FACTS/FLUKES: Arenado, Soto, Barnhart, Wacha, C. Smith

Is Arenado still as reliable as ever? ... Nolan Arenado (3B, COL) has probably been the most consistent offensive force in the league over the past four seasons, a time in which he's hit .297 while averaging 39.5 homers per season. Can owners pencil him in for similar numbers in 2019?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  
2014  432  18  .287  .300    5   87  38/21/42  30   127  142/134   11%
2015  616  42  .287  .307    5   82  34/22/44  29   133  172/151   19%
2016  618  41  .294  .290   10   83  35/18/47  30   128  146/148   17%
2017  606  37  .309  .297    9   83  34/21/45  32   123  145/149   16%
2018  590  38  .297  .291   11   79  40/21/39  32   126  150/138   21%

There were a few minor blemishes in 2018, but all in all, the skills are pretty stable:

  • Arenado hit fewer fly balls than usual in 2018, but still put up his typical home run total, thanks to a boost in his home run per fly ball rate. 
  • His power metrics in the chart above are consistently strong, but there are a couple of minor concerns within the advanced data: his average batted ball distance slipped to 184 feet, 15 feet less than any season in the Statcast era (2015-18). Also, xStats had him pegged for 36.8 to 36.9 xHR each year from 2015-17, but the number fell to 26.8 in 2018.
  • His strikeouts were up a bit in 2018, when his contact rate on pitches in the zone fell below league average for the first time. His BA and xBA were unfazed, and his track record and home park that increases RHB BA by 16% says we can expect a batting average in the .290 range again.
  • He ranks 7th in all of baseball in plate appearances over the past four years, which, in addition to his strong skills and home park, has helped him average 104 runs and 126 RBI during that span.

Arenado has been one of the top hitters in the game the past four years, combining excellent skills and durability. His batted ball data is a little concerning, so losing a few homers is probably more likely than getting back to 40-plus. Even so, Arenado offers a solid floor that many owners love to build around, and he should once again provide hefty contributions in four of the five standard roto categories. 

 

Soto makes immediate impact ... Juan Soto (OF, WAS) began the 2018 season in Low-A Hagerstown, but after posting a 1.231 OPS across three levels, he was up in the majors by late May, and never looked back. He hit .292/.406/.517 in 414 at-bats with the Nationals, finishing with a .292/.406/.517 line in 414 at-bats. What can we expect for an encore?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f  Spd 
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===
2018* 445  24/ 6  .293  .277   16   76  54/17/29  34    98  135  105   25%  109
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H*   151  10/ 2  .321  .291   15   77  46/21/34  37   110  159  119   26%  109
2H    294  14/ 4  .279  .269   16   76  57/16/27  33    92  122   98   24%  113
*Includes MLEs

Soto is very advanced for a young hitter:

  • He drew walks at an extremely high rate, leading to an elite on-base percentage right off the bat. This skill should allow him to remain a fixture in a prime position in the lineup.
  • His contact rate was merely league average, and he was a little lucky to hit for such a high average. His youth and excellent plate discipline do bode well for him maintaining a high BA in 2019 and beyond, though.
  • His fly ball rate was low in 2018, but Soto made it count when he got the ball in the air. He ranked eighth in the majors in exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, as a quarter of his fly balls left the park.
  • He hasn't stolen a lot of bases in his young career, but does boast above average speed, and did swipe three bags in September. He should be good for at least a handful in 2019, with the potential for double digits.

Soto is already a very polished hitter who combines outstanding plate discipline and the ability to drive the ball. Sure, he had some good fortune on balls in play in 2018, but even the xBA is remarkable for a 19-year-old whose game is still in growth mode. Soto's low fly ball rate could leave him a little short of 30 homers in 2019, but he seems reasonably priced at his 33 NFBC ADP, as this is a skill-set worth investing in.

 

Sometimes boring is valuable ... Serving as a primary backstop once again, Tucker Barnhart (C, CIN) easily surpassed his career high in plate appearances, and reached double-digit homers for the first time. Can owners bank on similar production this coming season? 

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX  PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ==  ===  ====
2015  242   3  .252  .245    9   81  47/25/28  30    66  52   45    5%
2016  377   7  .257  .270    9   81  48/25/28  30    92  79   93    8%
2017  370   7  .270  .281   10   82  46/26/28  32   110  80   90    8%
2018  460  10  .248  .254   10   79  45/24/31  29   112  75   81    9%

Barnhart's skills are pretty pedestrian, but the playing time alone gives him a leg up on many mid-to-late round catchers:

  • He has made more hard contact the past two seasons, and bumped up his fly ball rate in 2018, but PX and xPX seem to think 10 homers is pretty close to his upside.
  • A line drive stroke and respectable contact rate should assure a solid batting average floor. But the contact rate dipped slightly in 2018, and a .248 average from him hurts worse than a .248 average from a catcher in an even timeshare behind the plate.
  • He draws walks at a high rate, which adds to his real-life value, and gives his value a boost in OBP leagues.

Barnhart's skills aren't exciting at all, but he has enough things working in his favor to warrant attention on draft day. He has a starting role in a loaded Cincinnati offense, which should help him accumulate decent counting stats. Also, Barnhart's xBA history shows there's potential for a batting average rebound, and he proved last year he's capable of hitting double-digit home runs. With so many landmines in the catcher pool, a low upside, but relatively safe option such as Barnhart makes for a reasonable target.

 

What to expect from Wacha ... Michael Wacha (RHP, STL) was cruising along with a 2.47 ERA through 13 starts in 2018, but his xERA was more than a run higher. Up next was a couple of rough outings, which took his ERA up to 3.20, and then an oblique strain that effectively put an end to his season in late June. What should we expect from the 27-year-old in 2019?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA   vL   Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK/SwK    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV   
====  ===  ====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  =======  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  107  3.20  3.70  .581  2.8  7.9  2.8  64%/11%  42/22/36  30/74    5%   87
2015  181  3.38  3.91  .617  2.9  7.6  2.6  63%/10%  46/22/32  29/76   11%   83
2016  138  5.09  4.30  .733  2.9  7.4  2.5  59%/ 9%  47/24/30  34/67   12%   80
2017  166  4.13  3.99  .724  3.0  8.6  2.9  66%/10%  48/21/31  33/72   12%  100
2018   84  3.20  4.24  .583  3.8  7.6  2.0  53%/10%  43/29/27  26/78   14%   54

Wacha's skills are pretty meh:

  • He couldn't hold the velocity gains he had made in 2017, and his SwK has settled in below league average.
  • He owns a very effective change-up that has helped him do a pretty good job of stymieing lefty batters. He threw it 28% of the time against them in 2018, recording a 20% SwK.
  • His Ctl had been extremely consistent prior to last season, when the bottom dropped out of his FpK. His track record indicates he should allow fewer walks in 2019.
  • Wacha doesn't give up a lot of fly balls, so the damage via the home run is minimal, but he did allow a lot more hard contact than usual, and an extremely high line drive rate in 2018.

Wacha's surface stats looked pretty impressive last year, the third time in five seasons he's posted a sub-3.40 ERA. But his recent xERA history is where we should set expectations, and that mediocre mark is accompanied by so-so strikeout totals, and an F Health Grade. Wacha is a serviceable option when on the mound, but his ceiling is limited, and it's almost guaranteed he'll miss some time. All told, he looks overvalued at his current 273 NFBC ADP.

 

Smith a low-cost strikeout source ... Caleb Smith (LHP, MIA) was a surprisingly viable option before a lat strain put an end to his season in late June, striking out 88 batters in 77 innings of work across his 16 starts. What is his outlook heading into 2019?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK/SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%  S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  =======  ====  ========  ==  ==  ====  ===
2015* 135  4.75  4.91  4.1   5.4  1.3  N/A/N/A   N/A     N/A    32  70   N/A   35  
2016*  64  5.76  5.82  3.2   8.2  2.6  N/A/N/A   N/A     N/A    39  66   N/A   67
2017# 119  4.26  4.66  3.5   7.6  2.2  56%/13%  94.0  28/29/43  31  74   16%   55
2018   77  4.19  4.36  3.8  10.2  2.7  59%/12%  92.8  28/21/51  29  70   10%   87
*MLEs
#Includes MLEs

Smith offers quite a bit of strikeout potential:

  • He misses bats at a pretty high rate with all three of his pitches, as he boasts an 11% SwK with his four-seamer, 16% with his slider, and 17% with his change-up. With the slider, he held opposing batters to a .136 batting average and .068 ISO in 2018.
  • He tends to be a little wild, and his below-average FpK suggests that will continue to be the case in the short term.
  • He gives up a ton of fly balls, which could lead to some home run issues. However, he induced infield flies at the highest rate in the league (per Fangraphs), so perhaps the extreme fly ball lean isn't such a problem.
  • He held RHB to a .684 OPS in 2018, but a 23% hit rate played a large role in his success. He walked 12% of righties, compared to just 5% of lefties, and his fly ball rate jumped to 56%, though with a 21% infield fly ball rate, compared to an 8% IFFB vs LHB.

Smith flashed some impressive swing-and-miss stuff during the first half of 2018, before his season ended prematurely. The walks are a bit of a concern, but the extreme fly ball lean may be overstated, assuming he can continue to keep a high percentage of them in the infield. Smith looks poised to record decent ratios and a high Dom, but he averaged fewer than five innings per start a season ago, he won't get much run support, and he has had trouble staying healthy to this point in his career. Grab him in the late rounds if you're in need of strikeouts, but don't count on a full season's workload.


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