I don’t need to convince you that improving your in-zone contact rate (Z-Contact%) is a very, very good thing. It could result in more balls in play, which leads to potentially more positive outcomes, whereas strikeouts rarely do. So let’s identify and discuss the fantasy relevant hitters who have enjoyed the biggest spikes in Z-Contact% marks so far over this tiny sample size.
Wowzers, who would have thunk that not only would Adalberto Mondesi appear atop this surgers list, but that he would get his Z-Contact% over 90%?! After going a ridiculous 14/32 over about half a season last year, Mondesi was a polarizing figure during draft time. He was a favorite bust candidate, and yet, he was still going 40th overall in NFBC leagues. Though he has yet to take a walk in 31 plate appearances, and has still struck out nearly 26% of the time, the improved contact rates portend a better strikeout rate in the near-term. It’s anyone’s guess whether he could come anywhere close to maintaining a 90%+ Z-Contact%, but man, if he does, he could earn first round value.
The Indians offense has been horrible, and Jake Bauers has contributed to the excruciatingly slow start, having posted just a .249 wOBA. But on the positive side, he has posted matching 12% walk and strikeout rates as he has reduced his SwStk%. Remember that he’s the rare first baseman with double digit steals potential, and should also be good for at least mid-teen homers. Don’t give up on him so quickly.
We’ve been waiting for a Jorge Soler breakout for a while now, but health hasn’t been his friend, and playing half his games in such a pitcher friendly park in a weak lineup is no recipe for fantasy success. So far this season, the strikeout and walk rates are disgusting, as he has walked just twice for a 6.1% mark, while striking out 13 times, for a 39.4% rate. What’s odd about those figures is the vast improvement in his Z-Contact% not translating. Ya know why? Because he has been utterly helpless when swinging at pitches outside the zone. His O-Contact% is a pitiful 23.8%! So his overall Contact% is actually sitting at a career low. I think I’m a little more optimistic about his Z-Contact% spike than concerned over his O-Contact% collapse. I still don’t think he’ll earn much value in shallower leagues.
So far, Josh Donaldson hasn’t done much to prove that he’s healthy and set for a rebound season. The positive news solely relates to his Z-Contact% and SwStk%, both of which sit at career bests at the moment. Strangely, his strikeout rate also sits at a career high, even though he is making the best contact of his career. This seems like a perfect buy low situation, at least in terms of expecting his strikeout rate to dramatically improve and help his batting average. That said, I’m a bit concerned by his sub-30% fly ball rate.
Though he resides on a weak offensive squad in a pitcher friendly venue, Lewis Brinson was a respectable dart throw in deeper leagues. He still hasn’t walked in 34 plate appearances, homered, or stolen a base, so fantasy owners are probably ready to throw in the towel already. But the improved strikeout rate, driven by sharp improvements in both Z-Contact% and SwStk%, is encouraging. Stay the course in deep mixed and NL-Only leagues (obviously you’re not dropping him in those).
After serving as mostly an accumulator as a catcher, Francisco Cervelli joined the fly ball revolution last year and knocked double digit homers for the first time. Not only is he at it again with the fly balls, but his Z-Contact% has spiked to an elite level, while he has rarely whiffed. Hitting in the middle of the Pirates lineup, I think he makes for an underrated #1 catcher option.
Even in the awful Blue Jays lineup, Teoscar Hernandez still hasn’t played every day. His underlying skills say he should be. He has doubled his walk rate, while reducing his strikeout rate significantly, backed by a big improvement in SwStk% and jump in Z-Contact%. Yes, he has been awful defensively, so he should really be the team’s every day DH. I still like him for a potential breakout season.
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.