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Statcast Review: Kenta Maeda, Matt Chapman, DJ LeMahieu (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Mike Maher | @mikeMaher | Featured Writer
Jun 9, 2021
Kenta Maeda

Now that we’re a little over 60 games into the 2021 season, I think this is a good time to use this space to take a look at some year-to-year changes. We’ll never (at least I hope) have another season like the 2020 season, but it did end up being 60 games. We now have the exact same sample size in 2021, although these 60 games come with a semi-normal Spring Training and baseball games in April and May. It’s not apples-to-apples, but it’s at least the same sample size. So, we’re going to roll with it and see what sticks out. As always, we’ll cover pitchers and hitters, review some heat-mapped charts, and run through some notes.

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.

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2020 vs. 2021 Hard Hit % – Pitchers

Sample size is the big caveat here. We’re only dealing with 60-ish games from 2020 and 2021, and the threshold for pitchers to qualify is small. The below chart is sorted by the pitchers with the biggest increase in Hard Hit % from 2020 to 2021, but you can sort it however you like and look around. For pitchers, these numbers track hard hits allowed, so we want the numbers to be lower. In this case, BLUE is GOOD and RED is BAD. Let’s take a look at some of the pitchers with the biggest changes in Hard Hit % from 2020 to 2021 and then get to some notes below the chart.

Note: This table is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!

Notes

  • Kenta Maeda has been on the injured list for the last couple of weeks, and things weren't going well before he was finally shut down. Through nine starts, Maeda had a 5.27 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and 39 strikeouts over 42 2/3 innings. His Swinging Strike % is way down in 2021 (12.7%) compared to 202 (17.2%), though it's worth noting that his 2021 number is closer to his career average of 13.5%. He takes the unfortunate crown of having the biggest increase in Hard Hit %. In 2020, his Hard Hit number was down to 24.70, a four-point decrease from  2019. In 2021, it's up a whopping 20.9% to 45.6%. His overall Statcast data is...concerning. But it was excellent over the last few years. So, what gives? Despite the red flags here, I'm buying low on Maeda. I think he was pitching through his injury (and possibly multiple injuries), and that affected his performance. If healthy, I think he bounces back. Hopefully (fingers, toes, and eyes crossed), this stint on the IL helped him get right.
  • Kenley Jansen is an interesting name to see on this list, especially given the strong season we are seeing from him. But this also has to do with Jansen's 2020 number being elite. In fact, it has been in the 99th or 100th percentile in every season since 2016. And as you can see on the chart, his 33.30% is still above average. This helps explain why Jansen has a 1.85 ERA but 3.52 FIP and 4.91 xFIP. Combined with a huge jump in walks, there is at least a little to be concerned about here. But unless you are absolutely set for saves, it might be difficult to sell high on Jansen.
  • Triston McKenzie was a popular breakout candidate coming into this season, especially given the recent success that Cleveland has had developing pitchers. Things have not gone well, and McKenzie and his 6.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP would be back in the minor leagues if not for Zach Plesac's inability to get dressed without hurting himself. He does have 59 strikeouts over 41 2/3 innings and remains worth holding onto in dynasty formats, of course.
  • Ian Anderson has allowed eight earned runs over his last 8 1/3 innings (two starts) and now has a 3.64 ERA through 11 starts. That's fine. But his Hard Hit % that was in the 80th percentile in 2020 is now in the 39th percentile. In 32 1/3 innings in 2020, he allowed just one barrel. In 59 1/3 innings in 2021, he has already allowed 17. I remain bullish on Anderson long-term, but it is disappointing to see this bump in hard contact.

2020 vs. 2021 Hard Hit % - Batters

Just like in the pitcher chart above, BLUE is GOOD and RED is BAD here. For batters, we obviously want a higher Hard Hit % and do not want to see year-over-year decreases. The chart below is sorted by the batters with the biggest decreases in Hard Hit % from 2020 to 2021 (that's bad). Let's take a look at the numbers and then get to some notes below the chart itself.

Note: This table is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!

Notes

  • Matt Chapman leads the way here with a 14.9% decrease in Hard Hit % from 2020 to 2021. Not great, Matt! He's batting just .206 with five home runs through 61 games after batting .232 with 10 home runs in just 37 games last season. Fantasy managers knew they probably weren't going to get a great batting average from Chapman but could count on some power given what we saw in 2020 and 2019. So far, they haven't gotten either. His Hard Hit % is down to 27.1% after averaging around 41% through his first few seasons in the league. In 2020, his Hard Hit %, Barrel %, and xSLG were in the 95th, 98th, and 91st percentiles, respectively. In 2021, they're in the 27th, 50th, and 12th percentiles. And if you can believe it, his xBA is .195, even worse than his current mark of .206.
  • I expected to see DJ LeMahieu closer to the top of this list after doing some research on him recently. And his Hard Hit % is down, just not as significantly as I had anticipated. More noteworthy than his Hard Hit % are his Barrel numbers. He has just six barrels in 183 batted ball events, and his 2.3 Barrels/PA number is in the same range as David Fletcher, Jurickson Profar, Nick Madrigal, and Elvis Andrus (players who notoriously do not barrel baseballs). And his Hard Hit % is down more substantially if you go by Fangraphs, which measures it differently. The contract that the Yankees gave LeMahhieu seemed questionable at the time, and it seems even worse now.

  • We can skip the Marcell Ozuna conversation because it doesn't sound like we will be seeing him again this season (or possibly ever again?).
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr. got off to a slow start but has had a few hot streaks this season. His 12.7% decrease in Hard Hit % is the third-highest in baseball (that's bad).
  • Does it surprise anyone to see Eugenio Suarez near the top of this list? He somehow has 13 home runs despite batting just .160 through 57 games. His strikeout rate remains high and is on pace to increase for the third straight year. Statcast has his Hard Hit % in the 15th percentile after it was in the 78th percentile in 2020. But his Barrel %, while down slightly, is still very good.
  • It's funny to think that Fernando Tatis Jr. was hitting the ball even better in 2020 than what we have seen in 2021. You see the blue, though. He remains great at baseball.
  • If you flip the Hard Hit % column to glance at the top gainers, you'll find...Charlie Blackmon in the Top 3. What? Blackmon somehow hit .303 last season despite a Hard Hit % that was in the 11th percentile. But he did only hit six home runs in 59 games despite swatting 32 of them in 140 games in 2019. He has four home runs through 57 games in 2021 but is turning things around after a slow start. And he certainly appears to be heating up. Check out these monthly numbers for Blackmon:
    • April: .184 AVG, 1 HR
    • May: .310 AVG, 2 HR
    • June (7 games): .423 AVG, 1 HR

Take a look through both of the above charts. Who stands out to you among the biggest gainers or losers?

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 @MikeMaherand visit his Philadelphia Eagles blogThe Birds Blitz.