The World of the Weird and Extreme — Through April, a Review

The best part of small sample stats are the enjoyment we get from finding the weird and the extreme. This year at the beginning of May, I discussed a variety of players riding on one side of the bell curve. Let’s revisit these players and stats and find out how they performed the rest of the way.

Mike Trout, Godly

walk and strikeout rates, SwStk%

Trout enjoyed a typical Troutian April with a .428 wOBA. But it was the shape of that performance that was eye-popping — an insane 24.4% walk rate, tiny 11.8% strikeout rate, and microscopic 2.5% SwStk%. Was it possible Trout was rising to an even higher level? Nope, he completely reverted back to pre-April Trout the rest of the season and those three metrics ended up right in line with previous seasons.

Walk This Way

walk rate

After April, the shocking player ranking seventh in walk rate was none other than Niko Goodrum with a 17.5% mark. That proved to be a complete fluke, as he fell back to just a 7.8% mark the rest of the way. Perhaps he was facing a slew of pitchers with poor control? Walk rate seems like a relatively stable skill, so it’s odd for a hitter to enjoy an entire month of an elite rate just to drop to below average immediately after.

Hits Fallin’ In Everywhere

BABIP, LD%

Remember when Dexter Fowler stunk up the joint in 2018? He came roaring back in April of this year, posting a .407 BABIP driven by a 35.6% line drive rate. That, however, wasn’t a sign of a transformed Fowler motivated by his disappointing previous year. The rest of the way, he posted just a .269 BABIP and a more normalized 23.2% LD%.

Brian Goodwin was an excellent AL-Only draft day buy, rewarding owners in April with solid play while filling in for Justin Upton. He posted a .404 BABIP, fueled by a 29.5% LD%. While this wasn’t exactly a sign of things to come, he still managed to post a .319 BABIP and 23.1% LD% the rest of the way. Finishing with 17 homers and seven steals, he yielded a nice profit for savvy buyers.

Nope, Not a Small Sample Fluke

LD%

Luke Voit enjoyed a memorable 161 plate appearances upon joining the Yankees in 2018, making him one of the biggest question marks from a projection perspective. He came out hot in 2019, posting a 34.6% line drive rate, though that only resulted in a .314 BABIP. His LD% did predictably regress the rest of the way, all the way down to 22.4%, but his BABIP actually surged to .355, perhaps making up for the poor fortune he suffered in April.

Homers and Nothing Else

FB%, LD%

It was a strange first month for Eddie Rosario, as he ranked third in baseball with 11 homers, doubled his HR/FB rate, pushed his FB% above 50%, and posted just a 10.3% LD%, good for third worst in baseball. Naturally, the rest of the season was far more normal, as his FB% dropped to 40.1%, while his LD% rose to an above average 22.6%.

Ya Can’t Hit a Home Run on a Ground Ball (that isn’t misplayed)

GB%

While many hitters were embracing the fly ball revolution, not everyone participated. Wilson Ramos and Willy Adames continued to be a worm’s worst enemy, knocking grounder after grounder. The pair posted a grounder rate near 63% and 61%, respectively over the first month. Did they become more fly ball happy the rest of the way? Ramos nope, Adames yup. Ramos’ ground ball rate was virtually unchanged all season. On the other hand, Adames reduced his grounder rate to just 44.2%, far more in line with the league average. Without any speed, Adames must hit fly balls to contribute in homers or he’ll be useless to fantasy teams.

Speedy Guys Hitting Flies

FB%

Just because we have dubbed a batted ball trend “The Fly Ball Revolution” doesn’t mean everyone should participate. This is especially true for speedy guys with league average or worse power. Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Jose Peraza, and Victor Robles were all sporting fly ball rates of at least 50% after April. While these guys certainly have some power potential (some more than others), there’s absolutely no argument to be made that any of them should be hitting fly balls that frequently. So did they swap out those flies for more grounders or liners the rest of the way? Yes, yes they did!

But they did so to a varying degree. Buxton continued to hit significantly more flies than grounders, posting a FB% of nearly 46%. Polanco was similar, but posted a slightly lower FB% of about 43%. On the other hand, both Peraza and Robles pushed their FB% marks below 40%, which was probably needed to optimize their output. Peraza, though, is still likely too high at 39.7%, as he possesses the least power potential of the four.

Introducing the Next David Eckstein!

strikeout rate, SwStk%, Z-Contact%

David Fletcher was a contact king in April, posting a strikeout rate of just 4.3%, SwStk% of 1.8%, and a 97.5% Z-Contact%. That’s crazy! Since he owns little power, he needs to put as many balls in play to maximize his offensive contributions. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, he wasn’t able to maintain these metrics at the same elite levels the rest of the way. Maybe I should rephrase and say they did remain elite, but not nearly to the same degree. His strikeout rate rose to 10.7%, which is still fantastic, while his SwStk% nearly doubled to 3.5%, but that’s certainly still elite, and his Z-Contact% dropped, but to a still impressive 95.9%.

***
So what have we learned from this? Small sample size, small sample size, small sample size. It’s extraordinarily difficult to look at the only stats in the book after April comes to a close and not let that influence your projection moving forward. But every single one of the players discussed here did perform more or less in line with initial expectations over the rest of the season after posting some extreme stats in April.

We hoped you liked reading The World of the Weird and Extreme — Through April, a Review by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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I think this is important. Lots of baseball literate folks are able to look at things like babip, FIP, hr/fb% and say “ok, that’s a weird result in a small sample and not likely predictive.” I don’t think we’ve fully realized that the underlying metrics you’re describing can be screwy themselves in a small sample.