Deep-Dive Analysis this year is going to be interesting, mostly because the main idea of digging deeper into stats is to find under-performing/over-performing hitters that you can take advantage of over a long six-month season. Well… We don’t have that this year. Instead we have a two-month sprint. That makes identifying player trends and trying to determine whether stretches are real or not all that much more important, but also significantly tougher.
That’s where the Statcast Roundup is going to come into play.
Every Thursday, we’ll have charts focusing on over- and under-performing hitters, based on batting average and expected batting average and barrels. On the pitching side of things, it’s really hard to get any sort of sample when (as of Wednesday night) most pitchers have only thrown one start. Doubling down on that is we’re seeing most pitchers throwing a max of five or so innings, so we’ll give it another week before really digging into those numbers as well with a primary focused on the same expected stats, plus comparing CSW to K%.
Generally, the basis for what the Statcast Roundup is going to focus on. Batting average and expected average are going to be included in the chart, as I mentioned above, and we’re also going to look at raw batted balls totals for balls hit over 95 mph and the percentage of barrels per plate appearance. Barrels are an extremely sticky stat when it comes to hitting performance, and even when a ball doesn’t have the launch angle to be classified as a barrel, batted balls over 95 mph are classified as “hard-hit”. In 2018, they had an average of .524, a slugging percentage of 1.474, and an expected xwOBA of .653. More info on hard-hit rate can be found in the MLB Statcast Glossary.
Now onto the players.
- Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Seager is off to an absurd start to 2020 with a league-leading 13 batted balls over 95 mph. Even with all the extremely hard contact, Seager’s first homer of the season didn’t come until Wednesday night as he took Astros starter Christian Javier deep in the first inning. 2018 and 2019 were fairly forgettable for the Dodgers shortstop after he burst onto the scene in 2016 and following that up with another impressive 2017 season. His struggles in those ’18 and ’19 seasons resulted from both shoulder and hip surgeries that greatly slowed him down and caused his numbers under the hood to look as mediocre as his counting numbers did. Well now we are in 2020 and Seager entered the season fully healthy, and goodness is he performing like he is. He’s seventh in all of baseball currently with a 96.7 average exit velocity and his 17.4% Barell/PA% trails only Giancarlo Stanton, Rio Ruiz, and Tyler O’Neill.
- Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays) – Catchers are an extremely unsexy part of fantasy baseball, there’s no other way to put it. Jansen though is among a young crop of catchers that are performing well to start the season. Jansen is slashing .267/.353/.467 over the first week of the season and sits in the 96th percentile for xAVG at .427. Concerning though is that he is running these x-stats with an 82 mph average exit velocity. Last season Jansen hit just .207 with a .246 xAVG with an average exit velocity of 88.9 mph. It’s early, but we’re seeing a spike in his launch angle sitting at 27°, and he’s hitting the ball more consistently than in years past with a 9% barrel rate compared to 4% last season. Small samples of course, but Jansen was a highly regarded catching prospect coming up and we’re seeing some trends that can lead to more consistent results.
- Colin Moran (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Maybe the Pirates didn’t lose the Gerrit Cole trade after all. Well maybe we aren’t quite there, but Moran is off to an extremely hot start at the plate for Pittsburgh. Moran is sitting in the top 5% of the league in xBA and his barrel rate is in the top 7% of baseball. The Pirates have yet to face a lefty this year so we’ll see where the lineup goes once that happens, but for the meantime, he’s going to hit cleanup for them. Moran has hit .277 in back-to-back seasons, so he’s not useless there, and if he can continue to barrel balls at this rate we could see an uptick in power as well. He’s going to be a player people are targeting this weekend in FAAB bidding.
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- David Fletcher (2B, Los Angeles Angels) – Fletcher is off to a hot start for the Angels, but like last year, there’s not much under the hood that gets you excited about his production. His average exit velocity early on this year is 87 mph which is solid but even that is three mph higher than he posted last season. He’s also not currently elevating anything at the moment with a -3.7° launch angle. Not everything has to generate a fly ball, and with Fletcher’s lack of power, line drives are where he is shooting for anyways. His sweet spot percentage (batted ball between 8°-32° launch angle) is just at 25%. That’s down from the 37.5% mark from last season, a career-high for him. Fletcher can provide a solid average, but with little power and slightly above average speed that average (plus runs) are about all he’ll provide in fantasy.
- Philip Gosselin (INF, Philadelphia Phillies) – Fun fact: when piecing together the roundup Wednesday night, this is how I was reminded that Gosselin was still in the league! Gosselin is on the lower end of the batted ball requirements to make the “qualified” tab on Baseball Savant, he’s started the season with two homers in his first eight plate appearances after hitting just six homers in his first 653 plate appearances. This one comes down to believing the first few seasons of a player’s career, compared to last year and the first week-plus of 2020. Gosselin saw a launch angle spike last year to 15°, up from the 6° he posted in the two years prior. Even with the launch angle jump, he still didn’t homer a single time last year in 44 games while maintaining his 6% barrel rate. A launch angle spike isn’t enough for Gosselin to take strides offensively, but overall he’s hitting the ball significantly more in the air this season compared to years prior.
- Francisco Cervelli (C, Miami Marlins) – Before the Marlins team was shut down for a week due to their COVID-19 outbreak with the team, Cervelli was getting some starts behind the plate due to the absence of Jorge Alfaro and his case of COVID-19, and he was making the most of them. Cervelli has a 95th percentile exit velocity to start the season across six batted balls events and has just one hit to show for them. As the chart shows above, three of his batted balls alone are over 95 mph, and his 11.1% Barrels/PA% puts him just outside of the top 30 in all of baseball. Alfaro has had his struggles behind the plate, mainly plagued by his tendency to swing and miss combined with low walk rates for his career. Alfaro has also gotten off to a strong start though with his exit velocities sitting just outside the 80th percentile for the league. Once the Marlins are cleared to resume play, Cervelli could be an option in two catcher league if Alfaro isn’t able to return when the team begins play. Note: This also all assumes Cervelli himself hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19, as names are released to the public only with the player’s permission.
- Will Smith (C, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Smith is smoking the ball to start the season and has extremely little to show for it at this point. Smith has just one hit on the season, a home run, but rates in the 88th percentile in average exit velocity, 86th percentile in barrel rate, and his xSLUG is in the top 7% of the league. With the small sample sizes that we have to work with, this is a perfect player to make a run for if the person that rosters Smith is worried about his slow start. He’s shaved his K-rate down to 7% early on this year, and even at his worst last year, he was sitting at 26.5%. Last season Smith barreled the ball at a 10% rate, so even though his current 18.4% rate is likely to come down he’s still shown the ability to barrel balls at a consistent rate in the majors. If there’s a great option for a buy-low after one week, Smith is 100% a player that I would be targeting.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)