With the plethora of publicly available baseball stats, fantasy owners can have a field day digging through data to try and find undervalued or overvalued players. In this series, we will test several hypotheses to see if we can discover some opportunities as you prepare for your drafts.
With the ability to measure the velocity in which a ball exits the bat, we decided to combine that with ground ball rates and Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) to see what fell out. Finally, we also used HR/FB ratio as a fourth signal, but it was a secondary indicator.
What are we looking for?
We wanted to see if a player ending stat line from 2018 matched their ability to make hard contact with leverage. Said another way, if a player doesn’t hit the ball hard AND constantly hits that ball into the ground, their power should be questioned. Furthermore, their batting average should be questioned if they have a high BABIP.
The initial cut of the data revealed 43 players. Many of these players though had above-average, if not plus speed. That makes sense given the signals we explored. In general, players with above-average speed will use their legs to get on base. This drives a higher than league average BABIP. Plus, while Mike Trout not only has double-plus speed, he also has double-plus power, most of these speedsters do not. Net-net, these players were eliminated from our analysis as they were predictable. A few prominent players that fell into this group included: Mallex Smith, Jose Altuve, Jean Segura, Cesar Hernandez, and Trea Turner. Altuve and Turner have shown good power in the past, but their game is about great bat control, getting on-base and causing havoc on the basepaths.
We reviewed 247 players in the analysis. The averages and min and max are as follows:
|Ground Ball Rate||
|Hard hit Rate||
Just because it’s fun, the owner of the highest BABIP is Jorge Alfaro with the lowest BABIP going to Logan Morrison. The highest ground ball percent goes to Ian Desmond and the lowest goes to P361 Hall of Famer, Brandon Belt. Since AT&T park (now Oracle Park), suppresses left-handed power, it’s why we’ve also suggested that Brandon Belt would be a significant player if he played nearly anywhere else. The hardest hit ball rate honor does not go to Joey Gallo, but instead to Matt Carpenter. The lowest hard-hit rate goes to…drum roll…Billy Hamilton.
While we didn’t want to include every name, we highlighted seven players that we thought were meaningful and might give fantasy owners pause before selecting them in their upcoming drafts. Their current ADP’s are provided by the NFBC.
1. Juan Soto (WAS, OF, ADP=31)
Juan Soto is a ground ball machine with a GB% of 53.7%. This is a 1.5 standard deviation above the norm. If we were scouting Soto, we would say he has a plus ground ball percentage – a 65. That is significant. He only has average speed and when you couple that with a hard hit rate of 34.8% and a BABIP of .338, there is clearly warning signals. Granted, you can argue that he’s 20 years old and the future is extremely bright. However, the data doesn’t lie. He lacks leverage in his swing and just doesn’t hit the ball hard. If it weren’t for one of the highest HR/FB ratios in the league, I doubt he would be going as a top outfielder.
2. Javier Baez (CHC, SS, ADP=13)
Javier Baez does have plus speed but does make our short list because the other signals are significant. First, with his plus bat speed, I would have expected a very high hard-hit rate. At 35.8%, it was below average. He also had an above-average GB% at 45.6 and when you combine this with the sixth highest BABIP in the league, the 13th highest HR/FB ratio, a regression in 2019 seems inevitable.
3. Charlie Blackmon (COL, OF, ADP=26)
Charlie Blackmon is a curious case. As he gets older, his speed has regressed but the power has expanded. However, it appears to be all Coors Field driven. The surface stats show a .567 SLG in Coors but a more pedestrian .439 SLG away from Colorado. While his hard-hit rate is below-average, his hard-hit rate decreases in away game and is a meaningful half an Std. Deviation below average. Bottom line: as he gets older and stops running, his fantasy value has already taken a hit. What happens when he’s no longer able to take advantage of Coors because his skills have diminshed. It’s coming and do you want to be holding the bag when it does?
4. Buster Posey (SF, C, ADP=145)
This one seems obvious but it’s still worth noting. Buster Posey has had a three-year decline in HR/FB ratio and is now posting a below-average hard-hit rate and an above-average ground ball rate. The contact rate still says there is a solid batting average, but the power appears to be gone. Obviously, Oracle Park does not help.
5. Willson Contreras (CHC, C, ADP=135)
Willson Contreras had a down year, but when you look at the data, it looks even worse. His 52% ground ball rate is 1.3 Std. Dev. higher than normal and his hard-hit rate is 1.47 Std. Dev. below average. As with Juan Soto, he’s still young, but he lacks leverage in the swing and just doesn’t hit the ball hard.
6. Josh Bell (Pit, 1B, ADP=255)
Many fantasy owners are expecting a bounce back from Josh Bell this year. However, a high ground ball rate (48%) and his low hard-hit rate (33.8%) say the swing mechanics are not there for him to be a true power hitter. The only good news is that he’s nearly a full standard deviation lower than normal on his HR/FB ratio statistic. That does at least give hope that he will improve on the 12 home runs he hit last season, but the 26 he hit in 2017 could be an outlier.
7. Eric Hosmer (SD, 1B, ADP=167)
Eric Hosmer’s production regressed last year and many simply chalked it over to playing half his games in Petco. However, he’s never had a home run swing. He’s always been a ground ball hitter and in 2018, it was really notable. His 60% ground ball rate was one of the worse in the league and puts in him into the double-plus category. He’s also never hit the ball hard. What’s always saved him is his HR/FB ratio which has always been one of the best in the league. With a dip last year though, it really showed, but if you dig into the stats, it was always there.
That is our list of notable players you might want to think twice before drafting them early. Next, we will look at the reverse – players with high hard-hit rates and low ground ball rates who were also unlucky. There’s one name that leads all the rest and if you are an avid listener to our podcast, you’ll know who that is.