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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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Hitters to Buy in 2020 Using Earned Home Runs and Deserved Barrels

Earlier this offseason I introduced the earned home run metric (eHR). I explained it here and analyzed some of the largest outliers from 2019 here. The metric’s backbone is barrels but included other variables including directional fly balls, home park factors, and exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. I also ran some regression analysis from 2018 to 2019 to determine how well the metric correlated from year 1 to year 2. The results showed weak correlation so there’s more work to do, but that article can be found here. What I ultimately determined was that while the correlations were slightly better than using strictly home runs per fly ball and home run per plate appearance, the results, as a whole, are inconclusive. That is for extremely small samples and for the players where eHR and HR totals did not differ by a significant margin. Where the value lies in eHR is with outliers.

Alex Chamberlain of RotoGraphs developed a deserved barrel (dBRL%) metric this offseason which has been extremely helpful. His research is great and makes a lot sense so I found a way to use his analysis in conjunction with my earned home run metric. Chamberlain’s introduction to the deserved barrel metric can be found here. But, he refined the dBRL equation earlier this month and the results are much more reliable. In the second article, he explains that the adjusted r-squared (r^2) improved to 0.8 up from 0.68. That’s a huge bump in reliability. Please be sure you check the article out. He still uses a slight bit of caution in that the metric is more valuable when looking at outliers. The way I’ll be using the two metrics together is identifying players that extremely over or underperformed their actual barrel rate based on the deserved barrel percentage but also earned their home run total from 2019. OR, even better, in the rare instance when a player either over or underperformed both deserved barrel% and earned home runs.

That sounded confusing as I wrote it, so let me give you an example. Mookie Betts. His barrel rate in 2019 was 10.3%. Chamberlain’s dBRL metric pegged him for an 11.6% BRl% given his dBRL equation that includes exit velocity and launch angles (aka quality of contact). That’s great, so Betts deserved more barrels in 2019. More barreled balls mean better results. Looking at the earned home run metric, Betts earned an additional 4.68 home runs in 2019 compared to his actual total of 29 home runs. But, I use his actual barrels produced in 2019 in my equation, not dBRL. So Betts’ quality of contact did not directly reflect his bottom line so given his actual barrel rate he actually earned almost an additional five home runs. If the ball remains unchanged, Betts is a guy who could reach a new career-high in home runs in 2020.

Alright, let’s take a look at the players who have a nice buying opportunity in 2020 given this analysis. The second column is simply deserved barrel% minus barrel%. The third column is earned home runs minus home run. I’ve included each player’s HR/FB rate from 2019 as I’ll come back to this article to determine whether or not improvements were made.

Earned HR & Deserved BRL% Underachievers (Buys)

Up for 2020dBRL%-BRL%eHR-HRHR/FB%
Jose Ramirez2.50%0.9012.00%
Mookie Betts1.30%4.8613.10%
Byron Buxton2.60%5.7510.10%
Renato Nunez1.40%5.1516.70%
Shohei Ohtani-1.00%6.4626.50%
Matt Chapman1.20%3.9919.00%
Marcell Ozuna-0.50%7.4022.10%
Rafael Devers2.20%0.3417.70%
Lorenzo Cain2.40%0.629.90%
Andrew Benintendi0.40%5.767.90%
Josh Donaldson-1.30%10.3925.70%
Enrique Hernandez2.70%1.8412.20%
CJ Cron-2.70%14.4719.50%
Brandon Belt1.70%3.718.80%
Yoan Moncada0.30%6.5120.20%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.0.20%5.8712.10%
Bryce Harper-1.80%10.9323.50%
Rhys Hoskins2.10%3.5214.30%
Aaron Judge0.40%8.2135.10%
Travis Shaw4.10%4.0510.10%
Howie Kendrick0.30%6.1817.90%
Matt Olson0.30%5.5423.70%
Jose Abreu-0.60%14.0921.00%

Source: Alex Chamberlain – RotoGraphs & BaseballSavant



2020 Players to Buy – Under-performed eHR & dBRL

If you’re looking for something positive in Travis Shaw‘s profile that might indicate a bounceback, this is it. Keep in mind, he only managed 270 plate appearances, so his sample is small and therefore, not as reliable. Even still, he maintained a high pulled fly ball rate and hit the ball. He needs to get his contact rate under control but if he gets 100% run at 1B in Toronto, he should get back to 25+ home runs. That’s a steal at his current ADP of 410.

