This week we are looking at a duo of young players who have dealt with their fair share of injuries. Both have been very highly regarded prospects in recent years. However, they had vastly different results in May. That has led me to wonder whether the fantasy community needs to take a step back and re-examine expectations for Austin Meadows and Victor Robles
Fire – Austin Meadows
It’s hard not to consider a player who hit .356 in May for the Fire portion of this piece. Meadows was enjoying a brilliant April before a thumb sprain cost him nearly three weeks of action. Austin Meadows hit six homers and stole three bags over 20 games before the injury, hinting at a true breakout. He returned to actually improve on those numbers in May, hitting .356 with another six bombs and four steals over 19 games. Are these flowery fantasy meadows here to stay?
The first thing that comes to mind in terms of probable regression is in the current .357 batting average. Is Austin Meadows really a contender for the batting average title? At 78.8%, his contact rate is solid but is far from elite. With a minimum of 170 plate appearances, Meadows ranks 74th in contact rate. That places him in lock step with the likes of Matt Carpenter and Ozzie Albies. His 8.5% swinging strike rate is, again, solid but not elite, ranking 54th. That ranks among the likes of Max Kepler and Andrew McCutchen. Just looking at those metrics doesn’t make Meadows stand out.
What has truly helped him achieve such a high batting average is a combination of contact ability, a 29.7% line drive rate, and a 45.8% hard contact rate that ranks 33rd in MLB. His .404 BABIP clearly won’t stick, so don’t expect him to hit .350 the rest of the way. However, the regression might not hit as hard as you’d think. His expected batting average is .321, which is the seventh highest mark in the league. A very high 17.4% pop-up rate will bite him eventually, but Meadows is a pure hitter through and through. Meadows sits ahead of JD Martinez and Mike Trout in xBA, so that’s not too shabby. Cody Bellinger, by the way, has a .379 xBA to lead the majors. That…is ludicrous.
In regards to the huge .299 ISO Austin Meadows has posted over 41 games, an inflated 26.1% HR/FB rate is partially to blame. His expected slugging is .546, well down from his current .664 mark. Still, that’s a player who can push 30 home runs. Combine that with a 20-plus steal pace on the bases, and you’ve got a realistic 25/20/.300 hitter. He’s hitting lefties well and should avoid any sort of platoon, further cementing his status as a fantasy stud. At just 24 years old, there isn’t much not to like here. He might not be an MVP caliber player yet, but he is certainly set up to be a five-category stud for many years to come.
Ice – Victor Robles
Coming into the season it was Victor Robles, not Austin Meadows, who was drawing plenty of helium. He has largely delivered on that hype to this point, quite frankly, with eight bombs and nine steals. That will stuff the stat sheet nicely. However, in May, he hit just .227 with two steals in four tries. With a .266 May BABIP, are we looking at simple bad luck or a worse hitter than we expected?
To try to determine the potential flukiness of his BABIP and average, we look at a lot of the same things we just did with Meadows. Whereas Meadows has excelled in hard contact rate, Robles ranks second to last in baseball. Only Billy Hamilton has a lower hard contact rate than Robles, at 19.3% compared to the 21.7% rate Robles has put forth. That mark is even worse than renowned slap hitter Dee Gordon, who sits at 22.1%. A lack of hard contact can impact your BABIP in a huge way.
Robles has at least made consistent contact at 77.9% as well as limiting his SwStr% to 10.3%. Not above-average numbers by any means, but enough not to impede a good average. However, a 10.9% pop-up rate and 42.6% fly balls won’t do you any good when you’re not hitting the ball hard. In fact, Robles has a lot of similarities with someone who isn’t even considered fantasy relevant in most formats – Delino DeShields.
Victor Robles has relied upon an above-average 14.5% HR/FB rate to get those eight homers. Another eight over the course of the rest of the entire season could prove elusive. He neither hits for enough average nor draws enough walks to contend with the likes of Adam Eaton or Trea Turner atop the Nationals lineup, relegating him to the bottom half of the order. That also limits his R+RBI opportunities, capping his rest-of-season upside as long as Eaton and Turner are healthy (which is always a question).
Robles was a very highly-touted prospect, and deservedly so. He certainly has the tools to eclipse what Delino DeShields has done in his time with Texas. He has a huge stolen base floor, which will maintain his fantasy relevance all season in deep leagues at the very least. Odds are, you’re needy for speedy even if you own Robles. That makes him hard to trade away. However, if you can take the stolen base hit and sell Robles as a five-category stud based on a 20/30 pace, that is the type of deal that could pay dividends.
Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has had his work featured in numerous books and magazines. He has also appeared on many podcasts and radio shows and hosts the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts. His written work can be found exclusively at Fantrax HQ, and his personal thoughts and opinions can be found on Twitter @NathanDokken.
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