues.

Eduardo Rodriguez how now given up 9 ER in his last two starts where’s he’s given up 18 base runners in only 10 IP while only striking out four. E-Rod has also be BABIP’d a bit but he’s also struggling with strikeouts since his 9 K performance against the Mariners. I like E-Rod but he’s coming off a major injury and there will be some bumps this year. He’s basically the same pitcher he was a year ago. He’s introduced a cutter to his pitch mix which is decent but he doesn’t have a dominate pitch right now. I think he’s a 3.75-4.00 ERA pitcher this year but think he can be much better in the future.

Jose Quintana can’t seem to get on track, his last two starts weren’t complete garbage, he’s got a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 IP. However, he’s given up a whopping 16 hits and 5 walks in those 10.1 IP! This is killing me as a Cubs fan because other than Lester pitching way over his head, this pitching staff is on the rocks.For Q, it’s walks, walk, walks. A 10.7% BB rate isn’t going to cut it. His previous career high was 7.7%, and that was last year. What else, soft contact down, HR are up and his fastball is getting smoked to the tune of .288/.382/.477. Last year the numbers off the fastball were .215/.263/.333. This isn’t a buy-low and owners can’t drop him, he’s a vet, let’s hope he figures it out.