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What Went Wrong: Brian Dozier

Brian Dozier entered the 2018 season as one of the most stable power-speed options in the game. Among the 17 players with at least 50 HR and 50 SB from 2014-17, his 194 HR+SB placed him fourth behind only Jose Altuve (226), Mike Trout (216), and Charlie Blackmon (204). He only hit .254 during that four-year run, but 2016-17 were his two best seasons during the run and he actually hit .269 in those two seasons.

In 2016-17, Dozier had also shown a severe first half/second half split. In the two first halves, he had a .244/.331/.433 line compared to a .298/.369/.619 in the second halves. I mention that because it definitely bought him some leeway when he meandered through the first few months of 2018. He had just a .692 OPS a week into July, but rallied a bit just before the break to end the first half at .738 with 16 HR and 5 SB in 414 PA.

He couldn’t stay hot coming out of the break, but then he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on the July 31st deadline. He opened with homers in each of his first two games as a Dodger and put up a .308/.438/.769 line in his first week of play (32 PA). I can’t imagine I was alone in thinking that was the beginning of his perennial second half surge.

Narrator: It was not.

He wouldn’t hit another homer for two weeks and ended his Dodger run with a .154/.268/.256 line after that first week. All told, he managed just a .182/.300/.350 in LA and .215/.305/.391 for the entire season. His 21 HR were a five-year low and his 12 SB were tied for the same. I can’t find a lot different within Dozier’s profile to account for the fall off. In fact, I can’t really find any tangible differences that would yield any sort of drop, let alone the cratering we saw.

Plate Skills
Year PA K% BB% SwStr% O-Swing% Contact
2016 691 20% 9% 9% 29% 79%
2017 705 20% 11% 9% 23% 78%
2018 632 20% 11% 8% 23% 79%

His plate skills were literally identical. There was absolutely no movement of consequence in his strikeout, walk, swinging strike, chase, and contact rates. I’d have expected to see something different in these skills when his OPS fell 160 points. Let’s take a look at his batted ball profile:

Batted Ball Skills
Year LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB% Soft% Med% Hard%
2016 16% 36% 48% 13% 18% 18% 47% 35%
2017 19% 38% 43% 13% 17% 16% 50% 34%
2018 17% 40% 44% 17% 11% 17% 46% 37%

OK, we actually see a real change here. And no, it’s not the infield flyball rate. The 4-point jump there just isn’t that impactful. His 32 infield flies were a three-year high despite a three-year low in flyballs, but even if you give him the 2017 infield fly rate, it’s a difference of seven pop-ups. Give him hits on all seven of those and he’s still only at .228 so it’s not a crazy change. The HR/FB rate is where we see something.

The 6-point drop from 2017 to 2018 is worth about 10 homers. Even getting 5-6 of those would’ve helped his bottom line. One other major difference I didn’t put in either chart was his BABIP. I didn’t include it because it’s not as skill-based as the other aspects I chose to highlight, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his 60-point tanking down to .240!

The infield flyball rate explains some of the BABIP drop, but there seems to be some plain old bad luck involved, too. There just aren’t enough changes in his profile to account for that kind of fall off in BABIP leaving me with little else but bad luck as a major culprit. I’d say maybe he played through some undocumented nagging injuries, too, but then why wouldn’t any of his major skill indicators show it?

I’m eager to see where Dozier lands this winter. I think his price tag will remain around his #2EarlyMock ADP of 85 and I’m buying there. I’m seeing something like .250, 25 HR, 15 SB and there’s still .270, 35, 20 upside with the SBs depending on his landing spot (hopefully he goes somewhere open to stealing).

Why We Missed: Kurt Suzuki

The Hot Stove Season has not really begun in earnest yet, but with the Nationals reaching an agreement with Kurt Suzuki on a two-year deal on Monday morning, we have our first fantasy-relevant player movement since the five-player swap between the Mariners and Rays back on Nov. 8. The move could bode well for Suzuki’s value in 2019, as he currently has less competition for playing time in Washington than he did in Atlanta. Reportedly, his deal will pay him $10 million over the two years, so it is conceivable that the Nationals could have the resources to dip back into the catcher market for more help.
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2019 xADP, New and Improved

About a month ago, I published a post that predicted 2019 ADP (“xADP”) values using eight years’ worth of average draft position (ADP) data from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and end-of-season (EOS) values from Razzball. The model was pretty good — it explained nearly 60 percent of the data’s variance (adjusted r2 = 0.59), which is pretty dang good. It felt unfulfilled, though; it accounted for some players but not others — namely, breakout rookies who were completely off the radar the previous season and top prospects who had yet to debut.

I took some time (really, a lot of time) to clean up my data to see how much it would improve my model, if at all:

  1. Originally, my data set did not account for players who were not drafted (aka had no ADP value) but made an impact in 2018 (think Juan Soto). Conversely, my data did account for players who were drafted but made no impact in 2018 (think, uh, Troy Tulowitzki, I guess). It was kind of like addressing a Type I error but ignoring a Type II error (or the other way around? I don’t know). I took painstaking care to fill in these holes.
  2. I took equally painstaking care to ensure all player names were consistent — no “Nick Castellanos”/”Nicholas Castellanos” mismatches that might pollute the analysis. Odds are, there are a couple of players I missed, but having spent hours poring over the data, I feel confident that the issue is no longer pervasive.
  3. I added ages! They make a small impact, most meaningful to players at the extremes, such as the very young (think Ronald Acuna) and the very old (think Nelson Cruz).
  4. Lastly, a theoretical and methodological adjustment: I forced negative ADP values to $0. I wanted the model to reflect an actual draft, in which players are never bought at auction for negative dollars — rather, their values converge on zero. It’s important to note here that a player can still end the season with negative value based on the concept of replacement level. Accordingly, only negative ADP values, and not negative EOS values, were forced zero.

Fortunately, the extra work was worth it: the model boasts an adjusted r2 of 0.75 (with ages; 0.73 without). That’s a massive improvement, and it can be attributed almost entirely to the slight (but profound) change in the model specification.

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Half Season Heroes: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s 2018 was a season of extremes. After being called up on April 20th, he struggled in his first taste of major league action – slashing .206/.229/.309 with a 43 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances before being sent to triple-A, Buffalo. After being re-called in July, Gurriel went on an absolute tear – slashing .423/.438/.648 with a 200 wRC+. Unsurprisingly, his BABIP was .456 during the month of July. Incredibly, Gurriel walked only once during his epic hot streak (and missed a week in the middle of the month with a concussion). On July 29th, Gurriel sprained his left ankle and spent most of August on the disabled list. Upon his return, he struggled once again, posting a .226/.270/.368 slash line with 4 home runs and a 69 wRC+.

Overall, the 25-year-old rookie finished 2018 hitting .281/.309/.446 with 11 home runs and a 103 wRC+ in 263 plate appearances.

Based on his rookie season, Gurriel looks to be a player that does some things very well and some things very poorly.

Lourdes hits the ball hard. Per Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity (90.3 mph) is well above the league mean. 45.6 percent of his batted balls were struck at over 95 mph – a mark that puts him inside the top ten percent in baseball (minimum 250 at bats) and ahead of players like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Matt Carpenter. Gurriel makes little soft contact (15.5 percent) and is very good at avoiding infield fly balls (3.2 percent).

Gurriel also displayed more power in 2018 – hitting 18 home runs over three levels (AA, AAA and MLB) after hitting just 5 in 2017 – both truncated seasons, as he missed significant time with injuries.

One reason that Gurriel is able to make so much hard contact is his ability to hit the fastball. Gurriel slugged .575 with 7 home runs and a .400 wOBA against fastballs and cutters this season. His ability to handle the fastball is likely part of the reason Gurriel is so aggressive – he swung at 37.8 percent of first pitches in his rookie season.

While Gurriel is able to crush fastballs, he struggles against offspeed and breaking pitches.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. vs. Pitch Types
AVG SLG Whiff%
Fastball 0.328 0.541 14.3
Breaking 0.232 0.329 35.1
Offspeed 0.244 0.400 43.2
SOURCE: baseballsavant.com

In addition to not being able to handle anything with a wrinkle, Gurriel’s plate approach will likely have to improve if he’s going to see success as a major league hitter. He rarely walks – his 3.4% walk rate was seventh worst among all players with at least 250 plate appearances. His minor league numbers were not much better – he posted a .297 OBP over two seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization.

Since 2000, only eight players have produced a wRC+ of 110 or higher with a walk rate below 4 percent and a strikeout rate above 20 percent. Of those eight players, no one has posted at least a 110 wRC+ more than once. Even in 2018, the Javier Baez plate approach is the exception rather than the rule.

