By The Numbers: Teoscar Hernandez, Buster Posey, Carlos Correa
Do I get credit for being right about eventually being spectacularly wrong?
When participating in a dozen fantasy baseball leagues, it’s hard not to roster someone of significance in at least one. In those cases, I’m typically actively avoiding someone. However, there are always exceptions. Sometimes I see the upside, but I’m not as smitten as my competition. Despite trying to land these types of players in at least one league, I occasionally get left in the cold.
Two players in particular sparked such FOMO before Opening Day:
There's a good chance I'm going to be very sad about not rostering Ohtani or Vladdy in any of my 12 leagues.
— Andrew Gould (@AndrewGould4) March 22, 2021
Update: I’m very sad.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads the majors in batting average, OBP, RBIs, and wOBA at the All-Star break. He’d be in the driver’s seat for a Triple Crown and AL MVP trophy if not for Shohei Ohtani, who crushed an MLB-high 33 home runs in the first half. Oh yeah, he also started the All-Star Game as a pitcher.
They’re not the only ones causing regret at the midway mark. Let’s take a closer look at three other All-Stars I whiffed on this season.
Teoscar Hernández (OF – TOR): 30.7% Line-Drive Rate
Unlike Ohtani and Guerrero, I didn’t draft Hernández anywhere by design.
This seemed like the prototypical case where everyone would regret overpaying for 2020’s smaller sample size. Hernández was a career .237/.304/.476 hitter before breaking out to bat .289/.340/.579. He strikes out too much to make consistent contact and slowed down last September. Had the season kept going, he would have eventually faded back to earth.
Hernández has regressed, just not as expected.
His ISO has dipped from .289 to a more human (and career-low) .176. Yet nobody reasonably expected him to completely maintain last year’s power pace and push for 50 homers. I thought the batting average would tumble significantly. Instead, he’s batting .297.
Over his last 500 plate appearances, Hernández is batting .294/.341/.516 with 27 home runs and 12 steals. Skeptics such as myself can no longer cry fluke. Instead, let’s figure out what he’s done differently during this stretch.
One change stands out on his Statcast page. Hernández’s gains in exit velocity and barrels haven’t carried over to 2021, but he’s continued to spray far more line drives:
He has also evolved into a more-rounded hitter by making the most contact (70.5%) and tallying the lowest strikeout rate (24.5%) of his career. The 28-year-old conversely has the lowest launch angle of his six-year career, but fantasy managers should happily accept this tradeoff. Hernández can now feasibly sustain a higher batting average while aiming for 30 homers and double-digit steals.
It turns out his preseason consensus ADP of 81.6 wasn't a reach, but a savvy buy.
Buster Posey (C - SF): 164 wRC+
Show of hands: Who expected Posey to hit .328/.421/.547 with 12 home runs at the All-Star break? If you raised your hand, keep it up so we can all identify the liars.
It took 568 plate appearances for Posey to pop 12 long balls in 2017. He hit five homers in 2018 and seven in 2019, combining for another dozen in 893 plate appearances. After opting out of the 2020 season, Posey has suddenly (and relatively quietly) returned to the MVP catcher of old.
That's not hyperbole either. Posey earned a 164 wRC+ during his 2012 NL MVP campaign. His wRC+ at the break? 164. The 34-year-old even has a slightly higher wOBA due to an enhanced walk rate.
Statcast didn't exist during his glory days, but by FanGraphs' measure, Posey's 24.2% line-drive rate is his best mark behind 2014's 24.3%, which trailed his personal-best 24.6% from 2012.
Perhaps the biggest difference in Posey's 2021 portfolio is his 24.5% HR/FB rate. That more than doubles his 11.6% career clip, and he last reached double digits in 2015. Even his 18.8% from 2012 previously served as a major outlier for a gap hitter who has only twice exceeded 20 homers in a season (24 in 2012, 22 in 2014).
Posey might not compete for a batting title come September, and he probably doesn't have another dozen dingers left in the tank. But fantasy managers would be hard-pressed coming up with many catchers they'd rather roster (maybe J.T. Realmuto and Salvador Perez) the rest of the season.
Carlos Correa (SS - HOU): 24.7% O-Swing Rate
Here's a fun, mostly insignificant fact: Correa has slugged over .500 in every odd-numbered year since debuting in 2015. He hasn't slugged higher than .451 in the three even-numbered years.
There you have it. Fade the shortstop in 2022 drafts, but be sure to target him in 2023.
OK, that's not the actual takeaway. This yearly inconsistency is the real matter at hand. Paired with considerable time missed to injuries from 2017 to 2019, the former No. 1 overall pick was considered a high-risk fantasy investment in 2021 drafts. In most cases, he fell beyond the top-100 picks.
But upon closer inspection, he's only actually had one bad year. In 2016, Correa followed an inspired debut by tallying 20 homers, 13 steals, 96 RBIs, and a 123 wRC+ in his age-21 season. He was a league-average hitter in 2018, but there's no free pass here since nobody signed up for a .239 batting average and 15 homers.
Although he hit .264/.326/.383 with five homers during a poor 2020 regular season, Correa quickly made amends by batting .362/.455/.766 with seven home runs in 13 playoff games. Put them together, and he hit .276/.351/.452. Fantasy baseball managers left disappointed, but the full picture looked just fine.
In hindsight, maybe his 2021 redemption tour shouldn't be so surprising. Correa is batting .288/.385/.510 with 16 homers. Along with narrowly possessing the best hard-hit rate (44.9%) of his career, the 26-year-old is also setting personal benchmarks in strikeouts (17.6%) and walks (13.1%).
Correa is making the same amount of contact, but he's showing far better selectiveness. O-Swing rate refers to pitches swung at outside the strike zone. Correa's career rate stands at 29.3%, jumping as high as 33.9% last season. He now owns the 18th-lowest mark among 136 qualified hitters.
That doesn't mean Correa is a fantasy superstar. After all, he hasn't stolen a base since April 9, 2019. A healthy Correa is nevertheless a high-impact performer in the other categories. While we watched him experience vast highs and lows for the past seven years, he may just now be reaching his prime.
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