Byron Buxton really surprised me here. His approach completely changed last year as his launch angle jumped seven degrees. Additionally, his exit velocity shot up while cutting his strikeout rate. That’s huge. But, fewer ground balls portend to a lower BABIP and fewer stolen base opportunities, especially with his five percent jump in popup rate. The health cloud is always surrounding him, so he’ll remain an enigma for me.

Annnnnd just like that I’m back in on Rhys Hoskins. His stock has dropped like a rock after being taken inside the top 50 in 2019. He’s all the down at 115 but still has 35-40 homer power (given the juiced ball). Plus, the Phillies lineup is still very good. He’s not going to help in BA or stolen bases but 35 home runs with 200 R+RBI is gold.

It looks like Jose Ramirez is coming in at a discount in 2020 with an NFBC ADP of 18 as of today. Using dBRL%, he earned 10 additional barrels bringing him up to 36 barrels in about 3/4 of a season. While eHR only has him adding about one home run, he still deserved at least six to seven additional home runs in 2019. Assuming the ball remains unchanged and a full season, I’d expect 30-32 home runs from Ramirez in 2020.



I’m inclined to grab Renato Nunez as my corner infielder in all of my 15-team formats. His ADP is currently 277 after players like David Peralta and Joey Votto. He hit 31 home runs last year and actually earned 36. Chamberlain’s dBRL says he should have had five additional barrels. We are creeping dangerously close to 40 homers given these two metrics. His park is extremely favorable and the lineup is not as bad as advertised. I won’t project him for 40 home runs in 2020 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a .250-35-95 season from him.

Based on my quasi-scientific calculation, Mookie Betts earned approximately 36 home runs in 2019. His stolen base total dropped but his power is as strong as ever. He was the same steller hitter, just unlucky. Fenway Park doesn’t help either and he’s staying put for this season. Unfortunately, the fantasy community is not buying Mookie’s “down” year as he’s the 4th player off the board in 2020. I would not be surprised if he finished 2020 hitting over .300 with 35+ homers, 20 steals and vying for the number one fantasy player next season.

As if we needed another reason to be giddy about the 23-year-old Rafael Devers, he deserved 12 more barrels in 2019. My eHR metric was neutral but go ahead and add those barrels onto his season total and you’ve got another eight homers! Now, remember, Fenway is difficult for power, so maybe his earned total is closer to 38 but still fantastic! Here’s a fun one for ya. Devers hit his first home run on May 3rd last year. From that point forward, here’s his line: .314/.357/.593 112 R, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 4 SB.

It’s nice to see that Jose Abreu, earned home run’s second-largest underperformer, deserved all but 2-3 of his barrels. He’s on the wrong side of 30, so expecting some performance decline is inevitable based on age. However, given these results, I don’t see why he can’t repeat his 2019 statline with maybe a few extra homers and natural regression in RBI.



Aaron Judge is still among the top one percent in all of baseball in terms of crushing baseballs. A healthy Judge can still hit 50 home runs and would be a lock for 40 bombs if he can manage at least 600 plate appearances. Nothing flashy, just simple analysis here.

Marcell Ozuna has under-performed his Statcast metrics two years running making his 2017 breakout seem like an outlier. Ya boy Max doesn’t see it that way. His home parks combined with some poor luck have held Ozuna’s numbers down the last two seasons. He remains unsigned this offseason and it looks inevitable that he’ll be back with the Cardinals. I’ll hold out hope that he goes elsewhere because Busch Stadium is one of the worst parks for offensive production.

Earned home runs pegged Matt Chapman for just about 40 homers in 2019 and his quality of contact was BETTER than his barrel rate indicates. Oakland Collusiem performs relatively neutral for home runs despite conventional thinking. I love Chapman and his price is reasonable. My only concern is his high variance in launch angle tightness. This high variance could mean a wild swing in production. A few of those deep fly balls could turn into popups or low line drives. That being said, the power is legit and I have no issue expecting a repeat of 2019 while adding a few points in batting average.

Similar to Abreu, Josh Donaldson is an aging veteran who had a very nice 2019. He was finally healthy and finished as one of seven players to surpass 60 barrels last season. Deserved barrels docks him five or so barrels and given his age and health history, it’ll be tough to repeat. Luckily for early drafters, his ADP hasn’t changed much over the last year (105 overall in NFBC drafts). I’m grabbing him at that price but it’ll be interesting to see how his value rises now that he’s with the Minnesota Juggernauts.

Deserved barrels dropped Bryce Harper BRL% to 13% which is still very impressive. Including dBRL to earned home runs cuts his eHR difference in half but 5-6 additional home runs in 2019 setting his home runs total at 40. Given Citizen’s Bank Park’s favorable right field, I am fully on board with Harper reaching the 40-homer plateau in 2020.

C.J Cron’s 15% barrel rate last year seemed to good to be true. As it turns out, it was. But, a 12.3% barrel rate is still among the elite. When we combine the two metrics, Cron should have eclipsed 30 homers for the second straight season instead of finishing with just 25. The move to DET is not great but he should play every day in the middle of that lineup, so he’s another nice late-round flier.



Yoan Moncada’s elevated strikeout rate may keep him from hitting .315 again but I’m projecting a power breakout in 2020. While his 2019 strikeout rate was high at 27.5%, it was a 6% improvement from the previous year. Growth from a young player is always a very good thing. As a prospect, his hit tool was rated well-above-average, so if he can continue to improve his contact rate the sky is the limit. Unless Moncada’s ADP settles inside the top 50 (currently at 68), I’m going to be all over him. Don’t be surprised if he reaches 35 home runs in 2020.

Nothing to see here. Matt Olson just earned 40 home runs in just 127 games! Look, Olson is being hyped by just about everyone. His ADP is soaring because of it, but as is he’s going 30 picks after Pete Alonso. I think they are very similar, so give me Olson over Alonso every time given the discount.

Despite a 50+% ground ball rate, Vlad Jr. still earned nearly six additional home runs last year. He just crushes the ball evidenced by hitting the hardest ball of 2019. Check out my piece at Pitcher List on his power potential. I can understand the lofty ADP. His combination of exit velocity and high contact could yield 35+ homers with a .300 batting average in the future.

Unfortunately for Kike Hernandez, the Dodgers have so much positional depth making him a utility option; a part-time option at that. Even still, he should have finished closer to 23-34 homers in 2019 instead of 17. The power breakout we saw in 2018 is real and he’s a nice option in NL-Only and deep-leagues for cheap power.

Normally, I’d been in on Lorenzo Cain with this data but he’s going to be 34 years old. His speed is dwindling and so is the power. While he deserved better in 2019, I don’t expect 15+ homers in 2020.

Here we go again with Brandon Belt. Oracle Park is brutal for left-handed power. Moving the walls in a bit could help but I’m still not buying unless he’s traded. Plugging in dBRL into my eHR equation, he still would have finished with 24 home runs in 2019 across 616 PA. That’s the first time he’s surpassed 600 PA since 2016 so the probability of a repeat is low. Besides, 24 homers in this era does not move the needle.

Andrew Benintendi needs to go back to what he does best. Using his elite hit tool and driving balls all over the field. The dream of 30 home runs for him may likely never come to fruition but eHR shows that he still has some pop. If he can get back to hitting .290 with 20 homers in the Red Sox lineup, he’s a good value at pick just after 100 overall.

Howie Kendrick’s age-35 season was so impressive when you consider his career. His zone contact rate was the best of his career while posting the second-best HR/FB rate. He’s still just a part-time player so his value will lie in NL-Only leagues and for streaming purposes.

Pitching every sixth game is going to limit Shohei Ohtani‘s value as a hitter. Then again, Joe Maddon claims he could use Ohtani as the team’s DH when he pitches. So, there’s that. Ohtani is a unicorn. If he managed 600+ PA, he would hit 35 home runs and steal 12-15 bases. If he threw 200 innings, he’d be a top 10 arm. Neither will happen but we can still enjoy his talent wherever he’s at on the field.

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





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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.

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Photo by: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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Third Base Rankings for 2019

It’s February already! I need to get moving on my rankings. This post completes my infield rankings and I plan on getting the outfielder rankings out early next week. If you want to see all my other rankings, CLICK HERE! 

