FACTS/FLUKES: Acuna, Margot, Diaz, Pivetta, A. Sanchez

Acuna continues to do it all... Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL) made quite a splash in 2018, when he connected for 26 home runs while swiping 16 bases on his way to taking home NL Rookie of the Year honors. He's picked up right where he left off, as he's already up to 21 home runs and 13 steals at the break. Let's check in on his skills.

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====  =======
2017* 442  17/28  .331   N/A   76     N/A    41   N/A  115  N/A   N/A   97/36%
2018^ 523  27/20  .276  .252   71  42/18/39  34   117  139  140   21%  139/19%
2019  360  21/13  .292  .260   73  37/27/37  35   119  112  137   22%  138/14%
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Acuna's power/speed combo is electric:

  • He continues to make a lot of hard contact, and he has bumped up both his Barrel % (from 13.4 to 14.8) and launch angle (from 12.9 degrees to 14.9). His average home run distance is 422 feet, third highest in the league among players with double-digit home runs, suggesting he'll be able to maintain a lofty home run per fly ball rate.
  • He possesses outstanding speed, and has increased his success rate on the basepaths this season to 81%. The power he has developed will prevent him from getting back to the 40-plus steals he attained in the minors in 2017, but consistently landing in the mid-20's seems doable.
  • He strikes out quite a bit, but doesn't chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, as his 25.6% O-Swing % ranks in the Top 18% among qualified hitters. His high HctX and excellent speed should allow him to sustain a high hit rate and keep hitting for a solid average, especially if the uptick in line drives sticks. 

Acuna is just 21 years old, but is already one of the most exciting players in the league, and he's in the midst of a strong follow-up to his excellent rookie campaign. His only weakness is a below-average contact rate, but he should still be able to outperform his xBA and help in the batting average category, thanks to all of the hard contact and his plus speed. Acuna looks like he'll be a five-category stud for years to come, and appears well on his way to 35 homers and 20-plus steals in 2019, and a top five ranking heading into 2020.

 

Margot making impact with his wheels... There was a lot of hype surrounding Manuel Margot (OF, SD) heading into 2018, but he disappointed, as his average slipped to .245, and he was just 11-for-21 on the basepaths. Playing time has been hard to come by in 2019, but he's made the most of it, at least on the bases, where he's been successful on all 11 of his attempts. Can Margot be a difference-maker the rest of the way?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX  PX  xPX  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  ==  ===  =======
2016* 554   4/23  .258   N/A   4/86       N/A    29   N/A  53  N/A  173/27%
2017  487  13/17  .263  .251   7/78    41/23/36  31    80  79   75  167/19%
2018  477   8/11  .245  .251   6/82    43/20/37  29   118  81  106  148/20%
2019  194   5/11  .242  .227   7/77    41/17/42  29    89  75   81  132/24%

Margot's speed is definitely his clearest path to success:

  • He's proven capable of hitting double-digit home runs, and seems to be selling out for more power this season, as his contact rate has dropped, and his fly ball rate is up. His less than impressive power metrics and 7th percentile exit velocity suggest mid-teen homers is likely his upside.
  • The increase in strikeouts and decrease in line drives has led to another poor batting average, a significant dip in his xBA, and a second straight sub-.300 on-base-percentage.
  • Margot has plenty of speed to offer, as he ranks in the 92nd percentile in sprint speed. The much-improved success rate on the bases is encouraging, but he'll need to get on base more and lock down regular playing time in order to make a significant impact. 

Margot has struggled to both find consistent playing time and to get on base so far in 2019, but has provided value with his legs when he's played, already equaling his stolen base total from 2018. Being the best defensive center fielder on the team should help keep him in the lineup on a semi-regular basis, so he should continue to be a decent stolen base source. However, Margot is unlikely to earn anything close to a full-time role in a crowded outfield unless he changes his approach (i.e. reduces the strikeouts and fly balls), and starts getting on base at a higher rate.

