FACTS/FLUKES: F. Reyes, Bell, J. Martinez, Dietrich, Gausman

Reyes flashing big-time power... Franmil Reyes (OF, SD) showed off some impressive power during his time in the majors in 2018, when he connected for 16 home runs in just 285 plate appearances. He entered 2019 with questions regarding his playing time in a crowded Padre outfield, but he has continued to mash, and has emerged as a fixture in the lineup. Can he keep it up?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====
2017* 507  22  .243   N/A    8   71     N/A    30   N/A  116  N/A   N/A   
2018^ 471  27  .275  .246   10   68  49/21/30  35   111  135  115   30%
2019  111  10  .261  .294    6   74  33/26/41  26   152  162  183   29%
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Reyes's power looks pretty legit:

  • He's making hard contact at an extremely high clip. In addition to the strong power metrics above, Baseball Savant shows that he ranks in the 95th percentile in exit velocity and 84th percentile in Hard Hit %.
  • He is hitting the ball in the air a lot more this season, and he has maintained his lofty home run per fly ball rate. The latter number is likely to come down a bit, but as shown by our 27% projection for the rest of the season, it should remain high.
  • His walks and strikeouts are down, a result of him being more aggressive at the plate, specifically on balls in the strike zone. According to FanGraphs, his Z-Swing% is highest in the league, while his O-Swing% is 13th highest, resulting in a Swing% that is 4th-highest in all of baseball.
  • He has been pretty unlucky on balls in play, but is starting to close the gap between his BA and xBA, going 15-for-38 with four homers and a 44% hit rate since April 27.

Reyes is proving that last year's power display wasn't a fluke, as he's hitting the ball with tremendous authority, and even hitting it in the air more now. If he can keep his contact rate where it is now, he offers some hidden BA upside as well. Reyes seems to be establishing himself as close to an everyday player, and the power numbers in the chart above suggest he could be well on his way to 35-plus homers in 2019.

 

Bell showing pop again... After blasting 26 home runs during a breakout 2017 campaign, Josh Bell (1B, PIT) took a big step back in 2018, when he hit just 12 homers in 501 at-bats. His blurb in the Baseball Forecaster noted he may just be a launch angle tweak away from a big bounce back, and he appears to have gotten the memo, as he's left the park eight times already in 2019. Do the power gains look legit?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA    vR   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  =====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====
2016* 549  15  .275  .274   .820   12/82   50/21/29  31   110   89/96     9%
2017* 549  26  .255  .275   .813   11/79   51/18/31  28   104  113/95    19%
2018  501  12  .261  .256   .781   13/79   49/19/33  31    99   93/88     8%
2019  118   8  .288  .301  1.060   11/73   40/20/40  33   115  194/164   23%
*Includes MLEs

Bell seems to be making a concerted effort to hit for more power:

  • He is getting the ball in the air a lot more, and making contact at a very high rate. According to Statcast data, he ranks in the 97th percentile in exit velocity, 95th in Hard Hit %, and hit the second-longest homer in the majors this season.
  • Bell will need to sustain the power gains for a longer period of time before we can buy in on a 20-plus percent home run per fly ball rate, but his low mark from 2018 is likely an aberration.
  • He had a down year against RHP in 2018, hitting just .264 with 10 home runs and a 91 PX, but has been absolutely mashing them this season, with six home runs and a 220 PX in 84 at-bats.
  • The added power has come at the expense of his contact rate, but the gains he's made in both BA and xBA shows that the changes have been worth it. 

Bell was a major disappointment in 2018, but owners who bought low on him in anticipation of a rebound have been handsomely rewarded in the early going. The uptick in strikeouts has been more than offset by the huge strides he's made in the power department. Bell probably won't quite be able to maintain this home run pace he's on now, but his skills are clearly headed in the right direction, and he should be able to provide pretty nice power numbers, along with a helpful average the rest of the way.

 

Martinez in midst of hot streak... In large part because of his defensive shortcomings, Jose Martinez (OF, STL) began the season in a backup role, starting just four of his team's first 16 games. He has hit his way into the lineup, though, and is currently sporting a .354/.398/.485 line through 99 at-bats. Can he be expected to continue producing at a high level?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd  
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  ===
2017  272  14/4   .309  .286   10/78   42/27/31  35   117  115/123   21%  112
2018  534  17/0   .305  .273    8/81   46/26/28  35   120   91/101   14%   84
2019   99   2/1   .354  .281    7/80   46/28/26  43    98   82/65    10%   92 

Some good fortune on balls in play is driving much of his success:

  • Martinez has always parlayed his line drive stroke into a high hit rate and a batting average that exceeds his xBA, but balls are finding holes at an unsustainable clip in 2019. The gap between his BA and xBA is sure to close.
  • He's shown slightly above-average power the last couple of seasons, but the power potential has been capped by a low fly ball rate. So far in 2019, he's not hitting the ball nearly as hard, and is getting the ball in the air even less, which obviously doesn't bode well for his power production.
  • He has shown decent speed in the past, leading to double-digit steals as recently as 2016. However, the 30-year-old has lost a step, and any value he provides on the bases is simply an added bonus.

