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The Riskiest Kind of Hitter: Expanded List

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All players come with risks in fantasy baseball, since performance can vary significantly from year to year. However, some hitters are more susceptible to fluctuations in performance due to their hitting style being a greater risk/reward type. I use 2014 data to identify these risky investments.

Jay Bruce is on my risky hitters list. Here he is striking out.
Jay Bruce is on my risky hitters list. Here he is striking out.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Note: since this was first posted, I have expanded the list of risky hitters by including all hitters with at least 250 PAs instead of the 510 PA minimum I had before.

Risk. No, not the board game of world domination. I'm talking about risk in fantasy baseball. Every player has risk, even if you remove injuries from the equation. That being said, we all know some players are just riskier investments than others. Their playing style sacrifices stability for larger rewards. They take risks at the plate because the rewards sometimes make up for the losses (usually strikeouts). Today I'm going to try and use stats from 2014 to identify the riskiest hitters in baseball. Hopefully this will help you assess them better for your draft preparation and factor in their erratic performance into your personal rankings.

How do you identify risky hitters? Well, one type of risky hitter is one that relies entirely on good luck on balls in play for good results (average, runs, RBI, steals, etc.). I covered that type of hitter and identified lucky and unlucky hitters in previous articles. Another type of risky hitter is the guy who swings at everything, swings and misses a lot, strikes out a lot, and doesn't make good contact. This means he has to make really hard contact every time he does connect to make up for all the outs he gives up in terms of strikeouts.

To pick out these risky hitters and separate them from the other, more disciplined, patient, and stable hitters, I dug into the Fangraphs leaderboards. First, I found the league averages for the three stats I was going to use for assessing risk. These values are shown in the table below. O-Swing% is a measure of how frequently a hitter swings at pitches outside the strike zone, O-Contact% is a measure of how frequently a hitter makes contact with pitches outside the zone, and SwStr% is a measure of how frequently a hitter swings and misses. You generally want a low O-Swing%, high O-Contact%, and a low SwStr%.

O-Swing% O-Contact% SwStr%
31.30% 65.80% 9.40%

Some hitters (Pablo Sandoval and Salvador Perez) can swing at everything (high O-Swing%) because they keep their SwStr% low and O-Contact% high. These guys are somewhat risky but I don't want to lump them in with the others, so I separated all qualified 2014 hitters using this criteria: O-Swing% > league average, O-contact% < league average, SwStr% > league average. All hitters that met all three criteria were labeled risky. Everyone else got a "stable" label. Hey, that rhymes!

Anyway, onto the results. The table below shows all players that ended up labeled as "risky." All other players with at least 250 PAs ended up as "stable". What this means for them is that they should experience less variability in year-to-year performance than the risky guys. This does not mean that all of the stable guys are good hitters, it just means they are likely more reliable to produce what they usually do.

