Last Friday, we took a look at starters who have improved their projections the most in 2017. In examining this group, we wanted to look at how their plate discipline stats measured up to what they had already done. Was a starter who had increased his projection showing underlying improvements in his skills? For example, was he inducing less contact in the zone, while throwing in the zone more? These are the types of questions I like to look into. While no method is fool proof, it is useful to see where underlying improvements may or may not occur, even when you see the general movements projections are taking.
Today, I am going to go through a similar exercise with hitters.
In examining this group, I have included all hitters who have improved their Ottoneu FGPts Points per Game projection by .05 or more. Within this group, I have shown the contact rate, swinging strike rate, and (from baseball savant) xwOBA. For each of these statistics, the corresponding changes from the prior year are also included (see delta columns). Here’s the full list:
|Name||P/G delta||Pts/G||Contact%||C% Delta||SwStr%||SwStr% Delta||Proj wOBA||xwOBA||wOBA||xwOBA-wOBA|
|Steven Souza Jr.||0.22||4.46||0.74||0.05||0.12||(0.04)||0.319||0.289||0.361||(0.07)|
– 200 PAs in 2016
– Leaders in categories in blue
That’s quite the list, but rather than trimming it down, I wanted to give a pre-sliced list that would be easier for everyone to play with. I will not be mentioning everyone on this list in what follows. In examining this list, there are a couple scenarios I am considering.
1.) Hitters who have increased their projections, who are showing changes in their underlying contact rates. If a projection has barely changed, and the corresponding contact rate has drastically improved, that would be something I notice. Consequently, if contact rates have plummeted, with projection increases, I want to know why. This should, intuitively, line up pretty closely with swing strike rate changes.
2.) xwOBA not lining up with what a player has already done in 2017. Certainly we are looking at small samples, but thanks to Statcast, we have the ability to judge a players quality of contact on his batted ball events for 2017. Specifically, I am looking at players who are overperforming (xwOBA is less than wOBA). I should note, it is normal for xwOBA to be higher than wOBA to date. Hot starts do that. That being said you still want to notice it.
Ryan Zimmerman appears to be a breakout candidate of 2017. He used to be great. Then was hurt a lot. As he has aged, he has lost the defensive prowess that made him an elite player early in his career. However, during 2017, Zimmerman has joined the Donaldson/Martinez/Murphy career change of limiting groundballs. He has increased his contract rate during the 2017 season, and has cut his groundball rate by 10%. This is a good reminder of the pitfalls of exit velocity alone. In perusing exit velo leaderboards from 2016, one will notice Zimmerman’s name near the top. The problem was that he hit too many balls on the ground, both exit velocity and launch angle tie together, and Zimmerman has mastered this so far in 2017. The near point per game increase in his ottoneu P/G projection lines up with this change.
Updated Price: $8 – hold
Going into 2017, you probably wouldn’t think a leaderboard with Zimmerman and Suarez near the top would be a group you’d want to be a part of. Like Zimmerman, Suarez falls into the first group of players who have increased their projections and increased the rate at which they make contact. However, he is currently overperforming his batted ball expectations by about 60 points of wOBA. Some of this is to be expected, you don’t have a hot start to the season without some batted ball luck, just don’t expect the 25% HR/FB rate to continue. However, in spite of this, Suarez is a valuable depth piece on all ottoneu teams and should be owned in all leagues. Sell him if teams are buying to heavily on 2017.
Updated Price: $9 – hold
The upper tier of the contact improvers belongs to Justin Smoak, Jorge Polanco, Adam Duvall, Steven Souza Jr., Travis Shaw, and Joey Votto (all highlighted in the table.) Votto is an elite 1B in all ottoneu leagues and continues to do what he has for years, produce at a high level. Shaw and Duvall can be lumped into a bucket of contact improvements (and 80+% contact overall) while also maintaining batted ball profiles that indicate they should be usable pieces going forward. The opposite side of this is Polanco and Souza. While both have increased their contact rates, their batted ball profiles do not speak to quality contact (xwOBA under .300 for both).
The king of this tier (and the player I have yet to see get any love) is Justin Smoak. If you play in a league married to projections, it is likely that his .07 P/G increase ROS will fall under the radar. However, he has increased his contact rate nearly 10%, the most of all players listed, and is now making contact in the zone at a 95% clip (top-5 in the league). His swinging strike rate supports this change, and while he is only projected too (and currently posting) a ~.315 wOBA, his batted ball profile suggest that his quality of contact is nearly 50 points better. Does this mean you run to the wire and grab Justin Smoak? Probably not. However, you should monitor his usage closely and add him to your watch list. He can be added cheaply if roster spots allow.
Updated Prices: Shaw – $7 hold, Duvall – $7 hold, Souza – $4 sell, Polanco – $3 sell, Smoak – $1 watch
In looking at players who are making less contact that they have historically, we need to keep in mind how these changes impact each other. For example, a former player making elite contact could now be selling out for power, or have changed their swing. Near the top of this list is Yonder Alonso, who is making 6% less contact than prior years.
Alonso has been covered by Eno here, changing his swing to adopt the approaches of Donaldson, Martinez, Murphy, Lamb et al. He has always had plate discipline and contact, but likely too much for his own good. In 2017, he is still striking out at a roughly league average rate, and is walking at a career high. Additionally, he more than doubled his career high ISO. While we shouldn’t expect him to run a 30% HR/FB rate, he has shaved roughly 20% off his groundball rate, converting these to flyballs. Additionally, the quality of contact he is making is pristine, increasing both his launch angle and exit velocity. I would buy in all leagues.
Updated Price: $14 – buy
On the more pessimistic end of this spectrum sits Wil Myers. Myers plate discipline has evaporated this year. now walking roughly 3% of the time and striking out near 27%, he has been saved by his seven HRs in 2017 (.252 ISO). His swinging strike rate has increased over 5%. The reason for his increased performance over a small sample is a 30% LD rate, which doesn’t tend to be very sticky. Sell before people realize, as the name value and OF eligibility are likely to garner more of a return than his current skills suggest he should.
Updated Price: $16 – Sell
Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades