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Dynasty Players to Buy Low & Sell High (Fantasy Baseball 2020)

by Paul Ghiglieri | @FantasyEvolves | Featured Writer
Jan 2, 2020

Max Fried might be more skilled as a pitcher than one might think

In this article, we are going to break down players who were either very lucky or very unlucky based on rates and peripherals to identify which players make buy-low sleepers and which ones might represent sell-high busts for 2020.

To properly identify these players, we need to examine some data points with predictive qualities like launch angle, exit velocity, xwOBA vs. wOBA, WHIP or SIERA vs. ERA, fly-ball rate, and K/9 rate. There are certainly many more informative stats to consider, but we’re looking for some outliers to help us unearth potential gems or landmines.

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wOBA vs. xwOBA
wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) factors in how a player reaches base, assigning a value for each method of reaching base relative to its projected runs scored (e.g. a triple has a higher percentage of leading to a run than a single, and therefore, worth more in value; all methods of reaching base are not equal). 

xwOBA (Expected Weighted On-Base Average) factors in exit velocity, launch angles, and when necessary, even Sprint Speed to factor in the quality of contact and produce a stat more indicative of a player’s skill rather than simply valuing the outcomes. 

The average xwOBA in 2019 was .319. Players with a wOBA that greatly exceeded that number or fell dramatically below it deserve our attention. 

Marcell Ozuna (OF – FA) .336 wOBA. .382 xwOBA; -.046 Diff
Marcell Ozuna had a strong year based on a .336 wOBA that the exceeded league average by .017 and owners did enjoy the counting stats (29 home runs with 80 runs, 89 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases). However, the .243/.330/.474 slash line surely disappointed after Ozuna posted a .280 and .312 batting average during the previous two seasons. The .046 differential in wOBA vs. xwOBA was the ninth-largest divide among MLB hitters last year, indicating Ozuna made more and better contact than his final stats reflect. A career-low .259 BABIP is partly to blame and this makes Ozuna potentially a steal depending on where he ends up playing in 2020. Expect Ozuna to post closer to peak numbers next year. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Fernando Tatis Jr.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS – SD) – .398 WOBA, .345 XWOBA; +.053 Diff
Fernando Tatis Jr. saw his ADP skyrocket when it was announced he would make the team out of spring training last year rather than starting the season in the minors. Tatis went on to post an electric stat line before getting hurt: .317/.379/.590 with 22 HRs, 16 SB, and a 114 combined runs and RBIs across just 84 games. Tatis Jr. was well on his way to a 30/30 season in his rookie year, establishing himself as potentially the next superstar at shortstop. However, the underlying stats suggest fantasy owners should pause before reaching for him in drafts this year. 

Tatis Jr. sported a positive .053 differential based on xwOBA, suggesting regression is due and a sophomore slump impending, at least compared to his outstanding rookie campaign, anyway. A 29.6 K% and coupled with just an 8.1 BB%, not to mention an unsustainable .410 BABIP. No one is suggesting Tatis Jr. won’t be great next year, but it’s worth monitoring his ADP during the spring. We should also note that current projections have him as barely a top-90 hitter based on wOBA, but he will be worth more than that in fantasy given he’s likely to steal more than 20 bases next year. Expect something closer to a .265 average with a rather pedestrian .330 OBP, but count on something close to a 30/20 season and 80 runs and RBIs.

Barrell% and Exit Velocity
Brls/PA% refers to the number of barrels per plate appearance. If you’ve ever heard a friend or announcer say, “Wow, he hit that ball right on the screws,” well, that was layman’s terms for barrelling the ball. To get technical, it’s any ball hit with an exit velocity of 98 MPH or greater and a launch angle between 26 and 30 degrees. It’s almost the equivalent of an ideally hit ball and it mathematically defines what “squaring it up” actually means. 

Exit velocity can be defined by what it looks like — the speed at which the ball leaves the bat after it has been struck. It goes without saying that the higher the exit velocity, the harder the ball was hit, and hitting the ball hard usually leads to positive outcomes. 

A player with a dramatic increase in Brls/PA% between the first and second half last year could represent a player that really found his stroke as the season went on and may be undervalued due to early-season struggles that may have caused fantasy owners to label him a bust. A dramatic decrease could portend to a decline in the player’s skills or potentially a slow start next season. The same can be said of average exit velocity. 

