Christian Yelich, Flyballs, and a New Hope

Christian Yelich is a very good baseball player. Since becoming a full time major leaguer in 2014, Yelich has accumulated 13.8 Wins Above Replacement, good for 35th among qualified hitters. Yelich owns a career 120 wRC+ showing he’s a fine hitter. Yet there has always been a lingering question: Can his bat be even better?

Yelich hits the ball hard. Since 2016, only 10 players have a greater average exit velocity (minimum 2500 pitches seen). More importantly, his 94.3 MPH exit velocity off of flyballs is 25th from the same group. If we add in line drives with flyballs, Yelich, 95.7 MPH exit velocity ranks 17th, sandwiched in between Manny Machado and Yasmany Tomas. Exit velocity is only part of the story though. His launch angle is not ideal. Despite hitting the ball more than a mile harder than sluggers such as Bryce Harper, Michael Conforto, and Anthony Rizzo, Yelich has routinely chosen a groundball based approach. Since the all-star break, we might have gotten another indication of a possible transformation. The prospects are tantalizing. Have always been tantalizing.

Last season Yelich saw his wRC+ rise to 130, the best of his career. This was partly related to him increasing his power level as shown by a .185 ISO, the highest of his career. No doubt like every other batter he was aided by a mysterious force (most likely the ball), but he also had a slight approach change. Yelich hit more flyballs, and so far in 2017, he’s expanded on that. Yelich has the 35th highest (122 players) difference between his 2016 flyball rate and 2017 flyball rate (minimum 350 plate appearances in both seasons). Slowly, Yelich might just be embracing the flyball revolution. This is also seen in his launch angle. In 2016, Yelich’s average launch angle was 2.5 degrees. In 2017, it’s 4.9 degrees, nearly double (more on this later).

Yelich Rolling GB:FB

Yelich seems to have committed to some sort of approach in which flyballs are more sought after. In September of last year, Yelich carried a flyball rate at nearly 30%. He began April hitting flyballs at a 27.2% clip, followed by 23.6% in May, and to a low 14.1% in June. He seemed to abandon the flyball approach as his results weren’t up to his standards. Have you ever done something you were excited about but didn’t do well that you sort of slowly stopped? I’d imagine something like that may have happened with Yelich. During the second half so far, his flyball rate is 32.3%! It could very well be the result of small sample size, but it could also be a sign of Yelich looking to become a better hitter. Since the all-star break, the Marlins outfielder’s average launch angle has been 10.4 degrees. This is what we want to see. And interestingly enough:

Yelich Rolling ISO 15 game

We haven’t really seen Yelich be at this power level. He’s had spikes for sure but nothing as high as the power streak he has shown recently. It coincides with him lifting the ball more. Since the start of the second half, Yelich has a .250 ISO. To give you an idea of the type of power output, that’s pretty much what Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Sano have this season (both at .247).

This feeds into what I mentioned above with psychological factors possibly playing a role. Yelich is seeing good results; perhaps he may experiment a little more with a greater emphasis on flyballs.

As mentioned above, Yelich hits the ball hard. But he also hits it hard to all fields. This is just another example of the kind of strength that exists within Yelich and his all fields approach making him a tough out. Being able to hit the ball to the opposite part of the park is a rare skill.

chart
Yelich’s Home Runs and Batted Balls

 

Now combine that all field power with solid zone control and you’ve got a good hitter. Then combine someone who is has a better batted ball mix and you might just end up with a great hitter. If Yelich shows more power, which his 6’3″, 195lb figure suggests is there, Yelich will likely be given more free passes. Basically, Yelich has the tools to be that rare hitter than can hit for average and power.

Back to the launch angle which has nearly doubled, FanGraphs Andrew Perpetua recently had an intriguing article advising caution when using Launch Angle. In the article, Andrew writes, “Launch angle is largely dependent on the particular swing and approach of a given batter. If they have an uppercut, then they will produce high launch angles with their high velocity balls. If they swing down on the ball, then they will have lower launch angles with their high velocity balls.” Furthermore, Andrew mentions in the comments, “I think launch angle is so intimately tied with swing mechanics that you probably shouldn’t talk about it outside the context of swing mechanics.” This does make sense. Hitters need to alter their bat path to hit the ball at specific angles. Bringing it back to Yelich, we can try to see if he has altered his mechanics. Take the following with a massive grain of salt because it’s only a couple of videos, and I’m no swing expert. From the videos I’ve seen of Yelich, he seems to have a pretty smooth swing path and uses a leg kick for additional power. Here are two of his home run’s this year: the first from June 2 against the Diamondbacks and the second from July 26 against the Rangers.

I don’t see a major difference. A bit of a stronger leg kick in the homer against he D’Backs.

In both of these videos, Yelich hits an opposite field double. Against the Braves, Yelich seems to do a double leg kick. He did this in the next game as well. It’s not something that I’ve seen stick. I’d imagine it might have been due to seeing something he may not have been expecting. Either way, it must’ve been an interesting conversation between Yelich and the hitting coach.

From the limited video evidence, I can’t decipher much. Someone more experienced might want to look into it. The numbers show Yelich very well may have altered his bat path slightly.

One of the tougher questions: How much of Yelich’s increased launch angle is due to seeing pitches in a specific part of the zone? Here is Yelich’s 4-Seam Fastball. 2-Seam Fastball and Sinker locations from the first and second half respectively.

newplot(7)
April 1 – July 11
newplot(8)
July 11 – August 15

He’s being pitched more inside. And guess where launch angle is generally the highest?

League LeftHH Detailed Zone Chart LA
League Average Launch Angle By Zone For Left Handed Hitters

It’s difficult to isolate just how much of Yelich’s increase in launch angle is derived from his own approach changes and from how pitchers are attacking him. It might just be that changes in flyball percentage throughout his career have been pitchers throwing him inside more often. It’s quite the conundrum and I don’t have the answer. Yelich being more of a flyball hitter will likely be known as the season wears on and if he carries it into 2018.

