Folks, when you’re right 52% of the time, you’re wrong 48% of the time. That’s just how life in the prognostication business goes. Still, while reveling in the victories is far more fun, there’s usually a lot more to gain in analyzing where things went wrong in the losses. Heck, I can’t honestly say with any definitive proof that I’m even right on 52% of occasions, yet I most certainly have a paper trail of where I swung and missed. However, that simply means a larger sample from which to learn lessons. So, with that in mind, exactly two months removed from Opening Day, let’s not only take a look back at which players I was way off on, but the reasons my logic was eventually extremely misguided.
It’s the lone path I see to getting better. Well, at least until I can afford a really big lock or a really big shoe.
Around the Thorne: January 22, 2019“Despite taking home last season National League MVP, I’m still a little skeptical of Christian Yelich’s ability to translate his immense real-life talent into fantasy baseball success. Look no further than his batted ball profile to find what’s stoking the fires of my doubt. Though Yelich’s ISO jumped from a modest .156 in 2017 to a massive .272 mark last year, nothing about his predilection for hitting ground balls changed as a member of the Brewers — it actually got worse. Yelich’s 23.5 percent fly-ball rate was the eighth-lowest mark among all qualified hitters in 2018, down from an already underwhelming 25.2 percent in his final season in Miami.”
I think there are three things we have to consider when looking to evaluate Yelich going forward. First, the reigning National League MVP could very well just be an outlier; a player with enough raw ability that the natural predictive statistical curves simply don’t apply. However, if you care to trek out of the macro and into the micro of his batted ball profile, some things have actually changed in massive ways so far in 2019. Above, I mention how Yelich has essentially stood in a group of one when it comes to MLB power hitters and a propensity to hit ground balls. Suddenly, this is no longer the case. Despite entering this season with a career GB/FB of 2.9 over 3,463 plate appearances, Yelich is suddenly in possession of a much more league-average mark of 1.11. His HR/FB ratio remains insane (37.5%) and the rise in fly ball rate (40.6%) has come mostly at the expense of his line drive rate (14.5%); yet, at the end of the day, he’s finally adhering to the axiom that home runs are the direct result of elevation. It should then come as no shock that Yelich’s average launch angle has jumped from 4.7 degrees in 2018 to a robust 12.9 degrees through two months of the current campaign. He’s made the adjustments to stave off normalization that I assumed he wouldn’t.
Finally, there’s the magic of Miller Park. One of the most common narrative threads in the fantasy community heading into last season was Yelich’s shift in offensive environment. Making the leap from the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park to the comfy confines of the Brewers’ home stadium. Well, its definitely been a factor. Yelich has slashed .395/.505/1.092 with an ungodly .697 ISO in his 95 plate appearances in Wisconsin in 2019, with the 27-year-old sporting an eye-popping 53.3% HR/FB ratio at home going back to 2018’s All-Star Game. It’s all kind of nuts, but it’s not completely without precedent. Since Shawn Green crushed 42 long balls with a ground ball rate of 51.2% back in 2002, only three qualified players had managed 30-plus home runs with a ground ball rate north of 50%: Yelich, David Peralta and Ryan Braun. Domingo Santana, who hit 30 homers in 2017 with a fly ball rate of 27.7%, was also pretty close to making this very small list. That’s a whole lot of Milwaukee representation in a set of data that almost encompasses two decades of baseball. I guess, while most of Yelich’s success can be attributed to his own skill, Bernie Brewer needs some love, too.
Around the Thorne: March 19, 2019“The left-handed batter owns a minuscule 7.6 percent swinging strike rate across his three-season run in the majors, a figure he pairs with a 70.8 percent zone swing rate. In fact, among the 30 qualified players with career swinging strike rates below 8.0 percent, only Ender Inciarte is more inclined to attack pitches inside the strike zone. Its a balance of contact skills and aggression that is crucial to leading the league in a counting-based stat like hits. That’s not where the solid indicators stop with Benintendi, though. In 2018, the former top prospect showcased a non-reliance on pulling the ball (38.4 percent), a sterling soft contact rate (13.7 percent), and one of the lowest infield fly ball rates in all of baseball (4.1 percent). He’s truly a complete hitter and one that could find himself at the top of a leaderboard sooner rather than later.”
I had written this paragraph in an attempt to endorse Benintendi for MLB’s hits leader in 2019. Now, it should be said that the 24-year-old was far from the odds-on favorite for that distinction. In fact, he was +4000. Yet, I was understandably high on a player that not only was in possession of immense contact skills, but one that projected to take a majority of his at-bats from the top of a potent Red Sox lineup. We now know most of those sentiments to be false. The largest disappointment has to be Benintendi’s huge increase in strikeout rate throughout the first two months of the season. For a player so often heralded for his plate discipline and ability to not swing-and-miss, Benintendi has seen a 16.0% strikeout rate from last year jump up to 23.4% over 231 plate appearances. On top of that, we’ve also seen correlating career-highs and lows in chase rate (33.5%), swinging strike rate (11.0%), and overall contact rate (78.3%). To put it bluntly, Benintendi’s simply been a different archetype of hitter so far this season.
When a player is hitting just .256 with an underwhelming .144 ISO, you’re going to reach a point where that particular person is not going to be constantly rewarded within your batting order. Volume was one of the biggest reasons I believed in Benintendi’s chances of racking up something close to 200 hits. He’d taken 98.0% of his plate appearances in either the first or second spot in Boston’s lineup in 2018 and had been penciled in as its everyday leadoff man during Spring Training. So, while Alex Cora has mostly lived up to this claim through the better part of 2019, we’re starting to see the cracks in his confidence. Benintendi has hit sixth twice in the Red Sox’s past five games, both occasions coming with a left-handed starter as the team’s opposition. Considering Benintendi is slashing a modest .186/.373/.256 with a .070 ISO within the split, I can’t say I really blame the manager’s decision-making. Really, it’s not as if Benintendi was all that successful in left-on-left situations a year ago, either. Across 164 PAs, the former top prospect produced a meager wRC+ of 84. With Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis all in great current form, don’t be surprised if Benintendi’s grasp on his premium lineup spot against RHPs is the next thing to loosen.
Put your knowledge to the test. Sign up for DraftKings and experience the game inside the game.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.