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Using Hitter Projections to Identify Probable Improvers for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

Riley Greene - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB News

Hey everyone, it's Jon Anderson back again! I have recently finished my season-long hitter projection system, so now the fun begins! I will be writing at least a few pieces here that look at what the projections are telling us.

This is my first year doing a projection system, so I don't exactly have a track record of success, but I think I programmed in a smart enough way to make them useful right away. Only time will tell, but the least I can say is that it is interesting to look into.

In this post, I'll pick a few offensive categories and compare 2023 hitter projections with 2022 actual stats, and see which hitters are projected to improve. I am going to write this in a way to consider rate stats rather than raw counting stat projections because right now playing time is a little bit unclear and it's always very difficult to project playing time anyways, plus most of the standouts in that scenario would just be guys that didn't play much last year.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Home Run Rate Improvers

I use plate appearances per home run for my "home run rate" stat of choice. This is simply PA divided by HR, which tells us how many plate appearances on average it takes each hitter to hit a home run. An elite number would be south of 15 (Aaron Judge led the league last year at 10.9), anything under 25 is very good, and the league average is around 35.

Andrew Benintendi, Chicago White Sox

2022 521 5 104.2
2023 Proj 554 11.5 48.3

Benintendi is the biggest projected improver I found, and that is mostly because he ran so cold in the homers department in 2022. He hit a career-low five homers in 2022, which bakes in plenty of room for improvement. In his five seasons with more than 500 PA, he has hit 20, 16, 13, 17, and five homers - so that five really sticks out.

The projections have a moderate increase in the barrel rate up to 6.2%, which gives him around a dozen homers in 2023 - and that's without a full-season PA projection. Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago is a neutral power park for lefties, so we should not be surprised to see Benintendi get back to double-digit homers in 2023 provided he stays healthy.

Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers

2022 418 5 83.6
2023 Proj 648 21 30.4

Greene struggled to hit for power in his Major League stint, going deep just five times in about two-thirds of a season. His main issue was the 57% ground-ball rate. A GB% that high makes it pretty tough to go deep, but my model predicts drastic improvement in the power category for Greene.

Granted, rookies and second-year players are much tougher to project, but my model looks at minor-league data and granular Major League data to make an educated guess, and it likes what it sees from Greene. Despite that 57% GB%, Greene put up an above-average 9.7% Brl% in his Major League time last year. If we look at all other hitters with a Brl% between 9% and 10% last season, the average PA/HR was 30.1, right around what we're projecting for Greene next year. While the young outfielder will most likely keep a GB% above 48% or so, it's likely that he improves on the 57% mark just by virtue of that being a pretty rare GB% to see. There's no doubt that the Tigers will want him to bring that down in 2023, and he would seem to have the skills to be able to do so.

If we set Greene up with a 52% GB% and another 9% barrel rate, there's very little chance he doesn't drastically improve on that 83.6 PA/HR from a year ago.

Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox

2022 376 5 75
2023 Proj 347 11.2 31

In 2021, Grandal hit 23 homers in 375 plate appearances. He had almost the exact same number of PAs in 2022 but managed just five homers. That was strange for a guy with five 20-homer seasons under his belt in his career, so the obvious expectation is a bounce-back in 2023.

The projection model really prioritizes 2021 and 2022 data. If computer scripts could be confused, this one probably would have been looking at how different the last two seasons for Grandal have been. He just didn't have the swing speed last year, dropping his barrel rate way down to 4.8% and seeing a hard-hit rate of only 40%. I think the main culprit was injury, so with a clean bill of health in 2023, we should see Grandal get back under a 35 PA/HR. This won't necessarily make him great for fantasy purposes, as playing time is far from secure and he has never hit for a good batting average or stolen any bases, but Grandal is an excellent bet to really improve the home run rate.

Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 471 6 78.5
2023 Proj 506 11.1 45.4

We still project Lux to be a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but six homers in 471 PAs is pretty tough to believe. Lux puts a lot of balls in play (20% K%) and hits the ball above 95 miles per hour about 40% of the time (a non-awful number). He maxed out at 108 miles per hour last year, which is a low number - so again, there's no real 25-homer potential here, but double-digit homers are a reasonable expectation. He is newly 25, so there's a lot of youth and upside here, and there is plenty more opportunity for playing time in 2023 with the departures of the two Turners.

Lux is still a hitter with a pretty low fantasy ceiling, but with some improvement and good luck, he could absolutely be a 15-homer, 15-steal player with a strong batting average - and that's useful for us.

Miguel Vargas, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 50 1 50
2023 Proj 450 19.7 22.9

Oh baby, the model loves Vargas, although this might be going a little bit too far with it! You see above that he hit just one homer in his 50 MLB PAs last year, but he added 17 more in the minors (510 PA), put up a strong 9% barrel rate both in the minors and Majors, and recorded exit velocities as high as 113 in the minors. He definitely has some swing speed, and he posted a nice 76% contact rate in the Majors as well.

There's plenty of upside with this kid, and he should have the chance to be a starter for the Dodgers to boot. The 22.9 PA/HR projection we see here is probably overly optimistic, but I think there's a definite expectation of serious improvement from 50.

Luis Garcia, Washington Nationals

2022 376 7 53.7
2023 Proj 484 15.5 31.2

Another young kid here with limited time in the Majors. Last season, he hit eight homers in 205 PAs in the minors but managed just seven more in about a half-season in the Majors. The barrel rate was just below league average at 7.5%, and he showed the ability to hit the ball quite hard (max velo of 113.4) when squaring it up. He had a high 52% GB%, which presents a problem, but it's not rare to see a hitter drop 2-3 points on the GB% year-to-year, and Garcia was a pretty highly-touted prospect.

He has good swing speed and will have plenty of opportunity for a rebuilding Nationals team, so I will take the easy over on 10 homers in 2023.

Nick Gordon, Minnesota Twins

2022 442 9 49.1
2023 Proj 334 12.5 26.7

Playing time is a big question mark here, as the Twins have plenty of options that will be competing for reps in the spring. However, Gordon plays all over the field and definitely showed off some skill last year, so I imagine he easily beats this 334 PA projection. That's not a big concern for us in this piece, as we are focused on the rate - and we should expect a nice improvement for Gordon in that regard.

Gordon posted a strong 9.4% Brl% in 2022 with a good enough 72% contact rate and 24% K%. He kept the ball off the ground (42% GB%), and hit the ball hard 45% of the time. All of these numbers suggest a guy that should hit for at least league-average power, but he fell well short of that last year. I really like Gordon for 2023, and so does the projection system.

Jose Abreu, Houston Astros

2022 677 15 45.1
2023 Proj 622 20.1 31.0

We have talked a lot about Abreu on here already, but let's just recap shortly. Abreu's power decline in 2022 did not have to do with swing speed, he actually posted some of the best marks of his career in terms of exit velocity, he just could not find the ideal launch angle range and had plenty of balls fall just shy of the fence.

Now, he gets the move to a very homer-friendly ballpark in Houston (for righties, at least). Some of the league's shortest homers every year are pulled fly-balls by righties that land in the front row of the Crawford Boxes. This is good news for Abreu, who would probably stand to improve in PA/HR regardless given that the 45.1 was the worst performance of his long career. Abreu is still projecting as a below-average home run hitter, but he should get back to the point where he's not killing your fantasy team in that category.

Other Projected Improvers: Alex Kirilloff, Eddie Rosario, Jarren Duran, Enrique Hernandez, Michael Massey, Donovan Solano, Harold Ramirez, Brandon Belt, Wander Franco


Batting Average Improvers

The bulk of this list is left-handed pull-hitters that are projected to benefit from the shift ban. My projection system assumed no infield shifts, so it did a pretty good job of spotting these potential beneficiaries.

