FACTS/FLUKES: Buehler, Albies, A. Bradley, Senzel, A. Frazier

Buehler enjoys dominant 2019 … Walker Buehler (RHP, LA) entered 2019 with lofty expectations following a terrific 2018 campaign, but he got off to a rough start, compiling a 5.22 ERA and 7.4 Dom in 29 IP spanning his first five outings. However, he has since been among the game’s best, posting a stellar 2.52 ERA, 11.6 Dom and 1.4 Ctl in 125 IP. What can we expect going forward?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  hr/9  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ====  ===
2017*  82  4.83  3.95  3.6  10.6  3.0  59%  10%  67/17/17  34/65   50%   1.9  103
2018  137  2.62  3.14  2.4   9.9  4.1  63%  12%  50/18/32  26/77   11%   0.8  141
2019  154  3.03  3.31  1.6  10.8  6.6  66%  13%  43/22/35  31/74   12%   0.9  171
*Includes MLEs

These elite skills indicate more of the same:

  • The uptick in Dom is backed by SwK. Only nine qualified MLB starters have struck out a higher percentage of batters in 2019 (30% K%).
  • A heightened focus on getting ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone (31.4% Ball%) has led to him being even stingier with free passes. His 4.5% BB% ranks fifth among qualified MLB starters in 2019.
  • He has allowed more flyballs and a bit more hard contact in 2019, but HR haven’t been much of an issue, as his hr/9 is right in line with 2018 (MLB average: 1.4 hr/9).
  • A reduction in sinker usage from 17% in 2018 to 6% in 2019 and an increase four-seam fastball usage from 42% to 54% has contributed to the tradeoff in GB% and FB%.

Buehler didn’t make his spring debut until March 18, as the Dodgers lightened his workload during spring training on the heels of 2018’s substantial jump in IP. It’s reasonable to assume the reduced spring activity was the primary culprit in Buehler’s early 2019 woes, as he has pitched like an ace ever since. There is nothing in the 24-year-old’s tremendous skill set to suggest he can’t continue to excel in 2020 and beyond.

 

Albies enjoying another highly productive season … A rough final two months of 2018, largely driven by struggles against right-handed pitching, raised some questions for Ozzie Albies (2B, ATL) heading into 2019. However, he has rebounded, batting .283 with 19 HR and 13 SB through 538 AB. Can he keep it going?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  =========  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2016* 552   6/30  .272/ N/A    9/81      N/A    33   N/A   59/N/A   N/A  135/26%
2017^ 628  14/27  .278/.245    7/79   41/19/40  33   107   83/113    8%  161/18%
2018  639  24/14  .261/.268    5/82   39/21/40  29   104  109/100   12%  121/13%
2019  538  19/13  .283/.278    8/82   37/25/38  32   122  100/122   11%  135/12%
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

There is nothing to suggest he can’t:

  • The combination of a surging LD%, high ct% and blazing speed should keep his BA in fine shape.
  • The quality of his contact as also improved, as evidenced by HctX, xPX and Statcast measured gains in exit velocity (up from 86.3 mph to 89 mph) and Barrel% (up from 4.7% to 7.2%). He’s on track to once again threaten the 25 HR plateau.
  • An uptick in bb% has lifted his OBP to .340 (.305 in 2018) and given him more chances to use his wheels (86th percentile sprint speed, according to Statcast).
  • He has been more active on basepaths in 2H, especially in August (23% SBO). Factor in an 81% success rate in 2019 (lifetime 83% SB% in 42 attempts) and there would appear to be considerable untapped SB upside.

Those who were unfazed by Albies’s late-2018 downturn have been rewarded handsomely in 2019. The 22-year-old has made more hard contact without sacrificing ct% and is again on track for a run at 25 HR. Perhaps the most intriguing development, albeit in a tiny sample of 110 August AB, has been his increased aggressiveness on the basepaths, as it could unlock significant SB upside, if it sticks.

 

Can Bradley succeed as closer? … Archie Bradley (RHP, ARI) moved to the bullpen in 2017 and quickly rose to “closer-in-waiting” status, posting a 2.68 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 145 IP in 2017-18. Things haven’t gone as smoothly for him in 2019, but he has found himself in the closer role, earning his first save of 2019 on July 30 and eight saves in August. Now that the wait is over, does Bradley still possess closer-worthy skills?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2015   36  5.80  5.04  5.6   5.8  1.0  58/14/28  30/64   10%  55%   6%   -9
2016  142  5.02  4.28  4.3   9.1  2.1  45/25/30  35/69   13%  57%   9%   72
2017   73  1.73  3.31  2.6   9.7  3.8  48/23/29  29/86    7%  59%  11%  131
2018   72  3.64  3.51  2.5   9.4  3.8  49/17/33  29/73   14%  68%   9%  129
2019   59  3.94  4.15  4.6  11.1  2.4  45/23/32  36/74   10%  59%  11%   99

His overall skills have slipped a bit in 2019:

  • He reined in free passes during his first two seasons as a reliever (2017-18), but the control issues have returned in 2019. His FpK hints at potential for improvement (3.0 xCtl).
  • The career-best Dom lacks SwK support, so look for some pullback there (8.6 xDom).
  • The rise in xERA and decline in BPV indicates there is nothing fluky about the higher ERA.

Bradley’s strong 2017-18 skills pointed to the capacity to thrive in the closer role, but his 2019 underlying metrics have given us reason for pause. While FpK suggests possible future Ctl gains, his MLB-average SwK implies a potential downturn in Dom. Given that the rest of 2019 is such a small sample, it’s quite possible that the 26-year-old could wind up holding down the closer job for the duration, but unless the skills improve, we wouldn’t bet on it.

 

Senzel flashes promise, but needs more polish … Nick Senzel (3B/OF, CIN) finally made his eagerly awaited MLB debut on May 3 and has put together a solid rookie season, batting .267 with 11 HR and 14 SB through 348 AB. How are the underlying skills?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2017# 209  .345   N/A   12   78   N/A     N/A    138/N/A   N/A   98/13%  12/ 5
2018+ 171  .280   N/A    9   74   N/A     N/A    114/N/A   N/A  102/19%   5/ 7
2019  352  .264  .258    7   74   103  48/20/32    98/76   14%  145/21%  11/14
#Double-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

It’s a mixed bag:

  • Senzel's ct% is not in the danger zone, but it caps his BA upside at about where his current BA stands unless he can hit more line drives.
  • Though his xPX is subpar, his average flyball distance (326 ft) is on par with the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner. Even if he doesn’t hit more flyballs, there is 20 HR potential here.
  • According to Statcast, Senzel’s sprint speed ranks in the 97th percentile. Couple those wheels with his SBO and SB% (78% SB% in MLB) and he is capable of a 20+ SB campaign.
  • He has thrived against left-handed pitching, sporting an 87% ct%, 8% bb%, 101 PX and .913 OPS in 89 AB, but he has had difficulties vs. right-handers (71% ct%, 97 PX and .722 OPS in 258 AB).

Senzel has had trouble staying on the field, as various ailments including vertigo, a torn tendon in his finger and elbow surgery have shelved him at different times in his professional career and earned him a “C” grade in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster. However, the 24-year-old still carries 20 HR/20+ SB potential for the 2020 campaign, provided he can refine his approach at the plate, particularly against right-handed pitching. To that end, it will be interesting to see what impact recent adjustments will have.

 

Frazier unable to hold 2H-2018 power gains … A strong second half of 2018 gave Adam Frazier (2B/OF, PIT) some potential breakout appeal for 2019, but it hasn’t come to fruition, as he owns a .268 BA with 7 HR and 4 SB in 444 AB. What happened?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO/SB%
====  ===  =====  =========  ===  ===  ========  ==  =======  ====  ===========
2015# 377   1/9   .281/N/A    7    88    N/A     32    N/A     N/A  115/15%/52%
2016* 407   2/19  .300/.297   8    86  44/33/23  34    59/93    7%  137/28%/52%
2017  406   6/9   .276/.288   8    86  48/25/27  31    66/59    6%  119/12%/64% 
2018  318  10/1   .277/.281   8    83  49/20/31  31   105/79   12%  107/ 5%/25%
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H-18 180   7/1   .306/.306   7    83  43/23/34  34  142/123   14%   93/ 5%/50%
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2019  451   7/4   .266/.281   7    87  41/26/33  29    66/68    5%  124/ 7%/50%
# MLE
* Includes MLEs

Lackluster xPX and poor SB% squashed his HR/SB output:

  • An improved ct% and a line drive stroke give him a nice BA floor.
  • The 2H-18 xPX gains vanished. That leaves him with subpar power and probably a 10-15 HR ceiling, as is.
  • He owns good speed, but hasn’t been able to put it to much use. He doesn’t run often and that’s probably at least partially due to his poor success rate (58% SB% in 31 career attempts).

Frazier’s plate skills give him a sturdy BA/OBP floor, but his ability to contribute in the HR and SB categories will drive his value. Absent improvement, we’re probably looking at a 10-12 HR/5-8 SB type player. While the 27-year-old’s BA/OBP is useful, his fantasy value is stuck in neutral unless he can develop a little more pop and become more of a threat on the basepaths.


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