Welcome to Is It Legit, where each week I’ll be doing what every fantasy analyst tells owners not to do and recklessly diving into small sample sizes from previous weeks to make a rash judgment on how useful a player will be rest of season. For context, this goal of this series isn’t to point out that Player X won’t hit .400 all season. You — a loyal Pitcher List reader, Twitter follower, and street teamer — are obviously much too savvy for that.
Rather, the goal is to identify players for whom we may want to reconsider our rest-of-season valuations based on recent performance. A “legit” verdict indicates that a player’s underlying metrics or changes to a playing time situation point to him being better than we’d previously assumed. A “not legit” verdict indicates recent performance is more related to a hot streak than a breakout.
Case for Legitness (Since 4/14): 47 PAs, 8 HRs, 14 RBI, 7 Barrels
Argument: This isn’t me making some bold call: Rosario was legit before he apparently found the Infinity Gauntlet last week and made half of his fly balls disappear over the outfield fence. The fair question, however, is: Has Rosario turned into a power hitter? He’s obviously not going to hit the 77 home runs he’s currently on pace for, but could he hit half that? 33? 35? Let’s take a look:
Over the past four seasons, Rosario’s improvements have been mostly incremental. There’s no bright, blinking lights highlighting any one metric that screams “Look at that adjustment!” His plate discipline has gotten better over the years, with his K% dropping from 25% to 17.6% since 2015 and his zone contact rate improving from 78% to 88% over that same span. These changes are the reason he’s become a usable fantasy outfielder and was drafted just inside the top 100 players going into the season.
But what’s interesting about Rosario is how those incremental gains have translated into better and better power numbers.
|2016||10||35.4||.152||34.4 %||11.9 %||36.1 %||30.1 %|
|2017||27||21.8||.218||37.4 %||16.4 %||39.3 %||31.7 %|
|2018||24||24.7||.191||44.1 %||12.0 %||43.4 %||36.5 %|
|2019||9||8.9||.413||51.7 %||29.0 %||51.7 %||41.7 %|
In 2017, he hit a career-high 27 bombs off a career-high HR/FB rate (2019 excluded). In 2018, his home run total dipped slightly, but he hit a career high fly ball rate. If we cherry pick his best home run rate and apply that to his best fly ball rate, we can get a good sense of Rosario’s power ceiling if he were to “put it all together,” so to speak. He’s averaged about 450 batted ball events each of the past two season, so let’s do the math.
450 batted ball events x 44.1% FB rate (2018) x 16.4% HR/FB rate (2017) = 32 homers
The 32 homers would certainly be bankable — just eight outfielders reached that mark last season. Better yet is that Rosario’s pull rate is great for his power potential. Since 2017, Rosario’s 60 total homers have included 15 non-barreled hits, among the top in the league for non-barreled home run rate. You’d think this would portend to home runs that are less repeatable: He’s not making the highest-possible quality of contact but is still getting the best possible results. But as long as Rosario can pull the ball on those lower quality hits — especially in Target Field — he can still hope to clear the yard. The below spray chart shows his non-barreled home runs since 2017, overlaid onto Target Field.
Those pulls mean Rosario doesn’t have to crush the ball to still clear the fence, as long as he pulls it. Fortunately for Rosario, he is crushing the ball, currently ranking 7th in the majors with a 16.9% barrels/PA (minimum 50 batted balls). Rosario’s breakout is happening, and he could easily crack the top 15 outfielders when all is said and done.
Renato Nunez (3B, Baltimore Orioles)
Case for Legitness (Since 4/10): 51 PA, 16 H, 4 HR, 11 RBI, .321 AVG
Argument: One team’s trash is another team’s treasure, and if there’s any team that shouldn’t be above dumpster diving it’s the Baltimore Orioles. Fortunately for the O’s, they found a gem in 25-year-old Renaldo Nunez, who was discarded by not one but two teams last season. (Not to call Nunez, a talented baseball player who has achieved more than I ever will, actual trash. It’s an idiom, people.) Nunez was called up from Triple AAA after the All-Star break and has been a productive player with everyday at-bats since then, posting a 117 wRC+ over that time. In fact, he’s quietly been as good as some bigger name third basemen. Let’s compare the last 300 plate appearances of three hot corner men:
If you own Jose Ramirez in a dynasty league, you’re probably painfully aware that he’s Player C. Jo-Ram’s also got 12 stolen bases over that span, which makes the bile that comes up when you see his .506 OPS over that span a little easier to swallow back down. Comparing then Players A and B, the latter gets the nod in every cherry-picked category, save for A’s slight nod toward walks. You’ve probably figured out that Player B is Nunez; but Player A is Kris Bryant.
