I Find Your Lack Of Faith Disturbing.

I would be honored if you would join me… in a conversation about three players.  Okay, that’s probably the last Star Wars reference. No promises, though.

Each of these players have a few things in common.  First, their on field performance has been a bit of a surprise. Second, they may have been a bit unlucky. Third, public perception of their value has been rocky.  Two of them are being sold off.  One of them is getting bought. Let’s get into it.

Jackie Bradley Jr.:

82% Owned on Yahoo, -6% ownership over the past day.

Bradley has been in a slump. Since April 23rd, eleven days ago, he is 2-28 with three walks and nine strikeouts.  That’s an ugly line, no doubt about it. Furthermore, I’m not here to tell you his batted ball quality over this time frame is any more positive, because it isn’t.  Since April 23, his xOBAcon is .183, xBACON .162. That’s pretty bad, no doubt about it.

There are some positive signs, in the past few days his launch angle has been elevating. Over this slump he has hit 11 out of 19 balls on the ground into the type of batted ball I (currently) call DB. These batted balls are effectively worthless, they have little to no chance to succeed. They are only moderately better than pop ups.  Oh, speaking of which, Bradley hit three pop ups over this span. So, 14 of his 19 balls in play have been hit on effectively worthless launch angles (although one of them was hit so hard-101mph-that it had a 52% chance at being a single, and indeed it was).

Over the past few days, though, he has elevated a few of these balls. His past five batted balls have been three pop ups and two of what I call a High Drive. High Drives are the best possible launch angle, so that’s great news for him. That’s some positivity there. It may be the first sign that he’s leaving his slump behind.

More importantly, though, Bradley has been, according to xOBA, the second most unlucky player this season among those with at least 50 plate appearances.

Cue the record scratch.

Yes, he has been atrocious for the past week and a half. His xOBA and wOBA practically agree on that much. However, prior to this period, it seems that Bradley got a lot of bad breaks in game.

For example, on April 8th Bradley hit a 107 mph flyball on a 29.9 degree launch angle into right field.  The spray angle was 35 degrees, so that is closer to the right field line than the right field gap. 81.6% of similarly hit balls leave the ballpark, Bradley’s had an estimated 412 foot carry distance. But no, it was instead a sac fly.

The day prior, April 7th, similar deal. He hit a 104 mph ball on a 23 degree angle, -15 degree spray angle.  That means it was hit towards left center field, a deep section of any ballpark, but it had an estimated carry distance of 390 feet.  52% of similarly hit balls are home runs and another 27% are doubles. This one was caught easy out.

Bradley’s estimated stats to this point are: 4.6 singles, 2.2 doubles, and 2.9 home runs, which amounts to a .219/.290/.436 slash line and a .329 xOBA. 

Scott Schebler

43% Owned on Yahoo, +25% ownership over the past day.

People seem to be coming around on Schebler, which is great to see, but even with this large bump in ownership he is still available in over half of the Yahoo leagues.

We may be getting to the “you snooze, you loose” line with Schebler for the more competitive leagues out there. So this may not apply to you, but if you’re somehow still on the fence about this guy, and you’re in one of the 57% of leagues where he’s still a free agent, let me do my best to convince you to pick him up.

Schebler has had a few lucky home runs.  He hit one on April 15th that had a 4.7% chance. The ball was hit 92mph on a 31 degree launch angle and 23 degree spray angle, that means it went straight into the right field gap. It had an estimated 371 foot carry distance, so it took a bit of luck to clear the wall. Similarly hit balls are outs about 90% of the time, but his was a home run.

All things considered, his expected home run total to date is 6.4, down from the 8 home runs he has actually recorded. The example above is a big reason why. However, his expected singles rate is significantly higher than his in game totals: 13.9 as opposed to 8. His expected hit total is 24.8 as opposed to 21. With a hit rate increase of this magnitude, he has an expected batting average of .255, as opposed to .223. This is pretty much in line with the kind of batting average he has had over the the past calendar year or so, he bat .265 last season, with a projected .258 coming into the season.

Yeah, big whoop, his expected batting average is equal to his projected batting average and similar to last year’s batting average.  Who cares, right? Well, you should, considering his power figures, even when you subtract the lucky home runs and doubles, are a career high.  A legitimate career high, when you assume league average success rates on batted balls. How is this happening?

