(Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)
2017 seemed like a year that was filled with players breaking out. Whether it was the fly ball revolution, the increased access to statcast data, or just an outlier year there are loads of players that raised their level of production. Here we are going to look at three of them and try to find out what we should expect in 2018.
Scooter Gennett (2B, Cincinnati Reds)
Scooter produced top 10 2B value in 2017 largely due to the 27 home runs and a .295 batting average he put up. He started the season without a full time spot in the lineup but things changed once he hit four home runs in one game. From that date (June 6) on he was the sixth best 2B; if you exclude Anthony Rizzo he was actually the fifth best 2B. So how real was the uptick in production? xStats.org gave Scooter Gennett 22.1 expected home runs, suggesting that the 27 he hit in 2017 was a bit on the lucky side. 22 home runs is still a massive improvement for a player who’s previous totals were 6, 9, 6, and 14 in the previous four seasons. A 37.6% fly ball percentage and a 34.4% hard hit rate both suggest 20+ home runs is a good bet. The hard hit rate was what really changed from the past, as this was his first full year in the 30’s at all. Given his age (27), I don’t see why this shouldn’t continue. The power could be reasonably be expected to yield 20-25 home runs.
The .295 batting average was also a big bump up from recent years. The .339 BABIP can be compared to the .312 xBABIP, which would be much more in line with the past couple seasons. Pair that slightly inflated BABIP with a contact rate of 79% (which is good but not exceptional) you could probably expect a .270-.280 batting average as more likely. That represents an improvement from recent years as well as recognizing he probably was a little lucky in 2017.
The good news for Scooter Gennett is that playing time should no longer be a problem. Zack Cozart is out of Cincinnati and the starting 2B job should be all Gennett’s. Top prospect Nick Senzel is approaching the majors but Jose Peraza might be the odd man out when that time comes. Gennett has also started getting some time in the outfield as well, giving them some more flexibility to keep him in the lineup. Gennett currently has an ADP in the 220 range but given he could be expected to hit .275 with 22ish home runs he might be undervalued. He’s an excellent MI option but could be expected to fill a starting 2B slot comfortably if you find yourself waiting til the end of drafts on a 2B.
Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners)
The hype on Haniger in April was out of hand. There were breakouts happening all over baseball and people didn’t care what was real or not, we just wanted to pump these guys as future studs. Well Haniger got smothered out pretty fast, as in late April he pulled his oblique. Oblique injuries are known to linger and sap power. He finally returned in the second week of June but in July he missed some time as he smashed his finger on a pitch while trying to bunt. Playing with a bum finger didn’t last long as on July 29 he took a Jacob DeGrom fastball to the face. On August 19 he was finally deemed ready to return to baseball. So no matter how you look at it we’ve got a really mixed bag of statistics to analyze.
Let’s start with the full season stats: 96 games with a 58/16/47/5/.282 batting line. That paces out to 94/26/76/8/.282 over 155 games; that’s not half bad for a rookie season. Some skepticism is warranted as he had a .338 BABIP, well over the .305 xBABIP xStats gives him. But ultimately we still have a player with a 36.7% fly ball percentage, 34.7% hard hit rate, and 79.3% contact rate, all very strong for a rookie season. Those numbers all are eerily similar to Scooter Gennett‘s numbers we just covered, so does that mean Haniger is also a 20-25 home run player? Well let’s remember these are full season numbers and therefore are muddled with injury recovery time.
We never will know for sure how healthy Mitch Haniger was between injuries, but one thing we do know for sure is that in April and September Haniger was completely healthy. Post-oblique injury time has a long history of having depressed power production and playing through a bruised finger could certainly be expected to limit production as well. So let’s look at April/September production. In April Haniger was the 12th ranked outfielder and in September he was the 13th ranked outfielder. Combining those two months of stats you get a 37/11/30/4/.348 over 49 games. Without going into more statistical detail, xStats essentially supports this production while suggesting a batting average more towards the .295-.300 range.
Mitch Haniger currently has an ADP in the 190s and gets ranked in the top 50-60 outfielder range. While you can’t entirely expect Haniger to produce at his peak production over a full season, I think he does deserve a little more credit than he’s being given. Thankfully for you, the injuries help mask all this and therefore make him a very solid producer you can get later on in your fantasy drafts. With the addition off Dee Gordon, Haniger is likely to bat 5th or 6th next year so I am expecting the R/RBI production to shift a bit. I’m projecting a line in the range of 85/28/95/10/.270 in 2018, which suggests a very large discount given where you can get him.
Travis Shaw (3B, Milwaukee Brewers)
Shaw produced as the fourth best 3B of 2017, ahead of Kris Bryant. His final line was 84/31/101/10/.273 and was a big part of the Brewers shift from rebuilding to success. But no one is drafting him like that as he’s currently going as the 11th best 3B with an ADP around 90. Judging by the underlying stats he looks to be about fairly valued. A 80% contact rate, 37% hard hit rate, and 37% fly ball percentage all are right where you’d want them to be for a power hitter. Better yet, his first/second half splits also show consistency other than the batting average. His first half BABIP was too high at .333 which resulted in a .299 batting average while his second half was too low at .284 which resulted in a .242 batting average. His true talent seems to be right in the middle, he’s a good bet for a .265-.270 batting average.
The Brewers are going to continue hitting Shaw 3rd or 4th in the lineup, which works perfectly with the newly acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich batting 1st and 2nd atop that order. With 101 RBIs last year there is potential for improvement. Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna hit for 132 and 124 RBIs last year, respectively, and given Shaw isn’t quite at the same talent level I think we could project for closer to 115 RBIs. Yelich and Cain might be the best 1/2 hitters in baseball right now.
All other factors look good for Travis Shaw. He will be turning 28 years old in 2018, he plays in Milwaukee (a good hitter’s park), and the lineup is much improved. While I think Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Turner are all clearly a talent tier above Shaw, I’d take him next (Alex Bregman as well but he’s likely being taken as a SS). I’d be comfortable with the safety of Shaw over Rafael Devers, Miguel Sano, or Jake Lamb, who are getting taken right around the same time. Bottom line is Travis Shaw had a breakout season and everything points to him being good player that should lead the non-elite tier of third-basemen.