Hitter xwOBA Underperformers — Aug 17, 2022

With a little less than a third of the season left, let’s return to look at the biggest xwOBA underperformers to try to identify who might surge over the rest of the season. It’s still not too late to target some potentially undervalued hitters to boost your counting stats and perhaps batting average or OBP as well.

xwOBA Underperformers
Marcell Ozuna 0.236 14.5% 0.214 0.250 0.393 0.476 0.285 0.333 -0.048
Corey Seager 0.247 19.0% 0.252 0.289 0.475 0.525 0.343 0.381 -0.038
Max Kepler 0.249 9.6% 0.230 0.267 0.365 0.420 0.308 0.346 -0.038
Yordan Alvarez 0.296 29.0% 0.296 0.327 0.620 0.672 0.425 0.462 -0.037
Yasmani Grandal 0.250 4.7% 0.198 0.222 0.257 0.331 0.262 0.296 -0.034

Marcell Ozuna is the biggest fantasy relevant xwOBA underperformer right now, continuing where he left off last year when he also significantly underperformed. Statcast calculates that it’s a combination of both xBA and xSLG underperformance that has led to the disappointing wOBA. For some reason, he has completely lost his BABIP skills, a mark that fell to just .244 last year, and has dropped even further to another career low at .236. As a fly ball hitter, it should be expected that he post a below league average BABIP, but this low seems pretty unlucky. His HR/FB also sits below his peak years, despite the second highest Barrel% of his career and a maxEV that’s close to elite and not much lower than his past seasons.

Since this underperformance has lasted for more than a full season’s worth of PAs, it’s hard to imagine him suddenly breaking out of this funk just because I’m highlighting his name right now. Still, his cost should be pretty low, so if you are in need of home runs, he should be an ideal target.

In his first season with the Rangers, Corey Seager has been decent enough, but clearly nowhere near the same level of offensive performance we have become accustomed to over the last two seasons. Much of that is due to his xBA underperformance, while some of that is also xSLG underperformance. After posting a .300+ BABIP every season of his career, it’s shocking to see that mark tumble to just .247 this year. His batted ball distribution has remained stable and he has only hit two pop-ups all season. So it’s hard to explain why his BABIP has fallen so much, aside from blaming some bad fortune.

The power has been there, so that’s a good sign, so it’s really almost entirely about more of his balls in play falling for hits. Some of those balls would become extra-base hits, raising his actual SLG to come closer to his xSLG and reducing the wOBA-xwOBA gap. Seager won’t come cheap in a trade, but he might still be slightly undervalued and is worth pursuing if you need middle infield help.

Like Ozuna, Max Kepler also underperformed his xwOBA last year, and by exactly the same margin as well. But before last year, he wasn’t a consistent underperformer, so it’s hard to say if this will become the new norm, or he has just had a string of bad luck lasting over two seasons. Though Statcast calculates a significantly higher xBA, his BABIP is actually at its highest since 2017. As a left-handed hitter prone to hitting into the shift, it’s likely that Statcast is overestimating what Kepler’s BABIP, and resulting batting average, should be. He has brought his FB% down to a career low, which should benefit his BABIP, so perhaps Statcast is suggesting all those additional grounders and fewer flies should be resulting in a higher BABIP, even though a lot of those grounders are likely getting eaten up by the shift.

Kepler’s power has also been an issue. Both his HR/FB rate and ISO are sitting at career lows, despite a maxEV that’s the second highest of his career. His Barrel% is also right in line with past years outside his career high mark last year. On the positive side, his strikeout rate has improved to a career best and he continues to walk at a double digit clip. That’s strong discipline and gives him a significant boost in value in OBP leagues. I think he should be better the rest of the way, though not sure that gives him much shallow mixed league value. He’s a better target in deeper leagues, especially formats that count OBP.

Yordan Alvarez, underperforming?! It’s incredible to find his name on an underperforming list when he has already posted a .425 wOBA. It’s pretty clear that Statcast believes his .296 BABIP deserves to be higher, which makes sense given his mere three pop-ups all season and above average LD%. He posted higher BABIP marks during his first two seasons with similar, though slightly superior, batted ball distributions.

His power remains as good as ever, as his HR/FB rate has surged above last year’s decline off his 2019 debut, his Barrel% has jumped to a career best, and his maxEV is elite. His ISO is over .300, and yet Statcast wants more! Since it’s likely that Alvarez would cost an arm and a leg and no matter what Statcast thinks his wOBA should be, it’s going to be extremely difficult to actually achieve, he’s probably not a real trade target. Obviously, it goes without saying that owners should hold him as tightly as possible.

Yasmani Grandal has endured a forgettable year, with injuries and poor performance at the plate. While he does make this list, I’m actually disappointed his xwOBA isn’t far higher! It’s pretty clear that last year was a career year and he’s unlikely to reach that level, or anywhere close again. But a .296 xwOBA is well below anything he has done in the past, though it’s higher than his xwOBA posted in 2017, in which he actually handily outperformed.

While Grandal’s xBA is higher than his actual, most of the underperformance here is actually due to his disappointing power. His HR/FB rate has tumbled to just 4.7%, after never posting a mark below 14.7% over a full season before. His ISO sits at just .059! That’s a mark reserved for the slappiest of slap hitters. It’s odd because his maxEV is generally in line with past years, but he’s not barreling the ball up as often and his Hard% on fly balls has been more than cut in half. What happened?! Is it all the wear and tear from catching when his offensive ability suddenly just disappears overnight? I’m still starting him in my two-catcher 12-team mixed league, as there are no better alternatives on free agency, but I continue to wait and wait for his power to reappear. It’s anyone’s guess whether that will happen this year.

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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3 months ago

It’s a sad commentary on my team that I carried two of these guys for significant stretches of the year – I drafted Grandal and picked up Kepler early in the year based largely off his strong xwOBA. BUt Kepler’s xwOBA is driven largely by a strong April. Since May 1st his xwOBA is .331, since June 1st it’s .303 and since July 1st it’s .289. He has underperformed over all periods but even if he had performed up to his xwOBA he wouldn’t have been all that good. What’s astounding to me is that until very recently the Twins have continued to run him out there as their cleanup hitter when he hasn’t really hit at all since April

Last edited 3 months ago by Anon