Hitter wOBA vs xwOBA — Apr 22, 2024

We’re about three and a half weeks into the season, which means it’s finally the time to start evaluating your own time’s hot starters and seeking out trade targets amongst the slow starters. While I would imagine the majority of hot and cold starters will ultimately revert back to their preseason projection performances over the rest of the season, the best players to trade are likely your overperformers, while the best targets are typically your leaguemates’ slow starters.

I could identify each of those groups by running year-to-date fantasy dollar values and comparing them to projected fantasy dollar values using our auction calculator, but it’s easier to just use wOBA and xwOBA. So, the underperforming group, your potential trade target list, are those hitters whose actual wOBA marks are most underperforming their xwOBA marks, while the overperforming group are the opposite, representing those you might want to consider dangling in trades if you own any to see if any of your opponents are willing to pay an inflated price.

So let’s first review and discuss the xwOBA underperformers and decide whether any of them make for good trade targets.

xwOBA Underperformers
Name BABIP wOBA xwOBA Diff
Christian Encarnacion-Strand 0.226 0.215 0.315 -0.100
Andrew Benintendi 0.203 0.184 0.272 -0.088
Jonathan India 0.226 0.275 0.359 -0.084
Xander Bogaerts 0.225 0.236 0.320 -0.084
Colt Keith 0.228 0.205 0.285 -0.080
Yordan Alvarez 0.286 0.386 0.464 -0.078
Brandon Nimmo 0.255 0.340 0.416 -0.076

I included BABIP because a lot of xwOBA underperformance is going to be driven by a low BABIP, so it’s pretty obvious when a player is due for improved performance. That’s definitely the case with this group, as most of these hitters own painfully low marks.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand owners, stay patient! While he has been a disappointment so far after his playing time was solidified during spring training due to a number of Reds injuries and suspensions, much of that disappointment appears to be bad luck. His xSLG is nearly .200 points over his actual SLG, equating to an xISO over .255 versus just a .130 actual mark! So it hasn’t just been a bunch of singles that haven’t dropped in. Clearly, the meager 1.3% walk rate is concerning, and it’s exacerbated by the low BABIP, meaning he has been on base very infrequently this season. But the power is clearly there with a maxEV already higher than last year and even a slightly higher Barrel%. It’s only a matter of time before his HR/FB rate surges. He makes for a great target if you’re in need of power.

I have no idea what has happened to Andrew Benintendi and even though he has dramatically underperformed his xwOBA, that mark still sits well below .300. His power is completely gone and he doesn’t steal enough bases to make up for the lack of power. He’s got to be near the worst possible full-time player in AL-Only leagues right now. He’s not a buy low, though you could probably get for him nearly free if you so desired.

Much of Jonathan India’s profile looks excellent, as his walk rate has skyrocketed, his SwStk% has plunged to a microscopic level, reducing his strikeout rate to a career best, his LD% has surged to an elite level, and his maxEV is already looking fine at just over 100 MPH. Yet, he has rarely barreled the ball and hit for almost no power. Statcast actually doesn’t think he should be hitting for much more power than he has, as the underperformance here is essentially all BABIP. Has he traded power for contact? It sure looks that way! It’s such a weird profile right now, so it’s hard to say where he’ll end up, but he’s shown some power and speed in the past, so the upside makes him worth targeting, especially if you’re in an OBP league.

Of course, Xander Bogaerts homered today as I’m typing this, so that’s going to likely move him off this list and closer to expected performance. That said, everything here looks pretty normal, except the BABIP and HR/FB rate. The maxEV is low, but not alarmingly so and while his Barrel% was also off, again, it wasn’t significantly so. I think the biggest question is where his steals total end up, as last year’s 19 was the first double digit mark he posted since 2017. It’ll make a big difference in his value, as I’d imagine the rest of his stats will end up as expected.

Of anyone on this list, Colt Keith is the most ideal type of buy low. Why? Because he’s a rookie and so owners are likely to be much quicker giving up on such a player or trading him away cheap. That doesn’t mean Keith, specifically, is an ideal target right now, but he’s the type of player to go after as you have a much better chance of ultimately “winning” the trade than trading for Encarnacion-Strand, for example. Keith’s skill metrics look pretty sold, though he hasn’t shown much power given his maxEV and Barrel%. Amazingly, his only extra-base hit has been a double. Statcast does thing he should be hitting for a lot more power, but even that additional expected power would be disappointing. Overall, he’s in the Benintendi camp that yeah, his results should be better, but those better expected results are still no good. The walk and strikeout rates suggest he hasn’t been overpowered, and he has yet to hit a pop-up this year. I think he therefore makes for a fine deep league target, especially in keeper leagues if his price is cheap.

LOL at Yordan Alvarez’s xwOBA! My gosh he’s so good. His strikeout rate is down to just 11.2%, which is just unfair. Has he joined the India movement trading some power for contact? I hope not! I doubt there’s any discount to be had here.

Statcast is loving Brandon Nimmo right now and his profile looks darn good, including a walk rate surge, his typical single digit SwStk%, and suddenly lots and lots of line drives. Somehow, all those liners haven’t resulted in a strong BABIP, as instead, that mark sits at a career worst, and only the second time it’s been below .300. His maxEV is normal, while his Barrel% is right near his career best posted last year. This is an exceptional profile that makes for a reasonable target in all leagues, especially OBP formats.

