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Buy Low Pitchers using BABIP and xwOBA

Digging DeepNow that we’ve passed the quarter-pole of the 2019 season, we are starting to be able to deep dive into the underlying statistics with more confidence. A quick way to see which pitchers we could argue have been unlucky is to compare their xwOBA (derived from Stat Cast batted ball data) against their BABIP.  Because xwOBA is based on the quality of the contact that a pitcher gives up, it would stand to reason that a low xwOBA should correlate highly with a low BABIP. Therefore, a pitcher who has produced a low xwOBA (expected offensive performance against them based on the quality/velocity/angle of batted ball events) but a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) would suggest that they are pitching very well but due to ‘luck’ factors (such as defensive positioning) they have not gotten outs where expected. Conversely, a pitcher with a high xwOBA but a low BABIP would reasonably be deemed to have been lucky thus far.

Using season-to-date data on qualified Starting Pitchers, I plotted the xwOBA (as of May 18th) on the y-axis and BABIP on the x-axis. Pitchers who have suppressed offense the most (ie have the lowest expected wOBA against) would be near the top of the graph and those with the highest xwOBA against would be near the lower part of the graph. Similarly, those pitchers who have given up the highest BABIP (batting average on balls in play) are on the right side of the graph and those with the lowest BABIPs would be in the far left of the graph. Those pitchers who have theoretically suppressed the hitting the most (low xwOBA) but for whatever reason have given up high BABIPs would be in the top right quadrant (unlucky). Pitchers in this area should have actually had better performance than they have had. Conversely, those pitchers in the lower left quadrant have actually likely over-performed (because they have had low BABIPs despite having given up high quality batted ball events) and are deemed to be lucky.

To help with the visualization, each ‘grid line’ represents one standard deviation. In other words, the average BABIP of the qualified pitchers was 0.287 (and is in the middle of the graph) and one standard deviation of BABIP (the x-axis) is 0.037; similarly, the average xwOBA (y-axis) is 0.314 (with a standard deviation of 0.034)

Beside the pitcher’s name, I have included their season ERA to date (as a quick metric of how they have done so far this year). For context, the average ERA is 3.84 with a standard deviation of 1.11. In other words, a pitcher who is one standard deviation better than average would have an ERA of 3.84-1.11 or 2.73.

xwOBA

Looking in the top right quadrant, we can see that the pitchers who are the ‘furthest’ away from the center-point (and have high BABIPs despite suppressing offense) are:

  • Blake Snell
  • Noah Syndergaard
  • Gerrit Cole
  • Eduardo Rodriguez
  • Max Scherzer
  • Zack Wheeler
  • Stephen Strasburg

The way to interpret the graph is to see that Blake Snell has an xwOBA more than 2 standard deviations better than league average (98th percentile) and has an approximate league average BABIP but despite this, his ERA is barely above league average at 3.31. All things being equal, we would expect his ERA “should” be in the top 98th percentile or around 1.90. If you look at who else is clustered at the same xwOBA as Snell in the graph, we have Tyler Glasnow (ERA of 1.86) and Luis Castillo (ERA of 1.90). Interestingly, Stephen Strasburg is also there with an ERA of 3.32.

Moving in toward the center point, we encounter Gerrit Cole (xwOBA in the top 5% but ERA barely above average at 3.56), Noah Syndergaard (top 10% xwOBA, one of the top 15% highest BABIPs against) and a corresponding 4.84 ERA. Worried owners of Thor should at least have comfort in the fact that his ERA “should” be in the low 3’s. Whether this is predictive will become clear as the season progresses, but at least be aware that his ‘true’ performance is actually still of an elite pitcher.

Similarly, we see that pitchers with ERAs far higher than their xwOBA suggests are Eduardo Rodriguez who has a better-than-league-average xwOBA but due to his high BABIP has ended up with a sky-high 4.84 ERA, Zack Wheeler (ERA of 4.85) and to a certain extent Max Scherzer (ERA of 3.72).

The luckiest Pitchers:

Taking the flipside and looking the bottom left quadrant, we find the pitchers with the highest xwOBA against (theoretically providing the least effective offensive suppression based on quality of batted ball data) but who have for whatever reason had the lowest BABIPs are:

  • Yonny Chirinos
  • Trevor Bauer
  • Shane Bieber
  • Andrew Cashner

The two biggest names that jump out are the Cleveland tandem of Trevor Bauer (ERA of 3.76) and Shane Bieber (ERA of 3.81). I think most owners would dismiss their “poor” performance (relative to their pre-season expectation) as a minor speedbump – and would expect them to bounce back and regress back to their expected talent level. Unfortunately, that narrative may actually not be true at all. The data shows that Bauer (league average xwOBA but a BABIP that is more than 1 standard deviation lower than average) and especially Bieber (xwOBA that is in the bottom (worst) 12% in the league and BABIP that is one of the lowest 12% in the league) have arguably been lucky this year. As we showed in an earlier article, xwOBA correlates highly with ERA and crudely an xwOBA such as Bieber’s “should” correlate to an expected ERA of 4.95…much higher than his current 3.81.

Looking for the lowest ERA of players in the lower left quadrant, we find Yonny Chirinos. The Ray pitcher who usually takes the bulk innings after an opener has performed very well thus far in 2019 with an ERA of 3.26. Owners (such as myself) have begrudgingly accepted his K9 is in the 6’s because his great rate stats have been extremely helpful in this current pitching environment. Unfortunately, this may all soon come crashing down as the graph shows that although he has a league average xwOBA, his BABIP (0.211) is 2 standard deviations lower than the league average of 0.287. Grasping at straws, a Chirinos owner might convince themselves that the Rays are at the forefront of analytics and may have insights into how he can continue to suppress BABIP – or that, in fact, he has not been lucky at all to have such a low BABIP but it is a product of the Tampa Bay defensive shifts. Rationally though, I think regression (to an ERA in the low 4’s) should be expected.

Andrew Cashner is an interesting name, not because he is a relevant pitcher, but because his ERA of 4.10 might have fantasy owners wondering if he actually should be relevant. Long story short, the answer is a resounding no. His xwOBA is one of the worst 5% in the league and his ERA should not be anywhere as close to league average as it is.

 

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Hot Prospects – Week 7

HOT PROSPECTS 1In this week’s Hot Prospects, I provide an analysis of the difficulty the Houston Astros face in promoting Yordan Alvarez.  While Alvarez has arguably been the best player in the minor leagues this season…ok, along with Casey Mize and Luis Robert, the calculus on his promotion is hard.

In addition to Alvarez, we provide 14 other prospects who have had great weeks.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.


Yordan Alvarez (Hou, 1B/OF, Triple-A)

With last week being prospect promotion week, to some, it was surprising that Yordan Alvarez was still in the minors.  He’s been one of the top three players in the minor leagues this year and from all discussions, I’ve had with evaluators, is ready.  In fact, the hype for promotion has gotten so high that I’ve read David Ortiz comparisons through mainstream commentators.  While I can see the physical comp, putting a potential HOF comp on a player, in my opinion, is setting him up for disappointment, particularly in the fantasy world.