One of the criticisms of Yelich was his lack of damage done when pulling the ball. He’s been the fourth best hitter when going opposite field over the past three calendar years.

Yelich Puleld Oppo plot
Yelich Is the Dot Right Next To The Letter C

On the plus side, this is another area of improvement for Yelich.

Yelich Pulled Balls wRC+
2013 Excluded Due To A Lack Of Sample Size

 

Christian Yelich could very well remain a groundball heavy hitter and be one of the better hitters in the majors. His plate approach has been lauded for many years to go along with his full field power. If he is part of the flyball revolution, we’re watching the development of one of the best hitters in the game. He’s shown signs of a different approach but whether it sticks is difficult to tell. With the results to back it up, the rest of the season will give us a glimpse into the hitter that Yelich both wants to be and could be.

The Incredible Cody Bellinger

If you’ve been following baseball, chances are you know of the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. The son of former baseball player Clay Bellinger (183 games), Cody Bellinger has more than 2.5 times as many home runs his father did in less than half the games. Bellinger has been worth 3 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) in only 91 games, putting him at a 5.3 WAR pace over a full season.

Bellinger tore up the minor leagues showcasing his prodigious power, consistently posting Isolated Power ratings above .220. Realistically, he won’t keep up an ISO over .300 but the mid-high 200s is within his capabilities. Last night his power was on full display as he cranked out his 32nd of the year.

Bellinger’s average exit velocity (97.1 MPH) on flyballs and line drives puts him tenth. He leads the league in Isolated Power. Scouts routinely gave Bellinger raw power grades 1-2 standard deviations above the mean. Challenging for the home run crown has been within his range of possibilities.

He was the top rated prospect in a deep Dodgers system per MLB.com, and Baseball America. Multiple outlets had him within the top 3. The big issues with Bellinger was his propensity for strikeouts and defence not being strong enough. Many believed Bellinger could be an average corner outfield defender if not one of the best defensive first baseman. In the majors, he has held his own. As a baserunner, he’s been good as well swiping 7 bags in 9 attempts. His BaseRunning statistic on Fangraphs is considered above average. Per Statcast, Bellinger is also the fastest first baseman and 29th fastest player in terms of sprint speed.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 9.35.40 AM
Bellinger Is The Right Most Player Next to Wil Myers

As for the strikeout issues, it’s related to his nature as a power hitter. Batters who hit home runs generally carry higher strikeout rates. And then there were mechanical concerns. Bellinger’s uppercut swing is a thing of beauty. It is thunderous but gentle. At its best, this happens:

While uppercut swings are great for lifting the ball, they can lead to popup and strikeout issues. These issues have yet to be of concern however. His 26.8% strikeout rate isn’t good but not bad considering how well he hits and taking into account his age.   Bellinger’s 7% popup rate is above average. Altogether, Bellinger seems to have control of his vicious swing which along with his plate approach has lead him to a 142 wRC+ good for 16th in the league. Over the past decade, only six players have had a greater wRC+ in their rookie season (minimum 350 plate appearances).

Further to the strikeout issue, the most intriguing aspect of Cody Bellinger’s season has been his decreasing strikeout rate and increasing walk rate from May to July (April and August excluded for lack of sample size).

BellingerMay July

With additional experience, Bellinger’s strikeout issues will likely fade. He’s 21 and in his first major league campaign. He’s shown the ability to adjust. Even if he hovers around the 25% mark, his ability to hit the ball far will keep him as a positive offensive force.

Every team in the league would love to have Cody Bellinger. A player on a 5 Win pace in his rookie year will only get better. Bellinger is 21 and the best is yet to come. He’s shown the ability to adapt and is a key cog in a dangerous Dodgers team.

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Straily’s Getting Better With His Flyball Approach

There are 94 pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched over the past two years. Dan Straily ranks 34th in ERA. He also has the 19th worst FIP, 11th worst xFIP, and 24th worst SIERA. Only Ervin Santana has a bigger gap between his ERA and FIP.

With the Cincinatti Reds in 2016, Straily performed well from a results perspective. There was good reason to think he got lucky considering his 3.76 ERA came with a .239 BABIP and a left on base percentage over 80. Straily’s strikeout rate was average and his walk rate was bad. With the Marlins this season, Straily’s been better. His ERA is nearly identical but his FIP and other peripherals have been better. His BABIP is up to .272, higher than his career .258 BABIP. Through 569 career innings, Straily might just be pitching in a way that leads to depressed BABIPs. He’s a flyball pitcher with a penchant for popups. Like Marco Estrada before him, we might just have another FIP breaker.

Straily has a three pitch mix relying on his 4-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. Straily’s fastball has below average velocity, ticking in at 90.8 MPH on average. However, there are few pitchers who are able to make their fourseam fastball “rise” as much as Straily. Straily, Pitcher Velo, Mov, UsageThis is what helps give his fastball above average swinging strike rate and an elite pop-up rate. Only 4 pitchers with at least 200 fastballs thrown have a greater infield flyball percentage than Straily.

The slider is the second most used pitch featuring above average whiff rates and a good groundball rate. Straily releases the pitch from a very similar arm angle to his fastball which influences the deception factor (in a good way).

 

It’s tied for the 8th best pop-up rate this season (minimum 200 sliders thrown). Straily seems to have a penchant for getting the easy out.

Lastly, Straily’s changeup is one of the most interesting. He uses a splitter type of grip making it a split-change.

straily changeup

Although it does not have ideal velocity differential relative to the fastball, Straily’s change has had the most drop relative to his fastball this season. All in all, this gives him a third pitch, good enough for generating whiffs, inducing grounders and popups. Pitchers generally need three pitches to be successful and Straily’s got them.

The flyball pitcher has been managing contact fairly well. Of the 151 pitchers with 1000 pitches thrown, Straily’s xWOBA ranks 31st, tied with Jharrel Cotton this year. Based on Andrew Perpetua’s methods, Straily’s xOBA is .306, below the league average .321.

And for what it’s worth, Straily doesn’t have a platoon advantage thus far in his career. Lefty hitters and righty hitters have batted .316 and .313 respectively. The change has held lefties to a .194 batting average whereas the slider has limited right handed hitters to a .172 batting average.

One of the more interesting aspects of Straily’s improvement is his work with Driveline Baseball. Straily used weighted balls as well as other mechanisms to increase strength, leading to an increase in velocity. Straily credits Driveline Baseball giving him a different view of approaches to pitching.

2017 has brought the 28 year old a career best strikeout (22.2%) and walk (6.8%) percentage. Before 2017, Straily posted average strikeout rates and below par walk rates. Straily’s 2-strike approach has shifted slightly to throwing less fastball and more change and slider. Both pitches are strong at inducing whiffs. This explains the some of the uptick in strikeout rate. Different division, sequencing, pitch location, and slight differences in movement of pitches, among other factors, may explain the rest. Striking out more batters and giving the free pass to fewer is always a good sign.

With the trade deadline looming and Straily having years of team control left, he shouldn’t be cheap. Straily has a unique skillset lead by a heavy flyball approach and three good pitches. To manage downside risk, Straily needs to continue striking out batters at his 2017 rate and keeping the walks down.

 

The Maple Leafs Marleau Mistake

It’s exciting to have Patrick Marleau. Over 1000 points in nearly 1500 games, Marleau’s blend of speed, shooting ability, have always been a nice mix. He’s had a great career and his Hall of Fame candidacy will no doubt be dissected after his retirement. He and Jumbo Joe were always two players I enjoyed watching. The Maple Leafs big free agent splash was a mistake however, and will likely be a net negative contract.

Marleau is a good fit for the Maple Leafs. Despite being 38 in a couple of months, Marleau has good speed to keep up with the Leafs. Furthermore, the left wing position is noticeably weaker than the right wing. After JVR (who might be on his way out), Leo Komarov (might not be back), Josh Leivo, Zack Hyman, and Matt Martin round out the individuals who can play in that position. Faceoffs are an added bonus which he’s fine at on his strong side. The problem with Marleau is the cap hit compared to what he provides.

There is plenty of data to suggest Marleau is a middle six winger as opposed to a top line winger. Guess which one he gets paid like? Marleau certainly had a good 2016-2017 season with 27 goals and 46 points. Those 27 goals, however, came with a shooting percentage of 14.2%, a mark he hasn’t reached since 2009-2010. Given his age, this is something that will be lower this season. Players lose accuracy and strength in their shot as they age.

marleau skater card
Patrick Marleau Skater Card

The picture above, courtesy of HockeyViz, shows Marleau produces at a third line rate while given top line minutes. Over the past three years, Marleau has a decent 50.69 CF% but a -1.03 relative CF%. He hasn’t been a play driver nor does he score at rates like he is being paid. Read More »

Outfield Rankings 2017

The outfield position this year seems to be less deep than usual. There are studs in the beginning, good players with question marks, and a few high upside options. Midway through, there is plenty of power available but it comes at a price. In other cases, three to four category contributors are available in a healthy number. In the later rounds, cheap power sources or speed sources become available. It’s an interesting position this year with a wide range of outcomes possible.

Before I begin, here are the OBP risers and fallers. It is divided up into three different plots each with different projected plate appearance totals.

OBP RF OF > 500 PA

Joc Pederson, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper get some of the biggest boosts in OBP leagues. Shin Soo Choo is someone to keep an eye on this summer especially in OBP leagues. He can be great for a potential platoon.  Adam Duvall is a power hitter who can definitely needs to learn how to take a walk if he wants to have an extended career. Hunter Renfroe, a hot commodity, has 25 HR potential but will be a drag on both batting average and on base percentage. Keon Broxton, another hyped sleeper, is someone who has shown a propensity to take pitches and reasonably could go 20/40. OBP R+F 400-500 PA

Matt Holliday is an underrated player heading into the season. In OBP leagues, David Dahl sees a decrease in value. Jay Bruce batting average won’t be pretty, nor will his on base percentage. Randall Grichuk is of similar vein. He’s like Adam Duvall but with bigger strikeout issues. The power is real though.OBP RF 250400 OF

For players projected for 250-400 plate appearances, Brandon Guyer and Steve Pearce are intriguing picks. You’d want to stay away from Melvin Upton Jr.

Tier I

  1. Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels): He’s the best. There’s no other way around it. And he keeps getting better! Three straight years of increasing walk and decreasing strikeout rates. He has 30+ HR power and will challenge to hit .300. Add on 15-20 stolen bases. Trout’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time both in fantasy and in the real world.
  1. Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals): No doubt in my mind Harper dealt with some sort of injury. It’s also no doubt 2016 was disappointing. Harper, 24 years of age, did manage to put up a 20/20 season. His hit tool remains fantastic which is why he’s ranked second. He has a strong floor as well with the ceiling to be number 1. The Nationals have a strong offence as well.
  1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Bryant here. He’s another fine choice to take as early as second overall.
  1. Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox): The biggest question with Betts is the power. He has the tools to hit over .300 again and nab 25 bases. The power might seem like natural progression for the 24-year-old. His ISO in his first three seasons: .153, .188, .216. The issue is that Betts was never heralded as a 30 HR hitter. It’s best to think he can hit 20 with an outside shot at 30. 20 of his home runs were classified as “Just Enough” or “Lucky” by ESPN Home Run Tracker. Fun Fact: Hanley Ramirez also had 20! With Betts, you know what you’re getting: the high average, the stolen bases, the bountiful counting stats. Keep expectations on the home run front healthy and there will be little disappointment if any. Betts is an all-around stud making him a great choice to be drafted in the top five.

    Zone Contact vs ISO Murphy
    Mookie Has a Rare Combination of Contact Ability and Power

Tier 2

  1. Trea Turner (2B/OF, Washington Nationals): I went into greater detail on Turner here. Lots of speed, good contact ability, in a good lineup.
  1. Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Miami Marlins): Aside from the injury concern, the big issue for Stanton is the strikeouts. He’s been hovering close to 30% across his past 193 games. He has mammoth power; few players can hit 50+ home runs. His career .273 ISO is ridiculous. Drafting Stanton comes down to how much you think he plays. If he provides you with 35 HR with a .260 batting average in 130 games, your replacement OF can probably add in another 5 HRs and a decent average. While you might miss Stanton for some time, the overall value will be high when factoring in his replacement. I think Stanton will cross the 100 RBI mark with 30+ HR. The rest will be gravy. Of course, I do think he gets into more games than he usually does. I think Stanton’s the only OF as of now who has a good chance of being in the top five when it’s all said and done.  Stanton Plot
  1. Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): Marte stole a career high 47 bases in 129 games. He’s generally been in that 30-40 range; regardless Marte is a good source of stolen bases. His .311 batting average was also a career high with it being influenced by a career best .380 BABIP. On the plus side, Marte is a player to project for more home runs. For one, he hit 44 home runs from 2013-2015. Moroever, Marte had his worst ISO and HR/FB%. The Pirates outfielder provides a strong average with lots of stolen bases and runs.
  1. Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): Braun keeps chugging along. He’s managed 550 plate appearances or more in each of the past three seasons with better batting averages and home run totals. Braun’s groundball rate as a career high 55%. Unless he gets the ball in the air more, he will be hard pressed to reach 25 HR. Furthermore, his HR/FB% nearing 29% was well above his career average 19%. The stolen base totals will likely continue to drop. At 33, Braun is good for average and has that 20 HR + 10 SB capability. With a slightly altered approach, the home run total could reach 25.
  1. Nelson Cruz (OF, Seattle Mariners): For three consecutive seasons, Cruz has hit 40+ home runs. Given his above average BABIP and low career line drive rate, Cruz likely sees a decrease in batting average this season. There is nothing in his profile that suggests Cruz will fall off a cliff. I get the feeling he’s a .265/35 HR type player. Khris Davis profiles for something similar for what it’s worth. Lastly, I can’t fault anyone for taking him over Stanton. There’s a distinct tradeoff between floor and ceiling here.
  1. Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies): As it seems like with every other player, Blackmon saw an uptick in the power department posting a .228 ISO. His HR/FB% was five points higher than his career mark. That means that Blackmon is more of a 20 HR hitter rather than someone challenging for 30 next season. Blackmon also had a high line drive rate nearing 28%. Given his career average is 24%, he does seem to have an inherent skill to hit more line drives. Even so, that number is quite high. A lower BABIP and therefore a lower batting average. With Blackmon, he’s more in the .290 mold instead of the .324 he hit last season. Furthermore, at 30 years of age, Blackmon is only getting slower; I’m hesistant to place him for more than 20 stolen bases. With all that said, Coors Field is what he calls home (unless he is traded) and he should be able to rack up lots of runs. I think Blackmon’s closer to his 2015 season with 2016 stolen base numbers. I’m not optimistic he is a top five outfielder again this year.
  1. George Springer (OF, Houston Astros): Springer racked up a lot of counting stats through his first full MLB season appearing in all 162 games and fnishing with 744 plate appearances. He didn’t improve; walk and strikeout rates remained consistent, ISO was more of a byproduct of the power surge, and the batting average decreased. Springer’s will hit around .260, challenge for 100 runs in a strong Astros offence, and will come close to 30/10. Not a bad choice for your first OF.
  1. Justin Upton (OF, San Diego Padres): One of the most frustrating players to own last season, Upton ended up finishing with a .246 average and 31 HR. Having hit between 26-31 HR in each of his last four seasons, Upton’s got the power to mash. Batting average has trended downwards for three straight years. The pop-up rate should regress closer to his career average, increasing his BABIP, and making him more of a .255 hitter than .246. There’s some additional room for improvement for Upton if he can strikeout less. He’s had 8-9 steals in 3 of his last four years; that seems like a good estimate for what he will do again. SB + HR 2014-2016 OF
  1. Billy Hamilton (OF, Cincinnati Reds): Billy is an interesting player simply because strategy is somewhat dependent on him. There’s no upside here in HR or RBI. He will continue to bat near the top of the order; if he keeps his gains from last season, 80 runs isn’t out of the question. He increased his patience at the plate and did get a BABIP boost. In 2015, Hamilton stole 57 bases in 454 plate appearances. In 2016, 58 in 460. If fully healthy, Hamilton’s can steal 70+ bases. He has 200 hits over the past two years, 115 stolen bases. He’s roughly in scoring position with every hit. As mentioned earlier, in roto leagues, you can reap the rewards of all his steals and then move him for help in other categories. In head to head category leagues, you can decide whether you can have a great chance to win the stolen bases category week in week out. This allows focus for the rest of the roster on power and batting average. I’m a fan of Hamilton heading into the year; good chance he can hit decent enough, score plenty of runs, and steal more bases than anybody.

    Bigeer HR SB
    The Purple Dot at the Top Left is Billy Hamilton
  1. Yoenis Cespedes (OF, New York Mets): There’s little reason to believe Cespedes won’t have another good offensive year. With back to back 30+ home run seasons and a batting average that was .291 in 2015 and .280 in 2016, Cespy has the kind of solid production you want out of a borderline number 1 starting outfielder.
  1. Carlos Gonzalez (OF, Colorado Rockies): Including seasons in which Gonzalez had at least 400 plate appearances, Gonzalez had his worst offensive year by wRC+ and wOBA. 2016 saw Gonzalez be a good fantasy performer. A lot of it had to do with his 187 combined runs and RBI. His .298 batting average was very good, not too far off his career .291. His BABIP was slightly above average relative to his career led. His ISO decreased from .260 the year before and was 23 points below his career average. I have a tough time believing Gonzalez will reach the 30 HR mark; rather he’s in the 20-25 range for me. Playing in Coors should continue to give him a good enough BABIP to bat near his career average. The counting stats will probably decrease somewhat. I don’t expect Gonzalez to fall off a cliff but I don’t see him having a better 2017 than 2016.

Tier 3

  1. Christian Yelich (OF, Miami Marlins): The beauty of Yelich lies in his high floor and potentially high ceiling. I say potentially because it all comes down to his home run totals. A career .293 batter with a .368 OBP, Yelich is a unique hitter. He’s groundball heavy and almost never pops up. 2016 saw something change; an attempt to hit more flyballs. With it came 20 home runs. Consider, in his first 332 games, Yelich hit only 20 home runs. His HR/FB% was 23.6%, well above his career 16.6%. He pulled the ball more, more flyballs, there looks to be a concerted effort to get the ball in the air more. I get the feeling Yelich will likely hit 10-15 home runs with potential for nearly double those totals. He’s also slated to bat third great for his counting stats. As for the stolen bases, they’ll likely be around the 10 mark again this year given his batting position and declining number of attempts. Yelich is a fantastic hitter whose fantasy floor is high with the bonus of great potential.
  1. Gregory Polanco (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): The increase in power was expected based on his skillset. He improved his home run total through a pull percentage nearing 50%. Polanco’s a .260 hitter with room for additional upside here as he continues to get better. He should also reach 20 stolen bases if not get a few more. Like Yelich, Polanco provides a good floor with some untapped potential.
  1. Jose Bautista (OF, Toronto Blue Jays): I wrote about Bautista in greater detail here. Long story short, Bautista showed little sign of decline. He’s capable of hitting 30+ home runs.
  1. Mark Trumbo (OF, Baltimore Orioles):  Trumbo is a power hitter who can hit 35+ HR. The big red flag for him last year was his HR/FB% being 5 points higher than his career average. He’ll hit around .250 and pound the ball out of the park.
  1. Khris Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics):  Davis has progressed in each of his past three years. He will challenge for 35 home runs, that’s the kind of power output he possesses.
  1. Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Schwarber here. Good hitter who will be playing in your catcher slot.
  1. Andrew McCutcheon (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): At 30, McCutcheon’s prime has likely passed us. His stolen base totals have declined to only 6 last year and speed isn’t something that gets better with age. Cutch struck out more, walked less. The 24 home runs show that 20 home run power is still there although his ISO also did drop. He hit more flyballs to compensate. The good news is that McCutchen’s BABIP was below his career average. I think there is some batting average improvement into the realm of .280. The BABIP is unlikely to fully return because he’s slower and did have a pop-up issue last year. For McCutchen, imagine last year but batting .280 a few more counting stats. That’s not terrible although a far cry from what he once was.
  1. Matt Kemp (OF, Atlanta Braves): Kemp is unlikely to hit 35 HR again but could challenge for 30. While his Isolated Power of .231 was above his career .204 and the highest since 2012, Kemp’s HR/FB% was consistent with his career. He pulled the ball more and hit more flyballs. Kemp’s a .270 type hitter with 25 HR power. With only 1 stolen base last year, it appears his days of running the bases are over.
  1. Adam Duvall (OF, Cincinatti Reds): Duvall’s a good power target. He’s a cheap mans Khris Davis. He delivered 33 home runs last year. This wasn’t a random outburst either; Duvall routinely had Isoalted Power ratings higher than .200 in the minors. He hit 57 home runs in his last two years in AAA. Duvall’s HR/FB% came in just under 18%; he wasn’t exorbitantly lucky either. With his high strikeout rate, Duvall’s batting average is not likely to improve a whole lot.
  1. Miguel Sano (3B/OF, Minnesota Twins): I went into greater detail on Sano here. Mammoth power, but issue with strikeouts.
  1. Wil Myers (1B/OF, San Diego Padres): I went into greater detail on Myers here. Reasonable shot at 20/20.
  1. JD Martinez (OF, Detroit Tigers): Martinez continued to show a strong power stroke with a .228 ISO. He continued to hit the ball hard and continued to show an ability to hit for an above average batting average on balls in play. 30 HR power, capable of a batting average over .285, and a lot of counting stats is what Martinez can do in a full season. He’s a tremendous hitter and I’d bank on him continuing to be excellent. He’d be in the top ten if not for his injury.
  1. Ian Desmond (OF, Colorado Rockies): Like Martinez before him, Desmond is lower on these rankings because of his injury. He likely hits 15 HR with just as many SB in his limited time. In Coors Field, Desmond should continue to post an above average BABIP putting him in the .280 batting average range.

