While Statcast’s xwOBA is not a predictive metric, it’s still useful in validating historical results. Think of xwOBA in the same way you would think of pitcher SIERA — while SIERA isn’t meant to predict future ERA, it does a better job of it than ERA itself, making it backward-looking. So let’s dive into the hitters whose xwOBA marks are significantly higher than their actual wOBA marks.
I filtered the Statcast leaderboard for hitters who have recorded at least 200 plate appearances and removed those who no longer have an every day job. I also calculated ISO and xISO (SLG minus AVG), as that’s far more meaningful than SLG, which could be inflated by more singles, rather than extra-base hits. I included the additional metrics to find out whether the higher xwOBA is due to a higher BABIP (leading to a better xAVG), more power (leading to a higher ISO), or both. Remember that xwOBA is not park-adjusted.
Justin Smoak is as boring a first base option as it gets. He’s already 32, endured years of disappointing performances, and then finally broke out in 2017, before giving up some of those gains last year. This season, he has declined again and now appears to be just another plodding corner option with above average power and nothing else. Sounds like a skill set that’s a dime a dozen. But Statcast is loving him and doesn’t even know he plays in a ballpark that marginally increases homers. Aside from the Statcast optimism, his walk rate has spiked to a career high, while his strikeout rate sits at a career low. Even his fly ball rate barely sits at a career high. Normally that would suggest a career year, but not here. The only thing missing from Statcast’s xwOBA that is particularly relevant here is Smoak’s penchant for pulling his grounders right into the shift. It means his BABIP might not rebound as strongly as Statcast may believe. Still, he’s a buy and will come cheap.
What’s up with Blue Jays?! Credit the organization for sticking with Danny Jansen all season despite weak production, even though they have gone through a rotating cast of characters at some other positions. Since the end of June, Jansen’s bat has come alive, or should I say his results have improved in a hurry, because Statcast thinks his bat has been decent enough all season. Statcast thinks this is a mostly BABIP thing though, as his xISO isn’t much higher than his actual mark. That’s not as exciting for fantasy owners, but given his combination of strikeout and fly ball rates, along with a low double digit HR/FB rate, he should be solid enough in homers.
We’ve discussed Jose Ramirez ad nauseam here and I speculated about three weeks ago that he was suffering from an increased fly ball launch angle that became too high. Since my post, his fly ball launch angle has risen even higher! He was at 39.2 degrees when I posted and has been at 40.1 degrees since. That doesn’t sound good. The thing is, Statcast literally uses launch angle in its xwOBA calculation since it’s their metric and it still thinks Ramirez has deserved much better fate.
So we open our list with two Blue Jays followed by two Indians? That’s weird. Jason Kipnis has long been forgotten as a fantasy asset, though he does have seven homers and five steals. It’s mostly a BABIP thing here, even though his mark sits at a three-season high. But he’s cut both his fly ball and infield fly ball rates, so he does deserve better. He doesn’t need to be on your shallow mixed league radar, but anything deeper, he could be a reasonable power and speed contributor the rest of the way, while not killing your average as much as he has so far.
Man, what happened to Evan Longoria? This year, his power is back up, so you can’t totally blame AT&T Park, but now his BABIP is at the second lowest mark of his career, despite his highest LD% and second lowest IFFB%! Statcast thinks Longoria has deserved better results in both average and power, though remember that xISO is unaware of his home park. Aside from an increased BABIP and resulting batting average, there’s still not much more upside here.
FREE JOSE MARTINEZ! Seriously, he’s the perfect DH and surely some team in the AL could use a good one. Though he’s been decent enough this year, Statcast loves his power potential calculating an xISO just over .200. Marcell Ozuna’s injury has opened the door again for every day playing time and he needs to be owned in all formats.
Speaking of power upside, Statcast is also loving Justin Turner, who has the second highest xISO versus ISO gap in the table. That’s surprising considering his HR/FB rate is right in line with his past two seasons and 2014. He’s a very safe bet for strong production the rest of the way given his pristine batted ball profile.
Hey Milwaukee Brewers, are ya reading this? Jesus Aguilar has been unlucky! After a breakout full season last year, expectations were naturally high, though we acknowledged some bit of regression was likely. Instead, he completely flopped in April and failed to rebound enough in May, en route to losing his starting job. June was no better and only his three homers so far in July have reminded us of what could have been. Statcast thinks his ISO should be sitting above .200, but is it too late to reclaim the starting first base job? The problem is, Eric Thames also deserves a starting job and is wOBA’ing .367. It’s a tough situation for Aguilar hopefuls.
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.