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Digging Deep Series: Sleeper Positional Players (Power)

Digging DeepWe continue our two-part series to analyze positional players who are outliers from a power standpoint.  Last week we reviewed seven players that might give you pause as you are drafting and this week, we look at another seven who should be targets.  Since most of these are being drafted well into the draft, I would consider them sleeper and, in some cases, deep sleepers.

What are we looking for?

As with players to avoid, we reviewed 2018 production to see if the stat line matched their underlying analytics and swing mechanics.  Four signals were reviewed: hard-hit rate (Hard%), fly ball percentage (FB%), Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), and home run to fly ball ratio (Hr/FB).  Launch Angle and Exit Velocity were also used as secondary signals to add fidelity to the four primary factors.

Our hypothesis is that if you hit the ball hard with a high launch angle that creates a high fly ball rate, then power should follow.  Home park factors do play a role, but in general, we would expect those players to be power hitters.  While the data proves that point very well, the draft value is where one following is true:

  1. The player’s batting average is causing a rightful pause at the draft table. You can call this the Joey Gallo factor.  You’re going to get big power but at a cost of batting average pressure.  Of course, with Gallo, the math changes considerably in on-base percentage leagues.
  2. The players Hr/FB is below average suggest that there could be more over-the-fence power in the cards.

The Data

We reviewed 247 players in the analysis with the averages and min and max as follows

Signal

Average Min

Max

BABIP

.299

.406

.196

FB%

36.22%

16.50%

51.70%

Hard%

36.46%

19.19%

49.00%

Hr/FB

13.33%

2.10%

35.00%

Just because it’s fun, the owner of the highest BABIP is Jorge Alfaro with the lowest BABIP going to Logan Morrison.

Rhys Hoskins owns one of the highest leveraged swings in the league and the highest fly ball percentage while light-hitting Jon Jay has the lowest FB%.  Interestingly, Eric Hosmer has the second lowest FB% and when you combine that with his well above-average Hr/FB ratio, the data suggest his over-the-fence power should be significantly questioned.

Christian Yelich owns the highest Hr/FB ratio at an amazing 35% which is nearly a full standard deviation away from the next confluence of hitters.  While not the point of this article, this is a meaningful signal and points to a potential major regression in home run power in 2019.  Mallex Smith owns the lowest Hr/FB%.

Finally, the hardest hit rate belongs to Matt Carpenter while the lowest belongs to Billy Hamilton.

The List

While we didn’t want to include every name, we did highlight eight names for your consideration plus two who made the dataset but have big flaws that we just couldn’t recommend, at least not yet.  The current ADP’s are provided by the NFBC.

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

1. Max Kepler (Min, OF, ADP=233)

I’ve been beating the drum for Max Kepler all preseason as the data suggest he is on the cusp of a breakout.  His low .236 BAPIP is not supported by his strikeout rate and his high hard-hit rate and fly ball rate suggest there is another grade in his power.  His Hr/FB rate is nearly a half standard deviation below the norm.  There is a 30-home run, .280 batting average bat waiting to emerge and I have no idea if it will be this year.  However, the growth and confluence of data suggest it will be soon.

2. Manny Margot (SD, OF, ADP=297)

This was is a bit of a shocker.  Manny Margot hits strongly on all signals with a hard-hit rate that is .5% standard deviation above normal, a low BABIP that should see some correction and a very poor Hr/FB ratio.  The Hr/FB ratio does give you pause as the analysis does not include park factors and we all know where Manny plays half his games.  But he is only 24 years old and as he matures, he’s gaining strength.  While I doubt, he’ll ever a 30-home run threat, don’t be surprised if he pops 15 plus home runs in 2019 with a dozen stolen bases and a .275 batting average.