Regardless, it’s time for the Astros to promote him but the calculus is hard.  He’s not on the 40-man roster and the Astros would have to make a difficult decision on the major league roster.  It’s a good problem for the team but for fantasy owners waiting for the call, it can get frustrating.  In the meantime, he continues to mash.  He’s batting over .400 with a 17 home runs and a ridiculous .850 SLG.


Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)

Making the decision to promote Yordan Alvarez more complicated is the re-emergence of Kyle Tucker.  Tucker got off to a very slow start but has been mashing.  In 17 games in May, he’s hitting .355 with a .823 SLG and seven home runs.    Would the Astros promote Tucker over Alvarez?  It’s possible as he’s on the 40-man.  If they did though, I think the fantasy community might just explode.  Don’t misunderstand, Tucker is still an elite prospect and arguably has much more fantasy upside than Alvarez with 20-20 potential.  As always, I will caveat my comments about Tucker that I still wish he would eliminate the hitch in his swing.


Mark Vientos (NYM, 3B, Low-A)

Mark Vientos had a lot of helium coming into this season.  As with many young players, he got off to a very slow start hitting .227 in April with a 27% strikeout rate.  However, as the temperature has risen, so has Vientos game.  Last week he mashed, going 10-22 with three home runs.  The ceiling continues to be a major league regular with 25 home run potential and based on his ability to work a walk, a high OBP.


Josh Ockimey (Bos, 1B, Triple-A)

Given Josh Ockimey penchant to strikeout, I do not consider him an elite prospect.  What he does have is 70-grade raw power and when he makes contact like he did last week, the ball will fly out of any ballpark.  In the month of May, he’s hit six home runs but has also struck out 33% of the time.  He also walked 12 times.  If you like three true outcome players, then Ockimey is your guy.


Jonathan India (Cin, 3B, High-A)

After a breakout season in his junior year at Florida, Jonathan India shot up draft boards and the Cincinnati Reds snagged him with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.  How good was his junior college season?  In 68 games, he posted a 1.214 OPS with 21 home runs and 15 stolen bases. After he signed, the question that needed to be answered…is the bat for real, and more importantly, is the power for real.

In reviewing the swing, there is plenty of leverage, but he also doesn’t sell out for the power.  There are holes in the swing, so there will be some swing and miss, but I think there is 20 home run power, perhaps more.  Throw-in average speed and a proven ability to steal bases and there is a lot to get excited about.  The ceiling is a full-time regular with 20 plus home run potential, low double-digit stolen bases and a .260/.330 batting average.


Dylan Carlson (Stl, OF, Double-A)

Drafted in the first round (pick 33) of the 2016 MLB Draft, Dylan Carlson got off to a slow start to his career.  He’s always had the tools to be considered an elite prospect but left most of his raw power in batting practice.  But the breakout that started last season when he struck out 17% of the time has continued in 2019 and with a BABIP correction, all of sudden his batting average looks much better.

The in-game power is also starting to emerge as he’s hit seven for the season while also showing solid speed.  With a 12% walk rate, a strikeout rate less than 20% with speed and power, there’s just a lot to like with the young outfielder.  The ceiling for me is a .270/.340 hitter with a chance for 20-20 potential.


Patrick Mazeika (NYM, C/1B, Double-A)

Patrick Mazeika has gone 7 for 24 over the past week and has hit five home runs in the month of May.  The young catcher for the Mets has also been spending time at first base as many believe he doesn’t have the defensive chops to stay behind the plate.  The problem is he might not have the power to be a full-time regular at first.  However, with five home runs in 16 games, perhaps that assessment needs to re-visited.


Jhailyn Ortiz (Phi, OF, High-A)

I fell hard for Jhailyn Ortiz a few years ago as I loved the 70-grade raw power and thought he would hit enough to get to it.   Since then, he’s been striking out at alarming rates and hasn’t been able to get to the raw power that he shows in batting practice.  While he’s been hot over the past week, hitting three home runs, and from what I’ve been told, they were majestic shots, the 37% strikeout rate just will not work.  That said, Ortiz should be monitored as the raw power is very real and he’s still only 20-years-old.


Brice Turang Mil, 2B/SS, High-A)

After taking Keston Hiura with the first pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Brewers took another bat-first player in Brice Turang with the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

Since being drafted, Turang has walked nearly as much as he’s struck out while batting .292 with a .404 OBP.  He doesn’t have much current power and unless he puts on additional weight, I don’t see that changing.  He does have plus speed and shows that on the basepaths stealing 14 bases to-date while only getting caught 3 times.

The Brewers have played him both at short and second in High-A and he has the arm strength and athleticism to play both.  The ceiling is a full-time regular performer in the major league and at worse, he’ll be utility player with significant stolen base and on-base skills.


Ronny Mauricio (NYM, OF, Low-A)

Ronny Mauricio turned 18 on April 4th.  The fact that he’s playing in Low-A is impressive enough but he’s also playing very well.  In 40 games, he’s slashing .280/.333/.348 with a 19% strikeout rate.   Last week, he went 10 for 23 with a home run.  The power has yet to emerge but the bat speed and athleticism is there.  This might be one of the final times a fantasy owner can buy cheap on a potential Didi Gregorius type talent.

Brailyn Marquez (CHC, LHP, Low-A)

Brailyn Marquez has turned it up a notch in May.  In three starts, he’s posted a 1.29 ERA with 15 strikeouts and five walks in 14 innings.  The stuff is premium with a fastball that he can run up to the upper nineties and a slider and change-up that can miss plenty of bats.  He doesn’t always throw every pitch for a strike, but there is clearly a lot to like with the 20-year-old lefty.


Casey Mize (Det, RHP, Double-A)

Casey Mize has started nine games and has had eight dominating starts and one so-so start.  The so-so start was on May 15th when he gave up four earned runs in 5.2 innings against the Richmond Squirrels.  In that outing, he struck out eight and walked only two.  Of course, he followed that outing up to pitch six shutout innings on Monday striking out six and walking one.


Kris Bubic (KC, LHP, High-A)

We’ve written many times about the Kansas City Royals burgeoning minor league pitching staff and Kris Bubic performance in particular.  He was at it again on Monday, pitching seven innings, giving up one run while striking out nine and not walking anyone.  The improved control was good to see as he had given up eight walks in the previous two starts.  I would expect him to be promoted in High-A sometime in June as the stuff is too good for Low-A.


Shane McClanahan (TB, LHP, Low-A)

The Rays took Shane McClanahan in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft and assigned the college pitcher to Low-A.  I thought he would have no trouble with the assignment but instead, struggled.  In five starts, he posted a 4.71 ERA with 16 walks in 21 innings.  However, in May things have gotten better as he has cut down his walks while also increasing his strikeout rate.  The ceiling continues to be a mid-rotation starter.


Keegan Akin (Bal, LHP, Triple-A)

The Orioles continue to audition a variety of players in Baltimore to determine who are keepers and who are not.  Keegan Akin should get his chance shortly and based on what he’s done to-date in Triple-A, could have success.  In eight starts, he’s posted a 3.60 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walking 3.6 per nine.  His last outing was very impressive where he threw 6 shutout innings while striking out nine and walking only one.

