Let’s dive into another Pod Projection! As a reminder, the 2020 forecasts are available now and include over 500 player lines. The projections follow the same process that resulted in the most accurate non-aggregate system of 2019 as calculated by FantasyPros.
Yandy Diaz is already a legend among baseball fans, but it’s not because of his on-field performance…yet. Instead, it’s because of his gargantuan arms. It would be easy to look at those monsters and dream about the kind of power he could generate and all the home runs he could hit. And boy have fantasy owners have dreamt. But up until this year, that power was MIA. Over his minor league career, he hit just 26 homers in 1,879 at-bats, equivalent to a sad eight homers over a 600 at-bat season. In his first two cups of coffee in the Majors, he was no better, swatting just one dinger in 265 at-bats. I don’t need to calculate the 600 at-bat equivalent for you…it’s pathetic.
Then all of a sudden 2019 arrived and Diaz’s arm size finally translated into home run power. His HR/FB rate surged into the high teens and he bopped 14 homers, on a pace for 27 in 600 ABs. After years of weak power, fantasy owners officially have no idea what to believe. Was this a fluke or is this truly a new Yandy? In March drafts, his NFBC ADP stands at 258, but he has been picked as early as 168th and as late as 347th! Let’s walk through my projection process to get a sense of what might be expected of him this season.
Plate Appearances: 553
This is likely where a lot of the disagreement on his value stems. The Rays are a difficult team to project playing time for as they have a lot of moving parts. I am currently only projecting Diaz to play 130 games, but hit in the top third of the order. I’m hedging. If he proves last season’s pre-injury performance was real and remains healthy, he has a good shot to eclipse 600 plate appearances. But that’s certainly not going to be his 50th percentile projection.
Diaz has always displayed excellent plate patience, routinely posting walk rates in the double digits. But he outperformed his xBB% by 1.2%, so I’m forecasting some small regression to just below 10%.
It’s rare in a world of strikeouts and homers to find a hitter who strikes out at a below average rate with single digit SwStk% marks. But that’s who Diaz is and has always been. His last three season xK% marks have sat between 15% and 17.8%, so he hasn’t required any sort of good fortune to keep a strong strikeout rate. I’m projecting a slight increase in strikeout rate simply as an acknowledgement of how hard it is nowadays to keep your strikeout rate well below 20%. Given essentially just a season’s worth of career stats, better to regress slightly toward the league average. And besides, I just realized that my forecast matches his career mark.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 50% / 20% / 30%
Welcome to one of Diaz’s biggest transformations. Historically, he had followed the Eric Hosmer guide to batted ball type distribution, hitting the majority of his balls on the ground. Over his first two cups of coffee in the Majors, Diaz only managed fly ball rates of 18.9% and 23.3% in 2017 and 2018, respectively. It’s hard to hit a lot of homers when you’re hitting so few balls in the air. In 2019, he turned some line drives and some grounders into fly balls. Given the leaguewide shift toward fly balls, I’m betting he holds onto most of those FB% gains.
You wouldn’t ever guess that Diaz owns strong BABIP skills. He’s a hulk of a guy who hasn’t shown much power and is slower than the average bear. And yet, he has posted some huge BABIP marks in the minors, including a .412 mark at Triple-A back in 2017, which came over a reasonable sample. The skills driving those strong BABIP marks include lots of ground balls (remember they fall for a hit more often than flies), few pop-ups, partly because of the lack of flies, a solid Hard%, and a low rate of grounders into the shift.
His xBABIP marks haven’t dropped below the .320 he posted in 2019. You might realize now that woah, his 2019 xBABIP was .320, yet he only posted an actual mark of .288. Yup, hidden upside! I’m sticking with that .320 xBABIP and not higher given his minor league record because of his shift toward more fly balls.
HR/FB Ratio: 14.0%
At times in the minors, Diaz did post double digit HR/FB rates, though mixed in there were also single digit marks. The latter was all he could muster in the Majors before 2019 as well. But then he boosted his HR/FB rate to a career high 17.5% in his longest MLB stint. Was it real? Good thing I have my xHR/FB rate to consult.
Not only was the spike real, but the calculation actually suggests his mark should have been higher! His xHR/FB rate stood at a robust 20.5%, a full three percentage points higher than his actual mark. Both his Brls/True FB and average fly ball distance were excellent and well above the league average. That’s exactly what you want to see. His fly ball pull rate was just below the league average, which means that there’s even more potential upside if he manages to pull more of those flies.
So why am I only projecting a 14% HR/FB rate then? Because I can’t completely ignore the rest of his career numbers before 2019. The fact that his xHR/FB rate validated his performance kept my projection this high. If it hadn’t, I would have been far lower with my forecast.
Runs and RBI: 74 and 62
At the moment, I am projecting Diaz to hit second in the Rays order. That’s what the runs scored and RBI numbers are assuming. If he looks more likely to hit third, which is what the RosterResource page is expecting, his RBI projection will spike, while his runs scored number will decline marginally.
I’m just amazed at how many career steals he has, including the minors. You’d think running around the bases with those arms flapping around would be a difficult task!
Below is my final projected hitting line, along with the other systems for comparison:
It’s pretty clear here that I’m the most optimistic of the bunch. I’m highest on PA/ABs, home runs, runs scored, and RBI. My batting average is even highest, thanks primarily to the lowest projected strikeout rate. It’s interesting to see that both Steamer and ZiPS are projecting a BABIP over .320 and not overweighting 2019’s sub-.300 mark.
Given Diaz’s projections, it would seem he should come rather cheaply, though maybe those bullish NFBC buyers were Pod Projections purchasers! I am cautiously optimistic that his power breakout last year was for real. It’s not going to cost you much to find out either. While it’s always frustrating to own a Rays player given their merry-go-round of playing time, he figures to hit in the top third of the lineup and if he hits, he’ll start all season long. If he doesn’t and starts sitting here and there, you’ll just drop him and not care given the small investment you made. Of course, if you’re in an AL-Only league, there’s not much you can do but hope he gets back in the lineup and turns things around. Again, though, you probably didn’t pay a whole lot so he wouldn’t need to do all that much to just break even for you.
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.