The Weird and the Wonderful — Hitters Through Apr 29, 2023

There are still a number of hitting metrics to review the extreme cases, so let’s continue the weird and the wonderful on the batting side before moving over to the pitching side.

Today is Statcast day, so I’ll review hitters at the extremes of the various Statcast metrics we share on FanGraphs.

We’ll begin with the weaklings — the three hitters with the lowest maxEV. I’m going to skip the highest maxEV hitters as the names are obvious and not at all interesting. It’s a little more fun to see who has failed to hit a ball any faster than these maximum exit velocities.

The Weaklings
Name maxEV
Luis Arraez 100.3
Tony Kemp 101.6
Anthony Rendon 102.7

Gosh, Luis Arraez is fascinating. He has walked double the number of times as he has struck out, has hit over 30% of his balls in play as a line drive, is sporting a crazy .463 BABIP…and has displayed limited power. He has never posted a strong maxEV, but this is bad even for him. Last year he maxed out at 107.3 MPH and he’s never been below 102.2, which he posted his rookie season in 2019. Clearly, it doesn’t matter, though with that kind of contact ability, even moderate power could potential lead to 20 homers. But that’s just a pipe dream for fantasy owners who will just have to settle for an elite batting average and little else.

I can’t understand why the 5-22 Athletics have given Tony Kemp and his .230 wOBA 96 PAs already, but they have made a lot of head-scratching roster decisions. This maxEV is actually right in line with some past seasons, so nothing to concern yourself with here. Unlike Arraez, Kemp doesn’t have the BABIP skills to afford possessing no power, but he has walked more often in the past than the former. He’s finally losing playing time and shouldn’t be on your roster unless you’re desperate in an AL-Only league that counts OBP.

Wow, it’s quite discouraging to find Anthony Rendon ranked third here. He’s missed a large chunk of the last two seasons but was seemingly healthy heading into this season. While his walk and strikeout rates and batted ball profile are all looking good and in line, his power has completely disappeared. Given his single digit HR/FB rates the last two injury-riddled seasons, there’s not a whole lot of rebound one would expect anyway. Amazingly, he has remained in the four-hole all season, which is really the only reason to continue starting him and praying he rebounds. But if he does get dropped in the order, he probably becomes droppable in shallower mixed leagues.

These hitters are defining what it means to get “good wood” on the ball.

The Barrel Kings
Name Barrel%
Matt Chapman 31.9%
Max Muncy 27.1%
Matt Olson 23.3%
Brandon Lowe 23.1%

Well this has been quite the surprise breakout month for Matt Chapman. His strikeout rate has improved back to his 2018 and 2019 levels, as his SwStk% has returned to single digits and he’s sporting an absolutely mind-boggling Barrel%. Yet somehow, he has only managed a 14.3% HR/FB rate, which is the lowest he has posted since his 2017 debut. Where are all those barrels going if not over the fence?! With 13 doubles already, nearly halfway to last year’s total in just over one-sixth of the PAs, you got your answer. This is obviously quite the encouraging start, though it’s surprising to see a .469 BABIP paired with just a 14.5% LD% and massive 50.7% FB%. I foresee his BABIP plummeting, while his HR/FB rate rises.

After posting his lowest ISO since joining the Dodgers in 2018, Max Muncy is clearly healthy again, as he’s doing an even more extreme version of what Chapman has done. That is, he’s hitting an even lower rate of line drives, but his BABIP is low like it should be, while his HR/FB rate matches the absurd Barrel%. It’s what I expected Chapman’s line to look like. It’s amazing how often these big rebounds occur after a disappointing season, as if the hitter works even harder to rebound and ends up becoming a better hitter than he’s ever been before.

Matt Olson is giving up all his contact skills to hit for even more power, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% sits at career highs (that’s a bad thing), but no one is complaining about a .311 ISO. This is by far the best BABIP he has posted, but it’ll be difficult to sustain with a 45% FB%.

Yet again, we find a hitter coming off a disappointing year go crazy. Brandon Lowe’s 2022 was injury-riddled and ended with his lowest HR/FB rate, Barrel%, and ISO. This year, he has hit a higher rate of fly balls than ever before, but his HR/FB rate has rebounded and now sits at a career high, despite a maxEV that would represent a career low. That’s an odd combination. His strikeout rate has also spiked, and his LD% is as weak as Chapman’s above. I don’t really love the look of his profile right now.

These hitters belong to a club they do not want to be a part of.

The 0 Barrel Club
Name Barrel%
Javier Báez 0.0%
Elvis Andrus 0.0%
Dominic Smith 0.0%
Steven Kwan 0.0%
Myles Straw 0.0%

While three of these five names aren’t very surprising, two do stand out, and I’ll discuss them.

What on Earth has happened to Javier Báez’s power?! All his other metrics look normal, and even his maxEV, while slightly down, is better than league average. Yet, he has failed to hit a single barreled ball or hit a home run. I thought the changes to Comerica Park would boost his power output, but it doesn’t matter what the park’s dimensions are if he can’t even barrel a ball. Encouragingly, his strikeout rate sits at a career best, while his SwStk% is at the second lowest of his career. Perhaps the improved contact has sapped his power, but who knows.

Dominic Smith posted HR/FB rates above 22% in three of his first four partial seasons, and then his power vanished. With a maxEV at a career low of just 105.1 MPH and no barrels, it’s a wonder what has happened here. On a weak offense and a strong side platoon role at best, he’s clearly not worth waiting around for outside of NL-Only leagues.

We’re still in small sample size territory so poor results don’t necessarily mean the hitter is performing poorly, as bad luck could play a big role. That doesn’t seem to be the case for these batters. All that could be said of this group is “yikes!”.

Name xwOBA
Ezequiel Tovar 0.223
Oswaldo Cabrera 0.229
Elvis Andrus 0.245
Lane Thomas 0.254
Javier Báez 0.254
Dominic Smith 0.255
Manny Machado 0.257

I was really looking forward to drafting Ezequiel Tovar this year, but am glad I missed out on him! A potential power/speed combo, playing half his games at Coors Field, and qualifying at shortstop was quite exciting. Instead, he’s struck out a ton, and significantly more than in the minors, while he has yet to homer, despite a healthy maxEV. He also hasn’t even attempted a steal, despite swiping 17 bases in just half a season at Double-A last year. I would still hold onto him in deep leagues, as the possibility of rebounding remains for as long as he continues playing every day.

I always think of the Yankees as having unlimited depth, but here they are playing Oswaldo Cabrera most days, despite his .226 wOBA and .229 xwOBA. The power hasn’t been on display yet, and he’s been allergic to hitting line drives. Oh, and he has been quite impatient at the plate, walking just 3.4% of the time. I see the power/speed potential here, and since strikeouts haven’t been an issue, I’d stick with him in deep leagues until the Yankees find someone else.

Is it going to be Elvis Andrus or Lenyn Sosa that loses their job when Tim Anderson returns from the IL? His power has been so inconsistent throughout his career, it’s impossible to know whether he’ll rebound or not. At least he’s swiped four bases for his owners so far.

Lane Thomas found himself getting picked up by fantasy owners at times last year, but he’s done little for them this year. With a .364 BABIP, he’s actually been lucky to achieve just the .284 wOBA he has posted. His lack of power has been the real issue, as he’s posted a puny 1.5% Barrel% and is still looking for his first home run. The increased strikeout rate isn’t great, but the rest of his profile suggests he should mostly rebound to what was originally expected. If you own him in a deep league, I’d close my eyes and stick it out.

There’s Javier Báez and Dominic Smith again, confirming they have both truly been awful.

What the heck is Manny Machado doing here?! Last year, he opened the year like gangbusters, overperforming his xwOBA, and I remember racing to try to sell high, of which I failed, of course. He’s once again overperforming his xwOBA, but this time, he’s not hitting particularly well. He’s currently sitting on the scary combination of a career low LD% and career high FB%, which is usually bad news for BABIP. Even though he has posted a .278 mark, which is well below his career average, his xBA suggests he’s been lucky. His Barrel% is down at a career low, though maxEV looks good. He has also walked at the lowest rate since 2014 and his strikeout rate and SwStk% are at career highs. So it’s been a struggle, but I don’t think anything here stands out enough to really worry just yet if you’re an owner.

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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1 year ago

It’s not time to sell Machado yet. Agreed. It may get be getting awfully close to “better to sell a year early than a year late” territory though…