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Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 6

Waiver Wire2It’s prospect week as a Who’s, who of young players have made their debut over the past seven days.  The volume and the prominence of the players are unprecedented.  To help you, our senior fantasy writer, Tim McLeod has provided his waiver wire pickups for the week.

 

 

The list can be found here.

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Hot Prospects – Week 6

WEEKLY HOT PROSPECTS 2This week’s list is my favorite to-date.  It’s not that every name on the list produced a tremendous stat line, but instead, it’s a collection of interesting names.  Some that might be able to help their respective big-league team this year and others who might be flying under-the-radar.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Bobby Dalbec (Bos, 3B, Double-A)

With Michael Chavis making the Major Leagues look easy (although a 26% strikeout rate suggest there could be some regression), Bobby Dalbec is starting to warm up.  In May, he’s hit .342 with a .444 OBP and 5 home runs.  As with Chavis, there is tremendous raw power but also a ton of swing and miss.  The profile is a full-time regular with 30 home run potential but with significant pressure on the batting average.

Seth Beer (Hou, OF, High-A)

While he might ultimately be a designated hitter, one thing Seth Beer can do is hit.  In 102 games since being selected in the first round by the Astros, he’s slashed .312/.396/.531 with 21 home runs.  Since May 1st, he’s really turned it up hitting .417 with five home runs.  The Astros think he will be adequate in left or even at first.  If so, the bat could make him more than just a full-time regular.

Bobby Bradley (Cle, 1B, Triple-A)

With the recent promotion of Oscar Mercado, perhaps the Indians are concluding that they need to give some of their young kids a chance.  After all, they are batting .219 as a team and only four teams have scored fewer runs.  Bobby Bradley is starting to make his case for a promotion.  He’s batting .306 with seven home runs and is batting over .400 in May.  There will always be swing and miss in his game, but he’ll turn 24 later this month and looks about ready.

DJ. Stewart (Bal, OF, Triple-A)

The Orioles are in a significant evaluation period to determine exactly who can produce in the big leagues.  DJ Stewart is making a strong claim for a promotion after hitting .458 so far in May with three home runs.  He has good power and is fast enough to play all three outfield positions, although he is best suited for a corner.

Nolan Jones (Cle, 3B, High-A)

Nolan Jones continues to show an advanced approach but to-date, his game is lacking power.  In 33 games in 2019, he’s hitting .312 with a .442 OBP but is also sporting a .376 SLG without a home run.  I do believe the power will come as he has good size, showing excellent raw power in batting practice.  However, the swing lacks loft and over time, I believe the Indians will fix that to unlock the 20 plus home run potential.

Jorge Mateo (Oak, SS, Triple-A)

Jorge Mateo was once a top prospect when he was with the Yankees, but a poor approach ultimately caught up to him once he was promoted to the upper minors.  He’s still swinging at everything (5% walk rate) but he is making better contact this year and therefore, his stat line looks much better.  He still has great speed with a little pop and if he gets the call, he could provide some stolen bases for your fantasy team.

Jarren Duran (Bos, OF, High-A)

Jarren Duran graduates from our hidden five that is exclusively provided on our podcast to make the big boy list.  The Red Sox outfielder is batting .412 so far this season with 13 stolen bases.  He doesn’t have much power but makes good contact with plenty of plate patience.  His ceiling is likely a fourth outfielder, but the plus hit-tool and 70-grade speed should put him on the radar for all deep Dynasty Leagues.

Trevor Larnach (Min, OF, High-A)

When I wrote about Trevor Larnach last winter, I suggested he would have future double-plus home run potential, but his 30-grade speed would limit his upside as a fantasy asset.  So far, my write-up is spot-on.  Er…in 34 games in High-A, he has as many stolen bases as home runs – 2.  While I think the power will come and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t gotten faster, his hit-tool appears to be more advanced than I originally thought.  The swing works and his 18% strikeout rate is showing he’s making very good contact.  That might rise as he adds loft, but if he can keep the strikeout rate under 25%, he could become a very interesting prospect.

Jake Rogers (Det, C, Double-A)

Jake Rogers makes our list again as he continues to show improvement on the offensive side.  Already a plus defender, Rogers is hitting .302 in 27 games in Double-A to begin the 2019 season.  While his .356 BABIP and 23% strikeout rate indicate there will be batting average regression, if he can hit .250 with 15 to 20 home runs as a plus defender, he could become one of the better catchers in the league.

Terrin Vavra (Col, SS, Low-A)

Drafted in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Terrin Vavra has done nothing but hit since debuting in Boise last season.  As we’ve lamented many times, it’s hard to get a handle on Rockies prospects as so many of the ballparks in their system are extreme hitters parks and both Boise and Asheville, where Vavra has spent his 2019 season are both hitter’s parks.

Vavra can really hit with an advanced approach and feel for hitting.  He’s got good bat speed which leads to louder contact than you would think out of a kid his size.  While he’s stealing bases, he’s more of a 55 runner and not a burner.  Defensively, he’s playing short, but in speaking with evaluators who have seen him more, his arm strength will likely dictate a move to second base.

The skills are intriguing and the reports on his makeup and work ethic are very strong.  If it all comes together, he could be a .280/.360 hitter with 20 home run upside with double-digit stolen base potential early in his career.

Zac Gallen (Mia, RHP, Triple-A)

Zac Gallen has been one of the most dominating pitchers in the PCL in 2019.  In eight starts, he’s pitched to a 1.16 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walking nine batters.  He hasn’t yet hit some of the scary ballparks of the PCL, but it’s hard to deny his strong start.  That said, the arsenal is good, not great.  His fastball sits in the low-90s with low-spin rate and his breaking pitch also lacks hard bite.  But, he’s learned to pitch and is getting guys out.

Tyler Ivey (Hou, RHP, Double-A)

Tyler Ivey is excelling for the Astros in Double-A.  In 21 innings, he’s pitching to a sub-one ERA while striking out 31 and walking six.   While he’s not a flame thrower, his fastball will scrape 95 MPH with two solid breaking pitches.  He’s also developing a feel for his change-up.  It’s the profile of a number four starter, perhaps higher…kind of in the mold of Joe Musgrove.

Luis Gil (NYY, RHP, High-A)

Luis Gil doesn’t always know where the ball is going, but he’s got a huge fastball and a curveball that, when he can throw it for strikes, gets plenty of swings and misses.  Everything was working in a start over the weekend where he struck out nine in five innings while giving up only two hits.  He likely will move to the bullpen where he has the stuff to work in high-leverage situations.

Jordan Balazovic (Min, RHP, High-A)

Jordan Balazovic was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 MB Draft as 17-year-old prep out of Ontario Canada.  Since he was only 17, the Twins decided to take it slow with him, limiting him to Rookie ball in both 2016 and 2017.  He did pitch 61.2 innings in Low-A in 2018 but 2019 has been his breakout.

During his slow roast, he’s put on weight and has improved his stuff. His fastball now sits in the mid-90s and will scrape 97 with a slider that has tight rotation.  The best part is he’s able to throw strikes, walking only four batters in 20.2 innings in Low-A prior to his promotion.   Since his promotion, he has continued to show excellent control.