 

Is it time to worry about Diaz?... After a season in which he saved 57 games and posted a sub-2.00 ERA, Edwin Diaz (RHP, NYM) was the first closer off the board in most drafts this spring. His first season with the Mets hasn't gone as expected, however, as he sports a 5.50 ERA and 1.46 WHIP at the break, and there's been talk of him being removed from the closer role. How much have his skills regressed?

Year  Sv  IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  FpK/SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ==  ==  ====  ====  ===  ====  =======  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2016* 19  92  2.73  3.03  2.1  13.3  58%/19%  97.3  47/23/32  37/79   15%  194
2017  34  66  3.27  3.83  4.4  12.1  56%/17%  97.3  39/15/46  26/79   14%  118
2018  57  73  1.96  2.01  2.1  15.2  67%/20%  97.3  44/20/35  30/79   11%  240
2019  19  34  5.50  3.09  2.9  14.7  66%/18%  97.1  39/23/39  44/67   22%  203
*Includes MLEs

Diaz's skills have taken a step back, but as shown by the gap between his ERA and xERA, he has also been the victim of some bad luck:

  • His SwK is down slightly, but still excellent, and up to 19% on his four-seamer, a pitch he throws 63% of the time, and he's still striking batters out at an elite 37% clip.
  • His slider has been less effective, as his SwK on the pitch has fallen from 29% in 2018 to 21% this season. Batters have gone from hitting .121 with a .097 ISO on the pitch to .313 with a .208 ISO, but a 45% hit rate has been a major factor. 
  • Batters are making better contact against him in 2019, as he currently ranks in the 7th percentile in Hard Hit %, according to Baseball Savant, though interestingly, he ranks in the 85th percentile in exit velocity on fly balls and line drives
  • He's giving up a few more fly balls than he did in 2018, but the driving force behind his 1.8 hr/9 is a very high home run per fly ball rate, one that has doubled his 2018 rate.
  • All of the hard hit ground balls against him, plus a defense that turns the fewest balls in play into outs, have contributed to his high hit rate, but it couldn't possibly be this high without bad luck playing a role as well. Look for his hit rate to drop quite a bit in the near future.

Diaz hasn't come close to living up to expectations in 2019, as he's already served up five more earned runs and blown as many saves as all of last year. He's still among the best in the league in terms of K%, but is uncharacteristically allowing a ton of hard contact, and has also been hurt by some tough luck. Diaz's BPV and xERA show that he's still pitching very well, and even with a bad defense behind him, he should be much better going forward, likely one of the most valuable relievers in the league. Just realize he probably won't return to his 2018 level of performance, and given his recent struggles, another misstep or two in the short-term could push him out of the role.

 

More ups and downs for Pivetta... Nick Pivetta (RHP, PHI) got a lot of hype heading into the season, but after allowing 17 ER in 18.1 IP across his first four starts, he was sent to Triple-A for six weeks. He was good (50 K in 37 IP) but wild (20 BB) there, and allowed a total of just 4 ER in his first three starts upon his return to the majors, but in four starts since, has surrendered 19 ER in 23.1 IP. So what should owners expect from Pivetta going forward?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2016* 149  3.90  3.94  3.1   7.4  2.4  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    31/73   N/A   72  
2017^ 165  5.22  4.91  3.2   9.4  2.9  59%   9%  94.4  44/20/36  34/67   18%   75
2018  164  4.77  3.53  2.8  10.3  3.7  63%  13%  94.8  47/19/35  34/67   16%  135
19 MLB 62  5.84  4.70  2.8   7.6  2.7  64%  10%  94.1  40/27/33  31/68   25%   80
19 AAA 37  3.41   N/A  4.9  12.2  2.5  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    26/72    7%  N/A
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Pivetta continues to be prone to the long ball:

  • He has struck out a lot of batters the past two seasons, but the swing-and-miss stuff has been lacking so far in 2019. His SwK has slipped on the two pitches he uses the most, down from 11% to 9% on his four-seamer, and 16% to 12% on the curve.
  • He throws the four-seam fastball on half his offerings, and the pitch has been terrible, as batters have both a .375 BA and .375 ISO against the pitch (per Brooks Baseball). A 37% hit rate has played a role, but in addition to the SwK dip, his ground ball rate on the pitch is down to 27%, leading to 10 homers on 88 balls in play.
  • He struggled with his control during his brief stint in the minors, but has walked just seven percent of batters in the majors since the beginning of 2018, with a strong FpK to back it up.
  • Pitching in a home park that significantly boosts home runs from both sides of the plate (+25% LHB, +24% RHB) is obviously a concern for a pitcher that is prone to giving up homers. Pivetta has actually been worse in his career on the road (5.93 ERA vs 4.98 at home), and though his ERA is slightly better on the road this year (5.70 to 5.92), he's served up seven home runs in just 23.2 IP.

Though he posted an ugly ERA, Pivetta did flash some upside in 2018, inducing a lot of swings and misses, and striking out 27% of the batters he faced, but he was done in by a high hit rate and 1.3 hr/9. The hit rate has normalized in 2019, but the homers have been a huge issue (2.3 hr/9), and he's not missing nearly as many bats. Pivetta has shown glimpses this season, including a 33% K% in Triple-A, and a three-start stretch with the Phillies in which he recorded 21 K and 2 BB, with a 14% SwK, but has been very inconsistent overall. He's going to deliver some impressive performances from time to time, but he'll also have his fair share of blow-ups, and the high strikeout totals may not be as locked in as we thought heading into the season.

  

Is Sanchez turning a corner?... Anibal Sanchez (RHP, WAS) was one of the bigger surprises of 2018, as he delivered a 2.83 ERA, following two seasons in which he recorded a combined 6.09 mark. He got off to a pretty rough start in 2019, posting a 5.10 ERA and 5.3 Ctl over his first nine starts, but since coming back from a hamstring strain, he's put up a 2.18 ERA across seven starts. Can owners be confident in using Sanchez again?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2015  157  4.99  4.11  2.8  7.9  2.8  65%  10%  91.9  40/21/39  29/66   16%   85
2016  153  5.87  4.63  3.1  7.9  2.5  67%  10%  91.1  40/19/41  32/64   16%   77
2017* 121  6.56  7.08  2.6  8.8  3.3  61%  10%  90.8  36/25/40  37/66   19%   45
2018  137  2.83  3.77  2.8  8.9  3.2  66%  11%  90.7  45/18/37  27/79   11%  108
2019   84  3.66  4.90  3.5  8.1  2.3  64%  10%  90.2  36/27/37  29/78   13%   63
*Includes MLEs

Sanchez's skills have taken a step back:

  • His velocity continues to slowly decline, and the SwK on his four-seamer is down to six percent, while batters have hit .322 with a .339 ISO against the pitch. At least he's only throwing the pitch 26% of the time now, the lowest of his career.
  • An increased reliance on his cutter was key to his success in 2018, and the pitch continues to hold batters in check, as they are batting just .174 with a .116 ISO against the pitch on the year.
  • His K% has fallen four percentage points this year to 20%, which is exactly where it has settled even during the aforementioned hot streak.
  • He has done a much better job of limiting the walks lately, with a 1.7 Ctl since returning from the injured list. He probably won't maintain that level, but his FpK suggests his Ctl should continue to improve from his current mark, which is still inflated from his early season wildness.
  • Though the line drive rate is up, Sanchez continues to do a nice job of limiting hard contact, as he currently ranks in the top five percent of the league in both exit velocity against and Hard Hit % (per Baseball Savant).

Sanchez hasn't been able to duplicate the success of his surprising 2018 campaign, but has been much more effective since late May than he was early in the season. He has gotten the walks under control, and is once again doing an excellent job of minimizing hard contact against him, but his ERA has also been aided by a 22% hit rate and 88% strand rate during his past seven starts. Sanchez may be a decent back-end starter the rest of the way, but owners may need to play the matchups with him, as his skills don't support a sub-4.00 ERA.


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