How Michael Taylor Compares to His Contemporaries

In the past 30 days, Michael Taylor — the current National, not the former Athletic — has hit four home runs and stolen six bases to go with seven runs and 16 RBI. Mike Podhorzer tabbed Taylor as a sleeper in March. In the post, he notes his own projections largely validated Steamer’s and ZiPS’ projections for Taylor, although his anticipated better than 10-homer power across 600 plate appearances.

Now at 10 homers and 14 steals through 345 plate appearances, Taylor seeks to make all his projections look silly. His counting stats currently pace out to 17 home runs, 24 stolen bases, 54 runs and 80 RBI for a full season.

At 24 years old, Taylor appears poised to contribute legitimately to fantasy teams not only now (considering the possibility Denard Span does not return this season) but also for years to come. Indeed, his tools inspired a bold prediction on his behalf, of which he fell short but for which he kindly did not embarrass the author.

Amid my lauding of his past 30 days, however, I deliberately omitted an important detail: Taylor is batting .214 with a sub-.250 on-base percentage (OBP) thanks to strikeout and walk rates of 33.0 and 2.9 percent. Despite his toolsiness, both present and past — in 2014, he hit 23 homers and stole 37 bases, mostly at AA — it’s evident why Taylor doesn’t have garner prospect coverage the way George Springer and Joc Pederson once did.

To attest: Kiley McDaniel pegs Taylor for a future value (FV) of 50, aka an average regular starter, despite four tools grading out above average to plus. I can’t speak for McDaniel, but I think I can say, with a fair degree of confidence, that Taylor’s future value is more a testament to his volatility than his ceiling. In other words, he’s not locked into a 50-grade FV; he’s simply equally likely to be a boom or a bust, and the probabilities of each are quite high.

Ultimately, Taylor’s success will depend on how much his batting eye improves. Thus, the projection systems’ underestimations of Taylor combined with his limited track record make predicting his future difficult. It would be easy to say “he’ll hit 15 home runs, steal 25 bases and hit .230,” but I want to take a different, less rigorous approach. I identified some contemporary high-power, high-speed, low-contact players who compare adequately by recent Minor League seasons. I hope to develop an unsophisticated notion of what one could expect from Taylor moving forward.

Taylor v. Pederson

Taylor isn’t cut from quite the same cloth as the National League Rookie of the Year candidate. The obvious difference: Pederson walks a lot, and it crucially boosts his on-base percentage (OBP). However, after a torrid start to the season, Pederson has revealed his humanity, striking out in almost 30 percent of his plate appearances en route to a .222 batting average.

Given their similar strikeout tendencies, it may be unwise to expect much more from Taylor in the short run. However, Taylor’s speed and line drive tendencies could loft his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) enough to keep his average from slipping into Mario Mendoza territory.

I want to praise Taylor for stealing more bases (37 to Pederson’s 30) across fewer plate appearances with greater success (80.4 percent to Pederson’s 69.7) in the Minors in 2014. But with Pederson essentially abandoning his run game this year, the two don’t compare suitably in this regard.

It’s worth noting that McDaniel grades out Taylor’s raw power, both now and in the future, identically to Pederson’s (plus, or 60 PV/FV). Pederson currently caters his swing to power production, and his batted ball profile supports it. Taylor, on the other hand, isn’t quite there yet, with fly ball and hard-hit rates each about 10 percentage points lower than Pederson’s. Still, should Taylor tap into the raw power McDaniel sees in the way Pederson has this season, Taylor could conceivably be 2016’s Joc.

Taylor v. Springer

George Springer is definitively better than Taylor — let’s not make that mistake — the reasons for which really boils down to only one: his power. It’s absurd. However, the rest of Springer’s and Taylor’s games, from the stolen base frequency to plate discipline, were nearly identical in their breakout campaigns. Springer edged him slightly in each of the aforementioned categories, but Taylor put up a good fight. (A caveat: Springer spent much more time at AAA in 2013 than Taylor did in 2014, so their are issues with quality of opposition.)

Springer struck out in almost one-third of his plate appearances in his rookie season, underscoring his contact issues. However, he was able to almost replicate his walk rate, bolstering his value when his batting average tanked. With healthy legs and a lofty BABIP, Springer would threaten a 30-30 season were he healthy all season with a batting average north of .260 — practically a dream come true for his owners.

Springer has demonstrated that low-contact sluggers can make rapid improvements in plate discipline. Like Pederson, Taylor is not the same kind of prospect as Springer and, thus, may not make the same kind of adjustments or improvements as quickly (if at all). Nor will Taylor hit for the same kind of power. But Springer offers a glimmer of hope for Taylor to develop into a five-category fantasy stud with a little help from the BABIP gods.

Taylor v. Souza

Steven Souza and Taylor put up almost identical numbers in regard to homers, steals and walks. The two hitters fundamentally differ in their contact abilities: Souza’s zone contact rate ranked above average among 2014 AAA hitters, corresponding with an 18.4-percent strikeout rate (following two seasons of strikeout rates less than 24 percent). In contrast: Taylor struck out 29.5 percent of the time in 2014 at AA.

Seemingly poised for a breakout, Souza has failed to live up to expectations — sleeper and otherwise — by striking out in more than 35 percent of his plate appearances en route to a .214 batting average, albeit with the power and speed we expected. Alas, even adequate contact skills don’t immediately (or, perhaps, ever) translate to Major League proficiency for some hitters. Souza, 26, a lifelong Minor Leaguer prior to this year, may be the emblematic “Quad-A” hitter, whereas Taylor doesn’t fit into that stigmatic mold. If anything, Taylor has a couple of years to figure things out.

Taylor v. Baez

Javier Baez struck out about just as often as Taylor did in 2014. In 2014, we all witnessed, with wide eyes, Baez’s incredibly tumultuous debut, fueled by a strikeout rate north of 40 percent.

Verdict

I compared Taylor to a bunch of toolsy guys who have all recently exhibited power and, for most of them, baserunning acumen at upper Minor League levels. (That much I can say I accomplished.)

But their Minor League plate disciplines have all translated to the Majors with wildly varying degrees of success. Springer recorded the worst AAA zone contact rate of every name on the list between 2013 and 2014, with Pederson and Baez not far behind. Souza, on the other hand, clocked in above average, far better than the three names aforementioned. Each one struggled in their debuts in terms of controlling the zone. None of them have lived to see their sophomore seasons yet — except Springer, the most egregious offender, who actually made sizable improvements in his plate discipline in a few months’ time.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Steamer and ZiPS say he’ll hit 15 home runs, steal 25 bases and hit .230 next season. With that strikeout rate, it’s easy to foresee prolonged struggles with contact. But Taylor’s contemporaries have demonstrated anecdotally that each player carries with him a range of different outcomes with various probabilities of success. It’s worth repeating that Taylor, with four strong tools and a very weak fifth, has as high a ceiling — but as low a floor — as anyone.

In terms of immediate fantasy analysis (because you’ve probably waited 1,300 words for this): the kid is owned in only 9 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I can name a dozen outfield-eligible hitters, let alone hitters in general, over whom I’d rather own Taylor in redraft (non-keeper) leagues. (Their names are Angel Pagan, Carl Crawford, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia, Leonys Martin, Brock Holt, Martin Prado, Josh Hamilton, Marcell Ozuna, Rusney Castillo, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo.)

If you can stomach the batting average, he may provide another five home runs and 10 stolen bases and counting stats to boot. ZiPS predicts only six outfielders will hit four or more home runs and steal eight or more bases rest-of-season.





Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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Jobu
7 years ago

It’s McDaniel, not “McDaniels”. Doesn’t Fangraphs have editors?