Typically, at the midway point of the regular season, I cover BABIP outliers to buy and fade for the second half. However, since we only had a 60 game season, I’ll cover buys and fades for 2021. During the 2019 season, I wrote this piece and by in large, regression set in for most of these hitters in the second half. Let’s apply that same thinking to these hitters for 2021. Keep in mind that the expected BABIP (xBABIP) I calculated below is descriptive, so it doesn’t mean the player’s past performance is what we should expect going forward. That being said, outliers are where there’s a much higher probability regression to set in. There are a number of factors that may not be covered in the xBABIP equation that I’ll touch on in the player blurbs below.
- Sprint Speed
- Shift and pull rates
- Park Factors
Now let’s cover the BABIP overperformers from 2020. I’m going to stay away from fully analyzing Rockies’ hitters as they regularly show up on these overperformers list when discussing BABIP. Coors Field boosts BABIP by 30-35 points on average and xBABIP does not include Park Factors in it’s equation. So, we can somewhat ignore Ramiel Tapia, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and to some extent Nolan Arenado. But, more on him later.
2020 BABIP Overachievers
Cedric Mullins (OF – BAL)
Baltimore churned out some value especially late in the season with the addition of Ryan Mountacaste and to a lesser extent, Austin Hayes. Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins managed to quietly produce three homers and seven steals while hitting .270 in 153 plate appearances. However, he somehow managed a .350 BABIP with just a 31.7% hard-hit rate and an atrocious popup rate that was nearly double the league-average. Weak contact and popups appear to be Mullins’ MO early in his career. His defense could buy him some playing time, but I’m staying away from him as a sleeper in 2021.
Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS)
Verdugo has always been a high-contact hitter capable of carrying high batting averages. It was true in the minors and so far he has a .290 BA in 709 career plate appearances in the bigs. However, his xBABIP from 2020 was frighteningly low. His hard hit% declined from a year ago and his strikeout rate jumped by 7%. Typically, that combination doesn’t provide a higher batting average but for Verdugo, it did. Now, he does have one thing going for him, Fenway Park. Outside of Coors Field, Fenway allows the highest BABIP for hitters. Over the last three seasons, Fenway Park has allowed a BABIP of .327! I think it fair to say Verdugo is a strong candidate to outperform his xBABIP once again in 2021. I just wouldn’t expect a .300+ BA unless he cuts his K% below 15%.
Adalberto Mondesi (SS – KCR)
Mondesi went from an early-round bust to league winner in just two months. He’s certainly a flawed hitter but can provide fantasy gold in an era where steals are at a premium. I’d be lying if I told you I could predict where Mondesi’s BABIP will fall in 2021 but I can try! I have an issue with the .281 xBABIP spits out for him. His speed alone is an outlier that messes with the equation. In any season with over 200 PA, he hasn’t posted a BABIP below .335. He’s also improved his HH% and hit more grounders. Unfortunately, that came at the expense of line drives. In other words, his xBABIP docked him for a poor line drive rate. Line drive rates take forever to stabilize, so I’m not trusting the low mark from 2020. It’s, something to monitor but Mondesi seems safe for another .335ish BABIP in 2021.
Alec Bohm (3B – PHI)
Bohm’s rookie campaign went a bit under the radar. It’s probably because he only hit four homers and played in a Phillies team that really struggled. Obviously, a .410 BABIP is not sustainable (unless your TA), so that’s coming down. However, in the small sample, he still managed a very solid .347 xBABIP. I’ll be honest, I really like Bohm’s approach. He does everything well and he profiles as a high-BABIP hitter. If he can improve his launch angle, we are looking at a .280-.300 hitter with 25-30 HR pop.
David Peralta (OF – ARI)
I think some people may look at Peralta’s .300 BA in 2020 and expect him to provide value there in 2021. It makes sense, he’s always been a solid BA source. But, I don’t see it that way. He’ll turn 34 next year and his quality of contact has faded the last two seasons. There’s no real upside here and he’s only attempted one steal over the last two seasons. A .270 BA with 12-15 HR and no speed feels like waiver wire fodder to me.
Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
Did Conforto take a step forward in 2020? The simple answer is no. His barrel rate remained unchanged and his hard hit% dipped a little. He lowered his launch angle hitting more line drives and had a more all-fields approach but, come on. A .412 BABIP! Those pointing to his career sub-.300 BABIP is a bit lazy though. He dropped his pull% by 13%. That doesn’t seem like an accident. Of course, fewer pulled balls will result in fewer home runs. As a lefty though, fewer pulled pull balls with result in a higher BABIP as he’ll be able to beat the shifts. OK, so he wasn’t the same hitter in 2020. But, will he revert back, keep his changes, or fall somewhere in the middle? The latter is the most likely result. So, maybe we cant bank on 30 homers but I don’t think he’ll be a BA liability either. So, let’s say he goes .275 with 25 homers and 5-8 steals? Meh, his early ADP is around 70 so I think he’ll be over-drafted in 2021.
