Five Unlucky Players And Why They Will Improve
As much as baseball is an independent game sometimes players don't have the type of production that they perhaps deserve. That's the beauty of baseball and much like variance- luck plays such a critical role in the overall results of a game. As much as we'd like process to always equal results it doesn't always happen.
This only becomes a greater issue in small sample sizes, which is what we are dealing with right now. Just two months in the season fantasy players can be left wondering what to do with their struggling players. Thus, deciding which struggles are legitimate and which players simply need better luck is critical for ideal roster management.
That will be the goal of today's piece. We generally analyze luck just based on expected statistics, but there is evidence that the difference between overall statistics and expected statistics doesn't necessarily become less during a season. Plus, the common fan can go and find which players have the greatest gap between their expected statistics and actual statistics. Rather, we'll be going under the radar to find players who will see better luck in less conventional ways. Between hitters who deserve better based on approach changes and pitchers suffering due to poor sequencing, or in other fashions, these five players should see better fortune in the future.
OF Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
Current Statistics: .174/.261/.303, 59 wRC+, 9.1% BB, 30.3% K
After consistently teasing loads of potential, Jorge Soler put it all together for the Royals in 2019, leading the American League with 48 home runs while posting a 136 wRC+. However, the results haven't been as pretty since then. Considering that he's a designated hitter and thus doesn't have a position, it certainly has been rough to roster him.
Fortunately, Soler's .237 batting average on balls in play indicates positive regression. However, I'm more interested in his overall approach. This season, his 72.5% zone swing rate is the highest of his career, while his 31.6% whiff rate is the lowest. Less called strikes and fewer swinging strikes lead to a career-low 27.9% called-strike-whiff-rate (CSW%) against, which should mean fewer strikeouts, right?
Wrong! Soler's 30.3% strikeout rate would be the highest for a full season in his career. Thus, not only will he have more success on balls in play, but more balls should be in play altogether. That greatly increases his batting average floor, as well as his on-base percentage if he can draw more walks. Plus, given the aggressive approach and the fact that his 7.8% home run/fly ball rate is astonishingly low, and there is definitely more power to come. In other words, there's a lot of room for improvement to bank on. If you've held onto Soler to this point, continue to do so. Assuming the right side of variance moving forward, your faith should soon be rewarded!
3B Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies
Current Statistics: .209/.254/.301, 54 wrc+, 6.3% BB, 28.1% K
Selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 draft, expectations have been very high for Alec Bohm to be a key offensive contributor for the Phillies. After posting a 139 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances last season as a rookie, the 24-year-old appeared to be on his way to doing that; he was a popular target for those who missed out on the "top-tier" third basemen.
That's what makes his struggles this season so perplexing. Currently, based on Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), he's been the worst-qualified third baseman in baseball. That's not the trajectory we were expecting. With how much offense is present at the third base position, redraft fantasy owners of Bohm might be having a difficult time maintaining faith in a bounce back.
Bohm's .273 batting average on balls in play and 11.8% home run/fly ball will likely get better, but perhaps not enough to make him a viable offensive producer on its own. However, similar to Soler, I am very encouraged by his overall approach. With fewer chases (23.6%) and more swings in the zone (76.2%), his CSW% is only at 25%, which doesn't quite explain a 28.1% strikeout rate. In fact, Fangraphs projects that strikeout rate to go down to 21.8% for the rest of the year, which, combined with more walks, should greatly improve his outlook from an on-base perspective. I'm not as encouraged by the power, as he is hitting ground balls over half (52.4%) of the time and explains his low 8.2% barrel rate. However, if he can get on base enough, perhaps he can move up in the lineup, putting him in a position to drive more runs. Regardless, I have great confidence saying he'll be a much better player than he's been so far this season.
SP Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels
Statistics: 23.3% K, 9.5% BB, 3.95 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 1.65 HR/9
After generating 32 swings and misses last Sunday against the Mariners, Patrick Sandoval is much more on the fantasy player's radar than he had been previously. With a 4.97 FIP, one might surmise that he's been too lucky to buy into this season.
Yet, the opposite is actually true. First, Sandoval's 23.8% home run/fly ball rate is extremely high and should regress over time, and he's also someone who has demonstrated the ability to induce ground balls (career 51.2% GB rate). What is more interesting, though, is his strikeout numbers. As his performance on Sunday demonstrated, he definitely has the ability to miss bats, as his 17.8% swinging strike rate would suggest. Yet, despite a very high 31.1% CSW his overall strikeout numbers aren't particularly inspiring. Considering that he's only pitched 27.1 innings that's something that should definitely regress over a larger sample.
In other words, even if Sandoval's ERA is on the lower end based on his FIP the fact of the matter is that his FIP is higher than it should be. As he continues to lean on his effective changeup, look for his overall ratios to improve. With other league members potentially worried about his FIP, that opens up the opportunity for you to benefit!
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Statistics: .255/.322/.424, 89 wRC+, 8.8% BB, 22.4% K
You wouldn't expect to find a Rockies hitter on this list, and the fact of the matter is that there isn't much of a gap between Trevor Story's actual stats and expected stats.
Do keep in mind, though, that this is a hitter who has a career .344 batting average on balls in play, meaning that his current .311 number is far too low. That'll mean more times on base, which means plenty of opportunities to rack up stolen bases and add value in multiple categories.
However, with Story, the power is what is most interesting. His .168 isolated power is much lower than the .230 figure that Fangraphs excepts for the rest of the season, while his 8.9% home run/fly ball rate is a career-low. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, he has seven fewer home runs than he should have. While playing in Colorado is very strange and Story has consistently had fewer home runs than you'd expect, that's an incredibly high number. Assuming that he'll also be healthy once he comes back from injury, and Story should go back to being the elite power/speed shortstop he was drafted to be. Rockies players have been consistently undervalued based on expected statistics, and that opens up opportunities to take advantage in the unconventional sense; players who haven't benefitted from exceptional luck are inherently unlucky. Especially in dynasty leagues, where news of Story not open to re-signing with Colorado may scare fantasy owners of him, I think Story could be an undervalued asset soon.