A breakout to not buy, featuring Logan Forsythe

Tampa Bay Rays LogoWhen the Rays brought Logan Forsythe over from San Diego in a trade centered around Alex Torres, the front office was ecstatic about a platoon option given his dominance over lefties in his career. He had a down overall season in 2013 which is why he came for cheap, but a strong 2012 performance (110 wRC+) and raking throughout the minors had fans hopeful for Forsythe in St. Petersburg.

Forsythe started slow with the Rays in 2014, with just a 79 wRC+ and was quickly overshadowed as the main piece of the trade; reliever Brad Boxberger emerged as perhaps the best player to come from it. It was the first season where Forsythe had appeared in over 100 games, but playing so much against both lefties and righties exposed his platoon issues, hitting just .206 with a 58 wRC+ against the same handed pitchers. With the Rays being known for an inability to develop hitters, it was beginning to appear that Forsythe was just another in a growing list.

2015 opened for the Rays with turmoil all over the organization, and to make it even worse, injuries all over the diamond forced minor leaguers and platoon players to appear everyday. This gave Forsythe a chance to earn a spot to stay, and with the opportunity he flourished. He mashed to a 281/359/444 triple slash line, and his 126 wRC+ was the best mark of his career. His fantastic season earned him playing time in all but eight games, lost to minor injury and tough matchups early in the year before he proved himself.

So how does a 28-year-old have a breakout campaign as a stud despite never showing the ability at the major league level, in an organization not known for producing hitters (except for Ben Zobrist, whose story draws so many parallels to Forsythe’s)? There was no change in his batted ball tendencies in terms of grounders and flies, not one category changing more than one percentage point. But what did change was how well he’s connecting. The same percentage may be on the ground and in the air, but more are being hit harder, giving the defense less time to react, and in turn generating more offense. His hard contact percentage went from 25% to 31%, a large leap into the elite for second basemen. Sometimes these rates can show volatility, especially if the player in question has not produced well before, but in Forsythe’s case he actually has posted hard contact rates in the low 30s throughout his major league career, 2014 excluded (minor league contact rates and not available unfortunately).

Logan Forsythe A breakout to not buyAlthough there are parts to make you believe Forsythe is a legit bat, there’s still plenty of concern. Something that is an immediate red flag is his fastball percentage. After getting just 30% in 2014, he saw 37% four seamers last year, cutting down on breaking pitches where he has historically struggled. He was worth 4.4 runs below average on fastballs when getting under a third heaters, but last year when he could expect them to come in more frequently he jumped his production up to 12.7 runs above average. What makes it hard to believe that he will keep up the great numbers here is based on his 2012 season where he had a similar situation, 7.5 runs above average on fastballs and getting them 36% of the time. In no other season (besides his short rookie stint) has he broken 31%, and in no other season has he had positive run production on fastballs.

Well at least he’s hitting the ball hard, right? Eh, perhaps that’s not even as nice as it looks initially. He’s already shown in his career that he can hit the ball hard and not get good production, and the increase in fastballs can be tied to more hard contact since that pitch gets hit hardest on average. His batted ball distance also barely changed, from 270 feet in 2014 to 278 feet this year. So while he’s hitting the ball harder, a lot can be tied to pitchers helping him out, and he isn’t translating harder contact into farther contact which is where his power would show.

Often times to truly project a player’s future, it helps to view players with similar skill sets and production. The player most similar to Forsythe is Alberto Callaspo. To put it shortly, Callaspo had a few up and down seasons before a great one, and has quickly fallen down before eventually getting released by the Dodgers this season and most likely ending his career. Other production cohorts of Forsythe offer more pessimism, with players like Larry Bigbie, Felix Escalona and Eric Patterson showing up in his Marcel Similarity Scores index. Sure, breaking the mold is not impossible and we could very well see differences, but there has yet to be a situation close enough to Forsythe that indicates it as very likely.

Logan Forsythe’s monster 2015 season has put him on a lot of fantasy radars, drawing comparisons to Ben Zobrist’s 2009 season and people believing it as a sign of things to come. But Forsythe’s production was helped immensely by pitchers giving him four-seam fastballs, and underlying contact numbers that seem pretty at first turn out to be pretty hollow. Combined with the terrible success rate of players similar to him, Forsythe is the kind of fantasy option that simply shouldn’t be one.

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.