FACTS/FLUKES: Rizzo, McNeil, Quintana, V. Robles, J. Vargas

Rizzo restores power … Anthony Rizzo (1B, CHC) had a fine 2018 season, but his string of four consecutive 30+ HR seasons came to an end as he finished the year with 25 HR. Through 398 AB in 2019, he has left the yard 21 times while sporting essentially the same batting average.  Have his underlying skills changed?

Year   AB    BA/xBA  bb% ct% HctX  h%  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ========= === === ====  ==  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2013  606  .233/.269  11  79  112  26  43/20/38  130/124   13%    69/7%  23/ 6
2014  524  .286/.286  12  78  106  31  36/22/42  164/135   19%    75/6%  32/ 5
2015  586  .278/.285  12  82  120  29  35/22/44  143/130   15%   77/14%  31/17
2016  583  .292/.293  11  81  113  31  38/20/41  145/120   16%    73/5%  32/ 3
2017  572  .273/.291  13  84  117  28  41/20/39  119/107   17%    70/8%  32/10
2018  566  .283/.286  11  86  108  29  38/25/37  100/ 93   14%    76/6%  25/ 6
2019  401  .284/.296  11  82  112  30  43/24/33  113/107   19%    70/6%  21/ 5

Yes, there have been a few differences:

  • Though his ct% has slipped slightly from 2018, it’s right in line with his career 81% ct%, and his line drive stroke remains intact. Additionally, his BA/xBA fits with his track record, so there’s no reason to worry here.
  • He continues to display excellent plate skills, as his 0.72 Eye ranks 16th among qualified MLB batters in 2019 (lifetime: 0.70 Eye).
  • The power metrics are a bit of a mixed bag as his xPX has rebounded and his 327 foot average flyball distance and 93.1 mph flyball exit velocity have never been higher in the Statcast era (previous highs: 318 feet/92.4 mph in 2017), but his FB% has shrunk for the fourth straight season. That puts greater reliance on the whims of hr/f.
  • He owns subpar speed, but is on track to chip in another 6-8 SB.

Rizzo has been one of the game’s steadiest performers over the past several years, delivering at least $24 R$ in each season from 2014-18, and he’s on track to do so again in 2019. Looking ahead to 2020, there is still some reason for concern with regard to his ability to post another 30 HR season given his downward trend in FB% and that we can’t count on the spikes in average flyball distance and flyball exit velocity to stick. However, the 29-year-old’s plate skills and line drive stroke should keep in BA in good shape, even if it comes with closer to 25 HR. In other words, consider a repeat of 2018 to be the floor in 2020.

 

McNeil displays enhanced power … This has been a breakout season for Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF, NYM) as he currently leads all of MLB in batting average through 380 AB. He has also shown much more power since the end of May, launching 13 of his 15 HR in his last 215 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
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  ======  ====  ======= 
2018* 564  16/11  .292  .270    7/86   39/22/40  32    96  92/103    4%  141/8%
2019  380  15/ 4  .339  .297    6/85   42/23/35  37   117  103/95   14%  121/8%
*Includes MLEs

This is a very appealing collection of skills, particularly since June 1:

  • McNeil has featured strong plate skills and a healthy HctX, so he is a legit threat to bat .300+, but the 37% h% figures to regress a little at some point.
  • After posting a rather puny xPX through May, he has improved to 120, 112 and 159, respectively, since. If the xPX gains stick, he carries 25+ HR potential.
  • He possesses decent wheels, but his SB% has fallen from 88% in 2018 to 44% in 2019. If he could just post a league average SB%, he could have a shot at double-digit SB in 2020.

McNeil is probably at his peak batting average right now, but these skills say he’ll continue to be a major batting average asset. The increased pop he has shown over the past two-plus months is intriguing as it would raise his HR ceiling far beyond what it was heading into 2019. The steals are a nice bonus, but reaching double-digits isn’t out of the question if he can regain something closer to his previous SB%. Add it all up and the 27-year-old should continue to provide plenty of fantasy value.

 

Quintana fades after promising April … When we last checked in with Jose Quintana (LHP, CHC) he owned a 3.48 ERA and 10.2 Dom through 34 IP as the much talked about adjustments both from the final two months of 2018 and offseason seemed to be paying dividends. However, he has since posted a 4.50 ERA and 6.8 Dom in 96 IP. What changed?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  200  3.32  3.51  2.3  8.0  3.4  66%   9%  45/22/33  33/73    5%  104
2015  206  3.36  3.60  1.9  7.7  4.0  69%   9%  47/23/30  33/75    9%  112
2016  208  3.20  4.02  2.2  7.8  3.6  65%   8%  40/21/39  30/76   10%  101
2017  189  4.15  3.72  2.9  9.9  3.4  67%   9%  45/21/34  31/69   13%  122
2018  174  4.03  4.27  3.5  8.2  2.3  65%   8%  43/22/34  29/74   15%   73
2019  130  4.23  4.49  2.4  7.6  3.1  63%   9%  43/24/34  31/70   12%   93  

The early gains didn’t last:

