Hitter xwOBA Underperformers — May 11, 2022

In the last two days, I reviewed league average hitting and pitching metrics to understand what was driving the decline in offense. Now let’s return to discussing individual players. We know that Statcast’s xwOBA has its flaws, as most (all?) estimator metrics do. But it’s the best we have and it doesn’t need to be perfect to provide us with actionable information. Furthermore, we have historical data, so when we see a hitter consistently underperforming or overperforming, we could reasonably conclude that the metric is not accounting for something and ignore the player’s placement on the list.

So let’s begin by identifying the hitters who have most underperformed their xwOBA so far. As a reminder, fantasy baseball is all about relative production. It doesn’t matter if your hitter is performing below expectations if the league as a whole is as well. As long as the hitter’s performance is the same relative to the league and the active players on your competitors’ teams, then there’s no need to panic.

xwOBA Underperformers
Whit Merrifield 0.152 0.0% 0.135 0.247 0.163 0.381 0.158 0.292 -0.134
Jesse Winker 0.225 3.2% 0.200 0.311 0.276 0.470 0.275 0.380 -0.105
Jonathan Schoop 0.167 3.4% 0.139 0.237 0.198 0.354 0.175 0.273 -0.098
Gleyber Torres 0.215 12.9% 0.220 0.311 0.427 0.603 0.299 0.396 -0.097
Alex Verdugo 0.207 10.0% 0.212 0.285 0.327 0.534 0.245 0.342 -0.097
Abraham Toro 0.138 9.3% 0.160 0.262 0.330 0.494 0.245 0.341 -0.096
Ramon Urias 0.281 6.3% 0.213 0.292 0.292 0.458 0.243 0.339 -0.096
Kyle Tucker 0.278 12.1% 0.238 0.310 0.396 0.599 0.320 0.415 -0.095
Giancarlo Stanton 0.303 25.0% 0.250 0.299 0.433 0.581 0.310 0.404 -0.094
Yasmani Grandal 0.197 3.4% 0.165 0.236 0.224 0.423 0.247 0.339 -0.092
Nelson Cruz 0.169 13.6% 0.157 0.239 0.245 0.424 0.230 0.322 -0.092

I love seeing a hitter I own on two of my four teams at the top of this list. Actually, if your team is doing well with the top underperformer, that’s truly a good sign! Whit Merrifield has been truly useless at the plate so far, producing no power (.029 ISO!!!) and limping along with a .152 BABIP. He’s swinging and missing more than ever before, but that hasn’t actually increased his strikeout rate, which is interesting. Because he’s rarely gotten on base, he has stolen just three bases. While xwOBA suggests he’s been the unluckiest batter so far, a .292 mark isn’t very good anyway. Then again, he posted just a .301 xwOBA last year and .306 actual mark, so he isn’t exactly an offensive force. Luckily, the Royals love to play hitters who can’t hit, so it’s not like Merrifield is at risk of losing his job.

Woah, I own Jesse Winker in the same league as I own Merrifield and yet I’m not in last! We all figured that Winker would miss playing in Cincinnati, but his offense has completely disappeared. The good news is he has walked more than he has struck out and batted ball profile still looks good, as it’s heavy on line drives. A .380 xwOBA means that not only has he been unlucky, but he has apparently been deserving of near elite offensive performance, rather than below average. That’s a massive swing. He’s an auto-buy in OBP leagues, but still worth considering in those that count batting average.

Jonathan Schoop has made a living overperforming his xwOBA, so amazingly, this would be the first season he actually underperformed the mark. Everything under the hood looks normal here, though his maxEV is well below his historical marks. Of course, it only takes one batted ball to set the max, so that’s not a big worry yet. He shouldn’t cost much and makes for a reasonable target in a deep league if you need an MI.

Holy cow, Gleyber Torres has gotten his HR/FB rate back into double digits! It still pales in comparison to his 2018 and 2019 seasons though, but he’s making up for it by hitting a career high rate of fly balls. That xwOBA almost looks too good to be true, but clearly Statcast is loving his batted balls. It thinks he should be posting a .603 SLG!!! That’s crazy. Has he done enough so far to make his owners believe this is the power rebound year, or is this still considered a slow enough start for his owners to think they made a mistake drafting him and are about to give up? This is probably heavily owner-dependent and you won’t know until you speak to his owner.

With middling power and little speed, Alex Verdugo is the type of player I don’t consider targeting in a trade. His upside just isn’t worth it to bother, but his existence here (his xwOBA is identical to last year’s mark) means that current owners should hold patiently.

Injuries have vaulted Abraham Toro into the Mariners starting lineup, but he hasn’t done anything yet with the opportunity. Statcast thinks that should change, which is pretty obvious given his .138 BABIP. He’s got a weird batted ball profile light on line drives and heavy on fly balls, despite owning only league average power. It doesn’t seem to be ideal for his skill set. On the positive side, he has struck out just 10.7% of the time. He’ll likely have to turn things around soon, especially as some of their injured players return.

Ughhhh, Ramon Urias is yet another player I own in multiple leagues, and this slow start is costing him playing time as the Orioles continue to Oriole. I’m thrilled to see his name on this list, but he’s gotta turn those expected metrics into actual production soon, or the team is going to sign Brock Holt and let him play the rest of the season.

It’s deja vu all over again, as Kyle Tucker appeared on multiple unlucky slow start lists last year too. This time, his xwOBA would represent a career best, and he might not be performing poorly enough to be had at a discount. The increased strikeout rate isn’t great, but he’s upped his walk rate into double digits and everything else looks good. I can’t comprehend why the hitter projected for the third highest wOBA on the team consistently bats sixth, but it’s something to consider, as that’s going to affect all his counting stats given fewer plate appearances.

I’m surprised to find Giancarlo Stanton’s name on this list as nothing jumps out at me as unlucky. Most shocking is that his walk rate has tumbled to just 5.3%, which takes a big bite out of his OBP league value. I’ve read commentary that the true elite power guys like Stanton either won’t be affected as much by the reduction in carry or be less affected. But clearly Statcast believes he has been affected more than most other hitters so far.

Yasmani Grandal has posted a HR/FB rate of at least 14.7% every season, excluding the small sample 2013 year, and yet here he sits with just a homer and 3.4% HR/FB rate. Statcast presumably thinks that rate should be significantly higher given the gap between his SLG and xSLG. All his other rates are normal and he has even cut down on his strikeout rate. Everyone always needs a catcher, so he looks like a prime target.

The decline had to come eventually, and at age 41, is it finally happening for Nelson Cruz? He’s on the list as an underperformer, but even a .322 xwOBA would represent a significant dropoff for him. One concern is a massive decline in fly ball rate. That could be a sign of age-related decline as he is having more difficulty lifting the ball. At least his walk and strikeout rates, as well as his SwStk%, all look good. So it could be time that he’s simply not able to make as high quality contact as he once did. I would be hesitant to buy here, though it’s obviously dependent on the cost.

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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5 days ago

Please tell me Whit will turn it around. I went in on him after he was finally available after a ridiculously good contract in my AL-Only roto league that I care about more than my other league where every year hes helped me make the playoffs. Where have you gone Whit???