Where were we? Oh, right, third base rankings. Third base is pretty deep this year. However, there’s a shit-ton of guys that are eligible at other positions (especially if you play in Yahoo leagues). If I’m being honest, in Yahoo leagues, I just draft the player with the best value and worry about positions later. The chances are, you can fill out a roster in Yahoo formats without worrying about positions. For the rest of us, I’ve put out my rankings with tiers to make things a little bit easier. The tiers are based on my projections and standard gain points. I write a blurb on each tier below the rankings. Here we go!

Rankings Updated 3/13/19.

Third Base Rankings for 2019

Pos RankPlayerTeamPositionsTier
1Jose RamirezCLE2B/3B1
2Nolan ArenadoCOL3B1
3Manny MachadoSDSS/3B1
4Alex BregmanHOUSS/3B1
5Javier BaezCHC2B/SS/3B2
6Anthony RendonWAS3B2
7Kris BryantCHC3B2
8Eugenio SuarezCIN3B2
9Vlad Guerrero Jr.TOR3B2
10Travis ShawMIL2B/3B2
11Matt CarpenterSTL1B/2B/3B3
12Miguel AndujarNYY3B3
13Matt ChapmanOAK3B3
14Justin TurnerLAD3B3
15Max MuncyLAD1B/2B/3B3
16Wil MyersSD3B/OF4
17Mike MoustakasMIL3B4
18Josh DonaldsonATL3B4
19Rafael DeversBOS3B4
20Jurickson ProfarOAK1B/2B/SS/3B4
21Eduardo EscobarARISS/3B4
22Yuli GurrielHOU1B/2B/3B4
23Evan LongoriaSF3B4
24Kyle SeagerSEA3B4
25Carlos SantanaCLE1B/3B5
26Nick SenzelCIN3B5
27Jed LowrieNYM2B/3B5
28Asdrubal CabreraTEX2B/SS/3B5
29Jeimer CandelarioDET3B5
30Jake LambARI3B5
31Joey WendleTB2B/3B/OF5
32Maikel FrancoPHI3B5
33Colin MoranPIT3B5
34Niko GoodrumDET1B/2B/SS/3B/OF6
35Ian HappCHC3B/OF6
36Hernan PerezMIL2B/SS/3B/OF6
37Miguel SanoMIN1B/3B6
38Hunter DozierKC1B/3B6
39Renato NunezBAL3B6
40Scott KingeryPHISS/3B6
41Zack CozartLAA2B/SS/3B6
42Jedd GyorkoSTL2B/3B6
43Aledmys DiazHOUSS/3B6
44Johan CamargoATLSS/3B7
45Matt DavidsonTEX1B/3B7
46Matthew DuffyTB3B7
47Tim BeckhamSEASS/3B7
48Eduardo NunezBOS2B/3B7
49Todd FrazierNYM3B7
50Alen HansonSF3B7
51Miguel RojasMIASS/3B7
52Yangervis SolarteFA2B/3B7
53Austin RileyATL3B7
54Isiah Kiner-FalefaTEXC/2B/3B7

TIER 1: I’ve discussed Ramirez (2B Rankings), Bregman (SS Rankings), and Baez (both 2B and SS Rankings). Nolan Arenado is the only player in tier 1 I have not discussed. Arenado is still just 27 years old and has averaged 40 home runs and 125 RBI the last four seasons while never hitting below .287 in that span. That’s incredible, bankable production, he’s great. However, his production did dip a little bit in 2018. His barrel rate was just 7.4% in 2018 behind hitters such as Kike Hernandez, Starling Marte, and Lewis Brinson. His previous elite level strikeout rate dipped three percent to 18.1%. Calling Colorado home, I still see Arenado around .290 with 35 homers and 100 RBI, but without any speed, I no longer feel comfortable grabbing him inside the top 10 (he’s 11 for me).

TIER 2: Rendon is criminally underrated every single year. His injury history past is far behind him as he’s averaged 616 plate appearances a year the last three seasons. I discussed Rendon in my HR/BRL under-performers, so you know I love him going into 2019. Bryant is due for a bounce back after suffering from injuries all year in 2018. That being said, I don’t see the MVP caliber season we saw in 2016 from Bryant. I think his numbers will be similar to Rendon’s with about 10-15 points lower in terms of batting average. Then there’s Vlad. It’s amazing that he’s in the second tier without playing a single game in the Majors. He profiles as a .300 hitter with good power. That’s why he’s here. His numbers could be as good or better than Rendon’s or similar to Andujar’s (on the low side).

