(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Let’s take a look at a few more breakouts from 2017 and try to determine what we can expect in 2018.
Ian Happ (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs)
Happ has gotten decent reviews the past couple years coming up through the minors. His pedigree is a polished college bat with some good power and speed. That’s roughly what we saw in the majors as he produced 24 home runs and 8 stolen bases in 115 games. The power was a little more than expected but given the league-wide power boost it’s not shocking. On contact, Happ produced great results. 32.8% hard hit rate and a 39.7% fly ball percentage certainly point to the power being real while the 25.3% HR/FB rate suggests he maybe got a little lucky with home runs (25% is typical of the Cody Bellinger/Paul Goldschmidt types).
The problem with Happ, however, is that contact doesn’t happen nearly as often as it needs to. A 67.3% contact rate is around where Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, and Khris Davis usually reside, and unless you have 40 home run type power you have no business making contact that infrequently. Even thought the BABIP didn’t seem all that inflated at .316, it is on the high side and if Happ fell from the .253 batting average down to the .235-.245 range, he would no longer be worth rostering for the power. This is somewhat confirmed by xStats which pegs Happ for a .236 xAVG and Baseball Savant who gives him a .229 xAVG.
Let’s not forget that Ian Happ is essentially a super utility player for the Cubs. Only in one month did he start 20 games or more. For a player with an ADP in the 120s, that’s a lot of downside to bear. In the 10th round people should still be drafting their starters but Happ only warrants a bench spot. At 2B I’d suggest going with safer options in Eduardo Nunez, Paul DeJong, or Ian Kinsler who are all going after Happ in ADP. At OF I’d take Eddie Rosario, Ender Inciarte, or Jay Bruce who are all going after Happ as well.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians)
Ramirez was the breakout of all breakouts. He went from being a back end 2B/3B option to producing the 11th most valuable season among all hitters. First hitting the majors at 20 years old, he really didn’t start producing until his age 23 season (2016). But in 2017 he took it to a whole new level producing a 107/29/83/17/.318 batting line. A first glance at xStats indicates that the batting average is real but the power is inflated with a xAVG of .317 and xHR of 24.3.
Breaking this down further we see on FanGraphs that Ramirez had an excellent 39.7% fly ball percentage and a solid 34.0% hard hit rate. What jumps out to me, however, is that each previous season for Ramirez was below a 27% hard hit rate. While I don’t expect him to fall all the way back to where he was, I do expect something closer to a 30% hard hit rate. So now we have two things to worry about: first that the 29 home runs he did hit were a little lucky and second that he might be due for a bit of regression.
Jose Ramirez has always had a contact rate that suggests a very high batting average is likely, I don’t have any concerns there. I’m expecting home runs closer to the 18-22 range in the future, however, which comes as a sizable drop off from 29. And now you are relying on him not losing any more stolen bases. He went from 22 in 2016 to 17 in 2017. If he continues the trend and goes to 12 in 2018 we are all of a sudden disappointed. If you have watched Jose Ramirez before you know he has gotten a little wider around the middle the last few years, so speed reduction does not come as a surprise.
Don’t get me wrong, Jose Ramirez is a stud. I can reasonably expect a line of 100/20/80/12/.300, but that’s starting to look a lot closer to a Javier Baez line than you probably want to admit. But the real problem is that Jose Ramirez currently has an ADP of 21, right at the back end of the 2nd round. As the 4th 3B off the board (ahead of Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and Anthony Rendon) and the 3rd 2B off the board I want someone with a lot more safety. I think Jose Ramirez maxed out his abilities last year and he’s being drafted as if that’s the guaranteed new norm. My recommendation would be to go take Anthony Rendon down in the 5th round for similar production and far more safety.
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
39 home runs for a rookie in 132 games is enough to get anyone irrationally excited. It’s obvious from the scouting reports through the minors and his major league performance that Bellinger is going to have a very interesting and successful career. Bellinger has an ADP of 23, a point in drafts where guaranteed production should be expected. Quite frankly, looking at all the underlying numbers I really don’t have much of an opinion to offer. He started very hot out of the gate and cooled off a little more the final couple months but most of his numbers still look excellent.
