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Buy High and Sell Low: Early Season xwRC+ Reactions

During the off season, I wrote a series of articles for Fantrax discussing my xwRC+ model. This model was predictive in determining a hitter’s future wRC+. While it is still early in 2022, this model has seen several early season successes. The model was high on Ian Happ, Andrew Vaughn, Rowdy Tellez, Max Kepler, while encouraging fantasy managers to fade players like Jose Abreu, Starling Marte, and Frank Schwindel. The early season returns have been excellent. I have take some measures to improve the model and I will briefly discuss three players that the model thinks you should be buying low on and three players the model thinks you should be selling high on!

Early Season xwRC+

Model Improvements

Although the original xwRC+ model accounted for 60% of the variation in wRC+, I have constantly been looking for ways to improve it. For those who want to know more about the math behind the development of the article you can check that out here! A quick recap, the original model contained five variables to determine xwRC+. Those variables were:

  • Barrel Percentage
  • Launch Angle
  • Chase Percentage
  • Sweet Spot Percentage
  • Whiff Percentage

All these variables were statistically significant in explaining the variation of wRC+. In addition, the model also did a better job predicting the next season’s wRC+ than using the previous year’s wRC+.

My colleague Chris Clegg does amazing statcast work. He has developed a free public tool that breaks down a hitter’s exit velocity by percentile. When I was originally developing my xwRC+ model, I tested both average exit velocity and max exit velocity for correlation and found none. I was curious if any of the other percentiles in Chris’ work had a correlation. After going through my tests, several of the percentiles had a correlation to wRC+. The 65th percentile exit velocity ended up having the highest correlation. Although this only brought the adjusted R-squared up from 59.96% to 60.07% this was still an improvement to the model. Testing the model on old data proved to be helpful in improving the predictability of the model.

Early Season Results

Running the model at this point in the season can be a little bit difficult. So many statistics that go into the model have not yet stabilized and the model shows large deltas between wRC+ and xwRC+. However, the model can still provide useful information in determining whether a hitter’s early season success is sustainable.
There are two tables below. The first table shows the top 50 hitters in terms of xwRC+ and the second table shows the bottom 50 hitters. I pulled this data putting a minimum of 25 plate appearances in place.

Top 50

Ji-Man Choi204.58
Aaron Judge204.32
Joc Pederson196.89
Mike Trout188.23
J.D. Davis186.86
Byron Buxton180.29
Seiya Suzuki173.68
Freddie Freeman172.56
Joey Gallo171.66
Brandon Drury168.78
Yordan Alvarez168.25
Mitch Haniger167.80
Travis Demeritte164.47
Will Smith164.15
Andrew Vaughn163.68
Tom Murphy160.77
C.J. Cron158.85
Ryan McMahon157.18
Jon Berti155.30
Taylor Ward154.22
Trey Mancini154.01
Rowdy Tellez149.88
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.149.33
Brian Anderson149.03
Jose Ramirez147.38
Victor Caratini147.12
Christian Walker146.59
Michael Brantley145.98
Giancarlo Stanton145.77
Kyle Tucker145.53
Tim Anderson145.21
Max Kepler144.77
Austin Riley144.64
Max Stassi143.41
Anthony Rizzo143.17
Santiago Espinal143.09
Pavin Smith142.33
Luis Guillorme141.35
Willy Adames141.16
Bryce Harper137.59
Ryan Jeffers137.48
Keston Hiura137.41
Jose Abreu136.86
Jazz Chisholm Jr.136.80
Alec Bohm136.77
Harold Castro136.50
Josh Donaldson136.30
Jonah Heim135.89
Cooper Hummel135.74
Yadiel Hernandez134.90

Bottom 50

Luke Voit18.63
Cal Raleigh18.63
Mike Moustakas20.44
Adalberto Mondesi20.83
Tomas Nido25.02
Jason Castro29.18
Corey Dickerson29.21
Jose Herrera29.25
Cavan Biggio30.00
Bradley Zimmer33.37
Edmundo Sosa36.95
Niko Goodrum37.08
Eddie Rosario37.92
Jorge Alfaro38.22
Colin Moran39.53
Robinson Chirinos41.04
Jake Fraley41.68
Jake Marisnick42.32
Wil Myers44.32
Yadier Molina45.01
Mauricio Dubon46.14
Didi Gregorius47.11
Jed Lowrie49.09
Frank Schwindel50.08
Akil Baddoo51.27
Jonathan Villar52.20
Jose Iglesias52.25
Brendan Rodgers52.86
Lorenzo Cain53.78
Dylan Carlson54.07
Jarred Kelenic54.86
Bobby Dalbec55.00
Geraldo Perdomo55.85
Lucius Fox56.23
Aristides Aquino56.44
Mark Canha56.48
Carson Kelly56.79
Randy Arozarena56.81
Anthony Bemboom57.07
Alcides Escobar58.63
Mike Brosseau58.71
Rougned Odor59.13
Adam Engel60.08
Kurt Suzuki60.18
Aledmys Diaz60.29
Brett Phillips60.81
Kevin Newman61.57
Jonathan India61.58
James McCann61.80
Bobby Witt Jr.62.14

Players xwRC+ Says to Buy Low On:

Joey Gallo- OF New York Yankees

Gallo currently ranks 9th in baseball in terms of xwRC+. Simply put, the model loves him. So far this season Gallo has posted just a 75 wRC+. Fantasy managers are likely getting tired of owning him and I would not be surprised if he could be gotten for pennies on the dollar. When Gallo has made contact this season, it has been great. He is posting elite exit velocity numbers and barrel rates. One of the areas Gallo has struggled with over the past couple of seasons has been his sweet spot percentage. This resulted in decreasing line drive rates severely impacted his BABIP.

Joey Gallo Batted Balls

As you can see by the graphs, Gallo has fixed this issue in 2022 and has posted a .300 BABIP as a result. Even though this is well above his career average an improved sweet spot percentage helps make this sustainable.

The biggest issue for Gallo has been his chase rate. Although his contact rates are almost exactly identical to his career norms, Gallo is chasing more out of the zone. His career average is 24.5% and he has posted a chase rate of 30.2% in 2022. I do not expect Gallo to continue posting such a high chase rate. Chase rate is factored into the xwRC+ model, and the model still loves Gallo. I would expect much brighter days ahead for Gallo and would be trying to acquire him for cheap if possible.

Trey Mancini- 1B Baltimore Orioles

Mancini has gotten off to a rough start in 2022. Through the first month of the season, he has posted just a 72wRC+. However, xwRC+ believes that Mancini has been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball. The model believes that Mancini should be posting a wRC+ of 154. The model loves that Mancini is posting a 53.4 sweet spot percentage. Although this is not sustainable over a full season, there is plenty more to like about Mancini’s profile. His exit velocity numbers have jumped back up even above where they were in 2019. Mancini has posted a .322xBA and a .580 xSLG. Despite this, Mancini has posted just a .224 batting average with a .316 slugging percentage. Mancini’s career average HR/FB rate is 20.1%. So far this season he has posted just a 5% rate despite hitting the ball harder and pulling it more.

Mancini is not likely going to be a stud first baseman. xwRC+ loves what he has been doing at the plate but posting a line drive rate above 34% is not sustainable even for the best hitters in baseball. However, Mancini has been so bad he is being dropped in leagues and I am sure riding the bench for many teams. If you need help at first base or are in a deeper league, Mancini is absolutely a player I would try to target. He can probably be had for close to nothing and should see significant improvements in his luck soon.

Yasmani Grandal- C Chicago White Sox

If you drafted Yasmani Grandal, you likely had to pass on drafting several other good players going around him. So far, the results have been disappointing. Grandal has posed just a 52 wRC+. xwRC+ does not believe that Grandal has been as disappointing as his stats suggest. Everything in Grandal’s profile suggests he is the same player he always has been. He is posting similar sweet spot and barrel percentages. He has an above average 60th percentile exit velocity. In addition to this, Grandal is making contact more frequently than he ever has before. Grandal has an xwRC+ of 131. There are only a couple of catchers in the league that have a higher number than that.