Tier 4

  1. Nomar Mazara (OF, Texas Rangers): There are few players I am more enthralled by than Nomar Mazara. As a whole, his first season went well. He hit 20 HR with a .266 batting average and posted an above average strikeout rate. The biggest concern for Mazara is the one that seems to hound young players; can they hit opposite handed pitching? Mazara had a poor wRC+ (44) against southpaws. This is important for playing time. I do think Mazara will continue his development and be better against lefties. Furthermore, hitting more flyballs will be important if he wants to eventually challenge for 30 HR. He’s certainly capable of it this season. Mazara has a good approach at the plate to go along with strong bat skills. I’m excited to see what he can do in his sophomore season.
  1. Marcell Ozuna (OF, Miami Marlins): Ozuna is one of those interesting batters who might have another level to him. In his first full season in 2014, Ozuna hit .269 with 23 HR. The following year, the power disipatted and his batting average fell 10 points despite making more contact. Last season Ozuna showed his 2015 power output was an anomaly as he hit 23 HR and posted the same ISO as 2014. He continued to improve his strikeout rate and managed a .266 batting average. What this shows is that Ozuna has a good floor; .260 average with 20 HR. He hti fewer grounders and more flyballs as well as posting a career best 7.1% walk rate. There’s a chance he can continue to develop and get closer to the 30 HR mark especially if he hits more flyballs. There’s a small chance he has a big 2017 season. He’ll likely bat in the top five for Miami putting him in a good position for counting stats.
  1. Stephen Piscotty (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Piscotty had solid strikeout rates in the minors which translated into a good MLB average so far in his career. The swing changes he made has helped him find above average power. He’s still young so sustained growth is certainly possible. He’s a player who’s worth a flier to see if there is an additional level. If not, you’ve got a hitter that can produce in four categories.
  1. Adam Eaton (OF, Washington Nationals): Eaton brought over from Chicago has continually progressed. He’s a .285 type hitter with 15 HR and 15 SB capability. He should continue to score a lot of runs!
  1. Jose Ramirez (3B/OF, Cleveland Indians): I went into greater detail on Ramirez here.
  1. Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins): Buxton might just be the fastest player in baseball. And that’s key because it helps his defensive game and ability to steal bases. Buxton will get the playing time to improve. Strikeouts never seemed to bother Byron until he got to the majors in 2015. In 2016, he showed little improvement, including in his September boom where he still struck out in a third of at bats. I get the sense Buxton will steal at least 20 bases and chip in 15 HR. The batting average will be dependent on his gains in the strikeout department and whether or not he pops out less. He doesn’t have 500 plate appearances under his belt yet; there’s still time for growth.
  1. Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): I have mixed feelings about Joc who’s a much better player in OBP leagues thanks to his patient approach at the plate (14.9 BB%). The issue with Pederson is that he received limited at bats vs lefties and performed terribly (36 wRC+). In 2015, he performed better but that did not lead to more plate appearances in 2016. I’d imagine he gets a longer leash this year. He did have a poor .167 BABIP vs southpaws in 2015. Over his two full seasons, Joc has hit 51 HR with 10 SB. He struck out less and his ISO approached .250. Joc showed many signs of growth. Until he can get regular at bats against lefties, Joc will be hard pressed to be a top 20 OF. If he can and performs decent, Joc can likely reach the 30 HR mark and be a force to be reckoned with.
  1. Jose Peraza (2B/SS/OF, Cincinatti Reds): I went into greater detail on Peraza here.
  1. Odubel Herrera (OF, Philadelphia Phillies): The big issue to note with Herrera is that his walk rate of 9.6% will likely go down because he did not have vastly different swing rates. Odubel’s in that 10-15 HR range and batting near the top of the order will lead to many runs. He also has 41 stolen bases over the past two seasons. I can see the BABIP going down a tad but a .275 batting average is still good.
  1. Lorenzo Cain (OF, Kansas City Royals): Good contact hitter with speed good for 10-15 home runs.
  1. Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Boston Red Sox): JBJ cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining a good power level (20+ HR). The counting stats will likely be lower without David Ortiz in the Red Sox lineup, but other than that I feel confident JBJ can continue to be a good player.
  1. Adam Jones (OF, Baltimore Orioles): The free swinging Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles has hit 56 home runs with a .267 batting average over the past two seasons. The big issue to note is that his ISO was the lowest since 2010. He hit more flyballs to compensate for a diminished ability to hit the ball hard. I’d imagine his decline continues. .260, 24 HR feels realistic to me.
  1. Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels): Calhoun’s a 20 HR hitter. HR/FB% suggests Calhoun should’ve had a couple more home runs last year. While his strikeout rate did get much better compared to 2015, his swinging strike rate was still high. Furthermore, his walk rate improvement is unlikely to stick because his swing rates didn’t have a major change. Calhoun is what he is at this point: a .265 hitter with 20 HR pop and will score a lot of runs.

