FACTS/FLUKES: Harper, S. Castro, D. Murphy, J. Urias, A. Sanchez

Harper finishes strong in 2019... Bryce Harper (OF, PHI) got off to a slow start by his standards in his first season with the Phillies, but turned it on in the second half, finishing with 35 home runs, 15 steals, and a .260 average. Is that a reasonable expectation heading into 2020?

Year   PA  HR/xHR SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%  FB%  h%  HctX/PX/xPX  HR/F  xHR/F  Spd
====  ===  ====== ==  ====  ====  =======  ===  ==  ===========  ====  =====  ===
2015  654  42/33   6  .330  .309   19/75   39%  37  134/208/161   27%   21%    99   
2016  627  24/24  21  .243  .252   17/77   42%  27  106/117/111   14%   14%    89
2017  492  29/25   4  .319  .293   14/76   38%  36  106/155/105   24%   21%   115
2018  695  34/37  13  .249  .262   19/69   38%  30  108/161/148   23%   25%    82
2019  682  35/40  15  .260  .261   15/69   38%  32  115/145/152   23%   27%    82
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H 19 315  20/21  11  .272  .273   14/71   38%  31  122/152/149   28%   29%   104

Harper showcased his huge upside late in the season:

  • His underlying power numbers were outstanding once again, and he took advantage of a home park that increases LHB HR by 22%, hitting 20 home runs there. Both xHR and xHR/F say it could have been even better, and his second half performance also hints at a return to 40-plus homers.
  • His Statcast numbers are impressive as well, as he ranked in the top six percent of the league with his 14.8 Barrel%, and his xSLG of .548 was 38 points higher than his actual SLG.
  • His strikeouts jumped in 2018, and held steady in 2019, though there was some improvement in the second half. His batting average has really bounced around over the years, but odds are, he's not going to move the needle much in the BA category, and will settle in pretty close to his 2019 number.
  • Harper's Spd score has been down the past two seasons, but he actually ranked in the 80th percentile in sprint speed in 2019, and he was 15-for-18 on the bases (and 28-for-34 past two seasons). He remains a good bet for double-digit stolen bases in 2020. 

Harper shook off a slow start in 2019, and put up big numbers in his first year in Philadelphia. His power numbers remain pretty elite, and he has a hitter-friendly home park working in his favor now as well. Another 40 home run season remains firmly in play, and it would likely be accompanied by double-digit steals, a respectable BA, and strong counting stats in the middle of a good lineup. Harper makes an attractive target in the middle of the second round of 15-team drafts, and stands a decent chance of returning first-round value.

 

Is Castro's big second half a sign of things to come?... A monster second half propelled Starlin Castro (2B, WAS) to a career high in home runs in 2019. He signed a two-year deal with the Nationals in January, and will now have a better lineup around him. Should we expect a repeat performance?

Year   PA  HR/xHR SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%  FB%  h%  HctX  PX/xPX  HR/F  xHR/F  Spd   
====  ===  ====== ==  ====  ====  =======  ===  ==  ====  ======  ====  =====  ===
2016  610  21/20   4  .270  .268   4%/80%  30%  31   101   97/91   15%   14%    89
2017* 505  17/12   2  .299  .263   5%/79%  28%  35    93   84/69   16%   12%   100
2018  647  12/20   6  .278  .253   7%/79%  29%  33   109   77/87    9%   15%   108
2019  676  22/22   2  .270  .265   4%/83%  33%  30   120   82/87   13%   13%    91
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
19 2H 331  17/14   1  .313  .300   4%/83%  35%  33   126  122/103  18%   15%    90     
*Includes MLEs

Castro certainly showed a lot more pop late in the 2019 season:

  • A jump in HctX and xHR in 2018 showed there may be some untapped power potential in his bat, and it really came to fruition during the second half of last year. He hit the ball in the air more than ever before, and made quality contact at an extremely high rate.
  • His contact rate fell under 80% for the first time in 2017, and stayed there the following season. He cut down significantly on the strikeouts in 2019, though, and even if he gives back some of the gains, the career .280 hitter should continue to provide a favorable batting average.
  • After walking at a career high rate in 2018, he became a free swinger once again in 2019, ranking in the bottom three percent of the league in BB%, and finishing with a .300 on-base-percentage. He'll need to reach base at a higher clip in order to lock down a prominent lineup spot.
  • His speed has hovered around league average the past few seasons, but he only stole two bases in 2019, and he has been successful on just eight of 14 attempts over the past two seasons. He'll turn 30 right around Opening Day, and shouldn't be expected to contribute even a handful of steals in 2020.

Castro really stepped up his game during the second half of 2019, and now finds himself in a more potent lineup in Washington. It's a pretty crowded infield, but his offensive skills (minus the BB%) and defensive versatility should allow him to approach the 517 at-bats we are currently projecting for him. Castro offers 2B/3B eligibility in nearly all formats, and should deliver about 20 home runs, along with a strong BA, making him a highly attractive target at his current cost (NFBC ADP of 274).

 

Can Murphy rebound?... Big things were expected of Daniel Murphy (1B, COL) in his first season in Colorado, but he ended up being a major disappointment. A fractured finger during the second game of the season only sidelined him for a few weeks, but probably affected him the rest of the season. Murphy wore a splint on the finger, but never really got back on track, and GM Jeff Bridich recently suggested that he rushed back too quickly. Is a rebound season in store in 2020?

Year   PA  HR/xHR    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  HR/F  xHR/F
====  ===  ======  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =====
2015  538  14/16   .281  .299    6/92   43/21/36  28   124  101/108    8%   10%
2016  582  25/31   .347  .314    6/89   36/22/42  35   138  135/138   12%   15%
2017  593  23/18   .322  .307    9/86   33/28/39  34   124  119/120   13%   10%
2018* 392  13/10   .288  .278    6/88   35/26/39  30    84   82/92    11%    9%
2019  476  13/ 8   .279  .282    7/83   40/24/36  31    88   94/92    10%    6%
*Includes MLEs

Murphy remains a BA asset, but the power is in question:

  • His power metrics were below average for the second straight season, and according to Baseball Savant, his Hard Hit% was in the bottom 11% of the league in both years. 
  • His contact rate was his lowest since his small sample debut in 2008, as his O-Swing% was the highest of his career, and Z-Swing% his lowest mark since 2013. Given his track record of excellent plate discipline, he seems like a good bet to correct those numbers, and get his contact rate back up.
  • His line drive rate remains high, and he plays half his games in a park that increases LHB BA by 18%. Therefore, Murphy can be counted on to provide a strong batting average, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him get back above .300 again.

Murphy had a very disappointing year in 2019, but the early season finger injury likely deserves much of the blame. Murphy still managed to hit .279, even though he struck out at a much higher rate than usual, and he can still be viewed as one of the safest mid-round BA targets. The power is another matter, and considering it has been below average for two straight years, he may not get back to 20-plus home runs. Even so, Murphy's injury-marred 2019 season has his price discounted considerably (NFBC ADP 245), and he should turn a considerable profit if he can stay healthy in 2020.

 

Urias displays rock-solid skills... Julio Urias (LHP, LA) returned from a shoulder injury that essentially wiped out his 2018 campaign, and he recorded a 2.49 ERA in 79.2 innings. Just eight of his 37 appearances came as a starter, but he is expected to serve as a member of the rotation in 2020. Where should owners set expectations?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  Ball%   SwK    Vel    G/L/F   H%/S% HR/F  BPX
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  =====  =====  ====  ========  ===== ====  ===
2016* 122  2.69  3.24  2.8   9.5  3.4   37%   10.7%  92.6  44/27/30  33/80   8%  140 
2017*  55  3.91  2.97  4.4   6.5  1.5   N/A    9.2%  93.1  40/28/32  27/69   4%   84
2018    4  0.00  1.18  0.0  15.8        N/A   22.4%  93.1  50/17/33  19/0    0%  359
2019   80  2.49  4.12  3.1   9.6  3.1   36%   14.4%  95.2  39/22/39  27/81   9%  117
*Includes MLEs

