FACTS/FLUKES: Guerrero, Choi, Hendriks, Magill, G. Sanchez

Hype train, take two... Vladimir Guerrero (3B, TOR) didn't live up to the extreme hype in 2019. However, it was still a respectable season for a rookie.   Was there anything in his big league performance to suggest his breakout will come in 2020?

Year    AB  HR xHR   BA XBA   OPS  BB CT Eye  HctX  H%  GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF  QBaB
=====  ===  == ===  === ===  ====  == == ===  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===  ====
2018*  378  19  -   383      1072   9 89 .89        39  42 25 33  133            
2019   464  15 17   272 252   772   9 80 .51   97   31  50 17 34   85  89   12   BDD
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H     203   8  9   251 242   742   9 79 .50  103   28  49 17 34   87 105   15   BDc
2H     261   7  9   287 258   795   9 81 .51   92   33  50 18 32   83  77   10   BDd
* MLEs

While his massive potential is still there, it hasn't shown up in his peripherals: 

  • Aside from notable exceptions, he didn't hit the ball hard, and his HctX languished around league average.
  • Contact rate, while solid, has fallen short of expectations set by minor league results.
  • Ground-ball-heavy profile exhibited to date will undermine his power and batting average.

But now we are going to tell you to ignore all of that. Prospect growth isn't linear. He rose to the big leagues at age 20, one of the most hyped prospects of the century, and while he didn't excel, he handled it. If you believed last year, there is nothing here to suggest you shouldn't believe now. Unfortunately, most other owners are hanging in there too, as his ADP this year (57 as of today) is around where he was going last year as well. There are safer picks around there, but none with more upside.

 

Reached his ceiling... Ji-Man Choi (1B, TAM) managed to stay in the majors all season, and put up career highs as a result. His numbers are respectable, but not flashy, especially for a first baseman.  Is there reason to hope for more?

Year    PA  HR xHR   BA XBA  OPS  BB CT Eye  HctX  H%  GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF  QBaB
=====  ===  == ===  === ===  ===  == == ===  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===  ====
2016^  339   9  4   240 247  718  11 77 .55   91   29  45 22 34   99 117   11   CCd
2017^  339  17  2   254 230  826  10 65 .32  119   34  40 20 40  167 178   20   ADa
2018^  458  15 12   250 245  683  13 70 .51  113   32  42 21 38  125 116   14   BCc
2019   487  19 22   261 259  822  13 74 .59  109   31  42 24 35  107 120   18   ACb
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H     271   9 10   261 253  770  11 76 .52  103   31  46 22 31   85  86   16   BCb
2H     216  10 12   261 264  890  16 70 .67  117   32  35 26 39  139 168   20   ABb

^contains MLEs

Choi showed some growth in 2019, and also showed his persistent flaw. The good:

  • Held 2018's walk rate gains while improving ct% for the second straight year.
  • As a result, his Eye climbed to a career high and is now a strength; 2nd half plate skills surged even further.
  • Maintained hard contact, as reflected in above average HctX and very good QBaB.
  • Increased FB rate in 2nd half (and ct% drop), suggests he tried for more power; XPX , xHR say he succeeded.

The flaw, of course, is that he can't hit lefties at all, as his career OPS splits will attest (.584 vL, .844 vR).  At age 29, this is unlikely to change, and will continue to limit his playing time. And while his power metrics have always been strong, he hasn't produced a massive power spike. His peripherals suggest 2019 is about the best one can hope for, barring a bit of batted ball luck.

 

Improving with age... When we last checked in on Liam Hendriks (RHP, OAK), we noted that he was outpacing his skills and his fly ball rate could come back to bite him. What happened since then, and what is the outlook for Oakland's incumbent closer?

Yr  IP  S+H  ERA  xERA   WHP xWHP  H% S%  GB FB  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  Bl SwK  Vel  HRF  BPV
==  ==  ===  ==== ====  ==== ====  == ==  == ==  === ====  ===  == ===  ==== ===  ===
15  65    5  2.92 2.95  1.08 1.04  33 73  46 31  1.5  9.9  6.5  31  12  94.9  5   161
16  65   10  3.76 3.73  1.28 1.12  36 73  40 39  1.9  9.9  5.1  32  12  94.1  8   143
17  64   17  4.22 3.84  1.25 1.21  33 68  42 39  3.2 11.0  3.4  36  13  94.7  10  130
18  24    0  4.13 4.56  1.46 1.38  33 75  40 39  3.8  8.3  2.2  38  11  94.4  11   65
19  85   33  1.80 3.27  0.96 0.99  33 84  31 49  2.2 13.1  5.9  34  18  96.5  6   185
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H  47   10  1.35 4.07  1.05 1.21  30 88  30 52  3.3 11.2  3.4  35  14  95.7  2   120
2H  38   23  2.35 2.43  0.86 0.75  37 79  34 45  0.9 15.5 16.5  32  23  97.4 11   265

He must have read our column and decided the better approach is simply to strike out everybody: 

  • Dom rose to stratospheric levels, backed by surging SwK.
  • Walk rate plummeted to almost nothing, backed by an elite Ball%.
  • The HR/FB luck did revert, but he mitigated it by reducing his FB rate 7 points in the 2nd half, and also by allowing very few balls in play (see bullet #1 above).
  • He finished the year +2 mph on his previous average fastball velocity, including an additional 2nd half surge.

Hendriks's second half was one for the ages. In fact, his velocity has actually been steadily rising since his debut, which is unheard of. Furthermore, of all relievers in the last five years with 30+ IP in a second half, his 2019 ranks 2nd of 254, behind only 2016 Kenley Jansen, and two points clear of 2017 Kimbrel and 2016 Andrew Miller. As the recent fortunes of those three players helps to demonstrate, elite relieving is a volatile business and no one stays at the top forever. However, Hendriks owns those skills now, and he is as good a bet as any to top the list of relievers in 2020. His current projection may prove to be conservative.

 

Can Magill be a saves source?... The previously unremarkable Matt Magill (RHP, SEA) emerged late in 2019 to collect a handful of saves for the sorry Mariners. He is currently the incumbent closer. Does he have the skills to hold onto the job?

Yr  IP   ERA xERA   WHP XWHP  H% S%  GB FB  Ctl Dom   Cmd  Bl SwK  Vel  HRF  BPV
==  ==  ==== ====  ==== ====  == ==  == ==  === ====  ===  == ===  ==== ===  ===
16  56  7.22 7.26  2.00 1.67  37 66  42 37  6.0  7.8  1.3  38  7   92.8  14 -242
17  96  4.39 8.05  1.71 1.59  34 77  43 42  3.8  5.1  1.3  39 
18  57  3.81 4.65  1.43 1.34  31 81  35 43  3.7  8.9  2.4  39 12   94.7  15   74
19  51  4.09 4.19  1.40 1.25  36 75  38 36  3.6 11.4  3.2  35 15   95.2  14  125
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H  26  4.50 4.40  1.42 1.34  35 69  35 34  4.2 10.7  2.6  34 14   95.4   8   94
2H  25  3.65 3.98  1.38 1.16  36 83  41 38  2.9 12.0  4.1  37 16   95.1  19  156

^MLEs
*contains MLEs

There's a lot to like, and one little caveat:

  • Dom improved in the second half, backed with strong SwK.
  • Strand rate helped him, but was balanced by H% and HR/F misfortune, so xERA and ERA agree.
  • xWHIP was also pummeled by the H% and HR rate.
  • Unfortunately, the Ctl improvements in the 2nd half were not supported by Ball%, which went in the opposite direction and was quite poor.

After a highly suspect early career, the 30-year-old seems to have found a recipe for success. After coming to Seattle in a July trade, he also moved his release point slightly, coming slightly more over the top, which changed the movement on his pitches. He also started throwing his four-seam fastball more and slider and curve less, locating his fastball up in the zone more (37% pre-trade, 40% post-trade). It all added up to better results on his breaking pitches:

         - Usage --    -Vert Mov-    -- SwK% --
Pitch    Pre   Post    Pre   Post    Pre   Post
=======  ====  ====    ====  ====    ====  ====
4-seam    47    57       9    10      13    13    
Slider    29    24       0    -2      18    24    
Curve     24    20      -6    -3      13    18      

(Note: his slider and curve are now very similar in movement and velocity, to the point where there may not be a functional difference between the two).

All of this is to say: there are some underpinnings to his recent skills improvement, but he still needs to find the plate more, or else walks could limit his tenure as a closer.

 

Singular power for a catcher... Gary Sanchez (C, NYY) has lost time to groin injuries the last two seasons, and (perhaps as a result) hasn't lived up to the power and batting average promised by his first 700 PAs. Is there anything in recent results to suggest a turnaround? 

Year   PA   HR xHR   BA XBA  OPS  BB CT Eye  HctX  H%  GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF  QBaB
=====  ===  == ===  === ===  ===  == == ===  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===  ====
2016^  532  31  17  275 288  864   8 78 .40   132  30  49 16 34  150 159   40   ADd
2017   525  33  31  278 275  876   8 75 .33   111  31  42 21 37  140 114   25   BCc
2018^  402  22  23  184 241  696  11 70 .44    91  19  43 14 43  147 115   18   BBf
2019   446  34  36  232 252  841   9 68 .32   100  24  32 20 48  156 140   26   AAf
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H     238  23  27  261 266  918   8 71 .31   115  27  29 21 51  168 170   27   AAd
2H     158  11   9  190 232  727  10 65 .33    77  21  38 19 43  138  92   25   CBf

^contains MLEs

There are some positive signs, if he can ever stay healthy:

  • While HctX was merely average for the season, in the first half before the injuries bit, QBaB shows he had an elite combination of Exit Velocity and Launch Angle.
  • All that hard contact and a healthy fly ball rate fed his xPX, which fully supported that PX.
  • Once things starting going awry, his contact rate plunged, and hard contact with it, and that destroyed xPX.
  • Compounding those second half struggles was a lowly 21% hit rate, perhaps not totally undeserved given his falling HctX, and high launch angle variability (the "f" in QBaB score).

If we grant him the benefit of the doubt regarding injuries, we can conclude he still has the skills that made him an elite bat in 2016-2017. But if we do that, it's only fair to grant also that he is likely never going to stay healthy for a whole season as long as he is still catching. Few catchers do, but even fewer can hit like Sanchez: in the catching landscape, his power is unique. Draft for 2019, hope for good health, and make sure you draft a backup catcher you trust.

 
Note: For full explanation of batter QBaB scores, refer to this recent research piece.
 

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