FACTS/FLUKES: Altuve, Sano, E. Rodriguez, Mancini, Bundy

Altuve swings for the fences...Despite spending more than a month on the injured list to begin the season Jose Altuve (2B, HOU) will almost certainly surpass his previous personal best home run total in 2019. It is also very likely that he ends up with a career-worst stolen base total. Are Altuve's respective home runs binge, and stolen bases drought, facts or flukes? 

Year   AB  HR/SB   BA  xBA  HctX  ct%   LA+   PX  xPX  hr/f  hr/HHf^ FBv*  Spd  Zct~
====  ===  =====  ===  ===  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ====  ======  ====  ===  ===
2015  638  15/38  313  281   103   90  10.5   89   92    7%    22%   89.2  134  95%
2016  640  24/30  338  311   122   89  10.9  104  120   13%    27%   91.6  120  91%
2017  590  24/32  346  299    98   86   9.1  106   87   15%    38%   90.9  132  92%
2018  534  13/17  316  279   105   85   9.5   78   95   10%    23%   91.3  121  91%
2019  374  23/ 5  297  300   113   84   7.8  113   79   25%    68%   93.8  114  86%
+ average launch angle (degrees) 
^ home run per hard hit fly ball rate  
* average exit velocity of fly balls
~ contact rate on pitches in the strike zone

Altuve's skills are changing:  

  • Shrinking launch angle and xPX tell us that his additional home runs aren't the result of simply hitting more balls in the air. The cause of his home run increase is a bloated hr/f rate.
  • His home run per hard hit fly ball rate is second only to Joey Gallo among major league hitters with at least 100 AB. While Altuve's fly ball velocity of 93.8 mph is a career-high, and probably supports a bit of hr/HHFB increase, it's a far cry from sluggers like Gallo, whose fly ball velocity approaches or exceeds 100 mph on average. 
  • Altuve's falling contact rate isn't the result of him chasing pitches out of the zone, but rather swinging-and-missing at pitches in the strike zone more frequently. Concurrent Zct decreases and FBv increases in 2016 and again in 2019 would seem to indicate a conscious decision to sacrifice a bit of bat control for a harder swing and more power. 
  • Our statistically scouted speed metric and StatCast's sprint speed (28.6 ft/s—86th percentile) both indicate that he still has the wheels to steal bases. But his SBO% has declined five consecutive years, peaking at 32% in 2014 and bottoming out at 8% in 2019. 

We are skeptical of Altuve's ability to maintain his current home run pace (34 HR per 550 AB) going forward. But the 29-year-old still appears capable of being a stolen base asset if given the green light, although that doesn't seem likely to change due to the Astros' high-octane offense. Gone are the days of $45+ earnings, but this skill-set is still capable of producing $30 or so. 

 

Sano a 50 HR candidate...Miguel Sano (3B, MIN) has spent at least three weeks on the injured list each of the past four seasons with lower body injuries ('16—hamstring, '17—shin, '18—hamstring, '19—heal) which has really stymied the development of the former international bonus baby and top-10 prospect. But since being activated in mid-May Sano has hit home runs at a pace of 48 HR per 550 AB. Can he keep it up? 

Year   AB   BA  xBA  HctX  bb%  ct%  HHFB~   PX  xPX  hr/f  hr/HHf^  FBv*  HR
====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ===  ===  =====  ===  ===  ====  ======  =====  ==
2015  279  269  243   110   16   57   21%   223  175   26%    53%    96.8  18
2016  437  236  224    96   11   59   21%   172  157   21%    46%    95.9  25
2017  424  264  229   107   11   59   19%   166  148   27%    60%    97.7  28
2018  266  199  200    89   10   57   17%   160  121   21%    52%    95.6  13
2019  285  246  254   109   13   59   25%   211  187   34%    60%   100.0  25
~ percentage of balls in play that are hard hit fly balls 
^ home run per hard hit fly ball rate 
* average exit velocity of fly balls

