Whoa! Bacon. by Nicklaus Gaut July 29, 2022 It’s Friday and I’m back from vacation, so let’s talk about bacon. Well, wOBAcon, anyways, or, weighted on-base average on contact, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Simply put, it’s how much damage a batter does when actually making contact. Easy-greasy. Like all metrics, a big wOBAcon (and xwOBAcon) is not an end-all for guaranteed success, as even if the numbers are outlandish, you still actually have to make contact (cough-Roey Nall0-cough). This is why we’ll also check in on contact rates, both in terms of changes from last season and month-to-month changes this season. To take things one step further, we’ll also look at Swing% changes for both in (zSw%) and out (oSw%) of the zone. More specifically, the difference between the two (zSw% – oSw%). But since I am a fan of brevity (when talking to strangers in public, anyways), we’ll use Z-O as it’s designation. Again, this isn’t a measure that tells the whole story and increases/decreases don’t guarantee success or failure. For example, Paul Goldschmidt’s 28.6 Z-O in 2022 (dropping six points in zSw% and increasing 4 points in oSw% compared to 2021) is in the 5th percentile, which is down from the 37th last season, and the 47th in 2019 and 2020. And yet, ol’ Goldy’s seems to be doing just fine I think. But Z-O can give an excellent window into how a batter is seeing/attacking the zone and is one of my favorites for judging discipline and overall comfort. Numbers are through July 27 and now the preamble is over. Let’s get some quick hits in on who’s been a turkey and who’s been getting crispy. Damn, now I’m just hungry. Austin Riley, ATL – Austin Riley just won’t stop smacking the daylights out of baseballs, collecting four doubles in his past three games and currently running a .514 wOBAcon and .505 xwOBAcon that are the best of his young career and are nearly fifty points higher than when his power first arrived in 2019. And his numbers on contact in July, are obscene, frankly. Riley is slashing .413/.455/.859 over 99 PA, with 10 HR and a .670 wOBAcon. His excellent velocities have always been killer but they’ve gone to a whole, new level in 2022, with a Brl% in the 96th percentile (up from the 88th), an Air% average EV in the 97th percentile (up from the 80th), and an Air% (100+ mph) in the 98th percentile (up from the 90th). Ob. Scene. Riley had already “broken out” but this 2022 performance has risen to the thickest layer of fantasy cream. Adjust his long-term value accordingly. Jose Miranda, MIN – Miranda was one of the two rookie hitters (along with Jeremy Peña) that I invested heavily in during draft season but while Peña hit the ground running, Miranda has done a lot of struggling, both with his bat and his playing time. But things have heated up during the summer, with Miranda now slashing .341/.384/.566 over 138 PA since the start of June, with 7 HR and 30 RBI. Miranda has not only shown an excellent feel for zone (his 44.8% Z-O is in the 83rd percentile) but what he’s done on contact continues to go up, with a paltry .267 wOBAcon in his first month rising to a .459 wOBAcon in June, and a .531 wOBAcon in July. The Twins lineup has gotten more crowded since the return of Miguel Sano and might get more so, depending on what they do at the deadline, but to me, Miranda has done more than enough to justify a continued everyday role. Cal Raleigh, SEA – Splitting time with Luis Torrens for most of the season, Raleigh turned it up after Torrens hit the IL in late June and has kept the lion’s share even after his return, starting 11 of Seattle’s 14 games since. The power is nice (14 HR in 236 PA) but a .245 AVG since the start of June (.143 AVG in April/May) has been the real leap in terms of his roto value, as finding a decent catcher on the wire without a sub-.240 AVG is mostly impossible. In his limited 2021 season, Raleigh showed the same aggression in the zone as he has this year (80.6% Contact%, 80.0% Contact%) but the big change has come from a dip in chasing. Raleigh had a 43.2% oSwing% in 2021 but has dropped a whopping 12 points in 2022, running a 31.4% oSw% – or, about the difference of going from Javier Báez to Bryan Reynolds. Subtract that improvement from his zSw% and Raleigh has an impressive 48.6% Z-O that puts him in the 93rd percentile, up from the 26th percentile in 2021. With power and a batting average that won’t kill you, Raleigh’s Roster% seems way too low. Yordan Alvarez, HOU – No one needs reminding of how good Alvarez has been this year but it still feels like he isn’t getting his proper due, considering that his top-notch roto stats (3rd in HR, 7th in R, 7th in RBI) have come over just 341 PA, trailing those ahead of him by 60+ PA. What he’s doing on contact is insane, with a career-high .562 xwOBAcon and a .526 wOBAcon that is up from a .460 wOBAcon in 2021 but what’s really scary is how much more of it that he’s making, currently running a 77.9% Contact% that is up from 73% last season and 70% in 2019. But even more dangerous (for opposing pitchers, that is) is that his plate discipline (which already wasn’t exactly terrible) has also made giant leaps, with a 14.7% BB% that is back to what it was in 2019 but an 18.5% K% that is down around seven points from what he’s posted previously. This tracks, considering his 65.1% zSw% is up three points and a 21.1% oSw% is down five points Add those changes together and you’re left with a 44.0% Z-O that is in the 78th percentile in 2022, up from the 17th percentile in his two previous seasons. More contact, more damage, and better plate discipline? The days of getting Alvarez in the late-2nd/3rd round are officially over. Pete Alonso, NYM – I would like to take a moment to apologize to the human polar bear, as I rostered exactly zero Alonso in 2022. Fortunately, it didn’t really hurt me in a practical sense, as Paul Goldschmidt was my preferred option at first base but an apology is still in order. It’s not that I thought he’d be bad, regress, yada-yada-yada. More, it was that I thought we knew what we were getting – 35+ HR, ~100 RBI, and a .260ish AVG. Which is good! But not what I wanted to pay a top-50 price for. But his improved contact rate from last year (77.4% in 2021, up from around 70% in 2019-20) has completely stuck around and has shown up in a .281 AVG that is 20-points higher than his career average. And this average bump is the separating factor for fantasy, even with a .443 wOBAcon that isn’t quite the height of a .487 wOBAcon from his rookie season. Again, I’m sorry, Mr. Pete. Please continue mauling. Javier Báez, DET – Ahh, what we can really say about Javier Báez that hasn’t already been said about Nickelback, or Deadpool in his first movie? Well, for starters, Báez’s numbers on contact have absolutely fallen off of a cliff in 2022, with a .337 wOBAcon (.332 xwOBAcon) that is down from a .498 wOBAcon (.332 xwOBAcon), virtually taking his damage done from Rafael Devers to Victor Robles. Woof. And things are even direr when looking at his splits by handedness, as his already bad numbers are being propped up mightily with above-average rates against left-handers. Báez has a .944 OPS/.396 wOBA vs LHP but just a .534 OPS/.237 wOBA vs RHP. And on contact, things are somehow worse – Báez has a .478 wOBAcon (.435 xwOBAcon) vs LHP but just a .286 wOBAcon (.294 xwOBAcon) vs RHP. Double woof. Hopefully, he’s not in the first year of a massive contract. Yan Gomes, CHC – Gomes is just a backup but that might change any day, as the Cubs’ starting catcher, Willson Contreras, is seemingly guaranteed to get moved by the trading deadline. That makes him very interesting and not just because of the natural value bump that comes with more playing time, as Gomes has made some serious gains in regards to his rate of contact. He’s still virtually allergic to walks but a 15.3% K% is a career low, as is an 8.6% SwStr%. But while his 84.3% Contact% is also a new best (and by five points!), it’s also been increasing every month in 2022, rising from 76.9% to 80.9% from April to May, then to 86.0% in June, and now 90.5% in July. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed but a catcher with a high-contact rate, low strikeout rate, and a new, full-time job, can be useful, particularly in leagues with a deeper, two-catcher setup, à la NFBC. Myles Straw, CLE – With a .219 AVG and only 17 SB, the Straw man has been an actual strawman for fantasy value and is currently living at the bottom of Cleveland’s order. He’ll never hit the ball hard enough to do much damage but at least his Contact% is getting back to an elite zone. Straw’s 83.4% Contact% is up five points from last season but a 93.3% Contact% in July has been stellar and more contact with his level of speed won’t be a bad thing. Hopefully, the batting average will continue to rise to what we’ve seen before, with a .280 AVG in July representing a far cry from a .178 AVG in May and a .149 AVG in June. And with more hits, more bags should follow. If Straw is going to be a plus-contributor at AVG/SB the rest of the way, a 25% Roster% will be way too low. Counterpoint: So. Many. Ifs. Trevor Story, BOS – He’s still on the IL (out since July 13 with a contusion on his right hand) but we need to talk about Trevor. The fantasy world was freaking out after his poor start to the year, failing to hit his first home run until May 11 but that hysteria cooled down, particularly after he went triple dong on May 19. But is all, really well? Because it seems to me that Story had a really strong month of May but has mostly struggled for the rest of the year: Trevor Story 2022 May vs The Rest Date G PA HR HR/PA R R/PA RBI RBI/PA SB AVG OBP SLG The Rest 54 222 6 .027 30 .135 26 .117 5 .223 .276 .374 May 27 120 9 .075 19 .158 32 .267 5 .218 .325 .525 The bad batting average has stayed consistently bad all year but the continued degradation of his numbers on contact is even more troubling. A 30.7% K% (35.8% K% vs LHP) is unseemly, as is the matching 65.8% Contact%, which is a career-low and is down eight points from the ~73% that it’s been the past two seasons. But even when he does make contact, the damage being done is nowhere close to what we’ve seen in the past. Story has a .409 wOBAcon for the season which is right where he was in 2021 (.405 wOBAcon) but is a far cry from >.490 wOBAcon he posted in 2018-2019, or even from a .462 wOBAcon in 2020. And his expected stats are even uglier when looking month by month, going .347 (April), .550 (May), .306 (June), and .346 (July). With the Red Sox continuing their summer death spiral and likely being sellers at the deadline, I wouldn’t count on Story returning from the IL to be a second-half hero for your offense. Keston Hiura, MIL – He’s (mercifully) currently back in the minors but Hiura has at least put up absolutely monstrous numbers on contact in 2022, posting a .608 wOBAcon and .525 xwOBAcon, even if he doesn’t actually make contact very often, with a 43.8% K% and a basement-level 48.4% Contact% that is somehow 10 points lower than even what you’re getting from Joey Gallo. But what makes his damage on contact even more impressive is that they include some pretty brutal numbers against left-handed pitching – Hiura has a .835(!) wOBAcon (.715 xwOBAcon) vs RHP but just a .339 wOBAcon (.306 xwOBAcon) vs LHP. However, the real crime (for Milwaukee fans, anyway), is that a contending team continued allowing him to even face LHP, with 45% of his PAs in 2022 coming against them.