Is it Legit: Willy Adames, Michael Conforto and Dylan Carlson

Who should we trade for and who should we trade away?

As we approach the two-thirds mark of the season, you’ve likely identified clear areas of strength and weakness within your team.  If you play in rotisserie leagues, acquiring the right player or two could help you gain several points in the standings.  This time of year can be ripe for trades because it’s often easier to orchestrate win-win trades when both teams have a clear sense of where they’re trying to get better.  While most managers will want to hold onto their top-round picks, even those who are having down years, it could be open season on mid-round and later draft picks.  In this week’s edition of Is it Legit, we’ll look into three mid-late round hitters and see if it may be time to trade for them or trade them away.

 

Willy Adames

 

Since the Rays traded him to Milwaukee in late May, Willy Adames, still just 25, has reached a new level with the Brewers.  The wily Brewers adding Willy seems like a no-brainer in retrospect when you consider his performance away from Tropicana Field.

Willy Adames‘ Splits

To put those overall numbers in context, pre-trade Adames had put up Corey Seager’s career wRC+ at home and Nick Ahmed’s career wRC+ away.  Since the trade, Adames’ 149 wRC+ matches Joey Votto’s career mark.  Long story short, when Willy is free of the Trop, he’s simply a better player.  However, there is a flip side to this coin: in 2021, while Adames’ BB/K% is a career-best (0.37), he also has a higher chase rate (31.6%) and a higher swing rate (48.6%) than he has at other points in his career.  Both numbers are above league average and indicate an increase in aggressiveness.  Added aggression early in counts can help hitters jump on early “get me over” pitches, but in this case, Adames’ first pitch swinging percentage is not significantly higher than it has been in past years.

In short, Willy’s extra aggression indicates more strikeouts are coming for him.  His contact issues are still present as well: with a 15.5% swinging-strike rate and 68.1% contact rate, Adames’ bat-to-ball skills are significantly below league average.  On the flip side, one area in which Adames has seen encouraging skills growth is in his ability to barrel baseballs.  His barrel rate is up significantly from his career average of 9.1%, to 12.2% this season, due to his increased fly ball rate and ability to hit the ball in the air with authority.  Adames’ exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is at 94.2mph, which puts him 52nd overall among qualified hitters, and in the impressive company of Tim AndersonRandy Arozarena, and Anthony Rizzo.

Verdict: NOT LEGIT.  This was actually a hard verdict to determine because there is a lot to like about what Adames is doing right now.  Yes, he is a better hitter away from Tropicana Field, and it’s appropriate to think that his power growth is real.  However, his lack of plate discipline improvement to support his walk to strikeout rate gains indicates that some regression is coming for him.  He’s a great sell-high candidate, especially if another manager in your league believes his performance as a Brewer is sustainable.

 

Dylan Carlson

 

After providing glimpses into his potential in the 2020 postseason, Dylan Carlson hasn’t broken out to the extent we hoped for this season.  With a 104 wRC+ and ability to avoid total embarrassment in center field, Carlson has covered a premium position and shown enough signs of life at the plate to encourage Cardinals fans about his long-term potential.  In particular, Carlson has made big strides in his plate approach this season.  The 22-year-old lowered his already-low chase rate while getting more aggressive against pitches in the zone, improving both his strikeout and walk rates in the process. 

When he has made contact, he’s also shown the ability to use the entire field, spraying the ball almost evenly between pull, center, and oppo.  That said, his ability to drive the baseball has left much to be desired.  Per Statcast, Carlson’s hard-hit rate ranks just 17th percentile in the league, and his barrel rate of 8% hasn’t trended in the direction we would’ve hoped after he put up a 9.2% mark as a 21-year-old last season.  Carlson’s disappointing power output can be traced back to his struggles against four-seam fastballs, the pitch he’s seen most often this season.  With just a .294 xwOBA against the four-seamer, he’s not exactly striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers this season.

Verdict: LEGITAdvanced metrics support Carlson’s pedestrian power numbers, and he hasn’t attempted a single stolen base this season.  Absent a dramatic change in approach, I expect his underwhelming home run output to continue for the remainder of the season, making his struggles legit.  If another manager wants to bank on his prospect pedigree, you might still have the opportunity to trade him for a difference-maker for your team, maybe adding a less-obviously valuable co-closer or a hitter who might help you in steals.  While he’s lacked power this season, Carlson possesses plate discipline and contact skills that provide a sound foundation for future growth.  While I’m not a believer in a 2021 bounce-back, Carlson could be a nice target in 2022 drafts.

