Hitter Analysis

Baseball Viagra: Can they Keep it Up? (Hitter Edition)

One of the best things about fantasy baseball is when that late round guy starts the year on a terror. Now comes the dreaded question: is this legit? I’ve highlighted five surprising players who are in the top 25 of the ESPN player rater and what their owners should expect moving forward.

ESPN offensive player rater rank in parenthesis.

Dexter Fowler (5th)

The first thing that jumps out about Fowler is his much improved plate discipline. Fowler’s 17.3% BB rate is fantastic and a lot better than what he’s done in the past (12.5% for career). Walk rates don’t stabilize until about 120 PA (Fowler is at 81) so it’s hard to call it legitimate quite yet. Fowler is swinging less (35.7% versus 42.2% for his career) but he’s swinging at the same amount of pitches outside the zone according to Pitchf/x: 20% in both 2015 and 2016. He’s also seeing the same number of pitches/PA (4.09 versus 4.08). It’s likely that this uptick in BB rate is a result of pitchers simply throwing him less strikes (Strike% is down to 55% this year versus 58.5% in 2015). One would think that with such a powerful lineup behind Fowler, pitchers wouldn’t try to nibble. His K% is down to 19.8% this year (22.1% for career) but this seems like a direct result of swinging less and getting more balls. If Fowler keeps doing what he is doing, he can keep up these rates, but my guess is that pitchers will adjust and his BB rate will fall a bit.

Fowler’s .478 BABIP and 20% HR/FB are the other stats that jump out. Obviously the .478 BABIP is completely unsustainable, but his 25.5% line drive rate combined with his lack of IFFB (4.7% for career) could sustain a BABIP above .350. His current average of .385 will fall but it might only fall into the .280s or .290s which is more than anyone who drafted Fowler expected. Fowler is currently on a 25+ HR pace which would easily top his prior career high of 17 in 2015. He isn’t very likely to hit that number because it will be difficult for him to maintain the 20% HR/FB. However I think Fowler can get to 20 HRs. His average distance on fly balls is 297.61 ft which is good for 51st in the majors. Fowler is hitting the ball hard (49% hard hit rate) and far. It wouldn’t surprise me if more balls find the seats.

Verdict: Although Fowler will fall back to earth some, there are some improvements that should continue. Now isn’t the best time to buy Fowler, but I also wouldn’t sell him unless the offer was a vast overpay.

 

Eugenio Suarez (6th)

Eugenio Suarez was someone I really liked in the preseason and he has exceeded my expectations so far with 5 HR, 3 SB and a .300 average. There might be some regression in store, but overall Suarez mostly looks legit.

The best part about Suarez is his improvement in plate discipline. His BB is up to 7.9% and his K% is down to 14.5% which beat his career numbers of 6% and 22.9%. He has been able to make such great strides in K rate because he’s making contact with the ball more frequently jumping from 77.1% in 2015 to 81.3% in 2016. It also helps that he’s batting in front of baseball god Joey Votto where he’s likely to see more hittable pitches. K rate stabilizes at 60 PA and Suarez is at 76. We always need to be careful when using stabilization rates as they can vary but we are near the point when their variance levels start to reduce.

Suarez is not going to hit 30 dingers this year no matter how many times I wish for it. His 23.8% HR/FB is much higher than his 10.8% career number and even his 12.1% number from his only other Reds season in 2015. His average fly ball distance is nearly identical to his 2015 number. There hasn’t been any sort of change in Suarez’s numbers to justify such a high HR/FB rate. The good news is that only one of five HR has been classified as a “just enough” HR according to ESPN’s HR tracker. If he’s healthy, he should be able to eclipse 20 HR easily. How many SSs broke the 20 HR barrier in 2015? Two. Suarez could easily be a top 5 SS if he can keep his power up.

We know how many SSs hit more than 20 HR but over the last three years (2013-2015) how many SSs also hit above .280? Only four: Tulo twice and Desmond and Hanley Ramirez in 2013. Suarez has a chance to be the 6th (I assume Correa will hit those markers this year as well). His .300 average this year is backed up with a .296 BABIP and a 25.4% line drive rate. The major projection systems are forecasting a steep drop off in BA over the rest of the season but I’m not so sure. His hard hit rate of 35.5% is excellent and might even suggest a low BABIP. There are a lot of signs (including his career BABIP of .327) pointing to some average upside.

Verdict: Suarez is legitimate and could be a top 5 SS this year. He could eclipse 20 HR with a .290 average and a good to great run total. Throw in 10-15 SBs and Suarez could crack the top 3 at SS. If he can reasonably be acquired, I would make it happen.

