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xStats Weekly: Overachieving Hitters

Six hitters outpacing their expected performance so far

“They call you Lady Luck, but there is room for doubt

At times, you’ve had a very unlady-like way of running out”

Did Frank Sinatra play fantasy baseball? Baseball at the MLB level requires an amazing level of skill, but even the highest skill level can be supplemented by some good old-fashioned luck at times.

Last week’s xStats Weekly article lamented the bad luck of some hitters who have been making plenty of hard contact without the results to back it up. This week, we take the opposite angle and examine a group of hitters getting more out of their batted balls than should have been expected. Several of them are fantasy superstars we shouldn’t be concerned about, even if the regression monster starts hiding under their hotel beds. For the others, extracting the most possible fantasy value may depend on knowing how long to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

All xStats via Baseball Savant thru 6/6

 

xStats: Overachieving Hitters

 

 

Paul Goldschmidt has been one of baseball’s best hitters for the first two months and one of the most valuable fantasy contributors overall. His numbers to date put him on pace for a ridiculous .346/35/138/115/8 line in standard 5×5 leagues, and his above-average walk rate makes him a stud in OBP and points leagues as well.

While he has outpaced his xStats so far in 2022, the underlying metrics are all in line with previous career norms. After slow first-halves in the full seasons of 2019 and 2021, it’s a luxury to know we’re likely getting a vintage Paul Goldschmidt season without needing a monster second half to get there.

Manny Machado has already cooled down some since his amazing April when he hit .386/.453/.614 and has legitimately struggled over the past two weeks, batting a lowly .170 with one homer and zero steals over 12 games. Unlike Goldschmidt, some of Machado’s underlying metrics are down from his career benchmarks, in particular his barrel rate of 5.4% (career rate 9.8%).

There are a few silver linings though. The barrel rate is likely to climb and help the power and run production. Also, a dude named Fernando Tatis Jr. is on his way back to the Padres lineup, perhaps by the end of this month. Even if some struggles persist into the summer, Machado’s hot start has made something resembling last year’s .278/28/106/92/12 line feel like a safe floor, and that’s still a huge year from the 3B position.

.291/46/175/109/23. That’s the current pace for José Ramírez in 2022. 175 RBI! No matter the format, Ramirez has been an absolute beast in fantasy leagues, but the obvious thought of “he can’t possibly keep up that pace all year” is unfortunately supported by the underlying numbers, perhaps even more so than the still-excellent xStats let on.

Ramírez has hit 14 HR on 15 barrels, a completely unsustainable conversion rate. In the past, Ramirez has tapped into his power by pulling a lot of flyballs. So far in 2022, he has been hitting more fly balls than ever but pulling less of them. The .291 AVG is not sustainable as long as Ramirez continues to hit such a high volume of fly balls, but especially with more of those in the direction of center and the opposite field. Hot starts from other teammates like Steven Kwan and Owen Miller have also inflated his RBI total, which should fall off such a ridiculous pace as the season progresses.

 

Tyler Stephenson – C CIN

 

The catcher position has been a fantasy wasteland in 2022. The position’s elite tiers have been let down by weak performances from Salvador Perez, Yasmani Grandal, Will Smith, and J.T. Realmuto. Only Willson Contreras and Daulton Varsho have thus far earned near their draft price. There have also been few notable breakouts from the lower tiers. For the most part, only Alejandro Kirk and Tyler Stephenson have appeared to match some of their preseason hype.

On the surface, Stephenson’s .306 AVG and 84 RBI pace would seem to have vaulted him onto the top shelf at the catcher position, but the xStats tell us to temper our enthusiasm. The xBA and xSLG hint that below the surface, Stephenson still has work to do in order to join the club of elite catchers. The average EV (86.4 mph), hard hit rate (34%), and barrel rate (6.2%) aren’t strong and the plate discipline has room for improvement (7.4% BB/25.7% K). He’s on pace for 12 HR on the year, and that’s a fair expectation.

Still, there’s a solid foundation for a young player in his first full season of near-every day at-bats. There’s potential for in-season skills progression to mask any regression in the “luck factor” on display in the xStats. Stephenson isn’t necessarily an obvious sell-high trade candidate simply because he’s a top-10 catcher himself based on volume alone. In most leagues that makes him a player you hold and start every week/day. In one catcher leagues where you have another viable option though, he could be dangled for a roster upgrade elsewhere.

 

Chris Taylor – 2B/SS/3B/OF LAD

 

In both real life and fantasy baseball Chris Taylor has been a versatile contributor since his 2017 breakout with the Dodgers. He’s never been a true star, but he’s always been a valuable lynchpin for Dave Roberts and fantasy managers alike. Taylor’s 2022 performance has been more of the same. He slashed .254/20/73/92/13 in 2021 and is on pace for a similar line in 2022 except for runs and steals, although a few markers tell us he may not repeat 2021 in other areas as well.

Taylor’s .261 AVG has largely been propped up by a high line drive rate (29.1%) and BABIP (.377) both due for regression. He’s also sporting a career-worst 33% K rate due to zone contact and overall contact rates a full 10 percentage points below his career marks. He’s making strong contact (10.7% barrel rate and 43.8% hard hit), just not enough of it despite swinging at pitches in the zone way more frequently this year than in the past. If Taylor can’t curtail this new in-zone aggressiveness or start making more contact, the AVG could take a large tumble.

Taylor still plays most every day, but he’s been used exclusively as an OF by the Dodgers this year (one start at DH). Even without Max Muncy in the lineup recently Taylor has yet to set foot on the infield grass. This doesn’t bode well for his playing time should the Dodgers add an impact bat or two before the trade deadline. Taylor remains a fine and versatile option for most fantasy leagues while he can maintain his current pace, but with multiple pathways to decline in his fantasy value moving forward, those with Taylor on their roster should watch his performance and Dodgers trade rumors closely.

 

Juan Yepez – 1B/OF STL

 

A trendy add after his initial call-up by the Cardinals, and early success at the plate, Juan Yepez season is already fading. The raw numbers so far still look serviceable for 12-team leagues and deeper — .269 AVG and 4 HR in just over 100 PA — but the path to playing time is quickly narrowing and the decline in performance stretches back nearly two weeks already.

Yepez hit .328 with 3 HR over his first 15 games, but only .196 with 1 HR in the 15 games since. He has also started just 3/6 games in the past week, and that’s without Tyler O’Neill in the lineup while he’s been on the IL. O’Neill’s pending return and the news that Dylan Carlson is on a rehab assignment fills up the OF and Paul Goldschmidt remains entrenched at 1B, so Yepez would have to hit his way into the DH spot to see semi-regular PA moving forward, or possibly face demotion.

Underlying metrics suggest a trip back to AAA for a while are the likeliest outcomes. Yepez’s 7.4% barrel rate and 30.9% hard hit rate aren’t good enough to be a regular major league DH, and he’s not good enough defensively to keep a roster spot for versatility purposes. He’s been outplayed by Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman thus far, and the presence of each limits his opportunity for PA. Yepez’ contact skills and league-average plate discipline in his first experience against MLB pitching are positive signs that he could still develop into the hitter his minor league numbers suggest he could be, but it’s not likely to happen here in 2022. Those in 12-team and shallower leagues are safe to cut bait now.

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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