FACTS/FLUKES: Strasburg, Soto, C. Walker, Roark, T. Frazier

Strasburg excels … Stephen Strasburg (RHP, WAS) had a bit of a down year in 2018, by his standards, as he amassed a 3.74 ERA in 130 IP. However, he has rebounded with a 3.37 ERA through 134 IP in 2019 and seems poised to potentially log more IP than he has since 2014. Can he keep it going?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ====  === 
2014  215  3.14  2.78  1.8  10.1  5.6  65%  12%  94.8  46/23/31  32/76   13%  158
2015  127  3.46  2.94  1.8  11.0  6.0  66%  12%  95.4  42/23/34  33/72   12%  168
2016  148  3.60  3.34  2.7  11.2  4.2  65%  12%  94.9  40/21/39  31/70   11%  146
2017  175  2.52  3.27  2.4  10.5  4.3  63%  13%  95.6  47/19/34  29/78    9%  148
2018  130  3.74  3.34  2.6  10.8  4.1  61%  12%  94.5  44/22/34  32/74   16%  145
2019  134  3.37  3.16  2.3  10.7  4.7  64%  14%  93.7  51/20/29  31/72   13%  160

These skills are as good as ever:

  • A GB% spike has helped him work out of jams and keep the ball in the yard. Increased usage of both a sinker (up from 7% in 2018 to 19%) and a curve (20% to 31%) has driven the GB% gains.
  • He continues to rack up strikeouts at an elite clip, fully backed by SwK, despite another dip in velocity (career low).
  • He has also done a good job of getting ahead in the count and limiting free passes (MLB average for SP: 2.9 Ctl).

Strasburg’s pitch mix changes have paid off thus far, as he has induced groundballs at his highest rate since 2013 and gotten his HH% back in line with past performance after allowing a career-worst 39% HH% in 2018 (32.6% in 2019) without sacrificing his ability to miss bats. He is the only qualified MLB starting pitcher to post a 50% or better GB% along with a FpK of at least 64% and a SwK of at least 14% in 2019. Given that the 30-year-old has only topped 150 IP in a season once since 2014, there are certainly durability concerns, but he has pitched at an elite level when on the mound.

 

Soto rebounds from sluggish start … When we last checked in with Juan Soto (OF, WAS) he batting just .253 through 146 AB and having increased difficulty with both fastballs and offspeed pitches. Since then, he has a terrific .322/.429/.567 slash line with 10 HR in 180 AB. What changed?

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  326  17/ 6  .291  .271   15   75  43/24/34  35    93  119/117   21%  134/ 6%
*Includes MLEs

He has made necessary adjustments:

  • After posting a 68% ct% through May 23, he has done a much better job of making contact, sporting a 79% ct% in June and 78% ct% in July. He has also upped his LD% from 20% to 26% over the same span.
  • He continues to show great patience at the plate, ranking 9th among qualified MLB batters in bb%. That gives him a boost in OBP leagues.
  • His power skills have also gotten better, including upgrades to xPX and Statcast measured Barrel% and HH%, with the latter two rising slightly from 9.8% and 42.2% in 2018 to 10.7% and 45% in 2019, respectively. He figures to threaten the 30-HR milestone.
  • He doesn’t run often, but he has good speed and has been efficient on the basepaths, swiping six bags in seven tries in 2019 (lifetime: 79% SB%).

As noted back in late-May, Soto had greater difficulty against both fastballs and offspeed pitches over the first couple months of 2019 compared to 2018. The rest of his skills were similar to 2018, so it was just a matter of him countering the adjustments made by opposing pitchers. It’s safe to say Soto has been up to that challenge as he has fared much better since, raising his BA against fastballs from .232 to .300 and he now owns a tremendous .392 BA against offspeed pitches. It’s amazing what Soto has already accomplished, especially considering he won’t turn 21 years of age until late-October.

 

Walker enjoying fine rookie season … Christian Walker (1B, ARI) made his MLB debut in 2014 and had amassed a total 88 career AB prior to 2019, batting just .170 with 6 HR and a whopping 40 strikeouts. However, he has been a pleasant surprise in 2019, compiling a .254 batting average with 19 HR and 6 SB in 339 AB. Do the underlying skills back this level of performance?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR/SB  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  
====  ===  ====  ====  =====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2015+ 534  .243   N/A  19/1    8    72   N/A     N/A    120/N/A   N/A
2016+ 504  .240   N/A  18/1    6    70   N/A     N/A    110/N/A   N/A
2017+ 514  .250   N/A  21/3    7    76   N/A     N/A    117/N/A   N/A
2018+ 324  .219   N/A  10/1    5    66   N/A     N/A    117/N/A   N/A
18MLB  49  .163  .197   3/1    6    55    45  37/11/52  177/111   21%
2019  339  .254  .249  19/6   10    69   120  40/19/41  138/153   20%
+Triple-A MLEs

Yes, for the most part, they do:

  • Power continues to be his best asset, as he has displayed elite xPX while hitting plenty of flyballs. A 30 HR season is well within reach.
  • He has also featured good patience both in the minors and in the majors.
  • Walker has tallied his share of strikeouts, but his BA has remained respectable thanks to the high quality of contact. In addition to HctX, consider his Statcast measured 50% HH% (MLB average: 34.4%) and 91.5 mph exit velocity (MLB average: 87.5 mph). He is also in the top 4% of MLB in Barrel% with a 15.1% mark.
  • He possesses roughly average wheels, but he has chosen his spots to run wisely, having been thrown out just once in seven tries in 2019 and once in eight tries in his MLB career. This gives him an outside shot at reach the 10-SB plateau, but that’s probably his max.

Walker flashed impressive power in his brief MLB stints prior to 2019, but the immense amount of swing-and-miss in his game held him back. The 28-year-old earned a spot on the Opening Day roster with a strong spring and an early April injury to Jake Lamb opened the door for his first extended look at the MLB level. Walker has made the most of the opportunity and the skills suggest he could continue to produce similar numbers over the duration of 2019.

 

Roark outpacing his skills … A December 2018 trade sent Tanner Roark (RHP, CIN) from the Nationals to a much more hitter-friendly home of Cincinnati. Interestingly, he has been able to improve upon the 4.34 ERA he compiled in 2018, sporting a 3.95 ERA through 107 IP. Are the upgraded results rooted in enhanced skills?

Year  IP   ERA   xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV   vL
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====
2015  111  4.38  4.17  2.1  5.7  2.7  48/22/31  30/71   15%  60%   8%   71  .866
2016  210  2.83  4.00  3.1  7.4  2.4  49/20/31  27/79    9%  58%   9%   75  .617
2017  181  4.67  4.21  3.2  8.2  2.6  48/20/32  31/68   14%  59%  10%   89  .836
2018  180  4.34  4.37  2.5  7.3  2.9  41/22/38  30/70   12%  60%   9%   83  .767
2019  107  3.95  4.37  2.9  8.9  3.1  36/28/35  34/75   13%  58%   9%   97  .941

No, he is a prime candidate for regression:

  • A career high Dom jumps off the page, but SwK indicates it is unsustainable (7.5 xDom).
  • He has issued free passes at a slightly higher rate and his FpK says it could get worse (3.2 xCtl).
  • After making progress and improving Cmd to 2.7 vs. left-handed batters in 2018, he has again had difficulty with them in 2019, sporting a 2.0 Cmd and surrendering 10 HR in 226 PA.
  • At first glance, the H% might seem a tad unfortunate, but consider that he has allowed more hard contact than ever before, including lots of line drives, a Statcast measured 38% HH% and 8.6% Barrel% (MLB average: 6.3%).

Despite what on the surface might appear to be progress on the skills front, Roark is essentially the same pitcher. As noted in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster, his ordinary skill set leaves him open to H% and hr/f swings and when his Cmd sub-indicators are considered, his skills have actually been weaker in 2019. His value is limited to deeper leagues and even then, it’s probably best to bench him for home starts (Great American Ball Park: LHB HR: +24%; RHB HR: +17%).

 

Strong June puts Frazier back on map … Todd Frazier (3B, NYM) was an afterthought in fantasy leagues heading into 2019, as evidenced by his 624 ADP, following a dreadful 2018. Injuries to Jed Lowrie created an opportunity for Frazier to see more playing time than expected and he has delivered a .243 BA with 13 HR in 259 AB. How are the underlying skills?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2013  531  19/6   .234  .251    8   76  42/18/40  27   103  121/121   12%   98/9%
2014  597  29/20  .273  .263    8   77  41/22/37  31   114  127/123   17%   93/17%
2015  619  35/13  .255  .273    6   78  33/19/48  28   125  157/155   15%   79/17%
2016  590  40/15  .225  .245   10   72  36/16/49  24    92  142/111   19%   71/15%
2017  472  27/4   .214  .243   14   74  34/18/47  23    96  122/124   16%   75/5%
2018  408  18/9   .213  .228   10   73  36/19/46  25   109  110/132   13%   81/13%
2019  259  13/1   .243  .250    8   75  37/23/40  27    86    97/97   17%  113/5%

It’s a mixed bag:

  • A jump in LD% has given his BA a boost toward respectability following a horrid 2016-18 run.
  • His overall quality of contact has diminished per a subpar HctX and declines in both exit velocity (from 89.6 mph to 87.1 mph) and HH% (from 36.6% to 33.3%). He now ranks in the 22nd percentile in exit velocity and 23rd percentile in HH%.
  • His xPX has also fallen to its lowest point in his career and his average flyball distance of 320 feet (194th in MLB) suggests he has probably been aided by a touch of hr/f luck.
  • After renewed activity on the basepaths in 2018, he has been caught twice in just three attempts in 2019. It’s doubtful he’ll add more than a couple steals to that total by season’s end.

Frazier began 2019 on the injured list with an oblique strain and struggled a bit initially upon late-April return, but rebounded with a terrific June in which he batted .274 with 8 HR in 95 AB. However, his production and skills have again fallen off a cliff in July. The 33-year-old could be somewhat useful in deeper leagues, but that’s about the extent of his fantasy relevance these days.


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