FACTS/FLUKES: Soto, Wheeler, Dahl, Eflin, S. Castro

Soto off to a sluggish start … 2018 was a remarkable year for Juan Soto (OF, WAS), as he began the year in Single-A and finished with a .292 BA, 22 HR and 5 SB in 414 MLB AB. However, things haven’t gone as well in 2019. Have there been changes in his underlying skills?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO 
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2018* 445  24/ 6  .293  .277   16   76  54/17/29  34    98  135/105   25%  109/ 5%
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H*   151  10/ 2  .321  .291   15   77  46/21/34  37   110  159/119   26%  109/ 3%
2H    294  14/ 4  .279  .269   16   76  57/16/27  33    92  122/ 98   24%  113/ 6%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2019  146   7/ 3  .253  .247   14   68  43/20/37  32    84  132/131   19%  101/ 7%
*Includes MLEs

Yes, his ct% has slipped, but he has improved in other areas:

  • The increase in strikeouts puts a damper on his BA, and xBA shows the BA decline has been earned.
  • Soto crushed both left-handed and right-handed pitching alike in 2018, but his ct% vs. RHP has fallen from 76% to 67% and his PX has fallen from 143 to 113 in 99 AB.
  • His power skills are markedly better, as his xPX and FB% are both up from 2018, and his Statcast measured Barrel% (from 10% to 13%) and HH% (42% to 44%) are also improved. That should counteract any potential regression from his 2018 hr/f.
  • He has attempted to steal just 10 times in his MLB career, but he has been successful on eight of those tries, including all three stolen base attempts in 2019. Given his average speed and track record, we wouldn’t count on more than an additional five steals over the rest of 2019.

Soto feasted on fastballs in 2018, batting .350 with 20 HR, but the magic hasn’t been there so far in 2019 (.221 BA and 4 HR), as pitchers have thrown him more high fastballs. He has also had greater difficulty with offspeed pitches in 2019, as evidenced by an 11 percentage point increase in Whiff% against them per Statcast, and he has seen more offspeed pitches in two-strike counts. Though it’s obviously a small sample, those issues and the diminished performance against right-handed pitching are certainly worth monitoring. Overall, aside from the decline in ct%, the rest of the talented 20-year-old’s skills remain in fine shape, but it's clear pitchers have made adjustments, so now Soto must counter with his own.

 

Wheeler seems primed for a run … There was a lot of buzz surrounding Zack Wheeler (RHP, NYM) heading into 2019 following a stellar 2.21 ERA and 93 K in 94 IP in the second half of 2018. However, those who drafted him have no doubt been disappointed by his 4.74 ERA through 63 IP. What’s going on here?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  185  3.54  3.37  3.8   9.1  2.4  54%  10%  95.0  54/19/27  31/75   10%   92
2015  Did Not Pitch
2016  Did Not Pitch
2017   86  5.21  4.50  4.2   8.4  2.0  61%  10%  94.6  47/23/30  34/71   19%   64
2018  182  3.31  3.74  2.7   8.8  3.3  62%  11%  95.9  44/20/35  29/72    8%  108
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H 18  94  2.21  3.37  2.2   8.9  4.0  61%  11%  96.4  44/21/35  26/78    6%  123
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2019   63  4.74  3.74  3.3  10.1  3.0  64%  11%  96.8  48/20/32  35/66   11%  118

Wheeler’s skills remain strong:

  • His Dom would be a career-high, but his overall SwK doesn’t fully support it, so barring an increase in SwK, look for a little Dom pullback.
  • Though he has issued free passes at a higher clip, his FpK and 34% Ball% suggests it should improve (2.4 xCtl).
  • The year-over-year increase in velocity as he has gotten further removed from Tommy John surgery is an encouraging sign, particularly considering how heavily he has relied about his fastball (57% usage in 2019).
  • He has also done a better job of keeping the ball on the ground, which should help him limit HR.
  • He has been plagued by some H%/S% misfortune, as evidenced by xERA.

Wheeler had a rough April, posting a 4.70 ERA and walking 16 batters in 31 IP, but it’s worth noting that he was reportedly battling mechanical issues for a chunk of that month. He has displayed electric skills over his last six starts dating back to April 23, including a 10.8 Dom, 2.0 Ctl, 12% SwK, 68% FpK and 47% GB% in 40 IP. Things certainly look to be on the upswing with Wheeler, and with a touch of H%/S% regression, better days should lie ahead.

 

Strikeouts piling up for Dahl … We’ve been waiting on David Dahl (OF, COL) to put together a full season representative of his enticing skill set since he debuted in 2016, but injuries wiped out most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. A tremendous second half of 2018, including a .272 BA, 12 HR and 3 SB in 158 AB, served as a reminder of his potential and made him an appealing post-hype pick for 2019. How are his skills as we approach the end of May?

Year    AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb/ct  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====   ===  =====  ====  ====  =====  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====  =======
2015*  288   5/18  .274   N/A   3/76     N/A    34   N/A   93  N/A   N/A  123/40%
2016^  572  23/19  .313  .274   8/73  45/21/33  39    97  140  100   13%  138/16%
2017*   70   2/1   .229   N/A   3/76     N/A    28   N/A   77  N/A   N/A  140/14%
18 AAA  77   2/1   .286   N/A   1/77     N/A    36   N/A  N/A  N/A   N/A  N/A/ 7%
18 MLB 183  10/5   .273  .272   7/73  39/25/36  33   102  145  126   21%  107/15%
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
18 2H  158  12/3   .272  .288   9/75  37/24/39  29   106  167  122   26%   89/14%
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2019   133   3/1   .293  .253   6/62  42/32/26  45    79  144  122   14%  111/10%
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

A healthy dose of good fortune has masked a concerning escalation in strikeouts:

  • He possesses good power, as evidenced by xPX, but the big drop in FB% has stifled it.
  • He has hit lots of line drives, but the massive decrease in ct% is alarming. A bloated h% has given his BA artificial luster, as illustrated by xBA.
  • Though he has above average wheels, his inefficiency on the basepaths (55% SB% in 11 attempts 2018-19) could eventually prompt a reduction in green lights.

According to Statcast, the percentage of pitches Dahl has chased outside the zone (37%) has only risen one percentage point over 2018, but it’s well above the MLB average of 28% and his Chase Contact% has plummeted from 54% to 47% (MLB average: 60%). While the 25-year-old’s raw power/speed combo is exciting, he’ll have trouble reaching his full potential unless he can tighten up his plate discipline, hit a few more flyballs and improve his efficiency on the basepaths. While the upside is alluring, there is considerable risk, particularly given his “F” health grade in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster.

 

Eflin off to a hot start … Zach Eflin (RHP, PHI) quietly made strides in 2018, amassing a 4.36 ERA and 123 K in 128 IP, and entered 2019 as an intriguing sleeper. He has delivered on that promise with a shiny 2.76 ERA through 62 IP, but can he keep it going?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   vL   Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  BPV
====  ===  =========  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ===
2015* 132  4.09/4.31   N/A  1.5  4.2  2.8  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    30/70   54
2016^ 132  4.67/3.62  .939  2.0  5.5  2.8  62%   6%  92.3  36/24/40  28/62   66
2017^ 108  6.06/6.01  .926  2.3  5.7  2.5  64%   7%  92.7  44/18/38  33/64   29
2018  128  4.36/4.15  .842  2.6  8.6  3.3  65%  11%  94.3  41/21/38  32/70  104
2019   62  2.76/4.37  .740  1.9  6.8  3.6  70%  10%  93.6  44/15/41  28/83   94
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

While he does possess solid skills, they don’t support this level of performance:

  • He experienced an uptick in velocity in 2018 and most of it has stuck around in 2019.
  • That, along with an upgraded slider and change-up, helped spark a spike in SwK/Dom. Though he has given back a sizable portion of those Dom gains, his SwK hints that most of it could return (8.2 xDom).
  • FpK suggested he deserved a better Ctl in 2018 (2.1 xCtl), and he has displayed elite FpK/Ctl so far in 2019.
  • Left-handed batters have given him trouble over the years, but he showed some improvement in 2018 and has carried that positive momentum into 2019. However, it’s worth noting that his Cmd vL has gotten a touch worse (down from 2.7 in 2018 to 2.1) and a 26% H% has also helped his cause in 2019.
  • His S%, and to a lesser extent H%, are both ripe for regression. Heed the warning of that xERA/ERA gap.

Eflin has made substantial progress since 2017, most notably with regards to his ability to miss bats. Meanwhile, his control has ascended from good to elite. If the 25-year-old can regain 2018’s Dom—and his SwK implies he might at least come close—he could provide a near-4.00 ERA and a solid WHIP over the rest of 2019.

 

Low h% holding Castro down … The move from the Yankees to the Marlins ahead of the 2018 season figured to put a damper on Starlin Castro’s (2B, MIA) power and it did, as Castro hit four fewer HR in 2018 despite logging an additional 150 AB, finishing with a .278 BA, 12 HR and 6 SB in 593 AB. He seemed to be a solid bet for similar production in 2019, but through 177 AB, he owns a putrid .226 BA with 3 HR and 1 SB. Is there reason for concern?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%   Eye  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f 
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ====  ========  =======  ==== 
2015  547  .265  .251  11    4   83  0.23    86  54/17/29   70/ 75    8% 
2016  577  .270  .268  21    4   80  0.20   101  49/21/30   97/ 91   15% 
2017  443  .300  .265  16    5   79  0.25    93  52/20/28   85/ 69   16% 
2018  593  .278  .253  12    7   79  0.39   109  51/20/29   77/ 87    9% 
2019  177  .226  .215   3    6   87  0.52   119  58/13/29   29/ 70    7% 

No, his skills have actually improved in a couple areas:

  • His ct% is up significantly and has never been higher. He’s also making more hard contact, as evidenced by HctX and a bump from 36% to 39% in Statcast measured HH% (MLB average: 34%).
  • A low h% has obscured those gains (career: 32% h% in 5,314 AB). Keep in mind that PX is a piece of the xBA formula, so it’s worth noting the wide gap between xPX/PX.
  • The combination of lots of groundballs and below-average power doesn’t bode well for his HR output.

Our own Brandon Kruse summed up Castro well when he described the veteran as “consistently unspectacular”. The 29-year-old was never going to recapture that 2016-17 level, but something close to his 2018 was a fair expectation coming into 2019. The upgraded ct% and uptick in HH% should lead to a BA closer to .260-.270 over the rest of the season, provided he can sustain them, but the slow start and poor surrounding cast has ruled out a full repeat of 2018.


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