Low Walk, High Strikeout Seasons Since 2000
Season Name Tm BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
2002 Alfonso Soriano NYY 3.10% 21.19% 0.300 0.332 0.547 131
2010 John Buck TOR 3.66% 25.40% 0.281 0.314 0.489 114
2011 Reed Johnson CHC 1.88% 23.68% 0.309 0.348 0.467 121
2012 Michael Morse WSN 3.72% 22.56% 0.291 0.321 0.470 113
2014 Delmon Young BAL 3.92% 20.00% 0.302 0.337 0.442 120
2014 C.J. Cron LAA 3.95% 24.11% 0.256 0.289 0.450 112
2015 Jonathan Schoop BAL 2.80% 24.61% 0.279 0.306 0.482 113
2018 Adalberto Mondesi KCR 3.78% 26.46% 0.276 0.306 0.498 114

It is worth remembering that Gurriel Jr. is still only 25. He posted a .362 OBP in six years of play in the Cuban National Series and was able to keep his strikeout rate below 17 percent until he reached triple-A partway through his 2018 season. If his power growth is real, he could posses the upside of someone like Miguel Andujar with slightly less home run potential.

Gurriel is eligible at second base and shortstop, and as of right now, will enter the 2019 season competing for at-bats in the Blue Jays’ middle infield. Everything the team has said suggests they want to give Gurriel an opportunity to establish himself, but even after the trade of Aledmys Diaz, he could still be battling for playing time with Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Drury, Devon Travis and (possibly) Richard Urena. The Jays also have one of baseball’s best prospects in shortstop Bo Bichette, who could be factoring into the playing time mix sooner rather than later as well.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will need to work on his plate discipline and learn to hit something other than a fastball if he’s going to see sustained success in the majors. But with his ability to hit the ball hard and indications in his minor league numbers that improvements are possible, Gurriel is an intriguing player heading into 2019. Just make sure to keep a close eye out for skills improvement and a path to playing time.

The Sleeper and the Bust Episode: 616 – Happy Birthday, Justin!!!


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Half Season Heroes: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Tuesday’s decision deadline for players who received qualifying offers came and went, and Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of the seven recipients to accept. Ryu will get to follow up on a stellar, albeit injury-shortened, 2018 campaign by remaining with the Dodgers for another year, and he will earn $17.9 million while gearing up for another run at the free agent market.

Despite missing more than half the season with a strained groin, Ryu finished as a top-50 pitcher in Roto value (per ESPN), largely on the strength of a 1.97 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. While FIP, xFIP and SIERA all agree that he should have had an ERA in the 3.00-to-3.20 range, they don’t directly take into account Ryu’s history as an above-average strander. His 85.4 percent LOB% from 2018 is bound to regress, but his career rate of 77.5 percent is more than four percentage points above the typical major league average.
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What Fastball Velocity Value is Most Predictive?

Yesterday, I published an article on a few pitchers whose fastball velocity changed over the course of last season. And then my old buddy MGL showed up.

He’s right. I have so much on my plate right now, mainly my first book and a 2019 player previews, that I didn’t take it another step forward. Here are most of his answers.

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Half Season Heroes: Franmil Reyes

Trying to discern between second half breakouts as seeds sown for growth compared to a potential bust makes preseason preparation exciting. One name sure to be popular in the new year will be Franmil Reyes. During his 87 game sample in the majors last year, Reyes launched 16 home runs with a .280/.340/.498 slash line in 261 at-bats. It did not come without some adversity. He arrived to the majors with a propensity to hit for power along with racking up strikeouts.

This proved to be true during Reyes’ first 104 at-bats during May, June and nine games in July prior to his demotion. Reyes hit six home runs but only walked seven times with 42 strikeouts resulting in a .221/.270/.423 slash line. Less than ideal. Getting a reset in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, Reyes finished with a robust 16 home runs in only 58 games at Triple-A with a .324/.428/.614 line. This led to his return to San Diego on August fourth.

From this point forward, Reyes surged. Over his last 157 at-bats he scored 22 runs with six doubles, 10 home runs, 24 RBI and an eye popping .318/.385/.548 slash. He also hit safely in 20 of his 25 games in September benefiting fantasy owners who held tight or took another chance on Reyes upon his return to the majors. More encouraging, Reyes walked 17 times compared to 38 strikeouts in this time sample, showing growth in his plate discipline after his reboot in the minors.

During Reyes’ time at Triple-A, he walked 14.8 percent of the time versus a 23.6 strikeout percentage. While this rate of discipline should not carry over to the majors, there’s room for growth seeing his 9.7 and 9.8 walk rates in August and September provide hope going forward. In these same two months, Reyes reduced his strikeout percentages to 23.6 and 20.6 respectively as well. In both May and June, Reyes produced strikeout rates at or above 40 percent.

When trying to assess his potential average in 2019, some will depend on his ability to build on the gains in discipline during his second go around in the majors while he continues to adjust to hitting at this level. Reyes will also need to improve against right-handed pitching if he’s going to hit at or above his Steamer projection. At Triple-A, Reyes hit .359/.519/.564 against southpaws while slashing a very respectable .316/.404/.626 against right-handed pitchers in his limited 216 at-bat sample last season. When going back to his 2017 Double-A statistics, Reyes hit appreciably better against right-handed pitching (.292/.349/.514) than he did against left-handed pitching (.147/.233/.293).

While this intimates Reyes remains a work in progress, he should be able to improve upon his splits from last year in the majors. Reyes hit .247/.298/.449 versus right-handed pitching with 10 home runs in 178 at-bats. Against southpaws, he slashed .349/.426/.602 with six home runs in 83 at-bats. It’s tough to predict how Reyes will fare versus each type of pitcher in 2019, but planning on some movement to the mean in each category seems salient. So, improved plate discipline baked in with past production versus each type of pitcher should allow Reyes to hold his own going forward.

Transitioning to his batted ball data, Reyes should be able to achieve his Steamer projection of 69 runs, 28 home runs, 79 RBI, two stolen bases and a .251/.319/.456 line in 531 at-bats over 146 games. With home run production down last year, these will not be numbers to overlook. When trying to gauge his home run totals, Reyes displayed power throughout the minors along with the 32 he hit across two levels last season. But, trying to predict a total higher than Steamer’s will be difficult. Could he surpass this total? Absolutely. However, paying for more could be risky.

According to Statcast data, Reyes averaged an exit velocity of 96.4 MPH on his fly balls and line drives put into play of his 181 batted ball events. Last year, Reyes made the most of his 33.3 and 23.9 fly ball percentages from August fourth on, but he’s not recorded a season with a fly ball percentage above 40 percent, once, during his debut season in 2012 in Rookie ball. It’s encouraging Reyes produced a hard hit percentage (44.2) and home run per fly ball rate (29.6 percent) above the major league averages. He’s also within five-plus percent of the major league average in fly ball percentage. Not trying to downplay his home run upside, but his ground ball rates of 45.8 percent in August and 53.5 percent in September cannot be ignored when projecting his best case scenario.

Using xSTATS data, Reyes had an expected home run total of 12.7 last year with an expected slash of .268/.330/.465, an xBABIP of .346 and .OBA of .344 last year. These numbers along with his Steamer projection translate to upside. It’s apparent Reyes will be targeted from the 10th round on. In the #2EarlyMocks orchestrated by Justin Mason, Reyes carried an average draft position of 208.1 with a high pick at 165 and a low of 260 within the nine leagues. Due to his strong finish along with his power despite the ground ball to fly ball rates, Reyes will be worth the risk. As intimated above, using the Steamer projection as a guide to his baseline value, targeting “Franimal” to balance a draft with power and an average which will not tax the category makes perfect sense. Reyes could hit 30 home runs, or 24. Either way, he’s a half season hero who deserves the hype.

Velocity Changes During the 2018 Season

It may seem that fastball velocity gets over utilized for explaining a pitcher performance, but I don’t think it gets used enough. As I get going full steam ahead in my off-season research, I find myself always looking to see how a pitcher’s velocity held up over the season. Instead of looking up each pitcher individually, I decided to go ahead and collect 2018 fastball velocity reading for an easy reference.

For the data, I found the pitcher’s velocity for the whole season, April to June, July to October, and just September/October. The entire data dataset can be found here.

I went through the data and found some intriguing pitchers who gained and lost a few ticks. I divided up the analysis between first versus second half and first half and September. Many of the same pitchers would have made both lists. Here is the first to second half values.

