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3 Fantasy Baseball Overachievers: Takeaways & Outlook (2024)

3 Fantasy Baseball Overachievers: Takeaways & Outlook (2024)

Every year, we have players that seemingly come out of nowhere and improve drastically from the previous season. This is to be expected with younger players, but it is more difficult to understand with veterans. We can look at the numbers and see the increase in counting stats and percentages such as “hard-hit rate,” barreled balls,” etc.

As fantasy owners, we want to know why. We want to see it to avoid falling for a fluke year that was unlikely when drafting again. This mentality is often reflected in a player’s ADP and preseason rankings. For example, Yandy Diaz is currently at 133 despite winning the batting title in 2023. To address this concern, I would like to turn to quantitative data.

3 Fantasy Baseball Overachievers: Takeaways & Outlook (2024)

What is Qualitative Data?

Qualitative data is “information that cannot be counted, measured or easily expressed using numbers.” The data is usually gathered through interviews and observations. Quantitative data, on the other hand, is comprised of numbers that are countable and measurable. Quantitative data looks for the “what,” while qualitative data looks for the “why.”

For gathering qualitative data, researchers primarily use interviews and observations. They use interview transcripts and field notes to “code” data, which entails identifying recurring themes that can explain a particular situation beyond what numerical statistics would be able to.

We rely heavily on quantitative data for fantasy purposes, which makes sense because fantasy sports are all numbers. However, sometimes, there are unexplained phenomena that need to be in alignment with previous quantity trends. This is where qualitative data can help. Since you and I can always look at and even calculate stats, we don’t have the luxury of talking to players directly. That is why compiling past transcripts and articles that players have done is the key to getting qualitative information.

The Analysis

For this analysis, I identified players who finished in the top 25 hitters on FantasyPros VBR and had the most significant gap between their ADP and final ranking. Of that group, three guys’ qualitative data greatly support their 2023 outburst, not to be a fluke. Those guys are Christian Yelich, Yandy Diaz and Marcell Ozuna.

I used internet searches for articles and “otter.ai” transcription tools to transcribe videos. The player either discussed himself or talked about unique factors that could have contributed to their improvements. I also used quantitative data, particularly sabermetrics, to correlate with the information I found.

Christian Yelich (ADP 85, Final VBR 20)

2022 stats: 155 GP, 145 H, 99 R, 25 2B, 14 HR, 57 RBI, .252 BA, .355 OBP, .738 OPS

2023 stats: 145 GP, 153 H, 106 R, 34 2B, 19 HR, 76 RBI, .278 BA, .370 OBP, .818 OPS

It was widely believed that Yelich was on the downturn of his career, having a colossal drop in production from his MVP season five seasons ago. However, at 31, Yelich notably improved in every fantasy-relevant stat between 2022 and 2023 despite playing 10 fewer games in 2023. Oddly enough, his advanced stats percentages in the most significant categories (hard-hit rate, barrels, line drive rate, etc.) have remained unchanged between the past two seasons. The “age curve” regarding these statistics is said to be that this statistic should remain unchanged between the ages of 25 and 35, which Yelich is aligned with. Given this information, it can be expected to stay the same in his age 32 season 2024.

Two interviews of Yelich discussing the season provided a reasonable explanation for this. The first was an interview on the “Pardon My Take” podcast in which Yelich discusses banning the shift. Yelich outlines how he believes the shift ban will lead teams to get more creative with where they place their fielder to try and combat the ban. He alludes to the “chess match” of hitters and fielders and where they put the ball.

That tidbit would not have had it not been for a more in-depth interview Yelich did with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. The most significant part of the interview was Yelich discussing disappointing April. Yelich said to have decided to change his swing after a rough outing to eliminate the leg kick he had predominantly used throughout his career with a toe tap instead. He said he did this to gain more control. “It’s just a little change. Nothing too crazy. But it’s more about being more controlled with smaller movements and consistency. It’s about being on time, and then you can control your body better.”

Yelich toe tap is an excellent explanation regarding his improvement. His increase in production while not hitting the ball any harder makes perfect sense when he improves his ability to place the ball and control his swing. This change should continue to positively impact Yelich’s production in 2024, just as it did in 2023.

Yandy Diaz (ADP 232, Final VBR 24)

2022 stats: 137 GP, 140 H, 71 R, 33 2B, 9 HR, 57 RBI, .296 BA, .401 OBP, .842 OPS

2023 stats: 137 GP, 173 H, 95 R, 35 2B, 22 HR, 78 RBI, .330BA, .410 OBP, .932 OPS

In 2022, Yandy Diaz set career-highs in most statistical areas but crushed those totals in 2023. Diaz seemingly came out of nowhere to win the American League batting title with a .330 average, making his first all-star game at 31. He also saw his home run total skyrocket. He did this while somehow managing to have the same on-base percentage as he did in 2022. If one were to look at his numbers 20 years from now with no context, it would be incredibly confusing.

Diaz and Yelich had one thing in common in 2023: they were both 31. That’s it; everything else about their meteoric rises is entirely different. For one, unlike Yelich, Diaz’s hard-hit rate and barreled balls rate skyrocketed. This goes completely against the age curve that states that a player’s hard hit would likely remain the same for ages 25-35. The reason for their improvements is also quite different.

So how did he do it? The most remarkable part of Diaz’s change is that his swing remains the same as in 2022, as evidenced by a video analysis done by Fangraph’s Jake Malihot. In an interview with Yahoo’s Zach Crizer, Diaz stated that he attributes his power surge to pitch selection. He has always been one of the most meticulous hitters in baseball with top-of-league caliber walk percentages. However, he did this essentially to a fault, as waiting for pitches made him unable to make contact with the ball in front of the plate. Diaz committed to swinging earlier and taking more risks at the plate to connect with the ball while it was in flight. He began swinging much more, resulting in fewer walks and more strikeouts. On the other hand, his overall production increase more than offsets that.

When Diaz says “pitch selection,” he is not referring to strikes and balls but to situational hitting. In another interview with MLB.com’s Adam Berry, he said, “I think it’s more of the count and the situation. Everyone knows I’m pretty disciplined up there, so I’m just going there trying to find the right pitch to hit.” Diaz put more emphasis on knowing when a pitcher would be forced to throw a strike and then being more reckless in those situations to get in front of the ball, leading to capitalization of his elite launch angles and a drastic increase in hard-hit rate. The same goes for his contact hitting. Since he is much more likely to swing early in situations where he has the advantage, he got 335 more hits with this approach and did so all the way to the American League batting title.

Marcell Ozuna (ADP 308, Final VBR 23)

2022 stats: 124 GP, 106 H, 56 R, 19 2B, 23 HR, 56 RBI, .296 BA, .274 OBP, .687 OPS

2023 stats: 144 GP, 145 H, 84 R, 29 2B, 40 HR, 100 RBI, .274 BA, .346 OBP, .905 OPS

Marcell Ozuna is the most drastic case of all. In the majority of re-draft fantasy leagues, Ozuna wasn’t even drafted. His ADP was right behind Yankees utility man Oswaldo Cabrera. Those who did end up taking a risk on Ozuna were rewarded. The two-time Silver Slugger award winner Ozuna went from being an MVP candidate in 2020 to fighting for a roster spot in 2023. He responded with a 40 HR and 100 RBI season. It is also of note that Ozuna was still able to achieve his 2023 stat line despite hitting a putrid .078 in April.

Ozuna told the Marietta Daily-Journal’s Grant McCauley that he attributes his return to prominence to altering his mechanics: “I’m working every day in the cage, working on my mechanics and working on my timing. As soon as I walk in the back, I feel like I can have success.” These changes led to Ozuna hitting the ball to all areas of the field and cutting down significantly on his strikeout rate.

His strikeout rate falling can also be attributed to his improved plate vision pitch selection. Ozuna took breaking balls and off-speed pitches instead of swinging for the fences every time. These changes were not a flash in the pan either. Ozuna maintained his improved caliber of play from May until the season’s end. I believe that fantasy managers can draft him with confidence that these changes are here to stay, making a repeat performance more likely than not.

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