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4 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
May 23, 2018

We’re not officially into the meat of baseball season until a top-tier prospect gets the call (we’ve had several), Giancarlo Stanton goes on a power binge, and Rich Hill hits the disabled list with a blister. I can’t say I’m surprised but the word out of Los Angeles is that this is the “worst” one yet. So, does his blister have a blister? Either way, Hill is getting harder and harder to roster these days. In shallow leagues, I’m not wasting a DL spot on him. As far as topics to discuss in today’s article, I want to talk best slugger in the game, Jordan Hicks and his 105 mph fastball, and the NL Cy Young leader. First, let’s start with a 19-year-old kid.

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What to make of Juan Soto?
The Washington Nationals called up Juan Soto prior to Sunday’s game on 5/20, where he did not start but was brought in as a pinch hitter. While he struck out in that at-bat, the very next time he stepped to the plate he hit a 422-foot opposite field bomb. I did mention the kid is 19 years old, didn’t I? Ok, he’s 19 and a half. He’s young enough to count half years. I don’t know about you but I was probably crushing a half dozen Busch Lights in my dorm room at 19 years old. What were you doing at 19?

Soto started the year at Low-A, moved quickly to High-A, then to Double-A, all in less than a month and a half. His 122 Minor League games played makes Soto the fastest position player to reach the Majors since Alex Rodriguez. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. Even the prospect analysts thought Soto had no chance to be up in the Majors this year. The Nationals organization is clearly in win-now mode with the possibility of losing Bryce Harper next year. Remember when Victor Robles was called up late in 2017 just to sit on the bench? Yeah, that was Dusty Baker. Dave Martinez is doing things differently. He’s putting the best players on the field. It sounds obvious, but not all managers do this.

Enough background, let’s get to the kid’s skills. He’s put together at six foot one and 185 pounds. He’s got room to fill out, because he’s ONLY 19, remember? I could see him around 200 to 210 pounds in his prime. Soto is a rare prospect who hits for contact, hits for power, has an elite walk rate and a solid K rate for a 19-year-old. The power should not be underestimated. He hit 14 home runs in less than 40 minor league games this year. There’s no doubt he possess the ability to be a middle of the order slugger in his prime for more than a decade.

Manager Dave Martinez has already said they plan on giving him plenty of playing time with Eaton out for an extended period of time and Michael Taylor struggling with a triple slash line of .185/.250/.309. The Robles injury completely accelerated Soto’s timeline to the Majors. Unfortunately, Soto doesn’t play center field, but Eaton can play in center once he returns. I can envision Soto staying up with the big club all season even after Eaton returns especially if Soto is hitting.

He will run a little bit, but speed isn’t his game and as he fills out, the stolen base production will be next to nothing. For this year at least I could see a handful of steals. We already saw the opposite field power and many prospects have been seeing a jump in home run rates once they come up. Recent examples include Gleyber Torres and Ronald Acuna. I have a hard time thinking he hits less than 20 home runs this year, even in 4.5 months. I think an average around .275-.280 sounds about right with a good OBP. He just walked three times in last night’s game. He should be owned in all formats based on skills alone. What are you waiting for? Go grab him!

Who is the best slugger in Major League Baseball?
In five years or so, we may be talking about someone like Juan Soto as one of the best sluggers in the game. Right now, if you asked fans, most would say one of the Yankee sluggers Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge. However, I believe that title belongs to J.D. Martinez. No, he didn’t lead the league in home runs last year or any year for that matter, so why do I believe Martinez is a better slugger than anyone in the big leagues? Let’s find out!

The late-blooming former Astros farmhand was given the dreaded Quad-A title prior to busting out in 2014 with the Detroit Tigers. Since then, the only roadblock for Martinez has been health. He’s missed a total of 89 games in the three seasons since 2014. Comerica Park is not known as a hitter’s park but Martinez paid no mind. He’s one of the early proponents of the fly-ball revolution and when a player can hit the ball as hard as Martinez does, it elevates he player’s power numbers significantly.

To put Martinez’s raw numbers into perspective, let’s look at his last 162 games played. He’s hit .312, which is great, but we are discussing slugging. Well, he’s hit 58 home runs and drove in an amazing 142 runs, chipping in 38 doubles and four triples for good measure. Now, that’s right on par with Stanton’s 2017. I’ve included a couple graphs below with some of the best sluggers in the game including Stanton, Judge, Trout, Gary Sanchez, and Martinez  

If the last 162 games didn’t convince you, I hope these graphs paint a clearer picture, especially the last two seasons. We talked about how Detroit isn’t a great place to hit and a portion of Martinez’s last 162 games was during his Detroit tenure. Using that 162-game sample, Martinez blasted a homer every 11.66 plate appearances, that’s fantastic. Breaking it down further, starting at the date he was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Summer of 2017, because we are a “what have you done for me lately” society, Martinez has hit a home run every 10.25 plate appearances! Sure, that’s a bit of a small sample (107 games) but absolutely elite nonetheless. To put that in perspective, in 2001 when Barry Bonds broke the single-season home run record, he hit a home run every 9.1 plate appearances.

