FACTS/FLUKES: Jimenez, Choi, Crawford, Kikuchi, Wacha

Jiménez keeps mashing ... Eloy Jiménez (OF, CHW) put together an excellent 2020 campaign, finishing with a .296 batting average and 14 home runs in the shortened season. Fantasy managers seem to be expecting a repeat performance, as his NFBC ADP since January 1st sits at 37. Let's dig in to help determine if he's worth such an early pick.

Year   PA  HR  xHR    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX  Brl%   PX  xPX  HR/F
====  ===  ==  ===  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====
2018* 446  21  N/A  .315   N/A    7/81      N/A    35   N/A   N/A  128  N/A   N/A   
2019  526  32   30  .268  .255    6/71   48/18/34  31    94   13%  128  102   27%
2020  226  14   15  .296  .268    5/74   52/20/28  34   132   16%  150  125   31%
*MLEs

Jiménez packs some serious power:

  • He hits the ball on the ground at a high rate for a power hitter, but when he gets in the air, it is with authority. He ranked 8th in the league in average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, and his lofty HR/F has been supported by xHR/F in both seasons (26% in '19, 33% in '20).
  • His Brl% ranked in the 96th percentile (per Statcast), while his Hard Hit % was even better, finishing in the 98th percentile. The one stat that doesn't support the monster power numbers is his average home run distance of 393 feet, which ranked 110th among qualified hitters, though it was 409 feet in 2019.
  • The high contact rate he displayed in the minors in 2018 didn't carry over to the majors, but he did cut down on the strikeouts a bit in year two. Another near-.300 BA may be tough to pull off again, but given the amount of quality contact he makes, he's a good bet to finish with a .280-plus mark in 2021.

Jiménez has been an excellent power source in his first two big-league seasons and was even a big-time BA asset in 2020. The average is likely to drop a little, but he should still help in the category, while adding plenty of runs and RBIs in the middle of a loaded White Sox lineup. Jiménez doesn't run but will be a high-end four-category performer, and a small uptick in fly balls could yield 40-plus homers in 2021.


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Look to Choi for late power ... Ji-Man Choi (1B, TAM) suffered through a disappointing 2020 season, one in which his power dropped off, and a hamstring injury ended his season a few weeks early. Is a rebound likely in 2021?

Year   PA  HR  xHR    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   HctX/PX/xPX  Brl%  HR/F
====  ===  ==  ===  =========  =======  ========  ===========  ====  ====
2018* 458  15  N/A  .250/.245   13/70   43/21/35  113/125/116   12%   21%
2019  487  19   23  .261/.258   13/74   42/24/35  109/107/120   11%   18%
2020  145   3    3  .230/.242   14/70   39/20/40   99/130/100    8%    8% 
*Includes MLEs

Choi's power skills fell off in 2020:

  • He got the ball in the air a little more but didn't make as much quality contact as the previous two seasons. He had a total of just three barrels, and his xSlg from Statcast was all the way down to the 4th percentile (.307), after ranking in the 76th percentile in 2019.
  • His contact rate took a hit, thanks in part to eight of his 17 at-bats vs lefties ending in a strikeout. Against right-handers, his 73 percent contact rate was right in line with the previous two seasons, and he maintained a solid 131 PX as well.
  • Choi still drew walks at a very high rate, and despite the low batting average, got on base at a respectable .331 clip.

Choi fell short of expectations, but the sample was small, and after his regular season was cut short, he returned to hit .250/.412/425 in 51 post-season plate appearances. He can't be counted on to play very much against left-handers, against whom he owns a .574 career OPS, albeit with a 22 percent hit rate. Choi is likely to play regularly vs RHP, and his career .257/.356/.478 line (and 35 HR) in 857 plate appearances against them holds more weight than his 2020 numbers alone and suggests he should produce at a high level. With an ADP beyond pick 500 in January NFBC drafts, Choi makes for an attractive cheap source of power.

 

Can Crawford put it together? ... J.P. Crawford (SS, SEA) was strong out of the gate in 2020, as he went 11-for-28 with a couple steals in his first eight games. But then the calendar turned to August, and he limped to a .233/.305/.301 line across his final 197 plate appearances. Is there reason to believe he can take a step forward in his age 26 season?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   HctX/PX/xPX  Spd/SBA%/SB%
====  ===  =====  =========  =======  ========  ===========  ============
2017* 631  14/5   .223/.240   14/76   31/27/43    44/81/20    142/5%/56% 
2018* 199   4/3   .220/.220    9/68   38/23/39    64/102/74   137/7%/100%
2019* 527   9/7   .236/.242   11/75   45/20/35    74/79/69    119/8%/71%
2020  232   2/6   .255/.240   10/81   44/23/33    96/46/83    150/13%/67%
*Includes MLEs

Despite the struggles, the arrow seems to be pointing up on Crawford's fantasy value:

  • His contact rate is headed in the right direction, and his SwStr% was 18th lowest in the league in 2020 among 142 qualified hitters. He doesn't chase many pitches out of the zone (23.0% career O-Swing) and Z-Contact% is on the rise (89.1% in 2020). So while xBA doesn't suggest he'll be a BA asset, he shouldn't be a complete drag.
  • He has always possessed excellent speed but hasn't been the most efficient base stealer, as shown by his 67 percent success rate (71 for 106) in the minors. His SBA% is trending up, though, and the Mariners ranked 3rd in attempts in 2020, so he should reach double-digit steals in 2021.
  • He continues to draw his fair share of walks, which gives his value a boost in OBP leagues, and gives him opportunities to run.
  • Though he only hit two homers last season, Crawford's HctX and xPX did show signs of life. The declining fly ball rate may not be a bad thing, since power isn't a big part of his game, but he could pop 10-12 home runs if he does get the ball in the air a little more often.

Crawford is a former top prospect who hasn't lived up to the hype to this point in his career. There are some flaws in his game, as he doesn't hit for average or power, but he brings to the table outstanding speed, strong defense, and an improving plate approach. Crawford is expected to hit at the top of the lineup for the Mariners in 2021, and if your team is in need of runs and/or steals late in the draft, he makes for an intriguing target.

 

Is Kikuchi worth targeting? ... Yusei Kikuchi (LHP, SEA) has had his fair share of struggles during his first two seasons in the majors, as both have ended with an ERA over 5.00. Is there reason to believe he can post better results in year three?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%   SwK    Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  HR/F  xHR/F  BPX
====  ===  =========  =======  =====  ====  ========  =====  ====  =====  ===
2016* 143  3.20/3.86  14%/20%   N/A   N/A     N/A     29/80   N/A   N/A    73 
2017* 188  2.44/2.78   8%/29%   N/A   N/A     N/A     24/85   N/A   N/A   129
2018* 164  3.82/3.70   9%/22%   N/A   N/A     N/A     25/73   N/A   N/A    79
2019  162  5.46/5.30   7%/16%   8.9%  92.5  44/21/35  32/70   19%   15%    69   
2020   47  5.17/3.93  10%/24%  12.8%  95.0  52/23/25  31/59    9%    9%   100
*MLEs

The 2020 velocity bump has us intrigued:

  • Kikuchi added 2.5 MPH to his average fastball velocity, his Z-Contact% dropped from 89.3% to 81.0%, and both his K% and SwK shot up dramatically. He ditched the curve, which had been very ineffective in 2019, and all four of his pitches (including a new cutter) induced whiffs at a 12 percent or better clip.
  • He did issue walks at a very high rate, and his xBB% was identical to his BB% of 10%.
  • Keeping the ball on the ground helped solve the previous year's home run issues (2.0 HR/9), as he limited opposing hitters to just three home runs and five barrels all season. His HR/F was fully supported by xHR/F, but odds are, fly balls will leave the park at a slightly higher rate against him in 2021.

Kikuchi's surface stats in the majors have been underwhelming, but he showed some promising signs during the abbreviated 2020 season. He had a lot more zip on his fastball, missed bats at a much higher rate, and significantly reduced the hard contact against him, which helped him solve the home run issues that plagued him in 2019. If the velocity gains stick, a sub-4.00 ERA is firmly in play, making Kikuchi an appealing target when filling out your staff. 

 

Can Wacha rebound? ... Michael Wacha (RHP, TAM) had a rough season with the Mets, as once again battled shoulder issues, and he posted an ugly 6.62 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) that totaled 34 innings. After landing in Tampa on a one-year deal, do the skills show any hope for a bounceback season?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%  xBB%   SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  HR/F  xHR/F  BPX
====  ===  =========  =======  ====  ====  ====  ========  =====  ====  =====  ===
2016  138  5.09/4.30   7%/19%   8%    8.7  93.2  47/24/30  34/67   12%   13%    95
2017  166  4.13/3.99   8%/23%  10%   10.0  95.1  48/21/31  33/72   12%   12%   120
2018   84  3.20/4.24  10%/20%  11%   10.2  93.5  43/29/27  26/78   14%   18%    62
2019  127  4.76/4.99  10%/19%  10%   10.1  93.1  48/22/30  32/76   22%   22%    58
2020   34  6.62/4.53   4%/24%   8%   12.0  93.6  36/23/41  39/64   20%   15%   112

Don't dismiss the possibility of Wacha holding some value in 2021:

  • He recorded the highest SwK of his career and highest K% since his debut back in 2013. Scrapping the curve and throwing more changeups (22% SwK in '20) led to more whiffs, but the right-hander hasn't found another pitch he can be consistently effective with.
  • He dished out fewer free passes than ever before, though the sample was quite small, and xBB% was more in line with his career norms. 
  • Wacha allowed fly balls at a career-high rate in 2020, which, combined with a 16th percentile Hard Hit % led to some issues with the long ball. 
  • There's no denying he was pretty unlucky last season. His ERA was more than two runs higher than xERA, as H% and S% fortunes worked against him, and HR/F was quite a bit higher than xHR/F.

Wacha's surface stats were awful in 2020, but beneath the hood, the skills showed some signs of life, particularly the jump in swings and misses. He can't be counted on for a real heavy workload, as he has a history of shoulder problems, and he topped four innings in just three of his seven starts a season ago. But Wacha would seem to be a logical choice to come in after an opener, a role the Rays often deploy, at which point he wouldn't have to go a full five frames to qualify for a win. He doesn't offer a great deal of upside, but if the SwK gains hold, Wacha could turn a decent profit on his draft day cost, which is very low at this point (489 NFBC Draft Champions ADP in January). 


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