Average Exit Velocity: August Update (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Let’s make the last segment of average exit velocity updates actionable. We know who the “epic exit velocitors” are, and you probably can’t trade for them. Instead, lets review July’s trends and dig into guys who are likely still on the waiver wire and can help you nab that seemingly elusive fantasy championship. If you miss reading about the top-shelf stars, no worries; I gloss over them, too.
Miguel Sano (3B – MIN)
Sano crushed baseballs in July. His 94.2 mph average exit velocity ranked fourth in all of baseball among hitters with at least 50 batted-ball events, per Baseball Savant. He also ranked eighth among hitters in average exit velocity on flies and liners (minimum 10 batted-ball events). Given his average launch angle of 17 degrees and this hellacious velocity, the six bombs he launched in July — along with his .300 batting average — were earned. It’s safe to say the heel injury that kept him sidelined for two months is no longer an issue.
This month brought Sano’s season-long average exit velo to 93.4 mph, which is in the top one percent of MLB. Of course, he hasn’t had as many plate appearances as most, but it goes to show that he can still put on a power show. Sano has been locked into the five-spot in Minnesota’s order over the last five games ahead of C.J. Cron, who returned on Saturday night. He is owned in just 50% of Yahoo and 33% of ESPN leagues. Go pick him up, pronto.
Travis d’Arnaud (C/1B – TB)
After being cast aside by both the Mets and Dodgers, d’Arnaud has found a home in Tampa. He was ninth in baseball in average exit velocity last month, coming in at 92.8 mph. However, on flies and liners, he drops to 69th, which is still good for the top 80th percentile. His 11.7-degree average launch angle means that his eight homers in July may be a little fluky, but we never expected this type of production out of d’Arnaud to begin with. Suddenly, he is a top-eight catcher.
D’Arnaud typically hits leadoff against lefties and has found everyday playing time. Even with the addition of Jesus Aguilar, d’Arnaud has batted second and third the past two games. He hasn’t hit lower than fourth in the order since July 21. He’s still available in some shallower leagues (65% owned in Yahoo, 37% in ESPN). Don’t worry about him regressing to his historical levels of about 88 mph — just ride the hot streak. As Ian Kahn said on The Athletic’s Under the Radar podcast last week, pay attention to when “smart” organizations (see: the Dodgers and Rays) pick up a player from the scrap heap.
Danny Santana (2B/OF – TEX)
Another guy who has come out of the woodwork, Santana mashed the ball in July. He had a 92.6 mph average exit velocity in July, 10th in baseball. Flies and liners, you ask? Top 16 percent. His 12.6-degree average launch angle is also great for hitting dingers, which he did seven times last month, in addition to six doubles and two triples.
He has joined the fly-ball revolution, given his 20-point decrease in ground balls from 2016 to this year. This has come with a slight loss of plate discipline, but clearly this approach is working for him. The concern with Santana is that he has only recently displayed this type of speed off the bat, as he sported an 84-85 mph average exit velocity from 2015 to 2017. His expected statistics also show that he has been pretty lucky up to this point. Nonetheless, I am capitalizing on the power surge now, but not expecting it to continue into 2020. Santana also has other categories (average, steals) that make him useful if his power dries up.
The Rangers have gone as far as to DFA Asdrubal Cabrera to ensure Santana everyday playing time. When Joey Gallo comes back, there might be some competition for spots in the lineup, but Santana should see a minimum of five starts per week.
Bryce Harper (OF – PHI): 86.8 mph in July, 91.1 mph in 2019. He’s probably not playing through an injury, but this drop is concerning.
Josh Donaldson (3B – ATL): 94.9 mph in July, 93 mph in 2019. All the haters can sit down now.
Jose Altuve (2B – HOU): 83.3 mph in July, 85.5 mph in 2019. He’s in line with historical levels.
Josh Bell (1B – PIT): 90.8 mph in July, 92.8 mph in 2019. Regression was always coming.
Scooter Gennett (2B – SF): 85.1 mph in July. Just like Altuve, this is who he is.
Corey Seager (SS – LAD): 86.8 mph in July, 87.8 mph in 2019 — a career-low. His power looks zapped in the rabbit ball era. If he keeps this up, Seager will drop down 2020 draft boards.
Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY): 90.9 mph in July, 89.7 mph in 2019. He just went on the IL, but he was trending above his career norms. Monitor his progress back to health.
Rafael Devers (3B – BOS)
The MVP candidate has raked all season long, ranking just outside the top 10 in average exit velocity. It has jumped over two miles per hour since 2018! His made-for-liners 9.6-degree average launch angle hindered the power in the early part of the season, but cranking nine homers in July will wipe out that fear. He’s smashing all types of pitches.
While he is having a monster season, the expected statistics show that he is getting a little lucky. His actual batting average of .320 is 16 percentage points above his expected average, and his .562 slugging percentage is 38 percentage points above his expected slugging. In a bigger context, these expected stats are in the top three and top nine percentile, respectively, so there is nothing to be concerned about. There’s no doubt that many championship teams will have Devers on their roster.
DJ LeMahieu (2B/3B – NYY)
Another MVP candidate, LeMahieu has hushed all the doubters with a 91.5 mph average exit velocity — good for inside the top 40. He has always hit the ball hard, and it looks like Coors Field had no bearing on that. Much like Devers, LeMahieu has gotten a bit lucky in the expected vs. actual statistics comparison (19 point gap in batting average, 36 point gap in slugging percentage). His expected batting average is still in the top one percent of baseball, so again, you don’t care so much about this difference.
The most notable change is how he’s faring on changeups. He sported a .232 average and .375 slugging percentage in 2018, which were largely earned. This year, he’s turned it around, hitting .393 and slugging .696. Of course, this is a bit lucky, but Lemahieu is a professional hitter whom we can trust to adjust from one season to the next. He probably will not carry all these gains into 2020, but it’s worth noting where he’s improved.
Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX)
Stop toying with Calhoun, Rangers. He has smacked the ball around on the up-and-down shuttle this year. His 91.9 mph average exit velocity ranks 26th in all of baseball this year. While he’s been around the big leagues since 2017, he has not garnered enough plate appearances to understand how this compares to his norm. My guess is that given his prospect pedigree and willingness to improve, we can expect 90-91 mph average exit velocities going forward.
Like most young hitters, Calhoun is struggling with breaking balls, posting a .179 average and .487 slugging percentage against them. According to Statcast, his expected slugging on the pitches is a queasy .340. The good news is that Calhoun has found playing time every day with Gallo going back on the IL, slotting into the five-hole of Texas’ lineup. Calhoun should be owned in any leagues over 12 teams.
Jose Peraza (2B/SS – CIN): 84.4 mph in 2019. This is also who he is, which is scary. Managers loved him for offering much of what Whit Merrifield brought to the table (contact and speed) in 2018, but he has not shown either of those skills this year. Although he’s playing more with Gennett shipped off to San Francisco, he won’t be anywhere near my rosters the rest of the year.
Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC): 87.4 mph in July, 88.2 mph in 2019. Byrant was originally in the “July trend” part of this article, but he has not hit the ball with a high exit velocity his entire career. His July looked a lot like the early part of the season. There’s nothing to worry about here.
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF – KC): Merrifield has been hitting around 86.5 mph all season long. Trust the hit tool.