Nobody likes being wrong on a player. Drafting someone that lets you down is no fun, heck we all want to win. Sometimes that sticks with us, and our impression of a player that burned us before can skew our judgment. Think of it this way, when you research bounce-back candidates, someone had to draft them in the first place for them to have been a bust right? So, when the previous season comes to an end, you have to try to look at things objectively going forward. Don’t miss out on a bounce-back or breakout that could help you win because you’re scorned. I’ve come up with a player for every position that failed to live up to ADP last season who could help you win your 2020 fantasy baseball leagues. This is The Redeem Team.
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From Bust to Bounce-Back: The 2020 All-Redeem Team
Francisco Mejia – Breakout
To say that someone like Gary Sanchez or Willson Contreras would bounce back is too easy. We all know what they’re capable of as they put up respectable numbers even in injury-shortened seasons. One catcher we’ve been waiting on is San Diego Padres youngster Francisco Mejia. Drafted as a top-12 catcher last season, there were high hopes for one of the top catching prospects in the game. Mejia finished the 2019 campaign with a .265/.316/.438 slash line with 27 runs, 22 RBI, and eight home runs, falling short of expectations.
San Diego is expected to go into 2020 with Mejia and Austin Hedges splitting time. While Hedges had the upper hand in playing time during the first half of the season, things swung Mejia’s way as the season progressed. As a result, Mejia picked things up with the bat, hitting .305 with six of 8 home runs coming after the All-Star break. Mejia has flashed some pop, hitting 14 home runs in 2017 and 2018 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Although the hard-hit and exit velocity data don’t jump out, Mejia made a concerted effort to put the ball in the air. Raising his launch angle from 8.8 degrees to 19.1 shifted his fly-ball rate from 29.7% to 44.4% from 2018 to 2019. Mejia could produce a Wilson Ramos type season with a good batting average and mid-teens home runs. Except, Mejia will be going much later in drafts.
Rhys Hoskins – Bounce-back
A .226 batting average is about the last thing you want from your third or fourth-round pick. Unfortunately for Rhys Hoskins owners, things didn’t go so well for the slugging first baseman as he disappointed with only 29 home runs. To put things into perspective, 59 other hitters had at least 29 home runs and a .226 batting average. Taking a closer look at his season, it’s clear what went wrong for Hoskins. Simply put, he was hitting too many fly balls.
Hoskins raised his launch angle for the third consecutive season, all the way up to 24 degrees. That launch angle was the second-highest among hitters with at least 100 batted ball events according to Statcast data. And of that same group of hitters, Hoskins ranked 13th in average batted-ball distance. Only three hitters ranking ahead of Hoskins in ball distance had a lower HR/FB%, and two of them played their games at Oracle Park. So, Hoskins might have gotten a bit unlucky when it comes to home runs. The exit velocity was fine. At 89.7 it was nearly a whole mph higher than in 2018. A launch angle adjustment could do wonders for Hoskins and have him back to hitting over 30 home runs with .20 to .30 more points of average. One thing Hoskins did improve was his plate discipline, walking at a rate of 16.5% and ending his season with a .364 OBP. According to early Fantrax ADP, Hoskins is being drafted just outside the top 100. If this holds, this bounce-back could be a steal come draft day.
Garrett Hampson – Breakout
Does it surprise you as much as it surprises me to see that Garrett Hampson finished the season with eight home runs and 15 steals? Last spring, Hampson was a “sleeper” everyone was on. Ryan McMahon ultimately won the second base job. In typical Rockies fashion, the team had Hampson blocked at other positions until injuries opened up playing time. Hampson struggled when given an opportunity early on, and it earned him a temporary demotion. The second half of the season was much better for Hampson as he hit .284 with seven of his eight home runs and 11 of his 15 steals. This might have gone unnoticed because of how difficult it was to keep rostering Hampson. The strong second half isn’t the only reason I’m optimistic when it comes to Hampson next season.
Garrett Hampson can flat out run, finishing in the 99th percentile in sprint speed with 30.1 ft/s according to Statcast data. That kind of speed helped Hampson achieve an 83% success rate on the base paths. With steal totals in the minors of 36, 51, and 38 from 2016-2018, it’s easy to see Hampson becoming a major speed contributor. Plus, Coors should help his power numbers, right? Well, Hampson hit seven of his eight home runs on the road. That’s not to say he’ll be a major power source as well, but there’s some pop in that bat. Enough to have me thinking he could be a 15-home run and 25 steal kind of player with a decent average and good counting stats.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Breakout
Despite not having a spot on the Opening Day roster, Blue Jay’s third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a top-50 pick in drafts. Consistently going between fellow third basemen Anthony Rendon and Eugenio Suarez, Guerrero’s season went much differently than his counterparts with a .272/.338/.433 slash line with 15 home runs.
The same way we looked at Hoskins and realized he was putting the ball too high in the air, Guerrero hit too many ground balls. While that might not be such a problem for speedier players, Guerrero’s legs aren’t going to be the reason he hits into a good BABIP. The 6.7-degree launch angle gave Guerrero a 49.6% ground ball rate. In 2018, Juan Soto burst onto the scene and hit the ball into the ground 53.7% of the time doing it. So, if you think that a ground ball rate is going to limit Guerrero’s upside going into next season, you might be making a big mistake. Launch angle is something that can be adjusted faster than most metrics. Players know this, coaches know this, and adjustments are made.
One thing we do know, Guerrero can hit the ball hard. When looking at batters that hit the ball over 110 mph, Guerrero ranks 14th in baseball with 29 such batted balls. Raise that exit velocity to 115, and he leads all of baseball with eight. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is only 20 years old. With experience and age will come more consistency. Given his pedigree and skill set, I’m banking on breakout sophomore season.
Manny Machado – Bounce-Back
Ok, so he’s not a shortstop, but Manny Machado played enough games at short to make him qualify for the position once again. After putting up a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 14 steals in 2018, Machado was a locked-in second-round pick in most drafts heading into the season. A .256/.334/.462 triple-slash and 32 home runs turned out to be quite underwhelming for the new San Diego Padre. In fact, 35 other hitters hit at least 32 home runs and a .256 average. That’s a lot of lost value. So, let’s take a look at why he may be due for a bounce-back season in his second year as a Padre.
A lot has been made of Machado’s numbers outside of Camden Yards. It’s true, he’s hit .294 in Baltimore for his career and .270 elsewhere. But Machado has had a season in Baltimore much like last season. In 2017, Machado hit .259/.310/.471 with 33 home runs and nine steals, nearly identical to his 2019 campaign. Much like that season, Machado has underperformed his expected statistics. His .256 batting average fell short of his .266 expected batting average. While he finished his 2017 season with a .287 expected batting average, he also struck out 2.7% less that year. Could he have been pressing, trying to live up to his new, big contract?
Strikeouts aside, let’s take a look at his skills. Machado had a 91.2mph average exit velocity last season, the second-best of his career. A slight dip in launch angle, down from 14.4 degrees to 13 degrees explains the 8% barrel rate, the second-lowest of his career. Still, there’s nothing that deviates too far from his career norms outside of the strikeout rate. According to Fangraphs, his 43% hard-hit percentage was the highest of his career. And when it comes to stealing bases, Machado finished with an average sprint speed of 26.4 ft/s, only 0.1 ft/s more then the 26.3 rate he displayed over the last two seasons. All in all, Machado looks like the same player he’s always been, capable of being a stud for your fantasy baseball teams and a prime bounce-back candidate.
Marcell Ozuna – Bounce-back
Marcell Ozuna enjoyed a career year in 2017 when he hit for a .312/.376/.548 slash line and 37 home runs. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to repeat those numbers over the last two seasons. Owners certainly weren’t happy with a .243 average and 29 home runs in 2019 after taking Ozuna well within the top 100 picks, often going in the sixth or seventh rounds. As fortunate as Ozuna might have been in that 2017 season, he was just as unfortunate last season. A free agent, Ozuna is going to be quite a steal on the market wherever he signs.
Starting with his Statcast data, the first thing you notice is red, red everywhere. Ozuna had a 91.8 average exit velocity, good for top 7% in baseball and tying a career-high. At 13.5 degrees, Ozuna’s launch angle is also a career mark. So, it’s no surprise that his 12.6% barrel rate is the highest he’s ever achieved. Gains in his plate discipline led to an 11.3% walk rate, also his best rate yet. Noticing a trend? It doesn’t stop there.
There was a -.047 difference between Ozuna’s expected batting average and his actual batting average, the highest difference in baseball among batters with at least 250 plate appearances. His -.076 difference in expected slugging? Yeah, right up there as the fourth biggest difference. Not to mention 12 stolen bases, also well above his previous career mark. The 27.4 ft/s spring speed was well enough to put him in the top 37% in all of MLB. When you consider the fact that Ozuna’s 23.4% line drive rate was also the best it’s ever been, it’s a wonder how he achieved such a low BABIP. His .259 marked a career-low, never having dipped below .296 previously.
Marcell Ozuna has bounce-back written all over him.
Eloy Jimenez – Breakout
When the Chicago White Sox gave Eloy Jimenez a contract extension before the 2019 season, it solidified his spot on the Opening Day roster. The news locked Jimenez into the top 100 in fantasy drafts. Hitting .267 with 31 home runs could be considered a success for many players. As highly regarded as Jimenez is, it left fantasy owners wanting more. If you were patient with the young hitter, you were rewarded with a stellar second half and the beginning of a breakout.
After getting off to a slow start and hitting .241 in the first half, Jimenez hit .292 after the All-Star break. His 31 home runs in 122 games put him at a 41-homer pace for the season. Jimenez gave us three great months with a .284 average in June, a .281 average in August, and a .340 average in September with eight, five, and nine home runs respectively. His two worst months, May and July, were both cut short by injuries, with Jimenez only playing 12 games in each. Jimenez lowered his strikeout rate from 28.7% in the first half, to 24.5% in the second half while raising his line drive rate from 15.2% to 20.8% and hit hard-hit rate from 34.8% to 41%. Pair this with his Statcast data and things get interesting.
Jimenez had an average exit velocity of 91.2mph, good for top 13% in baseball. Meanwhile, his hard-hit rate of 47.9% ranked in the top 8% of MLB. Every statistical improvement Jimenez made was backed up by the underlying metrics. The .521 xSLG supports the .513 slugging percentage Jimenez posted on the year. As Jimenez improved his batting average, his xBA followed. A .282 xBA and a .325 xBA in August and September supported the .281 and .340 batting averages Jimenez posted in those months. Eloy Jimenez improved as the season progressed, don’t expect it to stop there for this 2020 breakout candidate.
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