Name Team O-Swing% O-Contact% SwStr%
Junior Lake Cubs 41.90% 42.30% 21.50%
Josh Hamilton Angels 40.70% 45.80% 18.90%
Mike Zunino Mariners 39.70% 50.40% 17.80%
Brandon Barnes Rockies 41.40% 55.60% 17.70%
Oswaldo Arcia Twins 38.70% 54.30% 17.40%
Danny Espinosa Nationals 38.10% 53.20% 17.20%
Chris Carter Astros 31.80% 43.40% 16.50%
Marlon Byrd Phillies 43.10% 55.90% 16.50%
Tyler Flowers White Sox 35.00% 51.30% 16.40%
Jarrod Saltalamacchia Marlins 32.60% 51.90% 16.20%
Chris Davis Orioles 31.60% 49.10% 15.40%
Ryan Howard Phillies 34.70% 51.90% 15.40%
Justin Ruggiano Cubs 31.70% 45.90% 15.20%
Juan Francisco Blue Jays 35.20% 56.50% 15.20%
J.D. Martinez Tigers 37.70% 55.80% 15.20%
Chris Johnson Braves 44.30% 51.60% 15.10%
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 40.40% 57.30% 15.00%
Jose Abreu White Sox 41.60% 59.30% 14.40%
Colby Rasmus Blue Jays 33.10% 49.70% 14.20%
Carlos Gomez Brewers 39.70% 60.70% 14.10%
Adam Jones Orioles 42.10% 63.00% 14.10%
Matt Kemp Dodgers 32.30% 53.10% 14.00%
Delmon Young Orioles 40.00% 57.90% 13.90%
Jonathan Schoop Orioles 41.20% 61.10% 13.90%
Evan Gattis Braves 41.70% 62.70% 13.90%
Ian Desmond Nationals 34.60% 53.70% 13.80%
Marcell Ozuna Marlins 32.40% 50.10% 13.70%
Nick Castellanos Tigers 33.60% 51.00% 13.70%
Mark Trumbo Diamondbacks 35.40% 56.20% 13.70%
Bryce Harper Nationals 35.70% 59.00% 13.70%
Corey Hart Mariners 35.80% 55.60% 13.70%
Pedro Alvarez Pirates 34.80% 56.20% 13.60%
Sean Rodriguez Rays 35.10% 58.20% 13.50%
Ryan Ludwick Reds 34.10% 55.20% 13.40%
Devin Mesoraco Reds 31.50% 53.20% 13.30%
Chris Heisey Reds 35.40% 63.80% 13.30%
Jay Bruce Reds 33.40% 56.30% 13.20%
Rene Rivera Padres 38.60% 57.00% 13.00%
Michael Morse Giants 39.00% 64.00% 13.00%
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs 34.60% 56.80% 12.70%
Nelson Cruz Orioles 33.60% 58.60% 12.60%
Starling Marte Pirates 37.30% 60.90% 12.60%
Juan Uribe Dodgers 43.00% 62.00% 12.40%
Dayan Viciedo White Sox 36.20% 63.40% 12.30%
Wilin Rosario Rockies 39.90% 62.50% 12.30%
Brandon Moss Athletics 33.40% 56.10% 12.20%
Todd Frazier Reds 33.70% 61.20% 12.00%
Raul Ibanez - - - 31.60% 62.40% 11.80%
Tommy Medica Padres 32.90% 60.70% 11.70%
Ryan Flaherty Orioles 33.30% 62.00% 11.70%
Will Venable Padres 32.70% 56.40% 11.60%
Torii Hunter Tigers 36.00% 63.30% 11.10%
Lorenzo Cain Royals 35.30% 59.30% 10.90%
Nate Schierholtz - - - 37.10% 64.30% 10.90%
Manny Machado Orioles 36.10% 63.80% 10.70%
Danny Valencia - - - 31.60% 61.50% 10.60%
Evan Longoria Rays 31.60% 63.80% 10.60%
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 35.70% 63.70% 10.30%
David Peralta Diamondbacks 38.30% 65.60% 10.20%
Kendrys Morales - - - 34.30% 65.00% 10.10%
James Jones Mariners 33.50% 63.30% 9.80%
Robinson Chirinos Rangers 32.00% 64.50% 9.60%
Josh Rutledge Rockies 31.60% 62.40% 9.50%

Near the top of the risky list, you see some unsurprising swing-for-the-fences guys like Chris Carter, Marlon Byrd, Chris Davis, etc. You also see some very productive sluggers that have succeeded despite their risky profile. This includes Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, Carlos Gomez, and Ian Desmond. Near the bottom of the list, you see Evan Longoria and Miguel Cabrera. Well, I guess this means you should draft these two guys in the 15th round. Wait! Don't do that! I was just joking. I'm not worried about Cabrera (except for his health) and Longoria should bounce back this year. These two are at the bottom of the list because it is sorted by SwStr% and they were both just barely over league average, hardly dangerous territory.

What can we take away from this list? Well, it means that these dangerous guys could collapse this year after breakout years, like we saw with Chris Davis, Jay Bruce, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mark Trumbo (he was injured though), Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Johnson last year. Good regression candidates that fit that mold would be Todd Frazier, Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, and Marcell Ozuna. These guys had career years last year and could easily take steps back this year. That said, I still love Abreu and he hits the ball really hard, so I don't expect him to completely fall apart. I will also note that I am worried about Castellanos. His plate discipline is atrocious and if he can't figure that out, he doesn't have enough power to make it worthwhile. Ray pointed out some reasons for optimism on him, but it will be an uphill battle.

All the guys on the list are risky because they give the pitchers a lot of things to take advantage of. Their aggressiveness allows pitchers to fool them with lots of breaking stuff and keep them guessing. Thus, the pitchers have lots of ways to get them out and can learn how to fool them quickly. This can translate to awful batting averages and dips in overall production for fantasy. Keep a close eye on these guys in 2015 and as you prep for drafts. They do come with some reward, but they are riskier than the other hitters out there. I will end with the immortal words of Dirty Harry: "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Also, Tschus!