Is It Legit: When You Play the Game of Yoáns, You Win or You Die
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 “DaN vOgElBaCh’S 1.400 SLG iSn’T sUsTaInAbLe!” You — a loyal Pitcher List reader, subscriber, and T-shirt owner — 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 on 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. With that out of the way, let’s grab thy gavels and lay thine judgment down.
Yoán Moncada, 3B Chicago White Sox
Case for Legitness: 46 PA, 3 HR, 13 RBI, .326 AVG, .628 SLG
Argument: I’m trying not to take Moncada’s hot start personally, but it ain’t easy. I drafted him with the third overall pick in the PL Worst Ball league, confident that his league-leading 217 strikeouts and below average contact rate would propel him into one of baseball’s worst batters for the second year in a row. He’s rewarded that confidence with Lannister levels of betrayal, posting a .998 OPS on a respectable 22% strikeout rate. All this had me feeling a bit like Ned Stark at the Sept of Baelor until I read this Tweet by our very own Alex Fast:
A quick note about Yoan Moncada:
8 of his 11 hits are off of fastballs.
He’s been thrown 33 sliders/curves and recorded one hit.
He’s off to an amazing start but that doesn’t mean his problems are solved
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 6, 2019
So, this obviously spurred me to dig a little further, and indeed it does appear the bulk of Moncada’s big run came during a stretch of intense opposing fastball usage. In the five-game stretch between March 28 and April 3, during which he saw fastballs on 56% of pitches, Moncada had a .562 wOBA. In the four-game stretch after, he had a .167 wOBA and saw just 46% fastballs. Even Tuesday afternoon’s monster dinger came off a fastball.
All of this of course is caveated with the usual “small sample size” bromides, but there’s also something to the pitch mix Moncada might face. He’s slugged .319 for his career against non-fastballs, while slugging .473 against the heat. On top of that, the number of fastballs he’s seen has gone down each of the past three years, from 62% in 2017 to 50% in 2019. There’s clearly some scouting reports out on the guy.
That said, he’s actually hitting the ball harder than ever, currently ranking third in average exit velocity at 95 mph, just behind Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. That metric doesn’t have the same pitch split, with Moncada hitting fastballs and breaking balls pretty equally. He’s also whiffing less on all pitch types across the board, which has helped get those strikeouts under control.
If all of this sounds like I’m hedging a bit on this verdict, it’s because I am. Moncada’s certainly showing some positive signs here and I think he’s on the verge of a mini breakout of sorts. After all, he’ll still see fastballs on about half of all pitches. The hangup is, don’t be surprised when his flashes of awesomeness are followed by long, freezing stretches on The Wall. My Worst Ball team weeps.
Verdict: (SADLY) LEGIT
Trey Mancini, 1B Baltimore Orioles
Case for Legitness: 44 PA, 5 HR, .436 ISO, 11 R, 11 RBI
Argument: Another poor choice in a salt wife for my Worst Ball team, Mancini is a big reason the Orioles are shockingly semi-watchable so far this season (beyond the schadenfreude surrounding poor Chris Davis — who’s watchable in the way that a stranger sobbing next to you on the subway is watchable). He’s already skinned five taters this year and ranks eighth in the league in total hits. His .385 average is buoyed by a .370 BABIP, but considering he maintained a .352 BABIP just two seasons ago it doesn’t feel inflated in an absurd sense.
Mancini doesn’t have eye-popping Statcast metrics, but he’s the definition of a “when he does connect” type guy: ranking top 10 in exit velocity on fly balls/line drives and barrels per plate appearance. He’s historically a low launch angle hitter whose ground/fly ball ratio currently sits at a perfect 1 — sliced in half from 2018. And while it would be easy for me to state the obvious that his 35.7% HR/FB rate will come down, he’s still an extremely consistent home run hitter.
Going back to 2017, Mancini’s home runs come off of barreled hits 96% of the time, ranking among the league’s top 5.
|Player||Total HR (2017-18)||Barreled HRs||Barrel HR %|
What does this mean? There’s no luck, variance, park factors, strong gusts of wind, or Joseph Gordon Levitt wing flapping behind Mancini’s yaks. He’s just hitting those balls that clear the fence really, really well. This makes the 24 homers he’s hit each of the past two seasons feel a lot more like a baseline than a ceiling. He very well could be headed toward a 30-homer season, with a decent average and counting stats to boot.
