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2015 Fantasy Baseball: Plate Discipline – Left Fielders

As we continue with our plate discipline series we find ourselves moving to the outfield. Breaking down where everyone belongs is hard enough. Some players have traditionally played certain spots in the outfield and have changed positions recently. For outfielders, we will look at what position they are slotted to play most this season. For some, that means that they may be adding a position soon since it takes a certain number of games to trigger positional eligibility.

As we have seen in the infield, process data is the dog that wags the tail of performance data. Everyone is worried about strikeouts and walks when it comes to plate discipline. Obviously, those are the numbers that are most relevant on a day to day basis. However, when we look at the percentage of swings on pitches outside the zone (Oswing) we can see which guys will dive off a cliff in terms of plate discipline and overall offensive production.

Josh Hamilton was ground zero for this whole project and he finds himself here in left field. He may or may not play again this season, but when we look at his numbers we see what has happened to him the last two seasons. They are the same things that have happened in the past in terms of process. In 2013, process finally caught up with performance. That continued last season and if you think only drug abuse is reponsible for this current impasse with the Angels you’d be foolish. If he were hitting .320 with 30 home runs and 120 RBI they would let him do lines of cocaine on the bench if he wanted to.

 

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Hamilton has become an obvious example of why it is important to track the process data. We will see some other examples of some players you should monitor closesly. On the elite end, some guys are due for a fall. On the bottom end, there are some players that may become positive surprises based on the process data we are seeing. As usualy, we will look at that Oswing rate, the overall contact rate, and the swinging strike rate. We will begin with the upper third of left fielders with at least 1000 plate appearances.

Elite

SO% BB% SO/BB Oswing Contact SwStr
Melky Cabrera 12.0 7.2 1.67 31.4 88.0 5.4
Michael Brantley 10.9 7.3 1.43 23.9 91.3 3.4
Yoenis Cespedes 20.9 6.4 3.27 37.7 75.9 11.8
Alex Gordon 20.6 9.6 2.15 26.7 78.1 9.6
Starling Marte 25.0 5.0 5.00 36.8 74.4 12.6
Justin Upton 23.8 10.2 2.33 26.8 73.3 11.8
Matt Holliday 16.4 9.9 1.66 27.9 78.9 10.3
Bryce Harper 21.8 10.6 2.06 34.9 75.5 12.0
Median 20.8 8.4 2.48 27.7 78.5 9.7

We use the median score to give us a frame of reference at each position. Some positions generate more power as a general rule. While it isn’t universally true, we find that contact rates go down when power increases. Swinging strikes also tend to increase. It’s interesting that the most popular left fielders on the list seem to swing and miss a lot as a general rule. Only Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera seem to defy that rule.

Even with different contact rates and swing and miss rates, we find that Oswing rates seem to remain fairly constant across the board. Those are the numbers we are most concerned with. Yoenis Cespedes, Bryce Harper, and Starling Marte are great examples of guys that succeed (more or less) even with bad processes. Some of you have those guys and may be fretting. All are either in their prime or close to their prime. They aren’t likely to decline yet, but I would also keep an eye on them. Players that swing at lots of balls outside the zone are prone to prolonged slumps.

Regulars and Bench Players

SO% BB% SO/BB Oswing Contact SwStr
Marlon Byrd 19.4 6.2 3.13 32.1 78.0 11.1
Josh Hamilton 21.3 8.2 2.60 38.8 71.3 15.5
Carl Crawford 14.8 5.3 2.79 32.2 82.4 9.1
Christian Yelich 21.5 10.8 1.99 22.8 80.5 7.7
Brett Gardner 18.5 10.0 1.85 22.5 88.6 4.0
Curtis Granderson 22.9 10.5 2.18 24.3 76.5 9.7
Coco Crisp 12.7 8.4 1.51 21.1 86.2 5.9
Michael Saunders 25.5 9.2 2.77 26.4 75.9 10.5
Median 20.8 8.4 2.48 27.7 78.5 9.7

Here is where we start hunting for those values. Very few if any of these guys will be available on your waiver wire, but some of them could be available via trade. Christian Yelich is almost certainly a starting outfielder in most leagues. He is home run power away from being a fantasy force. As it stands now, he gives you solid production in four of the five major categories and offers walks in six category leagues. What’s most, he has some of the most impressive process numbers amongst regular left fielders.

Brett Gardner and Coco Crisp are high on that list themselves even if they are regulars in most 12 player leagues. If you are looking at someone that might surprise that lists outside the group it might end up being Curtis Granderson. He has been hurt in recent seasons and seems to be an all or nothing kind of hitter, but the process is too solid for that to continue. With a healthy season, he might return to the player he was in the Bronx. Michael Saunders is also a good sleeper candidate now that he is out of the unfriendly confines of Safeco Field.

Waivers

SO% BB% SO/BB Oswing Contact SwStr
Jonny Gomes 26.9 10.3 2.61 27.5 72.5 11.8
Alejandro De Aza 21.2 7.5 2.83 28.6 79.7 9.0
Allen Craig 19.2 7.1 2.70 29.8 82.1 8.0
Chris Coghlan 17.2 8.7 1.98 26.0 82.6 7.4
Colby Rasmus 25.3 8.6 2.94 29.7 75.4 11.4
Matt Joyce 21.1 11.7 1.80 26.3 76.3 10.2
Domonic Brown 18.2 8.0 2.28 31.3 80.2 9.5
Dustin Ackley 18.1 8.3 2.18 25.1 85.4 5.8
Median 20.8 8.4 2.48 27.7 78.5 9.7

Keep in mind that we are only looking for positive players once we get here. There is really only one player that qualifies as a decent sleeper candidate and he seems to make the list every season. Matt Joyce is one of those players that puts up quiet numbers every year. If he played every day he would probably cease to be a sleeper. Joe Maddon probably shielded him from negative matchups in Tampa Bay. Now that Josh Hamilton appears to be in limbo, he probably will find himself in the lineup in Los Angeles nearly every day.

Additionally, I’d throw in Dustin Ackley. Ackley was the number two overall pick in the draft and has shown flashes over the past three years. He just might put it together this season and if he does he will be a very underrated bench candidate. If he plays every day, he could surpass 15 HR and 10 stolen bases on the way to a very solid campaign.

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