The Outliers: 10 Players Whose 2019 Performance Can Be Ignored (Fantasy Baseball 2020)
In the offseason, we scrutinize every detail, from advanced stats to supposedly too-big creases and seams in jerseys. However, there is a subset of players that had really good — or really bad — 2019 seasons that we have to chalk up to injury, bad luck, or both. Ten players (six hitters, four pitchers) pop out to me in that regard. Check out below for a breakdown of those ten, where they are being drafted, and my projections for them in 2020.
Khris Davis had a miserable 2019 campaign, finishing with a negative WAR and hitting only 23 homers in 481 at-bats. He suffered a hip injury in the outfield in early May, and he never recovered judging by his wOBA throughout the rest of the season. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs also shows just how much the injury sapped Davis of his power.
With a full offseason of rest, I’m expecting Davis to bash homers and get back to hitting in the middle of the order. Roster Resource currently has Davis hitting sixth, but he should hit in front of Mark Canha for tons of RBI opportunities. Last year, Davis was going in the top-five rounds. This year, he’s going twice as late, but you’ll likely get what you expected in 2019.
Tatis has the prospect pedigree and surface-level 2019 stats to make drafters drool at the prospect of targeting him in the first two rounds. Dig a little deeper, and we see that Tatis played over his head. Tatis hit .317, but he had an expected batting average of .259. That difference is due to his absurd .410 BABIP. Tatis hit the ball hard and had an above-average barrel rate, but that still does not translate to a .400-plus BABIP. He combined an outlier BABIP with a 29.6 percent strikeout rate, meaning that the .317 average is not sustainable.
In addition to average regression, I’m not expecting Tatis to run quite as much this year. Between his two significant injuries (a strained left hamstring and a lower back stress reaction) and a much better lineup in 2020, so I’m guessing that the Padres will make it a priority for Tatis to stay on the field, and they won’t need to risk outs for stolen bases.
If you thought I was crazy reading the first two players, you might think I’m going off the rails with this recommendation. We all know that Jose Ramirez had a terrible September 2018 (75 wRC+), and an even worse first half in 2019 (68 wRC+). Ramirez has been an incredibly streaky hitter over the past few years, and it all came to a head last year.
As Ramirez has built up his power, he has focused on pulling fly balls, as seen by his 11 percentage point increase in pulled balls in play, and 10 percentage point increase in flyballs from 2016-2018. Pitchers adjusted to his new approach, and Ramirez showed last year in the second half that he was finally able to adjust back. He was still focused on pulling the ball, but he dropped his flyball rate by six percentage points. This resulted in an eleven percentage point increase in hard-hit rate and a 176 wRC+. I’m banking on Ramirez to put it all back together for a 30/20 season with an average in between his 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Chris Sale (SP – BOS)
NFBC ADP: 37
2020 Projection: 173 innings, 16 W, 2.66 ERA, 249 K, 0.95 WHIP
Sale’s 2019 season was so out of whack (147 innings pitched, 4.40 ERA) that it made the industry skeptical of what we could get from him going forward. The reason I’m considering 2019 a tremendous outlier is the following:
- While he only pitched 305 innings over the last two seasons, Sale tossed three consecutive 200-plus inning seasons before that.
- His 3.39 FIP shows that his fantastic 29.6% K-BB rate outweighs the HR/FB rate.
- xFIP regresses HR/FB rates to league average. His 2.93 xFIP shows that his HR/FB rate is due for regression, and I’m expecting Sale to regress back to 11-12 percent. After all, Fenway is a terrible place to hit homers.
Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM)
NFBC ADP: 128, seventh closer off the board
2020 Projection: 4 W, 30 SV, 3.07 ERA, 101 K, 1.05 WHIP
Diaz faces similar concerns to Sale, minus the durability uncertainty. His 2019 5.59 ERA was partly due to luck — just look at his .377 BABIP and outlandish 26.8 percent HR/FB rate. I’m expecting Diaz to regress to an HR/FB rate of 15 percent or lower while keeping an outstanding 30+% K-BB rate. Despite the fact that the Mets added Dellin Betances, I’m expecting Diaz to get back to his old ways and hang on to the closer role throughout the balance of the season. His ADP is currently higher than I would like, but I think that Diaz gets back into form as a top-five closer with 30-plus saves.
Soler played all 162 games last year, which is an outlier in and of itself. A laundry list of injuries hangs over his Pro Sports Transactions page. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I’m expecting Soler to have one significant injury in 2020. That will negatively impact four of the five standard roto categories.
I do realize that he hit a combined 212 runs and RBI in 2019, but he still hits in one of the worst lineups in baseball. I’m expecting both of those categories to regress accordingly. Further, while he crushes the ball (96th percentile in average exit velocity), he still strikes out too much (26 percent) to be a plus in batting average. If all you can bank on is home runs with Soler, it doesn’t make sense to draft him in the top 100 on the heels of a career year.
Smoak had a porous 2019, as he hit just 22 homers with a 101 wRC+. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though, considering his 11 percent barrel rate, 90.3 MPH average exit velocity, 15.8 percent walk rate, and five percentage point decrease in strikeout rate.
Nothing changed dramatically in his batted ball profile, (his pulled-hit rate was actually lower than 2018), so I’m considering his .223 BABIP extremely unlucky. He moves to an extreme hitter’s park with the ability to get between 500-600 plate appearances in a better lineup than last year. With that, I’m expecting Smoak to be a big-time bounce-back candidate.
It’s easy to say that Cano’s steroid use is causing his body to break down, but Cano had an extremely unlucky season with injuries. He got hit three times in the hand, and he battled leg injuries from June onward. Those leg injuries might be from his body wearing out, but it seems like Cano saw 13 black cats cross a street with those hand injuries. Before 2018 and his steroid suspension, he had played in at least 156 games each season. Forecasting 525 plate appearances for 2020 doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask.
Cano is slated to hit fourth in a well-balanced lineup, providing tons of run and RBI opportunities. His Statcast page shows that he still hits the ball with authority, and has kept his skills through the injuries. Count on a renaissance.
Mitch Keller (SP – PIT)
NFBC ADP: 232
2020 Projection: 170 innings, 10 W, 4.12 ERA, 193 K, 1.34 WHIP
If Cano saw 13 black cats, Keller walked under 1,300 ladders. Keller sported a 7.13 ERA in the bigs last year — along with an astronomical .475 BABIP. What these stats overshadow is his 12.19 K/9 and not-so-bad 13 percent HR/FB rate. He killed it in Triple-A, posting a 10.68 K/9 and 3.56 ERA. Keller is slated to be in the rotation on Opening Day, and based on his three above-average pitches (fastball, slider, curveball) and plus command, expect K’s in bunches and ratios that won’t kill you. Given that he pitched over 150 innings in 2019, a jump to 170 innings should be no problem for him.
Brendan McKay (SP – TB)
NFBC ADP: 256
2020 Projection: 150 innings, 10 W, 3.72 ERA, 156 K, 1.26 WHIP
We end on two rookies, who I hyped up in my Top-25 Prospects for Redraft Leagues article. Like Keller, McKay had a tough time in his big league debut last year. His 49 inning cup of coffee resulted in a 5.14 ERA, .331 BABIP, and a very unlucky 64 percent strand rate. Like Keller, he showed great strikeout potential, K’ing 10.29 hitters per nine. While all of his pitches were getting knocked around in Tampa, the scouts say he has four plus pitches with above-average command. I’m expecting the Rays to find a way for him to harness his talent, just like Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow have in recent years. Focusing solely on pitching this year should also help, as he was a former two-way star in the minors. A thirty inning jump from 2019 to 2020 should be the floor for McKay.