The Twins have done right by Balazovic and he has responded.  He only turns 21 in September and given his draft age, is still pitching as one of the younger pitchers at each level.  If it all comes together, his upside is a number three starter.

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Week 7 Waiver Wire Pickups

Waiver Wire2We are at the quarter-pole mark in the baseball season.  So far, it’s been another season of launch angle, home runs and strikeouts where a 4.30 ERA is league average and if you don’t hit 20 home runs, you have below-average power.

It’s also been a season of kids getting promoted and this week we get the Astros Corbin Martin.  Drafted in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Martin has gone from Texas potential to a fastball that can hit 97 with improving secondary pitches.  The Astros keep churning them out and Martin is just the latest guy who throws hard and will help one of the best teams in baseball.

This week’s list can be found here.

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Hot Prospects – Week 5

HOT PROSPECTS 1When I scan the weekly results for minor league players, the number of Triple-A hitters at the top is the largest I’ve seen over the past five years.  Clearly, the new ball is having an effect.  When you combine that with great hitting PCL ballparks and the normal inconsistent pitching you always see in Triple-A, it creates an environment for great production.

Going forward, I’m going to take that into consideration with my Hot Prospects List.  Plus, how many more times do we have to highlight Yordan Alvarez.  He’s having an amazing season and it will likely continue until he gets the call from Houston.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Yordan Alvarez (Hou, OF/1B, Triple-A)

There was a report out last week where Houston General Manager, Jeff Lunhow suggested Yordan Alvarez’s bat was ready but he needed work on his defense.  Most comments from GMs like this should be taken with a grain a salt, but in this case, Alvarez needs to work on his defense and candidly, will always. The problem is he’s not an outfielder and should be playing first.  But as Lunhow suggested, the bat appears to be ready; and with two more home runs this week, more walks than strikeouts and a ridiculous .389 season batting average, it’s hard to argue the point.  Do I expect him to mash when he gets to the Majors?  I hope so as I have three shares in Dynasty Leagues.  But candidly, I’m not sure.  I’ve seen him play a bunch and believe he’s a nice prospect with 25 home runs potential with an average hit tool, but I didn’t see this.  I worry his stat line is a result of the new ball, hitter’s ballparks, and bad pitching.  Only one way to find out…

Keston Hiura (Mil, 2B, Triple-A)

After a slow start, Keston Hiura’s bat is coming around.  After striking out at an alarming 32% rate in April, he’s started to make better contact.  In his first seven games in May, he’s struck out only twice in 23 plate appearances. The ceiling continues to be a .300 batting average, 25 home runs and a handful of stolen bases annually.  Given the maturity of his hit-tool, I think he hits the ground running.  Unfortunately, he needs an injury to see the big leagues or a bold move by the Brewers that might involve a demotion for Jesus Aguilar, who is out of options or perhaps, Travis Shaw, who still has options remaining.

Alex Kirilloff (Min, OF, Double-A)

After sitting out the first few weeks of the season with a wrist injury, Alex Kiriillof makes his debut on our Hot Prospect list.  In his first five games, he’s done what he does best – hit.  In 21 plate appearances, he’s hitting .389 with four strikeouts and three walks.

Austin Riley (Atl, 3B, Triple-A)

Austin Riley makes our list for the second week in a row after hitting five home runs last week and nearly hitting .400.  It took him a while to get going, but the 22-year-old is starting to give the Braves pause on a possible call-up.  Josh Donaldson has been ok…better of late, but at some point, don’t be surprised if you see Riley in the Majors sometime in the second half.

Jake Fraley (Sea, OF, Double-A)

Jake Fraley was part of the return when the Mariners sent Mike Zunino to the Rays in exchange for Mallex Smith.  Fraley has great bat-to-ball skills and should be able to hit for a high average with solid on-base skills.  The question has always been his secondary skills (speed and power).  However, this year, he’s already hit five home runs so perhaps we are starting to see a power surge.

Jazz Chisholm (Ari, SS, Double-A)

Few players got off to a worse start to the season than Jazz Chisholm.  In fact, April was so bad, that he’s still only hitting .176 across 25 games.  But, he’s stepped it up in May posting a .944 OPS with five home runs.  There will always be swing and miss in his game, but he has plus bat speed and is an above-average runner so a Tim Anderson type performer would be the ceiling.

Jarred Kelenic (Sea, OF, Low-A)

Most of the industry thought the Mets would regret trading Jarred Kelenic in the off-season and so far, they are right.  In 28 games, he’s hitting .327/.429 with six home runs and six stolen bases.  He’s likely outgrown Low-A and should see Modesto in the California League sometime in the second half.

Leody Taveras (Tex, OF, High-A)

Prospect fatigue is starting to set in for Leody Taveras.  He’s been on our Top 100 list for multiple years and yet his career batting average is .259/.320 with 4 home runs and 7 stolen bases contributed annually.  Making matters worse, the Rangers decided to slow things down and had Taveras repeat High-A to begin the 2019 campaign.  I was fortunate to catch an early May series with him in Myrtle Beach and came away impressed.

The skills are evident.  He has good bat speed and jumped on numerous pitches showing excellent pull power. He’s more explosive from the left-side but based on his launch angle, I don’t see plus power from either side. He also showed a very good understanding of the strike zone.  His strikeout rate is higher than his career norm, but it’s still early and once the sample size increases, his strikeout rate should normalize.  He’s a good runner, but I only got a 4.21 time to first base to avoid being doubled-up.  That puts him at a solid 55, maybe 60 runner.  He did steal a base during the second contest easily, getting a great jump off the pitcher.

I see the upside with Taveras as a full-time regular but not a star.  I think he’ll hit with a .270/.340 batting average and with his athleticism, should be a plus defender in either center or right.  I don’t see him developing a lot of power with 10 to 12 being his likely ceiling.  He should be able to steal plenty of bases early in his career with a possibility of 20 plus annually.

Lolo Sanchez (Pit, OF, Low-A)

Lolo Sanchez might be a new name to many of you, but after posting a .924 OPS in 28 games to start the season, he needs to be on your radar.  His carrying tool is plus speed which shines both in the outfield and on the bases.  Evaluators have been concerned about his ultimate power potential, but the two home runs he has hit to-date is encouaraging.  He rarely walks but makes excellent contact.

Rylan Bannon (Bal, 3B, Double-A)

Rylan Bannon was one of the lesser known prospects received when the Orioles sent Manny Machado to the Dodgers last July.  Bannon has outplayed his trade partner Yusniel Diaz so far in Double-A and has posted a .916 OPS in 31 games including hitting .458 last week.  I still believe Diaz has the higher ceiling but Bannon has a potential plus future hit-tool and enough power to give him the ceiling of a full-time regular.

