It’s Never Too Early For 2023 Sleepers

Of course, it’s never too early for sleepers! But first, we must decide, once and for all, what the actual definition of a sleeper is. No matter how long it takes, we must get to the bottom of this age-old question!

Oh my god, no we do not. I get the classical sense of what people generally mean when they say sleeper but for me, it’s just about anyone that I think is going to earn a lot more than I’ll have to pay to acquire them. Sleepers after pick #300? Obviously. Sleepers around #150? Yep. Sleepers in the top-100? You bet. Regardless of where you get them, it’s all about that ROI, baby. So, let’s get to napping.

A few methodology notes and terms:

Any values (and ranks) I mention for 2022 (season-long and by half) were calculated using a basic z-score methodology but with one small caveat, as catchers are kept in their own little, self-contained world. So, if someone was the 50th-best hitter, it actually means they were the 50th-best non-catcher.

In addition to Barrel% (barrels per batted-ball event) and Barrel per PA, we’ll also look at Air% EV (average exit velocity of balls in the air) and Air% 100+ mph (percent of balls hit in the air with over 100 mph exit velocity).

Enough nerd talk. It’s time to put on a kettle of chamomile tea, slip into a pair of warm, fuzzy socks, and start getting a little sleepy.

Wait, one more thing – ADP at this point in the preseason is ridiculously shallow. As in there have been three drafts completed, done mostly by degenerates like myself. Three. So, take them with a grain of salt because they’re all capable of great change. But it’s fine to think about the general texture; IE someone taken at ~250 now likely won’t jump 100 spots. I mean, unless they go hog wild with a bunch of bombs in spring after making big power leaps in September, that is. He thought, dreaming of hope in the Motor City.

Spencer Torkelson, DET, 1B

It feels like it should be super obvious to bet on someone carrying a post-hype sleeper starter kit as blatantly as Torkelson does. Stop me if you’ve heard this before – a rookie hitter with an elite pedigree, both in results and draft capital used to obtain, struggles in his first year in the majors. You know, because hitting a baseball is really, really hard?

As a refresher, Torkelson was the #1 overall draft pick in 2020 (surprising no one), coming out of Arizona State with light-tower power to all fields, and impressive plate discipline. And he wasted no time showing it as a first-year pro, smashing 30 HR in 530 PA across three levels.

After a subpar 404 PA in the majors, are we really sure this guy forgot how to hit?

Well, if these early drafts are any indication (min: 250, max: 338), that appears to be the case, as that early spread says he won’t necessarily even be drafted in 12-team leagues and below. And this means I’m apparently going to be neck-deep in Tork in 2023.

We can’t sugarcoat how bad he was in his first run in the show, slashing .197/.282/.295 over 298 PA, with just 5 HR, while posting a  69 wRC+ that was as far from nice as Detroit is from a pennant. BUT(!) after being mercifully demoted following that brutal first half, Torkelson returned triumphantly in September, slashing .219/.292/.385 over 106 PA, with 3 HR! Wait – What?

Okay, clearly those numbers don’t seem remarkably better, even if they technically were. But while the results were still poor, a look under the hood tells a more positive story. For one, his Statcast-powered expectations during his “triumphant” September return spoke to ball-striking that was much better than what baseball gods had actually returned him:

Spencer Torkelson in September
AVG xBA +/- OBP xOBP +/- SLG xSLG +/- OPS xOPS +/- wOBA xwOBA +/-
.219 .250 .031 .292 .320 .028 .385 .475 .090 .677 .795 .118 .299 .345 .046

Expected numbers aren’t actual ones but I find them easier to trust when coming from someone who has the proven power stroke of Torkelson, particularly given his track record of excellent plate discipline and pitch selection. A 25.5% K% in his first half may have not seemed great but a 10.6% SwStr% spoke of fewer whiffs to come. And in September, that came to pass, with Torkelson still running a 10.2% SwStr% but only collecting a 21.7% K%.

But putting aside discipline and xStats, it was key exit velocities that really popped out for our guy Tork in September.

Spencer Torkelson EV Changes w/Percentile Ranks
Brl% Brl/PA Air% EV Air% (100+ mph)
1st Half 6.8% (49th) 4.4% (56th) 92.5 mph (59th) 27.8% (38th)
2nd Half 12.3% (88th) 8.5% (93rd) 95.8 mph (91st) 43.5% (91st)

Putting it all together for those more narratively inclined, suppose you have a recent #1 overall pick, selected for his elite bat and unquestioned power stroke, who struggled in his first half of major league ball but came back in September and put up excellent expected stats while also making giant leaps in the exit velocity ranges that are the best predictors of future power…Is that something you might be interested in?

