Blind Player Comparisons (Fantasy Baseball)
Over the course of the first two months of the season, there have been a number of highs and lows for all fantasy owners. I’m sure owners of Jose Ramirez, Ozzie Albies, Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell, Patrick Corbin, and Eddie Rosario, to name a few, are doing great in their respective leagues. While owners of Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Bellinger, Josh Donaldson, and Clayton Kershaw may be struggling a bit right now.
This week, I want to play a game of “Would you rather,” with a kind of blind résumé-type twist. I’ll highlight two players at the same position showing their standard 5×5 statistics to date along with some underlying statistics. I’ll analyze those numbers and reveal each player’s identity. I’ll also determine which player I’d rather have for the rest of this season. Let’s start with a couple hitters drafted inside the top 60 overall who are both underperforming. Since this is a burning questions article, just assume each segment starts off with Would you rather have ____ or ____?
Both players have produced similar value to date and neither has been very good. Both players are eligible at 1B and OF in most leagues. It’s difficult to determine which player I’d prefer for the rest of the season based on the five offensive statistics above, so I’ve included a more detailed table below.
This table provides us with a little more information. Player A, while striking out more clearly has better plate discipline with the very good walk rate and a higher contact percentage than Player B. Based on the hard contact alone, it would appear that Player B may be a bit unlucky in terms of BABIP but also that Player A may be fortunate. At this point, I’ll reveal that Player A is Rhys Hoskins and Player B is Cody Bellinger.
Both young players enjoyed rookie breakouts and have experienced sophomore slumps thus far in 2018. Meanwhile, Hoskins is on the disabled list with a fractured jaw and there’s been talk of Bellinger being sent down to Triple-A; though I doubt that will happen. Hoskins’ profile is similar to his 50-game introduction in 2017 except for the fact that his strikeouts have spiked. Many of his batted balls are registered as valuable hits per xStats.org so he has been a little bit unlucky in terms of power. His exit velocity is down but not significantly. His drop in value is largely based on the elevated strikeout rate and the fact that his two-month rookie season was insanely productive and not repeatable. Stick with Hoskins, the power will come this summer but it may come with a lower average than expected.
Bellinger’s issues are not related to an increase in strikeouts or exit velocity. Bellinger has decreased his value hits% by over 3% and increased his poor hit% by nearly 7%. Many of those poor hits are on high fastballs which isn’t a surprise with his uppercut swing. He’s slugging more than 100 points less against fastballs than in 2017 and he’s increased his strikeout rate against fastballs by over 11%. I’m more concerned about Bellinger getting back on track because I believe there are more holes in his swing than Hoskins. I’m going with Hoskins over Bellinger for the rest of the season but both will end up lower than their draft day cost.
Here, we have players with almost identical production except for batting average. Both have better than average strikeout and walk rates, but look at that .120 difference in BABIP! Player C hits the ball harder and Player D has no steals so you have to imagine he’s not fleet of foot, both of which have an effect on BABIP. I should mention both players man the hot corner.
It may help to know the line drive and fly ball percentages as well. Player C is sporting a modest 33% FB% and an insanely high 29% LD%. Well, that explains the BABIP. Player D, on the other hand, has an 18.9% LD% and a 43.7% FB%. Those numbers don’t scream low BABIP to me. I’d expect some improvement in terms of BABIP and batting average.
It may not surprise you that Player C is Nolan Arenado but Player D is less obvious. It’s Travis Shaw. This is less about Arenado and more about Shaw because we all know how great Arenado is, although I don’t think Arenado keeps up a near 30% line drive rate and a .372 BABIP. That being said, you can expect a .300+ average with around 35 homers and 110 RBIs from Arenado. The reduction in fly balls has come with an increase in HR/FB% so maybe he hits a few less home runs, but come on, he’s a top 10 player regardless.
