The Ones We Missed: Javier Baez & Trevor Story

In the #2earlymock drafts run by our own Justin MasonJavier Baez is going 17th and Trevor Story is going 20th among all hitters. The picks are quite high considering Baez was the 58th hitter taken, and Story was 65th in NFBC drafts last year. The pair didn’t have must-draft preseason hype and their suspect plate discipline limited their perceived value. Both exceeded all expectations as they came in at 6th and 7th overall this year. This was a huge miss by the industry and I’m going to see if some traits point to why some low plate discipline players break out and others don’t.

For every Baez and Story, other bad plate discipline hitters failed like Byron Buxton (.383 OPS), Chris Davis (.539 OPS), Miguel Sano (.679 OPS) and Jonathan Schoop (.682 OPS). No obvious difference stood out. While Chris Davis is old, Buxton, Sano, and Schoop should be in their primes. To find out who may break out, I decided to start with the 2018 Bad Plate Discipline Class.

I utilized the 2018 Steamer projections and limited the sample to hitters projected for at least 300 PA and a K%-BB% of 15% or more. In all, 63 hitters made the cut.

2018 Hitters with Bad Plate Discipline
Name PA K%-BB% BABIP OPS PA K%-BB% BABIP OPS
Projected Actual
Matt Davidson 508 27.5% .284 .673 496 22.8% .313 .738
Jorge Alfaro 363.9 26.7% .312 .663 377 31.8% .406 .731
Mike Zunino 433.5 23.8% .279 .747 405 31.1% .268 .669
Randal Grichuk 480.9 23.7% .292 .774 462 20.6% .282 .803
Adam Engel 431.1 23.1% .287 .607 463 24.0% .322 .614
Michael Taylor 457.6 22.9% .326 .718 385 22.6% .320 .644
Nick Williams 413.8 22.7% .318 .736 448 17.6% .312 .749
Carlos Gomez 406.6 22.1% .310 .705 408 19.1% .266 .634
Chad Pinder 400.7 22.0% .313 .699 333 18.3% .325 .769
Chris Davis 523.6 21.7% .296 .808 522 28.9% .237 .539
Tim Anderson 571.1 21.5% .331 .692 606 19.6% .289 .687
Bradley Zimmer 519.9 21.2% .331 .718 114 32.5% .367 .611
Tim Beckham 614.8 21.2% .326 .726 402 18.2% .282 .661
Trevor Story 551.1 21.1% .326 .796 656 18.5% .345 .914
Miguel Sano 476.5 21.0% .334 .860 299 28.1% .286 .679
Joey Gallo 569 20.9% .285 .849 577 23.1% .249 .810
Adam Duvall 495.2 20.7% .273 .734 427 18.7% .237 .639
Colby Rasmus 313.4 20.6% .302 .785 49 32.7% .200 .426
Byron Buxton 570.4 20.4% .329 .758 94 26.6% .226 .383
Paul DeJong 513.1 19.7% .311 .769 490 17.8% .288 .746
Matt Chapman 565.6 19.7% .276 .747 616 14.3% .338 .864
Welington Castillo 399.2 19.6% .304 .736 181 20.4% .322 .710
Khris Davis 599 19.4% .287 .819 654 17.7% .261 .874
Steven Souza Jr. 344.4 19.2% .322 .779 272 17.3% .298 .678
Austin Hedges 415.3 19.1% .270 .684 326 21.2% .280 .711
Javier Baez 509.7 19.1% .313 .775 645 21.4% .347 .881
Justin Upton 614.3 18.7% .309 .803 613 18.3% .321 .808
Ronald Acuna 432.7 18.5% .348 .779 487 16.0% .352 .917
Martin Maldonado 343.7 18.4% .273 .660 404 20.3% .280 .627
Ryon Healy 438.6 18.4% .304 .725 524 16.4% .257 .688
Paulo Orlando 311.8 18.3% .328 .676 93 23.7% .231 .394
Ian Happ 516.7 18.3% .304 .783 462 21.0% .362 .761
Mikie Mahtook 379.2 18.1% .319 .727 250 18.0% .238 .635
Yoan Moncada 583.4 17.9% .317 .719 650 23.1% .344 .714
Jason Castro 338.5 17.9% .307 .712 74 23.0% .216 .495
James McCann 411.4 17.8% .304 .698 457 19.7% .282 .581
Jorge Soler 516.4 17.8% .310 .765 257 16.0% .340 .820
Tyler Flowers 340.6 17.6% .325 .759 296 13.9% .292 .700
Jonathan Villar 494.9 17.6% .327 .721 515 18.8% .339 .709
Jorge Bonifacio 346.2 17.5% .309 .728 270 15.6% .301 .672
J.D. Martinez 538.1 17.5% .342 .909 649 11.9% .375 1.031
Trey Mancini 566.1 17.4% .329 .782 636 17.1% .285 .715
Mark Trumbo 370.5 17.3% .285 .787 358 17.6% .303 .764
Ian Desmond 535.7 17.1% .346 .804 619 15.0% .279 .729
Alex Avila 348.6 16.8% .332 .741 234 22.7% .253 .603
Robinson Chirinos 313.7 16.8% .278 .746 426 22.3% .304 .757
Aaron Altherr 449.9 16.7% .303 .773 285 19.3% .247 .628
Leury Garcia 307.5 16.6% .314 .686 275 21.8% .355 .679
Corey Dickerson 461.9 16.6% .313 .791 533 11.1% .333 .804
Jonathan Schoop 616.2 16.3% .307 .805 501 19.2% .261 .682
Domingo Santana 572.7 16.3% .328 .821 235 24.3% .386 .740
Kyle Schwarber 498.6 16.3% .290 .830 510 12.2% .288 .823
Amed Rosario 535.8 16.1% .312 .670 592 15.2% .310 .676
Scott Schebler 464.9 16.0% .280 .776 430 14.0% .301 .777
C.J. Cron 431.2 15.9% .288 .754 560 19.3% .293 .816
Aaron Judge 614 15.9% .318 .886 498 15.3% .368 .919
Rougned Odor 569.2 15.7% .278 .782 535 15.7% .305 .751
Eric Thames 507.6 15.7% .304 .834 278 24.5% .284 .783
Alex Gordon 510.2 15.6% .299 .712 568 13.0% .299 .694
Nick Castellanos 596.3 15.4% .318 .807 678 15.0% .361 .854
Scooter Gennett 489.8 15.3% .302 .736 638 13.0% .358 .847
Yolmer Sanchez 473.7 15.3% .299 .682 662 13.4% .300 .678
Salvador Perez 506.3 15.1% .283 .763 544 16.7% .245 .713
Eddie Rosario 572.2 15.0% .313 .784 592 12.5% .316 .803

