Who’s Been (Un)lucky, Hitter Edition

Now let’s look—in our 100th Fangraphs article; yeah, we’re amazed, too—at hitters who were unlucky or lucky last season, and thus figure to do better or worse than people who are relying on last season’s stats think they will. Our method is simple, and is the inverse of the approach we took to pitchers last week. We look for players whose relevant stats are incongruent: their hard-hit percentage was high (or low) while their BABIP and Home Run/Flyball Percentage was low (or high). This incongruity of input and output signifies, we posit, that luck played an undue role in these guys’ 2018 season, and that Fortune, avulsive as always, will redirect the currents of their careers back to their natural course. Or something like that.

We’re sorry to say that the group of unfortunate guys is kind of meh. Whereas in 2017 (Marcell Ozuna) and 2018 (Mookie Betts) we were able to direct you to really good hitters who figured to do even better than the market predicted, we don’t have anyone like that this season. For example: the unluckiest hitter of 2018 was, hands down, 30-year-old backup catcher Roberto Perez. But what does that mean? That he will hit .207/.291/.397, as he did in 2017, rather than .168/.256/.263, as he did last year? That makes him a not-bad selection as your fourth catcher in a really deep league, but that’s about it. As you’ll see below, the action this year is with the lucky players. Still, there were a few interesting unlucky guys, and here they are:

UNLUCKY HITTERS

Manuel Margot (NFBC Average Draft Position 246). The projection systems we trust—BATS and Ariel Cohen’s ATC—have Margot doing exactly what he did in 2017: .263/.313/.409 rather than last year’s .245/.292/.394. They are presumably taking into account last season. We’re inclined to disregard it, and instead project that Margot (who is only 24) will put up numbers that are about what you’d have projected going into 2018—say .270/.320/420, which means we’d take him a round or so earlier than the market does.

There are two raps on Margot, one of which concerns us, one of which doesn’t. The Padres outfield is crowded, and there’s a chance that he will be the short side of a center-field platoon, or maybe even a fifth outfielder. We doubt it, though. Margot’s a terrific center fielder, and the guy he’ll supposedly platoon with—Franchy Cordero—is a dreadful one, and a .230 hitter to boot. His other competition for the job, Travis Jankowski, is fast and has a good glove like Margot, and will get on base more often, but has absolutely no power, whereas Margot could hit 15 home runs if he plays every day.

The problem with Margot is that he has trouble stealing bases in the major leagues. Honestly, we have never seen a player who looks faster than Margot does on the bases. And he stole as many as 42 bases in the minors. But somehow, his speed isn’t translating to major league success. He stole only 11 in 21 tries last season, and that’s a losing percentage. If he stops running entirely, he may not be worth even his ADP, much less the foregoing rosy prediction. We’ll still take a shot, but you may not want to.

Brian Dozier (ADP 140). We have absolutely nothing good to say about Dozier’s time with the Twins last season. It was bad, and we can’t excuse it, except perhaps by positing the kind of malaise that must set in when your supposedly contending team is 22-30 at the end of May. What we can tell you is that you shouldn’t hold Dozier’s time with the Dodgers (.182/.300/.350) against him, because he was really unlucky, and evidently hated to hit in Dodger Stadium. And now he’s in Washington, where the ballpark plays to his right-handed power. There’s reason to be wary—his average fly ball distance declined last year, and he’s turning 32 soon, so it may not recover—but he’s probably worth his ADP or a bit more.

Evan Longoria (ADP 343). Here’s the unlucky guy we really like. The market is taking him in the reserve rounds, and he wasn’t taken at all in the recent 15-teams-of-29 players LABR Mixed Auction. Come on, fellas. Longoria was doing okay (10 HR in 256 AB) despite bad luck until he broke his hand—or, more precisely, had it broken for him by Dan Straily—on June 14th. He had surgery and was out for six weeks. Plainly, the injury sapped his power: 3 home runs in 108 at bats at home in Frisco before, 1 in 106 after. We’re inclined to write off last season, and envision merely the normal age-related decline of a very good player: maybe .260 with 20 home runs, even playing half his games in AT&T Park. That means he should be going about six rounds earlier than he is, and we were accordingly ecstatic to get him in the 23rd round of our recently-completed slow draft.

LUCKY HITTERS

Charlie Blackmon (ADP 25). Superficially, of course, Blackmon’s season was great—just not as great as 2017. The market’s predicting more of the same. We’re not so sure. First of all, the fact that he was the worst center fielder in the majors last year suggests a precipitous decline in his speed, and it’s confirmed by Bill James’s detection of a decline in his stolen base attempt time. His power was way down, too, from an average fly ball distance of 190 to an AFBD of 173, which is enormous. So don’t count on him for even 10 stolen bases or more than 20 home runs. Plus the guy will turn 33, and that, combined with the likely disappearance of his good fortune, could mean trouble. How much trouble? Something like .270 with 20 home runs and five stolen bases wouldn’t astonish us, and we wouldn’t take him until the 10th round at the absolute earliest.

Javier Baez (ADP 14). We don’t know what to make of him. He put up the same unusual set of granular stats that he did in 2017: high average home run distance, low average fly ball distance; high BABIP, though not an undue number of infield hits; high HR/FB ratio, which is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect given the average fly ball data; low hard-hit and high soft-hit percentages. All the signs suggest extreme good fortune, except now he’s done it two years in a row. Still, if you want him in the first or even the second round, as far as we’re concerned he’s yours.

Jonathan Villar (ADP 87). To those of you besotted by Villar’s stolen bases and expecting—as do Ariel Cohen and the market as a whole—a repeat of last season’s .260/.325/.384 slugfest, we say: Who cares that he’s 27? Have you forgotten 2017, when Villar followed 2016’s .285/.369/.457 with .241/.273/.372 and likely torpedoed the season of anyone who drafted him early? Except his 2016 wasn’t lucky, whereas his 2018 was. Villar’s real fast, and that’s not going away. Nor is his home run output, at least while he’s in Baltimore. But we wouldn’t count on anything better than what you got in 2017, and the lineup he’ll be part of will suppress his runs and RBIs. His stats should resemble those of Ahmed Rosario (ADP 142). We’d rather have Villar, but not by much.

We hoped you liked reading Who’s Been (Un)lucky, Hitter Edition by The Birchwood Brothers!

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The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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