Statcast Review: Alec Bohm, Zach Eflin, Taijuan Walker (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Throughout this series, we’ll look at different Statcast metrics for batters and pitchers each week. We’ll talk numbers and what they mean, and I’ll provide some player-specific notes after each section. The metrics themselves will change on a weekly basis, and we’ll circle back to some of our favorites every few weeks to see what trends we can identify.
Have something you want me to cover in this space or just want to talk baseball? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @mikeMaher with questions or feedback anytime.
Quality of Contact
This week, we’re taking a look at quality of contact numbers. Specifically, we’ll look at wOBA and pitchers and batters who have an expected wOBA significantly higher (for pitchers) or lower (for batters). As I explained in our Week 1 Quick Grades piece, wOBA isn’t a fantasy stat per se but is a great indicator of “quality of contact” based on the idea that not all hits are created equal. xwOBA is formulated using launch angle, exit velocity, and sprint speed for certain batted balls and removes defense from the equation. In short, it replaces actual outcomes with expected outcomes. By subtracting xwOBA from wOBA for pitchers and batters, we can see who are over- or underperforming their expected results.
We first looked at quality of contact numbers back in early May, so it will be interesting to see what has changed over the last six weeks. We are also adding slugging percentage and expected slugging percentage to the conversation this time around.
Quality of Contact – Batters
Below, you’ll find a chart with every qualifying batter with at least 100 BIP Minimum (balls in play) that shows their current SLG and wOBA alongside their expected SLG and expected wOBA and the difference between the two. For batters, we want the xSLG and xwOBA to be higher than than the actual SLG and wOBA because that means the expected stats are better than the actual ones. That means a negative number in the highlighted columns below is good. The lower, the better. In this case, BLUE is GOOD, and RED is BAD.
Got it? Ok, let’s get to the numbers and some notes below.
Note: This table is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!
- The last time we looked at some of these numbers, Alex Kirilloff had a -.104 wOBA minus xwOBA, the lowest (most encouraging) number in baseball. Six weeks later, that positive regression hasn't exactly occurred, but he is still near the top of the list. He has been hitting better of late, and it's possible that he wasn't fully recovered from that wrist injury when he first returned from the injury list. He remains an intriguing buy-low option for me, especially in deeper leagues and dynasty formats.
- Kyle Tucker got off to a bit of a slow start but was one of the hottest hitters in baseball prior to his most recent injury. He was just activated from the IL on Wednesday. The window for buying low on Tucker has probably closed, but it's worth inquiring to see if that fantasy manager is frustrated or dealing with a roster crunch. Tucker's numbers here indicate he could be even better than his overall numbers.
- I have been pounding the Alec Bohm buy-low drum for more than a month now. It has been frustrating, but the talent is there, and so are the underlying numbers. He is still striking out too much (and way more than he has at any point in his career), but I know the positive regression is there. He strikes me as the kind of player who will really benefit from being able to take a few days to rest and regroup and clear his head over the All-Star break. UPDATE: I have the Phillies game on in the background, and Bohm just doubled up the right field line as I was writing this. Is that a sign? Yes, of course that's a sign.
— mike Maher. (@mikeMaher) June 23, 2021
- Juan Soto's actual numbers have been meh. His underlying numbers are fantastic. He is one of the best young players in baseball. Do not lose faith. And if an opposing fantasy manager is frustrated, find out what the price is. There is a big second half coming from Soto.
- I don't love seeing Jared Walsh's name near the wrong end of this list. But that is partly because his actual numbers are so high, and his expected numbers couldn't possibly keep up. But a .478 xSLG is a big drop from his .582 SLG, and his .394 - .343 wOBA to xwOBA is similarly concerning. I'm not selling Walsh because that power potential is real, and I need it. But I am tempering my expectations for the second half.