Urias showed off his swing-and-miss stuff in 2019:

  • He generated a lot of whiffs, and when he increased his slider usage in August/September, he bumped the SwK up to 16%.
  • His fly ball rate jumped significantly, but he still didn't have trouble with homers, thanks to his impressive ability to induce soft contact. Of the 436 pitchers with 100-plus batted ball events, Urias was 1st in average exit velocity, 2nd in Hard Hit%, and 3rd in exit velocity on FB/LD (per Baseball Savant).
  • Both his Ball% and 8.3% BB% were right around league average. He dropped the number to 6.4% over his eight starts, though he averaged less than four innings in those appearances.

Urias has a lot of positives working in his favor, as he has pedigree on his side, pitches for one of the best teams in the league, and he's already shown he can miss bats and limit hard contact at the big league level. The skills should be excellent when he's on the mound, but it's unclear how heavy his workload will be. Urias has never topped 122 innings in a season (and that was 2016), didn't work deep into games in 2019, and the Dodgers have a lot of strong options behind him for when they want to manage his innings. His projected value for 2020 depends a lot on league format, but in NFBC leagues (seven man bench, no IL spots), the upside he brings to the table makes him a worthy target at his current ADP of 161. 

 

Can Sanchez continue to outperform peripherals?... After resurrecting his career in 2018, Anibal Sanchez (RHP, WAS) delivered a pretty strong follow-up in 2019, posting a 3.85 ERA across 30 starts. Should prospective owners anticipate similar production from the soon-to-be 36-year-old in 2020?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  Ball%/SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S% HR/F  BPX
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  =========  ====  ========  ===== ====  ===   
2015  157  4.99  4.11  2.8  7.9  2.8   37%/9.8%  91.9  40/21/39  29/66  16%   101
2016  153  5.87  4.59  3.1  7.9  2.5   36%/9.5%  91.1  40/19/41  32/64  16%    91
2017* 121  6.53  7.05  2.6  8.8  3.3  37%/10.2%  90.8  36/25/40  37/66  19%    55
2018  137  2.83  3.75  2.8  8.9  3.2  36%/10.9%  90.7  45/18/37  27/79  11%   125
2019  166  3.85  5.14  3.1  7.3  2.3  36%/10.4%  90.5  38/23/39  28/74  11%    67
*Includes MLEs

The skills didn't quite line up with the results for Sanchez in 2019:

  • His Ball% continues to hover around league average, but walks were a little more of an issue for him in 2019, as his 8.2% BB was his highest mark since 2010.
  • His 18.8% K% was his lowest mark since that same year, though his respectable SwK suggests that a K% slightly over 20% wouldn't have been out of line with his underlying metrics. 
  • After his cutter was pummeled to the tune of a .349 batting average and .652 SLG in 2016-17, albeit with a 44% hit rate, he has turned it into a successful pitch over the past two seasons. He has significantly increased the usage, and held opposing batters to a .211 BA and .352 SLG, though his SwK on the pitch actually dropped (to 9.1%) during the latter time period. 
  • Sanchez allows fly balls at an above average rate, but has done an excellent job limiting hard contact over the past two seasons. He has ranked in the 96th percentile or better in Hard Hit% (per Statcast), along with the 99th percentile in exit velocity in 2018, and 86th percentile in 2019.

Sanchez looked like he was done a couple years ago, but has since turned in back-to-back strong seasons. He has succeeded by limiting hard contact, and judging by his SwK, the Dom should rebound to some extent. However, Sanchez is walking a pretty thin line, as his mediocre swing-and-miss stuff is accompanied by a high fly ball rate and just slightly better than average Ctl. Heed xERA's warning in this case, and look for his ERA to rise above the 4.00 mark, maybe even by a wide margin.


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