3. Jackie Bradley Jr. (Bos, OF, ADP=225)

It might be getting late to acquire Jackie Bradley Jr. at a discount as the work he did with JD Martinez hitting coach, Craig Wallenbrock is starting to show benefits.  We saw it in the playoffs and so far in Spring Training.  His launch angle has changed, and consequently, the fly ball rate is increasing.  He hits the ball very hard with a hard-hit% at nearly one standard deviation above the norm.  He has a little bit of speed and his defense will keep him in the lineup.  I’ve targeted him in my draft and suggest you look hard as well.

4. Leonys Martin (Cle, OF, ADP=404)

Leonys Martin was off to a nice start in 2018 until a life-threatening bacterial infection ended his season early.  He just turned 31 and with a FB% that is 1.5 standard deviations above normal as well as a hard-hit rate that is above-average.  He’s healthy and having a great spring and should be drafted higher than where he is going.

5. Brian Dozier (Was, 2B, ADP=139)

In 2016 and 2017, Brian Dozier was arguably the best second base asset in fantasy baseball.  His home runs slipped to 21 last season with granted, an ugly .215 batting average.  That dropped him his draft position to the 13th second baseman off the board.  Justified?  Based on last seasons production, probably, but the analytics tell a different story.  His FB% is one standard deviation above norm while his hard-hit% is still slightly above average.  However, the real problem was his .240 BABIP last year.  That drove everything.  Perhaps he’ll never see 40 home runs again, but based on his swing, 25 is more than doable.  Plus, there should be a correction to a .270 batting average to go along with 15 stolen bases.  That’s still a really good player and one that should provide value in the mid rounds.

6. Brandon Belt (SF, 1B, ADP=438)

Brandon Belt continues to be my Kryptonite.  The data supports that if played anywhere but San Francisco, he would be at least hitting 25 home runs annually.  His hard-hit rate is nearly a full standard deviation above the norm and his fly ball ratio is one of the best in the entire league.  But, AT&T Stadium gobbles up left-handed power and therein lies the problem.  He’s a trade away from a breakout.  Until then, there will always be upside in those 18 home runs he hits annually and in our opinion, is a great low-cost option for your corner infielder, particularly in an OBP League.

7. Kyle Seager (Sea, 3B, ADP=265)

Kyle Seager has been forgotten in drafts.  Part of that is justified as his production has been dwindling over the past two seasons and he now enters 2019 at 31-years-old.  However, he was one of the original launch angle guys and is still ranked 28th in the league.  His hard-hit% is slightly above-average and a .251 BABIP suggests there is some opportunity for improvement.  As with many players on this list, he’s a sneaky pick if you get caught out at third base in a deep league or just want to add some depth.  In either case, there’s a strong likelihood that he will out-earn his draft position.

8. Albert Pujols (LAA, 1B, ADP=593)

Yes, he’s 39 years old and has lost a step…ok, three, but he still hits the ball extremely hard with a better than league average FB%.  He’s still has a plus hit tool with a strikeout rate of 13%.  The problem over the past several years is he can’t run – not steal bases…I mean…run.  That has crushed his BABIP and overall production.  He’s a lot healthier now and with better luck, he could still hit 20 to 25 home runs with a .270 batting average.  That’s far from elite, but he should provide enough production to be drafted and currently, he’s falling outside most mixed 15-team league formats.

Two interesting players that I JUST couldn’t include

Joc Pederson (LAD, OF, ADP=356)

Joc Pederson nearly ruined our hypothesis as he was off the chart in most of the signals we were tracking.  Unfortunately, all the damage is down against right-handed pitchers.  In fact, he’s a full standard deviation above the norm on both his hard-hit% and FB%.  The problem is he can’t hit lefties and it appears he will not be given the chance.  However, if that changes at all, he has monster power potential.

Hunter Dozier (KC, 3B, ADP=634)

Hunter Dozier also scored well across our signals, but his poor contact rate is holding him back.  He’s got the leverage swing and great exit velocity.  He just can’t make enough contact.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown the kind of plate patience he did in the minor leagues, so he’s not even a target for OBP League.  However, if the walk rate does improve or the BABIP goes his way, he could become relevant in a hurry.  He’s one to watch.

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