Ian Anderson (Atl, RHP, Double-A)

The Braves pitching strategy, while frustrating for fantasy owners, is working out just fine.  The strategy was to sign as much high-end talent and see who emerges.  So far, it’s Max Fried and Mike Soroka with a little Touki Toussaint thrown-in.  Next year, Ian Anderson will be the in the mix and he might have the best arm of the group.  He has plus stuff but still struggles to throw consistent strikes.  However, when he’s on like he was in a start over the weekend, he can be dominant.  In six innings, he gave up two hits with 11 strikeouts and three walks.

Tarik Skubal (Det, LHP, High-A)

Tarik Skubal graduates from our secret list I share on the podcast to our official list.  If you are not familiar with our podcast, it can be found here.  Look for the prospect episodes.  In a word, Skubal has been dominant this year.  In 6 starts in High-A, he’s pitched to a 3.07 ERA striking out nearly 13 per nine while only walking six in 29.1 innings.  Five of his six starts have been dominant with only one down start.  Look for a promotion to Double-A sometime in mid-June.

Mitch Keller (Pit, RHP, Triple-A)

I’ve long been a big fan of Mitch Keller and have found his recent control struggles to be curious.  He has good stuff with simple mechanics and is athletic enough to repeat his delivery.  While the 4.06 BB/9 still is ugly, he had another impressive outing over the weekend where he struck out six in six innings without issuing a walk.  That followed up a 10K/1BB performance despite giving up four earned runs.  The upside is a solid number two starter and assuming his control issues are behind him, he should be up in Pittsburgh sometime in the second half.

Mitchell White (LAD, RHP, Double-A)

Mitch White came to my attention when I saw him three years ago in a start in the California League.  Since then, he’s not been able to stay healthy and has really struggled.  Finally healthy, he’s starting to put up results that align with his skills. In six starts in Double-A, he’s pitching to a 1.85 ERA with over 11 strikeouts per nine while walking just over two per nine.

Hunter Harvey (Bal, RHP, Double-A)

I’ve been very critical of the former Baltimore brass as I believe they overused pitchers to the determinant of those pitchers and ultimately the Orioles overall success.   Dylan Bundy is the poster child.  Hunter Harvey is another talented pitcher who has not been able to stay healthy.  Fortunately, they have better leadership in the organization and I’m hopeful.  He’s still got premium stuff and if he can stay healthy, there is upside.  Does he stay healthy?  I have no idea.

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Digging Deep Series – Buy Low Pitchers (Through May 7th)

Digging DeepThis is the companion piece to the Hitter deep dive last week. Now that we have accumulated over a month of data, we can examine to see which starting pitchers have seen the most substantive changes (in both directions) in their pitching effectiveness, both in defense-independent results (e.g. K%, BB%) and with the underlying peripherals (Z-Con%, O-Sw%, and SwStrk%).

To identify buy-low pitchers, who we call Hot Rods, and sell high (Lemons), we looked at 2019 data for the following characteristics:

  • K%
  • BB%
  • SIERA (Defense-independent pitching metric, on the same scale as ERA using K%, BB%, GB%)
  • SwStrk% (percentage of pitches swung at and missed)
  • O-Sw% (% of pitches outside of the strike zone swung at by batters)
  • Z-con% (% of pitches inside the strike zone swung at where contact was made [lower is better])
  • vFA (velocity of the fastball, per pitchfx)

The difference in these categories from their 2018 season was identified (note that pitchers who did not pitch in 2018, such as Chris Paddack, were not considered in this list). The starting pitchers (minimum 20 IP thrown thus far) who showed the biggest relative improvements in these characteristics are:

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Hot Rods

Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins

Statistic 2019 (36.0 IP) 2018 Difference*
K% 33.6% 27.0% +6.6%
BB% 6.7% 10.1% +3.4%
SIERA 3.06 4.08 +1.02
SwStrk% 16.8% 11.6% +5.2%
Z-Con% 75.0% 82.0% +7.0%
O-Sw% 37.7% 30.4% +7.3%
vFA 92.4 mph 92.7 mph -0.3 mph

*The difference is considered “positive” when it is “better” in 2019 than in 2018. A higher K% and SwStrk% rate is better; a lower BB% and Z-Con% rate is better. Therefore a K rate of 10% in 2019 (compared to 15% in 2018) will be considered a ‘difference’ of -5%. Conversely, a BB rate of 10% in 2019 (compared to 15% in 2018) will be considered a ‘difference’ of +5%. Also, the ‘difference’ is just an absolute difference in the percentages.

Friend of the podcast Tony Cincotta’s sleeper pick of 2019 has come out like gangbusters thus far in 2019 dispelling any concerns anyone might have had with his creaky shoulder. Although his fastball velocity is slightly down so far in 2019, everything else has improved substantially – both under the hood and in the results themselves. The only cold water that can be splashed on his campaign’s prospects for the rest of the season is that his left-on-base percentage (LOB%) is 90.2% suggesting that he might be getting lucky (as most pitchers can’t control this and LOB% typically regresses to the league average of around 75%). His SIERA is 3.06 though (compared to his ERA of 2.00) so even if his ERA regresses to match his SIERA, he should easily finish a top 30 starting pitcher…provided his arm holds up.

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

Statistic 2019 (44.1 IP) 2018 Difference
K% 32.0% 22.4% +9.6%
BB% 6.2% 7.2% +1.0%
SIERA 3.14 4.31 +1.17
SwStrk% 15.0% 10.2% +4.8%
Z-Con% 81.6% 84.6% +3.0%
O-Sw% 34.8% 29.6% +5.2%
vFA 90.9 mph 90.5 mph +0.4 mph

Another 2019 surprise this year has been Detroit Tiger starter Matt Boyd who has spun a WHIP of 0.99 and an ERA of 3.05. Everything supports those marks too, as he has vastly improved in all of these facets.

Just for fun, here are pitchers from 2018 who finished the year with numbers closest to what Boyd has put up thus far in 2019…and they all happen to be southpaws.

Statistic Matt Boyd

(2019)

Pitcher A (2018) Pitcher B

(2018)

Pitcher C

(2018)

K% 32.0% 32.3% 31.6% 30.8%
BB% 6.2% 6.5% 9.1% 6.0%
SIERA 3.14 2.96 3.30 2.91
SwStrk% 15.0% 14.3% 15.1% 15.6%
Z-Con% 81.6% 82.1% 80.3% 82.7%
O-Sw% 34.8% 36.0% 33.1% 38.0%

Pitchers A, B, and C happen to be 2018 James Paxton, 2018 Blake Snell (who happened to win a Cy Young) and 2018 Patrick Corbin. Fine company to keep if I do say so myself

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

Statistic 2019 (23.2 IP) 2018 Difference
K% 28.9% 16.1% +12.8%
BB% 11.5% 11.6% +0.1%
SIERA 4.04 5.37 +1.33
SwStrk% 13.1% 8.4% +4.7%
Z-Con% 82.7% 88.3% +5.6%
O-Sw% 26.9% 26.7% +0.2%
vFA 93.4 mph 92.4 mph +1.0 mph

The former top pitching prospect still has to manage his walk rate a little better (currently a lofty 11.5%) but there are a lot of reasons for optimism for the former Washington National. Despite the gaudy 5.32 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, the 6’6” right-hander actually has put up 0.4 WAR already this year and has posted above league average values for SwStrk%, Z-con%, SIERA, and K-BB%. One major change that Giolito has shown is raising the spin rate on his four-seam fastball up to 2200 RPM (from 2100 last year). You might be able to find an owner who has suffered enough frustration with Giolito that he is willing to part ways at this point. The data here suggest that that owner may be premature – especially in dynasty leagues – as Giolito has shown tremendous improvements across the board. As we know, prospect development is not linear.

