Fantasy Baseball

Ottoneu Batter Fades using Statcast data

The Fangraphs and SABR linear weights point formats most of us play on Ottoneu closely correlates with weighted on base average, or WOBA. Thankfully, the “expected statistics” section at MLB’s Baseball Savant offers us an x-WOBA, which uses exit velocity, launch angle and historical data to “tell the story of a player’s season based on quality of and amount of contact, not outcomes.” Many a rotisserie player has used batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, to discern whether or not a player was due for a significant course correction the following season in batting average.  XWOBA analysis is like that, but on steroids, as it allows us to theoretically more accurately determine what a player’s true total hitting talent level was in a given season if you stripped away luck and defense.

Speaking of steroids, Jorge Polanco (It’s ok, we forgive you. Well, I have, anyway) is the first guy whose hood we’ll peak under. The young Twins shortstop returned from the suspended list for the back half of last season and appeared better than ever, riding a .336 WOBA to just over 5 Fangraphs points per game (FGppg). The .297 XWOBA figure was matched by what he did in 2018, however, indicating that year’s 4.25 FGppg may be closer to what he should be expected to contribute in 2019. Unless of course, there’s an improvement in contact quality, which is also certainly possible in his age 26 season.

Another up-and-comer worthy of a closer look is his teammate Eddie Rosario, a player with a decent bit of buzz and one that I owned multiple shares of coming into the past off-season. That is, until I discovered his XWOBA trailed his actual WOBA by 41 points. He was nearly bottom third of all MLB hitters in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, and both those numbers posted in ’18 were slight INCREASES over his 2017 marks. I read that his shoulder was ailing him for some portion of the past season, which could explain away those numbers to some degree, but that’s a pretty serious lack of hard contact for anything other than a $1 end-of-draft flier, instead of the mid-teens I’ve seen him auctioned at thus far.

Lest it be said this entire article is an excuse for me to pick on otherwise promising Twins, let’s take a look at veteran infielder Yulieski Gurriel next. The Cuban import has yet to look anything like the mysterious slugger I’d read about and eagerly bid on upon his arrival a few years ago. Would you believe me if I told you one of the best teams in the entire league regularly played a first baseman/DH that barreled 9 pitches last season? NINE. Out of a possible 1908 pitches thrown, and 481 balls hit, he’s credited with squaring up the pelota all of 1.9% of the time. Houston’s front office is so analytically inclined, and their organization so full of minor league talent, that I have a hard time believing Gurriel will hold down a job very long this year. He gets my full seal of disapproval. Insert dismayed-seal.gif.

As useless as a DH that hits like a utility infielder are all the slap and dash types. There’s no reason to chase steals in non-roto leagues. And although none of you reading this believe that was something you need to be told, guys ranked primarily for their speed contribution in rotisserie formats seem to always be over-drafted in other formats. Name recognition is real, otherwise every election season wouldn’t see the landscape littered with cardboard signs that tell you literally nothing other than a person’s name. Harrison Bader and Jonathan Villar are two guys in particular that may be good real-life baseball players but stand out to me as this year’s school board candidates. Both guys are being drafted and even kept in points leagues this year despite putrid sub .285 XWOBAS. It is true speed allows guys to routinely exceed their WOBAs by legging out infield hits and occasionally taking the extra bag, and also by padding their FGppg with steals, but neither of these hitters are likely to take advantage of their wheels to a great enough extent to overcome such consistently weak contact.

Finally, at the very top of the list of full-time players last season in the difference in WOBA and XWOBA is the little engine that could, Ryan Gennett, with a massive .51 point difference. You might wonder why he didn’t lead this discussion, but I’m only bringing him up here to point out the possible fallibility of this entire analysis. See, Scooter Ruth ALSO had a .50 point difference in 2017, placing him 4th in all MLB by that measure. If you’d have taken this approach at identifying busts last off-season, you’d have whiffed as mightily as Scooter often does. Since unlike the aforementioned burners, his sprint speed falls in the bottom 50th percentile of players, so that element cannot begin to aid us in explaining what’s happening here. What we’re left with is either some super high improbability he was extremely lucky to the same degree in back to back seasons, or that there is something in his batted ball profile that fools the system. I’ll leave it to someone smarter than me to figure out exactly what that is, but just to play it safe, I’ll be sitting out on buying him this season. Probably.

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