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

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




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

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

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

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

Joey Gallo

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

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

compared to 2019

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


 

Matt Carpenter

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

Jay Bruce

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

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

Kyle Seager

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

Rougned Odor

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

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

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

Cavan Biggio

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


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

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

Brandon Lowe

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

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

Yordan Alvarez

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

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

Kris Bryant

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

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

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

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

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


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8 Bold Predictions 2018 MLB Season – Results

The 2018 season is in the books, let’s see how I did on my eight bold predictions.  My original post is the black text and my current comments are in red. For comparison sake, I’ll use the ESPN Player Rater as it is more widely known even if I believe the Razzball Player Rater to be more accurate.


Delino DeShields (ADP 190) outperforms Starling Marte (ADP 49) in Standard 5×5
I’m not the biggest fan of Starling Marte coming into 2018 and the hype train is once again full steam ahead for Delino DeShields aka “The Dentist” (just like in 2016). On the surface, it’s easy to see DeShields pulling this one off because he’s finally been given the leadoff spot and there isn’t much competition for his job in center field. Obviously, he has to perform and get on base for the Rangers to keep him there. What I see is six home runs and 29 steals in only 440 plate appearances in 2017. Given 600 to 650 PA this year he could hit 10 home runs and steal 35-40 bases and while I don’t think he will hit for as high of an average as Marte, the run total should be around 90 given his 10% walk rate. My projections for Marte are .275-9-33, I just don’t believe in the power and he’s never been a great run producer.
Um, well ok. So Marte finished 27th on the ESPN Player Rater and Delino DeShields is nowhere to be found.  He’s been so bad, I’m not even willing to look up where he’s ranked. DeShields is hitting an embarrassing .209 with 2 homers and 20 steals in 384 plate appearances. His walk rate has improved and his strikeout rate has decreased which leaves his plummeting BABIP as the culprit. Marte on the other hand had a great season and his power has returned. My projections more or less nailed his batting average and stolen bases but he nearly doubled my HR projection. This one was just straight BAD. 0 for 1

Ozzie Albies hits 25 home runs, steals 30 bases and is a top 25 player
I’ve seen a lot of people ridiculously high on Albies, but not many are predicting 20 home runs let alone 25; that’s what makes this one bold. I threw in the top 25 player ranking even though almost anyone who goes 25/30 is likely a top 25 player. The steals aren’t as crazy because he stole 29 bases in 154 games in 2017 (AAA and MLB) and 30 in 2016 between AA and AAA plus scouts have tabbed him at 70-grade speed out of 80. Here’s where it gets bold; he is being projected for between 10 and 15 home runs, so where do I get 25? Albies changed his approach early in 2017 to try and elevate the ball more which he accomplished upping his fly ball rate from about 30% in 2016 to 39% in 2017. He ended up hitting 15 home runs between AAA and the Majors which was 9 more than in 2016. He’s continued this trend in the spring with a ground out/air out ratio of 0.73, meaning he’s hitting only about 40% ground balls and 60% LD+FB. Let’s assume 41% FB rate for 2018 with 650 PA for Albies (hitting 2nd for 150+ games) with a 17% K rate and an 8% BB rate. That comes out to about 485 balls in play at 41% FB rate with a HR/FB rate of 12.6% comes out to 25 HR. I believe.
When Albies came out in April absolutely crushing baseballs, I though this one has a great shot. However, Albies never managed to steal many bases attempting only 16 and successful on 13. Albies has managed a high success rate but a lower walk rate and batting average than I projected are only part of the problem. I’m interested to see if he will run more next year because if he doesn’t I don’t think his fantasy upside will meet my lofty expectations.  0 for 2