Nunez has displayed excellent pop before in the minors, swatting 32 jacks and slashing .249/.319/.518 in Triple-AAA just two seasons ago. He’s currently posting above average marks in average exit velocity, hard hit %, and barrels per batted ball. Those metrics help support his expected .277 xBA and .533 xSLG. He doesn’t have excellent plate skills, but he also doesn’t do anything particularly poorly either.
He may not out produce Kris Bryant all season, but there’s clearly a usable bat here in 12 team leagues.
Case for Legitness (Since 4/11): 51 PA, 10 XBH, 5 HR, 16 RBI, .311 AVG
Argument: Another bright spot in the pitch-black abyss that is the Baltimore Orioles, Smith is doing it all in the outfield of Camden Yards, snatching a would-be tater from Adam Engel on Tuesday night before feasting on a three-fer of his own. Watch him Godzilla leg kick as he swats this chopper from the sky:
Ouch. After being acquired from the Blue Jays at the beginning of Spring Training, Smith’s been a surprising source of power so far with five homers already on the season while banking three swipes in as many tries. He’s taking a few walks, not striking out a ton, and hanging in there with opposing pitchers and putting balls into play. All that’s good enough to stick in the O’s lineup, but is it good enough for your fantasy lineup?
Maybe, maybe not. His plate discipline is about as league average as you can get, with the only meaningful digression from the average being a slightly worse chase contact rate and slightly better zone contact rate. His quality of contact is also below league average, his average exit velocity and hard hit rate each middling in the bottom third of the league.
Sure enough, the expected stats aren’t very kind to him either:
He’s clearly playing a bit above his head right now. He’ll be useful at times during the year, but his skill set doesn’t point to sustainable production. Good luck trying to pick out his good weeks from his droppable ones. Let’s hope the verdict below is wrong; the Orioles certainly need it.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
Case for Legitness (Season): 45 PA, 12 H, 6 BB, 7 K, 1.108 OPS
Argument: It’s hard not to root for Howie Kendrick: Just look at that smile. The 35-year-old has been an up-again, down-again player throughout his long career, with his fantasy relevancy tied mostly to his health and playing time. He’s never been much of a power or speed guy, but has always had excellent contact skills and has been youa decent source of run production when the team around him isn’t atrocious. So it’s a bit of poetic justice that Kendrick has been pimping butterflies all over Nationals Park since his delayed start to the season. Check out his current Statcast ranks among batters with at least 30 batted ball events:
|Avg Exit Velocity||93.4 mph||20th|
|FB/LD Exit Velocity||98.3 mph||22nd|
|Hard Hit %||56.7%||10th|
It’s not just the power either. Kendrick has slashed his chase rate at the plate and currently has the 12th best contact rate in the league on pitches in the zone. He’s clearly locked in right now, and he’s been batting second in the Nationals lineup, around Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, and Anthony Rendon. It’s not going to be money trees all season long, but he’s worthy of a roster spot for teams in need of middle-infield help.
Case for Legitness (Season): 76 PA, 6 HR, 11 RBI, .320 OBP, .515 SLG
Argument: In the court of legitness, all players are presumed legit until proven illegit. We’re nothing if not fair here, so we’ll give Tommy La Stella the due diligence he deserves despite hitting just six home runs over the past two seasons combined.
The good stuff: La Stella’s already matched said home run total in just a handful of plate appearances. He’s walking twice as much as he’s striking out, supported by some excellent plate discipline metrics and contact rates (88% chase contact rate, 91% zone contact rate, 4.1% swinging strike rate). Encouraging still is his .163 BABIP is way below his career .289 mark, which bodes well for his current .237 average to rise. He puts a ton of balls in play, so there’s plenty of appeal for teams in need of average.
Now onto the bad stuff: Prior to this season, he had 10 career homers in 947 plate appearances. Even worse, he’s stuck in a platoon and won’t bat against lefties.
His contact rates make him an interesting play in daily leagues, but the power won’t be consistent enough to burn a roster spot on a non-everyday player. La Stella’s case has been heard, but ultimately justice prevails.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
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Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire