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2022 wRC+ Decliners: Believe or Make Believe?

Kicking off the fantasy baseball offseason a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article analyzing three players that saw a large jump in their wRC+ during the 2022 season. As a follow-up to that article, I decided it would be a good idea to look at three players who saw a large decrease in their wRC+. These three players were all major disappointments in fantasy baseball and analysts must now figure out what the next steps are for these players. Using my xwRC+ model, I look at whether these players were just unlucky or if there is a real reason to be concerned about these players moving forward!

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Javier Baez- 2B/SS Detroit Tigers

Javier Baez has always been a polarizing player. Dating back to when he first debuted, his aggressive approach at the plate led to many skeptics around the league. Despite his always aggressive approach, Baez combined power and speed and was a consistent fantasy asset. This all changed when Baez moved to Detroit. Calling his first season in Detroit a disappointment is an understatement. In 2021, Baez posted a 117 wRC+ between the Cubs and Mets. His first season in Detroit resulted in a 90 wRC+ which is the second lowest of his career. Looking at the model, xwRC+ believes Baez’s season should have been even worse. His xwRC+ for the 2022 season is only 69!

Although many were quick to write off the 2020 season as an anomaly, Baez has now been below average in two of the past three seasons. With Baez’s swing-first approach at the plate, it is really no surprise that xwRC+ does not like his profile. Baez’s 2022 surface statistics are not bad. In 2022, he posted his best strikeout rate since 2016. While this is great, it does not correlate to improvements in his plate discipline. Baez actually posted the worst chase rate of his career up at 47.5%. Not only was it the worst chase rate in baseball, but it was the worst chase rate by 7.5%. The gap between him and the second worst is the same as the gap between the second and 24th. This combined with a. 35.8 whiff percentage (third worst in baseball) helped result in Baez’s 69 xwRC+.

You might be thinking to yourself: “Okay so what? We have known for years that Baez is aggressive at the plate.” This is true, but Baez was able to overcome this with his power and speed. In 2022, Baez posted the second-worst barrel rate of his career. He also posted the second-lowest exit velocity of his career which is part of the reason his power disappeared. The other is his new home ballpark. According to Statcast Park Factors, Comerica Park ranks last in the MLB for home runs. This contributed to Baez’s HR/FB% dropping from 28.2% in 2021 to 12.3% in 2022. The Tigers as a team also ranked 28/30 in team stolen bases. This is not a team that runs frequently enough to help boost Baez’s fantasy value.

Some might be looking at Baez’s second half and thinking that he could be a bounce-back candidate for 2023. I encourage you to dig deeper, as Baez’s results were still barely league average. During the second half, his barrel and chase percentages both got worse. Baez is not a player I am buying back into in 2023 and xwRC+ does not think you should either!

Nick Castellanos – OF Philadelphia Phillies

Before we start with Castellanos, a shameless plug that the Philadelphia Phillies are headed to the World Series! I am just as shocked as everybody else and could not be happier. Enough of that though, the 2022 season was a major disappointment for Nick Castellanos. Many in the fantasy industry viewed Philadelphia as the perfect landing spot for Castellanos to continue his elite fantasy success. Coming off a 139 wRC+ in 2021, Castellanos was a high draft pick in many fantasy leagues. After the 2021 season, xwRC+ had some concerns over Nick saying that he deserved a 116 wRC+ instead of his 139. xwRC+ did not see the 2022 season coming. This year, Castellanos posted the worst wRC+ of his career. As bad as his early years in Detroit. The worst part about this is that his 94 wRC+ in 2022 is backed up by an 80 xwRC+.

Looking at the table below, it is obvious why Castellanos struggled during the 2022 season.

2022 StatisticCareer Rank
Barrel %Worst
Exit VelocityWorst
Sweet Spot %Worst
Pull %3rd Worst
Chase %Worst
Whiff %Second Worst

Castellanos experienced regression in nearly every category during the 2022 season. This is obviously why his wRC+ dropped along with his xwRC+. However, the next task is to figure out if there is a reason why. Players do not often go from elite to well below average in one season, so what changed?

The most obvious change was his new home ballpark. Citizens Bank Park is one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in all of baseball. However, nothing quite compares to playing in Cincinnati. Cincinnati is far and away the best home run park in baseball and ranks in the top three in terms of hits as well. While Philadelphia is top seven in both categories, it is not quite as friendly. Castellanos was bound to experience some regression in Philadelphia. The second change is a result of a new trend amongst pitchers. In recent seasons, we have seen a decreased reliance on the fastball and a willingness from pitchers to attack batters with their breaking stuff. Throughout his career, Castellanos has always struggled to hit breaking pitches while demolishing fastballs. The image below shows Castellano’s wOBA by season against the three pitch groups.

The next image shows the percentage of each pitch group that Castellano’s faced.

Castellanos saw a large increase in the percentage of breaking balls he was thrown. He struggled against them throughout the 2022 season. Castellanos’ struggles in 2022 are a real concern for me moving forward. The xwRC+ model does not believe in him either and I am likely out on him in 2023. Castellanos does have better statistics when the shift is not used against him. The shift ban begins in 2023 and Castellanos posted a 165 wRC+ in plate appearances during which he was not shifted. The sample size of 96 plate appearances is small, but this is something to factor into his 2023 projection.

Jared Walsh-1B/OF Los Angeles Angels

Jared Walsh is the third player to make this list of disappointing players from 2022. Walsh broke onto the scene in 2020 and had an excellent first full season in 2021. Expectations were high for Walsh in 2022, yet he struggled to get going. After batting .280 across 2020 and 2021, Walsh hit just .215 in 2022. His season was cut short due to a shoulder injury in August. He finished the season with a 78 wRC+. Unlike the first two players on this list, the xwRC+ model actually thinks that Walsh was unlucky in 2022. Walsh’s xwRC+ for 2022 was 106. This number is still below the 126 he posted in 2021, but maybe there is a reason for optimism with Walsh moving forward!

Looking first at Walsh’s quality of contact metrics, he did not experience much regression from 2021. His barrel rate did drop from 11.3% to 9.5%, but it was still well above league average. In addition, Walsh saw increases in both his average exit velocity and sweet spot percentage. All the contact metrics that go into xwRC+ look very similar to past seasons. Even taking a look at Walsh’s plate discipline numbers, they are worse than league average but not much different than his previous seasons. Walsh saw his chase rate decrease while his whiff percentage got worse. Despite chasing less, Walsh saw his strikeout rate increase by over 4%.  The whiff percentage regressing each of the past two seasons has resulted in some of his recent struggles.

The two statistics that took the biggest hit in 2022 were his HR/FB% and his BABIP. Between 2020 and 2021, Walsh had a HR/FB% north of 25%. This number came crashing down to 14.6% in 2022. Although Walsh’s overall pull percentage remained above 40% on the season, his pull percentage on fly balls came crashing down in 2022. He only pulled 22.3% of his fly balls. Less pulled fly balls = fewer balls leaving the park. In terms of BABIP, Walsh was never going to be able to sustain a .335 mark. He is not fast enough for that and does not hit enough line drives. Walsh appears to have been slightly unlucky posting just a .281 mark, but fantasy players should note expect a full bounce back. The strikeouts alone will suppress Walsh’s batting average ceiling and any misfortunate could lead to disaster as we saw in 2022.

All in all, I do not think that Walsh is as bad as his 2022 wRC+ suggests he is. That being said, I also do not think he is as good as his 2020 and 2021 numbers suggest. After studying his profile, I agree with xwRC+’s interpretation of Walsh. He is a player that will likely hover around league average. Now that Walsh is without outfield eligibility, average at 1B is not going to cut it in most fantasy leagues. I do not expect to be buying in on him during the 2023 draft season!

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