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Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham was a hot name in fantasy circles coming into the 2018 season. A late bloomer, Pham had an .824 OPS in his first stretch of playing time in 2015 (173 plate appearances) before taking a bit of a step back in 2016 and breaking out in 2017. Pham slashed .306/.411/.520 for the Cardinals in 2017, hitting 23 home runs and stealing 25 bases. While he was 30 years old, and his .226 batting average in 2016 made people think his breakout was a fluke, he still had a power/speed combo that led some to see him as an OF2.

The 2018 season began and Pham's cold start made most believe that his successes in 2017 were a mirage. He had a .730 OPS in 396 plate appearances with the Cardinals, but did have 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases, showing that there was a decent chance that he approached 20/20. At the trade deadline, though, Pham's entire season changed, as he was traded to the Rays and began his reintroduction as a fantasy star. In 174 plate appearances in Tampa, Pham slashed .343/.448/.622 with 20 extra-base hits and five stolen bases.

So, after a mixed bag of a career that seems to be a roller coaster in regards to results, is Pham a player to target in 2019?

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Can Pham Stay Hot in 2019?

In evaluating Pham, one needs to look at his track record. Before hitting 23 home runs in 2017, he had never hit more than 18 home runs in his professional career; even that tally came in A-ball in 2008 when he hit .203. While his power is questionable, his speed is not, as he had stolen double-digit bases at each minor league level. Pham's power was showing at the end of his minor league career, 17 extra-base hits in 171 at-bats in 2015, and, after a down season in 2016, he dominated both Triple-A and the majors after he was recalled.

So what changed in 2016 that led to him going to the minors and why did he have anĀ up and down 2018 season? The answer for his 2016 struggles are quick and to the point: he struck out in 38.8% of plate appearances. When you are that lost at the plate, every part of your game will struggle. Those issues moved to 2018 as well; Pham had a 17% walk rate and 18.9% K rate in Mar/Apr and had a .964 OPS, but a sub-.200 batting average in both May and June when his walk rates were below 10% and his K rates were 32.7% and 24.5% respectively.

Just to keep the trends on target, when Pham broke out with an 1.180 OPS in September, he walked 16.1% of the time. While he struggled in the middle of the season, an interesting trend in batted ball was created; Pham saw his hard hit ball rate rise from 35.3% in Mar/Apr all the way up to 54.3% in August, posting hard hit ball rates in the 50s in each month.

It could be that Pham's hard work from the middle of the season came to life once he moved to Tampa, particularly considering that his line drive rate rose in each month from June to September. In September, where Pham actually saw his hard hit ball rate drop to 49.3%, he was seventh in baseball with a 32.8% line drive rate. Not surprisingly, with more line drives and a solid walk rate, Pham was 2nd in baseball with a 1.180 OPS in Sept/Oct.

With a solid line drive rate and improved hard hit ball rate, Pham looks like a staple in the middle of the Rays' lineup for 2019. The team has good average hitters in the form of Joey Wendle and Matt Duffy, while they also have Austin Meadows waiting in the wings to make an impact as a top prospect from the Chris Archer deal. It may be a bit premature to look at Pham as an OF2 for 2019, but the in-season adjustments he made could lead to him being a 20/20 player again with an .850 OPS next season.

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