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2018 fantasy baseball’s riskiest hitters

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Which hitters walk the tightrope of contact and discipline? Who’s got the most risk of hitting 0.200?

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

Way way back in 2015, I looked at hitters with “risky” profiles. That is, hitters that swing and miss too often, swing at pitches outside the zone too much, and hitters that can’t make contact when they do swing outside the zone. You might call them “undisciplined” hitters. In 2015, before the new home run/juiced ball era, most hitters didn’t have enough power to succeed if they had awful plate discipline.

Things have changed a lot since then, but, hitters with this profile still have huge batting average risks. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the power to offset that hit in average. However, with everyone suddenly a power hitter, home runs are available everywhere and batting average can be harder to come by. Hence, I am updating the risky hitters list for 2018.

Here’s my methodology. I found the league average for out-of-zone swing %, out-of-zone contact %, and swinging strike rate. Then, I generated a list of all the hitters that have O-swing% higher than average, O-contact% below average, and swinging strike rates above average. This is a profile of an undisciplined hitter. In the big table below, you will find the 45 hitters in 2017 that met these requirements, along with some power indicator stats to show guys that have so much power that their poor discipline doesn’t really matter. Oh, and I included everyone with at least 400 PA in 2017.

For those who care, here are the league averages: O-Swing% - 29.9%, O-Contact% - 62.9%, SwStr% - 10.5%

Ok, here’s the big table:

Name O-Swing% O-Contact% SwStr% HR ISO HR/FB Hard%
Joey Gallo 31.8% 42.6% 19.3% 41 0.327 30% 46%
Javier Baez 45.1% 52.7% 19.2% 23 0.207 20% 32%
Mike Zunino 30.1% 43.7% 17.9% 25 0.258 24% 39%
Matt Davidson 33.4% 46.9% 16.3% 26 0.232 22% 38%
Avisail Garcia 39.8% 52.9% 16.3% 18 0.176 16% 35%
Ian Happ 31.5% 49.7% 16.1% 24 0.261 25% 33%
Austin Hedges 37.7% 52.8% 16.1% 18 0.183 15% 33%
Carlos Gomez 40.8% 57.6% 15.8% 17 0.207 17% 39%
Jorge Bonifacio 31.5% 51.2% 15.4% 17 0.177 18% 32%
Michael Taylor 30.2% 49.4% 15.3% 19 0.216 20% 34%
Matt Kemp 37.9% 61.7% 15.2% 19 0.187 20% 35%
Tim Anderson 41.3% 54.2% 15.2% 17 0.145 14% 28%
Hunter Renfroe 33.5% 57.1% 15.0% 26 0.236 19% 35%
Tim Beckham 33.8% 53.1% 15.0% 22 0.176 21% 39%
J.D. Martinez 32.1% 54.1% 14.8% 45 0.387 34% 49%
Carlos Gonzalez 34.2% 52.4% 14.7% 14 0.162 12% 32%
Trevor Story 30.9% 53.0% 14.2% 24 0.219 16% 40%
Scott Schebler 35.0% 58.5% 14.2% 30 0.252 22% 39%
Mark Trumbo 34.5% 59.7% 13.8% 23 0.163 14% 30%
Trey Mancini 34.9% 60.0% 13.8% 24 0.195 20% 34%
Jonathan Schoop 37.1% 59.0% 13.8% 32 0.211 18% 36%
Byron Buxton 31.1% 51.1% 13.7% 16 0.160 14% 28%
Randal Grichuk 35.4% 57.3% 13.7% 22 0.235 18% 40%
Willson Contreras 31.8% 59.9% 13.5% 21 0.223 26% 36%
Kendrys Morales 35.7% 61.7% 13.4% 28 0.196 20% 38%
Paul DeJong 33.6% 59.2% 13.3% 25 0.247 20% 36%
Brandon Crawford 31.0% 58.1% 13.1% 14 0.151 10% 33%
Nick Castellanos 34.6% 59.2% 13.1% 26 0.218 14% 43%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 30.0% 60.7% 13.0% 17 0.158 15% 33%
Jay Bruce 31.3% 58.2% 13.0% 36 0.254 19% 40%
Rougned Odor 38.3% 62.1% 13.0% 30 0.193 16% 37%
Orlando Arcia 38.7% 61.4% 13.0% 15 0.130 13% 30%
Marcell Ozuna 33.1% 59.2% 12.8% 37 0.237 23% 39%
Martin Maldonado 34.4% 54.0% 12.7% 14 0.147 13% 27%
Gary Sanchez 33.7% 60.1% 12.6% 33 0.253 25% 37%
Bryce Harper 30.1% 55.9% 12.4% 29 0.276 24% 34%
Cory Spangenberg 32.5% 58.3% 12.4% 13 0.137 16% 29%
Tommy Joseph 36.0% 59.8% 12.4% 22 0.192 15% 35%
Ryon Healy 35.8% 58.9% 12.0% 25 0.181 15% 34%
Kevin Kiermaier 30.7% 61.1% 11.9% 15 0.174 17% 32%
Yasmani Grandal 31.6% 60.6% 11.9% 22 0.212 18% 37%
Hanley Ramirez 32.6% 60.0% 11.7% 23 0.188 16% 35%
Justin Bour 32.4% 60.9% 11.6% 25 0.247 26% 39%
Mitch Moreland 30.2% 59.8% 11.3% 22 0.197 16% 39%
Nomar Mazara 32.9% 62.8% 11.2% 20 0.170 14% 33%