Eloy Jimenez (OF – CWS)5.5% Brls/PA% in first half, 10.8%Brls/PA% in the second half
Jimenez was a popular early-round pick (116.8 ADP, OF35) even in leagues that only started three outfielders. The young prospect had scorched the earth in the minors the year before and many reached to acquire him. However, early-season struggles revealed a player that needed to adjust to big-league pitching, as evidenced by his 28.7 K% and .241 average in the first half. Further depressing his stock in the eyes of many was the missed playing time due to injury in both May and July, where Jimenez played a total of just 24 games.

However, Jimenez reduced that K% to 24.5% in the second half and his hard contact% jumped from 34.8% to 41.0%. With the increase in hard contact and line drive% (15.2% to 20.8%), Jimenez’ BABIP rose as well (.275 to .337). In short, Jimenez made better, harder contact to end his season as he adjusted to better pitching. Jimenez seems likely to justify (perhaps even smash) being taken with a pick similar to last year’s ADP, but his early struggles and injuries in 2019 will almost certainly guarantee you will be able to take him much later this time.

Gary Sanchez (C/DH – NYY)15.4% Brls/PA% in first half, 6.7% Brls/PA% in second half
Despite a down year in 2018 where he hit .186/.291/.406 with just 18 home runs, Sanchez remained a consensus top-two catcher when draft season began last year. Expecting catcher to remain a perpetual wasteland, many jumped at the chance to acquire what seemed like the only safe bet at the position to belt 30+ home runs. Sanchez did, in fact, sock 34 home runs.  However, at least six other catchers arguably produced more than Sanchez last year.

The reduction in his Brls/PA% in the second half could be attributed to groin and ankle injuries suffered late in the season, but it’s fair to wonder if Sanchez is what he is as he enters his age 28 season: a sub-.240 hitter who will provide power at a position largely bereft of it. Sanchez’s second half was an injury-riddled mess highlighted by a .207 batting average, so fantasy owners will need to calculate the risk that comes with Sanchez’s upside. 

SIERA vs. ERA
For years, a pitcher’s performance was often evaluated by ERA. How many runs did he allow? However, SIERA quantifies a pitcher’s performance by trying to eliminate factors the pitcher can’t control on his own. Furthermore, unlike xFIP, SIERA takes into consideration balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play. Why is this valuable? Consider the fact that a pitcher can have a high xFIP, but also induce a high percentage of grounders and pop-ups instead of barreled balls; his SIERA will be lower than his xFIP in this case.

Max Fried (SP/RP – ATL) – ERA: 4.02, SIERA: 3.83
Of all qualifying starters, only 21 pitchers posted a SIERA below 4.00 in 2019. Among those 21 starters, only three had an ERA over 4.00 — German Marquez (4.76), Matthew Boyd (4.56), and Max Fried (4.02). Marquez calls Coors home, so it’s difficult to trust he will deliver on his peripherals the way he performed in 2018. Boyd, for all his merits, still plays on a team with an over/under projected win total of just 56.5 in 2020, the lowest in baseball.

That leaves Fried as perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch, especially when you consider he featured above-average fastball velocity and an elite spin rate on his curveballCouple that with the fact Fried doesn’t get hit hard and you have the makings of an underrated pitcher on a playoff-caliber team who figures to receive a ton of run support.

Fried is a former first-round talent, selected seventh overall by the San Diego Padres in 2012. He was eventually traded to Atlanta in 2014 as part of a package for Justin Upton. After injuries derailed a promising career, Fried returned with a vengeance to throw over 165 innings last year, a career-high, while racking up 173 strikeouts.

Fried will likely be labeled as a mediocre starter with an ERA over 4.00 who lucked into 17 wins last year playing behind a potent offense, but his SIERA points to advanced skill who might be finding his form at age 25. It should also be noted that Fried’s second-half ERA (3.63) was markedly better than his first half (4.29), indicating a pitcher who became better as the season progressed, not worse. Add in the fact that Fried was top-five in ground-ball percentage and Fried looks like a stud who suffered from an inflated BABIP (.336) who can be had at a value. 

Mike Soroka (SP – ATL) ERA: 2.68, SIERA: 4.28
Fried’s teammate, Soroka, arguably received more fanfare for his breakout campaign last season. His 2.68 ERA was the fifth-lowest in all of baseball. However, of the nine starters that posted an ERA under 3.00 last year, Soroka was the only one with a SIERA over 4.00.

Soroka’s velocity, K%, and spin rates are all below average. One reason for his success last year was his ability to limit hard contact. However, expecting a pitcher without elite velocity or strikeout skills to maintain an ERA under 3.00 again might be a fool’s errand. Many will look at Soroka’s ERA and assume they’re drafting no less than a budding ace, but underlying metrics suggest he profiles as far less.

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Paul Ghiglieri is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Paul, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyGhigs.