Now that it’s December, some people—the crazy ones, like you and me—are starting to think about fantasy baseball again. Some similarly insane people have already begun drafting over at the NFBC, which means we have ADP data to analyze.
But analysis sounds boring, and I’m all about readership. So let’s play a game. To highlight a market inefficiency in ADP, I’ll compare two players for you who are eligible at the same positions but are being drafted wildly differently. We’ll call them Player A and Player B. The rub is, Player A played a full season, while Player B only played about two-thirds of one. To make this work, then, I’m going to prorate Player B’s 2019 stats to give both guys the same number of plate appearances.
For your own sake, rather than guess who they might be, just try to enjoy the ride. I promise I’ll reveal them at the end.
First, let’s compare their bottom lines.
There are a few things worth mentioning here. First, broadly speaking, these are two similar hitters. Neither guy runs. Player B gets more hits, while Player A walks more frequently. Player B hits for slightly more power, but they’re within a percentage point in terms of overall offensive production relative to the average (wRC+).
Second, Player A hits in a better lineup. That means more run-scoring and RBI opportunities. Player A typically bats second, while Player B bats fifth. That too will lead to greater run-scoring opportunities and more plate appearances for Player A, but more RBI for Player B.
Third, the real divergence is in their ADPs. Player A is a fifth-round pick, while Player B is an afterthought in most NFBC drafts. To me, that screams value.
I said earlier that Player B is a slightly better power hitter. While that’s not exactly obvious from their home run totals, it certainly is from their underlying power numbers.
|Name||aLA°||EV on FB/LD||Hard Hit%||Brls/PA%|
|Player A||19.3||92.3 mph||34.1||5.8|
|Player B||10.6||95.0 mph||47.7||7.9|
Despite maintaining identical home run paces, these players’ Statcast numbers tell wholly different stories. Player A has a high average launch angle but doesn’t actually hit the ball that hard. He consequently gives himself ample opportunities to hit home runs by lofting the ball frequently, but his average exit velocity on flies and liners is 92.3 mph, good for just 265th-best among all hitters with at least 50 batted-ball events. Likewise, his hard-hit rate (how often he hits the ball 95 mph+) of 34.1% is 298th-best in the league.
Put it all together and his 5.8 Brls/PA% is only slightly better than league average. Accordingly, he may have overperformed in the home run department last year. Indeed, my predicted home run metric, which provides a hypothetical home run total based on, among other things, the hitter’s barrel rate, gives Player A just 27.4 pHRs for 2019.
Conversely, Player B smacks the ball with authority but is more likely to put it on the ground. His exit velocity on flies and liners is tied for 77th-best in the league. Even better, his hard-hit rate is tied for 28th-best. His exit velocity and launch angle produced a 7.9 Brls/PA rate, which was much better than Player A’s. I love players with this type of profile because they have sufficient raw power that could lead to huge home run totals should they join the fly-ball revolution.
Again, bear in mind how much earlier Player A is drafted than Player B.
Last year, Player A hit .282 and Player B hit .307. How likely is that to continue?
On the one hand, Player A hit far fewer ground balls and line drives than league average last year. He also hit a large complement of fly balls and pop-ups. Further, he pulled the ball at a high rate. Based on this batted-ball profile, it’s clear he was trying to pull fly balls to hit home runs.
Yet, somehow he managed an elevated .331 BABIP. Statcast doesn’t buy this, giving him a .246 xBA for 2019. That’s a far cry from his actual .282 batting average. And I’m with Statcast on this one. Fly balls and pop-ups are the worst types of contact for elevating one’s BABIP. Pulling the ball is bad as well because you’re more predictable and therefore not only more likely to hit into the shift but also more likely to face a defensive shift. It’s not like Player A is some speedster able to outrun grounders either. With all of that in mind, he may experience some severe regression next season in the batting average department.
Here are the hitters Statcast thinks are similar to Player A in terms of batted-ball profile:
Not exactly murderers’ row.
On the other hand, Statcast likes Player B, crediting his .307 batting average with a .308 xBA. In support, Player B had a nice mix of batted balls, maintaining about an average amount of ground and fly balls with an elevated line-drive rate (excellent for his BABIP) and a well below-average complement of pop-ups (also great for BABIP). It is no surprise, then, that he managed a .355 BABIP. Considering how hard Player B hits the ball, he doesn’t need to make a concerted effort to elevate in order to hit home runs. Therefore, he can keep his batted-ball profile and sustain both power and batting average success.
Here are the players Statcast likens to Player B:
It’s encouraging anytime you’re compared to J.D. Martinez and José Abreu. With all of that said, can you guess which guy had the .462 xwOBA on contact and which had the .396? If the former weren’t Player B, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article right now.
Please just indulge me in one more chart.
|Name||Z-Swing – O-Swing%||Swing%||SwStr%||Whiff%||K%||BB%|
Both guys have strikingly similar plate discipline. They’re relatively aggressive hitters in terms of their swing rates. Player B’s zone recognition is a little better than Player A’s. In spite of a 10% (3 percentage points) lower O-Swing rate, however, Player B actually walked at a worse clip. With all else equal, that should change next year. Player B also maintained a slightly better strikeout rate, with lower whiff and swinging-strike rates. Both guys outperformed their expected strikeout rates based on their swinging-strike rates.
Neither guy is Joey Votto, but at least Player B maintains an excellent batted-ball mix. Whereas if Player A’s BABIP falls apart, which I expect, then his plate discipline won’t save his batting average.
The Big Reveal
For fear of inciting an angry mob, I’ll go ahead and tell you who they are now. Player A is Kris Bryant, while Player B is J.D. Davis.
As you now know, Davis was a better fantasy hitter than Bryant last year on a per-plate-appearance basis. Cumulatively, he actually hit 22 home runs with three stolen bases, 65 runs, and 57 RBI in 453 plate appearances.
There were many similarities between the two, but Bryant overperformed his raw power peripherals and his expected batting average. He may not even perform to his 2019 level, which was not exactly jaw-dropping in the first place. Davis, however, looks poised to keep swatting home runs and hitting over .300.
You might be thinking that it’s unfair to compare the two when there are questions surrounding Davis’ playing time. Right now, RosterResource projects him to play left field and hit fifth for the Mets. But either Brandon Nimmo or the return of Yoenis Céspedes may push him into the small side of a platoon considering Davis is a defensive liability. In that case, it was indeed unreasonable of me to prorate him to 634 plate appearances, even just as a hypothetical exercise.
Still, Davis is too good of a hitter to play a bench role. My guess is he either forces the Mets to play him, or they trade him to an AL club that can stick him in a DH slot. There’s talk of trading him already. Whether or not he has a full-time role figured out on Opening Day, the risk that he never earns one is more than adequately reflected in his draft price. You can get him 120 picks after an arguably inferior hitter who plays the same positions. And that’s a value to me.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
Good stuff, Dan.
For the raw lines, I feel like you are missing a lot. Namely, actual games played, Ks, BB, XBH – you may as well go with OPS and keep things straight-up. wOBA or anything like that obscures the details and doesn’t ‘t really help if you are actually digging – its letting a simple-minded machine do the thinking more accurately. You can’t pro-rate and expect it to hold either… I personally would not call two hitters 25 pts of BA apart similar at all. I would call the back of a baseball card the bottom line stats, you have select stats listed.
I imagine the batted ball metrics are just quantifying what luck looks like from that perspective. There are not any truths to batted ball metrics – they are just observations. If anything, batted ball metrics will float flawed approaches to the top as shutting your eyes and swinging hard should generate EV, which fuels all the rest of the positive outcomes. The fewer the AB the better for a bad hitter as all that weak contact that comes with a flawed approach is never far off. If you question the lack of repeatability of batted ball outcomes, then help yourself to Bryant’s career (who is relatively consistent actually). What commonalities exists even year over year? Hard varies from 31 to 40%… there are not any clear trends or indications that he is headed in any direction or making any adjustments even though we call them that when things are going well… you can see that it all just varies a lot and is clearly beyond his control to a large extent.
Bryant is an odd comp for anyone as he most certainly is overrated. He is a better cautionary tale of what a young “superstar” can turn into than an example of one of the best hitters in the league looks like. Remember when Bryant was Vladito or whoever we are calling a future HOFer this year? I am sure you can land better production at that point in a draft. I think the best bet is letting Bryant slide a few more rounds and not expecting anything resembling 2019 from Davis. The big glaring wart with Davis is the K rate that he has always had prior to last year. Maybe he fixed it – it certainly could be possible based on the numbers, but that is what always held him back. Being skeptical is smart even though it isn’t fun. The surface numbers indicate that something magical may have happened last year with Davis but he is going to have to prove that it was real.