The comeback story is maybe the most romanticized storyline in sports. The older athlete, washed up past his glory days, known to hang out at the bar and cares more about the bottom of his double shot of Jameson than these “fancy new stats.” And who, with determination and hard work and juuuuuust a little pinch of luck, a great Hollywood film crew records his resurrection back into relevance, winning his team the pennant and is now universally adored.
Well, all of that might be a bit much to expect in 2016, but there are a few players who surely have a bounceback season to look forward to. Today we’ll take a look into hitters primed for a top season even though they haven’t looked so hot the past year or two. Guys who are going to give you, as fantasy owners, and their actual teams, tremendous return on your investments (unless you’re Ryan Howard, because holy crap that is a terrible contract).
This one is maybe the lowest hanging fruit since it might seem obvious that he could do well next year, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that another MVP caliber season from Han-Ram is inevitable. Even though some might play off his off-year as due to a new city, we’ve seen many players come into Beantown and struggle until they leave (Carl Crawford might ring some Bostonian’s’ memories). The position juggling with him doesn’t get any easier, as no significant departures occurred and the Sox have a giant glut of young talent ready to break into the Show. He’s also about to turn 32 and is often injured – not a good mix.
So now that I’ve spent a paragraph contrary to the thesis of this post, let’s bring it back around. First and foremost, Hanley is ready to mash in a park that loves to give righties extra doubles instead of fly outs. Adrian Gonzalez has noted that hitters often take a different approach in Fenway to utilize the Green Monster, and maybe Hanley overcorrected his approch. His fly ball rate dropped from 34% to 29%, trying to not get as under pitches and to line them into the wall (a 2% increase in liners, even if that is mostly noise it is still notable). Although his strikeout rate remained the same, his whiff rate jumped a percentage point – a large leap for the stat. A return to his normal swing will give him back his usual hits plus more.
Hanley was also completely unlucky with a BABIP of .257, down from his career .327 mark. Fenway is supposed to make that number go up, not down. And as even more proof he’s ready to take advantage once his swing comes back, his HR/FB rate was almost 20%, up from his 14.1% career average and double his 10.3% in 2014.
V-Mart can be hard to gauge. In 2014 he was one of the best hitters on the planet. In 2015 he looked ready to maybe hit Double A pitching, if that. The soon to be 37-year-old is surely on the wrong side of the aging curve to be developing much new skills, but the sudden drop-off in production (less than half the wRC+ from 2014-15) screams that something isn’t right.
Martinez has battled injuries throughout the 2015 campaign, hurting his usually elite ability to make solid contact. We saw his strikeout rate spike from 6.6% to 10.7%, and his whiff rate from 3.5% to 6.0%. While we can expect strikeouts as hitters age, the elite ones like Martinez tend to not see declines so sharp. There may be some survivorship bias in the data, as the only remaining players over 35 at this point are objectively great, but Martinez fits the bill. He should not have his plate discipline declining so rapidly.
And even though his batted ball profile remained the same, his HR/FB ratio was cut in half (16 to 7.2) and his BABIP dropped 60 points to just .253. These numbers may not always remain so strong as they were in 2014, but again, Martinez’ body of work through his career suggests, when compared to his peers, that he should still be mashing with some authority.
A near MVP type sophomore campaign had Rendon reaching as far as the first round in fantasy drafts, so it only made sense given his team that he fell before the halfway mark on his expectations. Rendon was a below average hitter in 2015. Even when he was healthy, Rendon wasn’t able to accumulate even a 1.0 fWAR over a half season, a below average overall mark. He’s grateful for his one healthy season right now, because without that he could be waiver bait.
Part of his fall was strikeout numbers that were overachieving in 2014. His discipline suggested a drop, and it came – his strikeout rate went up four points to 20%. He also saw a differ in batted ball profile, a fall of six points to just 33% fly balls, something a hitter with power like him needs more of. His HR/FB rate was also alarmingly low, down to just 6.2%.
What all of this is showing is a hitter plagued by the lasting effects of an injury. An MCL sprain and an oblique injury hurt the two most important components of a hitter as well as a fielder and baserunner – legs and core. An off-season to recover and return at 100% is much-needed, as he’s shown the baseball skill to be elite. The question now comes is how can he stay healthy. As long as he’s on the field and not in the Doctor’s office, Rendon will be productive.
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