Potential 2021 Playoffs Hitter Fantasy Value Boosters

The 2021 season is officially in the books! Since stats won’t be updated until tomorrow as I type this, let’s look toward the postseason rather than start our 2021 review. Yes, the title of this post is a mouthful. Essentially, I wanted to discuss a number of hitters who could dramatically raise their 2022 fantasy cost with a big postseason. Obviously, any hitter could do so. But these names are a mix that specifically could raise their profiles for a variety of reasons. I’m going to ignore how far I might guess the player’s team goes in the playoffs.

Gleyber Torres | NYY

Seriously folks, where did his power go? Last year’s 7.1% HR/FB rate and .125 ISO could have been chalked up to small sample size. But he followed that up with even worse power, including a slightly lower 7.0% HR/FB rate and .107 ISO. A .107 ISO over a full season for a 24-year-old that posted a .256 ISO in 2019! It’s just shocking.

One of the issues here is that his fly ball Pull% was in free fall this season, dropping to just 16.3% after posting marks in the mid-20% range his previous three years. While some of those previous pulled flies went the opposite way instead, some of them also went to center. It’s a lot harder to hit a home run the opposite way or straightaway than the pull side simply because batters simply don’t hit the ball as hard in those directions. So where he’s hitting his flies is one issue. The other is that his fly ball Hard% is down from his first two seasons, though this year was a nice rebound from last year’s bottom and not that far off from his 2018 mark.

The bottom line here is that Torres’ power has been mysteriously MIA these past two seasons. A big postseason with a bunch of dingers would go a long way to making him a prime rebound candidate in 2022.

Wander Franco | TB

Franco was the game’s top prospect, so he’s a household name among keeper league owners, deep mixed leagues, and prob most shallow mixed league owners. However, even though he posted a perfectly-solid-for-a-20-year-old .349 wOBA, he wasn’t exactly an elite fantasy contributor as he failed to stand out in any particular category. He also only played half a season so it’s easy to overlook what he did accomplish. If we simply double his counting stats, we get 14 homers, four steals, 106 runs scored, and 78 RBI. Combine that with his .289 batting average, and it’s a surprisingly valuable fantasy player, likely more valuable than you think since the homers and steals don’t excite.

It’s hard to overstate how impressive a performance this was. He struck out just 12.2% of the time, backed by a 7.4% SwStk%…as a 20-year-old! This postseason will give him a chance to make himself known to all baseball fans, not just fantasy players. There’s a real chance he’ll be one of the faces of MLB over the next couple of years.

Gavin Sheets | CHW

Sheets was barely on the prospect radar heading into the 2021 season, but he enjoyed a power surge at Triple-A this year driven by a 19% HR/FB rate and .211 ISO, with solid walk and strikeout rates as well. That power perfectly translated to the Majors and actually increased even further, and that was backed by a superb 112.8 MPH maxEV.

While Sheets was a surprise contributor this year, it was over just 178 plate appearances. A strong postseason could help his chances to open next season with a starting job and convince fantasy owners he’s for real.

Andrew Vaughn | CHW

On the other side of the White Sox prospects is Vaughn. Unlike Sheets, Vaughn was on the prospect radar as one of the very best heading into the season. Initially, his MLB debut was to be highly anticipated. Instead, the White Sox surprised many by giving him a starting job out of spring training.

Unfortunately, he disappointed offensively and was continually given days off here and there, so he failed to reach 500 plate appearances. With just a .307 wOBA and slightly above average power, he was quite the fantasy disappointment for those who expected him to contribute right out of the gate. The power potential is seemingly there given an elite 115 maxEV and 46.7% HardHit%, but for some reason, that only resulted in a 13% HR/FB rate and .162 ISO.

It’s anyone’s guess how much playing time he’ll get in the playoffs. But he could definitely use a strong performance, as it wouldn’t be a shock to see him open next season at Triple-A. A strong performance would also give his keeper league owners more confidence and add a post-prospect hype premium to his price in non-keeper leagues.

Cody Bellinger | LAD

While I haven’t actually done any research, I wonder if Bellinger was mathematically the most disappointing fantasy hitter this year. In 348 plate appearances, he posted an impossibly bad .237 wOBA. When a hitter of Bellinger’s caliber is so disappointing over more than just a tiny sample size, you immediately assume injury must be at least part of the explanation. That could very well be it as he suffered a leg injury just a couple of games into the season and missed over a month and a half of action.

He then missed some time due to a hamstring injury and toward the end of last month, a rib injury. You never know how any particular injury is going to affect a hitter. Sometimes they don’t miss a beat, and other times they struggle the rest of the season and then rebound the following year after an offseason of recovering.

This year, Bellinger struck out more often than he ever had, backed by a career worst SwStk%, his BABIP slipped below .200, his HR/FB rate finished in single digits, and his ISO was a sad .137. That’s a lot of poor performance to blame on injury, but you never know.

At just 25 years old, he obviously isn’t in the decline phase of his career. A big postseason would really boost his perceived value next year, as this wasn’t just a disappointing year, he also lost playing time and got dropped to the bottom of the order. The Dodgers are likely praying he rebounds soon as well.

Christian Yelich | MIL

While Yelich was a huge disappointment as well, he was nowhere near as helpless at the plate as Bellinger. And at least he earned some value in fantasy leagues, whereas Bellinger was a drag on fantasy teams. After a strange 2020 season in which his strikeout rate spiked and his BABIP fell below .336 for the first time in his career, Yelich’s price dropped in 2021 drafts and there was finally some potential profit.

Instead, he disappointed in a different way. His strikeout rate mostly reverted back to his career mark, though did remain a bit elevated. His BABIP rebounded back up .300, but still finished as the second lowest mark of his career. The disappointment, this time, stemmed from his power, which was perfectly fine last year. He had posted three straight seasons of a 30%+ HR/FB rate, but that tumbled to just 13.2%, while his ISO fell to just .125. His FB% also fell back to his old level after a two year peak around 30% or higher.

If you told me his BABIP would rebound and strikeout rate drop to 23.8%, I would assume fantasy vintage Yelich had returned, so it’s surprising to suddenly see such a lack of power. He did miss time with back issues this year, so you wonder if that sapped his power. He also tested positive for COVID-19, so we don’t know how that may have affected him as well. Clearly, a big postseason with some home run power would make fantasy owners feel better about a potential full rebound next year.

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.

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OddBall Herrera
8 months ago

Jose Siri is my nominee for potential Arozarena – totally capable of going on a run that will make people fall in love with an older prospect they had never heard of before