By The Numbers: Taylor Ward, Marcus Semien, Josh Donaldson (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
One helpful statistic that fantasy baseball managers can use to identify productive batters is wRC+, or Weighted Runs Created Plus.
This catchall stat measures a batter’s run creation based on a formula that factors in league runs per plate appearance, weighted runs above average, and park factors.
It works on a scale, starting at 100, so a player with a 110 wRC+ essentially means he is performing 10% better than the league average. Any players with a wRC+ lower than 100 are considered below average.
Fantasy managers can use Weighted Runs Created Plus to compare batters who play in hitter-friendly parks like Coors Field and pitcher-friendly parks like Petco Park because they have the same baseline measurement.
For example, C.J. Cron has a .417 wOBA because he has 10 home runs, 23 runs, 30 RBI, and a .319 batting average. Likely, he would not have the same production if his home park was in San Diego, which shows in his 158 wRC+. Eric Hosmer, who has fewer home runs, runs, and RBI than Cron, has a 155 wRC+ because it factors in where he plays. Essentially, Cron and Hosmer both have similar weighted values regarding the runs they create.
This is a handy statistic when identifying whom to drop, add, or trade in fantasy leagues, and it may even cause fantasy managers to reconsider how they value some players.
Here are a few players to pay attention to in regards to wRC+
Taylor Ward (OF – LAA) 251 wRC+
Ward has arguably been the most valuable player in fantasy baseball so far this season, and according to his league-leading wRC+, he has been the clear fantasy MVP. There are only two other players besides Ward with a wRC+ higher than 200 – Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.
At 28 years old, Ward only has 661 PA’s in his major league career, but the late bloomer seems to have finally put things together.
He has a league-leading .488 OBP, meaning he is on base nearly half the time he comes up to the plate, and his 18.1% walk rate is only 2.4% lower than his strikeout rate.
The outfielder is also barreling the ball more than ever, with a 14% barrel rate. He has lowered his chase rate by more than 10%, reaching for balls out of the zone only 18.6% of the time (the lowest in the league). He also possesses one of the best swinging strike rates in the league at 7%. He is doing plenty of things to add to his wRC+ and, in turn, his fantasy value.
However, his .375 batting average may not stick because of an elevated BABIP, and as his AVG drops, he’ll likely lose some value. Another concern is that Ward’s 29% HR/FB rate is nearly double what he’s managed for his career, despite no significant changes to his hard-hit rate or flyball rate.
Managers that were able to snag Ward early are likely reveling in his production, but his value has never been higher. It may be the time to capitalize on that value by trading him for additional pieces.
Marcus Semien (2B, SS – TOR) 38 wRC+
Semien has the second-worst wRC+ in the league, ahead of Jonathan Schoop‘s 35 wRC+. Additionally, Semien posted a 131 wRC+ in 2021, good for 30th best in baseball along with Mookie Betts. What has caused this drop in production for the Rangers’ second baseman?
First, Semien has yet to hit a home run in 153 plate appearances. Only 10 have not hit a home run this season, including Semien, among all qualified hitters. He’s also among the worst qualified hitters in run and RBI production, with 13 and eight, respectively.
Despite the second-best strikeout rate of his career, the veteran middle infielder has struggled to get on base because of the second-worst walk rate of his career. Yes, part of the reason for his .235 OBP is a .211 BABIP, but Semien also has some of the worst batted ball metrics of his career too.
His weak barrel and hard-hit rates align with his 2015 numbers when he hit 15 home runs and batted .257 in 601 plate appearances. It is difficult for batters to hit home runs when they barrel the ball 2.6% of the time and hit the ball hard 26% of the time. While it is unlikely that his HR/FB rate continues to be 0%, the hard contact metrics do not bode well for him going forward.
Semien’s discipline in 2022 should also be concerning for fantasy managers. His 34.6% chase rate and 11.5% swinging strike rate are the worst of his career, aside from his rookie season.
It is clear from this background data why Semien has struggled so much and why his wRC+ is so low. The question is whether he can turn things around going forwards.
Josh Donaldson (3B – NYY) 143 wRC+
With the highest wRC+ among qualified batters being 251 and the lowest being 35, Donaldson’s 143 wRC+ is right in the middle.
Donaldson started slow, batting only .203 in April. He has picked things up since the start of May, going 17-for-53 for a .321 AVG. The veteran third baseman has accumulated three home runs this month, along with eight runs, nine RBI, and seven walks to 11 strikeouts. The hot streak has raised his 112 April wRC+ to 143.
Part of the reason that Donaldson has a top-30 wRC+ is that he is a consistently hard hitter. His average barrel rate for his career is 12.8%, his average hard-hit rate for his career is 48.2%, and his 2022 metrics are only about a percent lower than those numbers.
He has a bit of an elevated BABIP, but part of the reason could be because of a 27% line drive rate, the highest of his career, which would make his .254 AVG more legitimate.
There is also reason to believe his power output could actually increase slightly and raise his wRC+ even more since his HR/FB rate is slightly lower than usual.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.
Taylor Tarter is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Taylor, check out his archive.