Potential Hitter K% Improvers — Jul 6, 2021

Last week, I unveiled the latest version of my hitter xK% metric. I was reminded of the need to do so based on some of the comments to my xwOBA articles. The gist of the comments were that Statcast’s xwOBA isn’t a fully expected mark if it takes strikeout and walk rates at face value. Even those rates should technically be adjusted to their own expected marks and then be used in xwOBA, rather than using the actuals. Adjusting strikeout and walk rates in xwOBA wouldn’t be nearly as actionable as adjusting the results of batted balls, but they could affect both counting stats like batting average and home runs (more or fewer expected balls in play), plus runs scored and stolen bases (more or fewer times on base), etc. So it’s still useful to be aware of.

Let’s now dive into the hitters who have most underperformed their xK% marks. I limited the pool to hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. A smaller PA sample would result in greater discrepancies between K% and xK%, but they would be less reliable given the smaller sample used for each variable.

Potential K% Improvers
Name Pit/PA L/Str S/Str F/Str 30% K% xK% Diff
Tucker Barnhart 4.24 22.8% 21.3% 32.8% 4.7% 29.7% 26.9% 2.8%
Alec Bohm 4.00 21.0% 21.3% 31.4% 3.9% 26.3% 24.0% 2.3%
Eugenio Suarez 4.09 29.1% 22.4% 24.7% 6.1% 30.9% 28.7% 2.2%
Randal Grichuk 3.51 18.9% 20.5% 29.4% 4.0% 22.4% 20.2% 2.2%
Trent Grisham 4.08 34.3% 16.6% 22.2% 5.9% 24.6% 22.6% 2.0%
Brandon Belt 4.40 20.4% 24.5% 34.6% 4.5% 32.3% 30.4% 1.9%
Jed Lowrie 3.93 25.1% 17.2% 28.3% 5.8% 20.5% 18.6% 1.9%
Dansby Swanson 4.02 21.8% 24.1% 28.7% 5.7% 28.1% 26.2% 1.9%
Kevin Newman 3.46 32.9% 7.7% 19.7% 5.4% 6.4% 4.5% 1.9%
Miguel Sano 4.32 26.0% 29.2% 25.1% 3.4% 37.4% 35.6% 1.8%
Kyle Schwarber 4.08 29.0% 20.8% 25.8% 6.2% 29.0% 27.2% 1.8%
League Average 3.94 26.4% 19.6% 27.5% 4.7% 23.8%

Most fantasy teams could use a catcher, especially one that won’t kill your batting average. Tucker Barnhart has been one of those guys so far, but much of his production has been buoyed by a .383 BABIP, that on the one hand might be justified by a 28.9% LD%, but on the other, is probably unsustainable itself. That said, xK% thinks he deserves a better strikeout rate fate, closer to what he posted last year. It would still represent a career worst, but could help soften the blow if his BABIP tumbles.

Ding ding ding, major props to commenter elkabong who somehow picked Alec Bohm as a major strikeout rate underperformer without even using my formula! Bohm does indeed rank second among underperformers, but his xK% is still a bit higher than elkabong adjusted his mark to. After a strong 2020 debut, driven by a crazy .410 BABIP, Bohm has fallen back to Earth this season, exacerbated by the increased strikeout rate. Even a better xK% would result in a spike from last year and a big increase from his minor league days. I’m still intrigued by the combination of a potentially strong strikeout rate, with at least league average power, and it’s a profile that could lead to a breakout at any point in the future.

Eugenio Suarez’s strikeout rate has ticked up for a fourth straight season and since his HR/FB rate has dropped below 20%, while his BABIP remains barely above .200, it has resulted in surprisingly brutal results so far. His xK% would split the difference between his 2019 and 2020 seasons, but that’s still well above where he sat between 2014 and 2018. A significantly higher xwOBA suggests his batted ball quality should have yielded better results so far and he still has 16 homers. You have to think he’ll perform much better over the second half.

Randal Grichuk has carried over last season’s strikeout rate improvement, which is a big positive, especially for a hitter who rarely walks. His xK% suggests he should be striking out even less than last year, which should help him continue posting a relatively neutral batting average instead of the .230-.240 marks he had typically done between 2016 and 2019. With George Springer back now and the acquisition of Corey Dickerson, who will be back from injury soon, there’s a bit more pressure on Grichuk to hit to keep an every day job.

Trent Grisham’s strikeout rate has improved marginally since his 2019 debut, but xK% suggests he should be enjoying a larger improvement this year. With a high teen HR/FB rate and nine stolen base attempts, any additional balls in play could result in both more homers and more stolen base opportunities.

Brandon Belt’s strikeout rate has suddenly skyrocketed and although xK% suggests it should be a bit better than it actually is, it still almost completely supports the spike to begin with. I would have loved to see Belt on another team to see what he could do not playing half his games at Oracle Park. However, Belt has actually posted a significantly higher HR/FB rate at home the past two seasons after changes to the park made last year, so we might very well be seeing what he was capable of throughout his career.

This is the first season Jed Lowrie’s strikeout rate has sat above 20% since his short 2009 season, but xK% suggests it actually shouldn’t be. Amazingly, he has kept his SwStk% in single digits during every single season of his career. He looks like he should remain a reasonable contributor, especially in AL-Only and/or OBP leagues, for as long as he could stay healthy.

Dansby Swanson’s strikeout rate spiked last year and has jumped again this year, but xK% suggests it should have actually improved slightly this year. He has predictably lost last year’s BABIP magic, but has kept his ability to barrel the ball at a double digit clip, keeping his HR/FB rate above 15%. So more balls in play would be a real help here as his batting average languishes at just .230.

Holy cow, who would have guessed that Kevin Newman’s 6.4% strikeout rate was actually unlucky in the eyes of xK%?! His profile is quite extreme, in that he see very few pitches, takes lots of called strikes, but rarely swings and misses or fouls the ball off. You would have no idea he was striking out so rarely because he owns just a .214 BABIP, but he’s a real darkhorse candidate for a strongly favorable batting average the rest of the way. He could contribute a bit everywhere for deep leaguers.

I had no idea, until I checked the Twins Roster Resource page, that Miguel Sano was back to not playing every day. Sano enjoyed a home run hot streak in early June, but in 50 plate appearances after hitting four homers in seven games, he has posted a .270 wOBA. Obviously the Twins seem to be getting tired of his streakiness.

Finally, we have Kyle Schwarber, who recently hit 12 homers over a 10 game stretch, but just hit the IL with a hamstring strain.





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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elkabong
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elkabong

Thanks for the acknowledgment, Mike! The “somehow” picking Alec Bohm is actually using an xK% metric I’ve developed using StatCast metrics. You’d be surprised how much xK% affects xwOBA, even regarding a few percentage points. My xK% has Bohm at 22.79%, which is a difference of almost 11 K. Keeping his rates of everything else equal, that bumps his wOBA from .268 to .281, which is nearly two extra HR worth of wOBA for him.