How to Do a Deep Dive: Hitters (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
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During your downtime (and we sure have a lot of it lately), you may want to dig deeper into your favorite players or potential sleepers. But you may find yourself too intimidated, or unsure of where to start. Fear not, for below lies a comprehensive guide of the sites to peruse and the important stats to decipher. To illustrate what a deep dive on a hitter looks like, let’s use someone who was a big-time free agent in the 2019 offseason.
Anthony Rendon (3B – LAA)
My 162-game projection: 616 PA, 28 HR, 93 R, 91 RBI, 4 SB, .310 average
Many analysts are calling for another career-year from Anthony Rendon, whose 2020 ECR is 20th overall. His 2019 season was beastly, finishing in the top three on ESPN’s player rater after hitting 34 bombs, scoring 117 runs, driving in 124 runs, and hitting .319. On the surface, it’s easy to think that Rendon should be pushed inside the second round for 2020. However, a deep dive into his expected statistics, barrel percentage, and other advanced stats would say otherwise. I’ll give you the tools necessary to make that decision for yourself.
Vital sites: FantasyPros, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Pro Sports Transactions, Baseball-Reference, Mike Podhorzer’s Projecting X
One of the most important parts of a projection is plate appearances, so let’s start there. Plate appearances are a representation of a player’s injury history, talent level, and spot in the lineup. We know that Rendon is an elite talent, but he has missed 20-25 games each of the last three seasons. Based on his past injury history on Pro Sports Transactions, I am comfortable using a three-year average, and that yields 616 plate appearances.
For youngsters or breakout hitters moving to the upper third of the lineup, we know that moving down one spot in the order results in about 20 fewer plate appearances. Combine that stat with injury risk, and you can determine a reasonable PA projection.
Plate Appearances: For stable vets, bet on the average
After determining plate appearances, I will visit FanGraphs for the next phase of my deep dive. Their data around plate discipline and batted balls will help guide my research. I’ve previously discussed why looking at three-year averages is a great place to start.
His batted-ball profile evolved in 2018, as we can see through his shift from fly balls to line drives. His BABIP increased 10 points from 2017 to 2018, and then held constant in 2019. His strikeout rate held constant all three years, so we could then expect a gain in batting average, which is what indeed happened.
Rendon’s average trends suggest that we can lock him in for a .310 average headed into 2020. To confirm this initial belief, let’s head over to Baseball Savant. Baseball Savant is great for expected stats, barrel rates, launch angle, and exit velocity. His xBA’s were .286, .307, and .319 for 2017 through 2019, respectively. Based on these patterns, I am not surprised that his actual average and his xBA are similar. Given that he is moving to a pitcher’s park, knocking his average down to somewhere between his 2018 and 2019 is reasonable.
Average: Lock it in
Now, let’s forecast Rendon’s home runs. For this, I’ll go to Baseball Savant for barrel rates, which is proven to be the most predictive for home runs. A “barrel” is defined as a batted-ball event with a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that leads to a minimum . 500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. Barrels have to leave the bat at least 95 mph, and the harder the ball is hit, the wider the launch angle can be to qualify. Rendon’s barrel rates for the last three years were as follows.
|Barrel Rate||Home Runs|
The first thing I notice on his Savant page is that Rendon’s barrel rate is not elite. Yes, he ranked in the top-20 percent in barrel rate. Yet you won’t be seeing any dark red coloring on his page in terms of barrels, hard-hit rate, or exit velocity. In fact, 2019 was his first and only year hitting 30 homers. Moving from a hitter’s park to a pitcher’s park should result in his home runs dropping. How did I find that? Simple: FantasyPros has Park Factors from the past year. By going there, you will see that Rendon’s home park drops from 1.15 in 2019 to 1.05 in homers for 2020. You also have to factor in the other parks in his division are mostly pitcher-friendly as well. As a result, I’m betting on Rendon not eclipsing 30 homers in 2020.
Home Runs: Don’t expect a repeat
For runs and RBI, Baseball-Reference keeps track of runs per times on base (TOB) and RBIs per balls in play (BIP) by spot in the lineup. Of course, most people do not have the time (or desire) to determine how often a batter will get on base, or how many times a batter will put the ball in play. However, you can look at the publicly available projections on FanGraphs under Rendon’s “Standard” table and compare his runs per times on base to the average in 2019.
|THE BAT||ATC||ZiPS||2019 AL Avg (3-hole)|
As you can see here, there is no consensus on how many runs Rendon will score. While Rendon did score 117 runs last year, I’m skeptical of his supporting cast in 2020 and have pegged his runs per time on base at the league average. It’s up to you if you think that ratio is too high or too low.
Now, let’s do the same thing for RBIs. I’m going to determine this by using Mike Podhorzer’s book, Projecting X, which I highly recommend.
|THE BAT||ATC||ZiPS||2019 AL Avg (3-hole)|
As great as hitting in front of Mike Trout is, I am concerned about the Angels’ leadoff situation, as well as the bottom of their order. Based on those worries, I have Rendon’s RBI/BIP ratio at the AL average. He hit .365 with men in scoring position on the heels of a .364 BABIP, according to FanGraphs. Since that is 40 basis points below where his season-long average stood (along with how he fared with runners in scoring position in 2018), we should expect negative regression.
Runs and RBI: Expect 180+ combined, but don’t expect a repeat of last year
While Rendon won’t steal more than five bases, it’s worth understanding how we arrive at that conclusion. First, we need to understand the frequency of stolen base attempts historically, assuming that we can rely on past rates. This only makes sense if you are deep-diving a veteran. If researching a youngster, looking at historical minor league attempts and overall team strategy at the big-league level is your best bet. Researching sprint speed on Baseball Savant is also a way to unearth hidden gems in the stolen base department. As for Rendon, given that he is a vet who does not steal often, we can use his historical stolen base attempts per time on base to determine his frequency. Rendon’s three-year average of stolen base attempts per time on base is three percent. We can then multiply this three percent by his historical success rate of 78 percent, which can also be found on FanGraphs. Using this methodology, I expect Rendon to steal four bases next season.
Stolen Bases: Review the historical ratios
Now, you know how to do a deeper dive into each roto hitting category. Next time, we’ll come back with a pitcher deep dive.