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:

 

 

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 %
Yasiel Puig 51 50 98.0%
Khris Davis 91 88 96.7%
Trey Mancini 48 46 95.8%
Miguel Sano 41 39 95.1%
Matt Kemp 40 39 95

 

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.

 

Pitch Type # BBE WOBA XWOBA EV LA
Fastballs 92 18 .365 .386 87.6 24
Breaking 45 9 .404 .309 71.7 14
Offspeed 15 5 .812 .631 97.6 29

 

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.

Verdict: LEGIT

 

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)

Kevin Dalby

Kevin lost his first fantasy league because of misplaced confidence in Xavier Nady. Ever since then, he's been diving deep into advanced metrics. He lives in Knoxville with his wife and two daughters, and sadly roots for the Vols. His walk-out song is "Dead, Drunk and Naked" by Drive-By Truckers. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDalby.

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Comments


Kevin Dalby

I’m going Franco. Schoop’s plate discipline is trending severely into the wrong direction. 24% swinging strike rate is … yikes.

Mike

I was hoping to see you include Jason Heyward in your analysis. I took a look for myself at his Statcast data. He doesn’t appear to be hitting the ball any harder. The early results seem to be coming from an improved strike out rate and a little better launch angle. From what you see, would you rate him legit or not?

Kevin Dalby

I actually almost wrote about Heyward here. I looked to see if there were reports of a swing adjustment, and found this headline and snippet on MLB.com: “Swing tweak beginning to pay off for Heyward”

“How much confidence does Cubs manager Joe Maddon have in outfielder Jason Heyward? Plenty. Entering Friday’s game against the Pirates, Heyward was 10-for-34 (.294) in his last nine games, and Maddon expects him to be even better.
“I believe you are going to see another gear kick in,” Maddon said while appearing on the podcast Newsmakers. “Jason will continue to get more comfortable with his new setup with his hands. He hasn’t hit his real hot spot yet, and that’s coming too.”

That was from 2017. At this point, I’m deferring to Heyward’s long history over a few good weeks this April. I’ll look further to see if Heyward warrants a bigger dive but for now I’m saying Not Legit.

Houston

I was about to comment this. Franco isn’t good at drawing walks he’s just bad enough to be batting 8th in the NL. Definitely not legit.

Kevin Dalby

Good catch, thank you. I figured there was something going on, guys don’t just go from 6% walk rates to 20%. To be fair his “Legit” rating is not based on his walk rate, but rather his swinging strike and contact rates plus his launch angle increase.

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