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Statcast and Sneaky MLB DFS plays

Heath uses Statcast to unearth (or remind you of) some sneaky MLB DFS plays.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to win, you should just stack the Braves every day in your daily fantasy lineups. Okay, maybe not. But I have been winning more than I thought I would with my Braves stacking experiment. However, since you need to fill out the other half of your daily fantasy lineups as well, I unearthed a few sneaky plays that might fit the bill on a given day. And since a couple of them are part-timers, that means they might come cheaply. This is a good thing, since the Braves hitters are generally pretty expensive. You know, since the Braves are so good. Moving on...

I primarily considered Barrels, and there are a few surprises inside the top-30 with regard to barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA). Some of these guys are part-timers, and that’s all good. Like I said, the part-time role typically means you get a hitter in a great split with a bit of a depressed salary. I am here for it.

Mitch Moreland is aging like a fine wine

Look, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t weave in some Mitchy Two-Bags propaganda at least once this season. For those of you who are ignorant, Moreland and I attended the same high school in Amory, Mississippi. He’s an easy dude to root for. Anyway, here are Moreland’s ranks in Brls/PA by year, every year since Statcast sprung into existence:

2015: 29th (7.6)
2016: 68th (6.6)
2017: 22nd (8.2)
2018: 41st (7.8)
2019: 13th (10.2)

2016 was a bit of an outlier for Mitch, at least with regard to chase rate. His bumped up to 34.1% that year, which was well above the 30% or so rate he had settled into in Texas. Anyway, here are Moreland’s chase rates since joining Boston:

2017: 30.2%
2018: 27.3%
2019: 27.3%

I’m sure no one wants to hear that the 33-year-old (nearly 34) is getting better with age, but it’s true. Moreland has a career-high pull rate of 51.9% this year, the lowest soft contact rate of his career at 10.1%, and the lowest infield fly ball rate of his career (only 2.0%). We’ve established already that he isn’t chasing balls out of the zone, but he has also increased his zone swing rate in successive years—from 69.3% in 2017 to 72.5% in 2018 and 75.1% in 2019.

In summation: Moreland is swinging more in the zone, swinging less out of the zone, and pulling the ball more than ever. And by the way, his 91.5 mph average exit velocity this year is his highest AEV on record since Statcast began in 2015. Lastly, his .221 batting average can be explained in part by a .216 BABIP. Moreland is a big hombre that isn’t fleet of foot, but he still has a career .283 BABIP. That .216 mark is 39 points lower than his lowest-recorded mark in a given season (.255 back in 2013). Better days should be ahead. For what its worth, Mitch has an xBA of .246, which is right in line with his career .250 batting average. He’ll sit versus lefties, but you can jam him in there against right-handed pitching. All 13 of Moreland’s dingers are against righty pitching, against whom he has a whopping .318 ISO.

Jason Castro is interesting

Here’s a name you see atop the Statcast Leaderboard and want to immediately gloss over. But Castro ranks seventh in the whole of the MLB with regard to barrels per plate appearance, which is very impressive. Even a 32-year-old part-time catcher can be appealing! So what is Castro doing differently? For starters, he’s apparently joined the launch angle revolution, coming up from 8.2 degrees last year to a 15.0 degree average so far in 2019. For reference, the MLB average for all hitters is 11.1 degrees. So he is hitting the ball at a much more desirable angle. Also, he is hitting the ball much harder! Since Statcast became a thing, here are Castro’s exit velocity averages by year (in mph):

2015: 88.6
2016: 88.5
2017: 86.9
2018: 86.8
2019: 91.6

You know you’re scalding the ball when you have a higher exit velo mark than Mitch Moreland. Anyway, what I see is a guy living with his whiff tendencies—Castro’s 27.9% strikeout rate is right in line with his 27.5% career mark, as is his 10.2% walk rate (career 9.8%). However, whereas in the last two years he had become pretty passive at the plate, this year he is swinging much more (close to league average) and even chasing a little more out of the zone—but he had room to chase there, since he was barely chasing at all. It’s hard to say if that’s by design—i.e. he had some success hitting the ball hard this year, so he kept swinging more, or if he made a conscious decision to swing more and enjoyed more success. Either way, this is a much different season for Castro. His 34.5% ground ball rate is the lowest rate of grounders in his career, and his 39.5% fly ball rate is the highest rate of fly balls in his career. His 50.8% hard contact rate is shattering his career average of 33.9%. He’s a tough sell in DFS when he’s in the lineup batting eighth, but don’t think there isn’t upside to be had in the right matchup.

Matt Adams is Mitch Moreland lite

It’s true. A lefty platoon first baseman, except he strikes out way more than Moreland (32.6% to 23.0%), walks less (6.4% to 11.2%), and doesn’t hit the ball as hard (89.9 exit velo to 91.5). Adams is only 30 years old, so maybe he can stick around for a few more years in the MLB—but the big jump up to a 15.2% swinging strike rate and massive K-rate are concerns. Still, when he does hit the ball, he can smack it pretty hard. He ranks 15th with 10.1 Brls/PA, tied with George Springer and Matt Olson. In fact, he has 23 barrels on 140 batted ball events in 2019. Compare this to his 24 barrels on 233 batted ball events a year ago, and it is clear that Adams is doing something right...when he actually makes contact!

David Freese is pretty good in the right split

Boy, these are some “meh” names. After barreling 19 balls over 211 BBEs in 2018, Freese is up to 16 barrels on 102 BBEs in 2019. His average launch angle has risen from a below average 7.2 degrees to 10.5 degrees this year—so just below the 11.1 degree MLB average. His average exit velocity is pretty steady, at 90.7 mph this year after 90.3 mph last year. Freese is 36 years old and probably not breaking out anytime soon, especially for the platoon-happy Dodgers. Let’s just applaud him for decreasing his ground ball rate and for hitting the ball with a bit more authority in his older age—a 45.1% hard contact rate this year is the top mark of his career. In the past I would have said you could easily start him against lefties, against whom he has a career .301 batting average and .168 ISO. However, Freese has actually been better against righties in 2019, batting .368 with five of his nine homers. So he’s a bit of a conundrum right now.

Christian Walker is a Statcast Beast

89th percentile in exit velocity, 97th percentile in hard hit rate, 84th percentile in xwOBA, and 88th percentile in xSLG. He’s even a hair above average in sprint speed, at the 58th percentile. Same deal with xBA, at 56th percentile. According to Statcast, his 50.4% hard contact rate ranks inside the Top 3% of the league. Walker pairs that with an above average 15.7 degree launch angle and a 14.8% barrel rate that ranks inside the Top 5% of the league. So, he hits the ball hard and he hits it at an angle that is suitable for home runs. Amen. His weakness is his 27.9% strikeout rate, but he also carries a beefy 11.2% walk rate. He is the embodiment of baseball in 2019—walks, strikeouts, dingers. He’s up to a quiet 20 home runs already, 16 of which are against right-handed pitching. Walker is a right-handed hitter, so I dig the RvR split in MLB DFS—most people are looking for RvL and this split can get overlooked. In season-long leagues he might be tough to roster, as you’d have to deal with the valleys whenever the strikeouts were getting the best of him. But for a single day in DFS, in the right matchup, this could be a sneaky play.

Tell me who I missed! I tried to stick to barrels as my measure, and to give some names that might be surprising in some sense. 2019 fantasy baseball is not complete, but it is now able to be completed since yours truly has propagandized Mitch Moreland. Cheers!