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Statcast Trends: Week 3 – Happ Breaking Out

Statcast technology has changed the game of baseball over the last several years. Fans, analysts, front-offices, and managers all use Statcast data to make decisions, whether it be in real life or Fantasy Baseball. While still a small sample in 2020, some exciting Statcast trends are worth monitoring.

Often, Fantasy players put too much emphasis on Statcast data. Statcast data should not be the only research you do when evaluating players for Fantasy Baseball. Statcast is just another tool in the toolshed that can help you make decisions about a player. This weekly piece will look at Statcast trends in different categories and look at the legitimacy of their performances.

Statcast Trends (Hitters)

Ian Happ, OF, Chicago Cubs

Since returning from triple-A in late July 2019, Ian Happ has produced a slash line of .278/.358/.578 in 72 games. The more impressive stat is the fact he has cut his strikeout rate from 36.1 percent in 2018 to 24 percent in those 72 games, with 14 home runs.

Happ is off to a blistering hot start to 2020 with a slash line of .325/.438/.625 and three home runs. Happ has further decreased his strikeout rate in 48 plate appearances to 20.8 percent, and his walk rate is up to 16.7 percent. This type of performance was what many thought Happ was capable of dating back to his days as a top prospect in the Cubs system.

The good news is, his breakout seems to be backed up by statcast and underlying numbers. His O-Swing percentage has dropped from 34 percent to 21 percent. His Z-Contact percent is also up to 85.4 percent. With his hard-hit rate of 56.7 percent and an exit velocity of 91.1 percent, it looks like Happ is setting himself up for a breakout season. His xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA are all 94th percentile or better among all hitters. I expect these trends to continue and Happ to be a league winner type player. If you have the opportunity to buy him, I would do so soon, because I still believe he is undervalued.

Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics

To go with his Gold Glove-caliber defense, Matt Chapman is also hitting baseballs very hard. Chapman has been heating up, batting .321 with four home runs over the last week, raising his overall average to .260. His plate discipline is concerning, as his walk rate is half of his 2019 number. His strikeout rate is up by over 11 percent. While those numbers are concerning, Chapman looks like a star in plenty of statcast categories.

Chapman ranks among the top 10 hitters in baseball in multiple statcast data, including; average exit velocity(94.6 mph), batted balls of 95 mph or higher(25), and barrels per plate appearance(13 percent). Hitting the ball hard has led Chapman to have an impressive .555 xwOBAcon, which is an expected weighted on-base average on contact. While Chapman’s batting average of .260 and an on-base percentage of .299 are not impressive numbers, his expected batting of .276 and xwOBA of .379 shows that better days are ahead.

Pitchers have exploited Chapman low and away, as well as on the inside part of the plate, as you can see below. If he can begin to make better contact on those pitches, we should see his strikeout rate stabilize closer to his 2019 rate of 21.9 percent. With how hard Chapman is hitting the ball, if his strikeout and walk rates trend toward his career averages, Chapman could be in for an MVP caliber season in 2020.

J.T. Realmuto, C, Philadelphia Phillies

The consensus top catcher coming into the 2020 Fantasy Baseball season has continued to prove to everyone why he is the best. The Phillies missed some games due to COVID concerns, but in Realmuto’s small 44 plate appearance sample, he is hitting well. A triple slash of .282/.364/.667 with five home runs is quite an impressive start.

Realmuto’s statcast data is even more impressive. His xBA, xwOBA, and xSLG are all higher than his actual numbers, and Realmuto’s barrels-per-plate appearance is sixth-best in all of baseball. His exit velocity is up two miles-per-hour from 2019, but his launch angle is down.

Realmuto’s groundball percent is up by over twenty percent from 39 percent to 62.1 percent. But, the balls he has hit in the air have gone for home runs as his HR/FB percent is 55.6. The home run-per-fly ball rate is unsustainable, but if Realmuto keeps hitting the ball and raises his launch angle consistently, it could be a big year for the best catcher in baseball.

Dylan Moore, 3B, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners utility man, Dylan Moore, has been one of the biggest surprises in 2020. Through games completed on August 11, Moore is the 17th best player in standard 5×5 roto leagues. In 53 plate appearances, Moore has a .313 batting average with four home runs, three stolen bases, nine RBI, and 11 runs scored.

Moore has seen several jumps in his batted ball data, including an increased line drive rate, and a higher pull rate. Combining those stats with his increased hard-hit rate means better production for Moore. His strikeout rate is down from 2019, but so is his walk rate. Moore’s contact has been much improved, as he is seventh among all hitters with a 13.2 barrel-per-plate appearance percent.

Derek Carty suggests that it takes about 20 percent of a 650 plate appearance season for exit velocity to stabilize. Dylan Moore has seen a near five mph increase in his exit velocity from 2019 but has just 53 plate appearances. A player who significantly increases his exit velocity is highly likely to outperform his projections. If he can continue to hit the ball hard over the next few weeks, his success should continue. Ride his hot streak and hope the success continues, but if he falls off, do not be afraid to cut bait.

Statcast Trends (Pitchers)

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Trevor Bauer has been dominant to start the 2020 season, posting a 0.93 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 19.1 innings of work. Two numbers that jump out are Bauer’s strikeout and walk percentage. Bauer is a career 25.1 percent strikeout pitcher and struck out 27.8 percent in 2019. That number has risen to 46.4 percent while his walk rate has dropped by over three percent from his career average.

Bauer’s fastball velocity is down by one mph, but his command is much improved. He is using his four-seam at a higher rate in 2020, going from 38.5 percent in 2019, to 51.7. While his four-seam has lost velocity, it has gained nearly 400 rpm of spin, making it the highest spinning fastball. Bauer is known to tinker with his pitches, and what he has done with his four-seam is tremendous. While reports suggest Bauer is using pine tar to improve his spin-rate, this is happening league-wide. Did you see Gerrit Cole’s fingers get stuck to his cap? The rule that prevents pitchers from licking their fingers has likely led to higher usage of pine tar.

Pine tar or not, Bauer is producing elite numbers that are backed by a 1.84 FIP and a 1.93 xFIP. Six statcast numbers on Baseball Savant are 99th percentile or better, including xERA, xBA, xwOBA, xSLG, K%, and fastball spin. Even in a small sample, his xwOBA of .159 is quite impressive.

Bauer currently has a .161 BABIP and 100 percent left-on-base rate, which are both unsustainable numbers. But, it would not surprise me to see Bauer pitch to a 2.50 ERA with a high strikeout rate throughout the rest of the 2020 season. Even with minor regression, he may end up being the National League CY Young award winner.

Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Nola appears to have returned to ace status after what many considered a disappointing 2019 season. Coming off a 2.37 ERA in 2018, his ERA rose significantly to 3.87 in 2019. In 19.1 innings in 2020, Nola has a 2.79 ERA with 29 strikeouts and just two walks.

Nola has slightly changed his pitch-mix, which has led to positive results. According to Baseball Savant’s Pitch Tracker, Nola has ditched his Sinker completely and focused on his four-seamer, which he is using 46.3 percent of the time. He is also using his changeup over ten percent more than it was in 2019. A 52.4 percent whiff rate with a .161 xwOBA shows how good Nola’s changeup has been in 2020. His curveball is being used slightly less, despite it looking like his best pitch. Nola’s curveball has stuck out 14 batters, giving him a 58.3 percent put-away rate. He is pounding the bottom of the strike zone at a high rate, which has helped increase his strikeouts numbers.

Nola looks the part, and the Statcast data backs up his ace level production in 2020. While he has been hit-hard on occasion, he has shown improved command and a high strikeout rate. You can expect Nola to continue to pitch at this level in 2020, but the strikeout numbers could regress. Regardless, he looks like he has returned to ace form.

Need help keeping up with the crazy, closer carousel? Jorge Montanez writes a tremendous weekly piece breaking down all bullpens and closer rankings.

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