Tier 5

  1. Keon Broxton (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): I’ll let these two articles explain what’s so captivating about Broxton. A mechanical change helped him become a better hitter. Power + Speed threat. Broxton is a better choice in OBP leagues.
  1. Kevin Kiermaier (OF, Tampa Bay Rays): The incredible defensive outfielder had indicators suggesting 2017 might be some sort of breakout. Primarily, he increased his walk rate, something supported by a decrease in swing percentage on pitches outside the zone as well as inside the zone. Kiermaier had a more patient approach. Morover, the best defensive centerfielder in baseball stole 21 bases in 105 games. Kiermaier’s popup issue got worse; with two seasons of his infield fly ball rate being 13%, it jumped up to 25%. This likely won’t last and even it going back down in half will help his batting average on balls in play. Lastly, he hit more flyballs and pulled the ball more; 15-20 HR isn’t out of the question. There’s enough in his profile to suggest a 15/25 season is within reach without killing your batting average.
  1. Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox): Benintendi is a good contact hitter with a good eye at the plate. He’s not a power hitter but can hold his own. His minor league ISO rates were over .200 at every stop. He can certainly hit 15 out of the park this year. Counting stats may depend on where he is in the lineup. He has the OBP skills to hit high in the lineup and the bat skills to drive players in. Benintendi has a nice name and he’s gonna be a nice addition to whichever team drafts him.
  1. Dexter Fowler (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Fowler’s probably gonna be banged up at some point in the season. The veteran outfielder has only reached 600 plate appearances once in his career and that was in 2015 with the Cubs. Fowler’s a career .268 hitter who chips in 10-15 home runs and a similar number of stolen bases. His career .366 OBP gives him a boost in those leagues.
  1. Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves): Inciarte has shown continual improvement in each year of the major leagues. He’s a contact hitter who is likely to hit around .290 and steal 20 bases. Batting near the top of the order should yield 80+ runs. He’s kind of boring as a fantasy player but he gets the job done.
  1. Matt Holliday (OF, New York Yankees): I went into more detail on Holliday here. He hasn’t shown much indication he’s gonna fall of the map. Playing time might be an issue but he can play 1B, OF, and DH!
  1. Kendrys Morales (1B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays): I went into greater detail on Morales here. Could be a sneaky pickup based on his contact.
  1. Ben Zobrist (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Zobrist here. Should have another good year.
  1. David Dahl (OF, Colorado Rockies): Dahl is currently injured and likely to miss a few games. He had an impressive showing in his first 63 games bating .315 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases. He did have some batted ball luck go his way. As a prospect, Dahl has been tabbed as a guy who will hit for a an above average batting average and contribute 15-20 HR with the same amount of stolen bases. Dahl doesn’t walk a lot and he has had issues with strikeouts. He needs to show improvement against southpaws otherwise he is at risk of being platooned for parts of this season. Dahl’s a good young player with issues in his approach. The prospects in fantasy are tantalizing because of his hit tool and the fact he calls Coors Field home.
  1. Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers): I’d take my chances with Puig. With the Dodgers depth and Cody Bellinger knocking on the door, I get the feeling Puig has one last chance. Either he does well to stick in the lineup or the Dodgers cut ties. Drafting him as your fourth or fifth outfielder, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Over the past two seasons, Puig has shown he’s got the ability to roughly hit 20 home runs and chip in 5-10 steals. He hit .263 with a pop up rate of 23%, something highly uncharacteristic (career 12% pop-up rate). I think there’s enough there with Puig to roll the die.
  1. Randal Grichuk (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Grichuk has displayed an ability to mash the ball shown by a career .241 ISO in 282 games. Can he make contact? Well he showed little improvement. He doesn’t walk much either. There is certainly some room for improvement as he gets better at pitch recognition. Grichuk is a good pickup in the later rounds for power.
  1. Carlos Beltran (OF, Houston Astros): Beltran overperformed last year. His batting average was propped by a .315 BABIP and his HR/FB% was the highest since 2012. Still, he’s capable of .270 and 20 HR with a bunch of RBI in a strong Astros offence.
  1. Travis Jankowski (OF, San Diego Padres): Jankowski would be one of my favourite targets heading into the season if he had guaranteed playing time. The Padres have Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, two young batters who they would like to know what they are made of. Further complicating matters is Alex Dickerson who has his own sort of intrigue. Dickerson is out for the first month giving Jankowski a starting job. The reason I’m a fan of Jankowski is because of his speed and contact ability. He stole 30 bases in under 400 plate appearances. As for the .245 batting average, well there’s reason for optimism that he can get it much higher. Jankowski strikeout rate was 26% which is not at all supported by his 7.6% swinging strike rate. His highest minor league strikeout rate was 17.3% in A+ during the 2013 season. Fun Fact: Over the past decade, only 10 players have posted a single season swinging strike rate below 10% and a single season strikeout rate over 25%. Jankowski was one of them last year (Mike Trout did it too!). Travis also has a groundball approach, perfect for his style. Jankowski sported an above average walk rate making him quite the target in OBP leagues. Like I said above, playing time issues might come into the foray although he is good enough to be an everyday player. In a full season, this kid could steal 40+ bags with a .270 batting average. I really like Jankowski.

Others to Consider

Power Threats

  • Domingo Santana (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): Strong exit velocity numbers, 11 HR in 281 plate appearances last season
  • Yasmany Tomas (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 31 HR last year although did overperform
  • Curtis Granderson (OF, New York Mets): 76 HR over the past three seasons. Batting average liability.

Stolen Base Threats

  • Jarrod Dyson (OF, Seattle Mariners): Dyson might finally have consistent playing time. Stolen 30 or more bases in 4 of last 5 years and highest plate appearances total was 337 last year.
  • Rajai Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics): 43 stolen bases last year show he’s still got some great wheels.
  • Hernan Perez (2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers): The soon to be 26-year-old Perez came out of nowhere to hit .272 with 13 HR and 34 steals. Swinging strikeout rate was high showing there are concerns to his game and that his batting average will likely be lower.

Potential Bounceback Veterans

  • Carlos Gomez (OF, Texas Rangers): I’m not a believer. The power has eroded, the strikeouts are an issue, and he’s more likely to steal 15 bases than 25. He’s a lottery ticket but there is little to make me believe that Gomez will have a good year. You’re likely better off taking a shot at someone like Byron Buxton who is similar but is young with ample upside.
  • Shin Soo Choo (OF, Texas Rangers): Was injured but did not show a loss in plate discipline. Good choice for an OF platoon given his career 145 wRC+ vs right handed pitchers.
  • Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): Brantley had a good spring. It’s difficult to know what to expect after missing so much time. I do get the impression he should be able to make contact at a healthy rate but may suffer from being able to hit the ball hard the other way.
  • Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals): Strikeouts went up. If he can get these under control, he’s capable of .250 and 20 HR.

Young Players Looking to Make Their Mark

  • Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets): Playing time issues, and platoon issues will limit at bats for the youngster. Still, Conforto has a good hit tool and should continue progressing.
  • Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego Padres): Renfroe has the ability to hit 25 HR this year. Might have some struggles to make contact throughout the year.
  • Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners): Haniger had good numbers in the minors. He’s worth a late round flier.

This concludes the top 50 outfielders. It’s a group full of power, speed, and everything in between. The position gives a good mixture of player types; you could pick up a high home run low average type of hitter in one round and pair him with a high average and SB, low HR, type hitter in the next round. Outfield offers quite a bit of flexibility.

Shortstop Rankings for 2017

Shortstop, once the second biggest wasteland, is now an area full of riches! There’s 7 players who you can take in standard 12 team leagues within the first three rounds. After that, there are many players in the second tier who can be a fine addition to round out your roster.

Before I begin, here are the OBP risers and fallers for shortstops. SS OBP

Machado is not on the chart because Steamer does not consider him a SS. He’s projected for a .294 batting average and .355 OBP by them. Correa is argubaly the top dog in OBP leagues as his OBP is projected for .358. Jonathan Villar and Danny Espinosa are tow players who get big boosts in OBP leagues. Addison Russell is another, making him an even more intriguing player in OBP leagues. Speedsters Jose Peraza and Tim Anderson both have poor walk rates.

