Average Exit Velocity: June Update (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
It’s hard to believe that we are over two months into the baseball season. Memorial Day has come and gone, serving as our first real check up on our fantasy teams. As you peruse FantasyPros.com and related articles, this could be the most pivotal piece of in-season research that you will do all year.
Data is starting to stabilize, and we can truly start weighing our offseason research against what has played out on the diamond so far. You also won’t have too much time left to target some buy-lows before the surface stats start to resemble solid underlying numbers, or sell high on guys that may regress to the mean sooner rather than later. A bunch of new prospects have been called up, as well as some guys who have come off the IL. Let’s look at those players first.
Shohei Ohtani (DH – LAA)
It’s safe to say that Ohtani’s bout with Tommy John is going smoothly, at least from a hitting perspective. With an average exit velocity (AEV) of 93.2 MPH, Ohtani ranks in the top 10 in all of baseball (minimum 50 batted ball events). He has not been feasting on weak pitchers either — his maximum exit velocity of 111.6 MPH came against Twins ace Jose Berrios. While still early, his AEV is a full mile per hour above last year’s mark, which ranked in the top four percent of baseball. His current slash line of .238/.323/.345 does not do him justice.
Once Ohtani figures out his launch angle (currently at 2.6 degrees, but was over 13 degrees last year), he should be the beast that he was last year. Amongst the projections readily available on FanGraphs, I’m most in line with THE BAT’s line of 19 homers and a .268/.347/.516 slash line. He makes for a great buy low right now, especially in redraft leagues.
Renato Nunez (3B – BAL)
Nunez has come on as of late, stroking nine homers in May and June. This comes on the heels of a 91.9 MPH AEV, ranking 30th in baseball. Nunez will never do much in the way of average since he strikes out at an above-league-average rate, but he has now hit 15 homers and could push for 35 by the time the season ends.
He should be able to maintain this rate, given that his AEV on all types of pitches (fastballs, offspeed, breaking balls) is at least 89.9 miles per hour. While he is struggling for average against breaking pitches (and whiffs on nearly 40 percent of them), this shouldn’t get in the way of his home run production, given that four of his 15 homers have come off breaking pitches. Nunez is owned in just 16 percent of ESPN leagues. You know what to do.
Mitch Garver (C – MIN)
Fresh off the IL, Garver is a Statcast darling, but doesn’t quite have the amount of batted balls to establish himself in exit velocity rankings. Nonetheless, Garver’s 91.4 MPH AEV ranks 35th, supporting a .537 expected slugging percentage. Unfortunately, this means his actual slugging percentage of .723 will regress.
Garver hit 19 doubles and seven bombs last year in just 302 at-bats. It seems as if his gap power has turned into homer power, given that he has just four doubles so far in 2019. If you knew you could get 20 homers from Garver in the best offense in the American League, he likely would have been the seventh catcher off the board. It’s not too late, considering his 31% ownership in ESPN.
Bryan Reynolds (OF – PIT)
The 24-year-old Reynolds has been a fun surprise for the Pirates with Corey Dickerson out, slashing .345/.406/.569 over 128 plate appearances. With a 91.4 MPH AEV, he ranks in the top 50 in all of baseball, which is helping support his expected batting average of .293 (which we should note is over .40 points lower than his actual average). His expected slugging (per Baseball Savant) is over .110 points lower as well.
To date, Reynolds has seen nearly 58 percent fastballs, hitting all five of his homers off of them. He significantly struggles on other types of pitches, so it remains to be seen how Reynolds will adjust when pitchers start throwing him more breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Corey Dickerson will also be back over the next couple of weeks, but Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are not beacons of health either. Reynolds is worth stashing in NL-only and NFBC-type formats.
Other Fresh Faces
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B – TOR): Everyone knows that Vladito got off to a slow start, but has been killing the ball recently.
Most balls hit 115+ mph, 2019
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — 4
2-T. Joey Gallo — 2
2-T. Mike Trout — 2
2-T. Nelson Cruz — 2
2-T. Pete Alonso — 2
— David Adler (@_dadler) June 1, 2019
Pretty solid leaderboard to be on top of. There’s nothing to worry about here. Just get excited to watch his current slash line of .248/.318/.453 rise to something like his expected batting average of .292 and slugging percentage of .519.
Garrett Cooper (OF – MIA): Here’s someone to keep an eye on in deeper formats. He is displaying above-average exit velocity (90.6 MPH) and has 60-grade raw power. He’s has been playing every day since mid-May for the suddenly hot Marlins, hitting four homers over 89 plate appearances.
