Statcast is a wonderful tool for analyzing both real and fantasy baseball. It provides metrics that not only show us how things are (like exit velocity and launch angle), but also how things should have been (like xBA and xSLG). Usually, I tend to focus on players who are a bit down on their luck, as they make for easy rebound targets. This time, I want to focus on players who are outperforming their expected stats and try to provide a little analysis on why we should or shouldn’t have any faith in those players. Expected stats are far from the final word on a player’s value, but they do provide a nice context for discussing what’s happening and what we can expect to happen going forward. It should also be noted that expected stats are not predictive. In fact, they are quite the opposite: Expected stats focus on the past.
Fortune Favors the Bold
Let’s begin with a look at the luckiest players with over 100 trips to the plate.
While it’s safe to say that Coors is responsible for some of the inflation of Raimel Tapia’s stats, Lady Luck has played a pivotal role as well. It feels like the 25-year-old has been a top-100 prospect for ages, due to the awkward way Colorado has handled its young outfield prospects the last several years. That handling, and the spotty playing time that comes with it, makes it difficult to trust in Tapia in 10- and 12-team redraft formats, though he’s worked his way into the fourth and fifth outfield conversation lately due to his home park and hot bat. I expect the power and average to come down based on luck and his less-than-ideal plate discipline, but I also expect him to start doing more damage with his legs by stealing bases. He’s only managed a single swipe so far this season and has been caught twice, but he’s got 60-grade speed and has shown the ability to steal in the minor leagues. Even if the good luck fades away, there’s a good chance that he can recover some of the lost value and stay relevant in 15-team leagues all season in non-points formats.
The two catchers on this list, Robinson Chirinos and Omar Narvaez, have been right on the line between guys you hold on to and guys you stream in 10- and 12-team single-catcher formats. They’ve both performed like guys you should keep all season, but it’s clear that their talent has only been part of that success. Their good luck and possession of a full-time job is just about the extent of their similarities, though. Chirinos is a power-hitting catcher who is essentially a less-extreme version of Mike Zunino, though he’s done well to revert back to a strikeout rate below 25% (it spiked to 32.9% in 2018). I’d be quite surprised if he kept a batting average above .220 going forward, though the OBP should be just above .300. He’ll also likely approach 20 home runs on the season. Narvaez doesn’t have much power, but he should continue to provide solid ratios as a catcher, though nothing quite like the .308/.387/.517 line he’s had so far. Something more like .260/.340/.400 going forward sounds reasonable, along with 15 home runs or so when it’s all said and done. They’ll both stay on the streaming borderline and you can consider them based on your particular category needs. Points leaguers can avoid Chirinos if their league penalizes for strikeouts, though.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this list is that we aren’t seeing a ton of speedsters on it. Generally, speedy players are seen as lucky in expected stats because they are quick enough to outrun balls that normal players cannot. Byron Buxton would be a classic example of this, as his 30.2 feet per second sprint speed is tops in the major leagues. Much of what looks like luck is actually just hot, nasty speed. It’s quite troubling, though, when slower hitters such as Rhys Hoskins and Asdrubal Cabrera make the luck list, as they aren’t using their legs to manufacture hits. If anything, their speed is taking hits away. This really isn’t actionable information for a player like Hoskins—you’re going to keep plugging him in and hope that skill takes over when the luck fades away. For a player like Asdrubal, he should remain a useful infielder for fantasy purposes as the weather heats up in Texas. While some of his weaker batted balls may stop landing for hits, the friendly confines of Arlington should give him enough of a boost to stay relevant.
I think the last point I want to make is more of a reiteration: Just because a player is on the list above does not mean he will “regress” or “come back to Earth.” While that is a distinct possibility, the problem with making that assumption is that no one on this planet has the ability to figure out when that will actually happen. Players can outperform metrics for a very, very long time—often long enough to actually have a legitimate change in skill that ends up supporting the expected statistics. This would be something I might expect from the highly-touted Fernando Tatis Jr. Sure, he’s had a bit of luck to start the year, but by the time his luck starts to sour, he may very well have adjusted significantly to major league pitching in a way that offsets any return to the mean (in terms of luck). There’s often an attitude of fear onlookers have when evaluating people who have been lucky, as if some grand arbiter of fortune is counting all of a person’s good luck and adding a credit of bad luck that will have to be cashed in at a later date. That simply isn’t how this works. A patch of good luck, particularly for players who have the ability to make adjustments and grow, is simply that: good luck.
