Now let’s try to identify hitters who in 2019 were lucky or unlucky, and consider what to do about them in 2020. We use the same factors we discussed last week in our look at lucky and unlucky pitchers, but we invert them. Thus, a lucky hitter is one with a high 2019 BABIP and a high HR/FB ratio but a low hard-hit percentage, while an unlucky one had a low BABIP and a low HR/FB ratio but a high hard-hit percentage. This method didn’t cover itself with glory last season—it got the unlucky guys mostly right, but was 0 for 3 on the lucky ones—but It’s had better success in the past. Let’s take it out for one more spin:
—Michael Chavis. We don’t have strong feelings about Chavis, except that we don’t want him at anything like his current NFBC Average Draft Position of 236. Supposedly, he will divide his time between first and second base. He’s a right-handed hitter with way more power against lefties than righties. A full-time job at first base might have made him worth getting, but the Red Sox just signed Mitch Moreland, who (unlike Chavis) has a good glove and can still, deep into his career, murder right-handed pitching. As for second base—the Red Sox have Jose Peraza, whose dreadful 2019, as we said three weeks ago, we are inclined to write off to bad luck and an ill-conceived attempt to hit with power, and who, unlike Chavis, can play second base as opposed to just standing near it. We figure Chavis gets perhaps 200 at bats, most against lefties, and hits .250 with a dozen or so home runs. Not what you want in the 15th round.
—Bo Bichette. There’s no question that, by the metrics we’re using, Bichette is the luckiest hitter of 2019. But what do you do with that fact? Well, you probably don’t take him in the fourth or fifth round. (His ADP is 71, and he’s been taken as early as the 46th pick). Bichette could well turn out to be a great player very soon, and anyone would predict some regression from Bichette’s amazing debut, but we think even the projectors—who are essentially unanimous—are flattering him. We envision something between .260 and .270. The home runs we don’t know about—maybe he suddenly grew into his power upon reaching the majors last year, maybe not; maybe the ball will be juiced again, and maybe they’ll spend the season playing with a dead squash ball—but we note, as an added caution, that his stolen base percentage was nothing special, so that if you’re counting on him for steals, you shouldn’t be.
—Kris Bryant. He barely edged into this category, so if you want to ignore what we’re telling you and expect no more than the slight age-related regression the projectors foresee, we won’t argue. He certainly is an interesting leadoff hitter. But: heretofore, we’d written off Bryant’s (relatively) weak 2017 as injury-related. Now we’re not so sure. And if you think he’s going to hit, say, 20 or 25 home runs rather than 30, the fourth round (his ADP is 57) is a bit too early.
—Danny Jansen. Jansen’s .207/.279/.360 last year has to be an aberration, just as his .218/.313/.271 in high-A ball in 2016 was. The question is, having hit the depths, how high can he bounce back? Looking at his minor league numbers, we’d say to at least .260, probably higher, possibly a lot higher. So we’ve got a young catcher who, in the 400 plate appearances he figures to get, should hit 12 to 15 home runs with, let’s say, a .270 batting average. Roughly what you’d expect from Wilson Ramos, who, at ADP 176, is going about seven rounds earlier than Jansen (ADP 277).
—Josh VanMeter. This is the kind of thing that we—as conoisseurs of the downtrodden and neglected—live for. VanMeter, we think, can really hit. That .348/,429/.669 in Triple-A last year is induplicable anywhere but slow-pitch softball, but that leaves a lot of room for regression. Moreover, although he didn’t show it in the majors last season, Van Meter, a left-handed hitter, can hit left-handed pitching pretty well. Furthermore, he plays all over the field, so—though at the moment he doesn’t have a regular job on the suddenly-bulked-up Reds—he should get a fair share of plate appearances. If he gets 200, he should get at least 10 home runs and five stolen bases, and could hit .300. Not a bad guy to be able to plug in to your lineup when you need a plug, and—with an ADP of 456—he should be readily available when you’re ready for him.
—Stephen Piscotty. In 2018, when he was 27, Piscotty hit 27 home runs with a slash line of .267/.331/.491. This wasn’t out of line with what he’d done theretofore, and thus the market made him an 11th-round draft choice (ADP 160) for 2019. His numbers last year were weak, but he had a Joblike series of injuries, and, as we say, he was unlucky. And now his ADP is 359. In other words, this guy, who when he’s healthy is a full-time starter for a playoff-caliber team, is a reserve-round pick. Maybe he should be, because he sure does have a hard time staying healthy. But we still think the market may be selling him short, and would be glad to (and did) take him a few rounds earlier.
—-Jesus Aguilar. We’re adding him at the last minute. He barely makes this list, and there’s absolutely nothing good to be said about his 2019. Moreover, even granting that he was unlucky, his 350 ADP means he’s no particular bargain. However: he’s a year removed from 35 home runs; he’s got a full-time job as the Marlins’ first baseman and no platoon split or platoon partner; he’s not 30 yet; his record in Miami—yes, we know; it was against Marlins pitchers—is very good; the changes in the ballpark may make it more power-friendly; and for all we know, he’s in the best shape of his life and only wants to help the team win, because everyone else is and does, right?
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.