MLB Transaction Analysis: Jonathan Villar, Kyle Gibson, Cole Hamels (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Last week, I provided fantasy analysis for deals involving Luis Urias, Drew Pomeranz, Will Smith, and a few others. This week, I turn my attention to another half-dozen transactions involving players with fantasy value. A couple of catchers I included have new homes and they’re joined by a speedy infielder and a trio of starting pitchers.
Braves Sign Travis d’Arnaud (C/1B)
d’Arnaud was well-traveled last year, spending time on the Mets, Dodgers, and Rays. He spent the bulk of his season on the Rays and thrived, relatively speaking, given that he dons the tools of ignorance.
In 365 plate appearances for the Rays, d’Arnaud slashed .263/.323/.459 with 16 homers. He’s parlayed his solid work into a deal with the Braves and he’ll compete with Tyler Flowers for playing time behind the dish. d’Arnaud’s the superior offensive option, but Flowers is among the game’s top pitch framers, per StatCorner. d’Arnaud’s firmly in the mix as a second catcher in two-catcher formats.
Brewers Trade for Omar Narvaez (C)
Narvaez was acquired by the Brewers via trade and he projects to fill the void left by Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox. Narvaez stung the ball to the tune of a .278/.353/.460 slash with a stellar 9.8 BB% and solid 19.1 K%. He also smashed 22 homers in 482 plate appearances.
He’ll receive a sizable park-factor upgrade in his new home. The left-handed backstop played his home games at T-Mobile Park last year, which has park factors for left-handed batters of 0.895 for runs and 0.904 for homers, according to our park factors data. Conversely, Miller Park has left-handed batter park factors of 1.018 for runs and 1.196 for homers. Narvaez is in the top-five catcher mix for 2020.
Marlins Trade for Jonathan Villar (2B/SS)
Villar was a fantasy stud in 2019, ripping 24 homers, scoring 111 runs, tallying 73 RBIs, hitting .274/.339/.453, and, most notably, stealing 40 bases. The tanking Orioles opted to send him away and they ultimately found a trade partner, shipping him to the Marlins. Villar’s a middle infielder by trade, but he’ll reportedly get a look at third base and in the outfield.
Miami Marlins President Michael Hill on a teleconference call right now. Hill says Villar will be looked at 3B and the OF when the club gets to Jupiter. Also has experience in the middle infield & can be deployed as they have a need.
– Craig Mish (@CraigMish) December 3, 2019
Adding even one of those positions to his eligibility would be a nifty bonus. It’s probably wise to expect a step back in power for Villar moving from Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1.121 park factor for homers) to Marlins Park (0.759 for homers). However, Marlins Park might not suppress dingers at the same clip this year with the fences being moved in.
Marlins announce they are moving in the fences at Marlins Park.
– Craig Mish (@CraigMish) December 4, 2019
Villar’s bread is buttered in fantasy by his elite stolen base contributions, though, and the news isn’t as good on that front. Villar’s 40 stolen bases last year were the third-highest total in 2019, and only eight players stole 30 or more bases. Even with a substantial dip, he can still be one of the game’s best stolen base sources. Of note, however, is manager Don Mattingly’s aversion to sending base stealers.
According to my manual calculations of stolen bases plus caught stealing at Baseball-Reference, the Marlins were tied for the 20th-most stolen base attempts last year with 85. In 2018, the Marlins ranked 28th in stolen base attempts with 76. They ranked 20th in stolen base attempts in 2016 with 99. On the plus side, they sat in the middle of the pack at 14th with 121 attempts in 2017, so there’s hope for Mattingly allowing a speedster like Villar to run frequently. Villar remains a great target for stolen bases in 2020, but it would be unwise to completely ignore Mattingly’s tendencies.
Rangers Sign Kyle Gibson (SP/RP)
Globe Life Park in Arlington was second only to Coors Field in terms of park factor for runs (1.239) and it enhanced taters substantially too, with a park factor of 1.145 for homers. Globe Life Park in Arlington boosted offense across the board and you can see that on our park factors page. Thankfully for Gibson’s 2020 fantasy outlook, those numbers don’t mean squat anymore, as the Rangers are moving into Globe Life Field.
