Going Deep: Kevin Newman’s Streak and Whether the Buc Stops Here
Kevin Newman’s 19-game hitting streak ended this past Sunday in a Pirates loss. It was the longest hitting streak in the majors this season and the longest hitting streak by a rookie since 1900. No, he’s not Joe DiMaggio. Yes, it came out of nowhere. But let’s be clear: A 19-game stretch with hits against names like Brandon Woodruff, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Paddack? It’s an impressive feat.
It also wasn’t just a hollow stretch of one-for-fours with a bunch of singles. To the tune of a .384 average, the streak delivered brave fantasy owners 12 runs, six doubles, five steals, and three homers. Eight of the 19 games were multi-hit, featuring a four-hit game and three three-hit games. That’s confusing. We’re all confused:
Who’s Kevin Newman? Where’d this production come from? Can he help my fantasy team down the stretch?
Well, let’s start with the basics. Who is this guy? The almost-26-year-old has eligibility at shortstop—and more importantly—second base. He was the Pirates’ first-round pick in 2015, with just 91 uneventful ABs coming into this season. His contact/speed profile (55-grade hit, 60-grade run) points to a promising leadoff hitter, and that’s where he’s batted for the Pirates in all but one of the last 28 games. And despite his .333 season-long average and being highly GIF-able in all fantasy formats, he’s still just 34% owned in Yahoo leagues.
But that ownership number’s rising fast. So, the big question for owners in the second half of fantasy season: Is the breakout real? After looking closer at the numbers, I’d say yes and no… and it depends. Let’s break it down.
The Power Flash
Let’s talk power. But to rip off the band-aid: It’s a lack of power. Newman’s scouting report has it at 30-grade, which is low. In 1800 minor league appearances, he only popped 15 homers. In just 216 appearances this year with the Pirates, he has 5 tank jobs. They were on a mix of pitch types and notably off of guys like Peacock and Woodruff. His 27% fly-ball rate is in line with career numbers, so it doesn’t appear to be a big swing change. The biggest difference is his homer-to-fly-ball rate, which isn’t astronomical at 10.9%. But still way ahead of the (hold your nose) 3% HR/FB clip he’s carried until this season. So there’s that, plus a lowly exit velocity of 84 mph. That’s uh, fifth percentile on Baseball Savant. He also has just three barrels in 166 batted balls. We’ve seen contact hitters’ power play up in the majors, but even with the juiced ball, there’s some power “fraudulation” here. I’d expect Newman to be more of a 7-10 homer guy in a full season.
Need For Speed
Newman’s scouting report gives him a 60 speed rating. But how that translates to steals is more about intention than anything, as most of us know. In the minors, the most he ran was in AAA last season, where he had a 71% success rate with 28 steals in 39 attempts over 477 plate appearances. So, broad strokes, he attempted a steal about every 12 plate appearances. That’s insane and MLB catchers were bound to slow him down. Since batting leadoff May 30th, he’s swiped four bags and been caught twice, and his season rate (five for seven) is at that same 71% stolen base rate, which is solid. Across 133 appearances, his six attempts map to one per every 22 appearances. To play the prorating game, that would project out to about 27 steals over a season. Even if you bake in some caution since he won’t bat .333—we’re still talking a 20-steal guy.
An Average Far From It
It gets much brighter from here. But not right away. Newman’s .368 BABIP is high. That will come back down to earth and pull his .333 average down with it. The soft contact should too, which at 27% hovers at the same rate as his hard contact. Those leave the rest of his hits to medium contact, which isn’t terrible for a speedster like Newman. Baseball Savant marks his expected batting average at .286, but I’m actually taking the over on that and here’s why.
Newman’s career BABIP, even removing this red-hot season, is an encouraging .317, largely due to the aforementioned speed and elite—yes, elite—contact skills. Teams would be silly to even think of shifting on Newman. His hitting spray chart balances beautifully, with pull/middle/oppo rates at roughly 39%/32%/29%, respectively. Given qualified ABs, that opposite field percentage would rank 29th in the majors.
Now admittedly, the ground ball rate’s at a scary 54%, but other speedsters make do with high ground ball rates (see Tommy Pham, Lorenzo Cain, Starling Marte and Jean Segura). The plate discipline is solid, striking out just 13% of the time and walking at about half that clip. He tends to chase pitches a bit more than you’d want. But again, the elite contact skills make up for it. Newman’s contact outside of the zone is 75.1%, which would be 17th in the majors. His zone contact rate is 93.6%, which would be 10th in the majors. His batting average on pitches outside of the strike zone is fourth in the majors, alongside names like Cody Bellinger, Michael Brantley and Christian Yelich.
|Leaderboard||BA outside of the K-zone|
In short? He appears to be among the best in the league at hitting tough pitches and hitting pitches to hit. When you add in the plus speed, plate discipline, and a hit chart that looks like fireworks on the Fourth, it’s reasonable to think Newman can be a true .300 hitter. Don’t forget how valuable that can be in a fantasy environment where league-wide average is sinking while the homers rise.
|MLB League-wide Batting Average|
*.251 was about .246 before London happened.
The Right Newman For The Job
Awful pun but, here we are. So what’s the verdict? The power’s bound to evaporate, but even with five or ten homers, we’re talking about a possible .300 hitter with 20-25 steals. More than likely, he’s around a .290 hitter with closer to 15-20 SBs.
Newman’s a young, red-hot, contact specialist who leads off almost every game, bats ahead of Starling Marte and Josh Bell, and runs enough to grab another seven to ten steals rest of season. I don’t know what your league looks like, but that seems pretty usable in 12-team leagues and deeper, especially when you consider the .240-.260 batting averages most teams put up in a week. The upside here is probably old DJ LeMahieu without the Coors counting stats. On the other hand, the floor seems like Andrelton Simmons with a flier for more power. And don’t forget, he’s second-base eligible. So while we’re not looking at Joe DiMaggio or even Elvis Andrus, this is a guy I’m more than willing to take a shot on for the home stretch of fantasy seasons.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)