His hard hit rate and fly ball percentage were both well over 40% consistently, suggesting big power is real. His walk rate and strikeout rates were both very solid for a power hitter each month of the season. He gets started nearly every single day in a very good Dodgers lineup. And xStats verifies all of this as legitimate.
Our only concern we could have is that he might fall into a sophomore slump. I don’t see anything that suggests it’s any more or less likely than any other rookie but that’s the only real concern I see. Everything looks near elite on Cody Bellinger. As the 5th 1B off the board in early mock drafts I’d say that’s about where he belongs. I’d take his production over guys like Rhys Hoskins, Jose Abreu, or Edwin Encarnacion. At OF he’s 8th off the board just ahead of JD Martinez and George Springer. I might be inclined to take those veterans over Cody Bellinger purely from a safety standpoint. Their production isn’t going to be that much worse if they all hit their best case scenarios but the level of risk is far lower. Beyond that you get Hoskins again, Marcell Ozuna, and Nelson Cruz who all have their own questions as well. Overall I’d say Bellinger is worthy of the draft position and unlikely to disappoint.
Bellinger has a type? personally I have no clue what he is, but I know he is no Paul Goldschmidt – AKA perennial MVP candidate. Ah, it seems to be the correct time for a Bellinger rant! Full disclosure – the following is the opinion of the anonymous commenter and does not represent anything other than that. If you throw out Belly’s fluky start to his career (not fair, I know), then he looks a lot like the player he was coming up through the minors and in the second half. That would be a 1B who hits .260+- with 30 HR power. That is pretty middle-of-the road stuff for a 1B that you would have to draft really high. I don’t like using the “l” word, but he had a lot of multi-HR games – that is lucky. He feasted on a steady diet of mistakes for quite a while as pitchers wanted to exploit his approach/swing, but they did a really bad job for a while. The even gloomier stuff would be a scenario where the average plummets and he starts losing at bats. That is a real risk with him and his gruesome uppercut swing. With his approach, there is not much room in between – everything is right and he mashes or the at bats aren’t even competitive. A different version of that is Joc Pederson, but for different reasons. We saw what Belly can look like in the playoffs last year when he gets out of sync. Another interesting point that I noticed was that in the HR derby, he was the only player (I think) who couldn’t earn the bonus balls – which was due to not being able to hit the ball a minimum distance – which seems like the best way to measure raw power that we could ever have. Hitting lots of flyballs without mammoth power sound sketchy to me. I don’t think he ever repeats his rookie season is a full complement of ABs and I don’t think he is a lock for stardom. I think he is the poster-boy for the flyball revolution. My theory which I will test this year, anecdotally of course, is that the fluke performances are of much greater magnitude with juiced baseballs. I doubt that many of the 2017 flyball revolutionaries will repeat and many will fall on their face. Hitting a line drive is really difficult, hitting a flyball with a reasonable angle is even harder – it usually happens as a mistake. I don’t think it is particularly repeatable… and I doubt that it is particularly sticky year over year. Heck, even pull/oppo, which seems quite repeatable isn’t as sticky as most would think. Look at the best hitter of our generation and you will see Pujols swinging around quite a bit year over year. I imagine that repeating vertical angles is harder than horizontal angles – one is a matter of cm and the other is not nearly as precise. I remain skeptical of The Bellinger as an extreme flyball hitter without elite pop. Hopefully I am wrong – it would be awesome to have another young superstar in the league.
I enjoyed the article. Keep ’em coming.
Using the “Cody Bellinger/Paul Goldschmidt types” comparison was not meant so compare Bellinger to Goldschmidt but rather to use them as examples who have top end HR/FB rates.
I get it. I think using them in the same sentence is OK. I think a lot of people have them really close in their rankings… just not me!