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Breakout Infielders Due for Regression in 2020

Each draft season there are always players, coming off strong seasons, who will likely disappoint future owners. Not all breakouts will disappoint, some will continue to shine. What winning fantasy owners have to do is find ways to decipher who will bust and who will not. 

The infield position has some really talented players coming off great seasons. There is the NL Rookie of the Year, Peter Alonso, coming off 53 home runs. The Diamondbacks second baseman Eduardo Escobar, who hit 35 home runs, which is a career-high by 12. Marcus Semien decreased his strikeout rate while increasing his walk rate and did pretty much everything else statistically better in a career season. Lastly, and possibly one of the most controversial players, is Gleyber Torres. Torres feasted on the Orioles and overall just maximized his quality of contact.

There are obviously many other breakouts around the infield from 2019. In this article, the previously mentioned four ballplayers will be broken down into further detail. Arguments will be made for regression, but still, some light may be shown for their 2020 season. 

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Pete Alonso (1B, NYM)

Big Meat Pete dominated Spring Training last season, which helped lock up a starting roster spot with the Mets. This allowed Pete to play in 161 games and crush 53 home runs on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year. The ROY campaign has also catapulted his NFBC ADP to 35.14 overall in online drafts since March 1. 

The 53 home runs for Alonso was by far his career-high at any level. In 2018 he hit 36 home runs in 132 games and 18 home runs over 93 games in 2017. The increase in home runs was likely aided by a 42.3% hard-hit rate in 2019 which was up from 34.7% in 2018. Yet, his pull rate in 2018 was 43.9%, and it dropped slightly in 2019 to 42.4%. As has been established many times before, pulled hard-hit balls lead to many more home runs. 

Alright, so Alonso's hard-hit rates increased while the pull rate slightly decreased. Let’s look at a couple of other issues for Pete’s decline in 2020. In 2019, Alonso had a ground ball rate of 40.8% with a fly ball rate of 28.3%. A ground ball rate close to 41% is insanely high for a player hitting 53 home runs. Alonso took advantage of the 28.3% fly-ball rate thanks to a 15.8% barrel rate. His barrel rate was much higher than the league average, but he also overachieved some as his deserved barrel rate (dBarrel) from Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard was 13.7%. 13.7% is still good, but a 2.1% drop can lead to fewer home runs. Lastly, Pete is relying on a 38.1% HR/oFB which is just a wild rate to try and maintain in 2020.

The last point of interest in Alonso’s regression for the 2020 season is his plate discipline. In 2019 Alonso had a 26.4% strikeout rate, which was the highest of his career. When looking at his rolling graph on Fangraphs, showcasing his O-swing% and K%, there are concerns. The o-swing rate continues to grow and the K% follows.

Alonso had a great 2019 season, but a repeat is highly unlikely. His hard-hit rate is great, but he is relying heavily on a solid HR/oFB. The increased strikeout and o-swing rates are a concern going forward as well. I’ll pass and take my chances on some other first baseman later in drafts this season. 

 

Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B, ARI)

When the bouncy ball is discussed from the 2019 season, Eduardo Escobar’s name should be near the top of the biggest benefactor list. Escobar increased his home runs from 21 and 23 in 2017-18 to 35 in 2019. That is quite the increase in power and one would hope the increase in power would be supported by an increase in quality of contact. 

HR Barrels HH Meatball %
2017 21 8.50% 30.60% 6.60%
2018 23 8.30% 27.60% 6.90%
2019 35 7% 31.50% 6.40%

The problem is, there is not an increase in the quality of contact to correlate with all the home runs. The HH rates and meatball rates are relatively similar over the last three seasons but look at the barrel rate. Escobar’s barrel rate has actually dropped in each of the last two seasons and dropped 1.3% to only a 7% barrel rate in 2019. When looking at Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard, Escobar’s dBarrel was all the way down to 5.8%. 

Escobar’s xStats also tell a story of overachieving. His BA, SLG, wOBA, and wOBAcon all outperformed his xStats.

BA-xBA SLG-xSLG wOBA-xWOBA wOBAcon-xwOBAcon
2019 0.011 0.043 0.014 0.024

Escobar has been a quality player over the last few seasons, and really enjoyed his first full season in the desert. He’s being drafted around pick 125 right now, as the 12th-second baseman and 18th third baseman off the board. I will pass as he will not be hitting 30+ home runs again in 2020, lowering other counting stats and reducing his draft-day value.

 

Marcus Semien (SS, OAK)

To say Semien had a career year in 2019 may be an understatement. Semien’s stat line of .285-33-123-92-10 was great. Not to mention he also had a career-high with 747 plate appearances. It was a great season for Semien, not taking that away from him. He didn’t just improve in his regular fantasy stats, he also showcased great improvements in plate discipline. He lowered his strikeout rate to 13.7% while raising his walk rate to 11.6%. 

BA HR R RBI K% BB%
2019 0.285 33 123 92 13.70% 11.60%
Next Best YR .261 ('13) 27 ('16) 89 ('18) 75 ('16) 18.6% ('18) 9.8% ('17)

The chart above showcases Semien’s career 2019 season vs. his best stats and the year those stats were achieved. Even when looking at his next best statistical performances, they are not even really close to last season’s production. When looking at some deeper stats, his ISO jumped to .237 and wRC+ to 137. His next best ISO was .197 and wRC+ was 98, both in 2016. 

HH% Barrel xwOBAcon
2018 32.10% 4.50% 0.336
2019 37.80% 8.50% 0.376

Semien also showcased the massive quality of contact gains. When looking at his hard hit, barrel and xwOBAcon improvements, they were pretty large from a year to year standpoint. So, Semien increased his plate discipline and approach at the plate in 2019. His quality of contact improved greatly and all of his major stat categories did as well. Semien had a career year and running to draft someone off a career year is rarely a good idea. He is being drafted around pick 96 and the shortstop position is so deep, that any regression from Semien will equal a stat line equal to other shortstops going rounds later this season.

 

Gleyber Torres (2B/SS, NYY)

Torres is coming off a monster 2019 season that saw him hit 38 home runs while hitting .278 with 96 runs and 90 RBI. The 23-year-old will be looking to duplicate those results this season. It may be difficult for Torres to duplicate those numbers as he maximized his quality of contact in 2019.

In 2019, Torres had a hard-hit rate of only 35.8% (league average 34.5%) and an average exit velocity of 89 mph (league average 87.5 mph). Most heavy power hitters would have higher numbers in both stats (look at Alonso above). His barrel rate improved to 10.1% last year, which is really solid, but his dBarrel was 8%. He was also much more successful than his xStats suggest.

Let's take a quick look at Torres' opposite-field rate. His opposite-field hit rate has been around 24% in his first two seasons. Some may say no big deal as the league average is over 25%, but it is important when talking power and especially power in Yankee Stadium. The spray chart shows all 38 home runs from last season. There were nine opposite-field home runs. That is taking advantage of Yankee Stadium as most quality power hitters are all about hard-hit rate and pull rate. 

Gleyber will also have to stay hot vs the Orioles, as he hit 13 of 38 home runs vs the O’s last season. Lastly, Torres has taken advantage of a 30% flyball rate and an HR/oFB of 29.9%. That’s as efficient as it gets. The fly ball efficiency, correlated with the previously mentioned hard-hit data shines a light on the 38 home runs. If the fly ball and hard-hit efficiency drop, he will be closer to a 30-home run hitter. He will not be worth the 30th overall pick and the top second baseman off the board.

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