September Studs: Mining ISO for 2020 Sleepers
Over the past two weeks, I used K-BB% to try to find some potential pitching sleepers and busts for the 2020 season. One pitcher I came out of the exercise particularly interested in was the Athletics Chris Bassitt. In the coming two weeks, I will be turning my attention to hitters, using ISO to evaluate some possible breakout candidates. As with the pitching list, I will be looking at how their September numbers compared to their rest of season body of work. Then I will provide some commentary on all of the fantasy-relevant names. The lists compare anyone with at least 50 plate appearances in September and 170 in the prior months.
ISO is another extremely simple stat like K-BB as it is simply the difference between a hitter’s slugging percentage and his average. The goal is to isolate how many extra bases per at-bat a hitter gains. It is a great proxy for power and helps to showcase and highlight hitters who also hit a ton of doubles.
Top 20 ISO Improvers
The top name on the list is Joc Pederson who has obviously shown flashes of this kind of skill set before. The power is tantalizing for him but the issue has always been how frequently the Dodgers platoon their players. Until I can fully trust that Joc will be getting regular consistent at-bats I have a hard time trusting him for fantasy. In daily leagues, however, he gets a boost.
Ji-Man Choi was a playoff darling with his out-going personality and strong defensive play. However, the big man can also swing it. While he does not have the typical first base profile, he walks a ton proving a nice OBP base. He likely hits too many ground balls to take advantage of his power and like Joc, I have a hard time believing he will be an everyday player in 2020. Nate Lowe is waiting in the wings to take over at first.
Yan Gomes is an interesting case. I have long been a fan of his bat but whenever he is given the starting catcher job for a team he flames out offensively and lets fantasy owners down. He saw a nice late-season power bump but it was not enough to even break the 15 homer mark. If he gets a full starter’s workload he may be able to reach 15-20 home runs but that may not be enough with what I see as an improving and deepening catching position.
I do not want to spend too much energy on Starlin Castro, but he’s a decent, if boring, option at second who is a compiler without the power you truly desire. The ISO gains of the month seem to be tied to a drop in GB rate and could be something he should be investigating if he wants to hit for more power. It is unlikely we see a new late-career Castro. He is fine in extremely deep leagues but there are better options.
Rougned Odor is one of the most frustrating fantasy assets to own. He has big-time power, and speed to go with it, but his average has the ability to crater a team. His career has been full of runs like this past September which help to even out the end of season numbers but he is the type of player I like to avoid.
George Springer is another player who historically has gone through hot streaks like this one. He hits atop the best lineup in the league and while he does not run he is a high-value fantasy OF and should continue to be one.
One of the early favorites to be the can’t miss sleeper of the year, Tommy Edman tore the cover off the ball once given the opportunity. He offered fantasy owners a nice power and speed combo, hitting six homers and swiping six bags in September. While there does not seem to be much on the surface that changed for him in September he did start to pull the ball more which could have led to the power jump. A jack of all trades kind of guy, he could be a valuable fantasy asset due to his multi-positional eligibility and likelihood of playing time.
Brett Gardner may be the poster boy for the new juiced ball as his 28 homers were easily a career-high. There were some major changes to his overall profile especially a massive jump in pull% which could be a sign of a hitter selling out for power as he ages. His Yankee contract is expiring but with the recent news of Tommy john for Aaron Hicks, he may return to NY to man CF. If he does he will be one player I am particularly interested in buying again.
Every season I fall for Randall Grichuk and think this will be the one he puts it all together. The power is incredible but the rest of the profile leaves something to be desired. He is a drag on average and does not provide anything outside of the 30-homer power. In this current environment that is not the type of player I want.
Eloy Jimenez came up with all of the hype but early struggles and injuries led to what was a disappointing first half. However, his late-season numbers looked like what many expected and the power he showed was real. If there is any post-hype discount I will buying the White Sox slugger everywhere next season.
There is not much else to say about Alex Bregman. His end of the season was so good he may have earned himself an MVP. While he may be helped slightly buy his home park, he is one of the best hitters in the best lineup in baseball. He will be a first-round pick next season.
Kyle Seager has seen injuries and “boring” play drop him down from the heights of his prospectdom. He burst on the scene his rookie season but has not been quite the fantasy star some were hoping for. The main issue has been a lack of power. Everything else from Seager is great, but he has never been able to reach 30 homers. There does appear to be some correlation with the ISO jump and his power gains so if he can continue that change into 2020, he may be able to reach those big home run totals we have all been hoping for. After being pretty out on him in 2019, I think I may be willing to buy back in.
Both Ryan O’Hearn and Rowdy Tellez could be interesting late-round first base options for 2020. We have been here before with O’Hearn and were disappointed in 2019, but the price will be essentially free again so it is worth another go. Both guys have limited minor league power track records which makes it difficult to trust them, but Tellez was 26th in max exit velocity in 2019 which is a great predictor of future power. O’Hearn was lower down on the list, which makes me more interested in Tellez for 2020.
To different extents, both Eugenio Suarez and Marcus Semien took big steps forward in 2019. Suarez continued the power gains from the past few seasons and turned himself into one of the best power hitters in the league. Semien became a better hitter and defender and firmly put himself in the MVP discussion. I believe what both of them have done is for real and think they are both solid investments for 2020.
The last four names all have different levels of interest for me. Aaron Judge was injured early on and saw some power struggles upon returning, but remembered he was one of the best power hitters in the game down the stretch. He has had some issues staying healthy but 50 home run power is still in here. Do not be afraid to buy in 2020.
Josh Reddick has never been a fantasy star and likely will be losing his starting role to a member of the Astros farm system (Kyle Tucker please). While there was some improvement there is no reason to be trusting him on your rosters next season.
Austin Meadows was able to maintain his impressive numbers and actually improved upon them to end the season. He may be finally figuring out the skills that made him a top prospect for such a long time. Overall, He is a great hitter and could be a fantasy star possibly similar to teammate Tommy Pham. Pham has more of a willingness to run but the power with Meadows is even better. He could be a 35/20 threat in his best seasons, maybe even pushing for 40 homers in the current environment.
Lastly, you have the overall home run leader in Jorge Soler. He is another player who appears to be cashing in on his insane prospect hype. His 2019 season continued the strikeout rate improvement he saw in 2018 but he also seemed to pair it with returning to the fly-ball slanted ways of his early career. More contact, more fly-balls, and his insane power are a great combo for massive HR totals.
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