Lemons

The pitchers showing the biggest negative rate changes thus far in 2019 are Shelby Miller, Brad Peacock, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Sale. However, I won’t talk about them for a variety of reasons: Miller hardly pitched last year (distorting his ‘2018’ numbers), Peacock was mostly a reliever in 2018 (also distorting his previous season numbers), Nathan Eovaldi has arm problems (so we already know that something’s off), and Sale’s woes have filled reams of pages in 2019 already. The next starting pitchers though, who have shown dramatic degradation in their FIP components (K% and BB%) and underlying “stuff” peripherals have some serious name power themselves. If you own them, consider yourself warned:

Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

Statistic 2019 (39.0 IP) 2018 Difference
K% 22.5% 25.0% -2.5%
BB% 7.5% 5.5% -2.0%
SIERA 4.17 3.50 -0.67
SwStrk% 9.7% 14.1% -4.4%
Z-Con% 88.9% 83.7% -5.2%
O-Sw% 31.9% 37.6% -5.7%
vFA 91.3 mph 91.8 mph -0.5 mph

Ever since he was diagnosed with a partial tear of his UCL, Tanaka owners have held their breath waiting for the inevitable cliff-diving season…and it never came. Maybe it’s the elbow or maybe it’s just more of the same misfortune that has befallen most of the Yankees this 2019 season, but so far this year severe warning signs are flashing at Tanaka. A 1.31 WHIP and 3.92 ERA doesn’t seem terrible but, unfortunately, that’s the good news. He’s not getting anyone to chase outside the zone – long his hallmark – and he’s not getting anyone to whiff either. He’s lost some velocity, and he’s walking more batters. Since he arrived in MLB in 2014, his split-finger has always put up a positive pitch value but so far in 2019, it has a wRC+ against of 191. In other words, batters are essentially 2018 Mike Trout against the split-finger. I don’t know if he will figure it out – he is a crafty veteran so if anyone can, it’s him – but for now, we may be witnessing the decline of one of Japan’s greatest pitching exports.

Aaron Nola, Philadephia Phillies

Statistic 2019 (37.1 IP) 2018 Difference
K% 22.8% 27.0% -4.2%
BB% 9.6% 7.0% -2.6%
SIERA 4.42 3.40 -1.02
SwStrk% 8.4% 12.4% -4.0%
Z-Con% 86.5% 81.9% -4.1%
O-Sw% 31.2% 33.2% -2.0%
vFA 92.4 mph 92.8 mph -0.4 mph

Aaron Nola’s poor performance in 2019 has been puzzling for over a month now. No one saw this coming and no one seems to be able to explain what has happened. What we can explain is that his performance is definitely supported (in a bad way) by the underlying metrics. An interesting theory is that for years, pundits observed that Nola was one of the league leaders in called strikes. Maybe Realmuto’s pitch-framing is not helping Nola; maybe the umpires are being less forgiving…or maybe I’m just grasping at straws in trying to explain what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick. Who knows? What we do know is his pedigree suggests that he should turn it around, but the underlying statistics are not as optimistic. The only solace is that last year after April, the underlying metrics did not see anything positive about Paul Goldschmidt either – and we all know he turned it around. Hopefully, the Philly ace can do the same.

Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals

Statistic 2019 (37.1 IP) 2018 Difference
K% 27.8% 30.8% -3.0%
BB% 7.2% 6.0% -1.2%
SIERA 3.67 2.91 -0.76
SwStrk% 11.6% 15.6% -4.0%
Z-Con% 86.8% 82.7% -4.1%
O-Sw% 31.3% 38.0% -6.7%
vFA 91.1 mph 90.8 mph -0.4 mph

After signing a huge offseason contract with the Nationals, the 29-year-old southpaw was being taken as the 13th SP off the board, due to his phenomenal 2018 campaign where he put up a 1.05 WHIP and 3.15 ERA. Unfortunately, he’s taken a step backward in 2019 with an especially large step backward (over 1.0 standard deviations) in the underlying “stuff” metrics – especially in his chase rate (O Sw%). The numbers are still around league average, so don’t write him off just yet. It is perhaps just a testament to how much of an outlier campaign his 2018 was. Just like what we did above with Matthew Boyd, if you take Patrick Corbin’s 2019 numbers and compare them with pitchers in 2018 who had season stats in the same ballpark as Corbin’s 2019 thus far, we get comps to 2018 Jose Berrios, German Marquez, and Walker Buehler. Not too shabby. Yes, he’s taken a step backward, but really only from the 13th pitcher to somewhere in the 25th to 30th SP range. I’d hold.

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Waiver Wire – Week 6

Waiver Wire2The kids just seem to keep coming.  This week saw the arrival of Nate Lowe and Nick Senzel.  At the moment, both seem poised to stick in the Major Leagues with Senzel having huge potential.  For most of you, Senzel is already owned but Lowe might not be. But it doesn’t stop there.  Several other players have been recently promoted from the minors are they are a focus of this week’s Waiver Wire.

 

The entire list can be found here.

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Hot Prospects – Week 4

WEEKLY HOT PROSPECTS 2As we close out April, there have been a number of quality performances.  However, Luis Robert and Casey Mize were the best of the best and have won our April player of the month and pitcher of the month honors.

Both have been recently promoted to Double-A with Mize already notching a no-hitter.  Roberts should start tormenting Eastern League pitchers as early this evening (I am writing this on May 1st).

What will May bring?  No idea, but like you, I can’t wait to see.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.


Luis Robert (CHW, OF, Double-A)

Death, taxes and Luis Robert making our Hot Prospect List.  He’s been the best player so far this season and it’s not close.  Fortunately for Carolina League pitchers, he’ll start tormenting Eastern League pitchers in May.  If he continues mashing, a promotion to Triple-A will be in the cards later this summer.  I still don’t think he has the kind of Juan Soto hit tool that will allow him to blow through the upper level of the minors, but what he’s done so far in 2019 is impressive and notable.


Wander Franco (TB, SS, Low-A)

In reviewing my Top 100 list from the winter, our top four players have been promoted to the big leagues (Vlad Jr, Victor Robles, Fernando Tatis, and Eloy Jimenez).  Nick Senzel at five is rumored to be promoted this weekend and Forrest Whitely, despite some early struggles should be promoted over the summer.  Since my job is to rank prospects, the obvious name to sit atop of the 2020 list is Wander Franco.  After a slow start by his standards, Franco posted a .864 OPS in April with three home runs and four stolen bases.  He also walked more than he struck out.  Oh yeah, he still only 18.  The future is indeed bright for Mr. Franco and the question of when we see him Tampa Bay will be the primary question.  My guess?  2021


Luis Urias (SD, 2B, Triple-A)

Lost in the excitement of what is happening in San Diego is Luis Urias.  The 22-year-old was penciled in as the starting second baseman in October but the addition of Manny Machado and Ian Kinsler changed that.  After hitting .400 in April with seven home runs (6 last week), he should get the call soon.  I’m not ready to anoint him a power hitter, but clearly, he likes hitting the Major League baseball.  What he can do is hit.  However, from a fantasy standpoint, just set your expectations as the power and speed are average-at-best.

