It’s time to unveil the list of 10 fantasy relevant hitters whose 2017 xHR/FB rates most exceeded their actual HR/FB rate marks. I use my Statcast-fueled xHR/FB rate equation to determine which hitters could enjoy a spike in HR/FB rate in 2018. Of course, this all assumes the hitter posts similar marks in the components of the xHR/FB rate metric — Brls/BBE, along with fly ball pull and opposite field percentages. All xHR/FB rates are the park-adjusted versions.
This list isn’t necessarily a sleeper list, unless your leaguemates are expecting a 2018 HR/FB rate like 2017 for the player. Rather, it’s simply a list of hitters with a better than average chance of enjoying an increase in HR/FB rate.
|Name||Pull% + Oppo%||Brls/BBE||HR/FB||Park Adj xHR/FB||HR/FB – Park Adj xHR/FB|
Matt Chapman was on my list of six 2018 home run sleepers published last week, given his hefty Brls/BBE mark posted over a rather small sample in his 2017 debut. What I purposely didn’t mention so I could save it for this post, was that the big Brls/BBE mark led to an xHR/FB rate far above his actual HR/FB rate. It suggests that not only will he be excellent in the power department, but also undervalued. That’s a delicious combination. He’s an especially massive BUY in OBP leagues.
Johan Camargo who?! NL-Only leaguers should get familiar with that name, because he may very well open the season as the Braves starting third baseman. He hadn’t shown much home run power in the minors, until 2017 at Triple-A. There, the 23-year-old nearly tripled his HR/FB rate to 10.5% from his time at Double-A in 2016. Since he doesn’t possess much speed, he’s going to really need to prove the increased power is for real in order to deliver any sort of fantasy value. But given the Brls/BBE carried over to the Majors, suggesting the spike at Triple-A was legit, we may end up seeing respectable power, and certainly better than the weak .126 ISO Steamer is projecting.
Kolten Wong’s star has faded significantly since posting double digit homers and steals in both 2014 and 2015, but there remains a glimmer of hope. Although his HR/FB rate has declined every single year in the league and tumbled to a career low in 2017, his Brls/BBE and xHR/FB rates have been nearly identical each of the past three seasons. So it looks like some truly bad fortune that his HR/FB rate has dipped from 7.2% to just 4.3%. His skills also remain strong, as he walked more than ever thanks to a reduction in swings outside the zone, doesn’t strike out often, and continues to run and steal successfully at a strong clip. He is still atop the depth chart at second base in St. Louis, so with some obvious power rebound potential, he’s a likely undervalued option with serious profit potential.
I know, I know, Joe Mauer is the guy you get stuck with in the last round because you failed to fill your corner infield spot when they were flying off the board in the first 10 rounds. But he actually posted a higher xHR/FB rate in 2017 than in 2015, when his actual HR/FB rate sat at 10.3%. Low double digit homers from your corner man isn’t exactly what you dream of, but if his BABIP rebound is sustainable (I think it is), then the low double digit homers will be fully offset by a batting average around .300. His rostering will then make you feel better about going after a Scott Schebler type.
Devon Travis missed most of the season with a knee injury, so the sample size here is smaller than for everyone else. But, his Brls/BBE was above league average and his fly ball pull percentage surged. Yet, his HR/FB rate fell to the lowest mark of his short career. It’s very possible that fantasy owners have moved on from him, meaning he’s an excellent cheap option for your middle infield with some power and speed contribution potential.
This is why I struggled to project Miguel Cabrera. On the one hand, his Brls/BBE fell precipitously from 2016, and was marginally below his 2015 mark. He’s also 34, and his health has been playing an increasingly larg role in his playing time and performance. On the other hand, his xHR/FB rate suggests his career low HR/FB rate was more bad fortune than deteriorating skills, and he easily posted the largest gap between his xwOBA and WOBA of all hitters with at least 150 ABs. Steamer is forecasting quite a rebound, and it surprises me how dramatic it is. But hey, we aren’t going to really know until the 2018 season ends and we either kick ourselves for not buying Cabrera at the cheapest price he’s maybe ever been, or feel upset that this is really the end up a Hall of Fame career.
Yoenis Cespedes is a good one to list here, as his xHR/FB rate was identical to his mark in 2015, when he posted an actual HR/FB rate of 18.6%. Heck, his 2017 xHR/FB rate was better than even his 2016 mark, and yet his HR/FB rate still fell. He should return to the high teen HR/FB rate range and potential earn a profit for his owners.
I just had to keep Nick Castellanos on this list, as he has consistently made every underperformer list I’ve published since a year ago. Amazingly, he has now significantly underperformed his xHR/FB rate all three seasons we have Statcast data for! Crazy enough, he underperformed by the smallest amount in 2017, as his HR/FB rate notched a new career high and has climbed for three straight seasons. I’m still waiting to read research that definitively tells us why Castellanos is the outlier who hits fewer homers on his barreled balls than everyone else.
So it would appear that Justin Turner consciously decided to avoid the strikeout at the expense of home run power, but his xHR/FB rate suggests that not to be the case. His xHR/FB rate was higher in 2017 than it was in 2015, and that year he posted a 13.9% HR/FB rate. His age (heading into his age 33 season) might sabotage his appearance here since we should expect his Brls/BBE to decline, but assume a higher baseline for his HR/FB rate to decline from (like his xHR/FB rate) rather than his actual HR/FB rate. Not that it matters all that much, because by hitting 21 homers and batting .322, no one is going to let you buy him at a discount.
Kyle Seager has underperformed his xHR/FB rate in all three seasons like Castellanos, but to a far lesser degree. And this past season, he underperformed more than the previous two seasons. He looks like an easy call to get back into the 12%, or even 13%, HR/FB rate range.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.