Outfield is where the mashers live. Thirty-two players smashed at least 20 home runs in 2018 (including two with over forty bombs) and several new names stepped up to be recognized as potential fantasy rock stars (Hey there Acuña Jr and Soto). As we jump into the OF scene, we will split up the stock watch and spend this week focusing on those players who did all they could to increase their fantasy value for owners in 2018. Read on for in depth looks at a few of these players to see how their 2018 performances may affect their value in 2019 and beyond.
As always, if you have a player you would like profiled or have a question about, feel free to post in the comment section or reach out to me on Twitter @hedenson18 with that or any other questions. We will be working our way around the diamond so you can submit your player requests in advance.
- Starling Marte
If you bought shares of Starling Marte this season, you must have felt as if it was 2015 again based on how he played:
He finally eclipsed the 20 home run mark this season and continued to be a terror on the base paths, coming in third for OF and seventh overall in MLB with his 33 pilfered bags. His .182 ISO was the highest mark of his career, one of the many power-related metrics that he improved upon in 2018 (+2.4% FB%, +4% Pull%, +7.3% Hard%). That jump in hard contact was echoed in his Average Exit Velocity (+6.7 MPH) and Barrel% (+1.9%), two reasons his expected stats closely mirrored his actual production (.255 XBA/.337 WOBA/.444 XSLG).
Marte’s FB% increase came mostly at the expense of his LD% (-4.1%), one of several factors that affected his BABIP for the season (.312 BABIP in 2018, .346 BABIP for career). This change did not have a huge effect on Marte’s batting average (it actually rose 2 points despite the lower BABIP mark) but his .277 BA in 2018 might represent a new ceiling moving forward, especially if he continues seeing dramatic shifts in his batted ball profile like we saw in the second half (14.6% LD%, 53.5% GB%, 31.8% FB%).
Overall, he was slightly less successful running than in previous seasons (70.2% success rate), and he much less efficient at stealing bases in the second half (8/17 in the second half; 25/30 in the first half). That drop off is concerning as speed adds a great deal to Marte’s game. Some of it could be chalked up to the long season, as he was very efficient during the first half, but Marte does need to be more consistent on the bases if he is to maintain his current level of value for owners.
- Christian Yelich
Newly crowned NL MVP Christian Yelich set many personal bests this season, reaching new heights in home runs, batting average and in stolen bases (among several other categories). His season was two separate stories in one:
The first was that of a solid, above average player, but the second displayed a player with Ruthian abilities. As we look to set a value for Yelich moving forward, we have to answer two main questions:
- What changed in the second half?
- Are these changes sustainable?
When you compare Yelich’s second half to his first, a few things stick out. In the second half, Yelich was an extra base machine. His .402 ISO led the majors during that period and he excelled at knocking the ball out of the park, generating an astonishing 48.1 HR/FB%. He created stronger contact (+5.3% Hard%), hit more fly balls (+3.9%) and pulled the ball at a higher rate as well (+6.1%). His success on batted balls soared as well, allowing him to enjoy a 75-point increase in batting average during the second half.
While I expect Yelich to perform at a high level moving forward, some aspects of his spectacular second half-run do not seem sustainable, starting with his insane 35% HR/FB%. In the past decade, only six players posted a HR/FB% over 30% for an entire season – Aaron Judge (2017), Giancarlo Stanton (2017), Domingo Santana (2017), Joey Gallo (2017), Nelson Cruz (2015) and Ryan Howard (2008). Yelich’s career high before 2018 was 23.6% HR/FB% (2016), which seems more doable given his skill set and lower than average launch angle (4.7˚ in 2018).
I also think he had some good fortune in relation to his BABIP in the second half. While his career BABIP is stout (.359), I think Yelich could struggle to bat .327 again (though .300 is not out of the question) especially if he continues to increase his FB% and Pull%. If he can continue to generate the quality of contact we saw in 2018 (92.3 MPH Average Exit Velocity; 12.9% Barrel%) he has a shot, as Statcast absolutely loved him (.307 XBA/.422 WOBA/.554 XSLG).
In general, I think Yelich will see some decreases in his power and batting average next season, though he should still perform at an elite level. Look for him to offer 25/20 production with an average around .300. He may offer more, but I think that line is a bit more realistic unless he takes further steps forward.
- Tommy Pham
Pham was another player who enjoyed a strong second half, coming to life with the Rays to slash .331/.433/.580 with eight home runs and six stolen bases despite missing time due to injury. He managed to build off his strong 2017 season, posting improvements to most aspects of his batted ball profile (+1.7% LD%, -3.7% GB%, +2% FB%) while generating higher levels of quality contact (+13%).
His average exit velocity jumped as well (+3.6%) and his expected statistics outperformed his actual production in several categories (.280 XBA/.359 WOBA/.496 XSLG). Pham did regress a bit in strikeouts and some aspects of plate discipline (+2.5% K%, +1.6% SwStr%, +4% O-Swing%) but managed to walk at an above average rate despite a small decrease in his overall rate (-1.6%).
Pham should be a solid source of power and speed in 2019, and is a bat to target in both keeper and dynasty leagues. He is older than most players with his amount of MLB experience (30) but should come close to 20/20 production levels if he can stay healthy in Tampa.
- Aaron Hicks
Hicks turned in a strong 2018, continuing to improve as a regular after a solid 2017 season. Unless you owned him, or are a die-hard Yankees fan, you may have overlooked just how good his season was when compared to his peers:
Which player would you rather own? Each of these batters provided solid power and a bit of speed as well, but you may be surprised to find out the author of the above seasons:
|R. Acuña Jr.||26||78||64||16||9.20||25.30||.259||.293||.366||.552|
Kind of changes your view of Hicks a bit, doesn’t it? Hicks improved in several power related metrics (+2.5% Pull%, +8.7% Hard%, +3.2% HR/FB%) and generated stronger contact in almost every way (+4.2MPH Average Exit Velocity; +1.3% Barrel%). He improved his batted ball profile (+5.9% LD%, -4.1% GB%) and continued to walk at an excellent rate (15.5%) while limiting his strikeouts (19.1%).
I could see Hicks gaining a bit on the average side of things in 2019, and barring injury he should offer solid power and speed for any owners who invest in him for their keeper or dynasty leagues.