FACTS/FLUKES: Cruz, Kimbrel, Gregorius, Odorizzi, Zunino

Cruz aging well ... After an injury-riddled start to his career, Nelson Cruz (DH, SEA) has morphed into one of the most reliable power sources in the game. He's averaged nearly 600 AB with 40+ HR over the last three seasons, but at 37, how long can Cruz's late-career surge last?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  ct%  HctX  h%  GB/LD/FB   PX  xPX  hr/f  HR  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ==  ========  ===  ===  ====  ==  ===
2013  413  .266  .264   74   120  30  42/17/41  162  154   21%  27   61
2014  613  .271  .285   77   119  29  42/17/41  173  131   20%  40   92
2015  590  .302  .277   72   113  33  46/20/34  169  138   30%  44   70
2016  589  .287  .274   73   108  35  44/18/38  160  134   26%  43   67

Expect the mashing to continue for now:

  • Cruz's hr/f baseline is impressive, and there's little reason to think it'll fall given his lofty (and stable) PX/xPX combo.
  • There's some swing-and-miss with all that power, but while Cruz benefited from a career-high h%, xBA tells us he'll still post a reasonable BA.
  • Further confirming Cruz's ability to mash: Statcast's exit velocity. Cruz led MLB with a 95.9 mph average EV in 2016 (min. 100 BIP). 

While an age-related decline is inevitable, Cruz's skills hint that—at the very least—the fade will be soft. The raw power (PX, xPX) hints he can make another push towards 40 HR, while xBA says Cruz can overcome a shaky contact rate (ct%). Cruz leads the majors in HR over the last three seasons (127) and with an ADP outside the top 40, his age is driving an early-round discount. Draft without hesitation, as Cruz will pour plenty of concrete in that BA/HR foundation.


There’s more where this came from to help you win your fantasy league in 2017. Take the title home with a subscription to BaseballHQ.com.


Kimbrel still elite? ... Traditionally one of the most dominant relievers in the game, things took a wrong turn for Craig Kimbrel (RHP, BOS) in 2016. Kimbrel underwent knee surgery in July, and while he only missed three weeks, a 4.71 second-half ERA suggests he wasn't the same. Was Kimbrel's performance just a blip, or the start of a decline?

Year  IP   ERA   xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FB%  hr/f  FpK  Ball%  SwK   Vel  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===  =====  ===  ====  ===
2013   67  1.21  2.12  2.7  13.2  4.9   29   10%  56%  35.7%  14%  96.9  189
2014   62  1.61  2.36  3.8  13.9  3.7   35    5%  58%  35.1%  17%  97.1  166
2015   59  2.58  2.61  3.3  13.2  4.0   34   14%  61%  36.9%  16%  97.3  171
2016   53  3.40  3.33  5.1  14.1  2.8   48    8%  68%  39.0%  15%  97.3  123
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
16-2H  21  4.71  3.86  7.7  15.0  1.9   42   13%  65%  40.9%  14%  97.2   69

Likely just a blip—it might make Kimbrel available at a discount:

  • Kimbrel's post-surgery collapse can be pinned on an awful 2H Ctl, which derailed his long-stable BPV and xERA. Ball% confirms he had trouble hitting water from the boat.
  • But the electric swing-and-miss stuff is still there. Kimbrel maintained elite fastball velocity with a superb SwK—expect the Ks to keep coming in bunches.
  • An unforeseen FB% spike opened up some HR risk. Kimbrel's never been a fly-ball pitcher, though, and his fastball/slider pitch mix remained steady in 2016.

Kimbrel's pre-injury skills were vintage (3.03 xERA, 160 BPV), so it's fair to wonder how much a torn meniscus affected his 2H disaster. Be careful not to knock Kimbrel too hard based on a 21-inning post-injury sample after years of dominance. His SwK/Dom combo remained elite and he's still on the right side of 30. Expect a rebound.

