Hopefully, many of you are still playing for this year and the playoffs and possible Fantasy championship are still within reach. We are in the midst of the homestretch, but there is always time to reflect back and see what has or has not worked.
In this week’s Fantasy Lookout, we dig into a couple of hitters who struggled out of the gates, but have since turned 2016 into a career year. Let’s see if we look under-the-hood we can determine the drivers of the turnaround.
You should not immediately panic with slow starts of proven players. Their track record should provide them some rope, as the larger sample size should be more indicative of their future performance. When a player with some pedigree has a strong finish, Fantasy owners should take note.
Sometimes good players go through a rough patch, and when it occurs at the beginning of a year it gets magnified. The key is to look at the underlying statistics to determine if it is the start of a real decline, or just a temporary one.
Now let’s look at a couple of infielders who rewarded Fantasy owners who either stuck with them or were sharp enough to buy low.
The Fantasy Lookout: Slow Start, Strong Finish
Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Over the previous three seasons, Dozier has consistently been a solid power-speed threat in the middle infield. You could confidently pencil him in for 20-plus bombs and double-digit stolen bases along with an uninspiring .240 batting average. The weak average has been driven by a sub-par BABIP around the .270 mark thanks in large part to a massive pull rate and plenty of popups.
Dozier struggled early on, as he flirted with the Mendoza Line through the end of May. When you looked at his peripherals, for the most part, they were weaker than his career levels, but not too far off. His BB/K mark was essentially in line. In terms of his batted ball profile, nothing major stood out. Dozier was still hitting his fair share of fly balls and his pull rate and hard hit rate were both only slightly off what we have come to expect. However, the two stats that did stand out were his sub-8-percent HR/FB ratio and his extremely low (even for him) BABIP, which was in the .220 range.
As soon the calendar turned to June, Dozier flicked a switch and his numbers improved dramatically across-the-board. First, there was a BABIP rebound, likely the result of a material increase in both his pull rate, but mainly his hard hit rate. This also resulted in a large spike in Dozier’s HR/FB ratio, up to levels he had not consistently sustained at anytime in his career.
When you look at his 2016 numbers as a whole, there is plenty to like. Dozier has posted a career low strikeout rate and that has allowed his batting average to hover around the .270 range, which would be a new career high. He has also posted a career best hard hit rate, which has allowed him to record a career best HR/FB ratio. When you couple that with the fact that Dozier is hitting more fly balls than he ever has, you start to see why he has already reached the 30 home run plateau for the first time in his career.
Dozier’s turnaround has been fully supported by his underlying metrics. Despite the slow start, he has managed to put together a career year and there is still over a month of the season to go. Now that is what I call a strong finish.
Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Turner has resurrected his journeyman career since joining the Dodgers prior to the 2014 campaign. Over the course of the past two and a half seasons, Turner has rounded out his game from a high average hitter with not much else into a near .300 hitter that can hit for power and drive in runs. Throughout his career, Turner has consistently been a line driving hitting machine. In fact, since the start of the 2014 season, Turner ranks 13th in all of baseball among qualified hitters with a 25.2-percent line drive rate.
Turner limped through the season’s first couple of months, due in large part to his recovery from offseason knee surgery. It showed in his numbers, as he was hitting .235 with a mere three home runs through the end of May. When you looked under-the-hood you saw more of the same. As the owner of a .320 BABIP for his career, it was surprising to see Turner with a BABIP below .270. However, this was no fluke as he was hitting fewer line drives, not making solid contact, and pulling the ball less.
Turner started to heat up in early June, possibly linked to feeling more comfortable on his surgically repaired knee. His batting average recovered, his power retuned, and his Fantasy owners all breathed a big sigh of relief. Turner’s line drive rate skyrocketed back to a level we have been accustomed to, north of 25-percent. He has also put together three consecutive months with a hard hit rate and fly ball rate better than 40-percent. This has allowed Turner to mash 21 home runs since the start of June. The slow start is a distant memory and his strong finish has been a great reward for his patient Fantasy owners.
In aggregate, Turner’s 2016 season has been the best of his career. He has already posted new career highs in runs, home runs, and RBIs. Turner has also recorded career bests in hard hit rate, fly ball rate, and pull rate, which have all contributed to a new career high HR/FB ratio.
Turner’s early struggles were clearly tied to his knee injury; however, once he got settled in, he has hit better than he has at any point of his career.
It is much easier to be patient with veteran hitters with a proven track record. The key is to look at the underlying metrics and determine if it is just a slump and the player’s luck will eventually turn. Both Brain Dozier and Justin Turner got off to a slow start, but they turned things around into a strong finish. Until next week’s Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games!
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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