Now to be fair, Stanton did have a stretch between June and the end of the season (109 games) where he hit a home run every 8.96 plate appearances, but over the entire season, his PA/HR was still an impressive 11.7. What about the other players on the graphs? They’re great sluggers too.

Trout is the best player in the game, Sanchez is the best hitting catcher, Judge may be one of the most intimidating hitters to face, leaving Stanton and Martinez. No doubt, it’s a two-horse race. Without a clear-cut winner, I turn to Statcast. Who hits the ball harder and who hits it harder more frequently? That would be J.D. Martinez, everyone. His average exit velocity of 95.5 mph bests Stanton’s 94.1 mph. Martinez also has hit 59% of hit batted balls 95 mph or higher, where Stanton is right at 51%. I should mention the fact that Stanton is back to striking out 30% of the time compared to Martinez’s 25.8%. Give me Martinez over Stanton any day.

Will Jordan Hicks be fantasy viable this year?
I wanted to take a quick look at Major League Baseball’s hardest throwing pitcher, Jordan Hicks. He’s regularly hitting 104 mph and 105 mph on the gun, yet somehow has the second lowest strikeout rate in the Major Leagues? How can that be? Have Major League hitters figured out how to time fastballs at that speed and say beat me another way?

When Hicks made his debut this year, of course everyone was going nuts over the velocity. With the Cardinals struggling bullpen and without a clear-cut closer, chatter began about Hicks filling that role. Thus far, Hicks leads the Majors in pitches thrown over 100 mph with 96, Aroldis Chapman is second with 56. How has Hicks translated his flaming heat into strikeouts? A measly 3.68 K/9 and a 9.5% K%! Other than a 30% strikeout rate in High-A ball in 2017, Hicks has always struck batters out at a below average clip.

While the strikeouts are low, his ERA is a solid 2.05 and could provide value if given a chance at the closer role for fantasy owners. His overall line is just odd to me and the peripherals tell me that he should be sent back to the minors. A 16.8% walk rate, which is just awful, along with a sub-.200 BABIP is cause for concern. I have a problem with the peripherals that expect the BABIP to rise significantly.

I won’t be buying in just yet, but once Hicks learns how to pitch, he’s going to be an elite closer as long as his arm can withstand the strain of that velocity. He already has a great ground ball rate at over 50%. Once he can improve his control, I believe the strikeouts will come. Hitters are being patient, waiting to time up that triple-digit heat. Leave Hicks on the wire for now, but keep an eye on the K rate and the BB rate then pounce.

Is Max Scherzer the runaway Cy Young Award Winner in the National League?
Yes. Well, that was easy! Clayton Kershaw has long been the class of not only the National League but also the Major League. Injuries have unfortunately derailed Kershaw’s last few seasons and while Kershaw has still been great, no one has been as good as Max Scherzer in the National League.

Prior to the 2018 season, I ranked Scherzer as the number one Starting Pitcher for fantasy baseball purposes. It wasn’t all that close for me either. He’s an absolute bulldog on the mound and probably one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch in the game. When he’s on the mound, he knows that he is better than you and will show you why. I won’t need any analytics or xStats to prove that Scherzer is the best in the national league.

Amazingly, Max Scherzer is only getting better as he approaches his mid-30s. His strikeout rate has risen every season since 2013! Can you name another pitcher who has done that? No? Me either. Since the start of 2017, Scherzer has started 41 games, thrown 266.1 innings, struck out 372 batters, with a 2.33 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP! That’s prime Clayton Kershaw numbers right there. It’s scary that Scherzer is actually pitching better and is hungrier than ever. I’ll close with a table of the top starting pitchers in the National League. Jacob deGrom is doing his thing but Scherzer is leading in strikeouts, K/9 K%-BB%, AVG against, and WHIP.

Name Team IP SO ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K-BB% AVG WHIP
Max Scherzer WSN 65.2 104 1.78 14.3 2.2 6.5 0.7 35% 0.170 0.85
Patrick Corbin ARI 62.1 81 2.60 11.7 2.6 4.5 1.0 26% 0.176 0.91
Stephen Strasburg WSN 67 75 3.36 10.1 2.3 4.4 1.3 22% 0.217 1.06
Jacob deGrom NYM 51.1 69 1.75 12.1 2.5 4.9 0.4 27% 0.204 1.01
Noah Syndergaard NYM 58.2 68 2.91 10.4 2.0 5.2 0.6 22% 0.250 1.19
Nick Pivetta PHI 53 60 3.23 10.2 2.0 5.0 0.8 22% 0.225 1.08
Aaron Nola PHI 64.2 57 2.37 7.9 1.9 4.1 0.6 17% 0.223 1.02
Alex Wood LAD 57 51 3.32 8.1 1.4 5.7 0.6 18% 0.223 1.02
Clayton Kershaw LAD 44 48 2.86 9.8 2.0 4.8 1.4 21% 0.234 1.14
Miles Mikolas STL 60.1 46 2.24 6.9 0.9 7.7 0.9 17% 0.231 0.98

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Max Freeze is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

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