Over the last couple of years, I have run the “Steamer and I” series, pitting our hitter wOBA and pitcher ERA projections against each other and discussing the players our forecasts differ the most for. I’m going to do things a little bit differently this year by focusing on individual stat categories, identifying a group of players I’m significantly more bullish on compared to Steamer, and vice versa, in that metric.
We’ll start with home runs. I will be comparing my home run Pod Projections to Steamer, which have been extrapolated to the same number of at-bats I’m forecasting. Today, we’ll look at the hitters I’m most bullish on versus Steamer.
Before diving into the players, let me remind you of something very important — Steamer does not project batted ball type distribution. In other words, its home run projections do not factor in fly ball rate whatsoever, from my understanding (Jared, if you’re reading this, correct me if I’m wrong!).
Knowing the lack of accounting for fly ball rate, it’s no big surprise to learn who I’m most optimistic about versus Steamer on the home run front — Ryan Schimpf. He just posted the second highest fly ball rate among all hitters that have recorded at least 100 plate appearances since 2002…that’s 6,630 player seasons! That insane 64.9% fly ball rate is precisely why he managed 20 homers over just 276 at-bats (a 43 homer pace over 600 ABs) driven by a very reasonable 17.7% HR/FB rate (while his xHR/FB rate was a robust 24.1%!).
Without knowing that fly ball rate, though, his home run pace looks very obviously unsustainable. And while it would be silly to project a 60%+ FB% again (I’m forecasting a 54% mark, which is admittedly just a dart throw), he’s always been an extreme flyballer in the minors, so there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. He was poor defensively at second base last season and is no lock to open the season with a starting job, but he should easily outperform Steamer’s home run pace.
Well gosh darn, I would have never guessed that Nolan Arenado would be my number two man on this list. Arenado has hit 40+ two seasons in a row now, so it’s curious that Steamer would forecast such a decline. While his xHR/FB rate did drop, supporting the falloff in actual HR/FB rate, he’ll be just 26 year this year and continues to play in the ultimate hitter’s park. Steamer might also be missing Arenado’s fly ball rate, which has risen every season since his 2013 debut.
It’s no surprise at all that a computer projection system would be down on Daniel Murphy. It sees a 31-year-old with a sudden power and home run surge and automatically assumes regression the following year, as if the power spike simply never happened. On the other hand, I see a hitter who clearly changed his plate approach by pulling the ball more often, which fueled a Brls/BBE boost, thereby driving up his xHR/FB rate, and fully supporting the HR/FB jump. Plus, he left the Mets, and we all know former Mets always become stars after departing (Justin Turner says hello).
Sure, it was a bit of a surprise to see Khris Davis leave one of the best power parks in baseball for one of the worst, and yet still increase his HR/FB rate en route to a career high homer total…by 15. But he’s another xHR/FB rate validation, and as I mentioned in my LABR recap , he’s been a Brls/BBE stud these last two years. No longer could we assume someone’s referring to Chris Davis when we hear “Crush Davis” in a sentence. It might be Khris instead.
It’s kind of hard to believe that Jackie Bradley Jr. has posted HR/FB rate marks right around 18% over the last two seasons as he was never expected to be such a power hitter. And Steamer sure thinks its fluky. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we know he has been barreling the ball up at a fantastic clip, thanks to Statcast. While he has seemingly been a bit fortunate, my projection is already calling for a HR/FB rate decline to 16%, and yet even given that regression, I’m still five homers above Steamer! Steamer is no doubt still factoring in his minor league stats when he showed far more mediocre power potential.
Whoopee, for the first time in what seems like forever, I get to talk about Stephen Piscotty again. I last gushed about him a year ago, and he didn’t quite reach my more optimistic level of performance. Well here I am again being bullish Bob. His xHR/FB rates continue suggest bigger things ahead, which is why I’m actually forecast a slight increase in HR/FB rate this year to what would be a new career high. I rarely project career highs, but obviously when we’re dealing with a hitter with only one full season under his belt, it’s typically going to be a new high or new low! The projection systems don’t fully believe in Piscotty’s power. I don’t know why.
Heading into 2016, Matt Carpenter was one of the hitter we all shrugged our shoulders for. He more than tripled his HR/FB rate and the percentage play was to figure major regression. That didn’t happen. And yet, even though his HR/FB rate did fall back a bit, he pulled the ball more often and posted a higher rate of Brls/BBE, fueling a jump in xHR/FB rate to an even higher mark than in 2015! So I’m expecting this new level of power to stay around for a while, and only the Fans are with me on that.
What’s the Trevor Story Mr. Steamer?! Story put on a surprising power show over 372 at-bats and sadly that’s all the Major League data we have to work with. Obviously, any projection system is going to figure regression after a 23.7% HR/FB rate and an ISO that crushed any of his minor league stop’s marks. But once again, xHR/FB rate confirms the power given a huge Brls/BBE and a comfy home park in Coors Field. For those curious cats, I’m calling for a decline to an 18% HR/FB rate, and once again, that’s still four homers more than Steamer. Oh! Guess what? Story also posted a 47.1% fly ball rate, ranking fifth among 203 hitters that amassed at least 400 plate appearances this year. Just another example of how important knowing fly ball rate is to a home run projection.
Jake Lamb changed his swing and look at that, his HR/FB rate shot up from a measly 7.2% to a massive 21.2%. Computer systems are unaware of such mechanical changes, so all they see is a drastic uptick in home run power that he has never shown before, and forecast regression. As has been a theme on this list, xHR/FB fully supports a 20%+ HR/FB rate. While the Fans are always an optimistic bunch, these are the times when they have the advantage of knowing the explanation behind the surge…or that there even was an explanation aside from “he just did better dudes”.
Add Ryon Healy into the same group as Lamb that made conscious adjustments to his swing to tap into his power…and it worked. The power breakout started in Double-A last year, continued to a lesser degree at Triple-A, and then accelerated back up again with the Athletics. His xHR/FB rate was almost identical to his actual mark. Steamer is oddly the most pessimistic about Healy’s power by far.
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.