Sano has 80-grade, top of the scale home run power: 

  • He is one of only three batters whose fly balls average triple digit velocity—the others are Nelson Cruz and Joey Gallo—and both of them have a higher hr/HHf rate than Sano (league average is 38%). 
  • Not only is he hitting his fly balls harder than ever, he has also increased his hard hit fly ball output significantly and ranks in the 99th percentile among Major League hitters in that department. 
  • He does a good job of recognizing balls from strikes and taking his walks. But he does have quite a bit of swing-and-miss to his game, which obviously leads to strikeouts and hinders batting average. 
  • However, Sano hit for a respectable batting average in both 2015 and 2017, and his 2019 xBA indicates that during his peak power years there may even a bit more upside in that category. 

Sano's age (26), build (6' 4", 260 pounds), and skill-set are all very similar to that of Joey Gallo, but coming into the 2019 season Gallo was much more expensive to acquire (106 ADP) than was Sano (265 ADP). If that discrepancy carries over into 2020 owners may be able to snatch an elite power bat for a bargain. Either way Sano has 50 home run upside and the potential to hit for a better batting average than some might expect, though his track record of injury and inconsistent production prevent us from going all-in at this point. 

 

E. Rodriguez treads water...As former top-100 prospect, who was sometimes compared to the great Johan Santana, Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, BOS) has had heavy expectations placed on his shoulders since making his major league debut in 2015. But his career has largely been a disappointment thus far with a 4.07 ERA and 1.29 WHIP combo and a Dom rate below 9.0 in over 650 innings. Does the 26-year-old have another gear in him? 

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  GB%  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  Ball%  FpK  SwK   Vel  hr/9  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===  =====  ===  ===  ====  ====  ====  ===
2015  122  3.85  4.13  43%  2.7   7.2  2.6  36.0%  57%   8%  94.0   1.0   10%   78
2016  107  4.71  4.71  32%  3.4   8.4  2.5  37.5%  59%  11%  93.5   1.3   11%   71
2017  137  4.19  4.26  35%  3.3   9.8  3.0  36.3%  61%  12%  93.3   1.2   12%  101
2018  130  3.82  3.98  39%  3.1  10.1  3.2  37.3%  61%  11%  93.3   1.1   11%  115
2019  161  3.92  4.25  48%  3.3   8.7  2.6  37.1%  64%  11%  92.9   1.2   15%   93

Rodriguez has a solid foundation and may just be a tweak or two away from reaching his potential: 

  • He came into the league being able to reach back for 98+ mph when he needed it, but his velocity has declined and now tops out around 96 mph.
  • His only true swing-and-miss offering is his excellent change-up that is inducing swinging strikes at a 19% clip in 2019, though he also does get some whiffs from his 4-seam fastball (12% SwK). His overall 11% SwK rate gives him an xDom of 8.2, which would be slightly below league average. 
  • Given the rate at which he throws strikes, both early (FpK) and often (Ball%), Rodriguez might deserve a slightly better control rate. 
  • Home runs are not a major problem. In a year where the baseball is playing more lively it helps that he has thrown his two best ground ball pitches (GB%: sinker—59%; change-up—67%), cumulatively, seven percentage points more than in 2018. 
  • He has managed to stay healthy in 2019 after spending ~2-3 months on the injured list in each of the previous three seasons.  

Rodriguez has largely been the same guy for a number of years now, which makes it easy to call his 2019 performance a fact. He would benefit greatly from a Dom rate surge and/or a significant control rate reduction. And though that may seem like a lot to ask, it can come very fast for pitchers of this ilk (see Lucas Giolito circa 2019). 

 

Mancini exceeds expectations...Trey Mancini (1B, BAL) entered the 2019 season without much fanfare (231 ADP), but early in the season our analyst Bob Berger predicted that, "Mancini [was] in the midst of taking a significant step forward during his age 27 season" and that he "...could hit 30+ HR with a very useful batting average..." How has Bob's prognosticating held up over the heat of the summer and what can we expect from Mancini going forward? 