You could probably guess without looking for some of these names. Trevor Story, Joey Gallo, Mike Zunino, Javier Baez, and Matt Kemp are all known for poor discipline. They all also have other skills that make them relevant in spite of that. We’ve also seen the downside of this risky profile for most of these guys. Story’s 2017 was a reminder of how quickly things can change. That 2016 1st half was amazing, but it covered up some real problems with his approach. Once the power returned to just “good”, he suddenly didn’t look so great.

Jackie Bradley Jr., Mark Trumbo, and Brandon Crawford also lost a lot of value once their power dropped this year. The point is, these risky hitters have to hit the ball extremely hard to stay relevant. Remember Chris Carter? He was the leader of this club until his discipline was so bad that his power couldn’t save him anymore.

While it’s easy to give a pass to J.D. Martinez, Joey Gallo, Nick Castellanos, Jay Bruce, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Bour because they put up huge Hard% (39%+) and other power numbers in 2017, seemingly justifying their approach, that ignores their risk. Trevor Story had a Hard% of 40% and a 0.219 ISO and still only had 24 HR while playing half his games at Coors. He put up a measly 0.765 OPS. Or, look at Randall Grichuk. He had a Hard% of 40% as well and still got demoted during the season because of his poor discipline. Rougned Odor spent much of the season batting below 0.200. Sure, he hit 30 HR, but that was an awful batting average.

To be clear, there are some guys on this list that should be drafted with confidence, despite their risky profile. Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, and Gary Sanchez come to mind. I’m a big Justin Bour fan as well, so he might be on that list. But, the rest of the list should be drafted with the understanding that there is a risk of the bottom falling out. The examples I gave in the previous paragraph are just a few of many examples of this profile being dangerous. Just ask Chris Davis. Or, you know, when Mike Zunino couldn’t stick with the MLB club for several years and kept being sent back to AAA?

There are a few names on this list that are getting some buzz heading into 2018, so I want to add some caution. Tim Beckham, Michael Taylor, Ian Happ, Paul DeJong, Ryon Healy, Byron Buxton, and Austin Hedges are guys that have high risk, a very short track record of success, and some hype heading into 2018 based on their 2017 performances. For some, an inflated HR/FB% hid their poor discipline (see Happ, Ian and his 25% rate). For others, it was a good Hard% in a partial season. The point is, don’t say I didn’t warn you if these guys struggle in 2018.

Even darlings like Willson Contreras, Matt Kemp, Joey Gallo, and gasp Gary Sanchez could become the next Carlos Gonzalez. Remember when he was a fantasy monster. Now look at him. Carlos Gomez, the other CarGo, has met a similar fate, but not quite as drastic. The failure stories outnumber the success stories here.

The table above is sorted by swinging strike rate for a reason. I believe that is the single riskiest thing a hitter can do. It shows that the hitter is easily fooled and allows pitchers to throw the pitches they want, giving the hitter nothing good to hit. That can be a downward spiral. 2015/2016 Byron Buxton slowly nods his head.

I don’t want to throw cold water on all these guys. I know they have fantasy value for other reasons. DeJong’s a SS, Buxton’s got all kinds of speed, Gallo’s crazy power, Sanchez power at a weak C position, etc. My point is just to know what you are getting yourself into. Long slumps, poor batting averages, possible demotions. These are all on the table with this group. Weigh these risks along with all the other risks and rewards in your drafts or auctions. Good luck out there! Tschus!