Evan Grant of Dallas News wrote about the new park. In the linked piece, Executive Vice President for Business Operations Rob Matwick said, “We think the park is going to play fair.” He also acknowledged that until games are played there, it won’t be entirely clear how the park plays, though. One thing that is clear, however, is that fans won’t be subjected to some of the blistering hot games played at Globe Life Park in Arlington thanks to the retractable roof. The comfort of fans doesn’t mean anything for fantasy purposes, but the ball travels farther in hotter temperatures. Playing fewer games in extremely hot temperatures will be beneficial for pitchers, and that matters to Gibson and his new pitching colleagues.
As for Gibson, he totaled a 4.84 ERA in 34 appearances (29 starts) spanning 160.0 innings last year. His ugly ERA hides some promising numbers. The righty totaled a far more respectable 4.25 SIERA and did an elite job of keeping the ball on the ground with a 51.4 GB%, per FanGraphs. Gibson’s 7.9 BB% was solid and his 22.7 K% was decent, but belied some tantalizing plate discipline numbers.
Among pitchers who pitched at least 160 innings, Gibson totaled the seventh-highest O-Swing% (36.0%) and 14th-highest SwStr% (13.1%). Additionally, his 63.7 F-Strike% was a new career-high mark. Gibson was rather unlucky in a few notable categories. His 67.5 LOB% was well below his pre-2019 71.2 LOB%. Prior to last year, Gibson had a .304 BABIP and a 13.2% HR/FB rate, but those marks blew up to .330 and 20.4%, respectively. The livelier ball almost certainly had a hand in the jump in homer rate, but a bit better luck on fly balls and some regression to his career norms in LOB% and BABIP should do wonders for Gibson.
The 32-year-old righty should also benefit from what will hopefully be a normal offseason. Last year, he suffered from a bout of E. coli in January. Perhaps his unusual spring contributed to his gargantuan first half and second half split in ERA. He recorded a 4.09 ERA in 94.2 innings in the first half before getting lit up for a 5.92 ERA in 65.1 innings in the second half. I’m completely enamored with Gibson and, while I haven’t yet compiled my 2020 player rankings, I fully expect Gibson to rank within the top-50 starting pitchers.
Angels Trade for Dylan Bundy (SP)
Bundy’s an interesting change-of-scenery dice roll in fantasy leagues in 2020. He’ll enjoy a favorable shift in park factors from 0.987 for runs and 1.121 for homers at Oriole Park in Camden Yards to 0.942 for runs and 1.053 for homers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Maybe the drop in park factor for homers can aid Bundy in quelling his dinger problem. Among pitchers who pitched at least 160 innings last year, Bundy’s 1.61 HR/9 was the seventh-highest mark. The year before, Bundy yielded an even more eye-popping 2.15 HR/9.
Moving beyond his homer issues, the primary reason for optimism regarding Bundy is his bat-missing ability. Once again using a 160-inning threshold as the minimum, Bundy’s 12.9 SwStr% last year was tied for the 15th-highest mark and his 35.7 O-Swing% was the ninth-highest mark.
The 27-year-old righty has a pair of put-away pitches. His changeup racked up an 18.1 SwStr% last year, and his slider was even better with a 22.2 SwStr%. Bundy might just be a pitch mix tweak from making a leap forward in production. I’m not suggesting he’ll make the same leap, but look no further than Lucas Giolito’s pitch-mix fueled transformation from 2018 to 2019 as a reason to believe Bundy could figure it out.
Braves Sign Cole Hamels (SP)
Hamels isn’t a spring chicken anymore. He’ll turn 36 years old this month and there’s always the risk of a pitcher in the back half of his 30s nosediving off the fantasy radar. His most troubling number from last year is a 9.1 BB% that’s tied for his highest walk rate in his career with an identical mark posted in 2016. Of course, he was able to bounce back a bit from that mark in 2016 with an 8.6 BB% in 2017 and an 8.1 BB% in 2018, but it looks like an eight-to-nine percent walk rate is the new norm.
The veteran lefty’s .315 BABIP in 2019 was his highest mark since a .317 BABIP back in 2009, so there’s hope for a BABIP regression this year. That would go a long way toward helping him reel in his ugly 1.39 WHIP.
One stat that basically remained static from one year to the next was Hamels’ strikeout rate. He struck out 23.3% of the batters he faced in 2018 and he struck out 23.2% of the batters he faced last year. Over the last two years combined, Hamels has pitched 332.1 innings to the tune of a 3.79 ERA (4.23 SIERA), 1.32 WHIP, 8.5 BB%, 23.3 K%, and 12.0 SwStr%. Those numbers feel like a fine approximation for what to expect this season.