Nelson Cruz (OF – MIN)
Cruz goes against everything we know about aging curves. Expecting regression from a 40-year old seems obvious but we can’t simply just do that with Cruz. He’s a machine with an insane 57 homers over his last 173 games. He can’t do this forever, right? Well, there were some signs of decline. A slight dip in hard hit% and his K% increased for the second straight season. He’s always struggled against breaking balls and he took a step back against offspeed pitches as well. However, he still feasts on fastballs. His struggles against non-fastballs shows up in xBA which was his lowest in the Statcast era. There’s a real chance he strikes out 30% of the time and hits .250 with 25-30 homers next year. There’s also the possibility of hitting .300-40. For me, I’ll project .265-32.
Willy Adames (SS – TBR)
I was into Adames coming into 2020 as he was dirt-cheap in drafts. Given the depth at the shortstop position, it made sense. Adames doesn’t have great power or elite speed but coming into 2020 he was just 24 years old, showed progress in his quality of contact, and was locked in as SS for the Rays. Not much to lose at pick 300. While he did improve his barrel rate and hard-hit rate in 2020, his strikeouts went through the roof (36.1%). Strikeout rates seemed to be wonky for a lot of players in this shortened season, so I’m inclined to lean on the larger sample from 2019 in terms of K%.
However, his SwStr% and zone contact rates were atrocious. I think projecting him around his career mark of 29% seems reasonable for 2021. He’s been able to sustain moderate success despite elevated strikeout rates due to a .348 BABIP. We are talking about over 1100 plate appearances, so that’s a large enough sample to believe in his elevated BABIP profile. His Sweet spot% is very good as is his line drive rate. I do worry about his heavy-pull approach change this year but think that regresses some. If Adames isn’t going to use his 83rd percentile sprint speed to swipe bags, I think he’s just going to be a .240-.250 hitter with 20-25 homer pop. If he chips in 6-8 steals, he’s solid value. Early ADPs, per @SmadaPlaysFantasy has him going after pick 250 once again. This was a long-winded way of saying, Adames may once again be a nice value as your MI in 15 team formats.
Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)
I’ve never been a believer in McNeil’s power. He was being drafted right near D.J. LeMahieu coming into 2020 and while similar players, I didn’t get it. Here’s what I said after the 2019 season.
Tweet (1 of 2)
Someone help me out here:
Jeff McNeil 2020 Steamer Pro
DJ LeMahieu 2020 Steamer Pro
See next tweet 👇👇
— Max Freeze (@FreezeStats) November 29, 2019
(2/2) 2019 Metrics
88.4 MPH AVG EV (165th)
107.2 MPH Max EV
91.7 MPH AVG EV (19th)🔥
111.1 MPH Max EV
DJ>>McNeil & it’s not all that close
— Max Freeze (@FreezeStats) November 29, 2019
McNeil took a step back in terms of barrel% and average exit velocity in 2020 yet still hit .311. What’s odd is that his career xBA is .286 but his career BA is a fantastic .318. Maybe there’s something that isn’t captured in the xBA or xBABIP equation that McNeil excels at. While his metrics are poor, the one thing he does well is put the bat in the ball. He has a sub-20% whiff% against all pitch types. So, while I think he’ll maintain a solid BA, I’ll take the under on .311.
Now, to the power. He has more home runs than barrels since the start of 2019. Anyone projecting him for 20-25 homers in 2021 may be disappointed. 23 of his 27 homers over the last two years have come from the pull side. His pull% declined in 2020 and maybe there’s a rebound in 2021 but what will the ball look like? Without the juiced ball, McNeil profiles as a 12-15 homer hitter. Speed? Don’t count on it. He’s managed Just five steals in his last 185 games. Fortunately, his early ADP in is between 100-110. That seems about right. If his ADP creeps up inside of 90 overall as it was in 2020, i’ll be out.
I mentioned Nolan Arenado earlier and found it interesting that his that he didn’t show up on the underachievers list despite a lowly .241 BABIP. In fact, his xBABIP was slightly lower at .236, second lowest among qualified hitters! He was awful in 2020 but the shoulder likely had something to do with it. I’m expecting a bounce back but to 100%. There’s also the real possibility he’s moved at some point in 2021.