Shaw enjoyed a breakout with the Brewers last year and to be honest, I like him even more this year. Not only is he making more contact, but his value hits and high drive percentage per xStats.org are up from last year. He’s backing up his breakout for a very good Milwaukee Brewers club with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich atop the order. A 30-35 homer season with 110 RBIs is not out of the question. My one concern is the higher volume of poor hits which correlates with his increased pop-ups. Those increases justify a lower BABIP, so unless he can drive the ball with more consistency, he may just be a .250-.260 hitter. Essentially the results should be similar to 2017 meaning Shaw was likely a draft day bargain.
Overall, these players have been relatively similar in terms of power, speed, and batting average. Player F is either in a better run-producing spot in the order or is on a much better offensive team. While Player E expands the zone more, the contact rates are almost identical and Player F’s strikeout rate is higher. The lower walk rate from Player E plus the high O-swing tells me he’s a free swinger. Typically patient hitters wait for their pitch and should have a higher percentage of hard contact, but that’s not the case here. These two players are shortstops.
If I’m playing in a standard 5×5 league, based on this information, I might lean toward Player E. Player E is Eduardo Escobar, AKA draft afterthought. Player F, on the other hand, is borderline first-round pick Carlos Correa. First things first, Escobar likely won’t outpace Correa the rest of the season. However, the power is legitimate based on xStats data and the fact that he’s increased his launch angle for the fourth straight year up to 20.7 degrees! Unfortunately, he’s hitting too many pop-ups, so his average may drop below .250. I believe he needs to be owned in 12-team leagues and deeper and will be a good source of mid-20s power.
This data worries me about Correa. The strikeout rate is the highest of his career, he’s still not running, and his hard contact is down to a career low. However, his 94.6 average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls is right in line with 2017. Correa has struggled this year against the breaking ball. His slugging is down 150 points against breaking balls in 2018 compared to 2017 and his whiff rate is up nine percent. I believe this is the root of his below average (for him) production. If he can correct his struggles against breaking pitches, his average bumps up and he continues to be an elite power source. He was bad against breaking balls in 2016 where he only hit .274 and 20 homers. If Correa doesn’t correct his breaking ball issues, that’s where he could be headed with a few more homers.
Here are a couple of starting pitchers I wanted to look at. Player G has enjoyed the better season to date but Player H appears to be unlucky. The SIERA for both pitchers is much closer to even but the only reason I can point to is the soft contact percentages. Player G is living dangerously with that low soft contact rate, while Player H has induced a good amount of soft contact. To me, the strikeout rates look like they should be flipped based on the swinging strike rates. Let’s figure out who these guys are.
Player G is Tyler Skaggs and Player H is Chris Archer. The K rate from Archer is his worst since 2014. Conversely, his walk rate is the highest since 2014. I wrote an article early in the season about Archer’s rough start, especially the third time through the order, but he’s righted the ship a bit. However, Archer’s value is largely tied to his strikeouts. When he’s striking out 250 batters a year, it softens the blow on the elevated ERA and WHIP. The fact that he no longer has the elite strikeout rates and has only averaged 5.87 innings per starts drops his value. He just landed on the disabled list which isn’t expected to be a long stint, but he’s around 40th overall for starting pitchers for me the rest of the season.
Tyler Skaggs has been very good in the early going and more importantly, he’s healthy. Per xStats.org, Skaggs has allowed the second lowest percentage of value hits among qualified starters at 3.6%, which is amazing. The fact that his soft contact is so low tells me there is a very high percentage of balls hit in that middle area where results vary widely. It’s not like he’s been lucky with his BABIP and he’s giving up a few more ground balls. He’s added a sinker and his sinker/fastball combination has been very good with a 79% contact rate opposed to an 85% career contact rate for the FA/SI. The positive results of the fastball and sinker have improved his secondaries.
It was neck and neck between the two, but I was leaning Archer because of his track record. Now with the injury, I’m going with Skaggs over Archer for the rest of the season. I’m not sure the 3.27 ERA will remain and the LOB% will come down a bit from 83%, but in the end, I believe Skaggs numbers will be slightly better than Archer. Also, I hate to throw wins out there but of course, it’s a factor in terms of fantasy value. Skaggs will have more run support than Archer and therefore should grab a couple more wins. It’s very close between the two but the injury to Archer is just another thing to worry about in a season of worries for the Tampa Bay veteran.