Now let’s move on to the xwOBA overperformers and decide whether any of them make for good sell highs.

xwOBA Overperformers
Name BABIP wOBA xwOBA Diff
Orlando Arcia 0.397 0.387 0.279 0.108
Oswaldo Cabrera 0.319 0.360 0.274 0.086
Jose Altuve 0.394 0.460 0.381 0.079
Ezequiel Tovar 0.426 0.371 0.292 0.079
Brice Turang 0.346 0.384 0.310 0.074
Brenton Doyle 0.370 0.342 0.269 0.073
Isaac Paredes 0.283 0.366 0.296 0.070

Wowzers, Orlando Arcia’s wOBA-xwOBA is largest among both underperformers and overperformers! With just a 4.5% HR/FB rate and normal .159 ISO, we find that unsurprisingly, most of this overperformance is due to that crazy .397 BABIP, driving a .348 batting average. It’s actually quite shocking when you discover he has posted a lowly 15.3% LD%, the lowest of his career, and an astronomical 31.8% IFFB%. He’s actually tied for second with seven pop-ups, so it’s truly baffling to see his BABIP so high. With his power down and no speed, his fantasy value is going to crater imminently.

With DJ LeMahieu on the IL all season, it’s been Oswaldo Cabrera who has stepped up as the Yankees’ starting third baseman. However, it’s all been smoke and mirrors so far. His .319 BABIP and .210 ISO look fairly reasonable, but Statcast thinks he has overperformed both his BABIP and power, by significant margins. With just a 16% LD%, it’s hard to believe he could maintain that .319 BABIP. Then with a meager 103.6 maxEV and microscopic 2% Barrel%, it’s shocking to find a 15.8% HR/FB rate. Statcast calculates an xISO of just 0.087! LeMahieu’s rehab assignment has been delayed, keeping the window to selling Cabrera high open a bit longer.

With a .394 BABIP and .256 ISO, both of which would be career best, it’s pretty obvious that Jose Altuve is overperforming. But, he’s been pretty darn good, as even his xwOBA would mark the second highest xwOBA of his career. Plus, he has made an entire career out of overperforming his xwOBA. In fact, excluding the short 2020 season, he has overperformed his xwOBA during all eight of his full seasons since we have the data, going back to 2015! That’s nuts! Clearly, he has been doing something that Stacast isn’t able to capture, and Statcast hasn’t gotten any better at capturing Altuve’s full skills. Given his age, the fast start is at least a sign that any sort of decline phase hasn’t yet begun.

Surprisingly, Ezequiel Tovar is overperforming, despite only recording about 36% of his plate appearances at hitter friendly Coors Field. Statcast thinks his offense is almost identically as poor as last year, but it’s as clear as day that his absurd .426 BABIP has carried him. That’s almost as shocking as Arcia’s above, as Tovar has become an extreme fly ball hitter (the batted ball type that falls for a hit least often), while suffering a spike in IFFB%. With so many fly balls and pop-ups, it’s a miracle his BABIP is over .400! The Rockies play a full week at home this coming week, so Tovar’s expected stats might move closer to his actual results, while the latter declines…resulting in a meeting in the middle. If anything, his lucky start has gotten him moved up to the top of the order, from the bottom, which is a big deal for his fantasy value. Will he actually stick there once his BABIP falls back to Earth? I wouldn’t rush to sell high here, though it couldn’t hurt to see what you might get in return.

Brice Turang has turned his overperformance into nine steals already, while he’s yet another that has somehow turned a weak maxEV and Barrel% into a mid-teens HR/FB rate. I like a lot of the skills here and his willingness to run is great to see. But those stolen base opportunities are going to quickly decline once performance regression hits. Depending on your steals situation, he could make for an ideal sell high to an owner at or near the bottom in the category.

Incredibly, Brenton Doyle is the second Rockies hitter on this overperformance list despite the team playing significantly more games on the road so far. He has posted a .370 BABIP, despite a near identical batted ball distribution to last year, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, has suffered a decline in both maxEV and Barrel%, yet his HR/FB rate has jumped by 50%. Huh? Oddly, despite a significantly higher OBP than last year, he has only attempted two steals, putting him on just an 11 attempt pace given the same number of PAs as last year. That’s a more than 50% decline. He’ll need to up that stolen base game to deliver fantasy value, especially once regression hits. But just like Tovar, perhaps wait until this long Rockies homestand before reevaluating, as he’s another decent power/speed combo who calls a top hitter’s park home.

Man, what is Isaac Paredes doing?! I was quite bearish on him this year given last year’s xwOBA overperformance, particularly with his HR/FB rate and power. This year, he’s doing literally the same thing, but to an even greater degree! He does pull a high rate of fly balls, as he ranked third in baseball in pulled fly ball percentage last year. He’s down a bit this year and ranked 27th now, but that’s mostly a small sample size thing allowing more hitters to rank above him. That pulled fly ball rate definitely explains a lot of the high HR/FB rate, despite the weak maxEV and poor Barrel%, but I still feel like there’s some good fortune thrown in. I wouldn’t have drafted him to begin with, but if I did somehow, I would probably prefer to just swap him for someone I feel more confident will finish with 25-30 home runs. Then again, the third base position is a disaster, so I’m not sure what potential upgrades are out there that can be had!

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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Aaron Levymember
1 month ago

Paredes has a skillset that outperforms/tricks the xwOBA formula as he intentionally swings for pulled flyballs.

Aaron Levymember
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

My bad! Caught red handed skimming!

Aaron Levymember
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron Levy

Wait, then why would you trade him? Another pulled homer tonight. It’s a skill!