Wow, my last Is It Legit? of the 2020 season. What a long, strange journey it’s been. Without the motivation for proving 2020 legit-ness, I feel like it’s time to look ahead to 2021 and see whose breakout has warranted a true increase in value and who will leave a future drafter wondering where the value was lost. Much will be written about the true value of this 60-game “season”, so consider this the appetizer for an interesting offseason ahead. Apologies if your favorite breakout was omitted, maybe we can do this again sometime!
All stats as of 9/23
Slash: 16 HR, 32 RBI, 31 R, 5 SB, .303/.349/.617, 159 wRC+
Long the epitome of toolsy sans production, Hernández has always displayed incredible power and athleticism without the consistency to show he could stick as a regular. Well, he’s done everything in his power to cast doubt on the naysayers in 2020 with MVP-like production. He is in at least the 96th percentile in EV, Hard Hit %, xwOBA, xSLG, and Barrel %. He has the third-highest percentage of BIP (min 5o BBE) of 105 mph or greater, higher both than Fernando Tatís Jr. and Juan Soto. If not for an oblique injury that forced him to miss 12 days, he may very seriously be in the AL MVP conversation.
While there is still plenty of swing and miss to his game, Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs pointed out one key improvement Hernández has made this season in an article three weeks ago. Hernández has been much more selective with breaking pitches down and away (Statcast Attack Zones 9, 19, 29, 39). Many of his other PD metrics have stayed relatively poor, but this development is encouraging nonetheless.
Additionally, Hernández has developed one of the more consistent launch angles in the game this season. If you do not already, you should follow Alex Chamberlain on Twitter, he is brilliant, creator of the Pitch Leaderboard, and has done some tremendous work on launch angle consistency and its potential connection to the hit tool. Well, Hernández has been oscillating up and down the top 20 in LA consistency this year and its “tightness” has clearly improved.
Hernández’s breakout is legit and will likely be a buy by next draft season, as long as things do not get carried away this winter. Don’t expect the batting average to ever be this far above .300 again, but the power production is serious.
Slash: 13 HR, 33 RBI, 33 R, 3 SB, .271/.362/.558, 151 wRC+
Lowe seemingly came out of nowhere last season, smashing 17 HRs, earning an All-Star bid, and nearly crashing the AL ROY vote (if not for Yordan Álvarez‘s emergence, remember him?). A true showman, he began this season blazing hot putting on an encore for his rookie campaign before dramatically falling back to earth over the last month or so.
First, the good: Lowe has shown his hit tool was legit last year by barreling up a greater percent of BIP (16.3% in 2019, 19.0% in 2020) while maintaining elite xSLG (92nd percentile) and xwOBA (98th percentile). He has also cut down on his gaudy strikeout total, dropping it from 34.6% to 25.7%. All very good!
On the other hand, his slump has suspiciously coincided with an inability to hit left-handed pitching, an issue that plagued him all of last season.
While the talent is immense, I am skeptical of Lowe’s potential AB ceiling in 2021 and beyond. Per usual, the Rays have some serious prospects set to graduate over the next calendar year, many of which play Lowe’s primary position of 2B. Many will give more credence to his hot month in 2020 compared to his cold one and potentially draft him among the top 2B in 2021. He is not legit at that price tag.
Slash: 6 HR, 14 RBI, 33 R, 4 SB, .328/.383/.511, 140 wRC+
A longtime favorite of mine in the prospect world, Verdugo has always shown off a bevy of tools without any of which being sexy enough to set him apart. Well, ears should have perked up when he went back to Boston in exchange for Mookie Betts (along with Jeter Downs). If Chaim Bloom wants you, I do too. With large shoes to fill, Verdugo has done so admirably with better production than at any point in his professional career.
Certainly, he is due for some serious regression: his BABIP sits at an unsustainable .390, his Hard Hit % (25th percentile) and Barrel % (44th percentile) both sit below league average, and 43.4% of his BIP were hit at less than a 2° LA. All… not so great, but he has made a major improvement against breaking balls that gives me confidence in his future value. In just about half the sample (372 in 2019, 189 in 2020), Verdugo has made a dramatic jump across the board.
A potential key to his improvement is an improved selectivity against breaking pitches. An already selective hitter across the board (25.4% O-Swing), Verdugo has dropped his Swing % on breaking balls outside of the strike zone from 18.9% to 13.5%. Moreover, he has slightly increased that number on breaking balls in the strike zone (64.6% to 67.0%) while bumping his xwOBA from .311 to .390 on such pitches. The tools are there, the role is there, and palpable improvements are taking place. Verdugo is legit and should be viewed as such in 2021.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)