Verdict: (ALSO SADLY) LEGIT
Dansby Swanson, SS Atlanta Braves
Argument: Who is this guy? The former No. 1 overall pick has been the living definition of “meh” so far in his career, posting a boiled-chicken bland 76 wRC+ and .683 OPS across parts of three seasons. That’s why, despite his pedigree, his current 176 wRC+ and 1.184 OPS are surprising.
He’s absolutely smoking the ball right now, ranking well above league average in exit velocity, hard hit rate, barrels per plate appearance, and exit velocity on fly balls/line drives. He’s also tracking toward career bests in walk rate (14%), strikeout rate (18.6%), and chase rate (20.7%). He’s being more patient at the plate, dramatically reducing the number of pitches he swings at and laying off first pitches more than he ever has.
So why am I not buying Swanson as a breakout candidate? Aside from trying to will it into existence for the benefit of my Worst Ball team (notice a theme here?), Swanson’s batted ball profile is screaming “regression” from the top of Stone Mountain. Take a look:
You don’t need me to tell you Swanson won’t have a 40% HR/FB rate all season, but the bigger concern I have is his inflated line drive rate. Just two players topped a 30% line drive rate in 2018: Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto. Swanson’s fly ball rate and average launch angle are both actually lower than they were last season, making his uptick in line drives feel more like a hot streak and good luck than an adjustment to join the fly ball revolution.
Swanson is worth a flier in a 12-teamer if you need to fill a middle infield spot due to his improved plate discipline, but I’m not buying a breakout.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
Maikel Franco, 3B Philadelphia Phillies
Case for Legitness: 43 PA, 4 HR, 20 BB%, 4.7% K%
Argument: No, those walk and strikeout rates aren’t typos. I have no idea why it’s happening, but Franco is suddenly doing a Willians Astudillo impression, rocking a 6.4% swinging strike rate and eye-popping 81% contact rate on swings outside the strike zone. While this is well above expectations, Franco’s never had issues making contact with the ball. Rather, his biggest problem has been making good contact — having a high propensity for ground balls and a low propensity for hard hits.
So far, he seems to be correcting both issues. His average launch angle has jumped from 9 to 22.5 degrees, and his average exit velocity of 94 mph is among the top 10% of the league. I’m still a little skeptical, given that the bulk of his exit velocity damage has come off a handful of offspeed pitches.
This is why sample size still matters at this point in the season. His exit velocity off fastballs is actually down from 2018. If he doesn’t have two homers off changeups in the past two weeks, am I even discussing him?
Since this is “Is It Legit” and not “Is It Kinda Legit,” the gavel will be kind to Franco for this week. The phenomenal plate approach and launch angle gains deserve an extended look. By season’s end Franco will be roster-worthy in 12-teamers and possibly 10-teamers. Still, I’m skeptical of a full-on breakout from Franco unless he starts connecting a little better with heaters.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B Seattle Mariners
Case for Legitness: 29 PA, 5 HR, 9 XBH, 1.364 SLG
Argument: To beat the Game of Thrones references into the ground, Vogelbach is absolutely Hodoring the ball in limited appearances, connecting for five long balls and four doubles. Not exactly a young prospect at 26 years old, Vogelbach has been the odd man out of the Mariners lineup for what seems like several seasons now. In Triple-A last season, he displayed excellent power (20 HRs in 378 PAs) and plate discipline (20.4% BB%). But that production didn’t translate to a breakout in the bigs. Now, he’s hitting a home run every sixth plate appearance.
Although he’s obviously on a white-hot streak, Vogelbach’s biggest knock is that there’s not much room for playing time in what has become an extremely productive Mariners lineup. He’s slipping into the batting order occasionally to provide days off for the M’s everyday hitters, but he’s not going to play every game. That’s fine for daily leagues while he’s hitting, but once he goes on an inevitable 2-20 streak, are the Mariners going to feel compelled to get him frequent at bats? My guess is no.
Verdict: (SADLY) NOT LEGIT
(Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire)