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Statcast Hitter Risers/Fallers - xBA-BA (Week 15)

Expected stats, such as xBA, xSLG, xwOBA and others we have examined in this series have to be taken for what they are - a projection based on past data, but not the sole basis of fantasy analysis. If expected stats always jived with actual stats, we wouldn't have so many discrepancies. As of today, there are exactly four players with at least 50 plate appearances this season whose expected batting average matches their actual average. Most of the other 424 players on that list will never see those numbers line up precisely, but there is definitely a good chance that they will experience regression, either positive or negative. For that reason, we'll try to identify some BA risers and fallers for the second half of the season.

Many fantasy baseball owners are starting to see the value of MLB's Statcast advanced stats in order to help identify potential risers and sleepers. Just as we've done for pitchers, this weekly series will examine a handful of hitters who are performing surprisingly well or poorly according to sabermetrics.

Each week, we'll take a look at some key Statcast offensive metrics in order to assess risers and fallers. This time, we'll look at xBA and compare it with each players' actual average. xBA is defined according to launch angle and exit velocity, so the idea is to eliminate defense from the equation. Perhaps these players can see their luck turn around for the remainder of the season.

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Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of July 9, 2018 and display leaders among hitters with at least 50 PA

Many of the overachievers in terms of xBA are speedy players who regularly post low exit velocity and launch angle numbers, but manage to leg out infield hits or make their living on ground ball base hits. We'll focus on bigger names and batters who should be relying on line drives instead.

Willson Contreras (C, CHC) .047 xBA-BA

This is an interesting case, as Contreras has disappointed with his power but kept his value afloat through a high batting average. At the 50 PA threshold, only six catchers are hitting better than his .287 mark. Then again, Pirates backup catcher Elias Diaz has as many homers (seven) and nearly as many runs scored as Contreras in half as many at-bats. Contreras is in a great lineup and is guaranteed regular playing time, so even if the average dips, he is a must-start at the weakest offensive position. It's baffling how an inflated fly ball rate of 35.3% has led to a 9.3% HR/FB that is less than half of last season, but a dip in hard hit rate might explain it. It would make sense if his average drops, but his power increases in the second half, which is a tradeoff owners will probably take.

Scooter Gennett (2B/3B/OF, CIN) .045 xBA-BA

Apparently last year was not an outlier. While Scooter's owners all hope and pray that a PED-related suspension isn't about to drop any day, we've got to buy into the power as legit. His .329 average is a career high and based on a .378 BABIP that seems a bit high. Statcast tells us it is as well. His expected BA of .284 is right there with his .289 career average, but does nothing to affect his value. If Gennett just stays close to his current pace to match last year's numbers, he will have been a draft day bargain a firm top-10 second baseman.

John Hicks (C/1B, DET) .041 xBA-BA

Hicks has been a steady presence for the Tigers and a nice fill-in option at catcher on fantasy teams, even though he's almost exclusively used at first base these days. Hicks appears to be in line for some negative regression in terms of average, but this would be less disappoint than someone like Contreras, who came into the season with sky-high expectations. Hicks can easily be dropped back to the waiver wire if he slumps massively; if the downturn is slight, he stills serves well at catcher as long as he provides some power. He's recently moved into the cleanup spot, so RBI opportunities should offset a dip in BA.

Jed Lowrie (2B/3B, OAK) .045 xBA-BA

Lowrie seems to be heating up again, with homers in back-to-back games and five HR, 12 RBI in the past two weeks. He didn't do enough to earn an All-Star nod, but many fantasy owners have considered him a waiver wire MVP. He was never going to keep up his absurd April numbers, but it's reassuring to see his average climb back up after he hit just .255 in May. I believe his average is sustainable because much of his unexpected production came and went in the first half already. If there's one thing to worry about with Lowrie, it's a possible trade to the National League or somewhere that he won't necessarily be guaranteed everyday playing time.

Brandon Nimmo (OF, NYM) .032 xBA-BA

I'm not trying to pick on Nimmo, really. Just listing facts folks. I called him overvalued a week ago, based on popular perception that he was going to keep hitting the ball out of the park. He still hasn't homered since June 18 and has just one RBI in his last 14 games. A .260 average is not the strongest part of his game but even that could go down as well, if you believe in the xBA-BA formula as a truism. His .340 BABIP might say it all, but he actually posted higher numbers the past two stays in New York (.360, .365) so let's just assume Nimmo owners will have that mediocre average to hang their hats on.


Alarming Bottom Dwellers

On the flip side, many underachievers for expected batting average are of the big bopper variety. This means they are often speed-challenged and more likely to be thrown out on hard grounders. The presence of the shift also plays a role, but we won't dig into that data today. Just know that many of these players may not necessarily see a big uptick in batting average since xBA takes exit velocity into account

Daniel Murphy (2B, WAS) -.119 xBA-BA

Murphy doesn't own the worst number difference among all players I charted, but only Luis Guillorme prevented that and he's not a factor in fantasy baseball this year. Murphy has scuffled mightily since finally returning from an extended DL stint to start the season, but it looks as if some bad luck might be at play. According to Statcast, Murphy should be hitting .307. That's the Murphy we know - he hit .322 last year, .347 the year before, and is a career .298 hitter. Obviously the fact he missed spring training and half the season has something to do with his miserable numbers, but it's good to know that his Statcast peripherals are looking good already. Consider him a strong buy-low candidate.

Logan Morrison (1B, MIN) -.060 xBA-BA

Of course last year wasn't going to repeat itself. The Rays knew it and we saw it in the second half as LoMo struggled to prove his early 2017 numbers were remotely sustainable. Even a slugger should be able to maintain an average higher than .191, but even his best-case scenario of matching his xBA puts him at .251 with 10 homers and 30 RBI over 77 games. That's a replacement level player on a non-contending team that could sell off all its major parts before July is over. Hard pass.

Adam Duvall (OF, CIN) -.049 xBA-BA

Duvall isn't the slowest runner out there, so there's some hope to be had that bad luck is at play. In fact, Duvall's average 28.0 Sprint Speed is tied with NL steals leader Ender Inciarte for 134th, if you can believe it. That says more about Inciarte's skill at stealing bases than anything else. Duvall won't ever be a superior player in terms of batting average, but he is better than his .203 mark indicates. He's improved his walk rate and his 37.3% Hard% is six points higher than last season. The power is still there and he is on pace for 100 RBI by season's end, so you could still find a use for him at the end of your OF rotation if more balls fall into play. Outside of Murphy, he presents the best buy-low opportunity on this list, although he's available off waivers in two-thirds of fantasy leagues presently.

Albert Pujols (1B, LAA) -.048 xBA-BA

If you read the note above, you'll know this is all about speed, or lack thereof. Pujols has been among the league leaders in GIDP totals for years now and will always have a high number of balls that he absolutely smashes that turn into outs. Pujols should be hitting .291 according to his xBA, yet he hasn't reached that mark over a full season once since joining the Angels in 2012. Most of his plate discipline numbers are perfectly consistent with the last few years, but he is hitting more line drives at a harder clip this season. Still, his .243 average is nearly identical to last year and will probably stay right there, along with similar power numbers. In case you're wondering, Pujols ranks dead last among 476 Major League batters with a Sprint Speed of 22.4.

Gary Sanchez (C, NYY) -.047 xBA-BA

At least there's hope. Sanchez is still on the shelf and he's a no-brain starter regardless of batting average, but it's good to know there could be some positive regression heading his way. .237 is nothing special, but as a catcher with 30 bomb potential, you'll still take it.


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