2020 Pod vs Steamer — HR Upside, A Review

Toward the end of last February, about a month before many of us went into lockdown and the season was delayed indefinitely, I compared my home run Pod Projections to Steamer. I didn’t want playing time differences to influence the list, so rather than straight home run forecasts, I calculated the respective AB/HR rates and compared those. Then for fun, I calculated what a 600 at-bat home run projection would look like at each of the projections’ AB/HR marks. Let’s begin by reviewing the upside guys, with a caveat that some of my projections may have changed slightly since publishing, and, of course, the small sample size of the season means we’re both likely going to end up being very wrong on a lot of these names.

HR Upside
Player Pod AB/HR Steamer AB/HR Pod HR – 600 AB Steamer HR – 600 AB Diff Actual AB/HR Actual HR – 600 AB Winner
Mike Yastrzemski 20.6 29.2 29 21 9 19.2 31 Pod
Mike Tauchman 26.1 34.5 23 17 6 0.0 0.0 Steamer
Willson Contreras 18.6 22.3 32 27 5 27.0 22 Steamer
Sam Hilliard 20.2 24.3 30 25 5 17.5 34 Pod
Tom Murphy 18.4 21.7 33 28 5
Jacob Stallings 31.0 41.0 19 15 5 41.7 14 Steamer
Manny Pina 25.8 32.0 23 19 5 19.5 31 Pod
Yandy Diaz 29.5 37.8 20 16 4 57.0 11 Steamer
Franchy Cordero 25.2 30.9 24 19 4 19.0 32 Pod
Brandon Lowe 18.9 22.0 32 27 4 13.8 44 Pod
Brian Goodwin 23.7 28.7 25 21 4 24.0 25 Pod
Christian Yelich 14.2 15.8 42 38 4 16.7 36 Steamer
Jorge Alfaro 23.2 27.9 26 22 4 31.0 19 Steamer
Scott Kingery 25.1 30.4 24 20 4 37.7 16 Steamer
Anthony Rendon 17.8 20.2 34 30 4 21.0 29 Steamer
Mitch Haniger 20.2 23.2 30 26 4
Josh Rojas 27.8 33.5 22 18 4 0.0 0.0 Steamer

*Not that the “Diff” column might look off because the HR – 600 AB columns were rounded for the table, but the Diff calculation was off the exact forecasts with fractions of a home run included.

So technically, the finally tally was Pod with 6 “wins” and Steamer with 9 “wins”. A table like this should remind you that I will always take accountability for my lists based on my projections and xMetrics, along with any additional calls I made. Even if it makes me look bad, I’ll still share the results! That said, it’s obviously unfair to myself to consider the win tally here making me look bad. The sample size, even for a hitter who played all season, was small to begin with. Then realize that five of these hitters actually recorded fewer than 100 at-bats, and two of those five failed to hit even one home run! So yeah, it’s really silly doing these reviews this season, but I feel obligated to do so anyway.

I’m pretty proud of my Mike Yastrzemski call for 2020. He was one of my favorite sleepers, and I shared that in several posts. He came through and actually almost nailed my 600 at-bat home run projection. He clearly looks like a legitimate late bloomer and his walk rate surge, even over a small sample, is exciting. He even pushed his SwStk% into single digits. While it’s doubtful he posts another .370 BABIP, there’s little here to make one think another strong year, perhaps closer to 2019, is on the way.

This was the second lowest HR/FB rate of Willson Contreras’ career, while everything else that drives his home run total was fairly normal. There doesn’t look to be any real reason for that dip, either, so if he comes cheaper in 2021 now than in 2020, he’ll present a good profit opportunity.

Sam Hilliard even exceeded my optimistic AB/HR projection and yet the Rockies still only managed to find him 105 at-bats. Roster Resource currently shows him on the strong side of a center field platoon, but let’s be serious here, do you really think he’ll open the year in such a role? HA! He needs to cut down on his strikeout rate, but his power/speed combo makes him intriguing.

Silly me, believing in Yandy Diaz’s home run breakout in 2019. Wellllll, I was actually partly right. You see, a ratio like AB/HR is driven by several other underlying metrics, including strikeout rate, HR/FB rate, and, you guessed it, fly ball rate. I was correct to buy into Diaz’s power, as he actually boosted his HR/FB rate slightly in 2020. However, he sadly was unable to sustain that FB% jump he enjoyed during his 2019 power breakout. In fact, his FB% slid to a lowly 11.3%. Obviously, with such a low rate of fly balls, there was no chance whatsoever he would come close to my AB/HR projection, let alone Steamer’s. We were both wrong. Now for this season, it’s anyone’s guess where his FB% will bounce to, making him a complete crapshoot. He’ll earn some value in OBP leagues regardless, but his FB% will be the biggest determinant of his ultimate value and if he’s playable in anything more than AL-Only leagues.

Gee, another season, and another lost year for Franchy Cordero. He recorded just 38 at-bats this time, giving me a cheap AB/HR one. He now has just 284 at-bats since 2017! I’m dying to see what he would do over a full season. Will we ever find out?

Wow, Brandon Lowe crushed both our forecasts, but since this was a home run upside list, hopefully his appearance he led you to going the extra buck and rostering him. While he did increase his HR/FB rate slightly again, the big deal here is that his strikeout rate improved dramatically, dropping back to his 2018 debut level, after his mark spike during his 2019 campaign. He still swings and misses a lot, but his power is clearly here to stay.

You know why Steamer “won” the Christian Yelich AB/HR battle? Because all of a sudden, Yelich became a strikeout machine. His HR/FB rate was nearly identical to his 2019 mark, while his FB% did slide, but still settled into the second highest mark of his career. It was his strikeout rate, which hovered around the 20% mark literally every season since 2014, that surged to 30.8%, the first time it was over 20.9% since that first full season. Talk about a surprise! The higher strikeout rate also capped his stolen base potential, but he still attempted fewer swipes even after accounting for the fewer times on base. Will those steals return or is this the new normal? There are lots more question marks here than there have been. I would normally chalk this stuff up to small sample and the COVID season, but speed isn’t something you typically think is random over a smaller sample. If Yelich is only a 10 steal guy now, that makes a big difference in his value compared to a 20+ guy.

Can we get Josh Rojas and Sam Hilliard on a new team to ensure they are given a full season of at-bats just to see what they could do with them? Not surprisingly, Rojas only recorded 61 at-bats and did nothing with them, failing to even homer. So he’s likely out of the Diamondbacks picture for now, and he gives Steamer a cheap win on our scoreboard.

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.

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NL Rulesmember
3 years ago

Completely agree on Josh Rojas & Sam Hilliard!