Well, his launch angles have been elevated.

Now, keep in mind, these batted balls types are in order of  increasing launch angle, DB are basically straight down, PU straight up, and everything else in between. HD are the most valuable, followed closely by LD and FB.  You can read more about it here.

Note how, especially when compared to 2016, the upper launch angle categories are relatively high. The HD category, the most valuable launch angles, are nearly double their 2016 rate. Fly balls are at a career high, as are pop ups.  Likewise, DB, the weakest hit ground balls, are a career low, as are GB.  GB might be a misleading name, they are in between ground balls and line drives, about 50/50 each way.

He is hitting the ball in the air this year much more than last year, and a bit more than he did in 2015.  Granted, 2015 and 2017 are both small sample sizes, but in each case he has produced significantly better results.  Also, pretty similar results.  Look at these expected slash lines.

2015: .242/.318/.495 .341 xOBA

2017: .255/.330/.522 .350 xOBA

 

These expected slash lines are similar, and you can probably understand why 2017 might be slightly ahead by looking at the increased FB and LD rates in the chart above.  

What’s important, though, is that the rate of production by Schebler this season is not unprecedented from him. He has done this at the major league level once before, even if it may have been obscured by various factors, including luck.

Will he maintain this DB and GB rate all season?  I don’t know, he might.  He might not.  The his flyballs are doing damage, though, and he’s increased their rate.  Even if he drops back down to 2015 launch angle distribution, his overall performance need not decline all the way down to the 2016 figures.

Taylor Motter

21% Owned on Yahoo, -16% ownership over the past day.

Motter seemingly came out of nowhere this season, and a lot of people can’t seem to make heads or tails with what he’s been up to this season.  I consider myself one of those people.  However, there is one thing I can tell you:  He’s killing the ball.

His max exit velocity is up 1 mph from last season. His hardest hit ball last year was 109.8 mph.  This season, 110.9 mph. Impressive. He is also expanding his peak velocity to a wider range of launch angles.  Last year, his fly balls peaked at 102.8 mph, this year 105.9.  Last year his high drives peaked at 97.2 mph.  This year, 105.1 mph.  Most Impressive.

This increase in exit velocity is substantial.  And these are not averages, these are peak velocities, the max velocity he has produced.  His averages are up as well, but they are less interesting. When peak velocity spikes like this, it should probably catch your eye.

There may be some luck involved. Exit velocity is a function of pitch speed, bat speed, energy transfer, temperature, humidity, and so many other factors.  Location on the bat, the bat’s pivot point, etc.  Maybe Motter just so happened to hit the ball perfectly dead on, perfectly on the sweet spot of the bat this season.  Maybe that is why his max exit velocity jumped from 109 to 110?

Okay, but why would his Flyball and high drive velocities also increase by such a large margin?

Perhaps it is playing conditions? Maybe he is playing in different climates?

Well, last year, his max exit velocity on high drives, 97 mph, was hit in Arizona.  His max exit velocity this season, 105, was hit in Seattle. And in Oakland.  He did it twice.  Last year, his max EV on LD game in Tampa, 109.8 mph.  This year, Seattle, 110.9 mph.  So, no, I’m not sure climate is the factor here.  It seems it is working against him, to be honest.  

So, what could it be, then?  Maybe pitch speed?  Maybe, maybe not.  Last year, both of his max EV on HD were off 84 mph pitches.  For the LD, last year his max EV came off an 84 mph pitch, and this season it was off a 97 mph pitch.

Maybe pitch speed played a role.  Perhaps bat speed.  Or hand eye coordination.

I can’t tell you why this is happening, but his exit velocity has spiked considerably. If you’re in the position to do so, maybe you ought to take advantage of it while it lasts.





Andrew Perpetua is the creator of CitiFieldHR.com and xStats.org, and plays around with Statcast data for fun. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewPerpetua.

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BaseballBundesliga
7 years ago

I was really excited about Motter’s exit velocity but I’m really worried about playing time for him. Segura is back and with DiPoto’s all-in move for outfield defense the only real option is to stick him at first (although that’s not at all a bad idea).

Leemember
7 years ago

Seems like he’s been riding the pine for a week straight. Very frustrating considering he’s so versatile in the field.