Austin Meadows came into the year as a pretty popular sleeper. He flashed some upside for a brief period in 2018 with the Pirates. Then he was traded to the Rays in the infamous Archer deal. Fast forward to the beginning of 2019 and Meadows entered the year as a full time, or strong side platoon player at the very least, for the Rays.
He came into the 2019 season as a player with some power and speed upside and was a sleeper on a lot of lists. With that said, no one saw this type of breakout coming. There was definitely some prospect fatigue with Meadows and people may have forgotten he was a former top prospect. After a fast start to the season, he earned everyday at-bats and he’s taken the opportunity and run with it. He is currently in the middle of what appears to be his breakout campaign. We are going to dive into the breakout and see how legitimate it is and offer a rest-of-season outlook.
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Austin Meadows has been on fire for most of the first half of the season. He has contributed across the board in all categories. He has 34 runs, 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 8 stolen bases. This is accompanied by a triple slash of .300/.375/.535. Meadows has increased his walk rate this year to 9.2%. This is the highest it’s been since his triple-A stint in 2017. The walk rate is above league average, which is 8.6%.
Any time you see improved discipline resulting in a higher walk rate it is definitely growth in the right direction. Unfortunately, he has also seen an uptick in K-rate as well, up to 23.2%. League average for K rate is 22.8% so the uptick makes him basically league average at striking out. You never want to see someone add strikeouts to their approach but at least an uptick in strikeouts for Meadows puts him basically at league average.
At the end of the day, Austin Meadows has had a hot start and has been among the draft day steals of 2019. However, there are still questions to be answered. How real is this breakout? Are his recent struggles merely a correction to the mean or has this cold run of late been a closer representation of who he really is?
Join me as I dive in and see who the real Austin Meadows is.
The Austin Meadows Breakout
As I previously stated, Meadows has been a huge fantasy contributor to your team and is having what appears to be a breakout campaign. You can attribute some of this breakout to the change in his plate approach and batted ball data. Let’s start with the changes in plate approach.
Austin Meadows has made a few changes in approach. As you can see, his chase rate has dipped to a solid 27.7%. This is better than league average by 3.3% and an improvement on last year as well. His swing rates across the board have decreased as well. The dip in swing percentages have led to below average swing rates which likely explains the increase walk rate as he’s taken a more patient approach to the plate.
The lack of swing rates I believe is correlating to the drop in contact rate as well. Although he is still at or above league average in contact rates. The swinging strike rate has risen to 9.6% so that falls in line with the added K rate. Even with the increase in swing strike rate, he is still below the league average mark of 11%. There has been some give and take in his plate discipline metrics this year. There are also some interesting changes I noticed in the batted ball numbers as well. Let’s get to them.
Batted Ball Changes
When you take a look at the batted ball data, there are a lot of changes to take note of. Meadows’ batted ball data is mostly a change for the good, which is impressive in its own right but let’s discuss it. You have a pretty sizable decrease in the number of ground balls this year. His GB% is 33.3% which is down 8.1% from last season. This decrease has led to a solid increase in both his line drive and fly ball rates. His line drive rate has increased 4.5% from 2018 and currently sits at 25.6%. His fly ball rate has also risen 4% from 2018 and currently sits at 41.1%. These are the type of changes you like to see in a batted ball profile. Putting the ball in the air more, especially line drives, typically leads to a better batting average and more homes runs.
To give you an idea of how Austin Meadows compares to the league, let’s take a look at the league average batted ball rates. The league average LD% is 21.3% and Meadows LD% is 4.3% above league average.
You’ll notice the same trend with the fly balls rates where the league average FB% is 35.7%, and Meadows current FB% is 5.4% above league average. Meadows is also hitting 8.9% lfewer ground balls than league average as well.
You can also see he has been pulling the ball a bit more this year with a pull rate increase of 1.8% from last season. His hard hit rate has also improved and is currently at 44.4% and, of course, that is also above league average. The increase in LD and FB rates paired with the hard hit and pull rates definitely explain the solid batting average and power output to this point and is a recipe for success if he can sustain these changes.