Indeed it is, Bob. Indeed it is.

Now, there are a couple more bugaboos that could still hinder our young Spencer, even if the September improvements translate to more tangible results in 2023. For one, he still plays in Comerica, one of baseball’s biggest power vacuums, sucking away home runs and extra-base hits to often return cans of corn that can be run down. And for two, he’ll still be surrounded by the Tigers offense, which was again one of baseball’s worst in 2022. But while he can’t do anything about his home park, Torkelson at least has the advantage of having the level of raw power that, when right, often won’t be contained by any of Comerica’s intradimensional forces. And surely, Detroit’s offense will get better, right? I mean, Riley Greene is on the come-up, and Javier Báez can’t be that bad again, right? Ri-gght?

Regardless, Torkelson’s price makes it that there is next to zero risk in drafting him, as he’ll only cost you one of your final picks in most leagues. And in an offensive environment (RE: the ball!) that may continue to suppress power, pulling some 30+ HR potential that late could end up being right on time. Or, perhaps this has all just been a ruse, functioning as a low-key apology for my continued jokes at the expense of the favorite team of the one person I know is guaranteed (forced) to read every one I make.

Seth Brown, OAK, 1B/OF

There is nothing (nothing!) easier to overlook than a great hitting performance on yet another bad Oakland team, and Seth Brown is merely our latest example. The left-handed Brown came into the season as another likely platoon hitter, forgotten in all but the deepest drafts. And in the first half, he mostly fulfilled those expectations but was more average, according to value returned, than was expected. Brown’s 10 HR, 27 R, 38 RBI, and .216 AVG over 305 PA wasn’t anything to get all silly about but that, along with a surprising 7 SB, clocked Brown in as the 134th-best hitter in the first half. Again, not outstanding but still in the same range as hitters like Ramón Laureano, Max Kepler, and Dylan Carlson, all of whom had been drafted a few hundred picks higher.

But in the second half, Brown burst out of the replacement-level zone, with 15 HR, 28 R, 35 RBI, 4 SB, and a .249 AVG over 250 PA. That left him clocked in as the #47 hitter in the second half, sandwiched among the other outfielders between Mike Trout at #45 and Julio Rodriguez at #49. Okay, okay, Trout only had 173 PA in the second half and J-Rod only had 180 PA. But still! Brown was more valuable in the second half than top-5o hitters like Brandon Nimmo and Bryan Reynolds while finishing not too far behind the likes of Teoscar Hernández and George Springer. Pretty good for a “no-name” from Oakland, right?

And the 30+ HR pop he showed in the second half was backed by plenty of EV receipts. Brown’s Brl% and Brl per PA were both in the 98th percentile in the second half, up respectively from the 72nd and 78th percentiles in the first half. But, while finishing in the top-2% is an all-new level of barreling, it’s not totally out of the blue, as Brown finished in the 90th percentile for both metrics in 2021, with his Brl% increasing from the 83rd in the first half, to the 95th in the second, while his Barrel per PA rose from the 88th to the 93rd.

Besides the pop going up and up, the biggest change to Brown’s value came from his playing time, as he started to shed his platooning past in the second half, getting more and more starts vs LHP as the season built to its conclusion. Brown returned from paternity leave on July 29, promptly hitting three home runs in his first two games back but also hitting pine against the first two left-handed starters he saw. But after that, the platoon shackles started to come off, with Brown starting against seven of Oakland’s final 10 lefty opponents.

Like Torkelson, Brown will be constrained by his home park and surrounding cast, regardless of whether the second half production sticks around. But with a draft price that likely won’t climb higher than a 200 ADP, the risk is minuscule.

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1 year ago

Given that Torkelson’s power also evaporated at AAA, isn’t it possible he is just harmed greatly by the new balls and humidors? I won’t be betting on him next year.

1 year ago
Reply to  dl80

Possible? yes, probable no. Let’s look at the body of evidence, 1) professional scouts give him a 70 grade power tool 2) in 2021 he had iso’s over .250 at all stops in the minors over a decent sample size, 3) his max evit velo and average exit velo were both in the 78th percentile. All this points to the fact that he has muscle and shouldn’t be harmed by the new ball or humidors more than anyone else in the league.

More than likely this is more of a quality of contact issue. As another poster pointed out he’s always had a propensity for hitting oppo vs pull side, this is likely the source of his low hr totals along with learning how to make better contact in general