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Contact Rate Risers and Fallers for Week 17: Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Contact Rate Risers and Fallers! Our premium tools allow us to get out ahead of trends in player performance, including contact rate. Every Wednesday, we'll be looking at some players that have seen an increase in contact rate and some that have seen it decline.

Contact rate can foretell a player's batting average and general hitting statistics, and any drastic change could signal a shift in performance. Contact rate shifts often act as a precursor to hot streaks and slumps.

Here is a breakdown of some of the biggest fantasy relevant risers and fallers in contact rate over the last seven days.

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Contact Rate Risers

Kris Bryant (3B/OF, CHC): 94% contact rate last seven days (+19%)

Bryant has been one of the more disappointing early-round hitters this season, and this past week captures many of his problems in a nutshell. He did have a 94% contact rate and only three strikeouts in 25 PA, but he also hit .227 with a .684 OPS and one extra-base hit. The common narrative on Bryant would be that he has “sold out for contact”, therefore sacrificing power. While statements like that can typically be written off as announcer-speak, there should are legitimate concerns about Bryant’s approach. His season-long contact rate is 77.8%, yet he is striking out 21% of the time. In his 2016 MVP season Bryant had a 73.3% contact rate and 22% strikeout rate. A 4% increase in contact rate doesn’t account for a 65 point drop in ISO (.262 in 2016, .197 in 2018). There is something else wrong here.

Bryant is striking the ball weakly this season. His average exit velocity isn’t just below his 2016 average exit velocity, it’s below league average. His 86.3 MPH average exit velocity is two MPH below the league average and ranks him 198th out of 238 batters in average exit velocity (min. 150 batted ball events). Seriously, Bryant is hitting the ball with less authority than Cameron Maybin has this season. This past week when Bryant made such good contact he had a 15.8% hard contact rate. A .489 xSLG suggests Bryant has performed on par with expected power numbers, but a .261 xBA doesn’t bode well for a huge batting average turnaround. He is currently at .276, which would be a three year low. The only reason to buy into a Bryant rebound is talent, because the numbers don’t suggest that more is to come.

Paul DeJong (SS, STL): 89% contact rate last seven days (+18%)

Like Kris Bryant, Paul DeJong’s contact rate spike did not correlate with production. Over the last seven days DeJong hit .174 with a .453 OPS at three strikeouts in 26 PA. DeJong has followed up an unsustainable 2017 season predictably and his production has gone down by every metric. Because DeJong’s BABIP normalized from .349 to .307 his batting average fell from .285 to .249. His HR/FB rate also fell from 20% to 13%, and DeJong’s ISO also fell from .247 to .171. He is striking out less this season at 25.5%, but his contact rate also fell 2% and is at 72.7%. The reason his strikeout rate improved wasn’t because DeJong is making better contact, but because he has become more patient at the plate. His swing rate dropped 8% and he doubled his walk rate to 8.2%. DeJong’s .255 xBA and .499 xSLG fall in line with what he did in 2017, he is just getting worse results. His xSLG is 80 points higher than DeJong’s actual .420 SLG, so there is hope for more power going forward, but DeJong likely won’t hit .285 again.

Tommy Pham (OF, STL): 89% contact rate last seven days (+17%)

Not only did Tommy Pham make better contact over the past week, he actually did something with it. Pham hit .429 with a 1.187 OPS and two strikeouts in 25 PA in the last seven days. Pham’s season has been a roller coaster ride of his owners, with wild swings in production that can seemingly flip on a moment. Still, there is a lot to like about a sustained turnaround for Pham going forward. He is still crushing the ball with a 92.8 MPH average exit velocity, 11th best in the majors. He also has wide gaps between his expected stats and actual stats. Pham’s .282 xBA and .502 xSLG are both the highest of his career, including his 2017 breakout season. His .373 xwOBA is only two points lower than his xwOBA in 2017. Pham’s .159 ISO is a big outlier consider he was over .200 in the past three seasons before this year. Pham’s 77.7% contact rate is 2.5% lower than it was last season, but still the second highest of his career. This is an aggressive target to buy. Pham could go 10-10 or higher with an AVG greater than .280 in the second half, which would be a boon to any 5x5 team.


Contact Rate Fallers

Elias Diaz (C, PIT): 73% contact rate last seven days (-12%)

After hitting .223 with a .090 ISO and 52 wRC+ in 200 PA last season Diaz looked like the typical weak hitting backup catcher. This season he has flashed a little potential with the stick playing in Francisco Cervelli’s stead. Overall Diaz has a .282 AVG, .782 OPS, and .175 ISO. Those numbers make him a startable catcher in 12 team leagues and a great find in two-catcher or NL-only leagues. With a player like this, who literally came out of nowhere, there is always concerns that the bottom will fall out. Even though Diaz saw a dip in contact rate, his production didn’t suffer too much. He hit .278 with a .667 OPS and five strikeouts in 18 PA. Diaz has made good contact this season with an 80% contact rate and 14% strikeout rate, both significantly above average in today’s game. He has also raised his average exit velocity to 89.5 MPH, giving him a .295 xBA and .475 xSLG. Diaz is only 18% owned in Yahoo leagues as of writing this, and if you need a catcher he is certainly a good option. With word of Francisco Cervelli potentially moving to first base Diaz may have some staying power as Pittsburgh’s starting catcher.

Javier Baez (2B/SS, CHC): 67% contact rate last seven days (-6%)

This wasn’t a big drop for Baez, but with fewer games last week due to the All-Star break not many players had enough plate appearances to appear on our contact rate premium tool. As usual with Baez, the low contact rate didn’t affect his production over the past seven days. He hit .318 with a .682 OPS and seven strikeouts in 23 PA. A player like Baez, while he has been extremely productive this season, may be prone to big swings in production due to a low baseline for contact rate and poor plate discipline. That being said, the breakout looks legitimate as Baez has raised his contact rate 5% from last season. It is still low at 70%, but he has enough power and speed to make up for the strikeout issues. He is also hitting the ball harder with a 90.5 MPH average exit velocity, and has a 24% line drive rate. Baez is reminiscent of Carlos Gomez in his prime. Poor plate discipline can make him frustrating to own at times, but the player comes through with big numbers at the end of the year.

Anthony Rizzo (1B, CHC): 80% contact rate last seven days (-5%)

The small dip in contact rate didn’t hinder Rizzo’s production last week. He hit .526 with a 1.404 OPS and four strikeouts in 27 PA. This was nice to see from Rizzo, who has been a disappointment thus far this season. Not counting his 2011 with San Diego, Rizzo currently has the lowest ISO (.164) and second lowest OPS (.789) of his career. After four straight years with either 31 or 32 home runs and an ISO above .230 this power drop came out of nowhere for the 28-year-old. His .262 AVG is also the lowest since 2013. Like Kris Bryant, it might appear that Rizzo has “sold out for contact” as he has the highest contact rate (85.6%) and lowest strikeout rate (12.5%) of his career, but unlike Bryant there is more hope for a power and batting average rebound here. Rizzo is still clobbering the ball with a 90.3 MPH average exit velocity, and his 11.5% HR/FB rate is 5% below his career average. Rizzo also has a career high 26% line drive rate yet just a .271 BABIP. Rizzo is a good target to buy-low on, as there is plenty to be hopeful for in his profile.


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