Now that we’ve discussed the change in approach, let’s discuss the statcast data.
Austin Meadows measures favorably in all categories. However, regression had been likely even prior to his recent struggles and some slight regression is still suggested. Meadows has been amazing but there was no way he was going to hit for a mid-.300 average and keep up the pace he was on to start the year. Over the last month he has slowed down considerably and now the peripherals line up pretty closely. Don’t worry, we will address the recent struggles shortly, but first we are diving into the statcast data.
As you can see, after the recent struggles he is now more in line with what the x-stats suggest. His current xBA is .286 and his actual BA is right at .300 on the nose. This obviously suggest slight regression is likely. The other stats, unfortunately, suggest similar minor regression. Meadows currently has a xSLG of .515 compared to his actual SLG sitting at .535 and a xwOBA of .371 compared to the xWOBA of .384. The good news is these are very minor differences, which means he could actually sustain the current production. He has speed in the 81st percentile. Above average speed can assist a hitter in outperforming their peripherals so what he’s currently doing isn’t necessarily unsustainable.
Some interesting and positive changes he’s made include the change in average exit velocity, launch angle and barrel rate.
His launch angle change definitely helps explain some of the change in batted ball profile. He has increased his launch angle from 13.7 degrees in 2018 to 17.0 degrees in 2019. The added loft in the swing could explain the added hole in the swing causing the uptick in strikeouts. On the other hand, it definitely helps explain the increase of LD and FB rates as well as decrease in GB rate on the year.
I love seeing tangible change leading to positive outcomes. Building on this, as previously mentioned, the hard hit rate is up as well as the average exit velocity. The average exit velocity is sitting at 91.6 MPH. That’s an increase of 3.4 MPH from 2018.
Lastly, the barrel rate has nearly doubled from last season. The barrel rate increased from 6.4% in 2018 to 12.2% in 2019. The success doesn’t appear to be a fluke as there are tangible changes with success following said changes. However, regression was bound to come. Meadows has had a rough June as a whole and I’m going to take a look into it and see what’s going on.
Austin Meadows Recent Struggles
Austin Meadows has been struggling for basically the whole month of June.
As you can see the struggles in June have been very real. These numbers are from June 1 until the present. A few things stand out. Over the last month we have seen some changes in his approach including negative changes to his walk rate and K rate as well as some negative changes in the batted ball info. The walk rate of 7.6% and K rate of 27.6% for the month are also season highs for any given month so far this year.
His LD rate is only 19.4% and his GB rate is at 37.3%. This would explain the lower batting average over the month. More ground balls also contribute to the lower BABIP of .313. That’s still not a bad BABIP but it’s lower than what he’s done on the year, which is a BABIP of .363. Even last season when he came up his BABIP was still at .336.
As you can tell from the chart, his chase rate this month has spiked upward quite a bit. That’s definitely lending itself to the K-rate jump we’re seeing in June as well. Pitchers have also adjusted and began throwing more off-speed pitches which he hits worse against as a whole. It’s now up to Austin Meadows to adapt to how pitchers have started approaching him.
Rest Of Season Outlook
I believe ultimately we will see Austin Meadows bouncing back, but to a point. I believe the “happy place” for meadows is somewhere between the hot start and the terrible June. The uncharacteristic chase rate with likely correct itself and with it will come a better approach, leading to results closer to expectations. I believe he will likely be a .270-.280 hitter the rest of the way and grab you roughly 10-15 more home runs with roughly 10 more steals.
That would continue to make him a Top 50 or so player and a valued asset to your teams. He is similar to a Tommy Pham without the injury concerns. If you told me I was getting a healthy Pham the rest of the season I’d be beyond excited about that. Regardless, Austin Meadows has been a gem for fantasy owners this season and I expect a solid second half to the season.
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