By The Numbers: Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, Dallas Keuchel
Rhys Hoskins has eight hits and a .222 slugging percentage in August.
Stuck in a spectacularly bad slump, the Phillies’ slugger hasn’t tallied a home run since August 3. His .257/.393/.520 slash line to end July has depreciated to .239/.391/.477.
Statcast enthusiasts will say that the writing was on the wall all year long. Even at his best, the 26-year-old entered August with a putrid .222 expected batting average (xBA) that pointed to trouble down the road. Regression has hit all at once, as he’s batting .127 with a .217 xBA this month. His average extra velocity has faded to 87.1 mph, a mark matched by Daniel Robertson and Luis Rengifo this season.
While launch angle is often celebrated, there comes a point of diminishing returns. Hoskins’ average rate of 24.8 degrees — two degrees ahead of runner-up Travis Shaw — leaves him awfully reliant on the long ball. Given this rate, it’s unsurprising to see his pop-up rate up to 14.3%, the 12th-highest clip among all qualified hitters. Those automatic outs explain why his .276 BABIP, while above the .299 league average, represents the highest mark of his career. Although he’ll likely end up hitting closer to his career .245 norm, this slump can’t be shrugged off as random misfortune.
These underwhelming numbers aren’t even far off from last year’s results. His wOBA has merely dropped one point to .362 with help from more walks. The first baseman has still mounted 66 runs and 70 RBIs with nearly an identical strikeout rate. While he’s 10 homers shy of last season’s 34, Hoskins is more than capable of going on a power tear and at least eclipsing 30.
This season, however, posting the same numbers would make him a monumental bust at his inflated preseason ADP. After all, fantasy managers have gotten similar or better results from Jorge Soler, Miguel Sano, Joc Pederson, Renato Nunez, Kyle Schwarber, and Daniel Vogelbach for little to no cost. Hoskins, usually drafted well within the top 50 overall, is the 128th-ranked hitter on FantasyPros’ Player Rater this season.
Current investors have little recourse but to wait out this downswing. When drafting next year, don’t overpay for any low-average sluggers in standard-scoring roto or head-to-head category leagues.
Jorge Soler: .465 xwOBA after All-Star Break
One of the many sluggers doing Hoskins better than man himself, Soler has smashed 35 home runs with 88 RBIs and a .367 wOBA this season. As of Wednesday, only Nelson Cruz has a higher second-half xwOBA. It’s a near carbon copy of his actual .467 wOBA over the same span.
Soler has slashed .300/.449/.658 with 12 long balls in 37 games following the Midsummer Classic. Beyond those eye-popping numbers, there’s plenty to like under the hood. Strikeouts have always plagued the 27-year-old, who has a 27.4% rate over his career. After striking out even more (28.9%) in the opening half, he’s refined that rate down to 19.9%. He has also already drawn more walks in the second half (30) than first (28) in 218 fewer plate appearances. Soler is taking a far more selective approach, making more contact by laying off pitches outside the strike zone.
Unlike Hoskins, Statcast approves of Soler. His exit velocity (92.3 mph), hard-hit rate (48.3%), and xSLG (.554) all rank among the top-94 percentile or better this season. A 16.3% barrels/batted-ball event rate tucks him between Pete Alonso and Christian Yelich on the overall leaderboard.
The most important numbers to explain Soler’s breakout might be much simpler: 128 games and 530 plate appearances. Both are easily professional highs. Because of injuries and struggles, he has never had a chance to truly grow on the job and play through ups and downs. The Royals have provided that opportunity as a full-time designated hitter, and he’s taken advantage in their clean-up spot. If these gains stick, Soler can maintain — or perhaps even improve — his .255 batting average if a .286 BABIP rises closer to his .313 career norm. Pairing that with 40-plus homers and triple-digit RBIs make him a potential top-100 player who could continue to out-perform Hoskins to close the season.
Dallas Keuchel: 30.0% HR/FB Rate
A 4.14 ERA through 12 starts is hardly a shocking outcome for Keuchel. His path there, however, has proven bizarre.
Typically a boring, steady hand, the 31-year-old southpaw has instead subjected investors to wild fluctuations. He had compiled 22 strikeouts in six starts before collecting 12 against the Royals on July 23. Three turns later, the Marlins torched him for eight runs at Miami.
His 19.6% strikeout rate is middling, but par for the course. While a 7.8% walk rate isn’t prettier, he has at least maintained an elite 59.8% ground-ball rate. By keeping balls in the dirt, he has ceded MLB’s lowest fly-ball rate (18.7%) of any starter with at least 50 innings pitched. In theory, those tendencies should spare him from baseball’s home run reckoning. In reality, Keuchel has already relinquished a dozen long balls.
After Keuchel’s bloated HR/FB rate, Trevor Cahill ranks second at 25.0%. Few usable fantasy starters join him near the bottom of this list. Although the 31-year-old would need to cut his rate in half to meet his career marker, little else is out of sync with his usual numbers. Even with the
juiced balls totally coincidental power surge, Keuchel’s home-run luck should regress to the mean.
But how much will it matter? He is, after all, missing few bats with a high-80s fastball. Perhaps he pitches closer to his 3.83 xFIP, which is also Steamer’s rest-of-season projected ERA. That now plays in most leagues, but the lack of strikeouts limits him as a back-end depth piece. Let’s hope he can at least fill that role with a bit more consistency.