Second, I divided the players up into three groups. One was those who improved by 50 points of OPS, those who worsened by 50 points, and those in-between. Then, I cut-and-diced the data and in the end, I found the following variables the most important:

Average Differences After Grouping Hitters by OPS Changes
Category K% Diff BB% Diff BABIP Diff Age
Improve -1.0% 0.6% .029 26.3
Same 0.1% 0.2% .010 26.8
Worsened 2.6% -0.4% -.043 28.4

The first and easiest factor to check is the age. I started with the above age values and split the age groups by 27 and younger and over 27 I got a drop of .008 for the young hitters and the older hitters down by .016. After adjusting the values, I found 30-years-old to be the key age.

The hitters who are 30 and younger had their production drop by only 3 OPS points while it dropped 38 points for those over 30. The statement is true about teaching an old dog new tricks. Additionally, these old dog’s value drop because their projected BABIP dropped from .299 to an actual value of .287. Age may be a smoking gun.

Going back to the 2018 trends table, it’s time to see if the BABIP and plate discipline numbers stick. BABIP goes first.

BABIP Grouped by OPS Changes
OPS Change Proj Y1 BABIP Y1 BABIP Y2 BABIP
Improved .303 .327 .301
Same .300 .301 .293
Worsened .305 .273 .298

The previous season’s projected BABIP does a great job of estimating that year’s BABIP. Believe the projection on BABIP instead of the previous season’s values.

One player group to target may be these bad plate discipline hitters with underperforming BABIPs. Bad previous season results may be anchoring their value down going into drafts.

Now for the plate discipline.

Plate Discipline Grouped by OPS Changes
OPS Proj Y1 K%-BB% Y1 K%-BB% Y2 K%-BB%
Improved .175 .167 .175
Same .180 .188 .190
Worsened .175 .198 .208

For the hitters who improved, they saw their plate discipline stick while those who saw a drop normally saw the drop continue.

While the plate discipline and BABIP bounced back to the previous level, the overall OPS did not completely.

Plate Discipline Grouped by OPS Changes
OPS Proj Y1 OPS Y1 OPS Y2 OPS
Improved .740 .844 .768
Same .727 .730 .718
Worsened .738 .620 .685

Since BABIP wasn’t providing the rebound, I need to find out why the change stuck. The answer was power.

Plate Discipline Grouped by OPS Changes
OPS Proj Y1 ISO Y1 ISO Y2 ISO
Improved .180 .229 .199
Same .176 .179 .176
Worsened .178 .129 .166

The preceding ramblings point to three factors which may lead a poor plate discipline hitter breaking out: age, power increase, and plate discipline improvement.

To test these variables, I took three regular seasons of data and one projected season of data. With the projected season (Y3), I found those hitters who with a K%-BB% projected for over 15% and age. Then I looked at the two previous seasons to see if the hitter’s plate discipline and/or power improved. The key was to find if any breakouts or breakdowns could be predicted before the season.

Here are the differences in actual and projected OPS in Y3.

Variables OPS Change
Plate and Age -.004
Power & Age -.008
All three -.009
Age -.012
Plate -.015
Power -.016
One of three -.018
Power & Plate -.021
None of three -.045

It might sound cruel (or obvious) but just stay away from over 30-year-old hitters with declining power and plate discipline. Additionally, not one subgroup improves. They just decline less.

With strikeout rates jumping from 18.5% when the projections started to 22.3% this past season, hitters with poor plate discipline will struggle more. While power is up also, it’s not able to offset the increase strikeouts from these hack happy free swingers. If an owner must roster someone from this group, ensure they are the younger hitters who at least saw an improvement in their power or plate discipline the previous season.

Now, back to the two breakouts, Trevor Story and Javier Baez. With Story, nothing stood out but his age with his previous season ISO dropping from .296 to .219 and his K%-BB% going from 39.7% to 43.3%.

Baez also met the age requirement, but he saw his ISO jump from .150 to .264 while his plate discipline took a hit from 27.3% to 34.2%. He at least met two of the categories.

Looking forward to next season, both meet the improved power and plate discipline requirements while still being under 30 but still having some plate discipline issues compared to the rest of the league. They should keep some of the improvements but understand their BABIP will likely regress back to their 2018 projections of .313 for Baez and .326 for Story.

I’ll come back and examine some hitters who the preceding study applies to once projections become available. The findings aren’t 100% clear and trustworthy but they provide some framework for finding the potential breakouts but even more, they help to find those hitters to stay away from. I feel like I may be missing some key factor tying everything together, but I’ll have to mull on it for a while. Next, I’m off to find the keys for the Max Muncy breakouts.



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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Anonymous

Thank you for bolding the most actionable parts of the article. These K-rates are getting out of hand.