Year   AB   BA  xBA  HctX  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB   PX  xPX  HHFB*  hr/f  HR
====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ===  ===  ========  ===  ===  =====  ====  ==  
2017  543  293  263   103   6    74  51/19/30  112  113   12%    20%  24
2018  582  242  249    91   7    74  55/19/26  104   95   14%    21%  24
2019  477  273  285    96   9    76  46/21/33  132  125   17%    24%  29

Bob was spot-on and Mancini appears to be in his prime: 

  • Mancini tightened up his plate discipline in 2019 by swinging less at pitches out of the zone and making more contact on pitches in the zone. This has resulted in quality ct%, bb% and eye ratio gains. 
  • The plate discipline improvement, combined with a steep reduction in ground balls by the fringe-average runner (26.8 ft/s StatCast sprint speed), has also boosted his batting average skills significantly (xBA).  
  • An important factor in his 2019 success has been hitting more hard hit fly balls, as these are the type that most often land on the other side of the fence, rather than in an opposing outfielder's glove. 
  • Camden Yards' +15% home run boost for right handed hitters is a nice perk, as is playing close to home for the Maryland native. 

Mancini has made a few slight adjustments to his approach that have enabled him to make the most of his skill-set. We'll call his 2019 performance a fact that appears repeatable in 2020. 

 

Bundy needs more grounders...Dylan Bundy (RHP, BAL) has yet again failed to capitalize on the talent that enticed the Orioles to select him with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft and that made him a consensus top-five prospect. Should we move on, or is there still reason to speculate on Bundy down the stretch and in 2020? 

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  GB%  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  Ball%  SwK   Vel  hr/9  hr/f  BPV  SI* 
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  =====  ===  ====  ====  ====  ===  ===
2016  110  4.02  4.55  36%  3.4  8.5  2.5  35.2%  11%  93.8   1.5   13%   75   4%
2017  170  4.24  4.62  33%  2.7  8.1  3.0  35.0%  11%  92.2   1.4   11%   83   0%
2018  172  5.45  4.37  34%  2.8  9.6  3.4  33.3%  13%  91.6   2.1   18%  109   8%
2019  127  5.03  4.48  41%  3.0  9.1  3.0  35.4%  13%  91.2   1.8   18%  101   6%
Aug    24  4.13  3.33  57%  2.3  9.0  4.0  34.7%  13%  91.8   0.8   13%  136  17%
*Sinker usage 

Bundy has the tools to make a big improvement: 

  • He gets enough swings-and-misses to support a double-digit Dom rate, though he hasn't quite reached that level yet. His primary out pitches are a plus slider (24% SwK) and change-up (18% SwK). 
  • Based on the volume of strikes he throws his expected control rates are in the low 2s every year. 
  • His fastball velocity is below average, but at age 26 we can't dismiss the possibility of him regaining the above average velocity he owned in 2016. 
  • The most glaring issue here is the amount of home runs Bundy permits and much of that damage comes off of his four-seam fastball (.325 ISO against). But he has a number of ground ball inducing pitches in his arsenal: curve ball (60%), change-up (56%), slider (52%) and sinker (52%).  
  • In four August starts he has prudently decreased usage of his four-seam in favor of his sinker and other grounder-inducing, off-speed pitches. This has resulted in a significant increase in GB%, a corresponding decrease in hr/9, better results, and very intriguing skills (xERA & BPV). 

Bundy has produced a cumulative negative R$ over his MLB career and probably wouldn't be terribly difficult to acquire in most leagues right now. Given his former top prospect pedigree, his bat-missing and grounder-inducing arsenal, and the wise manner in which he has deployed said arsenal during the month of August, he could have some value over the balance of the season and is worthy of breakout speculation in 2020. 


Click here to subscribe

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