Statcast Risers & Fallers: Week 16 (Fantasy Baseball)
Last week was a short one due to the All-Star break. As a result, this week’s iteration of Statcast Risers & Fallers will focus on the last month of play, ranging from June 16 to July 14.
You can bet that Josh Donaldson is making some teams wish they signed him to a multi-year contract this past offseason. The 33-year-old now owns a .386 xwOBA on the year to go along with his highest average exit velocity (92.4 mph) and barrel rate (15.0%) in the Statcast era. While his whiff and strikeout rates are fundamentally higher than his days as an MVP candidate, his batted-ball authority is strong enough to sustain a high-.800s OPS and mid-30s home run total. Donaldson is also warming to the task of late with the second-highest xwOBA in baseball since mid-June. Those who took a chance on him in fantasy drafts are being rewarded handsomely.
Donaldson isn’t the only 33-year-old third baseman undergoing a revival in 2019. Evan Longoria, whose career seemed dead in the water after an anemic 85 wRC+ in San Francisco last year, is scalding the baseball this season. A 43.5% hard-hit rate and .366 xwOBA, propped up over the last month by a .453 showing, rate as his best efforts in the Statcast era. His traditional stats — highlighted by a .241/.318/.446 batting line — are uninspiring at first glance but improved substantially after a six-home-run start to July. The secret to Longoria’s success this year seems to be a revamped approach that favors hitting balls to all fields rather than his previous focus on the left-center power alley. Unfortunately, he just hit the IL with plantar fascitis. Keep tabs on him for his eventual return.
Despite missing the first six weeks of the season with a broken hamate bone, Matt Olson has already managed to accumulate 20 home runs and 40 RBIs in just 231 at-bats. His xSLG is all the way up to .610 on the year while his barrel rate clocks in at 16.7%, both of which measure in the 98th percentile. One of the best aspects of his approach is how balanced he is against different pitch types. In 2018, he maintained a minimum .349 xwOBA against fastballs, breakers, and offspeed pitches. This season he owns a .430 xwOBA against fastballs and .464 against breakers. That’s the sign of a hitter who reacts to what’s being thrown rather than someone guessing for meatballs.
Michael Chavis’ .227 xwOBA over the last month is the worst in baseball. Despite that, he has managed to sustain an OPS in the .800 range and pick up his fair share of homers and RBIs. But don’t be fooled. There is likely significant box score regression coming for Chavis, whose .405 xSLG resides in the realm of Logan Forsythe and Tyler Flowers. He combines a 33.2% strikeout rate with Statcast batted-ball authority metrics that rate as merely above average (11.2% barrel rate, 34.3% hard-hit rate). Either the strikeouts need to come down or the contact needs to improve.
Didi Gregorius’ batted-ball metrics as a New York Yankee, highlighted by a 3.3% barrel rate and .295 xwOBA, have always left much to be desired. However, he’s managed to post decent offensive production from the shortstop position due to an inclination to hit lofty, pulled fly balls in the favorable confines of Yankee Stadium. But over 110 plate appearances into his return from Tommy John surgery, he is posting the worst Statcast showings of his career with a putrid .257 xwOBA and 24.4% hard-hit rate. Given the surprising depth at shortstop in 2019 along with Gregorius’ slow start, it’s safe to cut ties.
Despite an impressive display at the 2019 Home Run Derby, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been mired in a big slump over the last month. He has just one in-game home run to his name since June 5. His two principal issues have been an inability to hit breaking pitches along with a propensity to drill balls into the ground. However, baseball’s best prospect of all time is still getting acclimated to MLB pitching and should find a way out of this hole in short order. Stay patient.
The adjustments Paul DeJong have made in 2019 are the perfect example of how there’s no free lunch at the plate. He has cut his strikeout rate from 25.1% in 2018 to 18.9% this year to go along with a reduction in whiff rate. Unfortunately, there is almost always a penalty for such a swift and dramatic improvement in contact, and it comes in the way of decreased batted-ball authority. DeJong’s barrel rate, average exit velocity, and xOBAcon have all plummeted from last season’s levels. The result is a lack of power, evidenced by a mere eight extra-base hits since June 1 and none in July.
Yasiel Puig has been murdering baseballs as of late and now sports the highest barrel rate (11.6%) of his career this season. His 100.4 mph exit velocity on flies and liners since mid-June is third in baseball and a big reason why his .817 OPS and .509 SLG are at his career averages after a dreadful start to the season. Puig should continue to benefit from the favorable dimensions of his home ballpark while the warm summer air will help turn some of his warning-track flies to center and right-center into home runs.
Perhaps it was the pressure of a near MLB-record contract or an adjustment to a new city and ballpark that resulted in a .723 OPS through the second week of June for Manny Machado. Whatever the cause, it has clearly been ameliorated over the last month, as Machado has bashed 13 homers in his last 24 games. His triple slash now reads a respectable .269/.340/.510 while his Statcast metrics are inching closer to the levels of previous seasons.
Father Time is no adversary for Shin-Soo Choo. The newly turned 37-year-old is in the midst of his best season in a half-decade, with a 130 wRC+ registering as his highest since 2013. Moreover, Choo is on pace for 26 home runs, a total that would easily eclipse his previous career-high of 22. The magic behind his bat this season is related to a renaissance in hard contact. Choo’s hard-hit rate, after trending in the low-40% range, is up to 53% this season. His 96.5 mph exit velocity on flies and liners this year ranks 19th among MLB hitters with at least 150 batted balls, while his 98.2 mph reading over the last month comes in seventh.