 

Mark Trumbo (7th)

Trumbo is an interesting case. The power is absolutely real but that’s where the good news ends. His 22.7% HR/FB is mainly in line with his career 18% number. It’s definitely within reason if we consider that he’s in an excellent hitters park. His average fly ball distance is 40th in the majors as well so he’s definitely hitting the ball far right now.

The bad news is that Trumbo’s walk rate is down to 2.8% and his BABIP is .426. His OBP is going to come plummeting back to earth as his BABIP normalizes. His 17.3% line drive rate shouldn’t be able to sustain a higher than normal BABIP either. I would expect his BABIP to align with his career .293 BABIP moving forward. Trumbo’s average could easily slip into the .260s or .270s by the end of the year. Still good, but probably not top 10 OF good.

Verdict: If you need power or RBI, you have no reason to sell Trumbo. I have no doubt that he will be an asset in those categories. It would take the right kind of offer since replacing 30 HRs is difficult but if I could sell high on Trumbo, I would take advantage. What we’ve seen over the first three weeks of the season won’t last.

 

Colby Rasmus (13th)

Colby learned how to hit. That’s not entirely true but he has learned how to take a pitch. His BB rate has ballooned up to 21.3% (9% for career). His K rate has dropped to 22.7% from a number that has been above 29% since 2013. These numbers themselves might not be sustainable, but he has made some great strides in the early part of the season. Rasmus has dropped his O-Swing rate to 20.1% (29.2% career) and is taking more pitches than ever seeing 4.42 pitches/PA (3.93 for career). This is directly responsible for both his K rate drop and his BB rate increase. His BB rate is partially buoyed by only seeing 54.2% strikes. The league average is 63.7%. I would guess that his BB rate falls some as he starts seeing more strikes overall, but he has made strides that point to his plate discipline numbers being real. An improved BB and K rate should help some with his BA. His .293 BA in 2016 is supported by a 286 BABIP and a 22% line drive rate. I don’t think he’ll finish the season above .290 but his .293 BA isn’t aided by luck.

Verdict: Colby Rasmus, mountain man, has made real improvements in the early going. If those improvements can stick, he is absolutely a worthwhile investment. We might finally be seeing a large percentage of the player he was expected to be coming up.

 

Wil Myers (22nd)

Please stay healthy. That is the only thing that will keep Myers from finally having a full season of greatness. There are some worries in his statistical profile, but there is plenty to like (or love if you’re like me).

Starting with the bad, Myers’s plate discipline numbers are not great. His BB rate is down to 4.6% (9.1% career) and his K rate is up to 28.7% (24.3% for career). Not great developments there and they will make it nearly impossible for him to maintain a high BA. There is some hope though. Myers isn’t swinging at garbage (27.4% O-Swing versus 27.6% for career), is making more contact (78% versus 75.5% for his career) and is seeing much more pitches per PA (4.61 versus 4.03 for career). These are positive developments and likely haven’t’ manifested themselves in his overall numbers. I would expect improvements to plate discipline moving forward in particularly in BB rate.

For the good news, Myers is crushing the ball this year. His 18.2% HR/FB is much higher than his 12.4% career number but his average fly ball distance is up to 304.75 ft which is good for 31st in the majors. If he continues crushing his power will play, even in Petco. Some will see an elevated HR/FB and immediately announce regression, but his fly ball distance can support a higher than normal HR/FB.

I’m torn on Myers’s average. I see positives and negatives. That points me to something around his career number of .261. What I do know is that he won’t hit above .300 the rest of the year. His .389 BABIP (.324 career) is aided by a lot of luck. The 24.6% line drive rate is great but the 0% IFFB rate just cannot continue. As we know line drives are a high BABIP result and IFFB are a zero BABIP result. As Myers hits more IFFB, I expect his BABIP to drop a fair amount. If he keeps his line drive rate up, maybe it only falls into the .330-.340 range, but it will fall.

Myers has split his time between the 2nd and 4th spots in the order which is the best of both worlds. That should keep his run total high and also allow him to chip in a fair amount of RBI. He’s been successful on 2/3 SB attempts so far this year as well. Hopefully he continues to run and can chip in 10+ steals on the season.

Verdict: Myers’s average will fall but he is more or less having the season I expected. If someone wants to value him at 25/10 with a .300 average then by all means sell him high, but I’d be very content with having Myers on my roster all season.

 

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