Sam Huff (Tex, C, High-A)

We always knew that Sam Huff had power.  But 12 home runs in April including seven last week point is just crazy.  Clearly, he needs to be challenged with a promotion to High-A likely in the cards.   While the power is 70-grade, the strikeouts are equally prodigious.  In April he posted a 33% strikeout rate while only walking 6% of the time.  The ceiling is likely a backup catcher, but if he can reduce the strikeouts, the power is real.


Austin Riley (Atl, 3B, Triple-A)

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Austin Riley given his penchant to strike out in bunches, however, based on his April stat line, that might be changing.  In 24 games, he posted a 21.4% strikeout rate, which isn’t great but when it comes with 30 plus home runs, that will work just fine.  He’s currently blocked by Josh Donaldson, but that’s only for 2019 as the job should be his in 2020.  That said, don’t be surprised if the Braves try to find a way to get him in the big league lineup in the second half.


William Contreras (Atl, C, High-A)

With his big brother having a nice bounce-back season, William Contreras is also having another solid year.  In April, he hit .329  with a .394 OBP.  He only hit one home run, but it is the Florida State League which is a league that suppresses power.  However, his hit tool is very advanced and I believe there is enough power for him to eventually hit double-digit home runs at the highest level.


Colton Welker (Col, 3B, Double-A)

I was curious what Colton Welker would do once he got to a neutral ballpark.  In 24 games in Hartford, he’s slashed .337/.394/.535 with three home runs.  So far, so good.  He has the chance to be a significant contributor at the big leagues, particularly if he’s able to stay in Colorado.  However, with the signing of Nolan Arenado, a move to first will need to be done.  In fact, over the past week, Welker has just done that.


Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)

Kyle Tucker got off to a difficult start to the season and he’ll need a lot more time to correct his .173 batting average.  Last week was a good start as he went 6-16 with three home runs.  Sure, that’s not hitting the cover off the ball, but it’s a start.  Remember, some failure along the way is a good thing and in Tucker’s case, it’s more than a good thing.  You see, there’s a hitch in his swing that I think needs to be addressed.  A tough stretch like this could be the impetus for making such a change.

Vidal Brujan (TB, 2B, High-A)

While Vidal Brujan has yet to leave the yard in High-A, he’s been making up for his lack of power by showing off his double-plus speed.  In April he stole 14 of 17 bases including six last week.  While he has below-average power, he still should be able to hit 5 to 8 at the highest level.  He’s still flying under-the-radar in many Dynasty Leagues and if he’s somehow on your waiver wire, you need to fix that.


Skye Bolt (Oak, OF, Triple-A)

I’ve always been intrigued by Skye Bolt.  He has a nice combination of speed and power with an approach that should allow him to get full-time at-bats at the highest level.  He’s had a great April playing in Las Vegas posting a 1.051 OPS with five home runs and three stolen bases.  He doesn’t have the crazy hose of Ramon Laureano but has more tools and is arguably a better hitter.  It might be time to add him to your roster if he is floating out on your waiver wire.


Casey Mize (Det, RHP, Double-A)

In all due respect to Forrest Whitely, Casey Mize might have passed him as the best pitching in minor league baseball.  Sure, it’s still a small sample size, but after throwing a no-hitter on Monday in his Double-A debut, he’s got everyone talking.  The most impressive thing about his no-hitter is he plowed through the Altoona lineup in 98 pitches.  If you’re wondering what he’d done before that – he gave up one earned run.  His baseball card says 35 IP, 0.26 ERA, 32K/2BB.  Yeah, he’s good…


Nate Pearson (Tor, RHP, High-A)

Nate Pearson continues to impress after striking out 10 batters in five innings last weekend.  Pearson has had trouble staying healthy, but the stuff is impressive, and the control is better than you would expect in a 6-foot-6 pitcher.  He’ll likely be promoted to Double-A in May and that should be an excellent test.


Dylan Cease (CHW, RHP, Triple-A)

If you like rostering speculative players for your fantasy team, Dylan Cease is a great addition.  I think he gets called up by the end of June.  Sure, if you look at his overall stat line, it’s good, but it’s not Casey Mize good.  In 24.1 innings, he’s posted a 3.33 ERA with 30 strikeouts and seven walks.  However, he’s got premium stuff with a fastball that can hit triple-digits.  He still needs to throw more strikes, but his 2.59 BB/9 rate so far this year is a great improvement over his career 4.12 BB/9 rate.

Kris Bubic (KC, LHP, Low-A)

If you listen to our companion Hot Prospect podcast, you heard me mention Kris Bubic last week.  If you didn’t, well, you might have gotten scooped by one of your league-mates.   Bubic has been very good in his five starts in the Sally League. In 29 innings, he’ pitched to a 1.86 ERA with 45 strikeouts and only seven walks.  The Royals have several young pitchers and Bubic might not be as heralded, but don’t let that dissuade you.  He has a chance to be at least a number three starting pitching.


MacKenzie Gore (SD, LHP, High-A)

The Padres have been taking it easy with their prized left-hander MacKenzie Gore.  Selected as the number three overall player in the 2017 MLB Draft, Gore has impressed in five starts in the very difficult California League.  In 26.1 innings, he’s posted a 1.37 ERA with 38 strikeouts and four walks.  He only pitched 60 innings in 2018 so I would think the Padres will want to limit him to 100 to 110 innings in 2019.  That will likely be split between High and Double-A.  Assuming good health, he should join Chris Paddack and others in San Diego in 2020.

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Digging Deep – Buy low Hitters through April

Digging DeepWe’ve gathered over a full month of data and some of the underlying metrics are starting to become more “stable” – by which we mean we can make more confident conclusions about whose performance this year is ”real”. The strikeout rate is one of the quickest hitting characteristics to stabilize; whereas batted ball metrics such as Line Drive rate take far longer to become “reliable”. Therefore, StatCast data – which focuses on batted ball data – although helpful to try to find early diamonds-in-the-rough shouldn’t be the primary source for finding breakouts. In fact, actual results data provide the best early signals that a hitter has taken a substantive step forward or backward

Therefore, to find Buy Low and sell high players, or what we like to call the Hot Rods and Lemons, instead of using the StatCast data to peek at what’s under the hood, we will start using the actual defense-independent results to evaluate whether the hitter has changed their profile from last season. This is not to say that StatCast is not useful at this point in the season. To the contrary, it helps us validate some of the signals we will see from the results data.

