SPECULATOR: Mining the Leading Indicators section for fun and profit

(BaseballHQ.com co-GM Ray Murphy fills in for regular Speculator columnist Ryan Bloomfield this week, as Ryan takes time away to welcome his newborn son. Congratulations, Ryan!)

Back when I was speculating in this space full-time, one of my go-to sources for inspiration was the Leading Indicators section of our site. We have a "teach you to fish" philosophy around here, but we also understand that sometimes you just need some darn fish right now. That's where these canned reports come in, with lists of top skills, surgers, and faders by category just a click away.

Here are some names that jumped out as I was surfing these lists this week:

Top Skills - Batting Average (AL)

This is a list populated with some pretty accomplished hitters (and a couple of sample-size flukes), so the presence of Michael Chavis (IF, BOS) here seems notable. Admittedly, per the report criteria, Chavis is sneaking in the back door a bit; riding his impressive power/speed combo to cover up (at least so far) his plate control issues. But regardless of how he got here, this is some impressive company, and may assuage concerns about a summer fade from Chavis.

Top Skills - Batting Average (NL)

Again, this is a list that you very much want to be on, and Jose Iglesias (SS, CIN) seems like a bit of an anomaly, at least in terms of pedigree. But there he is with a .301 xBA. He still doesn't offer much in the way of power or speed, but in this day and age a BA salve is always a nice thing to find. And even as the AB competition in Cincinnati gets tighter as Scooter Gennett's return nears, Iglesias's combo of elite defense at SS and an increasingly competent plate presence could be enough to secure regular AB over the balance of the season.

Potential Surgers - Power (AL)

A short list, with only two entries. The relevant one is Rowdy Tellez (1B, TOR). The arrows here don't all point to a power surge, but there are signs: specifically the power skill is already in evidence, dating back to late last season. What's holding him back is a low (36%) fly-ball rate. The good news in that limitation, though, is that he isn't pounding balls into the ground: he also sports a nice 26% line-drive rate. That's nice for three reasons: line drives can, unlike ground balls, actually clear the fence. Plus LDs can more easily turn into fly balls. And finally, LDs are of course good on their own merits, particularly for BA. Rogers Centre is a good place to hit, and Tellez should continue to get opportunities, making him very worthy of speculation.

Potential Surgers - Power (NL)

Another short list, with a couple of prominent names. Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC) seems to be off to his typical start, hitting .215 with 10 HR to date. Under the surface, though, Schwarber seems to be refining his approach to maximize his power. His FB% is up a few ticks, which has boosted his xPX up to near-elite levels (148). The only reason his HR total hasn't jumped accordingly is that his hr/f is down from historical levels. If that rebounds (and it should as the weather warms in Chicago), Schwarber could yet take a run at 35 HR.

Potential Surgers - Speed (AL)

JaCoby Jones (OF, DET) qualifies for this list, which isn't the only reason he's an interesting below-the-radar target right now. He's demonstrated some power/speed intrigue in the past, with an associated BA penalty. But if you squint, there are some signs that he's getting a bit more control of the strike zone this year: he nearly doubled his bb% to 9% in May, and his ct% ticked up a couple of points at the same time. It might be notable that he's getting a bit more patient as DET leaves him in the lineup, removing some of the pressure to hack his way into the next day's lineup. Adding some OBP, some more contact, and some more job security to the power/speed foundation here could just make Jones a nice asset for the rest of the season.

Potential Surgers - Speed (NL)

Like Jones above, Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL) qualifies for the speed surger list, but isn't a pure speed play. He's making his own gains at the plate, in particular in the complementary areas of more contact, and significantly more hard contact. That of course feeds the virtuous cycle of more trips to first base, which in turn yield more running opportunities and just more cross-category production in general. Notably, the rise in hard contact so far hasn't moved the needle on Swanson's BABIP. If that finally happens, he could see even more across-the-board gains over the balance of the year.

Saves at Risk (AL)

Blake Treinen (RHP, OAK) isn't a name that's likely front-of-mind as a potentially-faltering closer, but his presence on this report underscores how shaky his skills have been. He did have a brief scare regarding the health of his elbow earlier in the season, and these diminished skills may just be highlighting that he's pitching through an ongoing issue there. Regardless, it's a good reminder that Treinen owners and saves prospectors in general should look at stashing Lou Trivino or perhaps even Joakim Soria.

Top Skills - SP (NL)

Here's a great example of a report where we need to recalibrate the filters for today's high-strikeout environment. This report is identifying "top skills" with a clip level of 5.6 K/9. Ha! Still, since the report is sorted by xERA, it's still a very useful scan of pitchers who are showing good skills. And you don't get too far from the top of the list before you come across a couple of surprising CIN pitchers: Tyler Mahle and Sonny Gray. Gray has the better ERA to date, but Mahle has flashed the better skill set—and his skills have been even better over the past month. We'll have more to say about at least one of these guys in the near future (watch the Fact/Fluke Spotlight series), but this report flags them both as promising targets if your league has been slow to pounce on them.

 

The Speculator is not designed to make definitive assertions about the future; rather, it is designed solely to open reader's eyes to possibilities they may not have previously entertained, and in doing so, provide a different perspective on the future. Many of the possibilities will be of the "out on a limb" variety. All are founded on SOME element of fact. But none should be considered any more than 20% percentage plays.


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