Dynasty Inspection: Ramon Laureano

The Oakland A's outfielder has been consistently inconsistent.

It’s difficult to assess how much stock to put into players’ performances in the shortened 2020 season. In a 60-game sample, it was unsurprising to see some players perform well above expectations while others struggled mightily. From a fantasy perspective, figuring out how to value these types of players could be a key to success in your league.

Ramon Laureano is someone whose perceived value has changed greatly from one year ago. Heading into the 2020 season, Laureano’s Average Draft Position for redraft leagues was in the top 80. For outfielders, he was in the top 20. From a dynasty perspective, he was in his mid-20s and looked to be heading toward his prime seasons. No, he wasn’t going to be Ronald Acuna or Mike Troutbut his across-the-board production made him look like a reliable OF2 with the potential to put together a season that resembles something like peak Tommy Pham, if not better.

Things have changed since then. A sub-par 2020 campaign has caused many to cool on Laureano, and his current ADP sits at 140. He’s the 37th outfielder coming off the board, and while fantasy owners have not given up on him, this is still a notable drop-off from a season ago. Dynasty owners who were once optimistic about Laureano being a building block are no longer as confident.

In order to find out how to value Laureano for this upcoming season and for those to come, let’s take a look at his history before diving deeper into what worked and what didn’t for him in 2020.

 

The Player

 

Laureano has never been an easy player to evaluate. Back in 2014, the Houston Astros selected him with pick 466. That’s round 16 of the draft. Suffice to say, the outfielder was not seen as a top prospect entering his professional career.

That changed in 2016 when Laureano had one of the best seasons in the minor leagues. He spent 86 games at High-A, triple slashing .317/.426/.519 to go with 10 home runs and 33 steals. Laureano was promoted to Double-A where he continued to rake, posting a .323/.432/.548 triple slash, five home runs, and 10 steals in 36 games. He became a consensus top-100 prospect.

And then he wasn’t. A slow start led to a subpar 2017 where he recorded an 87 wRC+ in 123 games at Double-A. The down season knocked him off many people’s radar and led to Houston trading him to Oakland that November. He bounced back significantly in 2018, triple slashing .297/.380/.524 in 64 Triple-A games. The hot bat earned him a promotion and a spot in the Oakland lineup, where he posted a 130 wRC+ in 48 games.

Following his (second) breakout season in 2018, Laureano was a hot commodity in dynasty circles heading into 2019. Naturally, he started the season ice cold. In his first 30 games, he hit .234 and had just seven extra-base hits. Laureano turned his season around, though, becoming one of the hottest hitters in the league the rest of the season and finishing the year with a 126 wRC+, 24 home runs, and 13 steals—and that’s with missing a month due to injury.

At just 25-years-old, he looked to be one of the best outfielders in dynasty baseball. And then 2020 happened.

Laureano played 54 games in the shortened 2020 campaign, and fantasy owners were likely disappointed with the output. Entering the year with a career .288 average, the outfielder spotted a .213 mark at the plate, hitting six home runs and swiping just two bags. His inconsistent production led to him hopping around the batting order, hitting as low as the 8-spot on multiple occasions. So what went wrong? Let’s take a look.

 

2019 v 2020

 

Here are a few stats to get us started.

 

Stat 2019 2020
AVG .288 .213
BB% 5.6 10.8
K% 25.6 26.1
wOBA .356 .311
SLG .521 .521

 

Unsurprisingly, Laureano’s production dipped across the board, but there is one interesting nugget here—his walk rate nearly doubled. Looking back at his 2019 season, the knock on Laureano coming into 2020 was that he struck out at an above-average clip but walked at a below-average one. It’s possible that Laureano knew that and looked to make an adjustment in 2020. It’s also a small sample, and Laureano had inconsistent walk rates in the minors, so it could be just randomness, but let’s investigate further.

 

Stat 2019 2020
Zone % 51.3 49.8
Swing % 48.7 40.2
Zone Swing % 66.3 57.3
1st Pitch Swing % 22.5 19.4
Chase % 29.8 23.4

 

This chart looks like someone who was trying to take more pitches. After his hot 2019, it’s not shocking that Laureano saw fewer pitches in the zone in 2020, but he also swung considerably less often. Laureano’s Zone Swing % ranked in the bottom 10 of hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. His Swing % ranked in the bottom 30. Yes, he swung at fewer pitches out of the zone and walked a lot more, but it appears his new approach may have done more harm than good.

A big difference in Laureano’s production came down to his performance in two-strike situations. In 2019, pitchers peppered the outfielder a two-strike fastball 52.1% of the time, and Laureano feasted, batting .288 and slugging .528. Pitchers adjusted in 2020, though, only offering a fastball in these situations 41.3% of the time. As a result, he saw breaking pitches 44% of the time and recorded a .130 batting average and 42.9% Whiff Rate.

Let’s take a look at what Laureano did when he swung, no matter the count.

 

Stat 2019 2020
Average Exit Velocity 89.7 87.7
Max Exit Velocity 111.6 111.3
Hard Hit % 40.4 34.4
FB % 27.2 16.4
LD % 27.8 28.9
GB % 36.9 44.5
Whiff % 28.4 25

 

The Average EV and Hard Hit rate are down, but, encouragingly, the Max EV is about the same as it was the year before. Laureano didn’t sustain a drop-off in how hard he could hit the ball, just how often he was doing it. He also saw a flip in his groundball and flyball rates, while his Whiff rate dipped. Based on his drastic change in plate approach, it seems that Laureano also aimed to make more contact in 2020, even if it was lesser quality contact, to avoid striking out.

 

Conclusion

 

In 2020, Laureano was more patient at that plate, and it was actually to his detriment. It led to him taking more walks, sure, but it also led to him striking out more and making worse contact. Given that his strikeout rate was in the mid-20s when he was walking less than 6% of the time, it’s not likely that he’s someone who will develop a great eye at the plate. His value will come from his bat. Like most hitters, Laureano will need to adjust to pitchers throwing him fewer fastballs and will need to take better advantage when he does see a heater. Laureano still has a great power-speed combination, and a more aggressive, less selective approach at the plate could lead to him finding his groove again. He’s had down stretches in the past and has always bounced back.

As mentioned earlier, Laureano’s current ADP in redraft leagues is 140, and he’s the 37th outfielder being selected. A few outfielders going right ahead or right after Laureano are: Pham, Kyle Lewis, Tommy Edman, Alex Verdugo, Wil Myers, Mike Yastrzemski, Dylan Carlson, Ryan Mountcastle, Jorge Soler, and Victor Robles. That is an interesting mix of players that either had a great 2020 season or a disappointing one.

Given Laureano’s potential to provide production in all categories, his track record of bouncing back from down stretches, and that an approach more like what we saw in 2019 could lead to a rebound season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Laureano outperform many, if not all, of the names being drafted around him. At this point in time, he is a great buy-low target in dynasty leagues. It’s not likely his value will be much lower, and a hot start to the season would erase any buying windows.

 

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)

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