Tier 1

  1. Manny Machado (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles): Arguably the biggest wildcard in the 3B Big Four, Machado’s value this season might just hinge on stolen bases. He’s averaged 36 HR over the past two years with a .290 batting average and strong counting stats. He stole 20 bases in 2015 but had a goose egg last year. Machado saw an uptick in strikeout rate thanks to a higher swinging strike percentage and a greater swing percentage at pitches outside the zone. Machado needs to show these improvements from 2015 will stick. Despite this, Machado is in line for another strong season with the Orioles.
  1. Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros): One of the games few five category producers, Correa had a solid sophomore season finishing with a .274 batting average to go along with 20 HR and 13 steals. Correa certainly has the talent to be the top fantasy player. He hasn’t reached the maturation of his power and contact ability. Despite a higher strikeout rate, Correa showed improvement getting it back to 2015 levels while keeping his improved patience. Based on Statcast xStats, Correa should have had a higher average and slugging. Correa will continue improving and will likely justify that first or second round draft pick. He’s a player with an already high floor and a ceiling matched by few in the game. I do think Correa gets to the 30 HR mark with a .290 average with a bunch of steals.
  1. Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers): Villar came out of nowhere to become arguably the fantasy MVP of 2016. Villar’s 62 SB were 15 more than second place Starling Marte; this is the main area of Villar’s value. Villar has the profile of a player who can sustain an above average BABIP thanks to his total field approach and speed. He does tend to strikeout a lot, something that will keep him from being a .300 hitter. With a lower BABIP and all those strikeouts, Villar’s batting average will be closer to .270 than the .285 he put up. That combined with 15/45 should make Villar one of the better second fantasy players this season.

    Villar
    Names Shown For Those Players Projected For 10 or More HR and 30 or More SB
  1. Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers): The NL rookie of the year had an incredible season and showcased his full bag of tricks. While Seager should still be a top 5 SS in 2017, Seager did benefit from a .355 batting average on balls in play. On a more positive note, the power is sustainable and his infield flyball rate was only 2.1%!
  1. Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies): The best part about Story is that he plays in Colorado which means Coors field for home games! Story had a strikeout problem which I do believe will not be as big of an issue due to a swinging strike rate that was high but does not suggest something over 30%. Story’s a power + speed threat with 30/10 being a realistic target for Story. His ISO approaching .300 will surely go down. Stanton has a career .273 ISO and is generally heralded as the strongest hitter in the game. What that means is that Story will hit likely hit 30 HR in a full season as opposed to him getting there in nearly 100 games. Story’s a top five SS this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes first.
  1. Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians): Over two seasons, Lindor has amassed 27 home runs, 31 stolen bases, in addition to a .306 batting average. In 2016, Lindor improved his walk and strikeout rate while also proving his showing his power from 2015 wasn’t a fluke. I’d expect more of the same from Lindor.

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Third Base Rankings 2017

Third base is a deep position this year. There’s a big four, followed by capable youngsters (Villar) and grizzly vets (Beltre). The position has players capable of immense power (Sano), high batting averages (Ramirez), intriguing resumes (Carpenter), and those that can do a little bit of everything (Rendon).

Before I begin, here are the OBP Risers and Fallers in OBP Leagues. Third Base OBP

In OBP leagues, Miguel Sano gets one of the largest boosts. Jake Lamb and Jonathan Billar also get boosts. Nick Castellanos hasn’t shown much patience at the plate thus far in his career; his OBP is more dependent on batting average. You get a similar story with Franco. Matt Carpenter’s value increases quite a bit in OBP leagues.

Tier I

  1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): Bryant put all his skills together in 2016 playing a key role in the Cubs first World Series win in over 100 years. Bryant saw a decrease in his strikeout rate while increasing his ISO and batting average without going into unsustainable territory. 2017 should bring another strong season from the Cubs multi-positional player. The ability to put him at up to three positions gives Bryant the edge over Arenado.
  1. Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies): Arenado has had back to back seasons with 40+ HR and 130+ RBI. He increased his walk rate and set a career high with his.294 batting average. Arenado is a potential top 3 pick this year thanks to his strong past record of results.
  1. Manny Machado (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles): Arguably the biggest wildcard in the 3B Big Four, Machado’s value this season might just hinge on stolen bases. He’s averaged 36 HR over the past two years with a .290 batting average and strong counting stats. He stole 20 bases in 2015 but had a goose egg last year. Considering he averaged around 3 stolen bases before his 2015, I wouldn’t bet on him stealing bags. Futhermore, Machado saw his walk rate improvement from 2015 dip. You can write the same story with strikeouts as his swinging strikeout rate went from 6.8% in 2015 to 10% in 2016. This isn’t ideal; Machado also continues to have an issue with pop-ups. With all that said, Machado has a career .284 batting average and has 72 HR over the past two seasons. I give Machado the edge over Donaldson because of his ability to play at SS.
  1. Josh Donaldson (3B, Toronto Blue Jays): Already one of the league’s best hitters entering 2016, Donaldson continued to improve as he increased his walk rate while striking out less. Over the past two years, Donaldson has hit 78 HR and averaged 122 runs scored. Enjoy the safety and security of Donaldson as your starting third baseman.

Tier 2

  1. Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukeee Brewers): I went over Villar in greater detail here. I think he hits closer to .270 while being a threat to steal 40 bases with 15 HR.
  1. Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals): I love Carpenter so much that I will show the same graph again! It’s the back injury that should concern potential owners. The talent is there.wOBA vs ISO for QH 15-16
  1. Adrian Beltre (3B, Texas Rangers): Beltre has had a hall of fame caliber career and at 38, he’s still going strong. Beltre hit more flyballs leading to more balls out of the park. His ISO was the highest since 2012. I wouldn’t treat him like a 30 HR hitter given that 37 in the two years preceding 2016. I think he’s comfortably in that 22-27 range. Beltre has not showing signs of decline in hitting ability. The home runs will come, the batting average will be solid, as should the counting stats. Other than age, there’s little reason to believe Beltre won’t have another productive season. Oh, and he has stolen exactly one base in each of the last seven seasons.

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