Hitter xBA Underperformers — May 25, 2022

While we have all acknowledged that Statcast’s xBA (expected batting average) isn’t perfect, and the reason I created my hitter xBABIP equation, it’s far better than taking a hitter’s current batting average or BABIP at face value. It’s also easy to use — no calculations required, just open the Statcast leaderboard on Fangraphs and you’ll see a bevy of Statcast metrics, including xBA. So as we’re getting close to the one-third point of the season, let’s check out the biggest underperformers. These are the hitters whose batting averages are most below their xBA marks. It’s a good starting list to research further for potential trade target opportunities.

xBA Underperformers
Abraham Toro 0.157 0.179 0.266 -0.087
Jonathan Schoop 0.184 0.169 0.251 -0.082
Yordan Alvarez 0.228 0.250 0.328 -0.078
Christian Walker 0.183 0.200 0.277 -0.077
Alex Verdugo 0.216 0.214 0.287 -0.073
Jesse Winker 0.237 0.213 0.282 -0.069
Nelson Cruz 0.234 0.205 0.268 -0.063
Jeimer Candelario 0.233 0.194 0.256 -0.062
Tommy Pham 0.271 0.221 0.283 -0.062
Jose Abreu 0.241 0.216 0.277 -0.061
Matt Chapman 0.221 0.189 0.249 -0.060

Below an injured Abraham Toro, Jonathan Schoop tops the list of healthy players. Not only is Schoop’s BABIP sub-.200, but his power has disappeared as well, as his ISO, HR/FB, and maxEV are all sitting at career worsts. Since he doesn’t steal bases, he’s a tough hitter to remain patient on, as without at least an average BABIP and his typical power, he’s worthless. Obviously, better days should be ahead, but I don’t blame you if you’re itching to find a replacement in a shallower league. Obviously, in a deep mixed and AL-Only league, you have no choice but to keep your fingers crossed. He’s not a bad target in such leagues if you need an MI as he should come pretty cheap.

I’m guessing most Yordan Alvarez didn’t even realize his BABIP sat at just .228, since a .250 average isn’t so crazy for him, and he’s already hit 12 homers. As usual, his skills remain elite and his xBA suggests the results may get even better. Amazingly, he hasn’t hit a pop-up yet this season!

Christian Walker is an ideal stealth add in shallower mixed leagues, or even trade target if he’s already rostered. In fact, I picked him up last week to replace Nate Lowe who must have like one hit in his last 50 at-bats. Last year, Walker’s power disappeared, making him a replacement level option on draft day this year. But, his power has seemingly returned, at least so far, while he’s making the most of it by hitting a high rate of fly balls. Unfortunately, the combination of flies and a lack of liners have likely contributed to a sub-.200 BABIP, but Statcast accounts for his batted ball profile and still thinks his .200 batting average should really be .277. If he was posting such a mark, along with his 11 homers, he would be one of the season’s big breakouts.

Alex Verdugo is another tough one to remain patient with as he wasn’t projected to be a major contributor in either homers or steals. You were really buying him as an accumulator in a good lineup and with a good batting average, which makes him risky as it doesn’t take much to go from solid contributor across the board to replacement level. The good news, besides the much higher xBA, is that his strikeout rate and Swtk% mark are both at career bests. Everything here looks good, except for a low LD% which could be corrected quickly. Again, I would certainly remain patient as an owner, especially in a deep league, but without the expectation of significantly improved power or stolen bases, he’s suspect in shallower leagues.

Gosh, we figured Jesse Winker would see a decline in power after moving from one of the league’s best home run parks, but not this bad! Combine the complete lack of power with a career worst BABIP and you’re left with a sub-.300 wOBA, which is shocking for a guy who posted a .403 mark last year! I expected him to be a strong contributor for my AL Tout Wars team, and instead he’s been a complete nothing. In OBP leagues, you have to hold him and he’s probably a good buy in those leagues if you don’t own him. In shallower leagues and those that count batting average, he’s far less of a sure thing, given, again, a lack of home runs and stolen bases forecasted.

Is this finally the end for Nelson Cruz? His xwOBA is nearly as high as last year, so Statcast thinks it’s all just been bad luck, rather than aging effects taking their toll. His strikeout rate is at its lowest since 2010, which is quite surprising and impressive, while his SwStk% is at its lowest since 2014. So if you thought aging would look like a spike in strikeout rate, well, that isn’t happening. Perhaps his power is waning, as he hasn’t yet notched an EV near his previous maxes historically, while his Barrel% is at the lowest since tracking. As usual, the problem always remains sample size. Is this the beginning of the decline we thought we may never see, or is this just a small sample size fluke and he’ll revert back to his typical performance like Statcast suggests? I bet Cruz owners are nervous, so he could be worth attempting to trade for him if you’re feeling lucky.

At times, I’ve really liked Jeimer Candelario’s skill set and felt like any year now he would experience a big power surge. That hasn’t happened, and instead, his power has disappeared this year like many on this list, to go along with a collapse in BABIP. He was already a sketchy shallow mixed league asset, so he may very well be floating around your free agent pool right now. His xSLG is more than .100 points higher than his actual mark, so Statcast clearly think he’s deserving of significantly more power. It’s too bad he’s on the team with the second lowest wOBA in baseball, so that’s going to cost him plate appearances and also cut into his RBI and runs scored totals, even if he does get hot and rebound.

Tommy Pham has the highest BABIP on the list, and a mark in line with his recent history, so you wouldn’t think he’s been unlucky so far if you hadn’t checked his xBA. Statcast is loving him this year as his xwOBA actually sits at a career best. It makes him an interesting target in OBP leagues. Incredibly, his HR/FB rate has dipped for six straight years since peaking in 2016 over a small sample. Crazy considering his maxEV has remained consistent, while his Barrel% has also been pretty stable, outside his fluky 2016.

Add Jose Abreu to the club of hitters who has experience both a decline in BABIP and a disappearance in power. Like Cruz, Abreu has posted career best strikeout and SwStk% rates, so it’s not obvious that aging is taking its toll. Is this slow start enough to wrangle him from his owner at a discount? He has one of the biggest names on this list, so I’m curious. I think he would make for a good target.

You definitely didn’t realize it if you’re a Matt Chapman owner, but he is having quite an encouraging season so far. His strikeout rate has rebounded and his xwOBA sits at .360, far above his .283 actual mark. The problem has been a decline in power (man, I’m sounding like a broken record), which Statcast suggests is just poor fortune, as his xSLG is significantly higher than his actual SLG. He’s a better target in OBP leagues given his above average walk rate, but he’s not a bad one in batting average leagues if you need power at a CI spot.

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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1 year ago

I picked up Walker in multiple leagues and it sure would be nice if he could at least get into the .240-.250 range.