2022 Review: Hitter xwOBA Underperformers

Let’s start reviewing various 2022 metrics. Today, I’ll start by comparing a hitter’s wOBA to his Statcast xwOBA. If a projection system is directly weighing previous season surface results, rather than incorporating batted ball data, the forecast could be more pessimistic or optimistic than it should. This list of xwOBA underperformers could potentially beat their projections if only their 2022 surface results, and not the underlying data, are considered.

xwOBA Underperformers
Name wOBA xwOBA Diff
Ryan Mountcastle 0.316 0.362 -0.046
Carlos Santana 0.308 0.352 -0.044
Corey Seager 0.331 0.372 -0.041
Marcell Ozuna 0.298 0.337 -0.039
Yordan Alvarez 0.427 0.462 -0.035
Jesse Winker 0.313 0.345 -0.032
Ronald Acuña Jr. 0.335 0.366 -0.031

Count Ryan Mountcastle as an Orioles hitter who wasn’t happy with the ballpark changes heading into the 2022 season. He went from performing significantly better at home, including a dramatically higher ISO and HR/FB rate, in 2021, to showing weaker power at home in 2022. The more pitcher friendly home park could very well explain some of the wOBA-xwOBA discrepancy, as xwOBA doesn’t account for home park. However, that’s a massive gap, so it’s hard to believe the park changes explains everything. That said, his xwOBA underperformance basically stems entirely from his xSLG underperformance. So while the park changes might cap his ultimate upside, I still think he’s due for at least some HR/FB rate rebound.

Ya think the Pirates signed Carlos Santana after learning that he massively underperformed his xwOBA?! Unfortunately, he’s been a consistent underperformer throughout his career. In eight seasons of xwOBA calculations, he has underperformed in seven of them. At the moment, he figures to open the season at the Pirates’ starting DH. But for a team that finished in last in 2022, I don’t see why they would continue trotting him out there rather than giving a youngster a shot. So his chances of playing a full season seem pretty slim, which also cuts the chances of his luck rebounding.

With a career high 33 home runs, it wasn’t so obvious that Corey Seager was such an underperformer. But he actually posted the second lowest wOBA of his career, and the lowest in any full season. He has suffered xwOBA underperformance before, but hasn’t consistently underperformed as often as Santana has. What drove Seager’s underperformance is pretty obvious — he posted a career low .242 BABIP, which was actually the first time his BABIP even fell below .300. It’s shocking considering he only hit 3 pop-ups all year, so he avoided lots of automatic outs. His xBA sat at .283, versus a .245 actual batting average. While the 33 homers mean he’s unlikely to be dramatically undervalued, he could still outperform, at least on the batting average side.

It was a forgettable season for Marcell Ozuna, who posted the first sub-.300 wOBA of his career. Although his xwOBA was the second lowest of his career, it suggests he deserved better results than he posted. Of course, in six full seasons, he has underperformed his xwOBA in five of them. So he’s also no stranger to xwOBA underperformance. After posting the lowest BABIP in his career over a full season, you have to assume he’ll rebound some there, and all the projection systems agree, though those forecasts remain far below his career mark. Playing time is expected to be an issue as he fills the DH role and could easily be swapped out if he slumps. I would probably speculate in deep leagues assuming he came cheap, but that’s about it.

Man, imagine a hitter posting a a .427 wOBA and yet still ranking as the fifth biggest underperformer! Say hello to Yordan Alvarez, who is coming off a monster season that possibly should have been even better. He has now underperformed two seasons in a row, but did overperform during his 2019 debut. While his xBA was above his actual average, it appears that more of his underperformance was due to underperforming his xSLG. He posted the second highest Barrel% in baseball among qualified hitters, fourth highest maxEV, and second highest HardHit%. It all added up to the second highest HR/FB rate and a .306 ISO. It’s hard to believe he should have deserved better than that, so I’ll stick with the projections here and not call for any additional upside.

It was a disastrous fantasy season for Jesse Winker, especially in leagues that count batting average instead of OBP. But because of his high walk rate, he still managed to post a wOBA over .300, even though it was easily the worst of his career. Winker has generally bobbed around his xwOBA, so he’s definitely not a consistent underperformer. With a career worst BABIP and ISO, and second lowest HR/FB rate of his career, he underperformed both his xBA and xSLG. Without any speed, he left him with no fantasy value. The good news is he was traded to the Brewers at the beginning of December, which should boost his HR/FB rate. American Family Field isn’t nearly as friendly for left-handed home runs as Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati was when he was a Red, but it still boosts HR/FB rate, making it a good spot for Winker to land. He’s a nice rebound candidate, especially in OBP leagues.

Getting a late start to the season after recovering from surgery, Ronald Acuña Jr. easily posted the worst wOBA of his career. While the power wasn’t there, he did steal 29 bases, so he wasn’t a major disappointment in fantasy leagues. He easily posted his lowest HR/FB rate and the first time it dipped below 20%, while his ISO settled at just .148, the first time it was below .200. All of his underperformance according to Statcast was due to the lack of power, as his xSLG was significantly above his actual SLG. With more time removed from surgery, it would make sense for his power to rebound, but all the forecasts are playing it safe, calling for his second lowest ISO. He could end up being the rare top pick that actually earns a profit.

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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10 days ago

Probably didn’t qualify by PA, but Bryan De La Cruz is another interesting one. Bad discipline, but his xwoba difference (-.042) would be third on this list. He also had a tale of two seasons, ending with a torrid hot streak.