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%.
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.
|Tyler Flowers||White Sox||35.00%||51.30%||16.40%|
|Juan Francisco||Blue Jays||35.20%||56.50%||15.20%|
|Jose Abreu||White Sox||41.60%||59.30%||14.40%|
|Colby Rasmus||Blue Jays||33.10%||49.70%||14.20%|
|Dayan Viciedo||White Sox||36.20%||63.40%||12.30%|
|Raul Ibanez||- - -||31.60%||62.40%||11.80%|
|Nate Schierholtz||- - -||37.10%||64.30%||10.90%|
|Danny Valencia||- - -||31.60%||61.50%||10.60%|
|Kendrys Morales||- - -||34.30%||65.00%||10.10%|
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?"