Martinez has played his way into a larger role for the time being, but a sky-high hit rate has been the primary factor in his success so far, while his skills have actually taken a step back. Owners can count on a strong batting average, and the sample in 2019 is still fairly small, so a rebound to his respectable 2018 level of power is quite possible. But Martinez is playing over his head right now, and when the luck dries up, his playing time is likely to fall off as well.

 

Dietrich on a roll... Derek Dietrich (OF, CIN) is enjoying his first season with the Reds, as he's already up to nine home runs in just 73 at-bats. He teased with a solid first half in 2018 (.292/.350/.472 with 11 HR) before falling off a cliff in the second half (.228/.304/.353). Can he continue to produce this time around?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====
2015* 442  15  .241  .243   7    74  37/20/43  30   112  125/159   12%
2016  351   7  .279  .245   8    76  40/22/38  35    86   93/99     7%
2017  406  13  .249  .252   8    76  37/23/41  30    98  102/106   10%
2018  499  16  .265  .240   5    72  41/23/36  34    97  103/88    12%
2019   73   9  .247  .306   8    78  35/16/49  19   113  192/168   32%
*Includes MLEs

Dietrich is doing things he's never done before: 

  • He's taken a major step forward with his power numbers, which includes a significant jump in his fly ball rate, as well as his launch angle, which has risen to 18.6 degrees, 3.3 above his total for the Statcast era (2015-19). His HctX is far from elite, though, and Baseball Savant has him ranking in the 26th percentile in terms of Hard Hit %.
  • He's getting a major park boost this season, going from a venue that reduces LHB home runs by 16% to one that increases it by 24%. Even so, a home run per fly ball rate that is higher than his past three years combined seems unsustainable.
  • His batting average has slipped back into the .240's, which is in line with his xBA history. However, a reduction in his strikeouts and improved batted ball quality shows he's deserved a better fate, only to be dragged down by an extremely low hit rate. 

Dietrich wasn't expected to see a lot of playing time this season, but the combination of an injury to Scooter Gennett, the struggles of Jose Peraza, and Dietrich's versatility and hot hitting have gotten his bat in the lineup regularly against right-handers. His increased fly ball rate and launch angle suggest he's trying to hit for more power, and the magnitude of his power spike, which coincides with an improved contact rate, has been pretty impressive. Owners can't count on this level of power continuing, but Dietrich has probably shown enough to buy into above average power going forward, and it will likely be accompanied by a higher batting average as well. Ride him while he's hot and getting consistent playing time, but unless he continues to greatly exceed expectations, the at-bats may be much harder to come by once Gennett is back in the mix.

 

Can Gausman get back on track?... Kevin Gausman (RHP, ATL) put up a sub-3.00 ERA in his 10 starts with the Braves in 2018, though the skills during that time, which included an 18% K% and 6.6 Dom, didn't really support that level of success. Now seven starts into his 2019 campaign, he's sitting on a 5.00 ERA. So is it time to cut bait, and give up on the long-awaited Gausman breakout?  

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK/SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  =======  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2015* 130  4.28  4.42  2.5   8.2  3.3  55%/12%  95.3  44/17/38  30/72   13%   74
2016  180  3.61  3.86  2.4   8.7  3.7  57%/11%  94.7  44/21/35  32/78   15%  115
2017  187  4.68  4.44  3.4   8.6  2.5  60%/11%  95.0  43/22/35  34/73   15%   84
2018  184  3.92  4.21  2.5   7.3  3.0  57%/12%  93.6  46/21/33  31/75   14%   88
2019   36  5.00  3.98  3.8  10.0  2.7  61%/14%  93.9  40/20/40  29/63   14%   97
*Includes MLEs

Gausman should be worth holding onto:

  • His splitter is his best swing-and-miss pitch, and he has significantly bumped up it's usage since joining the Braves. He's throwing the pitch 39% of the time in 2019, with a 19% SwK on this pitch, which has led to the highest SwK of his career to this point.
  • He is walking more batters than usual, and it wouldn't be too surprising if more splitters, which are often out of the zone, led to a slight increase in walks. However, his FpK checks in slightly below league average, and better than his 58% career mark, while his Zone% is in line with his norm (44.2% vs 44.1% career), so he's likely to improve his Ctl as the sample grows.
  • He's been roughed up to the tune of a .277/.379/.553 line with runners on base, which has led to a very low strand rate, and a large gap between his ERA and xERA. 
  • He is allowing a few more fly balls than usual this season, and his home run per fly ball rate remains steady as ever. Homers have always been a bit of an issue with Gausman, and that will likely continue to be the case.

Gausman's ERA with Atlanta late last year was artificially low, but the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction in 2019. He's generating more whiffs and striking out 26% of batters, but he's been hurt by a low strand rate. Gausman doesn't appear to have the type of upside that many thought he would offer, but he can certainly be a serviceable starter, and perhaps a better than expected source of strikeouts. Now may be a good time to buy in if his current owner is growing frustrated with him.


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