The Most Surprising Hitters: Will They Keep It Up?

Yesterday, I attempted to discuss the season’s biggest hitter disappointments by comparing each player’s projected CBS ranking to his current actual ranking. Unfortunately, injuries played a bigger role than I realized for several of the players, which explains a good portion of their disappointing fantasy value. Today I’ll discuss the biggest surprises and luckily injuries won’t screw up my analysis this time!

I decided to limit my population to just those hitters ranked within the top 150. It’s an arbitrary cutoff, but like I mentioned yesterday, no one cares if a batter was projected for 700 and is actually 250. I also only included hitters that were actually ranked in the preseason (Sorry Max Muncy).

Hitter Surprises
PLAYERS BA R HR RBI SB Projected CBS Rank Actual CBS Rank Diff
Jesus Aguilar 0.293 50 25 71 0 596 29 -567
Jurickson Profar 0.246 50 9 46 8 506 126 -380
Nick Markakis 0.322 55 10 62 1 405 47 -358
Brian Anderson 0.282 56 8 49 2 390 101 -289
Brandon Nimmo 0.250 49 13 31 7 423 136 -287
C.J. Cron 0.254 47 19 50 1 364 90 -274
Jed Lowrie 0.279 43 16 62 0 326 74 -252
Matt Kemp 0.316 47 17 62 0 291 46 -245

This is an interesting group of characters. You’d perhaps expect a bunch of young hotshots would appear en route to a breakout season. But that’s certainly not the case.

Jesus Aguilar is possibly the season’s biggest surprise, but that’s not entirely accurate to say. The only reason he was ranked so low and would qualify as a surprise is because his playing time outlook was weak heading into the season. The Brewers began the year with four good outfielders and an excellent first baseman, meaning it would be difficult for Aguilar to find at-bats. But he hit so well in his limited opportunities and when replacing the injured Eric Thames that he’s kept his lineup slot and has continued to hit.

It shouldn’t really be surprising though that he’s hit so well when he has played, because he did this last year too. Now granted, he has cut his strikeout rate and boosted his HR/FB rate a bit higher, but the guy was really good at the plate in half a season in 2017. Obviously, it would be wise to expect him to fall off his current pace, but he could easily be what you thought you were getting from Jose Abreu over the rest of the season.

I couldn’t understand what the intrigue was with Jurickson Profar, aside from the fact he was a top prospect ages ago. He hasn’t shown much power and doesn’t steal bases, so I expected limited fantasy production outside of the counting stats recorded from playing most days. Instead, he has drastically cut down on his strikeout rate and has suddenly decided to steal bases, pushing him so very close to double digit homers and steals already.

In looking at his plate discipline metrics, it’s not real obvious how he has cut his strikeout rate until you look a little deeper. There are two ways to cut down on your strikeouts — either swing more often or make more contact on the swings you had been taking. Profar has gone with the former, pushing up his Swing% to above the league average for the first time. Surprisingly, it hasn’t really hurt his walk rate. I’m not sure he’ll continue to steal bases (though with 8 swipes and 0 caughts, he has no reason to stop running), but nothing in his stat profile screams fluke. I’d expect similar fantasy value the rest of the way, with the potential for an increased BABIP (though a jump in strikeout rate could offset that).

Nick Markakis finds the fountain of youth! He’s got his home run power back, though doesn’t hit enough fly balls to make the most of the rebound. He has also reversed a disturbing strikeout rate trend in which the mark had risen for six straight seasons. He’s also hitting line drives like never before, cut his IFFB% down to a career best, and his BABIP has surged to the second highest of his career, and deservedly so. Sadly, I couldn’t possibly bet on this continuing. There’s more power downside at this point than upside and then you’re just hoping he could maintain that inflated BABIP. Even though his current batted ball profile supports it, the profile itself is probably not sustainable. In a 12-team mixed league, I wouldn’t be too excited about him slotting into one of my outfield slots.

Brian Anderson still hasn’t shown the power he has in the minors, so that his mainly been BABIP driven. I haven’t run my xBABIP equation, but I’d guess he’s not deserving of a .332 mark. Because he doesn’t steal bases or have a whole lot of home run potential, you’re once again betting on that BABIP just like you would be with Markakis. His fly ball Hard% is intriguing, but the fact that he rarely pulls those fly balls is hampering his power potential at the moment. If he were my third baseman, I would be looking for an upgrade.

Fantasy owners must be ecstatic to have found Nimmo, Brandon Nimmo that is. He never showed this much home run power in the minors, so this was a surprise. My concern is that his BABIP looks wholly unsustainable given his batted ball profile that actually suggests a below average mark. What’s interesting is how often he has struck out, considering his SwStk% is right at the league average. Nothing in his plate discipline metrics seem to validate the high strikeout rate, so I’d bet on improvement moving forward. That could help fend off some of the BABIP regression. I would hold in OBP leagues, but am less optimistic in shallow mixed leagues.

All it took was for C.J. Cron to get out of Los Angeles where he had been jerked around without an extended opportunity to hold an every day job. He has basically been the same as he has always been, except his HR/FB rate has shot up to above 20% for the first time. Interestingly, his fly ball Hard% is identical to where it has been every season since 2015, while his Pull% is just above his career average. I would have to calculate my xHR/FB rate to be sure, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything supporting the HR/FB rate spike. I don’t think he’ll be worth that much more than replacement level in shallow mixed leagues the rest of the way.

After a big April, Jed Lowrie has predictably fallen off, but he has still shown power, homering five times in June after his six homer first month. His HR/FB rate remains at a career high, but unfortunately his strikeout rate has surged to its highest mark since his first two years. While he was pulling his flies significantly more often earlier in the season, that’s no longer the case. Over the rest of the year, I would probably expect only slightly better than what you projected for him in the first place.

My gosh, just when everyone had given up on Matt Kemp, he goes and does this. But really, this is the same Kemp we’ve always known. What happened last year is his FB% fell below 30% for the first time, but it has rebounded this year, and his BABIP is back up to his glory day levels. His LD% is at a career high, and he still pops out less frequently than average. While I wouldn’t bet on him sustaining a .360+ BABIP, there’s really nothing here that we haven’t seen before. I would expect a strong second half, albeit without a .300 batting average.





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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Here for the Max Muncy info. See I’m not getting it. Not sure why “not drafted” would be a disqualifier for this type of article, but ok. Hoping to read something soon on changes for Muncy, expectations rest of season, and even moving forward as a player.