TIER 3: This tier is filled with injury concerns and breakouts. Basically, I don’t anticipate that any of these players play enough games or perform at their peak level. For instance, Carpenter is 33 years old and is coming off a season where he hit 36 home runs, eight more than his previous career high. I know he’s a Statcast hero, but with a rising strikeout rate, a lower batting average and a home run total closer to 26-28, I’m not comfortable putting him inside the top 75. I’ll touch on Chapman because, at age-25, he has the power potential to hit 35+ homers. I still think he’s a year away from a monster season but still, think he’s worth a top 100 pick given the Athletics lineup and his improvements from 2018.

TIER 4: Josh Donaldson still harnesses power and solid plate discipline. That’s about where the positives end. He’s 33 years old, hasn’t had more 496 plate appearances since 2016, and his contact rates have plummeted the last three seasons. His strikeout rate is trending in the wrong direction, since 2016, and it looks like this: 17%, 22.4%, 24.7%. Donaldson is a .250 hitter with 25-30 homer power, IF (big if there) he can stay healthy for 140 games. Wil Myers is in the same boat as Donaldson because he can’t stay healthy. Myers is intriguing because he has speed. A 25-20 season is in the possible outcomes for Myers. It’s a good time to buy Rafael Devers after he flopped last year. He’s only 22 years old and hasn’t yet reached his raw power potential. 2019 may be the cheapest Devers will be for the next 10 years.

TIER 5: Nick Senzel has the talent to jump two tiers right now but he’s dealt with injuries and bouts of vertigo over the last season plus. Basically, he’s a high risk/high reward player in 2019. The Reds are giving Senzel a shot at Centerfield with Suarez and Gennett blocking him at 3B and 2B, respectively. If he struggles defensively in center during spring training, he may be in the minors to start the season. I could see anywhere from .285-22-12 to .250-10-5 given injuries, minors, etc. Seager seems like a major average drain similar to Carlos Santana. Seager’s 30 homer potential is now gone and the lineup around him in Seattle is not exciting. He’s the epitome of a boring, everyday veteran. He still has value in 15-team leagues, but I won’t be reaching for him. Jake Lamb is interesting because he’s moving to 1B with the departure of Goldy. Still, on the right side of 30, Lamb could still hit 25 homers while sitting against lefties.

TIER 6: This is truly the swiss-army knife tier. I’ve touched on most of these guys at other positions but should discuss Ian Happ. Happ was someone I was high on coming into 2018 but he completely flopped as his strikeout rate went through the roof after an elevated 31% K rate his rookie year. The positives include youth, improved O-swing, and extremely valuable contact (when he actually does make contact). The bad, while he offered at pitches outside the zone less often, his zone contact rate dropped over 7%! He does run some and could pop 25+ homers given improvements in contact rate, but still remains very risky in Chicago where he doesn’t have an avenue to play every day. The other guy that no one is talking about is Renato Nunez, Baltimore’s third baseman. He should play every day and has shown 30 homer power in the minors. There’s a lot of holes to his offensive game and will be some slumps but Baltimore is a great park to hit in for power and given the lack of depth on the Orioles, he could hit fourth or fifth in the lineup if he’s successful.

Tier 7: is cringeworthy. There’s a combination of over-the-hill veterans and a few young players without a starting job. Personally, I’m hoping Frazier doesn’t reach 300 at-bats this year with Alonso coming up and McNeil getting more playing time. Matt Davidson has power but no starting role. Austin Riley was a favorite prospect of mine last year, but he took a step back. That’s the reason the Braves gave Josh Donaldson a one-year deal. Not only that, Johan Camargo had a solid year in 2018 and can fill in at short as well. In my opinion, Riley requires more seasoning and even if Donaldson gets injured, Riley will stay in Triple-A with Camargo filling in at third base. Riley will be called up this year but it won’t be until August or later. What happened to Eduardo Nunez? I’ll give you one word, SPEED! His steals went from 40 in 2016 to 24 in 2017, to just 7 in 2018. He actually had more plate appearances in 2018 than in 2017. Sure, he can play all over the field, but 2B is likely where he sees the most playing time. His speed is on the severe decline and I can’t bump him up at all.

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

Cover Image by: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images