Carlos Santana, Pittsburgh Pirates

2022 504 .201
2023 Proj 480 .246

He was shifted on 78% of the in 2022 and had a BABIP of .202. That BABIP is almost certain to come up with the shift gone, which explains most of this projected 45-point rise in the batting average. He's still borderline at best for fantasy with limited power and no speed on a bad offense, but Santana will likely see his stats improve pretty substantially from last season.

Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 564 .196
2023 Proj 547 .238

Muncy was in the top-10 in terms of being shifted on (89%), so that certainly didn't help the batting average. His health was also a question mark all season long after there were legitimate worries about his elbow heading into the season. He stayed healthy all year and ended up with a strong 13.4% Brl% and a 46% hard-hit rate, but it was pretty rare that a batted ball of his would find grass. The lefty also suffered from a .227 BABIP that was well below his career average of .256 - so there would be expected improvement here regardless. He's no spring chicken at the age of 32, but all signs are pointing toward batting average improvement in 2023.

Jeimer Candelario, Detroit Tigers

2022 466 .217
2023 Proj 528 .258

He was shifted on about half the time when batting from the left side, which didn't help his .210 batting average split. From the right side, it wasn't much better with a .235 mark. The reason for an expected bounce-back here is the career batting average of .240. He manages strikeouts pretty well (22% the last two seasons), and has been a line-drive hitter for most of his career. In 2022, the line-drive rate fell to a career-low 24%, which is around the league average.

He doesn't crush the ball, but he makes a lot of contact and had a reliably good batting average before 2022 - so we should expect greener pastures ahead.

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

2022 376 .205
2023 Proj 555 .245

The last couple of years of Votto's career have been a roller coaster. He slugged .563 in 2021, his best mark since 2017 - and then followed that up with a .370 SLG in 2022 - by far the worst effort of his career.

He was hurt quite a bit and was also 38-years-old, so there's reason to believe he just wasn't physically the same guy. His quality of contact fell off (.322 xwOBA from a .406 mark in 2021), and the strikeouts stayed higher than normal (26%). On top of that, his GB% reached 45% - also the worst effort of his career. It just looked like Votto's swing really fell apart in 2022, and admittedly there's not a ton of reason to think he'll be able to reclaim it as a 39-year-old. But the projections give him the benefit of the doubt with the .245 batting average - and that comes with 23 homers, too - not a terrible fantasy option if that comes to fruition.

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

2022 445 .227
2023 Proj 543 .264

Just when I think I'll finally be able to kick my Kepler addition, this projection shows up. Kepler was shifted on a ton and hit .239 into it. Overall, he went for a .249 BABIP, which was right on his career mark. With the elimination of the shift, Kepler should certainly see more base knocks fall in. Much like Votto, Kepler raised his GB% to a career-worst at 45.7%. We should expect a number in 2023 closer to his career mark (40%) than that, which could be good for his batting average as well (it will be good if he exchanges them for line drives rather than fly balls).

Kepler rarely strikes out (15% last year), and has decent foot speed. Pull-heavy lefties will be the biggest beneficiaries of the shift ban, and Kepler fits into that mold. This projection makes him a pretty useful fantasy option with 15 homers, 11 steals, and a .264 average.

Jesse Winker, Milwaukee Brewers

2022 546 .219
2023 Proj 479 .256

It's hard to imagine that Winker won't have a bounce-back year after hitting .219/.342/.687 in his first year away from the Reds. He suffered from a career-worst BABIP of .251 (his career mark was very high at .297), so it's fair to expect improvement there. He also gets to shift back into a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Milwaukee, where he should be close to an everyday player.

Winker's barrel rate fell from 11% to 7.6% last year, so it will be interesting to see where that lands. He doesn't have a ton of raw power, making a double-digit barrel rate pretty tough to come by (you have to fit into a very limited angle range if you aren't hitting the ball with tons of velocity), but I think I'd take the over on the 14 homers he hit last year. It's a good change of scenery for Winker, and I think he'll get back to fantasy relevance in 2023.


Other Projected Increases:

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