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xStats Weekly: Early Overperformers

Some of fantasy baseball's luckiest hitters and pitchers so far

In one of Dana Carvey’s stand-up comedy specials, he lambasts the Kevin Costner film Waterworld, and specifically the on-screen appearance of a device that somehow turns urine into clean drinking water. “You cannot pee into a Mr. Coffee and get Taster’s Choice!” Yet somehow that’s what a number of players have been able to do thus far when comparing their actual results to the expected stats on Baseball Savant. These overperformers have spun straw into gold, but in some cases, it may not all be fool’s gold.

In last week’s debut of xStats Weekly, it was stressed that these early-season expected statistics should be taken with a few big grains of salt; sample sizes are still too small to support concrete conclusions, and the deadened MLB baseballs/humidors in every park are affecting the “accuracy” of the xStats. For fantasy baseball purposes, xStats should be just one tool to help us make in-season roster management decisions.

All stats via baseballsavant.com thru 5/2/22

 

Early xStat Overperformers: Hitters

 

 

Eric Hosmer, 1B, SD

 

Eric Hosmer is fantasy baseball’s version of plain toast. Serviceable when there’s no other choice, but you’ll always regret not having something better instead. At a position where power grows on trees, Hosmer has quite literally lived on the ground as the owner of a 54.4% career ground ball rate. He teased us in 2020 when he finally appeared to have joined the flyball revolution, dropping his GB% under 50 for the first and only time in his career and ripping 9 HR in 38 games. Alas, in 2021 he returned to his worm-burning ways and they’ve persisted even stronger so far in 2022 (59.4% GB rate). 

For those who have rostered or started Hosmer this year, we’ve likely seen the best month of his season already. The impending return of Luke Voit from the IL will put Hosmer on the bench against most LHP, and the unsustainable batting average is likely to start dropping soon. Without more significant contributions in HR or SB, Hosmer will become waiver wire fodder in about a week. Should an impatient player in your league drop someone like Joey Votto feel free to make the change.

 

Andrew Benintendi, OF, KC

 

Many have been waiting for the career of Andrew Benintendi to get back on course since injury and poor performance derailed his early successes with the Red Sox. Now hitting 3rd every day in the Royals lineup, the opportunity is there for Benintendi to be a difference-maker in fantasy again, but his 1 HR/0 SB month of April was tremendously uninspiring. Without the BABIP-fueled .365 BA, Benintendi would be a massive disappointment. The .258 xBA looks bad on the surface, but it’s due in part to an abnormal 53.8% ground ball rate, compared to his 40.1% career GB rate.

In spite of all the ground balls, Benintendi has still managed a respectable 89.4 mph average exit velocity and sits in the middle of the pack amongst MLB hitters in EV on fly balls and line drives (93.4 MPH). If, as expected, his launch angle starts rising with the summer temperatures, there’s still hope for the 20/12 type of season for which most fantasy players drafted him, and the batting average should finish well despite its impending drop. It’s likely wisest to take an optimistic approach with Benintendi and hold him as more batted ball metrics start to stabilize. He could even be a viable trade target should his owner see little hope in his empty BA.

 

Taylor Ward, OF, LAA

 

Fresh off an AL Player of the Week award, Taylor Ward has been one of the season’s biggest early surprises. It seemed few believed Joe Maddon when he said Ward would be an everyday player upon his season debut in mid-April, yet in a rare instance of truthful coach-speak, that has fully come to fruition. While it’s obvious the .390/.493/.746 slash line is completely unsustainable, it’s entirely possible we’re seeing Ward breaking out with his first true full-time opportunity.

Like Cedric Mullins last year, Ward is a bit of a late bloomer, but he posted excellent minor league seasons in 2018/2019 and it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that he’s succeeding so far in MLB with full-time at-bats. And some of the underlying skills look legit: a 16.7% BB rate with a 19.7% K rate, 15.6% barrel rate, and excellent contact and chase rates. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, as Ward sports a hard-hit rate under 40% to go along with average (87.2 mph) and max (106.5 mph) exit velocities that don’t portend a 30-HR season is forthcoming.

Regression is looming for Taylor Ward, but the hot start has likely solidified Maddon’s trust, and hitting lead-off ahead of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani is a nice place to be. Once the water finds its level we may still be left with a valuable fantasy asset. Selling high may prove the best choice if you can net a strong return for Ward, but if you were lucky enough to scoop him up off your league’s waiver wire, you may have found a hidden gem. Jo Adell’s demotion to the minor leagues further cements Ward as a full-timer.

 

Early xStat Overperformers: Pitchers

 

 

José Berríos, SP, TOR

 

No high-profile SP has been helped more by batted ball luck than José Berríos. If you were told only that he was outperforming his expectations and were given a 4.13 ERA, .475 SLG, and .287 BA nobody would fault you for thinking those were the xStats and the actual numbers were better. Unfortunately, those are the real numbers. His xStats are so much worse, it’s nearly unbelievable. An xBA of .334, xSLG of .690, and xERA of 8.20 are the stuff of nightmares.

Some of the underlying skills are equally ugly. Berríos currently sports an anemic 7.5 K/9, which would be the worst HR/9 (1.50) of his past six seasons and the lowest GB% (28.7%) of his career. Berríos is giving up a TON of hard contact (93.1 EV, 14.8% barrel rate, 53.1% hard-hit) and has been lucky the ERA hasn’t broken through the earth’s atmosphere. But if we have learned from Monty Python’s Life of Brian to always look on the bright side of life, it’s easy to imagine the worst is behind him.

For his career, Berríos has been so reliably consistent (and really, that’s what he was drafted for) that he deserves the benefit of the doubt for these early-season struggles. There’s nothing egregiously different about his velocity, pitch mix, HR/FB rate, swinging strike rate, etc. to think he’s suddenly trash at age 27. Sometimes, a rough patch is just a rough patch. As that ground ball rate regresses to career norms and the ball stays in the park more often, Berríos should begin looking more and more like his old self. That he survived such an awful start with an ERA of 4.13 and two wins is hopefully evidence not all hope is lost and Berríos will return value near his draft-day cost. He’s clearly worth holding based on talent and draft capital alone and he would make for an intriguing buy-low candidate in trade.

 

Zack Greinke, SP, KC

 

Zack Greinke may be back in Kansas City, but as he approaches the end of his admirable career, he’s no longer the pitcher he once was when he won the AL Cy Young award in 2009. Only extreme control (0.96 BB/9!) and batted ball luck are helping produce the early season mirage that Greinke is having some kind of renaissance season, and the expected stats back that up. His 2.25 K/9 (seriously) and 45.3% hard-hit rate mean he’s allowing a lot of batted balls in play at 95+ mph, hence the bloated xSLG of .536 and xBA of .325. Greinke is still adept at limiting barrels, but the margin for error with an average fastball velocity around 88.5 is so thin that the results could turn ugly fast once regression hits. See Kyle Hendricks.

If you have Greinke on your roster right now, it’s a great time to offer him up to any teams desperate for starting pitching. He has the name brand and surface stats that someone may take the bait. To be fair to Zack, he possesses the pitching IQ and command to avoid total implosion and maybe continue to provide some value as a streamer in favorable matchups, but gone are the days of Greinke as a set-and-forget fixture in a fantasy lineup. Don’t be afraid to move on if his good fortune begins to fail. Even if you never roster Greinke at all in 2022 though, he’s worth following as he could achieve something rather historic:

 

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Dan Thompson

Dan Thompson has been playing fantasy baseball for nearly 25 years and can be found from November thru March drafting in the NFBC, where he has won 9 league titles and an overall championship. A Cubs fan and former Chicagoan now living in south Florida, Dan is tolerated by his beautiful wife and amazing son Henry.

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