For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Technically speaking, that’s Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Physics. However, according to my 11th-grade physics teacher Mr. Winfield, desperately trying to make this stuff relatable for a bunch of spaced out 17 year-olds, physics is the study of everything. Therefore, physics is Fantasy Baseball.
Well., not quite, but I guess my point is if Newton played Fantasy Baseball, he would have been all over the concept of a “bounceback.” So, if you think you’re better than someone who has been knighted for over 300 years, I’m gonna ask you to stop reading at this point. Thanks.
4 Bounceback Hitters
Kendrys Morales, DH, TOR
The great thing about living in the year 2018 and not in the early 18th century is that you don’t really have to create anything, be it laws of physics or advanced baseball statistics. It’s pretty much there for you already. Because of this, a sentence like “almost no one had a harder luck season than Kendrys Morales in 2017” isn’t just narrative – there’s literally a stat that backs this up.
According to Statcast, only one player (Miguel Cabrera) had a larger negative differential between their actual wOBA and expected wOBA last season than Morales – who’s .320 figure was a career-low for a year with 500-plus plate appearances. That, by itself, suggests positive regression.
However, let’s for a moment poke a hole in xwOBA. Expected wOBA attempts to quantify what a player’s wOBA should be based upon batted ball data such as exit velocity and launch angle – which, in general, is sound logic.
Kendrys Morales, though, is a special breed. What comes off Morales’ bat as a projectable double isn’t always a double because Morales might just be the slowest player in all of baseball. That’s a problem. Still, we can’t go down that path without acknowledging one of the oldest cliches in all of Spring Training: Morales seems like he’s now in the best shape of his life.
To clarify off the top, I don’t think anything (save for roller blades) is actually going to make the 34-year-old, full-time DH faster on the base paths. Yet it’s undeniable that Morales looks to be in much better shape this spring than in his debut season with Toronto in 2017. Morales claims to have lost 12 pounds this winter, adding muscle and trimming the fat. Again, this is not an adage that’s unique to baseball in March, but as someone who willingly watched a Blue Jays Spring Training game and audibly gasped when Morales strode to the plate – I can testify the dude is looking svelte.
Beyond all that, Morales is also due for normalization in a key area for a player who, at best, is a two-category threat. A .278 BABIP overall is nothing to write home about, yet that’s nothing compared to Morales’ putrid luck when it came to situations with runners in scoring position, where his average on balls in play was a minuscule .227. Considering Morales took all but seven of his 608 plate appearances as the Jays’ third, fourth, or fifth-hitter last year and Toronto is currently projected by FanGraphs to be one of only five teams to average over five runs per game – an uptick in BABIP in these “clutch” situations could mean close to 100 RBI.
His positional eligibility and almost non-existent speed does make him a major liability in certain aspects of Fantasy Baseball. However, at his current price point (his NFBC ADP is 305.4), I’m willing to take the chance that Morales’ second season north of the border is much more profitable than his first.
Rougned Odor, 2B, TEX
It all went downhill when the Rangers gave him some horses. 2017 was a nightmare for Rougned Odor. Coming off a 2016 season in which he hit a respectable .271 with 33 home runs and 14 stolen bases, Odor set league-wide lows in average (.202), OBP (.252), and wRC+ (61) among the 144 players with enough plate appearances to qualify. Still, when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. Actually, there are a few reasons to be optimistic about the skilled second baseman returning to form in 2018.
First and foremost, batting average, OBP, and wRC+ weren’t the only categories Odor found himself at the bottom of last season, he also had the lowest BABIP at .224 – one of five players to wield a figure below .240 in 2017. Not only was the BABIP low juxtaposed to the rest of baseball, it was low in terms of his own career – lagging 73 points below where it sat in his aforementioned 2016 campaign.
Now, here’s where it’s important to remember that Odor, despite the positive spin, is a flawed player when it comes to his plate discipline, which is, to put it bluntly, but honestly, atrocious. Odor is consistently finding himself keeping pace with the league’s highest outside the zone swing rates, its lowest walk rates, and its highest infield fly ball rates – maybe the biggest difference in his batted ball profile from 2016 to 2017.
However, possible outlier aside in that 8.2% infield fly ball rate from ’16, nothing significant really changed between to the two seasons. His overall fly ball rate was identical at 42.2%. His overall swing rate dropped a whisper from 54.3% to 52.8%. His barrels per plate appearance rate fell slightly, yet his hard contact was up a smidge. Really, it all seems like a wash.
The splits tell a different story. From 2014 to 2016, there was an almost indiscernible difference to Odor’s numbers when facing left-handed and right-handed pitching. He was a .263 hitter versus lefties compared to .266 against those throwing right-handed. A 105 wRC+ when seeing a righty was better than his 95 wRC+ facing southpaws, yet, the strikeout numbers and hard contact numbers showed modest differences at most. This was not the case last season.
In 170 plate appearances versus lefties, Odor hit .145 with a .202 wOBA. That’s “we have to start talking about a platoon” levels of ugly. His BABIP in these PAs was just .161 – the lowest in baseball for anyone not named Todd Frazier – and Frazier at least profiles like someone who deserves his BABIP fate. His fly ball rate of 59.1% against left-handed pitching was by far the highest in the league. In fact, it was the only rate above 54%. Odor, while by no means perfect, is not this type of player.
Its important to remember that throughout the struggles last season, Odor still hit 30 home runs and stole 15 bases – something only seven other players managed to do. With a little luck in the batted balls department, all of a sudden, he’s 2017 Jonathan Schoop. In a depressed buying window, Odor is someone you at least must consider drafting.
Matt Carpenter, 1B / Dexter Fowler, OF, STL
Pairing these two together is about more than their shared residence in Missouri (though we’ll get to that aspect of it in just a moment’s time). No, these two go so well together because the reasons to project them at their upside and the reasons to assume the worst case scenario are so, so similar.
Let’s begin with the fact that both are coming off of injury plagued seasons that could easily sprout pessimism beyond just their 2017 output. At first glance, Matt Carpenter doesn’t seem the type to be bestowed with an oft-injured label. Going back to 2013, Carpenter has the 13th most plate appearances of any player in baseball – that’s pretty much longevity in one statistic. However, knicked up for most of last year, Carpenter is currently dealing with a back issue that in the last two weeks has gone from “Cardinals not concerned” to “might not be ready for Opening Day.” That’s more than worrisome.
Fowler is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s healthy, he’s added 15 pounds of muscle (best shape of his life – see above), and he’s coming off the second-half of a season that saw him hit .288 with a 132 wRC+ and a clean bill of health. The latter is all too fleeting, though. 2018 will mark the start of Fowler’s 10th major league season. Of the prior nine, he’s managed 600 plate appearances only once. To put it mildly, the disabled list and Dexter Fowler are on a first-name basis at this point in their lives.
So, with injury red flags as far as the eye can see, what’s so appealing about these two players? Well, the top half of St. Louis’ lineup, if they can stay healthy, of course, might just be really, really good. Carpenter, a career .277 hitter, managed only a .241 average last season due mainly to a suppressed BABIP which, to be fair, was caused by an extreme and, hopefully, outlier fly ball rate.
Despite these struggles, Carpenter still put up a .384 OBP – the 19th highest in MLB among players with 450-plus plate appearances. Fowler, at .363, was a not-too-distant 41st. Tommy Pham, expected to bat between these two gentlemen, had the sixth best OBP in 2017 (.411). The newly acquired Marcell Ozuna sat 25th (.376).
Its a simple formula, but getting on base leads to runs. Is it all that shocking that the Top 5 teams in OBP last season were among the eight clubs that scored 800-plus runs? Of course not. Regardless of what the Cardinals get from the bottom-half of their order, the top-half will be getting on base, getting into scoring position, and generally wreaking havoc.
With both Carpenter and Fowler seeing massive drops in their ADPs from last season, they are easily the cheapest pieces of this four-man wrecking crew. Even with the baked in injury risk, I’m willing to give them a look.
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