Eloy Jimenez (OF – CWS): I wrote more in-depth about Jimenez here. Jimenez ranks 78th in all of baseball in AEV, which ranks in the 72nd percentile. He makes for an excellent buy low. Sure, it would be great if he struck out less, but you’re not complaining about Austin Riley right now…are you?
Brendan Rodgers (SS – COL): Limited data (just one barrel in 28 batted balls). The jury is still out, but his .644 slugging percentage in Triple-A shows his 60-grade raw power is translating into game power.
Austin Riley (3B – ATL): Limited data…but he has been killing the ball. With a 93 MPH AEV, and a barrel rate of 21%, I don’t mind the strikeouts so much.
Hunter Pence (OF – TEX)
Talk about a career revival. The weirdo from Full House is slashing .303/.349/.599 with 11 dingers! As you’ve probably heard, his sabermetrics back up this renaissance, as his 92.8 MPH AEV ranks in the top four percent of the league. His skills at hitting the ball hard are contributing to a .321 expected batting average (top two percent in MLB) and a .550 expected slugging percentage (top seven percent). By striking out less, walking more, and hitting the ball extremely hard (against righties and lefties), Pence has worked his way into a full-time position.
With the recent news that Joey Gallo has an oblique injury for the next two weeks (at minimum), Pence should be locked and loaded in 12 teamers and deeper. Is that too many parentheses? Will the Rockies ever figure out how to play their young guys? These are life’s deeper questions, indeed.
Shin-Soo Choo (OF/DH – TEX)
Another year, another season in which Choo outperforms expectations. Since 2013, Choo has stroked at least 20 homers each year in which he’s played at least 130 games. Choo is well on his way to that mark this year, already belting 10 in 235 plate appearances. With an AEV of 92.8 MPH, Choo’s .541 slugging percentage is pretty real, given his .503 expected slugging percentage. Similar to Pence, Choo is guaranteed playing time, firmly entrenched in the leadoff spot.
One word of caution — Choo is struggling on offspeed and breaking balls, hitting just .223 against them. Pitchers have taken notice, throwing Choo seven percent more breaking balls this year. With an unsustainable .377 BABIP and above-average 25% K-rate, Choo appears to be a sell-high candidate.
Starling Marte (OF – PIT)
You don’t see much pub for Marte, positive or negative, in fantasy baseball circles. Let’s shed some light on him.
His paltry 85.3 MPH AEV is in the bottom-10 percent of the league. While Marte has never been one to hit the ball hard, this is nearly a two mile per hour tick down from last year. The issue appears to be offspeed pitches, considering his Eno Sarris-like 72.5 MPH AEV off those pitches. Dan Richards of PitcherList has Marte’s expected homers at four, compared to his actual seven ding-dongs. Yes, Marte has bunted seven times this year, which impacts average exit velocity. However, when looking at just liners and flies, Marte ranks 199th in average exit velocity.
In combination with these poor metrics and a 7.7-degree launch angle, you’re betting on Marte to post a 15/30 line. A worst case scenario is that his abdominal wall injury from April is still bothering him, and it’s showing up in his exit velocity. Given his current 100 wRC+, it would be wise to move Marte before the rest of your leaguemates catch on.
Other Old Faces
Robinson Cano (2B – NYM): First he was reamed out for not hustling, then strained his quad while running to first. Cano is only rostered in 62% of ESPN leagues, yet his AEV is 90.5 miles per hour. He’s worth picking up, given his above-average barrel rate and large gaps in his actual versus expected numbers.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL): Much like Cano, Goldy is posting similar exit velocities and launch angles as prior years. It’s worth seeing if you can buy him low before he goes on a tear this summer.
Corey Seager (SS – LAD): As potentially the most divisive hitter on this list, Seager’s pedigree is undeniable, but with just an AEV of 87.7 MPH, many fantasy owners are concerned that he won’t be able to rediscover his stroke after two offseason surgeries. Consider that in his most recent full season in 2017, Seager’s average exit velocity is down two miles per hour on fastballs and changeups, along with three miles per hour on breaking balls. What’s my take? I think that he is still getting into a rhythm and finding himself after such a long layoff. As I write, Seager just belted a three-run bomb off of Robbie Ray, and is hitting over .300 since May 21. I’m betting on the pedigree.