Barreling the Ball
Barrels, which are batted balls expected to have a batting average of least .500 and a slugging percentage of at least 1.500 based on their exit velocity and launch angle, are the best raw measure of quality contact we have available. Because these batted balls require a high level of skill and power, it’s safe to assume that hitters will be unable to accidentally generate elevated barrel rates for any sustained period of time. While there are many ways to measure barrels, we’re going to take a look at them on a per-plate appearance basis. I like using this measure because I believe it provides a better sense of what we are looking for in fantasy.
For example, Joey Gallo’s 29.2% barrel rate per batted ball event is second in baseball, just behind Gary Sanchez (who is murdering the ball this year and is the barrel rate leader no matter which way you slice it.). Both sit head and shoulders above the rest of the league, with only one player within five percentage points of that mark and only eight players within 10 percentage points. A big reason for this, at least for Gallo, is that many of his trips to the plate don’t actually end with a batted ball event. A batted ball event, by the way, is any ball that produces a result (like an out, error, or hit). Foul balls aren’t counted unless they result in an out or error. In 148 plate appearances, Gallo has just 65 batted ball events, meaning that a whopping 56.1% of his trips to the batter’s box end with either a walk or a strikeout. No other qualified hitter has a combined strikeout and walk rate higher than 48%, and only 17 of 176 have a a combined rate of 40% or more. What’s that mean for barrel rates? It means that while Gallo absolutely crushes baseballs when he hits them, he hits them at a much lower rate than other hitters due to his willingness to take pitches and his propensity to swing and miss. Of course, he still appears on the top of the list, but in a much less extreme position.
Jason Castro, part of the three-headed catching monster in Minnesota, continues to get playing time as the lefty due to how well he’s hit the ball this season. Durability will continue to be a concern for the 31-year-old, but he’s got a bit of pop in his bat and should get to double-digit home runs in his part-time role—just don’t expect any help in batting average.
Brandon Dixon has come out of nowhere in his time as a Tiger, slashing .317/.333/.610 in his 15-game sample. He’s swinging a hard and aggressive bat, which is great while he’s hot, but will likely fail him in the near future when pitchers begin to adjust. He’s a bit old to be a prospect and has a track record of very limited success outside of a stop in AAA last season with the Reds organization, so I can’t really recommend him outside of AL-only leagues, even if the luck continues for a while longer.
It’s really interesting to see Nick Senzel on this list due to his below-average 88.2 mph exit velocity, though much of the weakest contact actually comes on the ground (which is a good thing, generally). He doesn’t have the same raw power as some of the other names on this list, but he’s made quite the impression in his first trip the major leagues. It will be interesting to see how he fares as big league pitchers get more looks at his swing and approach.
I think it’s important to remember that Anthony Rendon is a 28-year-old. He made his debut back in 2013, so he’s been around, but he’s still in the prime of his career, as evidenced by the spike in barrel rate and exit velocity that he’s displayed thus far. He’s in the top 5% of the league in barrel percentage, exit velocity, expected batting average and slugging percentage, wOBA, expected wOBA, and hard hit rate; he remains one of the premier third basemen in real and fantasy baseball. The enhanced quality of contact (which was already fairly good to begin with) may not lead to a 30-home run season or anything like that, but he could easily climb into the top five at third base, which is quite a feat when Nolan Arenado, Javier Baez, Jose Ramirez, and Alex Bregman have the top four all but locked up.
To wrap things up, I urge all of you to keep an eye on the Statcast Leaderboards from time to time throughout the season. We’ll cover what we can in our work here on the site, but there are always more treasure buried in the data. If you ever need help obtaining or understanding the data, I’d encourage you to reach out to us on our awesome Discord (where we have an entire channel dedicated to this kind of stuff), in the comments sections of our articles, on Twitter, or anywhere else you can find us. Even if you’re not a math or numbers person, there’s fun stuff to be found.
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)
This is excellent. I had not seen it, but it would be awesome to have some tracker of stat cast data based on batted ball events or time periods. April is a cold month and I’d rather look at statcast data of the last 30 days and YTD.
Glad you liked it, Edgardo! There are ways to pull rolling averages and things like from Baseball Savant, though I’m far from an expert at it. If you’re on the Discord, I know several staff and community members share methods for obtaining that data. There may also be other tutorials and things on the web as well. If you follow any of our staff on Twitter, they might also be able to help.
I think Dave Cherman will be taking this piece up next week, and he will likely use cooler data than I do (personally, I rather enjoy the season-long leaderboards, though I totally get where you’re coming from).