Whether you’re playing in a three or five outfielder league, finding the next player that’ll outperform their draft day slot is imperative to success. As your draft progresses, worry less about ADP and look at a players’ skills, adjustments, and changes. This process should help you uncover the next Cedric Mullins or Tyler O’Neill.
Hunter Renfroe (MIL)
2021 stats (572 PA): .259 AVG, 89 R, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 1 SB
One of the more surprising transactions before the lockout was a trade involving Milwaukee and Boston for Hunter Renfroe — especially when you consider his 114 wRC+ season as a member of the Red Sox. The main driver of his success came from Renfroe’s ability to maintain a robust .242 ISO while dropping his K% by nearly five percent from his previous season. Additionally, he was given more opportunities than he had ever seen, and 2021 marked Renfroe’s first time surpassing 500 plate appearances.
Below is a spray chart of Hunter Renfroe’s batted balls in Milwaukee’s home park. He isn’t going to play all his games there, but you can see there is more HR upside in his new home. Baseball Savant’s expected HRs by park would have given Renfroe four additional homers. Yes, it’s safe to say there is a ton of power in his bat; just how much more is there?
Renfroe makes a lot of sense for the speed-first drafters looking to catch up in the HR category. Could there be an upside of 40 HRs? Maybe, but 30 long balls seems like a lock for Renfroe; while also being a catalyst for an offense that made plenty of acquisitions last season. Furthermore, counting stats should be aplenty.
Michael Conforto (FA)
2021 stats (479 PA): .232 AVG, 52 R, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB
Looking back on Michael Conforto’s 2021 season, only one word comes to mind: frustrating. A poor start to his season came with a lengthy IL stint due to a hamstring injury and a positive COVID-19 test. From there, things didn’t get much better for Conforto, as his production we’ve become accustomed to never returned. So what went wrong?
Below are Conforto’s career numbers in terms of plate discipline. There are no massive changes besides a little more contact outside the zone. Instead, we see an outfielder that makes plenty of contact — good approach, and no issues here. Simply put, he was the same player he’s always been from a plate discipline aspect.
The chart below shows that his expected stats are much higher than the actual. Sure, his max exit velocity is down a couple of ticks, but the 9.2% barrel rate is right in line with the career numbers. Quite frankly, Conforto was a bit unlucky in 2021, which is the complete opposite of his 2020 season.
The underlying stats don’t lie. Conforto didn’t change his excellent plate discipline, and he didn’t really make any less quality of contact. He just didn’t get the correct outcomes based on his skills. Instead, he underperformed what he should have done. Don’t let him slip too far down your draft board. There is a lovely bounce-back season in Conforto’s future for 2022.
Lastly, at the moment, Conforto is stuck in limbo without a team. This is not entirely a bad thing while drafting, and the uncertainty of his landing spot will cause his draft stock to stay put or worsen. However, once he signs with a ball club, the bonus will evaporate quickly.
Sam Hilliard (COL)
2021 stats (238 PA): .215 AVG, 32 R, 14 HR, 34 RBI, 5 SB
In Hilliard’s first 20 games, his slash line was .108/.154/.324, as he struck out nearly 50% of the time — yikes! Production like that will get any player demoted; however, in 53 games in the minors, he showcased the tools that make him so appealing. In just over 200 plate appearances, Hilliard smashed 14 HRs and swiped six bases with a .872 OPS. Upon returning to the big leagues in mid-July, Hilliard improved his plate discipline and put more balls in play.
In many ways, Hilliard’s season was full of ups and downs. A few of them are identified in this article by Patrick Saunders in The Denver Post. Below is an excerpt that discusses the identification of a hole in Hilliard’s swing and the work in progress. Additionally, this could explain why Hilliard finished the final portion of his season with a .813 OPS and a decrease in K-rate. Sadly, the article also informs that Hilliard lost his father to ALS in-season, which certainly added stress to the season.
Before the adjustment, his swing was too long and too loopy. That played OK in the minors but made him vulnerable against big-league pitchers who go after swing flaws like sharks go after blood in the water. According to Baseball Savant, Hilliard hit .250 against fastballs, but just .163 vs. breaking balls and .154 vs. all offspeed pitches.
In simplified terms, Hilliard’s hands are now much lower and his foot direction toward the ball has changed slightly and is more direct.
“The basic idea was just trying to simplify everything by getting my hands a little closer to my body and working kind of inside the baseball more,” he said. “When I stay there, it gives me the best chance to recognize off-speed pitches and not chase out of the zone so much.”
Point blank, a bit has to improve for Hilliard to take the next step, specifically in his ability to make consistent contact with the baseball. However, you’re looking at a player who makes a very desirable contact quality (13.1% career Barrel% and .432 xwOBAcon in 2020). A post-hype sleeper like this could easily make a massive impact on your team.
Yoshi Tsutsugo (PIT)
2021 stats (262 PA): .217 AVG, 27 R, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB
After struggling immensely with the Rays and Dodgers, Tsutsugo’s new home became Pittsburgh. And that’s where things get interesting. In 43 games for the Pirates, Tsutsugo puts up a 134 wRC+ and became a mainstay in the heart of the lineup. So, that begs the question: Who is Yoshi Tsutsugo?
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly who and what Yoshi Tsutsugo is, because he’s only had 447 plate appearances. However, there are a few takeaways to make. First, he has a keen batter’s eyes and is no stranger to the walk (12.3% career BB rate). Also, take a look at the 15-game rolling average graph below. Tsutsugo’s batting average was much better in Pittsburgh because he started hitting the ball to all fields, and this could indicate a sneaky source of late batting average on the horizons.
Tsutsugo is an excellent sleeper for deeper leagues since he will have a guaranteed spot on the Pirates roster and likely bat near the top of the order. Additionally, there is enough pop in his bat to produce a 20-plus HR season, and if he can continue to spray the ball to all fields, a solid batting average should come with it. Remember, though, it’s the Pirates, so counting stats could be a little tougher to come by.
Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerGuyBoston on Twitter)