I am sure that fantasy managers who drafted Grandal are losing their patience. Now might be a perfect time to capitalize on that. Grandal was excellent during the second half of last year and his profile suggests he should return to form soon. Grandal has posted just a .184 BABIP so far which is well below his career average of .276. Once this bounces back to average Grandal should have excellent results. Target him now before it is too late.

Players xwRC+ Says to Sell High On:

Andrew Benintendi- OF Kansas City Royals

Benintendi generated some buzz during the off-season as a potential value in drafts. The early returns have been excellent as through 27 games he is slashing .366/.418/.465 with a 161 wRC+. Many fantasy managers might be tempted to perform a victory lap on calling their shot with Benintendi. I would encourage those managers to hold off and instead look to sell high. The model believes that he has been extremely lucky so far. His xwRC+ is only 88; a serious warning sign that regression is coming.

When you take a look at Benintendi the first thing that jumps off of the page is his .410 BABIP. Benintendi is somebody who consistently runs above average BABIPs, but .410 is unsustainable. Benintendi has a ground ball rate of over 54%. He has only posted a line drive percentage of 14.5 and will see his BABIP come crashing down if this continues. There are 13 hitters in the league that have a BABIP over .390. The average LD% of those players is 25.1%. This is well above what Benintendi has posted so far. Benintendi has also struggled to barrel up the baseball early which is another reason xwRC+ is down on him. I would be looking to see if anybody is willing to buy high on Benintendi.

Mark Canha- OF New York Mets

One of the biggest differences between wRC+ and xwRC+ was Mark Canha. Early on, Canha has looked like an excellent signing by the Mets. He has posted a 146 wRC+ which would tie his career-high from 2019. Right now the model is saying that Mark Canha’s wRC+ should only be 56. This is a difference of almost 90 points and takes Canha from a well above average player to a well below-average player. If you read my offseason series on xwRC+ you might remember I also mentioned being concerned about him then too. You can read that article here! You might be thinking to yourself that maybe Canha is just an anomaly to the model. Just like some hitters consistently outperform their expected stats, maybe he is somebody who will consistently outperform their xwRC+. I am still warning you to proceed with caution if you own Canha.

Through 16 games, Canha has posted a .452 BABIP. His career average is only .290 and Canha is 33. He is not as fast as he used to be which will only cause his BABIP to decrease. In that article I talked about earlier, I expressed concerned Canha would never see his power return. So far in 2022, Canha has seen a significant decrease in his exit velocities and has continued to struggle to hit for power off the fastball. Canha might still end up hitting around .270 this year, but I struggle to see a way he hits more than 13 home runs. Canha’s wRC+ is inflated by his average which will drop. He is a career .247 hitter, and you should sell now while you have the chance.

Tommy Edman- 2B St. Louis Cardinals

Edman has been one of the most pleasant surprises during the early part of the season. People were skeptical of how Edman would perform this year and if he might lose his job to Nolan Gorman. Before discussing why I am selling high on Edman let me be clear; if you need stolen bases do not sell high. Edman already has five steals on the year and is an easy bet to steal 20 bags. I play in a lot of points leagues and even in some category leagues where it is okay to punt steals or steals are not as important. Those are the exact leagues I would be trying to sell Edman in.

His wRC+ is 166 compared to an xwRC+ of 97. This is much closer to the 91 wRC+ Edman has posted in 2020 and 2021. Edman has a HR/FB% of 17.6 which is above his career average of 9.2%. Edman is hitting the ball at the same exit velocities he has in the past while pulling the ball less. This should not be resulting in more home runs, but so far Edman already has three. Another reason that the model is so low on Edman is that he has only posted a sweet spot percentage of 25%. A league-average hitter who can steal 20-30 bases is still valuable in a lot of fantasy formats. I am not encouraging selling Edman in those leagues. However, if you are in a league where he has even less value, selling high is a smart move.

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