Notable 1H to 2H Fastball Velocity Changes
2Hv-1Hv Pitcher Fastball Count Season Velo 1H Velo 2H Velo Sept Velo
-1.7 Stephen Strasburg FF 996 94.6 95.3 93.6 93.3
-1.2 Dereck Rodriguez FF 710 91.6 92.4 91.2 90.9
-1.1 Marco Estrada FF 1230 88.5 89.0 87.8 88.0
-1.0 Antonio Senzatela FF 976 93.6 94.4 93.4 93.1
-0.9 Tyler Skaggs FF 931 91.5 91.8 90.9 90.0
-0.9 Brad Keller FF 992 94.3 94.9 94.0 94.3
-0.8 Marco Gonzales SI 650 90.1 90.4 89.6 89.3
-0.8 Jon Gray FF 1387 94.7 95.0 94.3 94.2
1.1 Zack Wheeler FF 1295 95.8 95.3 96.4 95.8
1.1 Mike Clevinger FF 1735 93.6 93.0 94.2 94.5
1.2 Gerrit Cole FF 1617 96.2 95.6 96.7 96.5
1.2 Jacob deGrom FF 1399 96.0 95.4 96.7 96.9
1.3 Jordan Hicks SI 707 100.5 99.7 101.0 101.1
1.4 Cole Hamels FT 450 91.4 90.8 92.2 91.8
1.5 Gio Gonzalez FF 885 89.8 89.0 90.5 90.3
1.5 Lucas Giolito FF 1305 92.3 91.7 93.2 92.5
2.2 Matthew Boyd FF 904 90.4 89.3 91.5 92.4

Stephen Strasburg is the most concerning name on the list with his fastball down ~2 mph. The drop occurred after he went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.

His results also took a hit with his ERA going from 3.46 to 4.20 and his K%-BB% dropping from 23% to 19%.

Strasburg is getting in the danger zone where his fastball will start losing its effectiveness if he loses any more velocity. Here are its swinging-strike rates since he joined the league at different velocities.

Strasburg’s Fastball Swinging-Strike Rate
mph SwStr%
92 4.8%
93 7.0%
94 12.7%
95 13.9%
96 16.8%
97 14.7%
98 16.0%

The fastball starts to lose its effectiveness as it dips near 93 mph.

With the velocity drop, Strasburg will still be a good pitcher because his changeup is elite and curve and slider are decent. His issue is that he’s already been cutting his fastball usage from 73% when he entered the league to 52% last season. I think the chances of him having that elite season has passed.

One major consideration will be if he can get his walks under control. In the first half, they were at 2.1 BB/9 but jumped to 3.5 BB/9 in the second half. Spring training reports are going to matter quite a bit on how he gets valued.

Notable 1H to September Fastball Velocity Changes
SEPv-1Hv Pitcher Fastball Count Season Velo 1H Velo 2H Velo Sept Velo
-2.2 Danny Duffy FF 1044 93.0 92.9 93.1 90.7
-2.1 Chris Sale FF 957 95.3 95.1 95.9 93.0
-1.6 Corey Kluber FC 922 88.5 88.7 88.3 87.0
-1.5 Aroldis Chapman FF 679 98.9 99.1 98.5 97.6
-1.3 Bartolo Colon FT 1369 86.9 86.9 86.8 85.6
1.4 Luis Castillo FF 944 95.9 95.5 96.4 96.9
1.5 Patrick Corbin FF 630 90.8 90.5 91.1 92.0
1.6 Tyson Ross FF 1226 90.7 90.4 91.1 92.1
1.8 Drew Pomeranz FF 576 89.4 88.9 89.9 90.8
1.9 Sean Newcomb FF 1833 92.9 92.7 93.3 94.5
2.0 Mike Fiers FF 1095 89.4 88.5 90.2 90.5
2.7 Martin Perez FT 703 92.5 91.4 92.9 94.1

Corey Kluber is the name which jumps off. For pitcher going in the second round of mock drafts, an ~1.5 mph drop in his fastball throws a major red flag.

He got hit around more in the second half with his BABIP jumping from .248 to .321 while list strikeout and walk rates remained constant (22.5 K%-BB% to 22.1 K%-BB%). Kluber found a way to be effective even with the velocity loss.

My gut says something is off but I can’t find it. His steamer projection has his ERA next season back in the 3.50 range (same as 2015). so it even sees that something is not right. I’ll read some more previews as the season nears and see if I can gain a better understanding of him.

The Sleeper and the Bust Episode: 615 – Fireside Chat: #PLExpertsMock Review


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