Hitter xwOBA Underperformers — Through May 23, 2023

It’s been about a month and a week since I last reviewed the hitter xwOBA underperformers, so let’s get back to it. If you’re looking for the quickest way to identify a list of trade targets, this may be where you start. As a reminder, xwOBA isn’t perfect, so I do like to peruse the hitter’s xwOBA vs wOBA history to see whether he has been a consistent underperformer, which might suggest the formula is missing something the hitter is or isn’t doing that is legitimately dragging down his performance.

xwOBA Underperformers
Name wOBA xwOBA Diff
Josh Naylor 0.285 0.363 -0.078
Jean Segura 0.225 0.298 -0.073
Keibert Ruiz 0.288 0.357 -0.069
Ryan Mountcastle 0.307 0.366 -0.059
Ke’Bryan Hayes 0.282 0.338 -0.056
Spencer Torkelson 0.286 0.341 -0.055

Josh Naylor ranked second on this list a month ago, but the gap has narrowed as his wOBA has improved, though still remains below .300. His xwOBA has also improved ever so slightly. Though the sample sizes aren’t very large, outside of last year, he hasn’t been a consistent underperformer. One of the primary drivers of his underperformance is a .223 BABIP. He hasn’t exactly been a greater BABIPer throughout his career, with a career mark of just .274, but this still represents a career low. Rather than hitting .222, Statcast calculates his xBA as .289, with an xSLG more than 100 points higher than his actual. What’s kinda crazy is he’s hit seven home runs, but only scored 12 runs! That’s a hilariously low ratio of runs scored to home runs. He’s not a sexy buy low, as the upside here isn’t dramatic, but he should post far better results the rest of the way.

Jean Segura is also a carryover from the first list, and although both marks have improved, they still both stink. He has taken his ground ball tendency to the extreme this season, which normally would be a positive for BABIP, but instead, that has tanked to a career low, and just the third time it’s sat below .300 (first time since 2015). Oh, and he hasn’t hit a home run yet and his 2.5% Barrel% sits at a career low. It’s weird, as the peripherals all look relatively in line with his history, but the results just aren’t there. I’m sure he’ll rebound some if the Marlins give him a chance, but the upside obviously isn’t there to bother waiting around for him. That is, unless of course you’re in an NL-Only league where you really have no choice.

I want to love Keibert Ruiz, as it’s rare for a hitter to post a single digit strikeout rate and mid-single digit SwStk%, especially a catcher. Unfortunately, he has struggled to hit for BABIP throughout his short career, and he’s shown limited power. Statcast loves him though, and while he underperformed last year as well, the gap wasn’t nearly this large. While Statcast calculates an xSLG more than 100 points higher than his actual, I am struggling to see the HR/FB rate upside at the moment given his lackluster maxEV. The Barrel% has more than doubled, which is great, but it’s hard to maintain that rate without better EVs. The offensive game of prospect/rookie catchers is always a crapshoot, but he is only 24 and has barely more than a season’s worth of PAs under his belt. With these contact skills, I’m optimistic the rest will come eventually.

Ryan Mountcastle also made last month’s list, but both his actual wOBA and xwOBA have fallen since. Now both marks are around what he posted last year. Is it a home park thing, which became much more pitcher friendly last year? Well this year, he has posted a higher home wOBA than away. His home park could certainly still be hampering his wOBA there, but doesn’t explain his struggles on the road. A career low BABIP is hurting, but with a 44.1% FB%, you can’t really expect a league average mark. Just looking at his healthy maxEV and elite Barrel%, I would expect his HR/FB rate to be higher, which is likely what Statcast is calculating as well. He definitely hasn’t been bad enough that he would come at a major discount in a trade, but owners should probably expect better results the rest of the way.

I’ve been exhausted waiting for Ke’Bryan Hayes to heat up, but at least he has stolen six bases in the meantime. So far, his dramatically improved strikeout rate has gone to waste, as it’s merely offset by a career low BABIP and his typical limited power. It’s odd, as his maxEV is fantastic, while his Barrel% is at a career best, yet he’s homered just once. He has even upped his FB% significantly, but all that’s done is resulted in more easy outs. I’m still sticking with him, even in a shallow mixed league, but am exploring trading for someone better. I have no intention of dropping him though and I still think he makes for a solid trade target in deep mixed and NL-only leagues.

It’s only been 530 MLB at-bat so far, but Spencer Torkelson’s 55/70 Game and 70/70 Raw Power scouting grades have completely failed to translate to power outputs in the Majors so far. He sports just a 7.3% career HR/FB rate and .121 ISO. That’s pretty shocking. His minor league batted ball profile and BABIP marks suggested he was never going to be much of a BABIP guy, and even though he has improved his strikeout rate, such limited power has resulted in a weak batting average. It’s weird since he clearly has the EV and his Barrel% is knocking on double digits’ door, yet his HR/FB rate is stuck in single digits. I would still speculate here that a breakout comes at some point, and he’s been batting cleanup recently which should boost his RBI and runs scored totals, even if he’s part of one of the league’s worst offenses.

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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9 months ago

I remember there used to be speculation that the Tigers exit velocity readings were too high. Could that still be true? Zach McKinstry is one who may be benefiting on paper from that

9 months ago
Reply to  viceroy

That’s due to park factors, or more specifically a lack of park factors in Savant’s x-stats. Tigers hitters as a group tend to underperform xwOBA. Of the 8 qualified Tigers hitters this year, 6 are underperforming. Last year it was 6 of 9. IN 2021 it was 4 of 7. That might change with them moving in and lowering the fences.

Comerica is a huge part of why Miggy and Castellanos routinely underperformed their xwOBA. Once Castellanos got out of Comerica he started matching or even outperforming his xwOBA. (Another part for Miggy was his lack of speed as more of his hard hit grounders are turned into outs than other hitters).

Conversely, Rockies hitters tend to outperform their xwOBA. Now, that hasn’t been true this year as only 2 of 7 are outperforming, but 2022 was 7 of 9 and 2021 was 6 of 8 and earlier years are pretty much the same. Good bet that turns around by the end of the year.

Last edited 9 months ago by Anon
Smiling Politely
9 months ago
Reply to  viceroy

From his time in the Dodger org, McKinstry was the classic example of a guy who could hit AAA but not MLB