 

Michael Conforto

Michael Conforto’s 2021 numbers are not at all what we expected.  In addition to dealing with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for about a month and a half, Conforto’s production when on the field has been abysmal, as the 28-year-old sports a .202/.335/.342 line thus far.  Looking at the advanced numbers, fortunately, we see a very similar player to the one who’s been a perennial all-star consideration more seasons than not thus far.  Consider this handy chart:

Michael Conforto’s 2021 vs. Career Metrics

As you can see, this is almost exactly the same Michael we’ve always known, and Conforto has almost always been good.  One of the only concerning things about Conforto’s performance so far is his increase in ground ball rate.  According to Fangraphs, this season Conforto’s ground ball rate is up to 45.4%, which is up from 41.4% last season and also from his career mark of 39.6%.  The steadiness of Conforto’s barrel rate inspires confidence that he can continue to provide your team value in power even if this ground ball rate increase holds.

Verdict: NOT LEGIT.  Many of Conforto’s numbers suggest he’s just been unlucky this season, not that he’s a significantly different hitter than he’s been in the past.  I would be looking to acquire Conforto from any frustrated manager looking to part with him after a disappointing first half.

 

Featured Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Brian Holcomb

Charlotte-based outdoor educator and Philly sports fan whose Pitcher List involvement stems from a decades-long fascination with baseball statistics, trading cards, and debates about player valuation. When not thinking about fantasy baseball, can regularly be found exploring the trails, rivers and rocks of North Carolina.

8 responses to “Is it Legit: Willy Adames, Michael Conforto and Dylan Carlson”

  1. DB says:

    Re Adames – Are the stats you’re counting as extra-aggressive overall season totals, Trop-less totals, or only since the trade? – chase rate (31.6%), swing rate (48.6%), 15.5% swinging – strike rate, and 68.1% contact rate.

    It was very clear for a while now that he’s had issues seeing the ball in the Trop (who doesn’t?) He’s said as much before. If this extra aggressiveness is all since the trade, I understand where you’re coming from, but if you didn’t split out the Trop games, or at least the games before the trade, I have to wonder about your verdict.

    It isn’t very clear in his section of this piece what set of stats you’re working with. He knew Franco and Brujan were waiting in the wings, so it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if he overreached to keep his job, IMO.

  2. DB says:

    *Edit to add… re-reading this, it seems as if you’re using season totals, but you split SOME things out, so I’d still really appreciate some clarification. Thanks

    • Brian Holcomb says:

      DB, my apologies for the super late reply. In short, you were right. Adames has been really good since the piece came out (.926 OPS!). I looked more closely at the splits per your request and they do vindicate you on your Adames take: pre-trade, Adames had a chase rate of 34.9% and that number is 29.5% post trade. He’s also been Adames has also cut his swinging strike rate from 19.4% pre-trade to 13.2% post trade. I should have looked at these splits more closely before constructing my Adames take. Thank you for your comment, and I will work to be more specific with my splits moving forward!
      For anyone interested in finding plate discipline splits, you can find them by going into a hitter’s game log on Fangraphs, selecting the date range you want and clicking on the plate discipline tab.

  3. Chris says:

    I am really confused on the use of Legit and Not Legit. Carlson is ‘legit’, in the sense he is legit not good enough? Why not just say ‘Not Legit?’

    • Brian Holcomb says:

      Thanks for this feedback Chris. In my most recent Is it Legit piece, I tried to make my verdicts more clear.

  4. Keith says:

    I’m confused on what you mean on Legit and Not Legit. Seems like your verdict is no on Carlson but yes on Conforto, but you’ve tagged them opposite with legit status

    • Brian Holcomb says:

      Thanks Keith. I’ve always considered a “Legit” verdict to mean that the player’s current performance (whether good or bad) will generally continue. I’ll be clarifying in future pieces by contextualizing my verdicts. For example, I’ll put “Player A’s struggles are legit” or something of that nature. Appreciate the feedback!

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