Patrick Corbin is a top 20 Starting Pitcher
Here are the statistics from the 20th best SP in 2017: 10 Wins, 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 209 strikeouts. That’s Yu Darvish if you’re wondering. Kind of a mixed bag, low win total, high(ish) ERA, low WHIP and a lot of strikeouts. My projections for Corbin this year are 13 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 179 strikeouts. More wins and a better ERA but fewer strikeouts and a higher WHIP, but that would definitely be good for a top 30 stater for sure. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to assume more wins (he did win 14 games in 189 innings in 2017) and maybe a few more strikeouts given 200 innings pitched (I have him projected for 190) to put him right around the top 20. He’s got a 50+% ground ball rate, a Swstr rate of 11% last year, the humidor should help with some of his HR issues as well as the high BABIP effectively lowering his projected ERA and WHIP.
BOOM! Corbin checks in as the #11 SP on the ESPN Player Rater just behind Trevor Bauer and ahead of Luis Severino. Corbin was much impressive than I even imagined. You can see my projections for Corbin above and he blew that shit out of the water. Who would have guessed that Corbin would introduce a spinoff (get it?) of his already great slider and throw them combined nearly 45% of the time? Those Ks are gorgeous and that propelled him into the elite. Nailed it! 1 for 3

Lewis Brinson Outperforms Byron Buxton in Standard 5×5
Brinson should be given every opportunity to show his skills this year in Miami because let’s face it, there’s really no else that should take his spot. He’s mashing this spring to the tune of .339/.377/.607 triple slash line and RosterResource has him leading off! Brinson doesn’t have the speed Buxton does (not many do) but I feel that Brinson will be the better hitter long-term and takes a step in that direction in 2018. I think given a full season, Brinson is more than capable of hitting 20 homers and stealing 15-18 bases while hitting .260-.275. That’s good enough to keep him in the leadoff spot (if he can walk a little) and with Castro, Realmuto, and Bour hitting behind him, I can see 85+ runs. Buxton, on the other hand, may hit 8th or 9th so that’s a killer for run production. I can see Buxton struggle to hit for average again and while I like his ability to hit 15-20 homers with 30 steals, I think Brinson has a chance to outperform him.
So technically Brinson outperformed Buxton this year, so it’s a win. However, it’s one of the saddest wins ever. Now that 2018 has come and gone, this doesn’t seem that old, but remember the hype on Buxton coming into the season? He was being touted as a top-50 player by some perts. His ADP settled in the 60s and Brinson was between 250 and 300, so yes, this was bold, but both greatly under-performed and that’s a understatement. Have I used “under” enough here? I’m underwhelmed, let’s move on. 2 for 4

Joey Gallo leads the majors in home runs with 50 AND Hits .245 with 10 steals
At first, I thought about just doing 50 homers and 10 steals, but he’s such a beast, if he’s given 650 plate appearances, 50 homers is basically a lock. However, given his 37% K rate, a .245 average is a long shot. He did cut his K rate to under 35% in the second half last year and his BABIP, which was .250, had a xBABIP of about .275. Using a 34% K rate and a BABIP of .275, I still fall short of a .245 batting average, so this prediction needs a bit of luck to something like a BABIP of .290, now that’s possible! For the HRs, he needs to keep his 52% FB rate with his 30% HR/FB rate and 615 plate appearances. Steals can be fluky but he did steal seven bases in only 532 plate appearances, so three more in 85 more PA is certainly possible.
I saw some other “bold predictions” that had Gallo hitting something like .230 with 45 homers? How is that bold? I went a little further but i did not pan out. Gallo was essentially the same player he was in 2017 even though he showed improvements in the first half. Gallo probably needs to cut his K rate to below 32% to have a shot at hitting near .250. 2 for 5