  • After posting a 12% SwK through the end of April, he posted an 8% SwK in the three months that followed, so it’s no wonder his Dom has dwindled far below average. His curve and change-up were vastly improved in April, but have since receded to a couple ticks below 2018 levels, dropping from a 17% SwK to an 11% SwK and 17% SwK to 10% SwK, respectively. 
  • His Ctl has worsened since April, but it remains in good shape (MLB average: 2.9). However, it’s worth noting that his Ball% has risen from 36.1% through the end of April to 38.0% from that point forward, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his Ctl move closer to his 2017-18 level (3.2 xCtl).
  • He did a great job keeping the ball on the ground in the early going, but couldn't sustain it. According to Statcast, Quintana ranks in the 28th percentile in exit velocity allowed and the 41st percentile in HH% allowed. A touch of hr/f luck has helped him limit the damage.

The fast start to 2019 gave Quintana some intriguing upside, given the mechanical adjustments he made in the second half of 2018, his offseason work to upgrade his change-up and his stated goal of using it more often, but it wasn’t to be. The 30-year-old has reverted back to the near MLB-average hurler we thought he was coming into 2019. If the Ctl downside hinted at by Ball% materializes, his ERA/WHIP could get even worse.

 

Robles experiences growing pains … Victor Robles (OF, WAS) entered 2019 ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in our preseason HQ100, but his first extended exposure to MLB has unsurprisingly included its share of ups and downs. With 14 HR and 17 SB in 376 AB, he has provided solid fantasy value despite a .237 BA. How are the underlying skills?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2017# 139  .307   N/A    7   83   N/A     N/A     91/N/A   N/A  118/N/A   3/10
17MLB  24  .250  .249    0   75    96  53/12/35  105/135    0%  162/33%   0/ 0
2018+ 158  .264   N/A    9   83   N/A     N/A     68/N/A   N/A  115/N/A   2/13
18MLB  59  .288  .262    6   80   104  27/24/49  129/106   14%  133/36%   3/ 3
2019  376  .237  .240    5   72    59  38/22/40    99/67   14%  136/30%  14/17 
#Double-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

On the whole, a bit disappointing:

  • Opposing pitchers have found and exploited holes in his swing, leading to a substantial drop in ct%.
  • The quality of contact has also been greatly diminished, as evidenced by HctX. Plus, according to Statcast, his 80.9 mph exit velocity ranks in the 0th percentile and his 23% HH% ranks in the bottom 3% of the MLB. Between that and the decreased ct%, it’s easy to see why his BA and xBA have crashed.
  • The PX/xPX gap suggests he has been a tad fortunate with hr/f.
  • Elite speed and lots of greenlights bodes well for his SB potential. Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, a 30-40 SB season could be within reach, but it hinges upon his ability to reach base at a higher clip.

Robles is on track to make a run at a 20 HR/25 SB season, which is no small feat, particularly for a rookie. However, it’s clear that the 22-year-old has work to do in order to reach his full upside, specifically with regard to increasing his ct% and making better contact. While his future remains bright, we must remember that prospect development isn’t linear.

 

Vargas outpacing his skills … 2018 was a year to forget for Jason Vargas (LHP, PHI) as he logged a 5.77 ERA in 92 IP, but he has bounced back with a 4.09 ERA through 106 IP in 2019. What should we expect going forward, given his recent trade to hitter-friendly Philadelphia?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2014  187  3.71  4.13  2.0  6.2  3.1  38/23/39  31/74    8%  63%   9%   74
2015   43  3.98  4.71  2.5  5.7  2.3  41/19/40  30/74    9%  65%   8%   53
2016   12  2.25  4.17  2.3  8.3  3.7  36/15/48  23/80    6%  64%  11%  102
2017  180  4.16  4.88  2.9  6.7  2.3  40/19/40  29/74   12%  66%  10%   60
2018   92  5.77  4.46  2.9  8.2  2.8  39/21/39  32/63   17%  64%  11%   86
2019  106  4.09  5.13  3.7  7.4  2.0  40/18/42  26/72   12%  58%  10%   52

The underlying metrics indicate a rocky road ahead:

  • A subpar FpK and Ball% show that his poor Ctl is unlikely to improve (3.5 xCtl). Vargas is just shy of the amount of IP needed to qualify for the leaderboard, but only six qualified MLB starters have a higher BB% than his 9.7% mark (MLB average: 7.7%).
  • Coupled with a below average Dom, he’s left with Cmd that would rank as 8th worst among qualified starting pitchers in 2019 (MLB average: 2.9 Cmd).
  • He has been aided by a fortuitous H% and a little hr/f luck in 2019.
  • His velocity has fallen 1.9 mph to a career-low 84.5 mph, which leaves him little margin for error.

Vargas is the epitome of a crafty veteran, as he tries to work around strikingly low velocity. The 36-year-old is hanging on to MLB fifth starter status, but declining skills say that grip is quite tenuous. The move to hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park (+25% LHB HR; +24% RHB HR) isn’t a good fit, at least on paper, so he figures to have a tough time over the rest of 2019.


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