 

Gregorius posts career year... Once called a "young Derek Jeter" as a prospect, Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) indeed had big shoes to fill when joining NYY in 2015. After a marginal debut, Gregorius enjoyed a career year in 2016 with 20 HR—more than double his previous career high—and a career-best .276 BA. Gravity is a powerful force, however. Will it pull Gregorius back down to earth?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  h%  PX  xPX  hr/f  Spd  SBO  HR/SB  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ==  ==  ===  ====  ===  ===  =====  ===
2013  357  .252  .241    9   82    77  29  81   87    6%  143   2%   7/ 0   56
2014  270  .226  .238    8   81    98  26  88  106    6%  136   5%   6/ 3   51
2015  525  .265  .252    6   84    83  30  68   65    6%   99   6%   9/ 5   33
2016  562  .276  .271    3   85    85  29  96   78   10%  120   7%  20/ 7   63

Gregorius has some staying power:

  • While Gregorius' plate patience has declined, an excellent ct% supports 2015-16's BA. The gains haven't been h%-induced either, as xBA was right in line with its surface counterpart in 2016.
  • xPX is skeptical of the hr/f spike, but Gregorius doesn't need even league-average power to reach 15-ish HR at power-friendly Yankee Stadium (+46% LHB HR).
  • Gregorius has always had under-utilized speed. He was thrown out just once in 2016, and with a strong Spd baseline, we'd see a big SB spike if he ever got a green light.

Gregorius took an impressive step forward in 2016 and much of it was skill supported. xBA fully backed his BA gains, and while another 20 HR might be a stretch, NYY's short porch should prevent a full power outage. Freedom on the basepaths would unlock more upside for Gregorius, who has excellent raw speed. Worst case, expect a 2016 repeat with a few less HR.

 

Odorizzi a reliable cog ... After a major step forward in 2015, Jake Odorizzi (RHP, TAM) was able to post a similar encore with his second straight $13 season in 2016. Is there any growth left for Odorizzi, or is he stuck in the middle tier?

Year  IP   ERA   xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2014  168  4.13  3.96  3.2  9.3  2.9  30/21/49  31/71    9%  61%  10%   90
2015  169  3.35  3.99  2.4  8.0  3.3  37/22/41  29/75    9%  60%  11%   92
2016  187  3.69  4.33  2.6  8.0  3.1  37/19/44  28/75   12%  58%  10%   88

Not much room for growth, but a high floor:

  • For a couple years, Odorizzi paired a heavy FB% with fortunate hr/f; the latter of which ended in 2016. Our Statcast-based research recently confirmed that league-average hr/f is "still the best predictor" going forward, making Odorizzi's HR risk a legitimate concern.
  • Dom and Ctl continued to be stable, though Odorizzi's mediocre FpK/SwK limits any legit shot at further gains.
  • Odorizzi relies heavily on a two-pitch combo (four-seam, splitter), and while he fiddled with a slider as his top breaking pitch in 2016, its 6% SwK says it's not a reliable offering.

A stable Cmd/BPV combo makes Odorizzi a low-risk arm with a high floor, but it's hard to see how he gets much better from here. His FB% tilt opens up plenty of HR risk and lack of a reliable breaking pitch limits his ability to consistently miss bats. Odorizzi's 2015 ERA isn't coming back, but he's a stable mid-rotation cog in most formats.

 

Zunino packs post-hype pop ... So good, we recently named a plan named after him! Okay, maybe not so much—Mike Zunino (C, SEA) hit 12 HR with a .207 BA in just 164 AB in 2016. Does he offer anything valuable to fantasy owners?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  h%  GB/LD/FB   PX  xPX  hr/f  HR  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ==  ========  ===  ===  ====  ==  ===
2013  173  .214  .212    8   72  27  43/19/39   84  108   10%   5    0
2014  438  .199  .226    4   64  25  34/17/49  170  143   16%  22   28
2015  350  .174  .182    6   62  24  33/17/50  100  121   10%  11  -33
2016  164  .207  .228   11   60  25  29/18/53  189  155   23%  12   44

Potentially elite power, but not much else:

  • Zunino's hr/f more than doubled from 2015. While such a burst typically screams regression, it came with full support from PX and xPX. Zunino's elite FB% bodes well for an impressive HR total if...
  • ...he can get on base enough to stay in the lineup. Holding 2016's small-sample bb% gains will be key given his meager xBA baseline. 
  • There's not much hope for further BA gains, as Zunino's h% has routinely sat well south of league average. He's produced plenty of whiffs (16% SwK) over the last three seasons.

Zunino was one of two catchers with a 180+ PX in 2016. The other? Gary Sanchez. The awful contact skills all but cement a Mendoza-level BA, but Zunino's extreme FB% should allow for his massive raw power to flourish. Zunino can make good on his "UP: 30 HR" speculation from this year's Baseball Forecaster with a full season of AB; just plan around the BA hole.


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.