The underlying data that we decided to examine were the following rates accumulated by each batter thus far in 2019:

  • Walk rate (BB%)
  • Strikeout rate (K%)
  • Groundball rate (GB%)
  • Hard hit rate (Hard%)
  • Swinging Strike rate (SwStrk%) – to help validate the Strikeout rate

In order to find true sleepers, we restricted the search to Hitters who have accumulated ‘below average’ value so far this year in 2019. In other words, we calculated each hitter’s cumulative 2019 roto performance (BA, not OBP), compared it to the rest of the league and only reviewed those who are produced as a below average hitter. We then looked at which hitters have the largest difference in their hitting profile between 2018 and this year (with the groundball rate being weighted less than the others because (a) it is less important to overall production and (b) it takes more Balls In Play before it becomes reliable than one month of the season; ie is not stable enough to be considered truly reliable).

The following hitters were identified as being below average producers this year but whose hitting profile has actually been better than last year. Therefore, they are believed to be the most likely to provide above average hitting performance for the rest of the season (provided they get the necessary plate appearances).

Lucas Duda, Kansas City Royals

Statistic 2019 (56 PAs) 2018 Difference*
BB% 16.1% 7.6% +8.5%
K% 23.2% 27.8% +4.6%
GB% 23.5% 28.8% +5.3%
Hard% 41.2% 38.4% +2.8%
SwStrk% 11.2% 13.3% +2.1%

*The difference is considered “positive” when it is “better” in 2019 than in 2018. A higher BB and Hard Hit rate is better; a lower K and GB rate is better. Therefore a K rate of 10% in 2019 (compared to 15% in 2018) will be considered a ‘difference’ of +5%. Conversely, a BB rate of 10% in 2019 (compared to 15% in 2018) will be considered a ‘difference’ of -5%. Also, the ‘difference’ is just the absolute difference in the percentages.

Lucas Duda? Really? The guy who is hitting .174 with 2 HR, 8 RBI’s and 3 Runs? Yup. He has actually improved his contact rate, hit the ball harder, hit the ball in the air more, and is taking more walks (double his rate from last year). He is currently battling a back issue (missing the last 3 games) but I am quite confident you can find him on the waiver wire (or at the very least be able to pry him from a frustrated owner) quite easily. It might be hard to pull the trigger, but provided that he gets 500 PAs for the rest of the season, he should still be a top 30 Corner Infielder.

Kendrys Morales, Oakland Athletics

Statistic 2019 (76 PAs) 2018 Difference*
BB% 11.8% 10.6% +1.2%
K% 13.2% 20.2% +7.0%
GB% 45.5% 45.8% +0.3%
Hard% 43.6% 40.6% +3.0%
SwStrk% 5.4% 11.4% +6.0%

Look! It’s another poor defensive 1B/DH who has made improvements across the board from their 2018 campaign. Again, it won’t take much to improve on his 2019 thus far –  .172 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI and 5 Runs – but don’t think that this is just evidence of his age decline: his underlying numbers actually suggest that he should be performing better than how he did in 2018 (when he put up a 108 wRC+). Taking a peek at his StatCast numbers and we see that his xwOBA is 0.381 (which is actually a 60-grade xwOBA). Provided he gets the playing time, look for him to hit around .250 (.320 OBP) with around 20 HRs over his next 500 plate appearances.

Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays</h2>

Statistic 2019 (64 PAs) 2018 Difference*
BB% 4.7% 5.9% -1.2%
K% 21.9% 37.0% +15.1% (!)
GB% 31.9% 37.3% +5.4%
Hard% 46.8% 39.6% +7.2%
SwStrk% 14.0% 17.5% +3.5%

I’m not sure what the Rays have done to help the former highly- touted Mariner catching prospect, but it seems to be working thus far, albeit with relatively modest actual results so far. However, the 28-year-old backstop – who has a career K rate of 34% has significantly reduced his strikeouts to a respectable 22% (which is also supported by his improved SwStrk rate and contact rate). Not only that but he is making harder contact this year whilst lofting it into the air more. Interestingly trivia: his maximum exit velocity thus far this year (116.1 mph) has only been exceeded by Pete Alonso, Aaron Judge, Kyle Schwarber, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich. Not even Joey Gallo has reached 116 mph this year (yet).

Even if Zunino doesn’t hit his StatCast xBA of .252, and “only” hits around .240, paired with his 15+ HRs he should hit the rest of the season, and you have a potential top 10 catcher. I’ve already picked him up in my home league.

Hitters to Avoid (Lemons)

The following hitters have been producing above league average so far this year but their hitting profile has actually degraded compared to last year. Therefore, they are believed to be the most likely to provide below average hitting performance for the rest of the season and should be unloaded if you are able to get 100 cents on the dollar.

Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers

Statistic 2019 (117 PAs) 2018 Difference*
BB% 7.7% 11.6% -3.9%
K% 17.9% 15.0% -2.9%
GB% 47.1% 54.6% +7.5%
Hard% 25.9% 38.3% -12.4%
SwStrk% 9.3% 6.9% -2.4%

Oh no, not Lorenzo Cain! Although he is hitting an un-Cain-esque .267, he still has 19 Runs for the high-octane Brewer offense (paired with 3 HRs and 3 SBs). That seems quite good. But I suspect that the hype of Christian Yelich’s offensive performance has obscured the fact that Cain has some significant concerns under the hood. His BB rate is significantly down, his K rate (and Swinging Strike rate) are significantly up, and he is not hitting the ball hard at all. To help illustrate this more clearly, take a look at his 10 game-rolling-average rate going back to 2018 (below): he has not had a lower hard-hit rate, lower BB rate or higher K rate than he does right now.

Lorenzo Cain.png

He does still have an above league average strikeout and contact rate – and he has plumbed these depths before in previous years to 2018 – but when a 33-year-old batter suddenly starts hitting below league average (wRC+ of 98), one can’t help but be concerned. Because he will be hitting near the top of the Milwaukee lineup, he will continue to accumulate numbers (especially Runs) but he likely won’t put up top 20 outfielder numbers (despite being taken as the 19th outfielder off the board in the pre-season). If you can trade Lorenzo Cain to someone who feels his year thus far is just a blip, I would strongly consider it.

Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

Statistic 2019 (94 PAs) 2018 Difference*
BB% 13.8% 16.6% -2.8%
K% 30.9% 27.2% -3.7%
GB% 36.5% 34.5% -2.0%
Hard% 46.2% 47.0% -0.8%
SwStrk% 10.2% 10.0% -0.2%

Last year’s fantasy darling hasn’t been able to find the same footing that he found last year. Although a .266 BA with 4 HRs, 14 RBIs, and 9 Runs is nothing to sneeze at, most fantasy owners are waiting for him to heat up to get back to the 30 HR pace he achieved last year and they expect again this year. Unfortunately, he has taken a step backward in all of the meaningful metrics. Looking at StatCast too and it’s not much more optimistic as his average exit velocity this year is 88.7 mph (league average) whereas last year it was 90.1 mph and they also “expect” (from his batted ball data) an xBA of .212 (likely due to his .327 BABIP this year, compared to .299 last year – a 10% inflation). It’s still early, and he hasn’t taken that much of a step backward from last year’s numbers, but again, if someone is trying to get you to trade him and is willing to pay close to last year’s prices, I would think about it.