- No! Not Cedric Mullins! The numbers can never take Mullins away from us! But there he is, in the bottom five of SLG minus xSLG with a .538 to .444 drop. And his .390 to .345 wOBA to xwOBA drop is significant, as well. But we had to know he wouldn't be this good for the entire season, right? Right??? At the beginning of the season, I put my nose up at Mullins's hot start. I was wrong, and he has kept it up for nearly three months now. I don't expect him to have a second half as good as his first, and it's frustrating that his 13 home runs come with only 26 RBI, but he has been too good to sell at this point in redraft leagues.
Quality of Contact - Pitchers
This is the same chart as above, but for pitchers. We want higher numbers here. Pitchers want the SLG and wOBA against them to be as low as possible, and we likewise want the expected SLG and expected wOBA to be lower than the actual number. So, when we subtract the expected number from the actual one, we want the resulting number to be positive and high. The higher, the better. And just like above, BLUE is GOOD, and RED is BAD.
Got it? Ok, let's get to the numbers and some notes below.
Note: This table is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!
- Eduardo Rodriguez remains a mystery. He SHOULD be much better than he has been. But he just...isn't. I faded him in the Week 12 Quick Grades post despite his two-start status because you just can't trust him right now. It's great that his underlying numbers suggest he should be better, but we have to see it at some point. I'm still buying in dynasty formats, and I might consider buying low and stashing in deeper redraft leagues. But in standard formats, he just isn't worth the risk right now. His numbers here suggest positive regression should be on the way at some point, but they have been pointing in that direction for a while now.
- There are some concerns about Corbin Burnes, given MLB's current crackdown on foreign substances and his standing as one of the spin rate kings. He has been excellent this season, and he has had incredible spin rates for several years now. Perhaps that means we don't have to worry about his spin rates or his effectiveness in general. And as good as he has been, his numbers here indicate he could be even better.
- Zach Eflin has had a rough stretch, and he could use some positive regression. His expected numbers here indicate that he should be performing better. But he hasn't won a start since May 7. Since that date, he's 0-5 and has seen his ERA jump from 3.38 to 4.39. His strikeouts are down, but so are his walks. And his BABIP of .343 is almost identical to last year's .344. There are reasons for optimism here, but there are also some red flags. His Hard Hit % is up, and his fastball velocity is down. Early in the year, Eflin had dramatically scaled back the usage of his sinker. But he has been using it more of late, and it just isn't his best pitch. I'm OK with buying low in deeper formats here, but I want to see him lean more on his fastball-slider combo. One possible reason for his reluctance to rely on his slider: opponents are batting .347 against it, BUT have an xBA of .221.
— mike Maher. (@mikeMaher) June 21, 2021
- We talked about Kenta Maeda a few weeks ago in this Statcast Review series. I talked about him again in my Top 3 MLB Bets piece for BettingPros on Sunday. And we're going to talk about him again here. Since returning from the injured list, Maeda has allowed three runs over 9 1/3 innings while striking out 11. I, who am not a doctor, am of the opinion that some of his struggles this season were due to him attempting to pitch through injuries. Now that he is back (and assuming he is now healthy), I think he is going to return to his usual reliable self. His numbers here indicate he could (should?) trend in the right direction, at least in terms of quality of contact against. Buy low, and buy often. You are going to need pitching down the stretch, and Maeda should be able to provide valuable innings.
- John Means keeps showing up on the wrong lists, and he is near the wrong end of this chart. I wrote about him last week, so we won't repeat everything there. I will remain interested in Means if he comes back healthy and ends up getting dealt to a contender. If I have him now, though, I might keep an eye on his rehab and look to shop him when it looks like he might be getting close.
- Taijuan Walker has been a great story this season. He also has an xSLG significantly higher than his actual SLG. Should you be worried? That xSLG number is still about league average. It's just a jarring juxtaposition (say that five times fast) because of how low his actual SLG is. Health will be my main concern for Walker heading into the second half as he only threw about 70 total innings from 2018-2020, and he's already at 74 1/3 innings in 2021.
That's all for this week, friends. See someone above you'd like to talk more about, or just have a general question? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @mikeMaher anytime.
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Mike Maher is an editor and featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaher, and visit his Philadelphia Eagles blog, The Birds Blitz.