Chad Kuhl outperforms Gerrit Cole in all fantasy categories other than wins
This is more about Kuhl taking a big step forward than significant regression for Cole. The categories I’m referencing in my prediction are ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Cole’s numbers last year were 4.26/1.25 with 196 strikeouts; Kuhl last year: 4.35/1.47 with 142 strikeouts in 157 innings. Cole has a career K rate of 8.44 and will no longer get to face the pitcher two or three times a game. I’m expecting a slight K rate drop to 8.2. His innings should go down with all the able body long relievers/spot starters (Peacock, McHugh), the 10-day DL, and his ratios should be around 4.00 and 1.25. I do believe Kuhl is a much better pitcher than his numbers indicated last year and a significant walk rate decrease is in order to keep his WHIP in check. I could see a 4.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP from Kuhl but how about the strikeouts? Kuhl throws 96 mph with a nasty slider that he only threw 20% of the time last year. If he throws that more and can locate his fastball, he could be around a 9.0 K/9. With that rate, he would only have to throw about 175 innings to Cole’s 190 IP.
Uhhhhhhhh, whoops. This one is so bad I don’t even know what to say. The Astros unlocked Cole’s magic and Kuhl looked good at times then was lost to injury midway through the season.  Let’s move along. 2 for 6



The Phillies make the playoffs
Hoskins, Kingery, Santana, Arrieta! Other than 50 games from Hoskins, those are all new ML players for the Phillies this year. All of them should be worth between 2.0 WAR to 4.3 WAR. I also think Nola takes a step forward as well and you lose the likes of Tommy Joseph who was worth -1.1 WAR (yuck) in 2017 and Michael Saunders who was worth -0.7 WAR. I also believe Maikel Franco (-0.5 WAR) improves this year and Odubel Herrera takes a step forward. Now, this is all very unscientific and you can’t just say all of these players/improvements are worth 20+ wins this year (which would put them at 86 wins). Right now they are projected for 75 wins, good for 11th best in the NL. To reach a top-five spot in the NL makes this prediction bold.
(Here is what I wrote mid-season) Ok, this one is looking good.  The Phillies are currently in first place in the NL East by 1 game over Atlanta and 5.5 games ahead of the Nationals. I expect the Nationals to get hot, but even if the Phillies lost the lead in the division, they would still have a very good shot at making one of the two Wild Card slots. I gave them a 60% chance to make the playoffs and they completely feel apart. The offense went to sleep and the pitching staff outside of Nola was bad and inconsistent. I’ll take my L. 2 for 7

Tim Beckham outperforms Justin Upton in Standard 5×5
Yeah, even this one is hard for me to believe. Upton is coming off a career year hitting 35 home runs, stealing 14 bases and driving in 109 runs and now he gets to hit behind Mike Trout. It’s not that I think Beckham will put up those numbers but I think Upton is a bit of a letdown in 2018 after signing a big contract with the Angels. I think Upton’s batting average goes back to the .255 range and his power falls back to around 27-30. At age 30, his speed will continue to dwindle and an 8-10 steal season is likely. Now, for Beckham, he needs to build on his second half of 2017 and now with a full season in Baltimore and an increase in fly ball percentage indicated by his Spring Training GO/AO ratio tells me he can hit 30 home runs. That’s his ground out/air out ratio which is under 1.0 during Spring Training. He’s also not a zero in terms of speed so 8-10 steals is possible. If he hits .260, he’s right on par with Justin Upton. This is a longshot, but that’s what makes it bold.
I was expecting regression from Upton and that made this one a possibility. However, Tim Beckham turned back into, well, Tim Beckham. It’s too bad because he actually cut his K rate by nearly 5% but his hard contact plummeted. Yes, he missed time but he’s starting to look like a .230 hitter with 18-20 homer power and that’s about it. 2 for 8

Overall I’m hitting .250, so better than Gallo and Tim Beckham for what that’s worth. Considering the low probability of some of these predictions, I’m happy with the results. I suppose the Albies predictions is a partial win, he fell one HR shy of 25 homers which was probably more bold than the 30 steals in the preseason. Even though he finished outside the top 50 on the ESPN Player Rater, he did end up ranked 39th on the Razzball Player Rater. 



Weekly Rundown 3/28 – 4/7

Charlie Blackmon continues to mimic a fine wine as he just keeps getting better with age. Since he just signed an extension with the Rockies, by the time he’s 38 he should be hitting .425 with 60 bombs per year! Ok, I may be exaggerating a little bit. He’s stinging the ball and doing most of his damage on the road to start. A repeat of last year is not out of the question. To throw some cold water on him, I don’t see many steals, like less than 10 for sure. The speed is gone, but who cares?

Yes, Justin Smoak is legit. And yes, he did break out last year at age 30. I don’t expect him to hit .270 with 38 home runs again as the strikeout likely rises up some from last year’s 20%. However, he’s continuing to hit a ton of fly balls and hits them hard. Expect an average in the .250s with 30-33 HRs and should drive in another 90+RBI hitting cleanup for the Blue Jays.

Joey Gallo is trying to hit 100% of his balls in the air, and he’s not that far off! Oh Joey, you are crazy. No, not Votto, he’s amazing! Now that I think about it, I wish I had them both! That’s a nice pairing. Be prepared for the slumps but if Gallo  keeps his K rate around 30% (currently at 31%), owners will be happy with the results.

Bryce Harper is doing something that is amazing. He’s hitting .286 with a .133 BABIP and his K/BB ratio is 9/4. Something tells me that he’s going to have one of those seasons where he walks more than he strikes out. The BABIP will normalize and at some point in May he’s going to be looking like an MVP candidate probably hitting .330 with 14 bombs and a .450 OBP.

Speaking of MVP candidates… Don’t look now but Freddie Freeman is looking quite a bit like a front runner as well, not saying I called it… oh wait, I did. How does a .408/.618/.818 triple slash line with 12 walks to 3 Ks sound? I guess that’s good. Pitchers can’t seem to get him out.

I might end up eating my words with Didi Gregorious who is leading the league in wRC+ at 304. He’s already got 3 home runs, all pulled down the right field line and under 400 feet. 100% of the fly balls he’s hit to the pull side have been home runs. Now I’m no mathematician, but I don’t think he keeps that up. Didi has a total of 3 hits up the middle or the other way. If I were a Manager Hi Phillies, I’m available), I wouldn’t throw Didi anything on the inner half. Everything away, maybe try that?

Patrick Corbin, more sliders please. No, I don’t expect him to keep this up but it’s not like he’s been lucky, his xFIP 1.13 and leads the majors! Do I love his 60% GB rate? Yes. Do I love him as around a top 30 starter going forward, YES! Do I love asking and answering my own questions? Only in this forum.

BUY/SELL

Bradley Zimmer as of 4/7 has a 52.4% K rate and a 0% BB rate. I’ve always liked Zimmer, but it might be time to SELL. His strikeout rates were awful in the minors and he doesn’t appear to be adjusting well to major league pitching. I love the power/speed combo, but in shallow leagues, I’m cutting bait. He’s a hold in 14-team leagues and deeper.

Paul DeJong doing his Paul DeDong  impression early in 2018. However, he’s also rolling with a .583 BABIP in addition to his 3 dingers. It’s not only the high BABIP, his K rate is 39% and his walk rate is 3.6%. As soon as that BABIP comes down, look for his average to plummet to the .240 range. The power is real and he should have no problem reaching 25 homers but with a low average and no speed. You need to SELL while the iron is hot!

Jose Ramirez has 2 hits in 31 plate appearances with 1 HR and 1 steal. He’s an obvious BUY for me but maybe an owner in your league is sick of the lack of production from their second rounder. His BABIP is 0.042 and he’s rocking a 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio. By the middle of June Jo Ram is gonna be hitting .295 with 12 HR and 12 steals and you’re going to have reaped the benefits!

Nick PivettaBUY NOW! K rate is good, walk rate is good and he’s actually been unlucky with a .375 BABIP. Yes small sample, small schmaple. Not a word. Ok, but his stuff is legit. I’d give him a few more starts before making a rationale decision.

If you can find a pissed off owner of Luis Castillo and you can buy him for 80 cents on the dollar go BUY! He’s a slow starter and what we saw in the second half of 2017 is what you will get once he gets rolling this season. The change up is probably the best in baseball and his slider is very good. Once he puts it all together, you want to be owning him, not going up against him.

Lance McCullers has had a couple of interesting starts. I doubt his owner is done with him but keep an eye on him if he has another poor start. His GB% is nearly 70% and his BABIP is somehow .455! The K rate is nearly 15/9, so you won’t be able to get him cheap. If his next start is a disaster, go and BUY!

Marco Estrada is killing it so far through 2 starts with a 2.77 ERA. However, his left on base percentage is 100%, his BABIP is .171 and his K/BB ratio is slightly over 2. He’s a disaster waiting to happen. See if you can SELL him for a top 200 bat or mid/bottom tier closer.

 

Eight Bold Predictions for 2018

Delino DeShields (ADP 190) outperforms Starling Marte (ADP 49) in Standard 5×5
I’m not the biggest fan of Starling Marte coming into 2018 and the hype train is once again full steam ahead for Delino DeShields aka “The Dentist” (just like in 2016). On the surface, it’s easy to see DeShields pulling this one off because he’s finally been given the leadoff spot and there isn’t much competition for his job in center field. Obviously, he has to perform and get on base for the Rangers to keep him there. What I see is six home runs and 29 steals in only 440 plate appearances in 2017. Given 600 to 650 PA this year he could hit 10 home runs and steal 35-40 bases and while I don’t think he will hit for as high of an average as Marte, the run total should be around 90 given his 10% walk rate. My projections for Marte are .275-9-33, I just don’t believe in the power and he’s never been a great run producer.

Ozzie Albies hits 25 home runs, steals 30 bases and is a top 25 player
I’ve seen a lot of people ridiculously high on Albies, but not many are predicting 20 home runs let alone 25; that’s what makes this one bold. I threw in the top 25 player ranking even though almost anyone who goes 25/30 is likely a top 25 player. The steals aren’t as crazy because he stole 29 bases in 154 games in 2017 (AAA and MLB) and 30 in 2016 between AA and AAA plus scouts have tabbed him at 70-grade speed out of 80. Here’s where it gets bold; he is being projected for between 10 and 15 home runs, so where do I get 25? Albies changed his approach early in 2017 to try and elevate the ball more which he accomplished upping his fly ball rate from about 30% in 2016 to 39% in 2017. He ended up hitting 15 home runs between AAA and the Majors which was 9 more than in 2016. He’s continued this trend in the spring with a ground out/air out ratio of 0.73, meaning he’s hitting only about 40% ground balls and 60% LD+FB. Let’s assume 41% FB rate for 2018 with 650 PA for Albies (hitting 2nd for 150+ games) with a 17% K rate and an 8% BB rate. That comes out to about 485 balls in play at 41% FB rate with a HR/FB rate of 12.6% comes out to 25 HR. I believe.

Patrick Corbin is a top 20 Starting Pitcher
Here are the statistics from the 20th best SP in 2017: 10 Wins, 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 209 strikeouts. That’s Yu Darvish if you’re wondering. Kind of a mixed bag, low win total, high(ish) ERA, low WHIP and a lot of strikeouts. My projections for Corbin this year are 13 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 179 strikeouts. More wins and a better ERA but fewer strikeouts and a higher WHIP, but that would definitely be good for a top 30 stater for sure. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to assume more wins (he did win 14 games in 189 innings in 2017) and maybe a few more strikeouts given 200 innings pitched (I have him projected for 190) to put him right around the top 20. He’s got a 50+% ground ball rate, a Swstr rate of 11% last year, the humidor should help with some of his HR issues as well as the high BABIP effectively lowering his projected ERA and WHIP.

Lewis Brinson Outperforms Byron Buxton in Standard 5×5
Brinson should be given every opportunity to show his skills this year in Miami because let’s face it, there’s really no else that should take his spot. He’s mashing this spring to the tune of .339/.377/.607 triple slash line and RosterResource has him leading off! Brinson doesn’t have the speed Buxton does (not many do) but I feel that Brinson will be the better hitter long-term and takes a step in that direction in 2018. I think given a full season, Brinson is more than capable of hitting 20 homers and stealing 15-18 bases while hitting .260-.275. That’s good enough to keep him in the leadoff spot (if he can walk a little) and with Castro, Realmuto, and Bour hitting behind him, I can see 85+ runs. Buxton, on the other hand, may hit 8th or 9th so that’s a killer for run production. I can see Buxton struggle to hit for average again and while I like his ability to hit 15-20 homers with 30 steals, I think Brinson has a chance to outperform him.

Joey Gallo leads the majors in home runs with 50 AND Hits .245 with 10 steals
At first, I thought about just doing 50 homers and 10 steals, but he’s such a beast, if he’s given 650 plate appearances, 50 homers is basically a lock. However, given his 37% K rate, a .245 average is a long shot. He did cut his K rate to under 35% in the second half last year and his BABIP, which was .250, had a xBABIP of about .275. Using a 34% K rate and a BABIP of .275, I still fall short of a .245 batting average, so this prediction needs a bit of luck to something like a BABIP of .290, now that’s possible! For the HRs, he needs to keep his 52% FB rate with his 30% HR/FB rate and 615 plate appearances. Steals can be fluky but he did steal seven bases in only 532 plate appearances, so three more in 85 more PA is certainly possible.

Chad Kuhl outperforms Gerrit Cole in all fantasy categories other than wins
This is more about Kuhl taking a big step forward than significant regression for Cole. The categories I’m referencing in my prediction are ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Cole’s numbers last year were 4.26/1.25 with 196 strikeouts; Kuhl last year: 4.35/1.47 with 142 strikeouts in 157 innings. Cole has a career K rate of 8.44 and will no longer get to face the pitcher two or three times a game. I’m expecting a slight K rate drop to 8.2. His innings should go down with all the able body long relievers/spot starters (Peacock, McHugh), the 10-day DL, and his ratios should be around 4.00 and 1.25. I do believe Kuhl is a much better pitcher than his numbers indicated last year and a significant walk rate decrease is in order to keep his WHIP in check. I could see a 4.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP from Kuhl but how about the strikeouts? Kuhl throws 96 mph with a nasty slider that he only threw 20% of the time last year. If he throws that more and can locate his fastball, he could be around a 9.0 K/9. With that rate, he would only have to throw about 175 innings to Cole’s 190 IP.

The Phillies make the playoffs
Hoskins, Kingery, Santana, Arrieta! Other than 50 games from Hoskins, those are all new ML players for the Phillies this year. All of them should be worth between 2.0 WAR to 4.3 WAR. I also think Nola takes a step forward as well and you lose the likes of Tommy Joseph who was worth -1.1 WAR (yuck) in 2017 and Michael Saunders who was worth -0.7 WAR. I also believe Maikel Franco (-0.5 WAR) improves this year and Odubel Herrera takes a step forward. Now, this is all very unscientific and you can’t just say all of these players/improvements are worth 20+ wins this year (which would put them at 86 wins). Right now they are projected for 75 wins, good for 11th best in the NL. To reach a top-five spot in the NL makes this prediction bold.

Tim Beckham outperforms Justin Upton in Standard 5×5
Yeah, even this one is hard for me to believe. Upton is coming off a career year hitting 35 home runs, stealing 14 bases and driving in 109 runs and now he gets to hit behind Mike Trout. It’s not that I think Beckham will put up those numbers but I think Upton is a bit of a letdown in 2018 after signing a big contract with the Angels. I think Upton’s batting average goes back to the .255 range and his power falls back to around 27-30. At age 30, his speed will continue to dwindle and an 8-10 steal season is likely. Now, for Beckham, he needs to build on his second half of 2017 and now with a full season in Baltimore and an increase in fly ball percentage indicated by his Spring Training GO/AO ratio tells me he can hit 30 home runs. That’s his ground out/air out ratio which is under 1.0 during Spring Training. He’s also not a zero in terms of speed so 8-10 steals is possible. If he hits .260, he’s right on par with Justin Upton. This is a longshot, but that’s what makes it bold.

Swingin’ on the Gallo’s Pole

The ultimate three true outcome hitter and the ultimate BOOM or BUST fantasy player. Joey Gallo is currently going just inside the top 100 after hitting 41 HRs in only 532 plate appearances in 2017!  That’s nuts. YARRR!  You know what else is nuts? Having 196 K and 75 BB in those 532 plate appearances. Calculating, calculating… that comes to 58.6% of his PA resulted in a HR, K, or walk in 2017. I’m not going to give the easy, lazy comparison of Gallo to former Texas Ranger Chris Davis because Gallo strikeouts more (hard to believe), walks more (that’s good), and actually hits the ball harder and in the air more than Davis ever has.  There is no single player comp for Gallo.

The closest comp I can find is that of Miguel Sano. He strikes out just about as much (36.8% for Gallo, 35.8% for Sano) and hits the ball just as hard as Sano (93.1 mph for Gallo, 92.4 mph for Sano). However, he’s a much better athlete than Sano and hits the ball in the air over 10% more often than Sano. That’s good for his home run totals but bad for his BABIP and batting average. But let’s go back to how hard he hits the ball. He actually hits the ball just about as hard as anyone.  Take a look at the 2017 Baseball Savant Statcast Leaderboard. Gallo is second only to Aaron Judge in Brls/BBE and 4th in Brls/PA! Notice anything interesting about the top five in Brls/PA? They all finished in the top five for home runs in 2017. That’s great, but you know the issue; Gallo strikes out way too much. His number of batted ball events is more than 100 less than any of the other top 5 HR hitters, which makes what he did in 2017 even more impressive.

So we know with all those fly balls his BABIP and batting average are going to suffer but a .250 BABIP is awfully low for a guy like Gallo. As a result of his frequent hard contact, I don’t think he’s a .209 hitter unless his K rate goes up to something like 43%. As crazy as that sounds, it’s actually possible with a guy like Gallo. That’s the downfall. If that happens, Texas may have to send him back to the minors. So the floor could look something like a sub .200 average and 20 HRs due to being sent to the minors for a half a season or so. Not good.

But, this young lumberjack of a man is 24 years old, 6-5 and 235 pounds. He improved his overall contact and lowered his swinging strike rates. They are still basically among the league’s worst rates but have I mentioned he hit 41 HRs with those contact numbers! Oh I did? Anyways, I’ll bet on talent and youth more often than not. I’m willing to gamble on him for 2018 not only because of the power, but because his career 13.9% BB rate which should help him through prolonged slumps. Also, his 123 WRC+ in 2017 ranked third on the Rangers behind only Beltre and Chirinos, neither of which played over 95 games in 2017. By production, he’s basically one of the top two or three hitters on the Rangers (Andrus and rookie Willie Calhoun should also be up there) and spent most of the season hitting between the number 5 and number 9 slots in the order.

When you break down the numbers, he’s not all that different than Aaron Judge. I’m expecting regression from Judge in terms on batting average and with a full season of at bats from Gallo, their numbers could be almost identical with about 80 picks between them. For 2018, I’ll give Gallo: .230/.340 43 HRs, 84 runs, 93 RBI, 7 steals. Look at his 2nd half splits where his batted ball luck was more neutral. Don’t sleep on his speed either, he had a 5.5 speed score in 2017 and is an above average base runner. Ten steals is not out of the question. That’s the Joey Gallo I expect in 2018 and he qualifies at 1B, 3B, and OF. Way Too Early ADP checks in around 98. With those projections he slides just inside the top 50 overall. The risk is too high to take him there but I wouldn’t let him get much further than 75 overall.