Bargain Hunting in the Outfield

Confession: I am obsessed with outfielders.  I like the way they run, I like the way they throw, I like the way they hit, and I love that there are gobs of them.  I almost treat outfielders like Major League Baseball clubs in that you can never have enough of them. Okay, I’m getting a little carried away, but you catch the drift.  My favorite thing is to unearth an outfield based on some bat to ball skills that are lurking in the background while everyone is ogling over someone else.

I’ve gone to some fairly lengthy exercises to create some visualizations to help find some value in the outfield, analyzing outfielders from the 2018 season with more than 200 plate appearances.  Whether you are playing in a points or a roto league, we value players with extra base hits more so than your singles hitter, and we really love a guy who hits 20+ homers and swipes double-digit bags. The following series of scatter plots can help you identify some of those forgotten players at the end of the draft.  These guys get on a hot streak and can suddenly pull your team through to victory for the week or help fill in for injury.

The first graph looks at HR and HR/FB% or Home Run over Flyball Percentage.  One thing you will notice is off to the right and way down the line is Christian Yelich, who hit 36 HRs and had a 35% HR to FB ratio, which is stupid crazy.  He also did it by hitting fewer flyballs in 2018 than he did in 2017, which equated to a paltry 23.5% flyball ratio. Ideally, you want to see a player that hits plenty of fly balls and has lots of home runs, which is exactly what this graph measures.

As I am poking around on my scatter plot, I notice that there are two very similar players located in between 1st and 2nd base.  Player A is being taken in the first round and player B has an ADP of 180. Player B has plenty of flaws that pushes him down roughly 170 spots, but one thing he doesn’t lack is some serious pop. 

Hunter Renfroe boasts two back to back seasons of hitting 26 HRs with an ISO north of .230. When we look at what went right for Renfroe, he increased is walk rate from 5.6% to 6.8% and decreased his strikeout rate from 29.2% to 24.7%.  He also made a lot of hard contact with a serious jump from 34.6% to 47.2%.

There are few buyer beware warnings attached to Renfroe.  Hunter sold out to pull the ball at nearly at 49% rate between 2017 and 2018.  This leads team to apply the shift to him and depresses his BABIP, which keeps his batting average down, and he doesn’t like to walk much.  He also will not help you at all on the base paths with a combined 5 steals over the last two seasons. He’s also lacked some playing time by averaging around 460 plate appearances over the past two seasons.  

If you are looking for a cheap source of power, Renfroe can absolutely provide that for you and it should help that Manny Machado is now inserted into the lineup in San Diego.  The other player that was right beside him… Ronald Acuna.  

When I looked at the 2018 season, I wanted to examine who had plenty of plate appearances and plenty of XBHs.  I figured I would see Betts, Stanton, JD, and some of the other usual suspects. what I wasn’t expecting to find among them was Nick Markakis.  Every single year I think he’s washed up and a never has been. That’s him right there:

Clearly, this had to be fluke year. Markakis is coming off the board in the 300s and certainly last year was just a great year for him.  So I wanted to look at the past 3 seasons combined and see how Markakis stood up against the rest of the league. Did you know among outfielders that Markakis is number two in doubles?  He sits at 120 doubles over the past 3 seasons just behind Mookie Betts at 135. He is also in the Top 25 in runs scored and batting average as well. Also, Markakis ranks number 2 in plate appearances with 2,059, behind Charlie Blackmon at 2062.  You see, Markakis doesn’t wow you with much except that he plays everyday and his stats are largely driven through volume.

Last year, Markakis saw a huge decrease in his K% from 16.4% to 11.3%, while his BB% remained steady at the 10% range. Also, his BABIP has not been too far above the league average over the past 3 years, which might indicate there was quite a bit of luck.  One stat that does jump off the page is that his Hard % increased to 40.6% while his career total sits at 30.3%. For a 35-year-old, you might want to be leary of a player that suddenly starts making louder contact. If you look a little further, though, you’ll notice that his o-swing% decreased by about 3 points, which indicates that he wasn’t swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.  

All in all, Markakis is a classic guy at the end of the draft that someone puts on the board and you silently grumble under your breath, “why didn’t I think of him?” Don’t be that guy this year.


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