Statcast Review: Kyle Tucker, Jesse Winker, Zack Greinke (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

Kyle Tucker heads the players who have been unlucky in terms of wOBA to start 2022.

Opening Day is as close to a holiday for fantasy baseball fans as it gets, but there’s another milestone that happens shortly thereafter: the release of Statcast leaderboards.

It takes some time for the data to accumulate — let alone settle — but we finally have some concrete numbers over which we can obsess. This officially shifts our attention from preseason predictions to underlying on-field metrics.

As a general rule of thumb, “expected” statistics are always going to be our starting point. Before we dive in, however, we should define “expected.” It is not to be taken literally and used wholly as a future projection. It is the number we should have seen based on all other comparable factors and, if we want to apply it to a prediction, it can help with the player’s direction.

We see this with raw numbers, as well. If a hitter is 5-for-10 and then 10-for-20 and continues to deliver a .500 batting average for an extended period of time, we know this hitter is likely to regress down. We don’t know if we’re about to see a batting title at .375 or a complete meltdown to .215, but we know the address.

What we’ll aim to do in this series is find the address of the numbers Statcast specifically highlights.

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current vs. Expected wOBA – Batters

We’ll start this series with one of the more all-encompassing metrics: wOBA. In baseball, there is no magic catch-all, but wOBA — weighted on-base average — serves as a barometer for “what should have happened.” How well is a player making contact with a pitch and, regardless of what the defense did on the play, what could we have expected as an outcome?

Below is a table of batters sorted by difference between xwOBA and wOBA, so that we can identify the players who have the largest gap. Players with at least 40 plate appearances were used. For batters, a negative difference is better, as it suggests a positive correction. For reference, the league averages as of the time this table was created are .311 wOBA, .336 xwOBA, and -0.025 difference.

notes

  • Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU) jumps off the screen as the important name to note at the top of the list. He was a consensus top-20 pick in most fantasy leagues this year and, while it is obviously early, the returns through the first few weeks are sorely lacking. The difference between Tucker’s xwOBA and wOBA should go a long way in quelling the concerns of fantasy managers, as his underlying metrics are far better than the surface numbers. In fact, he ranks 20th among all qualified hitters in xwOBA, regardless of his actual wOBA output.
  • Jesse Winker (OF – SEA) was one of the key names who changed teams during this past offseason, and he’s not exactly off to a great start with the Seattle Mariners. Fear not. He lands second to only the aforementioned Tucker as a player whose regression should be in the positive direction. What’s most important for Winker is that he was widely considered one of the clear negative regression candidates after last year’s breakout campaign, but these early numbers suggest that he is still hitting the ball well, and he is now more likely to increase his production than see it falls farther.
  • Flipping the table upside down to view the players who are far exceeding their actual wOBA, we don’t have to go far before catching the eye-popping Jose Ramirez (3B – CLE) and his torrid start to the year. Indeed, it’s unsustainable by this metric, but let’s pause and put his early efforts into perspective. If we pretend that xwOBA is a perfectly flawless statistic that should be taken at face value, then Ramirez would still rank fourth-best among hitters with at least 20 plate appearances. This means that, even if he drops alongside his xwOBA, he’s still among the best hitters in the game. It’s almost impossible to rank so highly in wOBA and “Difference,” yet Ramirez continues to defy the odds.
  • I just mentioned Ramirez and how he stacks up against the rest of the hitters who reached the threshold of 40 plate appearances, but we should take a moment to recognize those who might be likely to stay near the top of the list. These are players with high wOBA and xwOBA, where the difference is so small that the trend may continue. Some of the names are not surprising — Juan Soto (OF – WSH) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B – TOR) — but others like Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS), Francisco Lindor (SS – NYM), and Josh Bell (1B,OF – WSH) may go overlooked by fellow fantasy managers. This might be the right time to reach out and try to acquire them.

current vs. Expected wOBA – Pitchers

Not surprisingly, if we were looking for a lower number to benefit hitters, then we want a higher number in the “Difference” column for pitchers. The table below is sorted as such and, once again, players with at least 40 plate appearances against were used. For reference, the league averages as of the time this table was created are .311 wOBA, .336 xwOBA, and -0.025 difference.

notes

  • Let’s show a little love for two pitchers from the Cincinnati Reds, as Vladimir Gutierrez (SP – CIN) and Nick Lodolo (SP – CIN) lead the charge for pitchers most drastically missing the mark but with a potential positive correction. As I wrote in the introduction, we can’t lazily expect the two pitchers to revert to their numbers, but we can see an opportunity for better outings ahead. Between the pitiful start by Cincinnati — the worst record in Major League Baseball — and the surface numbers, it’s unlikely that either pitcher would carry a high cost of acquisition.
  • I’ll admit that I am often biased toward pitchers like Mitch Keller (SP – PIT) who continue to show flashes of what made them a one-time top prospect. Still, the numbers speak for themselves. He’s been subpar, yet again, and we are well past the point of considering it “early-career struggles,” but we can’t hide from the tantalizing hidden numbers. Keller is actually enjoying the second-best strikeout rate of his career, and we can see from the “Difference” column that he is simply too far extended in the wrong direction. Maybe he won’t figure out how to pitch at the Major League level, but I wouldn’t be ready to give up on him just yet.
  • Following the same pattern we used for hitters, it’s time to reverse course with the table and look at some of the pitchers more likely to negatively regress based on their xwOBA. A few of the names are not surprising in that we would hardly consider them high-end fantasy targets, but some are worth exploring further. Zack Greinke (SP – KC) and Logan Webb (SP – SF) have two of the most severe differences between xwOBA and wOBA, and there might be a reason to hesitate before fully trusting either. Webb still sits in the top half among this group of pitchers for xwOBA, so he isn’t a major risk for collapse, but there is a clear sign that he might be in store for some rockier outings.
  • Finally, we will close out this exercise by identifying a handful of pitchers who are nicely aligned with their already outstanding xwOBAs. As I wrote for the hitters, this is not a guarantee that such success will continue, but it is always a good sign when the two layers of statistics are aligned together. Kyle Wright (SP – ATL), Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD), Noah Syndergaard (SP – LAA), Logan Gilbert (SP – SEA), and Kyle Gibson (SP – PHI) are some of the prime examples. It may be wise to prioritize them in trade talks.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Portfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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